FINOCCHIO: The dissent of man

Student groups should encourage debate about scientific issues, including climate change

Thomas Jefferson, beloved father of our University, more than once expressed his great hope that the University would be an institution “based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind,” where “we are not afraid to follow the truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.” Thomas Forman’s recent claim in The Cavalier Daily that student organizations should not invite speakers who question the reality of man-made climate change is an affront to the Jeffersonian principles on which both this nation and this academic institution were founded.

Forman claims that scientific fact is not something to be debated. He writes, “We should keep our debates out of our science classes and keep them in our government classes.” The folly of this suggestion, however, is that if scientific evidence cannot be contested, science can never progress. Every scientist who makes a new discovery necessarily overturns a previously held scientific theory. The purpose of science is to gain a better understanding of the world around us. This is done by objectively analyzing facts and acknowledging the possibility that hitherto dominant theories could be disproven in the face of new evidence. Dissent, therefore, is not something to be repressed in the scientific community, but rather something to be encouraged. Dissent leads to additional study, which, regardless of whether it refutes or upholds the prevailing notion, results in greater discovery.

Far from Forman’s claims, there is not a scientific consensus behind the theory of man-made climate change. If Forman were actually present for the viewing of “An Inconsistent Truth,” he would have realized that the interviews which Valentine gathered were not from conservative radio show hosts or a random assortment of CPAC attendees, but accredited scientists who have worked on committees organized by the United Nations or who have completed doctoral research at highly prestigious universities. In 2012, 49 former NASA astronauts, scientists and engineers published a letter expressing their skepticism of man-made climate change, while last year Forbes Magazine reported that a peer-reviewed survey found only 36 percent of geoscientists and engineers believed that humans were creating a global warming crisis.

Even if there were a near-consensus on this issue, this still would not justify stifling any debate on the issue. Preeminent Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once famously proclaimed that the remedy to be applied to misinformation and falsehood is “more speech, not enforced silence.” Rather than advising the College Republicans on whom they should or should not invite to speak on Grounds, Forman should focus on bringing speakers to his organization who can rebut the claims made by Valentine. More speech would greatly benefit all points of view on Grounds, including his own. Forman should not be “afraid to follow the truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.”

Peter Finocchio is the Chairman of the University College Republicans.

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