Science vs. “science”
Megan McArdle touches on one of the great political truths of today:
Ask a Washington dinner party full of moderately well informed people what will happen with Iran over the next five years, and you’ll end up with a consensus that gee, that’s tough. Ask them what GDP growth will be in fall 2019, and they’ll probably converge on a hesitant “2 or 3 percent, I guess?” On the other hand, ask them what’s going to happen to the climate over the next 100 years, and what you’re likely to hear is angry.
How can one be certain about outcomes in a complex system that we’re not really all that good at modeling? Anyone who’s familiar with the history of macroeconomic modeling in the 1960s and 1970s will be tempted to answer “Umm, we can’t.”
And that’s sort of the root of the problem, isn’ t it? The “science” of “climate change” is based in modeling “a complex system that we’re not really all that good at modeling”, just as in years past economists attempted the same thing with similar results.
So, how is the inability to capture all the variables, even variables of which little is known at present (and, dare I say it, some unknown) and put them in a model and claim … “science”. Seems to me its a guess at best. That’s certainly what economists found when they tried to model economies or even parts of economies. The number of variables is just too vast and the knowledge of those variables is imprecise at best.
McArdle goes on to talk about the experience of economists and how models have pretty much been put in their place in the “dismal science”. They’re aids, but they’re certainly nothing to bet your career or economic policy on.
Somehow, however, that’s not been the case with climate models – even when they’ve been shown to be horribly inaccurate time after time (in fact, not even close and have such a tenuous grasp on the mechanics of climate they can’t even reproduce the past).
That’s not stopped those who proclaim the “science is settled” from attempting to vilify and condemn those who disagree. Money grafs from McArdle:
This lesson from economics is essentially what the “lukewarmists” bring to discussions about climate change. They concede that all else equal, more carbon dioxide will cause the climate to warm. But, they say that warming is likely to be mild unless you use a model which assumes large positive feedback effects. Because climate scientists, like the macroeconomists, can’t run experiments where they test one variable at a time, predictions of feedback effects involve a lot of theory and guesswork. I do not denigrate theory and guesswork; they are a vital part of advancing the sum of human knowledge. But when you’re relying on theory and guesswork, you always want to leave plenty of room for the possibility that your model’s output is (how shall I put this?) … wrong.
Naturally, proponents of climate-change models have welcomed the lukewarmists’ constructive input by carefully considering their points and by advancing counterarguments firmly couched in the scientific method.
No, of course I’m just kidding. The reaction to these mild assertions is often to brand the lukewarmists “deniers” and treat them as if what they were saying was morally and logically equivalent to suggesting that the Holocaust never happened.
And that’s where we are. McArdle ends with a plea for sane and objective discussion but in my opinion, that ship sailed when we saw state Attorney Generals band together to prosecute “deniers” under the RICO statutes. Of course that doesn’t change the science or “science” but it does make it much more difficult to dial back the rhetoric. There is a reason for that:
The arguments about global warming too often sound more like theology than science. Oh, the word “science” gets thrown around a great deal, but it’s cited as a sacred authority, not a fallible process that staggers only awkwardly and unevenly toward the truth, with frequent lurches in the wrong direction. I cannot count the number of times someone has told me that they believe in “the science,” as if that were the name of some omniscient god who had delivered us final answers written in stone. For those people, there can be only two categories in the debate: believers and unbelievers. Apostles and heretics.
This I wholeheartedly agree with and the actions of those who believe in man-made climate change constantly validate my position. This has moved well beyond objectivity and rational discourse. It is into the realm of religious belief. It is interesting which side of the ideological curve tends to believe the “science” presented and to agree with the oppressive sanctions offered to silence those who disagree. The same ones who will tell you they’re “progressive”. For those of us who read a bit, we know the history of “progressivism” and what is happening on the “progressive” side of this issue is exactly what you’d expect from them.
Now apply that knowledge to other “progressive” ideas and policies and you’ll soon understand what their end game looks like.