Monday, June 29, 2015

Follow-up to Friday's Post

A friend and I have had some back and forth over Friday's post (Lukewarmism) on the article by Matt Ridley which critiques attempts to convince the world that global warming is not only real and anthropogenic but also that it's dangerous. Ridley thinks that those insisting that it's dangerous not only exaggerate what we know, but are relying on questionable methodology and, in some cases, repression of evidence and contrary interpretations. My friend disagrees. As part of our exchange I wrote this:
In any case, my purpose in doing a post on this wasn't to challenge the reality of global warming but rather to discourage the credulity with which we seem to be accepting the most dire pronouncements of scientists rather than doing ourselves what scientists and others should be doing which is trying to falsify the claims that the IPCC and others are making.

That's what good science (and a good citizenry) does. Someone reports a finding in a paper and other researchers calmly and objectively try to duplicate the reported results, or to pick apart the original methodology, or otherwise show that the work doesn't withstand scrutiny. If the reported findings do hold up to the best efforts to falsify or refute them then they become part of accepted scientific thinking, at least tentatively.

Unfortunately, we've abandoned the traditional methodology and replaced it with ideological confirmation. Claims are now to be accepted uncritically and doubt is to be prohibited if the claim conforms to ideological fashion and fits our preconceptions.

Fashion and popular opinion should have no influence on our intellectual judgments, but we've not only allowed these factors to sway us, we've allowed it to the point where anyone who seeks to exercise the proper sort of skepticism is considered a crank, and some even demand that the person who's seeking to ascertain whether the emperor really is clothed be thrown in jail to shut him up. We've become a society that lurches from one hysterical reaction to another - e.g. We rush to take the confederate flag out of stores, even out of Gettysburg NP(!), while leaving swastikas unmolested - rather than doing the hard work of rationally and objectively challenging and probing what we're being told by the scientific establishment for inconsistencies, errors, and fraud.

In the late sixties, a biologist by the name of Paul Ehrlich wrote a book titled The Population Bomb in which he predicted that the earth would run out of food and other natural resources by the 1990s, and the apocalypse would be upon us. Like so many similar prognostications it never happened, and the lesson we should take from past experiences such as this is that it's appropriate to be skeptical of such forecasts until we have very good reason to trust the research and the researchers. Ridley's article, which formed the basis of Friday's Viewpoint, suggests that in the climate change controversy we're not there yet.
Maybe the alarmists are right and we are headed for eco-catastrophe, but we shouldn't assume they're right just because they're scientists, and since so much is at stake we should be sure that what they're telling us is supported by facts and is not just a product of self-interested motivation or sloppy professional practice. On the matter of climate change the motivations and procedures of at least some proponents still seem open to question.