Sunday, May 07, 2017

Bret Stephens in NY Times

As suggested, I read Bret Stephen's first column for the NY Times: Climate of Complete Certainty.  I have 3 serious problems with this column and with the NY Times for hiring Stephens as one of their columnists.  Some of my opinions are from this critical article: The problem with NY Times and climate change isn't what you think.  Anyway, here are my thoughts:
  1. Stephen's column is largely a straw man argument.  Almost everybody would agree with his basic premise that we shouldn't always uncritically accept the conventional wisdom of the scientific community or other authority figures.  Obviously, there are a whole range of possibilities with regard to scientific consensus, from the odds that the sun will rise tomorrow, to the prospect that solar power will largely eliminate our need for fossil fuels by the year 2040.  But Stephens doesn't pick out any particular problem or opinion with regard to the climate change consensus.  So he's fighting against a position that no one is identified as taking.
  2. The one concrete example he does give of the scientific consensus being wrong is wildly incomparable to the subject of climate change.  He suggests that because the pollsters were wrong about the 2016 presidential election, they could well be wrong about climate change.  But the polls have generally been correct in predicting election results.  The Trump victory over Clinton was an anomaly. Moreover, there are obvious technical reasons why polling is more difficult these days -- i.e. cell phones.  Study of climate change, on the other hand, has been going on for decades and the results, as far as I know, have been confirming the scientific consensus.  At any rate, political polling is quite a bit different from climate science.
  3. The NY Times seems to think it is promoting a free and responsible search for truth and meaning by publishing this opinion / commentator who dares to speak against the conventional wisdom.  But the criteria for providing such a soapbox should be based upon something other than the popularity of the opinion amongst those who distrust the elite.  There should be some reasonable grounds for dissension, and so far none have been provided.  Rather, the oil companies and others with vested interests in denying climate change have already spent enormous sums trying to poke holes in the scientific consensus, just as the tobacco companies did back in the day.  Far from providing a forum to hear the views of the underdog, the Times is giving the vested interests a forum to muddy the waters.
I'm copying some friends on this email because, as we discussed at church, it is related to a discussion we've been having on the subject of scientific consensus and The Structure of Scientific Revolutions


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