"There are ominous signs that the Earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production – with serious political implications for just about every nation on Earth...To scientists, these seemingly disparate incidents represent the advance signs of fundamental changes in the world’s weather...the Earth’s climate seems to be cooling down."
Asimov's book portrayed power politics within and around academic departments. The interplay between academic views and political priorities operates to suppress important scientific truths in favor of incomplete, semi-scientific stories.
This is a topic right out of recent headlines. Yet we must take care to get straight any analogies between the book's storyverse and issues of our own real world. What is the heroic and suppressed truth? What is the officially sanctioned illusion?
In the real world, there tends to be a complex mixture of suppressed truths and falsehoods and sanctioned truths and falsehoods. The key is that the suppression or the sanction has no direct bearing on whether something is true or not. One must look instead into the science itself. Recognized expert status is also not a reliable indicator. The greater the status of an expert, the more they might know and the higher their vested interests in ongoing research funding might be, so factors may push in opposing directions. An outsider might know less, but also have less of a vested interest in a particular viewpoint.
In the book's storyverse, the antagonists ignore no less than the risk of the potential destruction of the entire solar system. They are on the trail of a nearly costless, clean source of energy and don't want to be obstructed.
I will leave it for readers of the book to discover what the source is, but will only note that the financial and political pressure is on the side of ignoring the underlying reality. A heroic and brilliant scientist who insists on exposing the real risks is marginalized, while a scientist who is either willing to ignore these risks or is not sufficiently insightful to understand them to begin with is elevated to academic star status.
I have run into one analogous example after another in my two decades of self-directed study of economic, historical, and scientific issues. The "global-warming consensus" has been one of these examples to me for years.
In a classic Orwellian twist, the global-warming consensus-making machine uses as a rhetorical tactic the image that the "real truth" is with them, while anthropogenic global warming skeptics are portrayed as cynically ignoring the real evidence that wise people all know about.
As I have read the debate and the science, however, the badge for ignoring and otherwise being selective about evidence clearly goes to promoters of the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis themselves (See my Review: Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years as well as the book itself).
Discussing climate science, MIT Professor of Atmospheric Studies Richard S. Lindzen, in a presentation at Rockhurst University (HT to Stephan Kinsella via Mises Economics Blog), went so far as to say that, "Science has been compromised if not corrupted. For the moment, institutional science is part of the problem rather than part of the solution."
One can say the same about academic economics over at least the past century. There has been incredible pressure to suppress views and approaches that are not in line with consensus, and incidentally, also not in line with the aims and dreams of politicians to construct empires, monuments, and glory using other people's money.
Real economists expose the fallacies in such programs, shining light where it is not welcomed. Pet economists refrain from shining unwelcome light and instead direct their research into hyper-specialized topics or macroeconomic fantasy worlds that are unlikely to get them into much trouble. See my The gutting of economics as an anti-state force by fear of offending the powers.
The current resurgence of causal-realist economics in the tradition of Juan de Mariana, Carl Menger and Ludwig Von Mises has gained its fuel from institutions, such as the Mises Institute, that were established outside of or on the edges of the existing academic edifice.
This is just as one should expect. New paradigms, said Thomas Kuhn, do not grow from within old establishments. They grow on the outside and on the edges until the clearer grasp of reality that they facilitate eventually becomes obvious to enough people that the previous paradigm finally begins to lose force.
Asimov's book is built on a three-part structure labelled with the three parts of the expression from Friedrich Schiller's play, The Maid of Orleans, "Against stupidity, the gods themselves, contend in vain" (Die Jungfrau von Orleans, "Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens").
Yet Asimov substituted a question mark for the pessimistic final period and dedicated his book, "To Mankind: And the hope that the war against folly may someday be won, after all."
Can we join Asimov in this daring touch of optimism?
To learn more on this topic, check the environment page at statefree-learning.org for a few select reading recommendations.