TOK essay 2015: Is there any such thing as a neutral question?

Dr Roger Revelle
  1. There is no such thing as a neutral question. Evaluate this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.

The obvious interpretation of ‘a neutral question’ is one where the questioner has no vested interest in the answer. Ie, the questioner will accept the answer which emerges, eschew confirmation bias and refrain from seeking to weight the outcome of an inquiry in favour of preconceived ideas, prejudices or predictions. So, a neutral question is a detached, impersonal, open question, and yes, some people are capable of asking them. 

Or least, they would be if there was any such thing as a neutral question. The problem is judging whether a question is neutral or not.

Clearly, the scientific method is predicated on the existence of such questions, but the history of science is riddled with instances where the treatment of answers – ie experimental results – reveals rampant confirmation bias, and suppression of experimental data which threatens a cherished hypothesis, a career-building hypothesis, a triumphant, vindicating hypothesis, a hypothesis which would make sense of the universe and make somebody very famous. 

Why should science be free of corruption if the Vatican isn’t? Why should the scientific method be followed when the American constitution isn’t?

One famous example would be in the area of climate science. Dr Roger Revelle of Harvard University, one of the first scientists who noticed the rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, asked whether this might be a cause for concern (1957). Late in life, after three decades of studying the question, Revelle concluded the catastrophic anthropogenic global warming hypothesis remained unproven and advised that it should not form the basis for drastic action, in a paper co-authored with Fred Singer and Chauncey Starr. ( “What to do about greenhouse warming: Look before you leap,” which was published in the summer of 1992.) This shows the correct attitude towards a scientific hypothesis: the scientist poses a neutral question, and is disinterested in the outcome; disproof should be as satisfying as proof. One of Revelle’s students, however, a certain Al Gore, dismissed his former mentor’s warning in a famous ad hominem attack, alleging that Revelle had become senile before his death. Gore’s partisan approach to the question, then, shows a complete lack of scientific neutrality.

Gore’s careerist espousal of the global warming hypothesis and his constantly reiterated pronouncements that ‘the science is settled’ reveals a profound ignorance or subversion of the scientific method, which depends on the objective testing of neutral questions.

We can find many examples where the treatment of the questioner by his or her knowledge community reveals the suppression of such neutral questions, methods and conclusions where they threaten establishment agendas.  The catastrophic anthropogenic global warming hypothesis is an essential element in or mask for a certain agenda: specifically, United Nations Agenda 21. Is there any such thing as a neutral question in the United Nations?

Good question.

And no, not neutral.


Author: Paul Dunbar

I have worked in international schools for the past 15 years, teaching English Literature and Theory of Knowledge in Amsterdam, Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City. I'm also a musician, and a bit of a writer. Since 2001 I have come to question literally everything, the default position for an uncrippled epistemologist.

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