Friday, February 16, 2007

Oregonian vs. Kulongoski--Whose Position Is More Consistent?

On the way to giving advice to Gov. Ted Kulongoski, the Oregonian not only ignores its own advice, but is a culprit in helping cause the problem.

G ov. Ted Kulongoski is understandably irked at George Taylor, the headline-grabbing meteorologist who has been using the title "Oregon state climatologist" while undercutting the science behind the governor's global warming policies.

But the smartest thing Kulongoski could do is get over his annoyance and ignore Taylor.

Who gave George Taylor headlines? See this front page article and articles here and here.

Who is not ignoring Taylor in this editorial?

Further, the governor seems to understand political positions, scientific or not, better than Oregonian editors. Science gets highly politicized in important public policy areas. The Oregonian’s own reporters noted that Taylor has had the “state climatologist” title since 1991:

Taylor, who has a master's degree in meteorology, has been widely known as Oregon's state climatologist since 1991 and uses that title. Technically, however, the position was discontinued along with federal funding in the late 1980s. The state-funded Oregon Climate Service tracks weather and generates maps from offices at OSU.

What happened between 1991 and now that this is all of a sudden a big issue--except politics?

The Oregonian’s view of how scientific dialogue should be conducted is a bit odd.

The scientific mainstream and no doubt a solid majority of Oregonians have already moved beyond Taylor on this subject. His widely publicized doubts about global climate change may play well on right-wing talk radio, but there's no evidence he's influencing serious discussion of the issue in this state.

Apparently, the editors do not know that the “scientific mainstream” does not determine scientific truth. Taylor may be right. He may be wrong. But, that the scientific mainstream at a point in time believes this or that does not indicate whether the science is good or lasting. Remember the coming ice age in the 1970's?

Nor does it really matter whether Taylor is “influencing serious discussion of the issue” in Oregon. The strange thing about scientific method is that you can be a minority of one and still be right.

Even less to the point is the editorial assertion that “a solid majority of Oregonians have already moved beyond Taylor”. Science isn’t about opinion polls or majority vote of the people.

The Oregonian has no problem with having a state scientist appointed by the governor and overseen by a governor-appointed board, like state geologist Vicki McConnell. But, the editors don’t like the political fallout of appearing to “muzzle” a scientist who disagrees with the administration’s position.

Isn’t that what a political appointment is all about? What happens if the next governor has different views on geology than Kulongoski’s? My guess is the state geologist's views will swing around to the new governor’s position.

Actually it’s Gov. Kulongoski who has the consistent position--not the Oregonian. The governor thinks that those who speak in the state’s name should follow the views of its administrative head. It’s a 100% political view. Neither scientific method nor academic freedom are central issues to him. These are political appointments, and the scientists need to back the administration’s views.

Here’s an idea. Maybe the real answer is not for George Taylor to stop using a title he has used since 1991, but for the state to get out of the business of appointing scientists who pronounce on what is and is not administration-approved science.

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