Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Some sceptics make it a habit to be wrong

I liked Mike Steketee's article Some sceptics make it a habit to be wrong. It is interesting to see the charming but evil Nick Minchin (described as "disturbingly likable" in Howe's recent book; see Howes Alarm) featured; The quote
Smoking is a hideous habit. But I defend the right of smokers in a liberal, free, democratic country to smoke. If people choose to die of something, as a Liberal I think: that's your problem.
is revealing. He forgets that smokers impinge on the rights of others by creating second hand smoke.

I also defend peoples right to choose how to die — as long as they are prepared to bear the cost of their choice. Both my parents died due to lung cancer caused by smoking, which was very sad. However it was fortunate for the rest of society that they did not linger in hospital, taking up a bed in intensive care. To civil libertarians: I am happy for cyclists not to wear helmets as long as I don't have to pay for long-term hospitalisation due to head injuries. Having had more than one crash where my helmet has saved me from a serious head injury, I know what I'm talking about.

I read Steketee's article after attending Naomi Oreskes' public lecture at the University of Western Australia on the Merchants of Doubt. I enjoyed it even more after finding that JoNova hated it (see her post of November 27th, 2010). I was amused to see that she tagged her post "Ad Hominem", which I can only assume means she realised that her own post was such an attack on Oreskes and Steketee. Perhaps Nova was annoyed that she was not mentioned in Steketee's article?

Oreskes' lecture was interesting and mostly enjoyable. That fact that at least 97% of the articles (and scientists) she surveyed all agreed that anthropogenic climate change was real is, I think, not surprising. However, she did not mention the difficulty of getting a contrary view into an academic journal, once a consensus has been reached. This is due to reviewers and editors enforcing the consensus and such "self-selection" can slow or obstruct the progress of science. Nevertheless, I take the position that "truth" in science is reached by a Bayesian process and eventually the weight of evidence wins out (Google "Facts versus Factions"; the first link is to Robert Matthews).

To me, the two most important points Oreskes made about what finally swung the balance against the tobacco industry were (1) scientific activism; and (2) litigation by affected parties. Perhaps what is required in the climate change "debate" is for people most directly and immediately affected by rising sea levels to start legal action. The US government may be dismissive of the effect of their contribution to global warming on Bangladesh or Tuvulu, but if Florida or North Carolina were to sue the Federal government, perhaps the situation could change.

1 comment:

  1. The funny thing is that Jo Nova is really upset with The Australian's defence of their climate change position. She feels that they have been bullied because of the"brave" stance they have taken - that they have been "forced" to come out in favour of the AGW alarmist position.