I read an article in a scholarly newspaper today and I am rather disgusted with the author. In attempting to explain "global warming denyers", he has attempted to portray those who question science as heretics ready to be burned at the stake, or at least derided and considered to be unenlightened. I do not write this to repudiate or condone any science in particular, that is a topic for another discussion. I write simply to dispute the method of understanding those who ask questions.
Truth is truth and will endure to the last. It can come from many varied sources, it is our interpretation of it that is always skewed. It is biased by our emotions, desires, past experiences, strong beliefs and goals. Complete objectivity is an absurd idealism. In fact, those that have a strong belief may easily be led to arbitrarily find information and conclusions that seem to confirm the prior belief.
Many "objective" scientists have been wrong in the face of evidence, yet not been willing to openly face criticism. For example, many scientists created complicated mathematical models to explain a geocentric solar system theory despite much simpler mathematical models which described a heliocentric solar system. Some even persecuted and tortured those heretics who believe the earth went around the sun.
In an article about auroral studies and models written by Dr. Akasofu, he quoted Lord Kelvin who said, "It seems we may be forced to conclude that the supposed connexion between magnetic storms and sun-spots is unreal, and that the seeming agreement between the periods has been a mere coincidence." Dr. Akasufo continues "Despite that authoritative statement by Lord Kelvin, some scientists were determined to probe deeper." If not for those asking questions, today we would not understand much about the solar wind interaction with our magnetosphere.
It is also incorrect to assume that a scientist funded by government is unbiased. He or she has the same incentive to keep funding as those that have other sources of funding. Thus those funded by governments around the world have incentive to have bigger governments, ergo more funding for research. In the case of climate research, government control of the environment means not only a lot more funding but it will also be secure and continuous.
For this reason it is important to not only report data and results that support a stated hypothesis but also those that do not confirm or even contradict it. Dr. Richard Feynman, in a commencement address at CalTech, warned of a "cargo cult of science". He said
"Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You do the best you can -- if you know anything wrong, or possibly wrong -- to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition."
With respect to climate science, the results of the data interpretation will impact the daily lives of every person on the planet. Thus, non-scientists want to ask questions, look at alternative possibilities, ask about data that does not support the hypothesis and ask about other correlations. It is important to them and they want to understand. Is it not ok to ask questions? If I ask a question, does that leave me open to derision? or are there really no dumb questions?