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Science v. Politics

December 11, 2009

Rheanna Sand

Science in Seconds Blog by Rheanna Sand

The UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen has reached its midpoint. While the political delegates play their usual high stakes poker game, scientists are playing some games of their own.

The so-called "climategate" scandal has re-ignited a long buried debate over whether climate change data was faked. Over a thousand emails from English climate scientists were hacked, and some reports took certain phrases out of context, implicating that scientists manipulated data. The Associated Press, however, examined every email and concluded no falsification took place.

Not to say the scientists were saints: there were some "generous interpretations" and they did seem blinded by their cause. But this does not, in any way, devalue the immense, internationally recognized body of work supporting a major role for human pollution in global climate disruption. Unfortunately, the journalistic error of "false balance" gives both sides an equal voice.

There is some good news in climate change research, though: UCLA researchers successfully engineered a bacteria that consumes carbon dioxide and produces isobutanol - a viable replacement for fossil fuels. This approach to creating biofuels negates the need for biomass deconstruction - like the wasting of corn to get at the fuel inside. Discoveries like these could have huge ramifications on social issues like food wars and third world poverty.

As Jacob Bronowski said, "no science is immune to the infection of politics and the corruption of power." But perhaps the principles of science, and the discoveries that result, can undercut the ills that corrupted power brings.

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