The whole sordid story of the corruption of science at one of the world’s premier institutions that has been pushing the man-made global warming theory sounded vaguely familiar to me, but I couldn’t figure out why. It was only last night that I finally realized that the debate perfectly parallels a major plot point in, of all things, a mystery. But not just any mystery. The book is Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night, published in 1936. Sayers was no hack novelist. Instead, she was the highly intelligent product of a pre-WWI Oxford women’s education. She was imbued in the classical concepts of literature, philosophy, history and science. When she set out to write her acclaimed Peter Wimsey murder mysteries, she brought these sensibilities to the mystery novel.
Gaudy Night is the most autobiographical of her novels. The main protagonist isn’t Peter Wimsey at all, but his great love, Harriet Vane, a prickly, brilliant mystery writer. The book begins with Harriet having returned to Oxford to attend her college’s “gaudy,” which is a cross between a class reunion and something inexplicably British. While there, a poison pen writer strikes. When Harriet returns to London, the poison pen writer continues to send anonymous missives to people at the women’s college, and eventually escalates to vandalism and physical violence. The staff at Harriet’s college is anxious to keep the matter private, since they are concerned that their college, a fairly new institution at the time, might have its reputation irreparably damaged if others learned that a female student or, worse, a female professor was behind the letters and violence. With discretion as the byword, the administration invites Harriet, rather than the police, to investigate the matter. Harriet, in turn, eventually invites Peter Wimsey.
Because the book is set at Oxford University, and because it is clear that someone working in the college — as opposed to a young student — is the culprit, the book is much taken up with the private and public loyalties of the various faculty members. In other words, it asks over and over what their obligations are to the institution and to themselves and their families. Without exception, in the Oxford tradition of the time, which was derived from the monastic tradition, the teachers were unmarried. Staff members, such as the school secretary, could be married.
In the scene that reminded me so strongly of the sordid events at East Anglia, Harriet has invited Wimsey to join her at a faculty dinner. The participants there are various teachers and administrators, ranging from the misanthropic history professor, Miss Hillyard; to the aggressively objective science teacher, Miss Edwards; to the very politically correct Misses Shaw and Stevens; to the disciplined, academically passionate history professor, Miss DeVine; to Miss Lydgate, the sweet, but academically ferocious English professor. That’s the mise en scène, and this is what Sayers has to write (redacted to remove stuff specific to the mystery). All emphasis is mine:
“Of course,” said Miss Hillyard, in a hard, sarcastic voice, “if you think private loyalties should come before loyalty to one’s job . . .”
“Of course, I don’t say that one should be disloyal to ones job for private reasons,” said Miss Lydgate. “But surely if one takes on personal responsibilities, one owes a duty in that direction. If ones job interferes with them, perhaps one should give up the job.”
[snip, which picks up with Wimsey speaking]
“How about the artist of genius who has to choose between letting his family starve and painting pot-boilers to keep them?”
“He’s no business to have a wife and family,” said Miss Hillyard.
“Poor devil! Then he has the further interesting choice between repressions and immorality. Mrs. Goodwin, I gather, would object to the repressions and some people might object to the immorality.”
“That doesn’t matter,” said Miss Pyke. “You have hypothesized a wife and family. Well — he could stop painting. That, if he really is a genius, would be a loss to the world. But he mustn’t paint bad pictures — that would be really immoral.”
“Why?” asked Miss Edwards. “What do a few bad pictures matter, more or less?”
“Of course they matter,” said Miss Shaw. She knew a good deal about painting. “A bad picture by a good painter is a betrayal of truth — his own truth.”
“That’s only a relative kind of truth,” objected Miss Edwards.
[As matters digress, Harriet steers the conversation back on topic]
“If you can’t agree about painters, make it someone else. Make it a scientist.”
“I’ve no objection to scientific pot-boilers,” said Miss Edwards. “I mean, a popular book isn’t necessarily unscientific.”
“So long,” said Wimsey, “as it doesn’t falsify the facts. But it might be a different kind of thing. To take a concrete instance — somebody wrote a novel called The Search –”
“I never read the book,” said the Warden.
“Oh, I did,” said the Dean. “It’s about a man who starts out to be a scientist and gets on very well till, just as he’s going to be appointed to an important executive post, he finds he’s made a careless error in a scientific paper. He didn’t check his assistant’s results or something. Somebody finds out, and he doesn’t get the job. So he decides he doesn’t really care about science after all.”
“Obvious not,” said Miss Edwards. “He only cared about the post.”
“The point about it,” said Wimsey, “is what an elderly scientist says to him. He tells him: ‘The only ethical principle which has made science possible is that the truth shall be told all the time. If we do not penalize false statements made in error, we open up the way for false statements by intention. And a false statement of fact, made deliberately, is the most serious crime a scientist can commit.’ Words to the effect. I may not be quoting quite correctly.”
“Well, that’s true, of course. Nothing could possibly excuse deliberate falsification.”
“There’s no sense in deliberate falsification, anyhow,” said the Bursar. “What could anybody gain by it?”
“It has been done,” said Miss Hillyard, “frequently. To get the better of an argument. Or out of ambition.”
“Ambition to be what?” cried Miss Lydgate. “What satisfaction could one possibly get out of a reputation one knew one didn’t deserve? It would be horrible.”
To answer Miss Lydgate’s question, one can apparently get quite a lot out of a reputation one knows one doesn’t deserve. Al Gore, no scientist himself, although he plays one on TV, has made hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s just greed, though, which is almost understandable.
What is infinitely more awful than mere greed and ignorance is the fact that so many scientists have pursued the man-made global warming scheme as a way to destroy the entire capitalist, post-industrial infrastructure of the Western world. Armed with the fanatic belief that humans are irredemably evil, and that Westerners are particularly evil, they have used man-made global warming as a method to de-fuel us.
Without our energy, we have no factories, we have no transportation, we have no light, we have no heat. We are reduced to pre-industrial essentials of subsistence farming in a world lit only by fire. With this grand ideological goal, who cares about a single individual’s scientific reputation. It is enough to have the power to remake the world in a Marxist image.
I think it is worth repeating to ourselves, again and again, Sayers words about the absolute necessity for pure science: “The only ethical principle which has made science possible is that the truth shall be told all the time. If we do not penalize false statements made in error, we open up the way for false statements by intention. And a false statement of fact, made deliberately, is the most serious crime a scientist can commit.“Email This Post To A Friend
9 Responses to “A literary take on scientific corruption”
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.