Bad Science Influences the Supreme Court?

Today is a word day here. Pictures and video will return soon, I promise.

I have been baffled by Freeman Dyson’s skepticism about climate change for some time now. The guy is a brilliant physicist, and his weighing in against the overwhelming consensus of a field outside his own several areas of expertise has unfortunately led credence to some very bad science. A New York Times Magazine article about Dyson’s climate skepticism has now snuck its way into a major United States Supreme Court decision as support for the view that “the science is not settled” about the effects of CO2 emissions.

But it is worse: As Douglas Kysar points out, “The court also repeated a prominent skeptical refrain about the ubiquity and supposed banality of greenhouse-gas emissions–“after all, we each emit carbon dioxide merely by breathing”–that serves only to downplay the severity and significance of industrial emissions.That the nation’s highest court would repeat this misleading refrain, and seemingly endorse Dyson’s views as equal to those of the IPCC and the EPA, simply takes the breath away.”

The next several posts will contain pieces of a story about the courts that will come back around to the recent legislative attacks on the EPA. The case decided by the United States Supreme Court last week, American Electric Power v. Connecticut, has been closely watched because it is only the second time our highest court has decided a case of this general kind on emissions and global warming policy, the first since Massachusetts vs EPA.

Last week’s decision could change the landscape for the initiatives against the EPA underway in the House of Representatives, and related court cases that have been filed in several states and in the federal courts.  The battle of regulating greenhouse gas emissions is a much more interesting and revealing story than it might appear to be at first glance.  And some of those court cases now pending have been led by teenagers, which will take us back to the question of “who has the youth.”  So bear with us as we start in the middle and look at this a piece at a time.

The stage is set nicely in “Supreme Court Decision on Emission is Good, Bad, and Ugly for U.S. Climate Policy,” by Yale Law School Professor Douglas Kysar. Published in both Nature and Scientific American,  it points to, among other things, the influence on the court of unjustified skeptical attacks on climate science.  Click here for Kysar’s brief and lucid analysis.  The “Ugly” part is somewhat frightening.

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About Scott Brophy
Scott Brophy is a philosophy professor whose work is focused on the intersection of philosophy and public policy, especially on environmental issues, law, and education. He has also taught philosophy of science, logic, and the history of philosophy. He has served as a consultant for educational programs and schools throughout the U.S. and abroad, and as an adviser to several philanthropic foundations.

One Response to Bad Science Influences the Supreme Court?

  1. Steven says:

    An interersting and freightening article by Kyser. I had thought that such politicization of science happened only in Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia. But the potential (and the realisty) is here too.

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