Why Don’t You Believe in Science?

The climate change debate is probably the most aggravating one to watch, since I think both sides are wrong.  Let’s summarize the sides, using sweeping generalizations (note that there are some on the right who hold the first opinion and probably some on the left who hold the second opinion, and some people who hold neither):

  1. The left thinks the right’s “climate denial” (apparently the right not only doesn’t believe in climate change, but it doesn’t even believe in climates) proves that it doesn’t believe in science at all.  Meanwhile, anyone who believes in climate change has the smug moral superiorty of knowing that they do believe in science.  And they presumably understand all the science involved in understanding climate change and have read the scientific papers of the scientists they love to cite (as opposed to relying on the media, which frequently mis-reports scientific findings, to determine what the experts are actually saying), and aren’t just defaulting to the position their side is supposed to hold.  Clearly they’ve done all this research themselves because they love to mention how much they love science and stuff.
  2. From what I can tell, there are two major opinions on the right.  One is that anthropogenic climate change (as opposed to climate change in general) doesn’t exist, and the other is that it may or may not exist, but the question of its existence is irrelevant from a policy perspective because either nothing the government does is going to solve it, or even if the government is able to solve it, it shouldn’t because any solution involving the government would necessarily give it too much power.  The second opinion here is the one I hold, so I’m going to address more on the first.

These two sides do have something in common.  Pretty much the only reason people on the right don’t believe in anthropogenic climate change is tribalism.  Which is exactly the same reason those on the left do tend to believe in anthropogenic climate change.  I’m sure some on the left have actually done their research and base their opinion on that, but that’s also probably true for some on the right.  And the right does tend to be religious, which in some cases probably does cause a bit of animosity towards science, but I’ve never encountered that (granted, I don’t follow anyone on Twitter who makes frequent references to the Bible).  As I’ve said many times before, this is not a scientific debate.  It’s a political debate.

But if both sides are wrong, is there a correct position?  Yes.  It’s perfectly fine to say that you don’t know and not take a position at all.  If you haven’t done the research (i.e. actually reading and critically assessing a variety of scientific papers, not just perusing articles in the media or on pop science blogs, etc.), you shouldn’t.  You don’t need to defer to the scientists who actually study the climate either.  Scientists are just as susceptible to things like confirmation bias as anyone else, and the academic process is quite corrupt and often lacks sufficient rigor.  As said above, though, if you’re going to defer to anyone, it should be them as long as you put in the effort to understand what they are actually saying.  They could be wrong, but it’s more likely that they’re not.  Furthermore, nothing in science is really certain; it’s only probable.  I think anthropogenic climate change probably exists based on what I know, but that assessment is worth jack squat so I might as well not even make it.  So, if you’re lazy, like me, and don’t want to do all that research, just say you don’t know if anthropogenic climate change exists and focus on the areas relevant to policy if you want to have that debate.  I beg you.  Also, don’t be supercilious and lord your profound scientific understanding over those with whom you have political disagreements, because I can guarantee you that you don’t have any profound scientific understanding (regardless of how many PhD’s you may have, or whatever.  But especially if the only degree you have is a bachelor of arts in psychology).

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9 Comments

  1. Sounds personal… I’ll add my two cents to yours however, You cannot solve a problem you cannot define. Seem reasoned? It amounts to something like “I think there is a leak in the boat, so we must drain the sea.” My be better to determine IF there is a leak and exactly WHERE it is first. I think my circle of friends looks at Climate Change as a giant excuse to redistribute other peoples money directly to Corporations along with Socialist Dictators and Thugs exactly because the problem cannot be defined. It’s the perfect leftist excuse to help crappy Socialism cathc up while simultaneously slowing down Capitalism. Frankly, if the world really wanted to put a serious dent in pollution and some perceived human contribution to climate change it would adopt Free-Market Capitalism and Limited Government based on the American model as quickly as possible… their failure to seriously consider such a “solution” only lends to my circle of friends’ point of view.
    Okay… that was three cents.
    And mine is in History, so I know you’re not talking to me.

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    • The problem with your assessment is that it is political, not scientific. From a political perspective, you’re completely right, though. The left often exploits science (usually as filtered through the media) for political purposes, but that doesn’t imply anything about the validity of the science itself. And nothing in the science itself says anything about what the governmental response to it should be. That is beyond the scope of what is capable of being understood through science, and if it’s mentioned in scientific literature, it’s conjecture. And yeah, governments have seemingly been relatively ineffective in dealing with environmental problems through regulation, but I’ve been seeing a lot of innovative solutions being proposed lately. I’m not sure how effective they’ll be, but I’m pretty confident problems associated with climate change will be solved or at least mitigated, and that the solution(s) will arise from innovation and not regulations.

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      • Snake… solutions, innovative or otherwise, to what? Again, the problem has not been defined. Here’s what we scientifically know; The primary green house gas is water vapor, the secondary green house gas is methane and CO2 is a distant 3rd. The Primary warming agent is… the Sun. Seems like we have bigger issues to consider when trying to determine what exactly the problem is, but the models are designed to look at CO2 and governed by Humans… with points of view. Keep in mind Snake, everything is political. Ask Galileo. Even Newton ran into scientific ‘orthodoxy’ aka ‘politics’. I have no problem spending money to define the problem… but I have a significant issue with redistributing money in magical hopes that the yet to be determined problem will be solved. (And yes, my being cynical leads me to believe AGW is a far more useful tool to the Left as long as it remains undefined… thus I have doubts that even if we get a genuine handle on our participation in Climate Change versus the Sun etc. I don’t think ‘solutions’ will be welcomed with open arms by those who find the problem useful even if they call themselves scientists. I always remain open to being wrong and I welcome science actually demonstrating for all to see and challenge, not predicting and hiding the data, AGW.)

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      • I don’t dispute that the exact nature of climate change has yet to be defined. That’s exactly what I’m saying. I don’t know, you don’t know, not even the world’s leading expert on climate knows. He has a much better idea than you or I, but he still can’t be perfectly certain about that, or anything else, nor can we be perfectly confident in his assessment. But there’s nothing wrong with that, and that’s pretty much the case for everything. So, while you correctly can’t say “anthropogenic climate change indisputably exists,” you also can’t say “climate change is a hoax” and be correct. The urge for the right to say the latter is what drives me nuts. We don’t need to accept the left’s premise that giving them power will fix anything, but we also shouldn’t be so reflexively oppositional.

        As for everything being political, I don’t disagree if, by that, you mean that people’s perceptions are always filtered through their own biases. But that’s not what I’m saying about the distinction between political and scientific issues. Science is supposed to be objective; obviously it can’t be perfectly objective, but that ideal has resulted in an incredible amount of knowledge. And politics is essentially subjective, especially when it’s about defeating the other side (as in this case),

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  2. “…but we also shouldn’t be so reflexively oppositional.”

    I have to confess that I am indeed reflexively oppositional when anyone, but most often Leftists, demand the forceful implementation of Redistribution of Wealth as a solution to a problem none of us can define. (Careful with the ‘appeal to authority’ when it comes to ‘scientists’ having a better understanding of things than the rest of us. When our first reaction is to defer to them, it becomes, more often than not, empowerment for those scientists with an agenda to refuse to explain themselves and their work. “I’m Smart, You’re Stupid so Shut Up.” On the contrary, it is the responsibility of the non-scientist to demand explanation less science become religion. The empowerment I speak of is well illustrated when you take the time to look at the Global Warming ‘Consensus’ Scientists and their specific fields of Expertise. Apparently any old scientist will do when building a consensus is the goal… Yet that consensus is regularly used to tell all of us ‘non-scientists’ to “Sit Down, Shut Up and Do What You’re Told!”)

    So yes… You caught me, Snake.

    I cannot think outside, around or beyond my personal bias of Freedom and Liberty of the Individual. Nor can I dispose of my bias in favor of Skepticism in Science. Or, that pesky one which subscribes exclusively to a Constitutionally Limited Government elevating the Individual above itself.

    I also enjoy the company of Unicorns and wearing Aluminum Foil Hats. Or at least I feel that way. (I feel like a Unicorn wearing a Tin Foil Hat. That’s a whole different problem.)

    I hope you will not think less of me.
    For you, I will try to understand Socialists better and give their old, tired, dangerously repackaged Monarchy Loving Aristocratic Hogwash a fresh hearing.
    But only for you.

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    • I don’t think I’m quite explaining myself effectively if you think I want you to give socialists a fresh hearing… When I say politics is subjective, I’m not saying that every ideology is equally valid or that it’s impossible to make objective statements about them. Obviously, there’s enough evidence that socialism doesn’t work. I do think some socialists genuinely believe it’s the best way to promote equality or whatever, but I also think they’re ignorant and/or stupid, and also that most socialists are probably motivated by resentment. And there’s enough evidence that liberalism results in prosperity. But these observations aren’t necessarily the most important ones: morally, socialism is evil and (true) liberalism is the only ideology that is morally acceptible. And it’s difficult to reconcile my belief in objective morality with the fact that I’m flawed and therefore must remain humble about my authority to make judgements about what that objective morality is. But I have to, and even though that doesn’t make me question my beliefs, it does make me want to give my ideological adversaries the benefit of the doubt (at least about whether or not they’re evil). I realize there are a lot of apparent contradictions here, and I’m not sure if it actually makes sense or if I’m compartmentalizing, but I’m sure things will become clearer eventually.

      Having said that, what I meant by being “reflexively oppositional” is not about what the left is selling, but extending that to nominally apolitical topics, such as climate science. The distinction being that the assessment that leftists are wrong is reasonable, while it’s clear that most people on the right who don’t believe in anthropogenic climate change are mainly motivated by politics (and to be clear, I’m not saying that’s not also the case for the left, which it is). I’m not sure where you got an appeal to authority in anything I said; I was pretty clear about the need to be skeptical and not to automatically defer to the scientists. i.e. “not even the world’s leading expert on climate knows” and “he still can’t be perfectly certain about that, or anything else, nor can we be perfectly confident in his assessment.” Blind faith in scientists is exactly as stupid as blind faith in their wrongness. As with anything, any judgements should be probabilistic and made with Occam’s razor.

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      • I don’t think we disagree on anything save one fundamental item… I do not believe anything can be free of politics and I’ve never been presented with an example. In other words, everything is inherently political. Every assessment a human being makes starts with their view of how does this effect me. The is evolutionary and cannot be removed from the human condition… at least to my understanding.
        It seems you disagree with me on this and search for the purely rational.
        My giving the Left a fresh hearing was sarcasm in a friendly sense. You know me well enough to realize that will not be a possibility.

        As a clarification, there are many of us who known Global Warming and Cooling exists. We are aware that the phenomena has been playing out since the Earth was formed. It is the impact humans have on the phenomena that is in question. And offering up solutions to a problem we have yet to define has everything to do with Socialism and nothing to do with Climate Change. I have no problem dedicating my hard earned tax dollars on studying Climate Change. However, I have no tolerance for sending my hard earned tax dollars around the world to Socialist Dictyators and Thugs so they can buy new limousines, hookers and continue to maintain their control and oppress their people by not adopting Free Market Capitalism enforced by a limited Constitutionally Government.
        Finally, I arrived at an appeal to authority because of what I interpreted as an expectation that we commoners should defer to the ‘smart people’ AKA the scientists. This is exactly what Socialism was attempting to get their populations to accept and exactly why Engels sought out MArx in the first place. Everything was to be equated to a ‘science’ from the economy to human behavior in order to convince the masses that they were too stupid to understand the world around them and leave all the decision making to the ‘smart’ people. It’s a scam crafted to keep what was once a disenfranchised aristocracy in power after the Feudal system fell. It is the same today.
        Offering up solutions to problems we do not understand, particularly when those solutions are in the form of taking from one and giving to another, is a bedrock principle of Socialism/Communism. It’s about power and control by means of force.

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      • I’m not sure we disagree on that all that much… if anything, it’s a matter of degree.

        And I see what you’re saying about the appeal to authority. Although I have respect for science as an ideal, I don’t see it as universally applicable. The scientific method is great, in a philosophical sense, but even in the natural sciences, it’s not bulletproof. It’s especially ill-suited for fields like social science. So I’m in complete agreement with you there. By the way, this ties in nicely to a post I have in the works at the moment, so stay tuned for that…

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  3. Cool! I’ll look for it.

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