Science and Sense

Global warmists have been rattled by Climategate, but they are regrouping. Ben Chu, writing in the Independent a couple of days ago, concedes that the behaviour of a few scientists at the University of East Anglia left a little to be desired, but goes on to say that the scientific consensus on AGW remains unaltered.

In the end, this is not an argument about science, but logic. Those of us who are not scientific specialists are no more able to talk authoritatively about the physics of climate change than we are able to explain how vaccination works, or how the HIV virus results in Aids. But we (generally) take our jabs and practise safe sex. Scientific consensus matters. Not because the consensus is always right, but because it is the only guide to rational action and policymaking.

The essential argument here is that non-scientists should accept the consensus scientific advice, because there is no rational alternative. We must allow ourselves to be governed by experts. How plausible is that?

In the first place it should be pointed out that 99.9% of people, 99.9% of the time, are making decisions based on their own good sense and experience. They use it when they walk around, go shopping, drive cars, cook food, and even select lifetime partners. Most people don’t employ experts or scientists to do those things. Are such people irrational? Of course not. Yet this is what Chu seems to be suggesting. He seems to be suggesting that as soon as tour guides, celebrity chefs, and dating agencies appear – staffed by qualified experts – people should use these as the only available guides to rational action.

One of the merits of using one’s own common sense is that it’s free. But as soon as one begins to rely on experts, one must pay for the privilege. And so reliance upon experts is an expensive option. And this in itself is a powerful reason why people should use their own good sense instead of relying on expensive experts. It’s cheaper. Or, you can only rely on experts if you’re wealthy.

And people very often don’t entirely rely on their own good sense. They consult friends and relatives, who will offer their own free advice as well, perhaps pointing out things that they may not have thought of themselves, or simply didn’t know about. And so very often when people make decisions, they will be based upon a collective wisdom.

And also, people are often well-educated enough to understand a great deal about a great many subjects. A lot of people understand in outline how vaccination works – which is, very roughly, that people’s immune systems are activated by being vaccinated with dead (and therefore harmless) infectious agents, so that when they are exposed to the live and dangerous bacteria or viruses, their immune systems are already primed to counter them. And they can use this knowledge to make judgments about proposed vaccination programmes. They might, for example, be suspicious of a vaccination programme to counter a health threat which had no known viral or bacterial cause, on the grounds that there could be no vaccine available in such a circumstance.

Furthermore, even if people know very little about some subject, they can very often rapidly educate themselves about it, at very little cost. This is particularly true in the internet era in which entire libraries are freely available for rapid consultation. With a little application ignorant laymen can become experts almost overnight. With a little further application, they may even go beyond what acknowledged, qualified experts presently know.

And so, in the case of climate science – or any other science -, anyone may look at the data, study the science, write their own equations, build their own computer programmes, and draw their own conclusions, without deferring to any acknowledged climate experts. And this is what Steve McIntyre has been doing with the ‘hockey stick’ graph showing rapid recent global temperature rise, and what Anthony Watts has been doing in visiting and cataloguing the weather stations that provide the raw data underpinning the ‘hockey stick’. In both cases, they have found cause for concern.

And when people do defer to acknowledged authorities of one sort or other, they usually do so because they see evidence of their superior understanding. If they trust doctors who advocate vaccination programmes, it’s because they see that a variety of infectious diseases do actually seem to be prevented by such programmes.  They notice that polio and tuberculosis has become much less common since vaccination against such diseases has become commonplace. They may also notice that HIV infections are less common where ‘safe sex’ is practised than where it is not. They don’t just automatically defer to any expert who shows up on their doorsteps. They look at their track record.

And when it comes to climate science, what is the track record of these climate scientists in predicting climate change? When have they ever got anything right? When was the last time they scored a great success in predicting climate change? And, furthermore, what have any of these taxpayer-funded scientists got to lose if they get their predictions wrong? And did anyone appoint them as experts, or did they appoint themselves?

Ben Chu is presenting a false dichotomy. It’s not a matter of uneducated people choosing between their own complete ignorance and the expertise of recognised, qualified scientists. It’s much more complicated than that. People use their own acquired common sense to make judgments in almost every area of their lives, and in this they very often have the collective wisdom of friends and family at their disposal, as well as expertise they may gain through their own efforts to educate themselves – sometimes becoming experts themselves -, and they use their own discretion in choosing those authorities they wish to consult. It’s not black-and-white ignorance versus knowledge. It’s always shades of grey.

Or rather, Ben Chu’s dichotomy is one which only applies in a society whose members are wealthy enough to be able to afford to hire experts to make decisions for them, and who are at the same time sufficiently ill-educated to be unable to form their own opinions, and also sufficiently lazy as to be disinclined to educate themselves.

In short, it is a society made up of rich, lazy, and uneducated people that is most likely to come to be governed by a cadre of self-appointed experts and ‘scientists’ who undertake to make all their decisions for them. Such a society should not be surprised to wake up one day to find that it has been comprehensively fleeced by an army of racketeers and confidence tricksters. Although they will probably only ever know this with any certainty if some self-appointed experts tell them so.

The climate naysayers would have us treat science like an a la carte menu, where we pick out what suits us and dismiss what doesn’t.

And in this the naysayers are perfectly right. People should pick and choose who they listen to. And if they are unimpressed by self-styled experts, they should employ their own good sense – which will have been telling them that the earth’s climate remains much the same as it historically has been, and not in need of any corrective intervention.

About Frank Davis

smoker
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Science and Sense

Global warmists have been rattled by Climategate, but they are regrouping. Ben Chu, writing in the Independent a couple of days ago, concedes that the behaviour of a few scientists at the University of East Anglia left a little to be desired, but goes on to say that the scientific consensus on AGW remains unaltered.

In the end, this is not an argument about science, but logic. Those of us who are not scientific specialists are no more able to talk authoritatively about the physics of climate change than we are able to explain how vaccination works, or how the HIV virus results in Aids. But we (generally) take our jabs and practise safe sex. Scientific consensus matters. Not because the consensus is always right, but because it is the only guide to rational action and policymaking.

The essential argument here is that non-scientists should accept the consensus scientific advice, because there is no rational alternative. We must allow ourselves to be governed by experts. How plausible is that?

In the first place it should be pointed out that 99.9% of people, 99.9% of the time, are making decisions based on their own good sense and experience. They use it when they walk around, go shopping, drive cars, cook food, and even select lifetime partners. Most people don’t employ experts or scientists to do those things. Are such people irrational? Of course not. Yet this is what Chu seems to be suggesting. He seems to be suggesting that as soon as tour guides, celebrity chefs, and dating agencies appear – staffed by qualified experts – people should use these as the only available guides to rational action.

One of the merits of using one’s own common sense is that it’s free. But as soon as one begins to rely on experts, one must pay for the privilege. And so reliance upon experts is an expensive option. And this in itself is a powerful reason why people should use their own good sense instead of relying on expensive experts. It’s cheaper. Or, you can only rely on experts if you’re wealthy.

And people very often don’t entirely rely on their own good sense. They consult friends and relatives, who will offer their own free advice as well, perhaps pointing out things that they may not have thought of themselves, or simply didn’t know about. And so very often when people make decisions, they will be based upon a collective wisdom.

And also, people are often well-educated enough to understand a great deal about a great many subjects. A lot of people understand in outline how vaccination works – which is, very roughly, that people’s immune systems are activated by being vaccinated with dead (and therefore harmless) infectious agents, so that when they are exposed to the live and dangerous bacteria or viruses, their immune systems are already primed to counter them. And they can use this knowledge to make judgments about proposed vaccination programmes. They might, for example, be suspicious of a vaccination programme to counter a health threat which had no known viral or bacterial cause, on the grounds that there could be no vaccine available in such a circumstance.

Furthermore, even if people know very little about some subject, they can very often rapidly educate themselves about it, at very little cost. This is particularly true in the internet era in which entire libraries are freely available for rapid consultation. With a little application ignorant laymen can become experts almost overnight. With a little further application, they may even go beyond what acknowledged, qualified experts presently know.

And so, in the case of climate science – or any other science -, anyone may look at the data, study the science, write their own equations, build their own computer programmes, and draw their own conclusions, without deferring to any acknowledged climate experts. And this is what Steve McIntyre has been doing with the ‘hockey stick’ graph showing rapid recent global temperature rise, and what Anthony Watts has been doing in visiting and cataloguing the weather stations that provide the raw data underpinning the ‘hockey stick’. In both cases, they have found cause for concern.

And when people do defer to acknowledged authorities of one sort or other, they usually do so because they see evidence of their superior understanding. If they trust doctors who advocate vaccination programmes, it’s because they see that a variety of infectious diseases do actually seem to be prevented by such programmes.  They notice that polio and tuberculosis has become much less common since vaccination against such diseases has become commonplace. They may also notice that HIV infections are less common where ‘safe sex’ is practised than where it is not. They don’t just automatically defer to any expert who shows up on their doorsteps. They look at their track record.

And when it comes to climate science, what is the track record of these climate scientists in predicting climate change? When have they ever got anything right? When was the last time they scored a great success in predicting climate change? And, furthermore, what have any of these taxpayer-funded scientists got to lose if they get their predictions wrong? And did anyone appoint them as experts, or did they appoint themselves?

Ben Chu is presenting a false dichotomy. It’s not a matter of uneducated people choosing between their own complete ignorance and the expertise of recognised, qualified scientists. It’s much more complicated than that. People use their own acquired common sense to make judgments in almost every area of their lives, and in this they very often have the collective wisdom of friends and family at their disposal, as well as expertise they may gain through their own efforts to educate themselves – sometimes becoming experts themselves -, and they use their own discretion in choosing those authorities they wish to consult. It’s not black-and-white ignorance versus knowledge. It’s always shades of grey.

Or rather, Ben Chu’s dichotomy is one which only applies in a society whose members are wealthy enough to be able to afford to hire experts to make decisions for them, and who are at the same time sufficiently ill-educated to be unable to form their own opinions, and also sufficiently lazy as to be disinclined to educate themselves.

In short, it is a society made up of rich, lazy, and uneducated people that is most likely to come to be governed by a cadre of self-appointed experts and ‘scientists’ who undertake to make all their decisions for them. Such a society should not be surprised to wake up one day to find that it has been comprehensively fleeced by an army of racketeers and confidence tricksters. Although they will probably only ever know this with any certainty if some self-appointed experts tell them so.

The climate naysayers would have us treat science like an a la carte menu, where we pick out what suits us and dismiss what doesn’t.

And in this the naysayers are perfectly right. People should pick and choose who they listen to. And if they are unimpressed by self-styled experts, they should employ their own good sense – which will have been telling them that the earth’s climate remains much the same as it historically has been, and not in need of any corrective intervention.

About Frank Davis

smoker
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Science and Sense

  1. Anonymous says:

    To put this another way, everyone engages in a cost/benefits analysis.
    Regarding smoking, roughly 1 out of 10 smokers will get lung cancer at an average age of 70. However, if one were to poll smokers, they’d find that smokers believe that a much higher percentage of smokers get lung cancer at an earlier age. In other words, smokers don’t simply make an accurate cost/benefits analysis about smoking, they actually overestimate the risks.
    The obvious ploy of global warming alarmism isn’t too simply get individuals to change their behavior in the face of collective risk. Humans simply don’t, and won’t behave that way. Rather, global warming alarmists seek to give governments authority over individuals on behalf of the collective, by either fabricating or exaggerating risk.
    Consensus thought on global warming is not a function of science, but a function of politics, and even the best intentioned, like Chu perhaps, are invoking the precautionary principle. It’s valid to say “first do no harm”, but it must first be established that harm exists. And if it exists, what is the risk and what are the consequences? Then, having some idea of that, what are the alternatives?
    I find it frustrating that environmental debates are so contentious when the middle-ground solutions are so obvious. It’s sad to think that humans mastered the knowledge necessary to split the atom just to fear the very power they possess. Progress should mean transcending fears, not surrendering to them, and the only way to ensure that nuclear power is a force of war and destruction is to keep regarding it as such.
    As far as I can tell, only misanthropic, environmental extremists stand in the way of humanity exploiting nuclear energy. If humanity allowed fear to take over when it came to fire, we’d all be…well, we wouldn’t be here at all would we? WS.

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