I am reading Niall Ferguson’s latest, Civilization, for Al Jazeera at the moment. Thought I would flag up something interesting along the way.
In chapter 4 Ferguson discusses the relationship between imperialism and science and includes some fairly sensible remarks on the origins of Francis Galton’s pseudo-science of eugenics. He goes on to emphasize the widespread acceptance of loony claims about human evolution, racial hierarchy and the rest:
The crucial point to note is that a hundred years ago work like Galton’s was at the cutting edge of science. Racism was not some backward-looking reactionary ideology; the scientifically uneducated embraced it as enthusiastically as people today accept the theory of man-made global warming.
(Niall Ferguson Civilization: The West and the Rest, London, 2011, p.177)
Ferguson seems to be suggesting that the science of climate change is a piece of appealing crankery that will one day go the same way as eugenics.
There are plenty of pseudo-scientific ideas out there that the scientifically uneducated do embrace, ideas about efficient markets, say – something that is crying out for Ferguson’s mordant revisionism surely. And modern medicine – one of Ferguson’s killer apps – also has its fair share of well-funded myths.
At any rate, perhaps the author should make it clear that he doesn’t think that the scientists of International Panel on Climate Change are the modern day equivalents of Francis Galton.
After all, those who are concerned about the possibility of catastrophic climate change aren’t exactly like the enthusiastic sterilizers, lobotomists and mass murders who went along with Galton’s brand of batshittery.
UPDATE, 24.4.11: I’ve finished the book now and Ferguson later comes round to the idea that there might be something to the whole global warming thing. So his decision to draw parallels between eugenics and climate science seems all the more strange.