[lbo-talk] Altenberg 16: Will the real theory stand up

Andy andy274 at gmail.com
Sun Feb 7 06:32:53 PST 2010

On Sat, Feb 6, 2010 at 12:19 PM, Alan Rudy <alan.rudy at gmail.com> wrote:

> Second, the "problem" Mazur and climate change skeptics attribute to 99.5%
> of evolutionary scientists and 98% of all climate scientists is perfectly
> recapitulated by Mazur and climate change skeptics.  If evolutionary and
> climate scientists are resistant to critique, intolerant of (especially
> crappy) science outside the box, and overstate the incontrovertability and
> totalizing nature of their account, at least they do so as part of a
> long-established majority that is the product of multiple rounds of internal
> disagreement, uncertaintly and sub-paradigmatic developments and
> "revolutions".  Mazur and ecoskeptics, on the other hand, make wildly
> overblown claims about the illegitimacy of the modern synthesis and climate
> science based on the claims and publications of scientists, journalists and
> politicians that have almost always garnered devastating methodological
> critiques - critiques rarely coherently responded to - from the realm of
> modern science.

Most of what I see in climate contrarianism -- to call them skeptics is an abuse of the word -- fails to rise to this level of scientific sophistication. By sophistication I would include what little of read by Mazur. I would expect such a stance to make more hay of the work of established scientists like Lindzen, or the notion that cosmic rays are a climate driver (there was some very preliminary work that suggested they might have cloud generating properties, but nothing suggests that it could be anywhere near the effect GHG).

As it is, most of what I've seen is repeating simple falsehood and strawmen. Somebody dubbed it "whack-a-mole"; the RealClimate blog apologized for an unannounced hiatus in part by noting that they were tired of the same arguments coming up in the manner of Groundhog Day. It feels much more like the usual conspiracy fascination surrounding 9/11, vaccines, faked moon landings, etc. stoked by what Spencer Weart compared to the tobacco lobby. (Some of the principals are the same.) Most of the climate science blogs I follow seem to respond directly to the contrarian pronouncements and crap press, but it feels like the more honestly Skeptical Enquirer grappling with Uri Geller -- you know what the outcome is. It's kind of boring.

What doesn't get discussed as much is the question -- to me more interesting, at least with a certain distance -- of how to combat all this bullshit? Part of the problem as it's been observed is that you have scientists vs. lawyers, the former trying, at least in principle, as an aspiration, to get to the bottom of things, and the latter advocating a side and sticking to it, no matter what. The former are compelled, at least in principle, to admit caveats, qualifications, and uncertainty -- lest they be provided for you -- the latter in principle are not. One blogger who regularly examines this problem compared it to an observation of Norbert Wiener's regarding Manichean and Augistinean devils:


Or, as the blogger put it elsewhere, while scientists have been studying the earth, other have been studying debate tactics. Which means scientists lose the debate.

So I keep thinking back to an exchange with Dwayne:



But the bullshitocracy has no time for facts when they're inconvenient, preferring to send compromised space shuttles to their fiery doom, armies on the march in search of nonexistent arsenals, mothers milk into trash bins because someone once made a movie about "binary explosives" disguised as baby food. Instead of action, there are speeches; instead of hard headed analysis of our situation there's wishful thinking - some Utopian, some dystopian.

As Chomsky once remarked, it may indeed turn out that intelligence is not a successful adapation, that the very things most of us consider to be our crowning glories - consciousness and intellect - bring with them so much baggage in the form of a love a bullshittery (perhaps an extension, in some perverse way, of our love of good stories) that we fail to do what we need to do.

Hopefully, this isn't the case.



Now, where'd I put my bourbon?

-- Andy

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