97% Yes, 3% No. Public Domain, own work.
A long while ago in this space, a post “What If We Are Really Wrong?” was put up, putting forth the concept that we really could be wrong about a zillion topics. The need to continually check one’s assumptions, and to examine one’s biases isn’t easy, but it helps keep from drifting into an echo chamber where assumptions are reinforced, rather than challenged.
A few podcasts have tickled the ‘loyal opposition’ in my mind recently; one was from the Quoth The Raven podast #161 with David Collum, and another was from the Skeptico podcast #362 (“Why we shouldn’t trust Science”) with Dr. Henry Bauer. David Collum, who is a sharp guy, thinks that the climate may not be going haywire due to CO2 produced by humans, and other things (natural variability) may be to blame for the changes in weather (all will be revealed in his annual review, out shortly). The Skeptico podcast makes note that ever since WW2, Science has lost a lot of its neutrality, because money, prestige, and power have warped whatever outlook scientists have. The trial this year of Michael Mann (which he lost), and the ClimateGate emails, might suggest that the ivory tower of Science isn’t too removed from the real world, and the folks there are just as human as the rest of us, with all the attendant human foibles. Even the “97% of climate scientists think that climate change is real, and caused by human activity” claim has been bandied about like a pinata (in a few places), throwing up clouds of uncertainty.
A troubling part of this back-and-forth is that is hard to know who is telling the truth, and who is beating the data to conform with their own predetermined outlook. Collum notes that he hasn’t put the 10,000 hours of analysis in (referring to the 10,000 hours needed to become proficient at something), and so even a full tenured organic chemistry professor at a prestigious university might not be qualified (!) to make any judgements on such things. No wonder people are confused. Trying to decipher this stuff is a full time job, and generally, most of us have other day jobs.
A third piece of data which is small, but still tickles the ‘loyal opposition’ neurons, makes me wonder what to believe myself. A recent documentary Third Eye Spies (which delves into the psychic spying programs of the US and the USSR) brought up the biography of Russell Targ, who had been deeply involved in the topic. Targ’s claims that his original biography on Wikipedia only referred to the paranormal work he’d done, and didn’t even discuss his weightier (and far less controversial work) in lasers. He also claims only until Nobel prize winning Brian Josephson intervened was his biography updated to reflect those points. Brian Josephson has his own problems, of course, with Science, partly based on his investigations into the paranormal and topics such as cold fusion.
With all these elements, it appears Science, like many other institutions has become sclerotic, and unable to act ‘scientifically’, and accept claims contrary a common, business-as-usual narrative. If climate change due to human activity is real, with an immediate threat we must address now, then the world needs to get on the stick and change. But if lies, half-lies, and political maneuvering from the climate-change-is real side are being used to sell this worldview (and found out), then who will believe them when real data is put forth? To sum up:
Nothing destroys good ideas or good causes, or gives more ammunition to their opponents, like lies spread in misguided attempts to defend them.
How does one stop this? Or is this just the nature of the beast, in the stairstep decline of civilization? Who do you trust these days?
Postscript: Serendipitously, while writing and researching this post, an article on Zero Hedge was published about biases in Wikipedia.