The Debate Is Never Over

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.

About Frank Davis

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17 Responses to The Debate Is Never Over

  1. Junican says:

    There is another aspect which we rarely consider.

    Sceptics do not need to prove anything – it is for the purveyors of a theory to prove that their theory is correct. It makes no sense to take action based upon a theory on the off chance that the theory may be correct. However, there are degrees of certitude. For example, when the idea that electricity could be conveyed along wires and thus be used to light street lamps, there must have been uncertainties about whether or not it would work. Not only that, but there may have been uncertainties about the safety of overhead (or underground) cables and power generators and many other things. So trials were arranged, and only when it became clear that the danger was very small (but not zero) were generators and electric street lamps spread throughout the country.

    The importance of these thoughts revolves around the care taken to only gradually spread electricity around the country. If we compare that with the way in which the theory of SHS (uncertified) has been used to terrify people by propaganda and decimate the entertainment industry and distract people’s attention from reality, among other things, we can see that the word ‘unscientific’ is a charitable word to describe the activities of the zealots. Better words would be ‘charlatan’ and ‘witch doctor’ and ‘snake oil salesman’.

    How on earth are they getting away with it?

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      About a trillion dollars over 50 years!

    • Frank Davis says:

      only when it became clear that the danger was very small (but not zero) were generators and electric street lamps spread throughout the country.

      Can you imagine what would happen if anyone tried to do this now? Health and safety would nix it. They’d say that just one person in 100,000 dying from electric shock was too much. They’d invoke the Precautionary Principle. “Think of the chiiiildren!” they’d shriek. The generators and the pylons and the street lamps would never get built.

      Same goes for trains barrelling along rails and cars hurtling along hurtling along roads. Or anything else you care to mention.

  2. Junican says:

    For a moment, I forgot the really important thing that I was aiming at.

    The Australian health zealot attack is the antithesis of good scientific practice. It has taken a theory, which was never even remotely likely to be correct (SHS), and used it to spread alarm and persecution.

  3. Walt says:

    At some point, Frank, I’d urge you to collect the best of your blog essays and put them into a book. Always interesting takes, always well-written. There’s a wider market for your point of view than you’re reaching here.

    • Frank Davis says:

      I am thinking hard about writing a book, but not the one you’re thinking about.

      I’m thinking of writing a book about Idle Theory. It has its own website already, which consists of a cloud of essays about all sorts of things ranging from evolution to economics and ethics. But I think that, precisely because it’s a cloud, it isn’t quite ‘joined up’ thinking. Or that I’m asking the readers to do the joining up themselves. So I’m thinking of joining all the ideas in Idle Theory together. And I think that doing that will entail writing a book which does exactly that – hook it all together into a single argument.

      I think that exactly the same criticism could be made of my blog. That it isn’t ‘joined up’. It’s a cloud of observations and insights and wonderings. It reflects what I was thinking about that day. And the next day I’m usually thinking about something else. As you can see.

  4. harleyrider1978 says:

    How to make a lie the truth by

    Every global warming eletist and tobacco smoke hater in the world…….

    How do we know its a lie,they said” The debate is over.”

    • Frank Davis says:

      It’s exactly this which turned me into a climate sceptic one evening in early 2007. I was watching Channel 4 news, and John Snow was reading out the headlines.

      “Global warming is happening! Humans are to blame! The debate is over!

      And I just thought, then and there: “The debate is never over!” Science is an unending debate. You can’t stop the debate and say, “Right. Case closed.” To do so is fundamentally dishonest. It’s simply not good, honest science to stop the debate. If you stop the debate, it’s because you have some sort of agenda other than finding the truth. You’re an activist.

      And that’s how I’ve seen climate science ever since. And also feel the same about antismoking science, for whom the debate is also over.

      • harleyrider1978 says:

        For me Frank it was when ol’ Al Gore said the debate is over!

        You see I lived for 12 years ten miles from Al gores old home near carthage Tennessee. Yes he still crops tobacco using mexican labor.On the whole Id say he raises 100,000 pounds of baccy a year……..But the local agriculture office in Carthage wont utter a word about it when ya ask!

      • harleyrider1978 says:

        His famous carbon house is in nashville,the farm is where he grew up his dad and moms both dead now TG!

        His dad was a life long senator from tenn. Al inherited major stocks in Oxidental oil from his dad.He lost his senate seat in his 88 run for president and just about all his tenn support after he sided with the far left liberal extremes and became anti-tobacco.Before that he ran pro-tobacco campaign ads where he hoe’d that baccy,toted to the barn and hung it to cure……..all bullshit of course!

        The tobacco farmers tossed him to the curb and he never got tenn again in any election!

        As far as I know gores never been a smoker.

        But I expect he will come out soon saying he has been bi-sexual his whole life. Of course, thats only if a PC moment comes along like an oprah interview pushing more gay rights.

        The PC crew never misses a trick and ol Al is on board no matter how stupid it makes him look!

        • Frank Davis, no surprise but you don’t seem to hold to account liars that agree with you to people who tell the truth that don’t agree with you.

          “He lost his senate seat in his 88 run for president and just about all his tenn support after he sided with the far left liberal extremes and became anti-tobacco.”

          Of course, anybody who claims to be a skeptic as you do Frank, should surely wonder how Al Gore could have lost his senate seat running for president.

          Anyway, not only did Gore not lose his Tenn support, he was actually reelected in a landslide:
          Tennessee United States Senate election, 1990:
          Al Gore (D) (inc.) – 529,914 (67.72%)
          William R. Hawkins (R) – 233,324 (29.82%)
          Willie C. Jacox (I) – 11,172 (1.43%)
          Charles Gordon Vick (I) – 7,995 (1.02%)
          Write-ins – 109 (0.01%)

          Further, the Clinton/Gore ticket carried Tennessee in both the 1992 and 1996 elections though by narrow margins that ultimately presaged Gore losing there in 2000.

  5. Jonathan Bagley says:

    I first became interested in AGW around six years ago, after looking up Lindzen in WP and finding a section attempting to discredit him with staements he had made about tobacco. The section was written by one of the half dozen people who control the WP passive smoking page and I realised that AGW was probably, like passive smoking, more religion than science.

  6. Paul says:

    Just got back from a holiday in Portugal. I was in Faro Airport and happened to visit the smokers’ lounge. As a non-smoker I could sense more bonhomie in it than outside it. It was a fairly small room but there were only a few seats left, with lots of people stood up. Go outside the smoking area and it is much more empty, with about ten people in the bar itself. There must have been 15 people in the much smaller smoking lounge!

    But still, the smoking ban is intensely popular in the UK and is loved by everyone. Alice in Wonderland-type stuff.

  7. smokervoter says:

    It’s early 2006 and there’s a two-bedroom, one bath home in a humble neighborhood for sale at only $500,000. The owner installed solar panels and spent a small fortune cleaning up any possible traces of thirdhand smoke contamination.

    Mr Lindzen balks at the deal.

    Mr Hansen, acting on the conventional wisdom that says they ain’t making any more land and therefor real estate prices can only go up, jumps at the opportunity and then tells all his friends that Mr. Lindzen is a foolish agnostic who really missed out on a bargain.

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  9. You people are literally insane. Wow. And btw what in the hell is ‘thirdhand smoke’? I assume that the poster is making a funny….. Furthermore, there are more people in the smoking lounge because smoking is addictive and those who do it can’t stop, even when they’re forced to huddle together in a dingy smoking area. Ay yi yi. O well, keep telling yourselves you’re fighting the good fight, but with ideas like these, I strongly recommend not having children (not for eugenic reasons but for the fact that the world you’re likely to bequeath them has an excellent chance of being complete shite).

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