Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Boy Who Cried Wolf

A number of political commenters have compared the current Republican contestants unfavorably with Barry Goldwater. The current crop, we are told, are religious nutcases, or possibly pretending to be. Goldwater, on the other hand, was an intelligent and reasonable man, even if not on the right side of every issue.

I have been reading my parents' autobiography, and recently got to the Goldwater campaign. Their description fits my memory. What we were being told then—by people almost none of whom could have done a competent job of explaining Goldwater's positions or the arguments for them—was that he was a dangerous madman. There was even a piece by some large number of psychiatrists, none of whom had ever examined the candidate, explaining how crazy he was. And the TV ad with the little girl, the countdown, and the mushroom cloud.

A while back I read an article attacking Bjorn Lomborg, an articulate  critic of much of the current environmental orthodoxy. It included a respectful reference to the late Julian Simon. Simon,  criticizing the population  orthodoxy, was making reasonable arguments, some of which turned out to be right. Lomborg, on the other hand ...  .

I remember that fight too—I contributed a chapter on the concept of optimal population to one of Julian Simon's books. Back when he was the front line of opposition to the then current orthodoxy, he got the same treatment Lomborg got a decade or two later.

I am not competent to judge the  climate science behind global warming, but I am suspicious of orthodoxies pushed relentlessly in the popular media, orthodoxies that claim that everyone competent agrees on an urgent problem which requires drastic action immediately if not sooner. I remember when we were being assured that it was simply a scientific fact that overpopulation was the cause of poverty and a near term threat to our own well being, if not survival. Also when we were assured that the only way to get the poor countries of the world up to our level was central planning, if possible supported by generous foreign aid.

When I see news headlines about global warming having shrunk horses to the size of cats, along with a picture comparing a cat sized horse to a modern Morgan—you have to read down a bit to discover that the ancestral horses shrank to the size of cats from the size of dogs, from 12 pounds to 8 1/2 pounds, and spent tens of thousands of years doing it—I suspect that what I am seeing is driven at least as much by what people want other people to believe as by the evidence for believing it.

Of course, going back to the beginning of this post, it's entirely possible that some of the Republican candidates are religious nutcases. With the possible exception of Ron Paul, none of them strikes me as someone I would be comfortable with as president. 

But after being told, time after time, that everyone competent to judge agrees with whatever views are currently fashionable with the academic and media elite, reasonable people stop believing it. 

Which brings me back to the title of this post.

46 Comments:

At 1:33 AM, February 27, 2012, Anonymous Erik Anderson said...

David,

You might enjoy "Science, Money, and Politics" by Daniel Greenberg (2003) on many levels. It goes into quite some detail about the Goldwater affair. It doesn't touch the Global Warming controversy, but since then I've noted that Greenberg has characterized Michael Mann (of hockey stick graph fame) as being a "gravedigger of science."

As for judging climate science, we need betting markets to exhibit how embarrassingly dismal is the clairvoyance of climate alarmists. There's a little bit of that going on at Intrade. In my fantasies, we need a system like this writ large -- to replace how theorists are funded entirely.

 
At 4:07 AM, February 27, 2012, Anonymous Max said...

Goldwater made some cavalier statements about the use of nuclear weapons. It was entirely fair to attack him as dangerous (not crazy) on that basis.

 
At 6:04 AM, February 27, 2012, Blogger Tim Lambert said...

This is what convinced me that Julian Simon was dishonest.

 
At 9:19 AM, February 27, 2012, Anonymous Allan Walstad said...

Tim Lambert: Out of curiosity I had a look. Pretty thin gruel.

Can't speak for others, but generally I'm not inclined to chase after bare links when commenters won't take a momment to articulate their point here on the thread.

 
At 10:56 AM, February 27, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Times had this old piece on "social cascades" that seems to apply here.
AGW is now the consensus view. Remember the last big "consensus" was that Iraq had stockpiles of WMD. They don't seem to have a good record of being correct.

 
At 11:03 AM, February 27, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

Tim's point, I think, is that Julian Simon blamed the sharp increase in malaria in various countries on the banning of DDT, when the source from which Tim believes Simon got his data makes it clear that DDT was still in use in those countries at the time. Tim takes that as evidence of dishonesty by Simon.

That assumes that Simon got his data directly from the source that Tim cites. The obvious alternative is that he got it from someone else who got it from there, or perhaps from wherever that source got its data, and the error was introduced, deliberately or otherwise, before the information reached Simon.

I actually encountered a situation of that sort in the debate over handguns. John Lott, in a talk at my university, told a story that appeared to provide striking evidence of the bad effects of safe storage laws. On further investigation I concluded that some elements of the story, ones that made it so striking, were false. On yet further investigation I concluded that those elements had probably been invented by the person from whom John got the story. John's fault, if I correctly interpet the situation, was not deliberate dishonesty but being too willing to believe things that supported his views--and the same may be true in this case.

For details of the handgun case, see:

http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2007/07/lott-lambert-guns-and-merced-killings.html

 
At 11:28 AM, February 27, 2012, Anonymous Nightrunner said...

> Also when we were assured that the only way to get the poor countries of the world up to our level was central planning, if possible supported by generous foreign aid.

And I remember when we were assured that the only way to get poor countries of the world up to our level was deregulation and austerity, supported by free international movement of capital.

 
At 11:55 AM, February 27, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Next time somebody warns you of the dangers of carbon dioxide, ask them if they can cite the definitive peer-reviewed study that incontrovertibly ties man to current climate warming. Al Gore’s books and movies don’t qualify, neither do IPCC reports which are mostly put together by politicians, but any peeer-review study that was used to produced them is fair game.
This should be fun … because there is no such definitive peer-reviewed study.

 
At 5:42 PM, February 27, 2012, Blogger Andrew Hallman said...

@Anonymous at 11:55 a.m.

Asking someone to cite where they got all their knowledge is an impossible standard. For instance, there are many facts I believe, such as the earth is 93 million miles from the sun, but I could not tell you how I came to believe that since my belief is grounded in lots of things, such as the reliability and honesty of astronomers, for example.

 
At 7:49 PM, February 27, 2012, Blogger Edward said...

Dear Anonymous,

I believe this is the evidence you were looking for.

 
At 5:22 AM, February 28, 2012, Blogger Tim Lambert said...

David, Simon directly quoted from Harrison and cited Harrison as his source. If he just copied this from somebody else, then he is guilty of a different kind of dishonesty - plagiarism.

 
At 5:52 AM, February 28, 2012, Blogger Tucci said...

In support of the "crippled conjecture" of AGW, Edward refers to the ill-named "Skeptical Science" alarmist propaganda site.

Better by far to look into Dr. David Evans' much more recent "The Skeptic's Case" monograph, which delivers a lucid summary of the science rather than the duplicity and hysteria pushed by the Watermelons.

Per the item's subtitle: "Who Are You Going To Believe – The Government Climate Scientists or The Data?"

 
At 9:18 AM, February 28, 2012, Anonymous Simon said...

Ah yes, the rich genre of "ALL experts agree and their consenus is perfectly aligned with whatever progressives want to believe!"

Another delightful example is president Obama's statement about how all economists favored expanded government spending as a stimulus.

"With all due respect, Mr. President, but that is not true."

A nobelist on fiscal stimulus

 
At 12:42 PM, February 28, 2012, Blogger HispanicPundit said...

Professor Friedman,

I am curious what your response would be to those who question motives. They argue, that there is a clear incentive and powers behind global warming denying. I mean, global warming harms industry. It's costly. It reduces options. Behind each of these negative affects, there will be special interests aligned to combat it.

But what about the opposite? What could possibly motivate all these climate scientists around the world to promulgate global warming catastrophes?

In other words, just on its face, there is a thousand reasons to be suspicious of global warming denying "science" and almost no reason to be suspicious of those in support of global warming research.

Your thoughts? Does this asymmetry not increase the probability that it is those in defense of global warming science will be right?

 
At 1:41 PM, February 28, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

HispanicPundit - I find your idea that "industry" would be against AGW, and climate scientists are merely disinterested seekers after truth to be just a little naive. Some "industries" stand to make a fortune with the promulgation of AGW. Remember GE and the CFLs? How about the well-recognized phenomenom of "regulatory capture"? Hint - it's why large companies prefer government regulations. Don't believe any of that? Then ask yourself why oil companies give more money to the Sierra Club than to the Heartland Institute.

And the picture of the disinterested scientist is out-of-date, too. Remember Climategate? Scientists are human too -- they want grants, peer approval, public recognition. Scientists who join the AGW bandwagon get all that; skeptics lose tenure, promotions, and publishing opportunites.

AGW succeeded as a cause celebre because it really was the perfect storm -- politicians loved it because it gave them the opportunity to appear to be concernted about the Earth; bureaucrats loved it because it allowed them to increase their empires and promulgate more regulations; liberals loved it because it grew government and justified new taxes; journalists loved it because it was a sensational story; and the "climatologists" loved it because they could jump on the gravy train.

 
At 2:00 PM, February 28, 2012, Anonymous Patrick R. Sullivan said...

Tucci's link to the David Evans paper is recommended. Very easy to read, good graphs.

From his conclusion;

'This is an unusual political issue, because there is a right and a wrong answer and everyone will know which it is eventually. People are going ahead and emitting CO2 anyway, so we are doing the experiment: either the world heats up by several degrees by 2050, or it doesn’t.'

 
At 2:57 PM, February 28, 2012, Anonymous Patrick R. Sullivan said...

Speaking of people being shown to be dishonest in the AGW debate:

http://www.globalwarmingheartland.org/

'With the weight of damning evidence closing in on him, alarmist scientist Peter Gleick has admitted in his Huffington Post blog that he was the alleged “Heartland Insider” who committed fraud and identity theft, lying and stealing his way into possession of Heartland Institute internal personnel documents and then sending those private documents to global warming activist groups and left-leaning media. Gleick sent to the press an additional document, a fake “2012 Climate Strategy,” that he claims he did not write.

'....The only thing that would seem to undermine the Heartland Institute’s credibility was the wording of the fake “2012 Climate Strategy” document. Computer forensics experts quickly discovered the climate strategy document was created by a different computer program and at a different time than the legitimate documents. The climate strategy document was also written in much different language, style, format and font than the legitimate documents. And long before Gleick confessed to being the fraudster and thief at the heart of the stolen documents, analysts noted a striking similarity between the language and style of the forged document and the language and style of Gleick’s public writings.'

 
At 8:52 PM, February 28, 2012, Blogger Hume said...

HispanicPundit,

I wonder if it is a possibility of self-selection bias of scientists who enter the field of geology, etc. Are they more likely to value nature's aesthetic beauty? Are they more likely to value highly out-door activity (hiking, camping, etc.)? If so, is it possible that they are more likely to overstate threats to that which they place more value? This would be more of a cognitive bias then a nefarious motive. These are just thoughts.

 
At 1:42 AM, February 29, 2012, Anonymous Simon said...

HispanicPundit,

I think a lot of people are motivated more by status than by wealth as such. Members of any profession wish to see a world where their guild gets tons of respect. So bureaucrats and politicians want a world where the power is concentrated to bureaucrats and politicians, pundits often want a similar world (they get more important that way), and climatologists would like it if there was a big climate crisis that promoted their efforts to the status of rescuing civilization.

The climate crisis narrative offers rewards for all of these groups.

 
At 4:50 AM, February 29, 2012, Blogger Tucci said...

Piling on HispanicPundit, I might as well get in my own digs about what we call in clinical practice the phenomenon of "secondary gain" operating among the politicians, businessmen, and especially the "climate science" charlatans pushing the AGW fraud.

Three years ago, some months before Climategate 1.0 ("FOIA2009.zip" hit the 'Net on 17 November 2009), Australian science educator Joanne Nova (who characterizes herself as "a veteran believer in the greenhouse gas crisis, 1990-2007") published a monograph called Climate Money (subtitled "The Climate Industry: $79 billion so far – trillions to come").

This is a useful aggregation of information current at the time of its composition, and is well worth the review of the readers here. It will doubtless discomfit HispanicPundit severely, which he both needs and deserves.

Toward the conclusion, Ms. Nova had written:

"The danger of the distortion in the scientific process means that we need to focus closely on the question of evidence. This paper calls for more attention to be paid to empirical evidence, as well as ways to use incentives in science that help us discover how the natural world works in the most timely and efficient manner possible."

The truth of this observation has been validated by the releases of the C.R.U. archival materials (including the unencrypted portion of the more recent "FOIA2011.zip" file), which have confirmed the long-held suspicions among those of us conscientiously skeptical of las warmistas' preposterously crappy "Cargo Cult Science" that the conniving liars who make up "the consensus" simply have no valid evidence to support their contentions that anthropogenic atmospheric CO2 has caused or ever could cause significant (much less adverse) global climate change.

In addition to Climate Money, I'll recommend two other works by Ms. Nova:

(1) The Skeptic's Handbook (revised in late 2009 to incorporate mention of the FOIA2009.zip materials)

(2) A supplementary Skeptic's Handbook monograph which I prefer to call by its subtitle, Global Bullies want your money

As with Dr. Evans' more recent "The Skeptic's Case," these three older offerings were devised to be apprehensible without the requirement of formal education in the sciences.

Share and enjoy.

 
At 8:57 AM, February 29, 2012, Anonymous Simon said...

Actually, Tucci, I think HispanicPundit asked a good question. Naive, certainly, but the childish questions are often the best.

The idea that academics could have motivations other than the pursuit of truth is counterintuitive to many people. That's easy to forget.

 
At 10:36 AM, February 29, 2012, Blogger Nicolas Martin said...

Tim Lambert doesn't distinguish between error and dishonesty, which causes me to distrust this motives. Distrusting his motives causes me to distrust his use of facts.

 
At 3:42 PM, February 29, 2012, Blogger Tucci said...

Simon had written:

"Actually, Tucci, I think HispanicPundit asked a good question. Naive, certainly, but the childish questions are often the best.

"The idea that academics could have motivations other than the pursuit of truth is counterintuitive to many people. That's easy to forget."


I will not concede this point, being by experience powerfully disinclined to attribute to putative naïveté those commonplace AGW fraudster practices in online dispute which reek of suppressio veri, suggestio falsi.

It was 1981 when I first encountered the notion that global climate warming could be effected by atmospheric CO2 increases induced by the combustion of petrochemical fuels, in correspondence with Dr. Petr Beckmann, author of The Health Hazards of Not Going Nuclear (1976).

When Dr. Beckmann advised me of the concept, I recall that my immediate response was something like:

"Damn! It sounds like they've overestimated the greenhouse gas effect by about three orders of magnitude."

Turns out I was inadvertently charitable in my horseback assessment of the conjecture's error.

It's a helluva lot worse.

I repeat: I'm experienced in dealing with this hideous bogosity, having been introduced to it when it was merely a flaming idiocy perpetrated by third-rate academically credentialed incompetents masquerading as "scientists," long before it became a confidence game to be exploited by leftie-luser politicians like Algore and our present infestation in the White House.

This understood, I've seen critters like HispanicPundit before, and therefore I'm thirty years too well-salted to cut any of 'em any slack whatsoever.

Mark you, in the post to which you're referring, HispanicPundit had followed one of the standard AGW fraudster scripts machined for disarming "denial" in public exchanges like this one.

Been there, seen that, scraped it off my boot.

 
At 9:40 AM, March 01, 2012, Anonymous Mark Bahner said...

"Tim's point, I think, is that Julian Simon blamed the sharp increase in malaria in various countries on the banning of DDT, when the source from which Tim believes Simon got his data makes it clear that DDT was still in use in those countries at the time. Tim takes that as evidence of dishonesty by Simon."

Julian Simon, Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams...and Paul Krugman. They're all economists who have written very strong statements on environmental matters about which it is clear that they haven't consulted with experts on these matters; especially experts on these matters who do not necessarily share their opinions on other matters.

David, if you ever want a free review of something you do on an environmental issue, I'd be happy to provide it. I'm an environmental engineer, with ~25 years of experience in environmental issues, mostly related to air pollution.

On a similar note, Tim Lambert criticized Paul Georgia of Tech Central Station about Georgia’s statements relating temperature and energy in the atmosphere. See “Tech Central Station Flunks Physics.”

http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2004/05/georgia.php

However, it was obvious to me that Tim Lambert has never had a course in thermodynamics (despite his comment that, “Wow. I guess we’ll just have to ditch the entire field of thermodynamics…”). Also, Tim Lambert was basically wrong, and Paul Georgia was basically right.

That is, the following statement (a paraphrase of Paul Georgia's words, in order to make the statement absolutely correct, rather than basically correct) is true:

"Moreover, temperature and enthalpy aren’t the same thing. The enthalpy of the atmosphere can change without changing the temperature and the temperature can change while the enthalpy of the atmosphere remains the same. In fact, this occurs all the time in the climate because the two variables are fundamentally different classes of thermodynamic variables and there is no physical law that requires that they move together."

I repeatedly tried to get Tim Lambert to admit his error (that the temperature of the atmosphere is *not* related to the enthalpy of the atmosphere by delta H = delta T x m x c) but he never would admit he was wrong. That’s why I have my own questions about Tim Lambert’s honesty.

 
At 10:00 AM, March 01, 2012, Anonymous Mark Bahner said...

"Next time somebody warns you of the dangers of carbon dioxide, ask them if they can cite the definitive peer-reviewed study that incontrovertibly ties man to current climate warming."

As others have noted, "the definitive peer-reviewed study that incontroveribly" demonstrates something is difficult to find.

For example, essentially all experts agree that the earth is about 4 billion years old and that humans and chimps share a common ancestor. Finding "the definitive peer-reviewed study that incontrovertibly" demonstrates either of those assertions is difficult or impossible.

 
At 10:44 AM, March 01, 2012, Blogger HispanicPundit said...

For the record, I am a libertarian in most areas. Check out my blog. I am not some naive believer in socialism or the altruistic motives of experts. In fact, I still continue to believe that we shouldn't do anything (aside from say, making the economy more capitalist and therefore fluid) to alleviate global warming. But I hold these views while still accepting and conceding that scientists are right on this issue.

With that said, this argument really does seem stronger on the left. I mean, were not just talking one or two scientists. But many. An overwhelming amount. Not just in the United States but around the world.

Are scientists void of bias? Certainly not. But on this scale, I find it hard to believe that you could cover up a conspiracy of this magnitude.

I'm asking as a non-scientist here. If I had to bet, I would put my money on consensus over special interest. I don't have the scientific knowledge - and indeed, most of us don't, not even Friedman, who has a Phd in Physics - to truly settle this issue. So in situations like that, the highest probability choice of being right is consensus.

Where am I wrong?

Btw, Anonymous, Hume, Simon and others made great points. But I still think the consensus argument is stronger.

 
At 12:05 PM, March 01, 2012, Blogger Hume said...

HispanicPundit,

I share the same intuitions as you do. If I had to bet, I would bet with the majority. But in times of reflection, I wonder if it is rational to *believe* one way or the other, without any real understanding of the science and without any real way of judging the arguments, simply on the basis of majority rule (Condorcet maybe? I dont know).

This is something I scribbled down on my own blog a time ago:

http://www.reasonabledisagreement.blogspot.com/2012/02/rationality-and-individual-belief.html

Lately I’ve been thinking about rationality and individual belief. Here is my question: how does one rationally choose what to believe in fields that require technical expertise when (1) the individual does not possess such expertise, (2) there is disagreement among experts, and (3) the disagreement is deep and fundamental, usually the result of different comprehensive worldviews? I have in mind important questions regarding economics, science, social theory, etc. Most of us do not possess advanced degrees and lack the formal training required to make a truly informed decision on many important matters. Yet most of us nevertheless believe some theory rather than another, and believe strongly in it, often evincing frustration (and even anger) towards those with opposite beliefs. So how is it that we come to have these beliefs? Can these beliefs be the result of a rational process? How is that process rational? We usually do not take it to be rational to believe something simply because a majority believes it (leaving aside the Condorcet Jury Theorom), so counting heads seems to be out. What should we do?

 
At 12:42 PM, March 01, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I'm asking as a non-scientist here. If I had to bet, I would put my money on consensus over special interest. I don't have the scientific knowledge - and indeed, most of us don't, not even Friedman, who has a Phd in Physics - to truly settle this issue. So in situations like that, the highest probability choice of being right is consensus. "

Two things. Your statement might work if it's undeniably a consensus. There is only a perception of a consensus because of the way the issue has been peddled in the media. There are a lot of assertions of consensus, for example, but never enough specifics on who exactly is being counted to be in that group. Numerous groups have come up with lists of well-known scientists disavowing the claims of AGW proponents, but these never seem to be taken into consideration.

Two: in science, consensus does not count.

There is no definitive hard data supporting catastrophic AGW. What we have are a bunch of computer models that show what the programmers want to show. Anyone who has worked in real research, especially in hard sciences, can tell you that computer models might show trends or possibilities, but they are never a good substitute for facts and data.

 
At 1:25 PM, March 01, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The percentage of US created CO2 in the atmosphere is so tiny to make all AGW arguments nonsense. Al Gore and Goldman and friends just wanted billions from the Chicago Climate Exchange and to use Cap and Trade to control more of our nation. A significant percentage of our GDP would have been siphoned off and ran through the crooks at the UN and sent to cronies around the world. Insane and it is not warming,, duh

 
At 2:05 PM, March 01, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

"Here is my question: how does one rationally choose what to believe in fields that require technical expertise when (1) the individual does not possess such expertise, (2) there is disagreement among experts, and (3) the disagreement is deep and fundamental, usually the result of different comprehensive worldviews?"

A very interesting question, and one that the post you are commenting on was in part an attempt to answer. If you don't have sufficient competence to evaluate the arguments on their own merit, you can try to evaluate them on internal evidence--on to what degree the people one one side or the other sound as though they are making a serious effort to discover and tell the truth, vs to what degree they are trying to convince people of a conclusion.

One problem, of course, is that "the people on one side" may be a very mixed bag. There are surely critics of global warming who are incompetent or dishonest or corrupt, just as there are advocates who are. I think the best you can do is to look at what seem to be the best people on each side and compare them.

Another approach that I often use is to find some area where I do have relevant expertise, and see how each side's claims in that area stack up. Thus in this issue, I don't put much weight on my attempt to evaluate the physics, beyond noting (in the previous post) that there is at least some disagreement among competent experts. I pay much more attention to the economics, to the claims of what the implications of the climate science arguments are.

That's the point where it seems to me that the "consensus" argument is pretty nearly indefensible, for reasons I keep pointing out. I think "Anonymous"'s attempt to defend it in comments on the previous post support that conclusion, as does Tim Lambert's. Neither of them can offer any reason at all to expect that the consequences of the projected level of warming will be on net negative. And Anonymous actually provided a link to an estimate of one of the much-hyped problems, sea level rise, which implies that the magnitude of the problem is tiny--a total worldwide cost, towards the end of the century, of about a billion dollars a year, assuming half a meter of rise, which I think is about the average for the IPCC projections.

 
At 2:07 PM, March 01, 2012, Blogger Hume said...

Related. This is from Brian Leiter's blog:

Philosophy PhD Career Alternatives: Become a Shill for Climate Change Deniers

Thanks to Saba Bazargan for pointers to this fellow, David Wojick (PhD, Pittsburgh), who found lucrative, but disgraceful, use for his philosophical training: help generate a fake controversy about climate change to mislead schoolchildren. I guess they learned this from the Discovery (sic) Institute that this can work.

http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2012/03/philosophy-phd-career-alternatives-become-a-shill-for-climate-change-deniers.html

 
At 2:21 PM, March 01, 2012, Blogger HispanicPundit said...

A few points:

1. I think the consensus is more real than many on this thread give credit. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was the largest consensus of climate scientists (and scientists from other fields, including economists) coming together for models, predictions, and solidarity, than has been seen on any other issue.

Is the consensus 100%? No, but I doubt you can get scientists to agree 100% on gravity, let alone Climate Change.

2. Sure, much of the argument for anthropomorphic climate change is based on models. But so is many of the arguments for economics, and many other social sciences.

3. The models, with time, have proven rather robust. If anything, they have been under-performing the rise, not over.

With all that said, I must admit, I am an elitist at heart. I take consensus seriously. Are scientists always right? Certainly not. But they are certainly more right than your non-trained scientists.

Compare this to something most of us on this thread are more familiar with, economics: Do economists know everything and predict the future with 100% accuracy? Certainly not. But they do so with a MUCH HIGHER accuracy than non-economists do, that is for sure!

So in an environment where intellectual growth is my goal, I don't have time to reinvent the wheel. I take scientists - be they global warming scientists, biology scientists (with evolution), or economists - at their word. If a large percentage of them (say 75%+) believe something, so do I.

We, as non-scientists, can never really come to a resolution at odds with the scientific community. Just as I don't believe two deniers of evolution can ever truly conclude that evolution is wrong - unless of course, they are Evolutionary scientists themselves, and even then, if their arguments are strong enough, I would expect their findings to naturally (slowly, maybe...but steadily) change the scientific consensus.

The fact that the scientific community says something at odds with the rest tells you something. And to me, I'd put my money on the scientists - those devoting their lives and energy to the study of this stuff.

 
At 2:28 PM, March 01, 2012, Blogger HispanicPundit said...

Professor Friedman,

Agreed. In fact, your approach is very similar to mine. I respect scientists and take them at their word when they are speaking about science. Once they move past science and extrapolate to what must be done on an economic level, for example, they have entered the world of economics. And in this realm I don't trust them - in fact, I am inclined to think they are going to make fundamental mistakes, as environmentalists tend to do.

But that is precisely my overall point: When climate scientists are speak as climate scientists, and the consensus is large, I believe we should take them at their word. What that translates into other areas is a completely separate debate.

Of which, as I mentioned above, is where I start to strongly part ways with global warming scientists - precisely because then I look to economists as authority figures.

 
At 2:39 PM, March 01, 2012, Blogger Hume said...

"Do economists know everything and predict the future with 100% accuracy? Certainly not. But they do so with a MUCH HIGHER accuracy than non-economists do, that is for sure!"

I'm pretty sure there is a study out there indicating that economists do awful at predicting things, much worse than a coin flip. I think I read this in David Estlund's Democratic Authority, but I may be mistaken.

 
At 2:49 PM, March 01, 2012, Anonymous Allan Walstad said...

As a physicist, I must say I don't have quite as much faith in the pure intellectual honesty of scientists as Hispanic Pundit seems to. Even in the absence of political bias, there is a professional incentive to identify big problems or dangers because that's where the fame and funding are. "When scientists speak as scientists..." Heh. And when precisely is that? Can we trust scientists to confide their doubts when the policies they prefer are on the line? There is a notorious quote by the late atmospheric scientist Stephen Schneider that suggests we cannot. Anybody not familiar with it, just google "stephen schneider scary" and take your pick of many hits. And then there are those climategate emails...

 
At 3:17 PM, March 01, 2012, Anonymous Mark Bahner said...

"Here is my question: how does one rationally choose what to believe in fields that require technical expertise when (1) the individual does not possess such expertise, (2) there is disagreement among experts, and (3) the disagreement is deep and fundamental, usually the result of different comprehensive worldviews?"

Here are my suggestions:

1) "Believe" nothing. "Think" things, without fear or shame in later thinking the exact opposite. And without then thinking the exact opposite of that, back to the original thing.

2) Always try to find points of agreement, if the two experts are communicating with you directly. For example, for global warming you might say, "If there were no climate feedbacks, you both agree that global warming from doubling CO2 would be somewhere between 0 and 2 degrees Celsius, right?" Taking into account of feedbacks, you both agree that the warming from a doubling of CO2 would be somewhere between 0 and 5 degrees Celsius, right?"

3) If you are communicating with the experts, ask what evidence they would consider would show them to be wrong. For example, you might ask a "skeptic" or a "denier": "If the world warms by 3 degrees Celsius between now and 2050, would you admit you are wrong? And to an "alarmist" or "catastrophist": "If the warming from now to 2050 is less than 0.5 degrees Celsius, would you admit you are wrong?"

You should be highly skeptical of people who: 1) Can find absolutely no area of agreement with their opponents, and 2) can not describe a situation in which they'd admit that they are wrong.

 
At 4:42 PM, March 01, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

On the general issue of past consensus of physicists, a couple of cases:

1. Edward Teller, in his memoirs, discusses the situation with regard to the project to develop a hydrogen bomb. By his account, a large number of physicists argued that it could not be done, and so was not worth trying. It sounds as though they were mostly people who didn't want it done, for good or bad reasons. Also as though there were good arguments for the claim that it was impossible--but not conclusive arguments, as the eventual outcome showed.

2. I followed the nuclear winter controversy, back when it was the latest in catastrophic worries. The most telling point, for me, was when I read an article by authors of one of the pieces that went into the original claim, responding to critics. Their response amounted to "yes, the critics are right, they have spotted an error in our analysis; eliminating that error reduces the length of the winter produced by a nuclear war from years to weeks. We, however, have now spotted another error in the opposite direction; fixing it moves it back to years." (By memory--I don't swear to the details).

I'm willing to assume they were honest. But if the results were so uncertain that correcting just one of the pieces that fed into the final conclusion shifts it from catastrophe to minor problem and then back again, they ought not to have been initially reported with anything approaching the confidence they were. And the motive—to discourage nuclear war and (probably) push disarmament—was an obvious and natural one.

Those are both cases where, from the standpoint of the general public, it looked like a consensus of most of the experts--but the reason was not that the case for their conclusion was overwhelmingly strong but that it was a conclusion they wanted to believe and wanted other people to believe.

 
At 9:05 PM, March 01, 2012, Anonymous Mark Bahner said...

"When climate scientists speak as climate scientists, and the consensus is large, I believe we should take them at their word."

What is the consensus that you think exists? For example, what do you think their consensus is of how much the earth will warm by 2100 if nothing is done?

Also, the current world per-capita GDP is about $10,000. If nothing is done, what do you think the consensus is that the world per-capita GDP will be in 2100?

 
At 3:30 PM, March 02, 2012, Blogger Edward said...

Here is a survey from a couple of years ago that summarizes the degree of consensus among climate scientists as to climate change.

 
At 3:44 PM, March 02, 2012, Blogger Edward said...

One other point I would make is that if you look at the work of the big name climate change "skeptics" you find that many of them actually accept the reality of AGW. They have disagreements about issues of climate sensitivity, the likely impacts, etc., but they don't deny that the earth is getting warmer and that human activity is partially responsible.

 
At 10:58 AM, March 06, 2012, Anonymous Johnny Mac said...

What have these "scientists" ever done for us? Why should we believe science?

 
At 6:46 AM, March 12, 2012, Anonymous David O. said...

I enjoyed Edward's link at 3:30 PM, March 2, 2012. It was on the subject of how much consensus there is among climate scientists.

But I found it amusing how in questions 30 to 36, they were in strong agreement that scientists know best, and top-down approaches to solving climate change are best.

Question 36 in particular shows that climate scientists like a solution of enforced regulation.

 
At 4:36 PM, July 25, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i have no basis to judge climate change issues but am old enough to remember the derision poured on those scientists who dared in the 70s to say the next great ice age was not upon us.Lost grants,jobs etc lol kill the heretics
Richard
ps where is my iceberg

 
At 11:58 AM, August 27, 2012, Anonymous the boy who cried warming said...

Enjoyed your article, "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" was wondering if you would be interested in my film "The Boy Who Cried Warming" which makes similar assertions to your article

There is a new force in the world of Global Warming, and unlike proposed Cap and Trade Legislation, this one is FREE! A documentary film encompassing all the public misinformation on Climate Change (hence the one and a half hour running time), “The Boy Who Cried Warming” is now available online for audiences to enjoy at the website: www.theboywhocriedwarming.com.

The site offers potential viewers the ability to watch the film, in its entirety, for free! Viewers can also sign up to be included in future E-mailing lists. The site and film will be retroactively funded through use of a “Pay what you want” format. Basically what we are saying is “if you like it: please donate and tell your friends to check it out. If you don’t like the film you loose NOTHING, you only run the risk of gaining knowledge in the process.” The film to date has survived solely on private personal donations from concerned citizens, and we see no reason to change this format now!

If you are viewing this: it is because we see you as an interested party in the debate (be it either over-stepping government, free markets, political interests, or simply a party interested in Global Warming) we could now use your help in getting the word out. We made the movie, we are literally giving it away, all that we ask from you is to check it out and tell your audience to do the same. If there is anything that we can do to assist you in any way, please do not hesitate to ask…

Enjoy the Show!

 
At 11:59 AM, August 27, 2012, Anonymous the boy who cried warming said...

Enjoyed your article, "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" was wondering if you would be interested in my film "The Boy Who Cried Warming" which makes similar assertions to your article

There is a new force in the world of Global Warming, and unlike proposed Cap and Trade Legislation, this one is FREE! A documentary film encompassing all the public misinformation on Climate Change (hence the one and a half hour running time), “The Boy Who Cried Warming” is now available online for audiences to enjoy at the website: www.theboywhocriedwarming.com.

The site offers potential viewers the ability to watch the film, in its entirety, for free! Viewers can also sign up to be included in future E-mailing lists. The site and film will be retroactively funded through use of a “Pay what you want” format. Basically what we are saying is “if you like it: please donate and tell your friends to check it out. If you don’t like the film you loose NOTHING, you only run the risk of gaining knowledge in the process.” The film to date has survived solely on private personal donations from concerned citizens, and we see no reason to change this format now!

If you are viewing this: it is because we see you as an interested party in the debate (be it either over-stepping government, free markets, political interests, or simply a party interested in Global Warming) we could now use your help in getting the word out. We made the movie, we are literally giving it away, all that we ask from you is to check it out and tell your audience to do the same. If there is anything that we can do to assist you in any way, please do not hesitate to ask…

Enjoy the Show!

 
At 1:17 PM, June 24, 2013, Blogger My Cousin Vinny said...

Hispanic Pundit takes climate scientists expertise for granted. Do climate scientists REALLY know what they're talking about? Is the evidence for global warming (and its dangers) so overwhelming as to eliminate any doubts to the contrary? The question to be asked perhaps is, how much do climate scientists understand the weather as they do, say mechanics? What is the certainty of their claim? My gut tells me that before the data collection has finished uncertainty abounds. And apropos, the human race wouldn't just destroy itself for a few dollars. When the dangers become more palpable there will be agreement about the issue. And humanity will find ways to adapt. In the meantime many hypothetical scenarios are being thrown around in the air without any of them actually manifesting ("Miami will be Atlantis in 20 years"). You should always be cautious, and humans certainly have what to do about their relationship with the environment, but you can't stop people's lives for the sake of some future uncertainty.

 

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