Always Question the Conventional Wisdom, Especially When You are Told Not To

As any actual scientist will tell you, in science, you do not prove anything to be true.  You can prove something to be false, and you can make a strong case for why something is probably true, but there is no way to prove that anything is true.  Competent scientists are expected to question conventional wisdom, because that conventional wisdom may be completely wrong. For example, the Ptolemaic model of the universe, which was geocentric, was accepted as conventional wisdom for well over a millennium.  The more accurate heliocentric model wasn’t accepted until after a very long, controversial debate.  It’s not comfortable for what you always held true to be questioned (by the way, the true center of the solar system (i.e. the spot around which the bodies of the solar system orbit) isn’t actually the sun, but the solar system’s center of mass, or its barycenter).

There are a lot of things that are generally accepted as “true” regardless, such as the shape of the Earth.  It is reasonable to conclude that the shape of the Earth is roughly spheroidal, based on all available evidence and the fact that there is no evidence it isn’t.  In this case, the evidence is so overwhelming that it would make little sense to question the shape of the Earth, at least not until there is evidence that the Earth is anything but a spheroid.

However, there is little else in science with such overwhelming evidence supporting it.  One controversial example is “climate change.”  It is obvious that the climate changes. Otherwise, there would have never been an ice age.  Whether or not the climate changes is not controversial (which makes it amusing whenever people use examples of the climate changing to support their political agenda).  What is controversial is the existence of anthropogenic climate change.  We are told that questioning the existence of anthropogenic climate change is “anti-science” because “97% of scientists believe in anthropogenic climate change.”  It may very well be true that “97% of scientists believe in anthropogenic climate change,” but accepting the existence of anthropogenic climate change as irrefutable fact is what is fundamentally “anti-science,” especially based on nothing more than an appeal to authority.

The vast majority of people who attempt to bully everyone else into accepting their position, that anthropogenic climate change is the reality, are not scientists.  They are politicians and political activists.  They have an obviously heavily biased agenda (and, for the sake of full disclosure, I do as well).  If their ultimate devotion is to their political agenda, it is not to being impartial.  They are susceptible to confirmation bias.  As is everyone else, even scientists.  That, in addition to the fact that the issue of anthropogenic climate change has been heavily politicized, as well as potential issues with the methodology of climate science itself, gives one more than a good reason to question anthropogenic climate change and refuse to merely accept the conventional wisdom and shut up about it, and give more power to the people that are demanding power so they can solve the problem.  You shouldn’t need any specific reason to be skeptical of it, though, or skeptical of anything else for that matter; what is important is that you investigate the issue and make a logical conclusion based on the evidence available (and, for the record, “there is inconclusive evidence to make a conclusion” is a perfectly valid conclusion.  Conclusions can be uncertain, and should be uncertain if the evidence leaves open a lot of questions).

Personally, I am not a “climate denier.”  I am a skeptic who believes that anthropogenic climate change is most likely occurring based on my limited knowledge of the subject.  Now, logically, that means I must support governments in their efforts to combat it, right?  Because that is what everyone who is concerned about climate change wants?  Nah.  Climate change is scary and it gives politicians a good reason (from a public relations perspective) to increase their own power, so they can do something about climate change.  That is, it is the perfect opportunity for fearmongering, which can be very politically lucrative.  But that is exactly why they shouldn’t be given that power.  As with every instance of government power, it will be abused.  And, as with most other problems the government has tried to solve by giving itself more power, the problem of climate change likely wouldn’t be solved to any great degree.  If anything, based on past examples of new government programs, it would create a whole new batch of unforeseen problems.

The solution to the problem of climate change, if there is a solution, lies in technology.  Technological advancement tends to occur in the private sector (or specialized government programs such as the military or NASA), which, unlike the government (generally speaking), is dynamic and able to respond to all kinds of unexpected issues because it is decentralized and because those issues are potential new sources of profit.  That is the great thing about profit; it is an incentive to produce something that is valuable to society.  No, not everything that occurs in the private sector is ethical (ethics is outside the realm of economics, just like it is outside the realm of science), but, holistically, the private sector is a force of “good” and is responsible for the prosperity we enjoy in the first world (of course, “good” governance is a requirement for the existence of a reasonably free private sector, which is why places like Somalia have no free market).

Of course, this is all a generalization.  Government can accomplish things sometimes, usually in the military (it can create an atomic bomb and land on the moon, for example.  But I’ll just point out that both of those things occurred when the US government was in a state of competition with Nazi Germany or the USSR (that threatened US security), so there was a very large incentive to minimize bureaucratic impediments to those results).  My overall point here is to question the conventional wisdom that giving the government more power is the only way to address problems caused by climate change, as well as the conventional wisdom that not immediately embracing wholeheartedly the truth of anthropogenic climate change makes one “anti-science” (because, if anything, embracing wholeheartedly the truth of anthropogenic climate change without questioning it at all just because “the experts” tell you should is what makes you anti-science).

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