Thursday, May 10, 2007

Would Jesus vote green? V

Scepticism (cont)
And yet, scepticism alone is inadequate. There is a place for reserving judgment, but there is a point where to continue to do so in the face of overwhelming and pressing evidence is simply stubborn. How much scepticism is too much? There are such things as foolish gullibility and lazy conformism, but there also comes a time when stubborn scepticism tips into basic disconnection from reality.

I am fairly sure that of the statistics I quoted, some are probably inaccurate, and some may be based on faulty methodology, or outdated research. I am no expert and am quite happy to be corrected, yet it seems to me that it is now impossible to reasonably deny that human activity is indeed having a significant detrimental effect upon the living spaces of the planet. To do so is an exercise in wishful thinking. And this is no surprise to Christians, as we shall see.

For instance, while there is still dispute over details, to continue to suppose that human activity has not been a major cause of global climate change places you in disagreement with every major scientific organization in the world – except the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. As far as I am aware, for about the last ten years there has not been a single peer reviewed scientific publication disputing the human causation of recent global climate change (please link to examples if you know of any, I could be wrong, but this is what I've heard).

Yet there are still large numbers of people who continue to deny this claim in the face of almost unanimous consensus amongst the scientific community. At some point, it is right to become suspicious of such sustained denial, asking whether it mightn’t be a coping mechanism for dealing with hidden grief or guilt. Denial is a common part of responding to serious tragedy, but to properly grieve, we need to move beyond it. If you call yourself a skeptic,* I hope that in the following posts, you’ll discover reasons why it is safe to move beyond systematic denial.
*Not simply about climate change. I realise that this issue in particular has become highly politicised. At the moment, I am more interested in the broader claim about detrimental human effects on the environment considered more broadly. Nonetheless, here is a useful site answering 26 common myths about climate change. H/T OSO.
Thanks also to the Social Issues Briefing #63 for some of the thoughts in this post. Read it here. If you'd like to receive it regularly, sign up here.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII. Photo by Steve Chong.


Looney said...

I don't doubt some impact on the environment, but some more on the skepticism front:

First, the abstract concept of a "scientific community" isn't helpful. Scientists, unlike theologians, are typically knowledgable of exactly one super narrow discipline. Thus, a few trouble makers can manipulate the "scientific community" to an extraordinary degree and/or set themselves up as spokesmen for things that their colleagues don't understand but, er, "support". The fact that envonmental issues are invariably multi-disciplinary, which is where scientists start getting in way over their heads.

The other item is "overwhelming evidence". For the trouble makers, they recognize that this is a compelling argument. Thus the trick is to produce volumes of information knowing full well that ten misleading arguments can be produced in less time than to refute one erroneous argument. This generally works when the media is blindly on your side, which is definitely the case for environmental issues.

Looney said...

A third missing skeptic idea:

The world's scientists are, for the most part, on the dole. Even private universities like MIT get the bulk of their funding from government. Tenure is frequently granted based on the ability to secure research dollars. The bottom line incentives to whip people into a frenzy to pressure politicians to pump more money into science should not be underestimated.

linden said...


Looney, you'd probably have to convince me a bit more about this (abstract?) concept of a 'troublemaker' before I let go of the abstract concept of a scientific community.

Peer review seems to be a defining feature of the scientific community. The troublemakers may find it hard to make their trouble in that kind of environment.

Also, NO peer reviewed scientific publications disputing a human cause?? Kind of overwhelming... but maybe not... I don't know... It seems overwhelming.

Looney said...

Linden, what would a free market look like if we did away with all laws and regulations. Instead, all disputes between businessmen were handled by peer review by likeminded businessmen? Peer review might be the best that academia and science can do, but I wouldn't expect too much.

Rachel said...

Great post/series - I would never have thought to look at skepticism in such a talk (I live in a little bubble that assumes everyone is on board re climate change)

and also- what a beautiful picture! It has a very autumn-y feel.

linden said...

I'm not sure you've captured the essence of peer review of research. I'm also not sure what you're suggesting we replace it with, Looney.

However, I'm fairly sure that a free market approach to the sciences wouldn't provide a system where there was less bias in research.