Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Science Says

Maggie Gallagher discerns an eerie parallel between James Cameron’s claim that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married, and the IPCC's claim that anthropogenic climate change is real: You can make scientific-sounding arguments for either position.

Oh goody, another lovely round of that increasingly popular parlor game, "Science Says." And just in time for Lent! James Cameron, the masterful storyteller who directed "Titantic," is clearly banking on the special media power this game has when someone (preferably a scientist, but a Hollywood director in a pinch will do) asserts that what science says ... is that the Bible is wrong.
Granted, James Cameron’s evidence is dubious, and his conclusions are unjustifiable. Still, the fact remains that he’s trying to appeal to the authority of science:
[T]he Science Says game works so well that people play it with the same dogmatic fervor they once played The Pope Says, and for a similar reason: Because if science really says something, you no longer need brook the irritation of tolerating dissent.
Which is exactly what’s happening in the field of climate research, where dissenters are routinely burned at the stake, and broken on the wheel, and God only knows what else.

I’m speaking figuratively, of course. While they haven’t literally been killed or tortured, they have been denied a voice in the debate…except to the very limited extent that they’ve been able to churn out op-eds, and appear at will on television without revealing their ties to industry, and write countless books and articles full of deathless lies, and testify before Congress, and get fawned over by every conservatarian dingbat from here to Qeqertarsuaq.

What’s really interesting is how Gallagher frames “dissent” versus “orthodoxy” on climate change. In her column, the dissenting view is represented by Timothy Ball, a skeptical Canadian climatologist (and anarcho-capitalist loon) who’s just been interviewed by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (behold the MSM’s intolerance of dissent!).

By contrast, climate “orthodoxy” is represented by Ellen Goodman, a liberal columnist. For some reason, Gallagher can’t seem to find a single climate expert to present the actual evidence for climate change.

This is partly because it’s easier to ridicule someone like Goodman than an actual climate scientist. But it’s also because science has to remain idealized – like childhood innocence - for Gallagher's strategy to work. See, she isn’t undermining the authority of science through epistemological nihilism; she’s protecting it against the encroachment of crypto-Marxist social engineers:
Scientists are far more than 90 percent certain about most scientific truths. It is social scientists who aim for 90 percent (or 95 percent) certainty, and the large margin for error -- a 1-in-10 chance by the authors' own estimate that the report is simply wrong about the cause of global warming.
A ninety-percent chance that we’re to blame for climate change is pretty serious (especially given the authoritative moral precedent of Dick Cheney’s One Percent Doctrine). It's not a large margin for error by any means, given what’s at stake. And needless to say, if Gallagher could dredge up statistics half that impressive to support her theory that feminism is to blame when men beat children to death, or blow up apartment buildings, she’d keep prattling about it until her jaw flew off its hinges.

[W]hat we have here is not a hard scientific fact, but a scientific judgment, a possibility, a probability perhaps, but hardly an undeniable fact like the Holocaust.
Of course, there was a point in time when the Holocaust wasn't an undeniable fact.

Some people even think that more should've been done to prevent it.

(Photo by Akuppa.)


ntodd said...

Man, they are nefarious in their subtle little undermining techniques.

olvlzl said...

How dangerous it is when a highschool education in the richest country in the history of the world leaves its graduates with such a pathetic level of understanding of all the issues involved. Science and math are taught, at least after a fashion, that they should leave anyone over the age of 14 in ignorance of their basic requirements, uses and limits is a clear failing of education.

That people can get jobs in the media while reasoning on the level of a 12-year-old is as serious a failure of our media.

The world hangs in the balance and it's not looking good.

Rmj said...

I still say the failure of education (to pick up on that point) is the failure to teach philosophy.

Which is not to say "teach any particular philosophy," but simply to teach the kind of reasoning Western philosophy requires. Schools do not teach reasoning. Perhaps it is too subversive an activity, and schools, especially those under local control, exist solely to indoctrinate into the status quo.

I dunno. I do know that reasoning is not a skill measured on standardized tests, and that with all the problems Texas alone has with public schools, one bill making its way through our biannual legislature (six months every two years, so only the most important bills get introduced!) would require pre-marital counseling in order to get a marriage license.

This, of course, is a pressing need. In a state where common-law (and therefore legally binding) marriage is as simple as identifying your "significant other" as your spouse, to almost anyone else. But we have a serious "marriage problem," apparently, so this must be solved. Worst social programs in the country, highest incarceration rate, biggest death row on the planet with the most dubious record of justice? Unimportant.

We gotta get people to be sure they know how to stay married!

I'm sure there's a scientific basis for this in something.

Phila said...

Schools do not teach reasoning. Perhaps it is too subversive an activity, and schools, especially those under local control, exist solely to indoctrinate into the status quo.

I think Gallagher herself is more venal than stupid. But overall, you're absolutely right (as is Olvlzl). One good example - as I think I argued elsewhere - is the use of lotteries to finance schools. Of course, one of the things a good school would teach you is that your odds of winning are vanishingly small, and they don't improve over time. I think that's one of the starkest examples of how the government actually promotes innumeracy and shoddy thinking.

As far as philosophy goes, the real tragedy in my view is that people clearly have a thirst for it; after all, cheap imitations of it flourish at every level of society. I don't think people are disengaged or disinterested; I think they're grasping at whatever's available, whether it be inteligent design or the Celestine Prophecies.

I know it's popular to treat this stuff as a symptom of mass stupidity, but I just keep thinking about the desire it represents...

chris said...

You mentioned Timothy Ball. Here is a list of his colleagues.
I imagine them emailing each other:"Jeez, its COLD here today!"
Curiously, this is an exact copy of the list of people barred from my new tropical retreat in Svalbard.