The climate-change debate has many people wondering whether we should really turn over public policy — which deals with fundamental matters of human freedom — to a state-appointed scientific establishment. Must moral imperatives give way to the judgment of technical experts in the natural sciences? Should we trust their authority? Their power?
There is a real history here to consult. The integration of government policy and scientific establishments has reinforced bad science and yielded ghastly policies.
An entire generation of academics, politicians, and philanthropists used bad science to plot the extermination of undesirables.
There’s no better case study than the use of eugenics: the science, so called, of breeding a better race of human beings. It was popular in the Progressive Era and following, and it heavily informed US government policy. Back then, the scientific consensus was all in for public policy founded on high claims of perfect knowledge based on expert research. There was a cultural atmosphere of panic (“race suicide!”) and a clamor for the experts to put together a plan to deal with it. That plan included segregation, sterilization, and labor-market exclusion of the “unfit.”
Ironically, climatology had something to do with it. Harvard professor Robert DeCourcy Ward (1867–1931) is credited with holding the first chair of climatology in the United States. He was a consummate member of the academic establishment. He was editor of the American Meteorological Journal, president of the Association of American Geographers, and a member of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Royal Meteorological Society of London.
He also had an avocation. He was a founder of the American Restriction League. It was one of the first organizations to advocate reversing the traditional American pol…