Follow the Science or Follow Your Nose?

“Follow the science” has become a  mantra for politicians world-wide.

Our leaders started to use it to defend their actions in fighting climate change, and when that seemed to stifle critics (denounced as climate deniers) it was used again to justify the various mandatory measures designed to stop the spread of Covid.

“Follow the science” sounds nice, and non-political. It is anything but.

I can remember when cigarette companies had their scientists saying that smoking was harmless. The politicians of the day believed them, for decades. Were the politicians following the science or were they following lobbyists with science degrees?

“Follow the science” makes no sense. It misuses two key concepts: “the science” and “follow”

Science is not a leader to be followed. Science is not a path in the forest to follow. Science is a process. A scientist (or several) present a hypothesis and then these presenters and others verify or falsify it with laboratory experiments or other empirical tests. When Einstein presented his Theory of Relativity he warned everyone not to accept it until it could be empirically verified. That didn’t happen for several years.

A government can accept the opinions of certain scientists, but it is misleading to say that that acceptance is “following the science”. The real question is: among a range of different or even contrary opinions, which scientists’ opinions will you accept and why?

Quite apart from the issue with “the science “ is the problem of “following”. What does that mean?

A scientist can offer the prediction that if the population of the planet continues to emit X tones of CO2 over the next Y years the planet will warm by Z degrees. If a country’s government accepts that prediction that doesn’t tell it what policy that country should adopt in the interest of both its people and all the other countries on the planet.

As climate is global while weather is local, climate change policy must be a global, collective action issue. No country can “save the planet” on its own. Therefore, any country’s climate policy must first consider what every other country is actually doing (regardless of what they claim they will do) and then decide what that country’s contribution should be in relation to the others. That is not a scientific question. That is many political questions. Nor is there any science that will provide the “right” political answers.

It is wrong for political leaders to try to avoid political accountability by claiming that they are merely following the science. Anyone who says they are following the science isn’t. They are using the word “science” like a drunk leaning on a lamppost at night: for postural support rather than illumination.

It makes no sense to try to justify a political policy choice by saying the politicians are following the science. They are following their political noses. Which is what they should be doing. And then accepting the credit or the blame.

Categories: Uncategorized

7 replies »

  1. A little bit of honesty would go a long way. I’ve given up believing our elected politicians speak honestly. I do like what you have to say though WordPress won’t let me hit the Like widget.


    • I believe the politicians live in their own self-imposed bubbles, reinforced by social media censorship of opposing views. They may be completely unrealistic but I believe they are sincere.


  2. Andrew’s very clear assessment of the “follow the science’ mantra is absolutely right . He is also right that, regardless of the “science” concerning climate change, the key consideration for any single county’s policy (i.e. costs incurred in emissions reduction) is whether the countries of the world will collectively join in reducing emissions. On the latter point, the evidence is absolutely clear that the countries of Asia have not sacrificed and will not sacrifice their income growth prospects to serve the aspirations of western environmentalists. This will be demonstrated yet again at COP27. Yet, the propaganda message that “the science is settled and we must all sacrifice our living standards to save the planet” has so paralyzed the thinking of most citizens in the west that we appear to be headed for self-imposed economic catastrophe. I hope I am wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Canadian and US policies seem to be “let’s destroy our country to save the planet”. That won’t save the planet (assuming it needed saving), but it will destroy both countries. Hopefully, as I had written in an earlier post, there will be a Great U-Turn when enough people realize that we are accelerating down a blind alley.


  3. Thank you Andrew. I follow and support Friends of Science which is finally making some headway in terms of communicating its message which is similar to yours. Its not just science but common sense and fairness. I find it interesting that the Getty Foundation and others like it support various environmental organizations who think that those who live in India, China, South America and Africa are not entitled to benefit from cheap, available energy because of the “Science” related to CO2 emissions and global warming. The “Science” is not definitive with respect to CO2 emissions. CO2 is essential for human life. Environmental issues know no borders and the world as one must act to resolve issues impacting our ability to survive but common sense must prevail. The nations of the developed world cannot by themselves solve all of the worlds environmental issues. To attempt do so would bankrupt our economies and where would be then? TS.



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