The Perfect Certainty Of Complete Ignorance

After watching Australian politician Craig Kelly being denounced as a “climate denier” on Sky TV by Piers Morgan and Laura Tobin, I found myself wondering for about the thousandth time how it was that people become so certain about things they know nothing about.

How much do Kelly, Morgan, and Tobin know about climate? I may be wrong, but I bet that it’s next to nothing (even if Tobin does happen to be a meteorologist). Same applies to Russell Crowe and Jennifer Aniston.

So why the certainty? Why the intensity? Shouldn’t all concerned simply declare that they don’t know anything about climate, and so have no strong opinions about it? Why does that never happen? Why is it that the exact opposite always seems to happen.

Perhaps the explanation is this: The less anyone knows about something, the more certain they will be about it. And conversely, the more anyone knows about something, the less certain they will be about it. And that’s why “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

Perhaps in part it’s because the less you know about something, the easier it looks. I know next to nothing about mountaineering, and so it all looks perfectly simple to me: you climb mountains the same way as you climb into bed. It’s probably only when you actually try to climb a mountain that you find out how difficult it actually is, and you realise it’s not so simple after all.

And perhaps that’s what’s happening with the climate. The less you know about it, the easier it looks: the climate works in the exact same way as running a hot bath. What more do you need to know about it? So everyone becomes an instant expert on the climate after reading about it for 10 minutes. It’s easy. And within 10 minutes you’re accusing people of being “climate deniers”.

I’ve been going a different route. I’ve been building my own climate model for the past two years. And I don’t think the climate is in the least bit easy to understand. Just to get the sunlight right, I’ve had to construct a Keplerian orbital simulation model. And to model the radiative exchanges within the atmosphere I’ve needed to use multiple fourth-power Stefan-Boltzmann equations. And while I can do conductive and radiative heat transfers, I still don’t know how to model convective heat flow in air or water. And I haven’t really got much of a grasp of humidity and precipitation. And I’ve only just started to think about wind movement in the atmosphere, and currents in the oceans. Building my own model is in many ways a process of discovering how little I know about all the processes at work in the atmosphere. It’s a humbling experience. And I sometimes wonder whether, when I’ve understood everything I need, and got all the equations I need, whether I’ll have a model that’s so complex, and with so many variables, that it will behave chaotically, and I will wind up finding out nothing at all about the Earth’s climate.

Perhaps that’s why most of the world’s great scientists and great mathematicians are very often rather quiet, modest people who will speak hesitantly, using many ifs and buts. Because the more they know about something, the more aware they become how complicated it all really is. And that’s why it’s the Russell Crowes and the Piers Morgans who are the loudmouths slanging out everybody else, precisely because they know next to nothing about it.

It’s also why we have Greta Thunberg, who one can say with almost perfect certainty knows absolutely nothing at all about climate (and even less than Russell Crowe), if only because she never goes to school. Hers is the perfect certainty that comes with perfect ignorance.

It’s not just climate science. It’s the same with everything else. Including smoking and smoking bans. Everybody knows that lung cancer is caused by smoking tobacco. It’s quite simple, and perfectly obvious. And ten minutes after learning this, they’ll have become rabid antismokers who want to ban smoking everywhere, and who will regard tobacco companies as the embodiment of pure evil.

Perhaps it’s how wars start. They start when a lot of people become perfectly certain about something they know next to nothing about. Imagine that you’re living in Vienna in late June 1914, and your next door neighbour tells you that she’s heard that Archduke Franz Ferdinand has just been assassinated in Sarajevo, except that she thinks he was an Archbishop rather than an Archduke, and he was assassinated in Samarkand rather than Sarajevo. And you’re shocked and dismayed – even though you’d never heard of him before – at the thought of hundreds of people firing off shotguns at him at point blank range. It’s all you need to know, and so ten minutes later you’ll be out on the street with thousands of other people demanding reprisals, and will sign up the next day to march off to Samarkand to teach the Whirling Dervishes a lesson. Isn’t that pretty much how it works? Marry in haste, repent at leisure. And when you come back four years later, minus an arm and a leg as well as many of your former friends, you probably will indeed repent.

About Frank Davis

smoker
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7 Responses to The Perfect Certainty Of Complete Ignorance

  1. Nail firmly on head. It would be helpful if this was required reading for everyone. Thank you..

  2. Joe L. says:

    Excellent post, Frank! A perfect example is in the news today:

    Glacier National Park is replacing signs that predicted its glaciers would be gone by 2020

    The signs at Glacier National Park warning that its signature glaciers would be gone by 2020 are being changed.

    The signs in the Montana park were added more than a decade ago to reflect climate change forecasts at the time by the US Geological Survey, park spokeswoman Gina Kurzmen told CNN.
    In 2017, the park was told by the agency that the complete melting off of the glaciers was no longer expected to take place so quickly due to changes in the forecast model, Kurzmen said. But tight maintenance budgets made it impossible for the park to immediately change the signs.

    The most prominent placards, at St. Mary’s Visitor Center, were changed last year. Kurzmen says that park is still waiting for budget authorization to update signs at two other locations.
    But the glacier warning isn’t being removed entirely, she told CNN. Instead, the new signs will say: “When they will completely disappear depends on how and when we act. One thing is consistent: the glaciers in the park are shrinking.

    The article then turns into a propaganda piece, fearmongering that humans are nonetheless still responsible for climate change, because God forbid the uber-Progressive CNN (owned by Antismoker Ted Turner) create a simple, non-opinionated article about a failed anthropogenic-climate-change-related apocalyptic prophecy.

  3. Clicky says:

  4. Mark Jarratt says:

    You lost me on the Stefan-Boltzmann equations, but yes Mr Craig Kelly, Australian federal member for Hughes, is the same politician recorded as saying smokers should be treated like lepers. Before election, he was a Rugby Union player and export manager for the family furniture business. He did however note during parliamentary committee on law enforcement proceedings that high tobacco taxes fuel the black market, so we can safely assume he has a talent for the bleeding obvious.

  5. beobrigitte says:

    Perhaps the explanation is this: The less anyone knows about something, the more certain they will be about it….
    …Perhaps in part it’s because the less you know about something, the easier it looks.

    That’s why the 2 biggest drains, tobacco control and man-made climate change advocates, of public monies will eventually fail: They both are too certain.

    It’s also why we have Greta Thunberg, who one can say with almost perfect certainty knows absolutely nothing at all about climate (and even less than Russell Crowe), if only because she never goes to school. Hers is the perfect certainty that comes with perfect ignorance.
    The kid is just a tool, blissfully unaware that she will carry the (public) can when everything goes t*ts up.

    It’s not just climate science. It’s the same with everything else. Including smoking and smoking bans. Everybody knows that lung cancer is caused by smoking tobacco. It’s quite simple, and perfectly obvious. And ten minutes after learning this, they’ll have become rabid antismokers who want to ban smoking everywhere, and who will regard tobacco companies as the embodiment of pure evil.
    Today the BBC bleated that A&E departments no longer can cope and that we should avoid going to A&E unless we absolutely have to. The blame for the NHS mess in part is the increasing ageing population. And this increasing ageing population is just the early baby-boomers (wait for the full baby-boomer years), those who grew up when ashtrays were offered to visitors, common sense ruled, and communities stuck together.

    Can we have common sense again, please?

  6. Dr Dan Holdsworth says:

    Years and years ago, I worked on a short project for a biosciences firm, testing levels of cotinine (what our bodies break nicotine into) in various people. We were testing saliva for this, because it is less trouble to obtain and use than is blood.

    Everyone has a little cotinine in their blood; tomatoes and potatoes produce trace amounts of nicotine as they’re in the same family as tobacco plants. The study compared non-smokers who were exposed to no smoke, non-smokers who lived with smokers and thus had some exposure, and actual smokers.

    Non-smokers had 5 to 15 picograms of cotinine per ml of saliva.
    Non-smokers who lived with smokers were a little higher, at about 20-30.
    Smokers showed levels up in the hundreds of picograms per ml.

    What this demonstrated is that non-smokers and non-smokers exposed to tobacco smoke had fairly similar amounts of cotinine in their blood; levels which could be described as “trace”. Smokers had orders of magnitude more cotinine, therefore were exposed to proportionately more smoke than non-smokers in smoky atmospheres.

    In my opinion, the propaganda about secondhand smoke is just that: made-up lies with next to no evidence behind it. Tobacco smoke is a mild carcinogen, it is true, but you have to expose yourself to a hell of a lot of it to have any real effect, and non-smokers simply do not do this.

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