Yet another weird SF fan

I'm a mathematician, a libertarian, and a science-fiction fan. Common sense? What's that?

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Yet another weird SF fan

Saturday, December 20, 2003

A Reason to Take Global Warming Seriously

One of the most annoying habits of environmentalists is organizing a “consensus” (this usually involves telling the eminent scientists signing some petition that it means something completely different from what's reported in the media) and then claiming anyone disagreeing is going against “the scientific community.” It started with nuclear test ban activism, and then continued with anti-SDI petitions, pro-biodiversity petitions, and, most recently, global warming hysteria (which somehow does not emphasize nuclear energy).

I have noticed this kind of collective thinking is much rarer when there is enough real evidence behind a theory—even when the theory has been politicized. We hardly ever hear of pro-evolution petitions and never hear of petitions against cigarette smoking or lead gasoline additives. (Lead can cause brain damage and exposure to lead is positively correlated with voting for Democrats.)

I have a theory that when scientists sign petitions instead of stating their beliefs individually, it is because they are trying to hide behind each other. If the petition turns out to be nonsense, they can blame somebody else.

In any case, we must always be suspicious of anything defended on the basis of “they say” instead of “it is.” I have some to the conclusion that the best test of whether someone is citing real science or PC bullsh!t is whether they cite collective ideas. If an idea is defended by petition, we must be suspicious of it.

There has been a petition (discussed on Dissecting Leftism) stating:

There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gasses is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth's atmosphere and disruption of the Earth's climate. Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth.
Clearly, global warming is a dire emergency and we must take all possible steps to combat it! In other words, …


UPDATE: Shortly after posting the above I came across the following from Michael Crichton (seen via blissful knowledge):

I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you're being had.

Let's be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.


Finally, I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensus is invoked. Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough. Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way.

On the other hand, “one investigator” isn't enough to check if the results are reproducible. On the gripping hand, consensus claims are sometimes used to dodge the reproducibility requirement.


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