I was going to proceed chapter by chapter through Ian Lowe’s new book ‘A Big Fix: Radical solutions for Australia’s environmental crisis’ but by the time I get to chapter 6 I’ll have missed the key points, or lost my audience, or both. So here goes the dive bomb.
Lowe begins the book by stating that he is a scientist.
Then on page 86, he says,
“Sustainability science [which he supports in previous paragraph] differs fundamentally from most science as we know it. The traditional scientific method is based on sequential phases of inquiry: conceptualizing the problem, collecting data, developing theories, then applying the results. …Sustainability science will have to employ new methods, such as semi-quantitative modeling of qualitative data, or inverse approaches that work backwards from undesirable consequences to identify better ways to progress. Researchers will have to work with land-users to produce new understandings that combine scientific excellence with social relevance.”
So Lowe is suggesting that:
1. Science should not be sequential,
2. There is such a thing as semi-quantitative modeling,
3. We should image the worst, no matter how unlikely.
But science has to be sequential. You advance a hypothesis. For a hypothesis to be proven, it needs to be predictive, so you make predictions based on the hypothesis and devise ways of testing the prediction. There is no way that any of those steps can be taken out of sequence and still be called science. An adjective like ‘sustainability’ can only qualify the noun, it can’t negate it.
The wooliness of Lowe’s thinking is demonstrated by his second proposition. The only thing that “semi-quantitative modeling of qualitative data” can indicate is that he doesn’t want to count the results accurately. Quantitative is a digital concept, it doesn’t come in shades.
The third proposition could be referred to as the “Chicken Little Principle”. “If I say the sky is falling, then there is no time to go through the normal rigour of the scientific method, because by that time the sky will have fallen. So let’s ‘desequentialise’ and ignore the facts, it will make me feel better, and guess what, the sky won’t fall either!” Yes, and the same logic applied to milk souring in the middle ages led to lots of little old ladies being drowned in duck ponds.
I protested when Joh Bjelke-Petersen was awarded an honourary doctorate of laws because of his contempt for the law. In the circumstances I would be inconsistent if I didn’t call on Griffith University to strip Lowe of his professorship in a science faculty. He has abandoned science.
I know a lot of people have a lot of time for Ian Lowe, but on the evidence of this book his time has passed.