Sunday, November 4th 2012, 12:39 PM EST
Given that the alarming scenarios predicted by climate science are being used as the reason for advocating massive changes in society, prosperity, industrial infrastructure, lifestyles and even democracy, there’s never been a real debate over its veracity. You have alarmists on one side, who have near total control of most mediums of communication, and who refuse to engage with skeptics in any meaningful way, and on the other, a volunteer militia of skeptics.
The only real airing of the issues is happening on the internet, simply because the skeptics had no other outlet medium, so they moved out early to it. This very definitely gave them first mover advantage, but though in response the climate alarmists created a number of very well-funded sites to push their message, their hit rates have been dropping like stones since the heady days of Copenhagen euphoria. However, though the science is being discussed by each party amongst themselves, it’s still not a debate between the two viewpoints.
The character of each side’s sites also militates against any science debate. The popular skeptic sites mainly concentrate on the science, while the alarmist ones are mainly used as launching pads for propaganda initiatives.
Given the hysteria that built up worldwide over global warming, the politicians had to be seen as doing something. Political leaders, like all management confronted by what looks to be a technical issue they don’t know the bits and bolts of, will take advice from experts in that domain and will go with what they think is the orthodox view. The point here is that they were only ever told that the science was settled and there were no dissenting voices. Patently, it wasn’t and there were. For a number of reasons, they’re now taking advantage of that “newly discovered” uncertainty, to roll back previous environmental commitments.
The question becomes why the climate science establishment are still sticking to the science is settled meme and refusing to have the science debate with the skeptics. While I can’t speak for all skeptics, their majority view it seems to me, is because they think the alarmists fear losing any high-profile debate. There’s a lot of truth in that opinion, but leaving aside the political activist motivation, which definitely drives some prominent climate scientists, I think the reasons go deeper.
It’s about being trapped in a lie, which has grown massively out of all proportion, and conforming to a consensus.
Taking those two in reverse order, conformity starts early in one’s life and primarily in education. By and large, a formal education is a good thing. On a simplistic level, it fills hungry young minds with facts and imparts to them some skills. So much of it depends on the talent of those entrusted with the job of educating the young. Most are average at that job, some are terrible and there’s a few we’ll always look back on and remember with that special bit of affection we have for a good teacher. It’s those good teachers who turn facts into knowledge; they teach you how to think about and use facts, which are essentially trusted waypoints in a chain of thought.
There are some downsides to education though, and they’re quite subtle.
Given the numbers a teacher has to deal with, it has to be a one size fits all approach. When you’ve got successive waves of classrooms coming at you throughout the day, a teacher simply hasn’t got much time to handle individual needs. Children of course respond well to one on one tuition, which is why home tutored ones do so well academically, but I do think they perhaps miss out on the social skills picked up outside the classroom. This necessarily industrial approach to educating the young, equips the majority of pupils with the basic tools they’re going to need in adulthood, but the ones who usually miss out, are what’s nowadays termed the special needs kids. To my mind, that phrase not only encompasses those who’re always going to be a bit behind all the rest, but occasionally the truly gifted original thinker.
It takes a pretty eccentric head to go against thousands of years of given knowledge that an apple falls to ground not because it has weight, but because it’s being pulled by a hitherto unheard of force you’ve decided to call gravity. It takes an even weirder head to postulate that gravity is just an effect of a distortion in space-time, which in itself is a new concept you’ve just come up with. A reservation I have about education, is the sneaking fear that so many of our truly revolutionary thinkers in science, would have been popped into that conventional special needs category nowadays. Instead of entertaining such outlandish ideas, we’d soon have shooed them back into mainstream thinking.
If you want to get through the system, and especially at modern university level, you have to conform academically. You have to bend the knee and kiss the cursed King’s pinky ring. Your future depends on the assessment and therefore the grades, of a bunch of securely tenured crustaceans, who’ve invested their whole life and reputation on a certain interpretation of the world, so any revolutionary theories you might be harbouring that they’re all wrong, you’d be well advised to keep to yourself. It actually stifles innovative thinking and they have to learn how to overcome it, to even think about something innovative. It’s a kind of premature Arterial Sclerosis of the intellect.
The sad thing is that by the time most students reach that tertiary level, they’ve already learnt to conform to the orthodoxy. They’re very bright and clever people, but thinking outside the conventional box has long been knocked out of most of them. That’s how that modern idea of consensus science came about in certain branches of science and why it was therefore doomed to eventually give birth to that bastard child, called post-modern science. As long as you’re morally sure of the imperative, you can fudge actually proving the conjecture. It’s that old vicious philosophy of the end justifying the means, replacing the scientific method. It’s science lite.
The illegitimate daughter, is of course uncertainty. If you can at least assign your idea of credible odds to the accuracy of a theory, then it’s as if it’s as good as proven. It’s a whole new approach to science. Instead of following through on the theory to do the actual production of something concrete to test the theory, you actually don’t even have to prove the theory and the real world data becomes beguilingly malleable.
Instead of data, you have computer models, which as far as the lay person is concerned, come with their very own specious authority. Even if you don’t understand the physics of clouds or have not yet even begun to invent the math to handle turbulence, by simply programming a computer using nothing better than that basis of ignorance, the result is somehow supposed to be legitimate and beyond question. If you consider climate to be an interaction between an unknown set of non-linear complex systems, which I do, the idea of predicting what it’ll be doing next year, never mind next century, is scientifically ignorant beyond all belief. It’s also totally dishonest.
I have fine combed through the world of climate science and found what I would consider to be two big intellects and an army of pygmies, masquerading as saviours of the world, but at the end of the day, all they know how to do is pursue grant money, a bit of notoriety or both. They interact with each other over the science, and though it can get a bit bitchy at times, the grand consensus is never questioned. Mediocrity breeds and promotes nothing better than mediocrity, if only to protect itself. Anyone who questions the consensus is soon marginalised, so not many people on the inside do, though they might entertain some grave doubts. It’s equivalent to an organisation that’s lost the ability to question itself.
The whole point about science is to deliver some measure of certainty about the real world, not a probabilistic and unverifiable guesstimate of how it might work. When scientists fall back on talking about a consensus, then as the late Michael Crichton observed, it means they simply don’t know.
The big bright shining lie at the very heart of climate science was always their proclaimed certainty and all they can do now is defend that lie to the death, by whatever means possible.
The climategate emails revealed they were lying all along. Like a liar trapped in their own self-spun web of dishonesty, the only way forward is to keep elaborating on the lie and insisting the science is settled, even when it’s contradicted by blindingly obvious real world facts. The data and methods are withheld, freedom of information requests are resisted every step of the way, the peer review process has been subverted, opponents are vilified, files and data destroyed, journals intimidated and every investigation of those activities carefully neutered.
After two decades of scary predictions, the ordinary person is fed up of the global warming story. They no longer care about it and are becoming deafer by the day to the increasingly hysterical predictions of Armageddon. Though there are other reasons, that loss of concern is what is giving politicians a mandate to start the financial demolition of the house of cards that global warming built. The dustbin of history awaits it.
Engaging in and losing any meaningful public debate, would only hasten that process. It is only by rigidly enforcing conformity to the consensus and refusing to engage in any debate, that the big lie can stay safely hidden.