Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Hysteria, regression, and amnesia

A politically- and journalistically-induced craze like "global warming" has its costs. The most obvious is a poisoned politics overburdened with pseudocrises. The potential economic cost is also clear: implementing the Kyoto Accord reductions of CO2 emissions would mean dismantling a significant chunk of modern civilization.

A spiritual cost. But there's another cost as well, more elusive but very real, imposed on our minds, both the general public and the scientists who've been arm-twisted and panicked by the alliance of politicians, Official Science, environmentalists, and the media - not scientists now or ever - that drives this fake crisis. For the general public, the price is the decline of scientific literacy - the "global warming" hysteria is both of result and a further cause of this decline. As we live in a civilization based at every turn on advanced technology and scientific discoveries, this is worrisome. Another, related worrisome trend is the decaying influence of education, which more and more is challenged by the "junk-food" alternative: information in place of knowledge, tidy and conveniently televised moralistic and narrative fallacies left and right replacing cause-and-effect thinking, journalism in place of books, and misleading fabrications and half-truths in place of first-hand knowledge and personal experience.

In the scientific world, the price of "consensus" science officially imposed is, self-censorship among scientists who don't want the hassle and personal vilification that result from defying the false official thinking. Add to that the shifting of research funding and acceptance by scientific journals away from scientifically sound work toward "para-science" - politically-motivated hack work that doesn't ask questions and look for answers, but takes predetermined answers and policies - "something must be done!" - for granted, then fills in the "back story" to rationalize whatever policies have already been chosen anyway. This sort of thing is something, but it's not science or research.

The price extends into technical details as well, as the previous posting demonstrated. It's the use of bad techniques - methods inappropriate to the task, methods disproved, inadequate methods superseded by better ones - in a rush to a predetermined conclusion in support of "narratives" and policies already chosen by politicians and the media. From the point of view of a scientist, this is especially depressing; it puts the cart before the horse. It would be like doctors abandoning modern antisepsis and surgical techniques and taking up bloodletting again, if some fringe environmentalist group decided that rubber gloves and surgical scalpels were evil talismans of modern civilization and the media then decided, in unison, to scare everyone into accepting it.

In the case of the study of Earth's climate, the large looming discoveries of the last 50 years - nonlinearity, chaos, the non-Gaussian (non-normal or non-bell curve) statistics of events, the limits of prediction, the difficult of defining what we even mean by words like "climate," the fragmentary but still impressive advances made in filling in the details of paleoclimate and the Ice Ages - have been largely ignored, because (a) they're often hard to fully grasp, at least at first; and (b) they uniformly conflict with the "global warming" agenda, either by directly contradicting it or by clarifying how hard it is to predict the weather in the future. The "global warming" agenda can only be accepted by "unknowing" what modern science has learned about climate and dynamical systems and regressing to more naive and poorly informed positions.

We forget and forget and ... huh? So finally, we end with amnesia - a weird disconnect between what scientists and educated laypeople already know (the long-term weather can't be predicted, say) and the unfounded but aggressive confidence that everyone has been bullied into on this subject. But it also shows up in the purely political aspects of the situation. The Kyoto Accord on reducing CO2 emissions was agreed to in 1997 and initialed by President Clinton. The U.S. Senate then rejected the accord in a virtually unanimous vote. Their motives were largely about the economic cost, a perfectly legitimate concern, and one that Clinton himself was fully aware of - the White House expected the Senate to reject it. It was never formally submitted for ratification, in fact.

Ah, but not to listen to our allegedly omniscient, but in reality, amnesia-inducing news media. In their frequent but largely false retelling of the story, the Kyoto Accord was agreed to by "everyone" (that is, by themselves), until the evil W. undermined it by withdrawing from it. Except the U.S. was never in it. All W. did was to revoke the presidential initialing of it. Furthermore, no country that signed the Accord has come anywhere close to meeting its reduction targets, and, unless it wants to dismantled modern civilization within its borders, no country ever will. The Kyoto Treaty is an example of the corruption of our politics by manufactured crisis, accompanied by the 24/7 drumbeat of media hysteria. It is to the great credit of the U.S. Senate (a body whose seriousness I frequently wonder about) that they rejected it - they took it seriously enough to see how fantastically absurd the Accord was and rejected it. They could have, after all, cynically accepted it anyway, knowing full well that the U.S. would never meet the targets, but indulging in a moment of feel-good self-righteousness. That is evidently what happened in many other countries.

Recently, Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit laid out another case of journalistic malfeasance committed in connection with Kyoto by the Associated Press: read his comparison of history with the AP's garbled pseudo-history here. As Reynolds rightly says, "You have to wonder ... why people bother to listen to the Associated Press when it can't get basic bits of recent history right."

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