Only yesterday I was once again drawing parallels between the global warming scare and the war on tobacco. In the following story, there’s no need to draw any parallels. It starts with the following report from New Zealand, where it seems that arch-global-warmist James Hansen has just been giving a lecture.
I have just returned from James Hansen’s lecture at Massey. The Japan Lecture Theatre was packed; I didn’t count, but there were probably about 200 people in the audience.
At the end I got to ask a question. I was very polite, and said how grateful we all were that such a distinguished expert had come to talk to us about his beliefs, but I was concerned that his whole talk rested on the premise that the science is settled. He had said the only dissenters are those in the pay of the oil industry, and I expressed regret that they hadn’t offered any lucre to me.
His reply was polite, but condescending. He conceded there are a few scientists whose chronic skepticism blinds them to the truth. For example, he said, he knows Richard Lindzen, who is a nice guy, but doesn’t dare, when he’s with other scientists, talk the kind of nonsense he writes in his newspaper columns. Also, Lindzen has never accepted that tobacco causes cancer, so obviously his judgement can’t be trusted.
Afterwards a few members of the audience came up and thanked me for what I had said.
The claim by Hansen that Richard Lindzen, a prominent climate sceptic, didn’t believe tobacco caused lung cancer seems to have caused consternation to the recipient of this message.
Slick’s repetition of the old saw about Lindzen’s denial that tobacco causes cancer is vile. I spent a couple of hours this morning trying to verify this allegation and found nothing more than unsupported allegations in blog comments, plus an inference that he once expressed doubts about the magnitude of the risks from second-hand tobacco smoke and so what? It doesn’t match Slick’s slimy insinuation. I had to move on, but if anybody can prove or disprove this allegation, please do so. I’ve emailed Richard Lindzen asking for his comments. Watch this space.
A day or two later, Richard Lindzen replied:
For the record:
1. I have always noted, having read the literature on the matter, that there was a reasonable case for the role of cigarette smoking in lung cancer, but that the case was not so strong that one should rule that any questions were out of order. I think that the precedent of establishing a complex statistical finding as dogma is a bad one. Among other things, it has led to the much, much weaker case against second hand smoke also being treated as dogma. Similarly, in the case of alleged dangerous anthropogenic warming, the status of dogma is being sought without any verifiable evidence.
So Richard Lindzen doesn’t believe that smoking causes lung cancer! Or at least he thinks that the case isn’t sufficiently strong to banish all doubt. He keeps an open mind about it. And therefore he cannot subscribe to the dogma that smoking causes lung cancer, or any other dogma for that matter. But James Hansen obviously fully subscribes to the dogma that smoking causes lung cancer, and for him that debate is long since over. And he thinks it’s thoughtcrime of Lindzen to express any doubt at all. And he is equally dogmatic that carbon dioxide causes global warming, of course. He goes round the world lecturing about it, and getting arrested.
There are two ways of thinking illustrated here. There’s James Hansen’s dogmatic mentality, and Richard Lindzen’s open-mindedness. Hansen is a true believer who doesn’t entertain any doubts, while Lindzen always entertains a few. For Hansen the science is settled, and for Lindzen it’s never settled.
I guess that if you’re a true believer, you’re likely to be much more active and forceful than any doubting Thomas. You become an apostle, and write epistles, and you probably end up getting crucified. And this is exactly what Hansen is, and what he does, and most likely what will eventually happen to him.
Of the two of them, Lindzen seems to me to much better exemplify a true scientist than Hansen. It’s the job of scientists to be sceptical, and carefully test different hypotheses. Hansen’s attitude seems more like that of a religious prophet, contemptuous of unbelievers.
Perhaps one of the reasons why global warming alarmism has been so successful is precisely because the warmists have been utterly convinced they are right, while the sceptics have never been completely sure that the warmists are wrong. And if you’re a politician who is faced with someone who is insisting “I’m right!”, and somebody else who’s saying “He might not be right,” then the most convinced is quite likely to be the most convincing. True believers are passionate and forceful. Sceptics lack both passion and force. As the Yeats’ poem The Second Coming goes:
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
The same also applies with smoking and lung cancer. There are a lot of doctors and epidemiologists who have been loudly insisting for years that smoking causes lung cancer, and that the debate is over. “We’re right!” they’ve been shrieking. And anyone who is sceptical about it is drowned out. Because, as sceptics, as ever they’re never completely sure. And so the convinced antismoking zealots have come to completely dominate the debate, and in turn government policy, just like with global warming.
Zealots always win – in the beginning at least. It’s the tortoise and the hare. The hare sprints off into the distance, but the tortoise gradually catches up.
I hope James Hansen’s remarks about Richard Lindzen are widely reported, along with Lindzen’s response. Because I hope a few people get to see that the debate about smoking and lung cancer is no more ‘over’ than is the debate about carbon dioxide and global warming, and that they are essentially the same debate. We were having exactly this debate on my blog only a few months back.