Friday, December 11, 2009

Josh Marshall - Likening Climate Skeptics' Dismissal of Science to Other Fields

Something that keeps coming back to me about climate change deniers is their complete dismissal of the findings and recommendations of the best scientists in the world, even though these deniers often know little about the complex subject, or are experts in a field that is not climate science.

"How do these climate skeptics trust their medicines?", I wonder.

In this post on Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall does a good job of reflecting this angle, and its implications:

To maintain a skepticism which is rooted in the inherently tentative nature of all scientific knowledge is quite different from assuming that the science is wrong and that what's right is what I'd prefer to be true even though I don't know anything about the science at all -- which is where a lot of the public discussion of climate change seems to occur.

What I've been thinking about for a while is how it is that very few people doubt physicists or oncologists when it comes to their areas of specialty even though theories come and go in those fields as well.  I'm pretty confident nuclear warheads will go off, even if, as far as I know, one's never been tested on the tip of an ICBM. Perhaps more to the point, medical science today clearly has only a very limited understanding of cancer. But how many oncology skeptics do you know who choose to take a pass on chemo or radiation if they get sick?

Admittedly these are not perfect analogies. Nuclear warheads and clinical oncology have both in different ways been shown to work in controlled experiments. And that's a basic difference. You don't have the same ability to run tests in geo- or climate sciences. But the same holds even for other sciences where controlled studies are not possible.

I can't say that I really have any sophisticated understanding of the science of climate change. I don't think that most people I know who are pro-cap and trade do either. For me, the fact that the vast majority of people with specialized knowledge in the field think there's a problem is good enough for me.

I would not be terribly shocked if the predictions we're getting today about the climate turned out to be dramatically off. (Of course, it could be dramatically worse as well as dramatically better.) But in our own lives, in the real world, we live in a science based world. It's the premise on which almost everything rests. And pretty much everyone assumes that cell phones will work, bombs will go off, medical treatments will give us the best chance of survival. Only this one example is different.

Well articulated -- I've been thinking and saying the same thing for some time...

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