Galt’s Laboratory

If you have read Atlas Shrugged [1], then you probably remember Galt’s Gulch. That was the eopnymous community of experts and leaders who had exiled themselves from the outside world until such time as their true worth was recognized [2]. They vowed to stay in their community, communicating only with other experts, and having as little to do with others as possible. In the novel, the ploy worked perfectly; after the economy collapses, the politicians plead for the experts to return and accede to their demands. In reality, of course, there would be defections and complex pressures ranging from blackmail to emotional appeals [3] brought on the folks in Galt’s Gulch until they finally agreed to come back and help the folks outside of the gulch.

Of late it has struck me that we scientists have built our very own version of Galt’s Gulch. We gather together in tight-knit groups [4] that exchange secret codewords [5] and plot to take over the world [6]. And we prefer to spend more time in this community than we do in the soi disant “real world”, mainly because, as is the case in Atlas Shrugged, we are not appreciated by the general populace. Sure, they love it when we come up with a new geegaw that will allow them to get pornography at home [7]. But when we say things like “this might be a bad year for flu” or “CO2 is opaque to infrared”, the adoring masses become teeming throngs of nattering nabobs [8].

As a professional asshole [9], I sometimes (frequently) take umbrage both at the folks who assault the science and at the scientists who pretend that it doesn’t matter. I spend a lot of time over on a blog run by a science reporter where, in addition to giving him the odd bit of statistics to play with, I argue at climate change denialists and (to a lesser extent) creationists. I do this mainly because it frustrates me that the folks arguing against AGW (as it is known to the faithful of both stripes) spend nearly all of their time either claiming things that are contrafactual [10] or saying that we are only in it for the money. And I do it because the folks who would be better at it than I are spending their time either one bigger blogs with larger audiences or in the lab actually trying to understand the problem.

And that second part brings us right back to my thesis: the folks who can do the science are in their own Galt’s Gulch, because they don’t like the way that the world outside is treating them. And I honestly cannot blame them. If I am very lucky, someday I may even be able to join them there.

John

[1] And if you haven’t, why not? Sure, it veers from turgid to tedious with stops at kinky, preachy, and silly, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t raise some good points.

[2] Any resemblance between Galt’s Gulch and “Independence, USA” is purely coincidental…

[3] I cannot help but think of these as “appeals to authority” and laugh.

[4] And, like very other tight-knit group, the first thing we try to do is tear each other apart. Unlike very other tight-knit group, the victim is almost always eventually grateful for the treatment.

[5] Codewords that we keep secret through the diabolical practice of publishing them so that anyone who wants to can learn them. You’d be amazed at the lengths some people will go to in order to avoid learning something!

[6] Or at least the lab space that is wasted on those clowns over in that other discipline.

[7] Also known as “the internet” and invented by physicists in order to exchange information about particle experiments (and paid for by the US Department of Defense so that they could exchange information about who just got a ten megaton wake-up call).

[8] Impeachable geek points for the reference!

[9] No, it doesn’t say that on my business cards (yet). But it is what I do; I point out where things can be made better and try to catch mistakes before they become expensive mistakes.

[10] It has gotten so bad that I have developed a set of stock answers for these idjits, e.g.:
Climatologists include solar variation, volcanism, and other factors in their work
There never was a “global cooling” scare
Funding for climate change research has decreased over the past fifteen years
The physics of CO2 is well-understood
Well understood
Really well understood
The “hockey stick” is real
Even the skeptics agree that AGW is real
Even the strongest critics agree that it is getting warmer
The oceans are rising while global ice levels are shrinking
We have climate records going back 750 million years, not just 100 years
Volcanoes do not put out nearly as much CO2 as people

One thought on “Galt’s Laboratory

  1. I fit your job description 100%. I just pitched a bit of a ‘told you so’ (not in so many words, more like YOU ANGERED THE CLIENT BECAUSE YOU WOULDN’T LISTEN TO WHAT I SAID HAD TO BE DONE) this morning. And I *was* right. Thankfully, client is allowing us a second go but they’re irritated.

    Walk around and 10 people pretended like they’d never heard me say (and it’s also in writing) what had to be done. ::sigh::

    Unfortunately, there’s no fairyland for what I do. It’s simply not necessary in the real world. Breathing, flu vaccines and internet are.

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