Sunday, November 11, 2007

Minority report

Here’s an interesting factoid culled from the doubtless unimpeachable source of Wllson da Silva, editor of Australian science magazine Cosmos: the proportion of scientist who question that humans are responsible for global warming is about the same as the proportion who questions that HIV is the cause of AIDS. Strange, then, that whenever AIDS is discussed on TV or radio, it is not considered obligatory to include an HIV sceptic for ‘balance’.

Of course, one reason for that is that people are not (yet) dying in their thousands from climate change (although even that, after the recent European heat waves, is debatable). This means it can remain fashionable, among over-educated media types with zero understanding of science, to be a climate sceptic. This, not the little band of scientific deniers, less still the so-called ignorant masses that some scientists lament, is the real problem. The intelligensia still love to parade their ‘independent-mindedness’ on this score.

Here, for example, is Simon Hoggart a couple of weeks ago in the Guardian on ‘man-made global warming’: “I'm not going to plunge into this snakepit, except to say that there are more sceptics about than the Al Gores of this world acknowledge, and they are not all paid by carbon fuel lobbies. Also, if it's true, as Booker and North claim [in their book Scared to Death], that there is evidence of global warming on other planets, might it not be possible that the sun has at least as much effect on our climate as we do? I only ask.”

No, Simon, you do not only ask. If you genuinely wanted enlightenment on this matter, you could go to the wonderful Guardian science correspondents, who would put you straight in seconds. No, you want to show us all what a free thinker you are, and sow another little bit of confusion.

I’m not even going to bother to explain why ‘other planets’ (Venus, I assume) have experienced global warming in their past. It is too depressing. What is most depressing of all is the extent to which well-educated people can merrily display such utter absence of even the basics of scientific reasoning (such as comparing like with like). I’m generally optimistic about people’s ability to learn and reason, if they have the right facts in front of them. But I sometimes wonder if that ability declines the more you know, when that knowledge excludes anything to do with science.


Al said...

I think as time passes, and the skeptics continue to be exposed for what they are, we can have real debate over what to do about how to reduce carbon emissions, and how to deal with the ecological problems associated with global warming. I also think that knowledge can distort your ability to reason in some cases. Generally, I think that persons proclivity to absolute certainty that really effects his/her ability to reason. Once a person is certain, they will defend their world view no matter how ridiculous.

Philip Ball said...

Geoff Coupe send me this comment, as he lacks a Google account to post it himself:

"I do actually find it strange that Hoggart comes across as willing to indulge the denialist practitioners.

After all, he was one of the co-authors of the excellent "Bizarre Beliefs" - a book that shone the cleansing light of reason into some very murky corners..."

Oliver said...

actually, the "global warming on other planets" trope is not just about venus. I mused on this a while back