Home > World Events > Science vs the Right: state of play

Science vs the Right: state of play

January 11th, 2009

I stopped arguing with self-described “skeptics” on the topic of global warming some time ago, and I don’t intend to start again. I am however interested both in trying to promote sensible policy outcomes and in considering the broader political and cultural implications of the debate. For this purpose, there is no need to argue about hockey sticks, global warming on Mars or any of the other talking points that chew up so much time on the Internets (for anyone who is actually in doubt on any of these points, this is a useful resources

I’ll start with some facts that are, if not indisputable, at least sufficiently clear that I don’t intend to engage in dispute about them
(i) All major scientific organisations in the world[1] endorse, in broad terms, the analysis of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which states that the world is getting warmer and that, with high (> 90 per cent) probability, this warming is predominantly due to human action
(ii) Most prominent politicians[2], thinktanks, activists, commentators and bloggers on the political right in Australia, the US and Canada (along with a large section in the UK) reject, or express doubts about, this analysis. The uniformity of views is particularly notable among conservative thinktanks.

The dispute between mainstream science and the political right has now been going on for at least fifteen years, and has already had some profound impacts. At the beginning of this period, the right could plausibly present itself as the pro-science side of the “Science Wars” in which the enemies were the massed forces of leftwing postmodernism (a powerful force, given their near-total control over departments of English literature), sociologists of science and the wilder fringes of the environmental movement. However, this was always a storm in a teacup, ignored by the vast majority of scientists.

By contrast, the current war is being fought for high stakes, with the end result either a disastrous defeat for the institutions of mainstream science or the intellectual discrediting of the entire political right. There has been no significant convergence between the two sides. On the contrary, even as confidence in the mainstream scientific consensus was solidified be the released of the IPPP Fourth Assessment Report in 2007, the rightwing opponents of science were buoyed by the La Nina event of early 2008, which produced a sharp, but temporary drop in temperatures, particularly in the Pacific. Comparisons with the El Nino peak of 1998 enabled them to announce that global warming had stopped, a point which was amplified in vast numbers of opinion pieces, blog posts and public statements, though not, to my knowledge, defended by any peer-reviewed statistical analysis.

Even such an obvious fact as the melting of Arctic ice, confirmed in the most direct fashion possible by the announcement of regular shipping routes around the Pole, with associated territorial claims, has been the subject of endless quibbles (attempts to restate these quibbles in comments will be deleted).

Furthermore, unlike the endless culture war disputes where the debating tactics of the right have been developed, there is a fact of the matter regarding anthropogenic global warming, which will sooner or latter become undeniable. Either global warming will continue, finally confirming the mainstream scientific viewpoint, or it will not.

Given the accumulation of scientific evidence, the odds are pretty strongly in favour of the first outcome. Scientific conclusions supported by a diverse range of independent theory and evidence sometimes turn out to be wrong, but you wouldn’t want to bet on it. Even more rarely, non-scientists with an axe to grind turn out to be right where scientists are wrong, but you really wouldn’t want to bet on that.

This raises the question of why the right has been so keen to double down on this issue. Of course, there’s no organised process by which an anti-science viewpoint on climate change and other issues is agreed on as a central orthodoxy from which dissent is prohibited, but you only have to look at the output of the political right in the English speaking countries to see that this outcome has been realised.

There are many explanations, perhaps so many that the outcome was overdetermined – powerful economic interests such as ExxonMobil, the hubris associated with victories in economic policy and in the Cold War, tribal dislike of environmentalists which translated easily to scientists as a group, and the immunisation to unwelcome evidence associated with the construction of the rightwing intellectual apparatus of thinktanks, talk-radio, Fox News, blogs and so on.

The issue is not going to go away, regardless of the short-term success or failure of attempts to reach a global agreement to stabilise the climate. The more clearly the political right is identified with the anti-science side of this debate, the harder it will be to salvage any of its existing institutions.

In a two-party system, even total intellectual incoherence will not prevent a political party from winning office when its opponents fail. But I’m surprised at the extent to which supporters of free markets have been willing to tie their case to an obvious imposture.

fn1. The only partial exception of which I am aware is the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, which takes an equivocal position
fn2. For reasons of political necessity, some rightwing politicians occasionally make statements endorsing mainstream science on global warming. But only a handful (John McCain being the most prominent) give more than a half-hearted assent, and many (Brendan Nelson is an archetypal example) give different positions depending on the audience and the way the political wind is blowing on the day.

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  1. Hermit
    January 11th, 2009 at 22:21 | #1

    Proponents of the ‘global warming has stopped’ theory will have a hard time explaining future hot years, hotter perhaps than 1998. Personally I am enjoying the cool summer and wish it was a permanent feature. The arguments become even more complicated when Malthusian limits are invoked, one suggestion being that global consumption in real terms will never return to 2008 levels. I’m waiting for the deniers to propose we should burn more fossil fuels on the grounds that warming is a furphy, but the evidence is mounting that the supply of all fossil fuels including cheap coal will peak within a generation. Therefore I suggest that now is good as it gets to be a GW denier and the facts on the ground will get less supportive with each passing year.

  2. Tony G
    January 11th, 2009 at 23:22 | #2

    “there is a fact of the matter regarding anthropogenic global warming, which will sooner or latter become undeniable. Either global warming will continue, finally confirming the mainstream scientific viewpoint, or it will not.”

    Considering people are freezing their balls off this summer “the odds are pretty strongly in favour of the [second] outcome”

    So we are talking about pseudo-science and its probabilities, not REAL science that actually predicts a future outcome and can repeat its prediction successfully many times over.

    Well I do not bet with other peoples money, especially based on a probability (even if YOU tell us it is 90% on). Every punter knows short priced favourites loose more often than they win. Give me a certain outcome based on a Scientific prediction to back. I’ll be happy to tell the punters to put their rent money on that because REAL science predicts future outcomes and pseudo-sciences don’t.

    If you TAX and SPENDERS are so concerned about AGW, then maybe you should introduce something like Observer put out there last week. It is something that would give you a carbon tax whilst being benign to the punters.

  3. January 11th, 2009 at 23:47 | #3

    Rather than look for extraneous reasons, John, I think it’s best to assume most of the denialists genuinely believe the arguments they make. One argument they commonly make to rebut your above claim re Exxon Mobil is that any money made available by such renegade bodies is outweighed at least one-hundred fold by that made available to supporters of the mainstream science position and hence there is a vested interest in conforming to the dominant paradigm.

    It is almost impossible to overlook the fact that some of the arguments used by the denialists, including the above materialist argument, reflects the arguments leftists have used on other issues.

    As an example, leftist Comrade Kim over at Larvatus Prodeo has applied the same technique in her endeavours to revive the ailing fortunes of Freudianism. Take this for example:

    “Incidentally, if one were to proffer something of a materialist, sociological (free?) association, a lot of the attacks on psychoanalysis for not being “empirically testable”, etc, just happen to coincide with increasing unwillingness on the part of US health insurance companies to pay for therapy that takes time.” http://larvatusprodeo.net/2006/03/29/dispatches-from-the-freud-wars/

  4. jquiggin
    January 12th, 2009 at 06:58 | #4

    Melaleuca, I agree that the right has genuinely come to believe this stuff, and, as you say has adopted many of the arguments of the old anti-science left. I’m interested in what might be called the disposition to belief.

    So, since Tony G has volunteered, I’d be interested in his thoughts. What is it that led you to think that all mainstream science organizations are wrong on this, while the sources on which you rely are correct? Do you think the scientists are stupid, corrupt, ideologically motivated or some combination of the three? Do you think AGW is an exceptional case, or is science in general like this?

  5. Justin Kerr
    January 12th, 2009 at 07:11 | #5

    I think we are seeing the reaction of people whose interests and intellectual range suit them to the status quo, trying to keep that status quo propped up.

    “But I’m surprised at the extent to which supporters of free markets have been willing to tie their case to an obvious imposture.” Given the chasm between Adam Smith’s opinions of the honesty and public-spiritedness of merchants and capitalists, and the Right’s deference to that same group, I think it is more accurate to characterise the Right as ‘pro-businesses’ rather than ‘free market’. Which explains some of this problem.

    What is also strange is the lack of imagination the political Right ascribes to their favourite demographic. If businesses can make lemonade in geographic and political lemons like Siberia and Africa, and can use economic collapse for ‘creative destruction’, why can’t they also adapt to climate change? (Aided, of course, by setting up proper markets for them to trade in.)

    John Ralston Saul wrote (somewhere, I cannot find the reference right now) about the Chicago School: market forces can only be supreme if you ignore geography. But now geography is said to be threatening the Right’s free market and this, if true, means something must then protect the geography from businesses. There are only two things which are said to be able to regulate businesses – one, the free market has a patchy record; while the other, government, is the political Right’s bete noire.

    So there is an alignment on the Right between interests, habits and intellect to inspire them to deny global warming.

  6. David Irving (no relation)
    January 12th, 2009 at 08:58 | #6

    I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. The right can’t afford to admit that the left has been correct about anything at all given the fear and loathing we caused them in the ’60s and the angst over Nixon. If they admit that we were right about Vietnam, peak oil (although many of us didn’t think of it in quite those terms), overpopulation and pollution (just to skim the surface), their brains would explode from the final recognition of their cognitive dissonance.

  7. nanks
    January 12th, 2009 at 09:09 | #7

    One of the properties of science is that it stands in the way of desire.
    Desire dreams a future world where the desire is fulfilled. Building that future world does not have unforeseen consequences – unforeseen is undesired.
    Science stands in stark constrast as it presents a world ‘as it is’, severely curbing the scope of desire and clarifying the consequences of actions.
    Science then is the enemy of people who desire a future without consequences.

  8. January 12th, 2009 at 09:38 | #8

    The population of the crazy right, in the light of the financial dieoff, is way beyong carrying capacity,hence the lemming like search for a cliff.

  9. Tony G
    January 12th, 2009 at 09:52 | #9

    “What is it that led you to think that all mainstream science organizations are wrong on this, while the sources on which you rely are correct?”

    I don’t rely on “organisations” to dictate my view. I listen to what they have to say noting that by their very nature they have to make compromises to get a consensus view, but as general rule, being an individual I rely on my own enquiries to form a view. At this point in time, based on my own enquiries, there seems to be a lot of dissension and conflicting views among the majority of individual scientists, some of whom are members of these “organisations”.

    Based on this, my view is the same as yours….Either global warming will manifest itself, “finally confirming the mainstream scientific viewpoint, or it will not.”

    But, until that happens it is going to be difficult to get “a global agreement to stabilise the climate.” Especially as we all can’t agree or see that it is ‘in fact’ unstable.

  10. Zabeel the Horse
    January 12th, 2009 at 09:52 | #10

    Tony G wrote:

    “Every punter knows short priced favourites loose (sic) more often than they win.”

    Speakung as a former short-priced favourut on sivirel occasions un my younger days, I must point out thet un the case of the IPCC/mainstream posution on globel warmung, the favourut us not sumply short priced, but shorter then tin to one on, evin bifore the tote hes takin out uts percintege. Therefore your enelogy us musplaced.

  11. Gong and forgotten
    January 12th, 2009 at 10:01 | #11

    The tenacity of the right on this subject surprised me a few years ago but it only reminds me of the approach taken to tobacco smoking. The science here was equally strong (once it was dragged out of hidden away reports) but denied with a straight face. My main conclusion is that the forces aligned with money and business interests will maintain that interest even in the face of danger and destruction. It also fits with my view that the capacity of business interests to reinterpret our world thru marketing to us that we are better for this product or that is a bit limited when there is a more obvious marketing device in the GW debate i.e. the weather. It is difficult to glam up/ explain away what people see and feel every day reinforced by actuality of deep droughts and more extreme weather events.

    You would have thought that the adaptive capacity of capitalism would have kicked in by now with businesses trying to exploit the alternative energy market with more gusto. But as with cigarettes why move to a new market when this one hasn’t been fully exploited and the economic benefits of the alternative market have yet to materialise. There is still plenty of oil, so why rush, it is a resource that should be exhausted. Of course as in the smoking example the costs of such approaches usually sits with governments. Of course the capacity of governments to deal with the worst aspects of GW, will I believe, be well beyond them

  12. Zabeel the Horse
    January 12th, 2009 at 10:04 | #12

    Another angle on the probabilistic projections of the IPCC can be gleaned from reflecting on the comments of some Coalition MPs when the IPCCs 4th SAR put forward its >90% balance of probabilities. These comments were along the lines of “would you drive a truck across a bridge which the engineer said had only a 90% chance of holding up?” A sensible person has to answer “YES” when the alternative is to drive across a bridge with less than a 10% chance of holding up.

  13. Paul Norton
    January 12th, 2009 at 10:05 | #13

    I mistakenly posted as my equine sock puppet at #12. Sorry!

  14. John Mashey
    January 12th, 2009 at 10:25 | #14

    1) I don’t know about Oz, but for the US, isn’t just global warming, it’s a wide variety of topics. I recommend Chris Mooney’s “The Republican War on Science” that describes how this came to happen here, as the Republican party didn’t used to be this way.

    2) At least in the US, if you can find out funding sources of conservative thinktanks, certain family foundations (Olin, Scaife, Koch, etc) show up pretty often. Thinktanks need funding, so they get it where they can, and those foundations may actually contribute more than, say ExxonMobil, although it’s hard to tell.

    Thinktanks are like little lobbying/PR firms, and one may recall that the PR firm Hill&Knowlton *invented* the anti-science strategy for tobacco companies. [Hill had quit smoking for health reasons, but he invented the “controversy” approach to help tobacco sales. See Allan M. Brandt, “The Cigarette Century”, p165-.] It’s hard to know what such entities really believe, or if it matters.

    3) I recommend the McWright/Dunlap paper, Defeating Kyoto: The Conservative Movement’s Impact on U.S. Climate Change Policy, and
    Jacques, Dunlap and Freeman, “The organisation of denial: Conservative think tanks and environmental scepticism”, Environmental Politics 17:349 – 385, 2008), free here.

    4)A few months ago, I put together a catalog of anti-science reasons at Deltoid. It’s pretty clear that there is a wide variety of reasons, and it seems unlikely that everyone actually believes what they’re saying. Many do, even though they might be acting against their own (or their descendants’) self-interest.

    5) Note that the conservative thinktank taking-on of the *business* mantle is a good tactic. There are a huge number of businesses, but the anti-science push comes from a relatively small number, particularly those that often privatize profits and socialize the costs/risks.

    Google: western pennsylvania coal subsidence

    for an example of how that “privatize profit/socialize cost” works – I grew up in that area, although thankfully not over old coal mines. Many mining companies quit decades ago. Houses still collapse.

    Thinktanks often fundraise on “avoid excessive regulation”, but I think most of the funding comes from “no regulation of *my* business, no matter the externalities” folks.

    This tactic, used often by the tobacco companies, is to want to stand in the middle of a crowd, hurl bricks at police, and hope that the police shoot back into the crowd, or even better, at bystanders who will then join the crowd.

    It is really a mistake to lump all businesses together as anti-science. I think it’s a relatively small fraction of businesses, albeit some large ones.

    The Economist is strongly free-trade, but actually thinks AGW is real and that some regulation is OK. As I’ve said elsewhere, some people think The Economist has turned into an awful left-wing rag and dropped their subscriptions in disgust. 🙂

    Peter Darbee is a conservative who is CEO of PG&E, the (very large) utility for Central and Northern California. Read this story of how he studied up on AGW. He has *no* problem accepting the science and government/private cooperation. He much prefers low-overhead government that sets some rules&objectives and lets business unleash its creativity for solutions to the details. Of course, this is Northern California, which has a fairly clear view on this, but Darbee gives passionate talks on climate & efficiency, and PG&E’s actions reflect that.

    6) Finally, there seems to have been a progression of arguments:

    a) SCIENCE
    The science is wrong, AGW is a hoax, or natural, or stopped, etc.
    [Vastly untenable, but some will persist forever in ignoring physics and statistics, and keep fighting the last war.]

    Well, AGW is real, but we should {adapt, not mitigate}, wait until major research breakthroughs, it will cost too much if we do anything soon, our descendants in 2100AD will be really rich, etc, etc.

    I think this is starting to wear down as well, but it still has some currency.

    Finally, there is “AGW is real, but there are more important priorities.”

    This is the most sophisticated argument, especially since the other priority alternatives can be chosen to appeal to a much broader audience, and with the right rules, can be assured to put AGW last. There is an art to doing this cleverly, and it shows up in government politics as well as businesses.

    Bjorn Lomborg seems beloved of conservative thinktanks for his skill in this kind of misdirection argument.

    7) IMHO: It seems good thing in democracies to have multiple parties to keep eyes on each other. Since “keeping government as small and unintrusive as possible” seems reasonable, especially in conjunction with “and as big as really necessary”, it’s sad to see a major party go completely off into the total unreality of anti-science. I would far rather that the conservative side stop arguing about the science and put their energies into straightforward arguments on politics and public/private mechanisms and balance. Political conservatives can actually be rational about this [Darbee above; CA Gov. Schwarzenegger.

    I am much happier when I actually get to choose between reasonable candidates from two different parties, which actually happens occasionally where I live.

    With the Web, it’s a *lot* easier to backtrack what someone has been saying, and I’d never trust somebody who repeatedly denies strongly-supported science. Many people are marginalizing themselves away from the policy table.

  15. Alanna
    January 12th, 2009 at 11:18 | #15

    I think what most of us ignore is the vast wealth holdings some organisations have to devote to “anti science” propaganda. Not because they are necessarily “right wing” (individuals personal views within the organisation are subjugated to views that protect and maintain the organisations profit) and the organisation will deploy resources in pursuit of that aim, placing ethical concerns behind. They will recruit or fund others such as lobby groups and media peronalities in order to manipulate the views of mass voting blocs through the media, in order to secure the election of what they see as sympathetic politicians. Unfortunately willing people will always be found to go along with the charade as will willing politicians.

  16. Socrates
    January 12th, 2009 at 12:17 | #16

    I think the reason for the right “doubling down” is psychological, not philosophical. The more the extreme right have been colonised/joined with the religeous nutbars, the less rational they have become. Blind faith in one area (religeon) is seeping into the others (science, economics, politics) too. Their own personal emotional (and employment?) security is wrapped up in their views being correct. They don’t even want to consider the alternative.

    I think the more rational among them just hope the evidence proving their error won’t show up before they retire or die. Sort of like Bush hoping the recession wouldn’t hit till after he left office.

  17. BilB
    January 12th, 2009 at 12:19 | #17

    I would have thought that this was very much an American syndrome. The religious connection with business probably derives from the private school (more usually operated by catholic and protestant organisations) origins of the wealthier end of town. The next stepping stone down that path would be the private clubs where these things will be talked about. I imagine that anyone with a religious affiliation has to be conflicted on the issues of origin, and once there is a public position from the “club” then loyalty must play a role (the Howard gang for instance). Perhaps this whole movement is trapped by its own momentum and can only end when it finally destructs from a collision with undeniable reality. It might take a few hundred years, though, to full recognition from the vatican.

  18. nanks
    January 12th, 2009 at 12:39 | #18

    I think it is interesting to consider anti-science, but attaching anti-science specifically to the ‘right’ may lead up garden paths as there are many on the ‘left’ who are anti-science.
    Why would anyone have a problem with Science? A look at a current opinion piece at the ABC site
    shows that some readers feel slighted at the prospect that there is a field of endeavor that they cannot join. Basically they don’t want to think they aren’t smart enough to do science and so find a way to denigrate it. I have long thought envy plays part in the hostility to intellectuals in Australia compared to the love of sports people – with sports people one can fantasise that with the right training ‘there go I’, but when someone is a lot smarter there is nothing that can bridge that gap.
    So hubris takes its place in the anti-science camp.
    Also science speaks against fantasy and the uncontrolled will – it places hard limits on what is possible, and exposes consequences that cannot be dismissed through rhetoric alone. Anyone who hates being thwarted might get a little petulant when science stands in the way of their dreams, particularly if they also want to see themselves as virtuous. Of course if they don’t care about morals and virtue – ie are a psychopath – then they will act accordingly. I am of the view that there are quite a few high functioning psychopaths throughout the workforce – where engaging in ruthless manipulation is often an advantage.

  19. January 12th, 2009 at 13:09 | #19

    The Anglophone Right is in the process of being “mugged by reality” because of its unreality based Climate, Class and “Civilization” War positions. Although the scientific basis of the Rights anthropological work-view has been substantially confirmed by it’s successes in the Culture War.

    The Right still has the whip hand institutionally, but it has mostly lost it’s grip intellectually. Thus Right-wingers still call the shots in the corridors of power where key financial, martial and environmental decisions are being made.

    Nothing breeds change like epic failure. The inescapable facts on the ground are forcing Right-wingers to abandon long-held and much-cherished positions.

    Bush is pulling troops out of Mesopotamia, nationalising banks and even building a proper border protecting wall! Undoubtedly as storm-surges start to swamp lower Manhattan we will see the Right taking action on climate change.

    Like the other issues it will probably be too little to late. Unless of course the forthcoming US depression forces Americans to make ecological virtue out of economic necessity.

  20. January 12th, 2009 at 14:06 | #20

    John, I think Steven Colbert said it perfectly when he quipped “Reality has a left-wing bias.”

  21. January 12th, 2009 at 14:42 | #21

    You say:

    “the intellectual discrediting of the entire political right”

    What if they don’t care (and a lot of people actually find that appealing)?

  22. Ben
    January 12th, 2009 at 14:50 | #22

    [email protected] is on the money.

    There is a fundamental disconnect between what people ‘want’ to believe, and what science tells us about the how the Universe works. People subconsciously look for evidence that conforms with their worldview (whether religious or ideological) and discard the evidence that doesn’t.

    This is not just limited to what passes for debate on AGW. Look at the dispute on teaching evolution going on over in the States at the moment. Or the foolishness associated with the MMR vaccine and autism. Or recycled water, or GM foods…

    The ‘political right’ (whatever the hell that means? – neo-con, libertarian, paleo-conservative, fascist, objectivist Ayn Randoids – there’s such a smorgasbord to choose from…) does not have monopoly on ignoring reality when it suits them.

    Ben [email protected]:

    I think a better line would be that “reality has a scientific bias” but I’ll give Colbert his due 🙂

  23. Stephen L
    January 12th, 2009 at 15:32 | #23

    I think the psychological reasons are more powerful than the issue of funding from Exxon/Mobile, although that’s hardly irrelevant.

    As has been noted above the right is now incapable of admitting it was wrong about anything, and particularly something first promoted by 60s lefty-hippies opposed to things like the the Vietnam war (the fact that environmentalism had some key conservative supporters in the early days having been largely forgotten by both sides.)

    But the other point raised by nanks and other is valid and under-explored. The right believes in a dream of eternal growth and conquest. They can’t deal with the idea there might be limits (even if, as JQ has noted so often the limits are on material consumption not economic growth per se).

  24. Michael of Summer Hill
    January 12th, 2009 at 16:10 | #24

    John, I just would like to add that the ‘skeptics’ who live on another planet are out of touch with the majority of the population who believe in a clean and green environment.

  25. Tony G
    January 12th, 2009 at 16:53 | #25

    What planet are you on Michael?

    Obviously not this one, otherwise you are “out of touch” with the majority who do not think an ETS is the way to go.

    “A recent Newspoll survey says “A total of 51 per cent said there should be a delay or there should not be an ETS at all.”

  26. January 12th, 2009 at 17:23 | #26

    Well PrQ, I once again say look at the the right wing denialists are saying and take it at face value. As to the right libertarian type denialists, it’s clear that they are techno-optimists. They aren’t particularly fazed by AGW because they think even if a problem occurs human ingenuity and the market will take care of it. Other rightists take the resilience of the earth for granted and point to a range of previous erroneous “Green scares” to back up there point.

    Such folk will not change their minds until there is “blood on the wall”- ie. visible evidence of catastrophic AGW in their very own backyards …

  27. Michael of Summer Hill
    January 12th, 2009 at 17:45 | #27

    John, if I may reply to Tony G by saying you might be interested to know that the poll results of 21 nations released on the 19 November 2008 by World Public Opinion found ‘very strong support for the government requiring utilities to use more alternative energy, such as wind and solar, and requiring businesses to use energy more efficiently, even if these steps increase the costs of energy and other products. Fewer than half of the nations polled favor putting more emphasis on nuclear energy or on coal or oil’. However, the most important factor was that the majority rejected the notion that ‘shifting to alternative energy sources would hurt the economy, believing instead that it would save money in the long run’ for which I tend to agree with.

  28. Dylwah
    January 12th, 2009 at 19:35 | #28

    G’day Prof Q. I’m not going to dispute the capacity of science to describe reality, but it is worth remembering that Science only provides answers to questions that are asked.

    There are many factors that have contributed to the US predominant position in the modern world, but a major factor has been the general willingness of the US elites to utilise the treasures derived from pure and applied scientific endeavours. Time and again over the last 150 years or so US policy makers and industrialists hae asked questions that scientists and their siblings the engineers have answered with aclarity and effect.

    So successful have these elites been that they have fallen for the common fallacy that their success has been due to their own intelligence and/or the support of their god. Also that this success gives them the right to direct the questions that science ought to investigate. In this they fundamentally misunderstand the nature of Natural Philosophy and related enquiry.

    Since Rachel Carson and the tobacco wars the repubs and their thinktanks have acted as if they feel that Science has escaped their control, gone feral, their response to the science relating to AGW is simply the latest manifestation. what they don’t understand is that science is feral, incremental, painstaking and often tedious, but feral nontheless. If the Repubs and co are really at war with Science, they better be prepared for a long one.

  29. MH
    January 12th, 2009 at 20:39 | #29

    JQ, the ‘war’ has been against intellectuals, scientists, historians and philosophers of all persuasions, in fact it would seem, the campaign of derision and disinformation has been extended to any thinking person who attempted to question the orthodoxy of corporate facism. The war on science has been selective and particularly vicious and directed against biologists, atmospheric scientists and any other discipline that had the temerity to counter the prevailing neo conservative orthodoxy. It is easy to overlook or forget the many many scientists and engineers who even now labour to produce weapons, chemicals and genetically modified organisms in the interests of efficiency and business, where those scientists are useful then there is no attack on them but on science and intellectual pursuits that add nothing to profit but much to truth and understanding. Even economists have not been immune to the late twentieth century version of the inquisition.

    Although there may be a crisis of legitimacy, and many intellectuals and academics are now discussing the portents of this vacuum in politics and thought, the protoganists of facist corporatism will, with increasing ferocity continue their battle against intellectuals and alternative world views, even as their reality collapses, as it has in the first stage of economic ruin as the financial system now collapses along with their delusions and fallacies. The collapse of the biosphere as we know it will be the second stage, and will change nothing, after all our way of life, our material comfort, and our economics and political systems depend and are inextricably bound up with continuing the current delusions and fallacies. Then we will discover we have been living in a facist state all along and failed to recognise its character.

  30. sean
    January 12th, 2009 at 20:52 | #30

    JQ I will think you will find skepticism and conservatism are pretty much of a muchness. In fact the Great infidel himself David Hume is regarded as the first modern Conservative.

    Once again your reasoning is based on base political grandstanding, the right will not be defeated and neither will science (whatever those two things are?) A better way of looking at the issue is to think of the skeptics as short sellers, they get a lot of bad press, becasue they ask a lot of awkward questions that keeps everyone on their toes and the market place of ideas honest.

    A better criticism from your political view point is that the “rights” skepticism had descended into nihilism, which is a wrong but more logical statement.

    In fact while we are on the subject of logic, As I understand it there was no “initial condition” of nature. It has and will always been in flux, therefore trying to return mother nature to her initial “cooler earth” condition seems to me a little illogical don’t you think?

  31. charles
    January 12th, 2009 at 21:07 | #31

    You have asked a dam good question; another good one. The evidence for evolution is pretty dam good but the right push for the teaching of creation in science.

    If you can discredit science evolution goes away, and those that want to return us to the dark ages win.

    Yes the chances that science has made a mistake on Global warming is small, but it’s bigger than the chance that they have made a mistake when it comes to evolution. Global warming is the best chance of moving us back to fairies and goblins and other supernatural beings.

    The question on my mind: Are the mad right so bereft of ideas that now all they desire is a trip back to the past.

  32. Ben
    January 12th, 2009 at 22:14 | #32

    [email protected]: I’ll think you’ll find that skepticism has got very little to do with conservatism (or any other political belief) and everything to with science and reason.

    Pseudo-skeptics, on the other hand, masquerade as skeptics with one essential difference. They have already decided what their position is, will cherry-pick data to support their position and will obstinately refuse to change their minds in the face of new evidence.

    True sceptics, on the other hand are always open to changing their minds should new facts emerge.

    What we are witnessing is the reason why science and ideology (political or religious) are basically incompatible. Political rhetoric is not dependant upon facts. It is dependent upon charisma, group-think, fallacious reasoning, and a priori assumptions which cannot be falsified. It is assisted in this by a scientifically and statistically illiterate media who generally seem unable or unwilling to skewer bad arguments.

  33. sean
    January 12th, 2009 at 22:43 | #33

    Ben, I am using it in the political sense from its philosophical roots, afterall the opening posts was about the politics of so called MMGW.

    IN the main, skepticism in its political sense is conservative (being skeptical about changing the established order ect)

    As for “reason” Induction has yet to be resolved, which it wont be. Therefore the purity of reason will always be in question, its just a little less myth laden than politics.

  34. Jill Rush
    January 12th, 2009 at 23:45 | #34

    The right has its own science and it is hard to tell fact from fiction. Does coffee cause cancer and the many other tales carried by the press? Angela Shanahan in the Oz has the story of the estrogen pill causing terrible problems and quotes supposed scientific evidence. How to judge its validity? Those who have been helped by the pill will tend to dismiss supposed damage caused by the pill. The scientific evidence is far from conclusive. Whilst those who have always disliked the pill (catholics like Shanahan) will believe the scientific claims. Belief is what matters.

    People are more certain about climate change because there is evidence that they can understand. Those who claim to be sceptics on the other hand don’t believe the claims which are counter to what they want to happen.

    Belief is powerful against weighty evidence. Even now Darwin’s theories are in active dispute for some and there are scientists who work to manufacture evidence to contradict Darwinian theory. There is cognitive dissonance. The psychology supports the economic approach (eg Greed is Good) whereas the science can be ignored as inconvenient or derided as wrong when it interferes with the belief system of the people concerned. So Ben @#32 scepticism may be a part of science but it is very much tied into belief systems especially as Prof Q states there is a tribal dislike of environmentalists which translates into a wider dismissal of science that environmentalists support.

  35. BilB
    January 13th, 2009 at 00:40 | #35


    Your comment “the science can be ignored as inconvenient or derided as wrong when it interferes with the belief system of the people concerned” can be observed both ways. That is what I would expect to be the case with a Catholic (pro lifer?) latching onto science to support the Pope’s negative position on the pill.

    On Darwins theory. I believe that there a good case to say that mice now have a genetically transfered visual image of a toaster built into their DNA. The evidence is strong. Even in the very cleanest of kitchens a mouse will find just one crumb in the bottom of a toaster and leave his dirty little black message to prove his presence. If my theory is correct then here is clear evidence of animal adaption to changing environments.

  36. Terry
    January 13th, 2009 at 04:33 | #36

    I love it when the alleged conservatives call left wing people “tax and spenders”, as opposed to the you conservative who spend, but believe the money is manna from heaven.

  37. Tony G
    January 13th, 2009 at 09:32 | #37

    Charles @31 said;

    ” If you can discredit science evolution goes away, and those that want to return us to the dark ages win.”

    The Left and their affiliates the National Socialists loved evolution and its ‘natural selection’ processes so much they decided to implement the science of Eugenics.

  38. Ubiquity
    January 13th, 2009 at 09:37 | #38

    JQ says

    “I am however interested both in trying to promote sensible policy outcomes and in considering the broader political and cultural implications of the debate”

    For arguments sake the debate could start by addressing “Phillip Stott” concerns with AGW movement approach to the skeptics:

    “Stott has been critical of terms like ‘climate sceptic’ and ‘climate-change denier’; he believes in a distinction between the science of climate change and what he asserts is the Barthesian myth [14] of global warming [15], saying,

    “… the global warming myth harks back to a lost Golden Age of climate stability, or, to employ a more modern term, climate ‘sustainability’. Sadly, the idea of a sustainable climate is an oxymoron. The fact that we have rediscovered climate change at the turn of the Millennium tells us more about ourselves, and about our devices and desires, than about climate. Opponents of global warming are often snidely referred to as ‘climate change deniers’; precisely the opposite is true. Those who question the myth of global warming are passionate believers in climate change – it is the global warmers who deny that climate change is the norm.”

    *The emotional descriptors that label climate skeptics as “denialist” or the right “anti-science” has got to stop for any debate on AGW too be coherent.

    Phillip stott…
    “attitude to climate change is best summed up in a central passage from a letter published recently in The Daily Telegraph (June 10, 2005)”

    “Climate change has to be broken down into three questions: ‘Is climate changing and in what direction?’ ‘Are humans influencing climate change, and to what degree?’ And: ‘Are humans able to manage climate change predictably by adjusting one or two factors out of the thousands involved?’ The most fundamental question is: ‘Can humans manipulate climate predictably?’ Or, more scientifically: ‘Will cutting carbon dioxide emissions at the margin produce a linear, predictable change in climate?’ The answer is ‘No’. In so complex a coupled, non-linear, chaotic system as climate, not doing something at the margins is as unpredictable as doing something. This is the cautious science; the rest is dogma.”

    *Then you need to address the above questions without the dismissive emotional arrogance displayed by the most influential beneficiaries of GW.


    If you want to talk science avoid making global warming a “Moral Matter” stick to the science. Just Google “GW and Moral Matter” for an example.

    Finally read an article written by Yuvan Levin “The Science and the Left” to understand the pending dilemma the left has in aligning itself more closely with science.


    Then address this question, would the carbon tax “pill” be to bitter to swallow (or reconsider) in place of C&T or has “the train already left the station”? Particularly as C&T sounds a lot like another leveraging exercise for the bourgeois, as the unraveling of the highly leveraged financial markets continue to decimate the world’s global financial markets and its recipients.

    Love Seans analogy @30 ” A better way of looking at the issue is to think of the skeptics as short sellers, they get a lot of bad press, becasue they ask a lot of awkward questions that keeps everyone on their toes and the market place of ideas honest”.

    is an accurate description of an eternal self correcting mechanism of nature that the left (or right) can only participate in not control.

  39. David Irving (no relation)
    January 13th, 2009 at 09:52 | #39

    Nice Godwin, Tony G but, as is your wont, completely irrelevant.

  40. Dano
    January 13th, 2009 at 10:44 | #40

    Shorter ubiquity: do nothing! Be happy!

    The sensible policy option is not to assume one can direction the climate to a particular desired outcome; rather, the assumption is that added CO2 is bad, so we should stop.

    It’s that simple, despite the attempts of some to FUD up the discussion.



  41. Ender
    January 13th, 2009 at 10:49 | #41

    ‘Will cutting carbon dioxide emissions at the margin produce a linear, predictable change in climate?’ The answer is ‘No’. In so complex a coupled, non-linear, chaotic system as climate, not doing something at the margins is as unpredictable as doing something. This is the cautious science; the rest is dogma.””

    This is actually one of the dangerous ones. This is a lie clothed in scientific terms to make it sound true. It is also reasonable sounding. Most people would agree that a large system cannot be changed by ‘puny’ human efforts however the lie is contained in one sentence:

    “not doing something at the margins”

    This is intended to deceive. It takes a great deal of understanding of the climate system to realise that greenhouse gases are at the HEART of the system and are one of the fundamental mechanisms that regulate the temperature of the planet.

    It also takes a even greater amount of understanding to realise that in non-linear complex systems a small change in a attractor like CO2 can have effects out of all proportion to the size of the change.

    The anti science section of the Right is dangerous because it exploits the ignorance of people of the mechanism of global warming and crafts it’s lies in a form that appeals to the ‘common sense’ view that most people have of climate and weather.

  42. Ben
    January 13th, 2009 at 12:17 | #42

    [email protected]:

    Sorry Jill, there’s no such thing as right-wing science or left-wing science. Science is just science. Beliefs and personal opinion don’t enter into it, until the point where society decides what to do with the scientific knowledge that has been gained. But that’s politics, not science.

    In answer to your question about assessing the validity of scientific claims, you simply look at the evidence. If the evidence is insufficient, there’s no problem with saying that you’re not sure.

    Tony [email protected]:

    “The Left and their affiliates the National Socialists loved evolution and its ‘natural selection’ processes so much they decided to implement the science of Eugenics.”

    I can only assume that when you make such an obviously ridiculous and spectacularly ignorant claim that you are joking.

  43. Smiley
    January 13th, 2009 at 13:35 | #43

    I think that equating conservatism and scepticism is plainly wrong, given that the political conservatives as represented by Howard and Bush align themselves with the evangelicals, who seem to strongly believe in the literal truth of the bible and insist that evolution is a flawed theory. And if these people don’t really represent conservatism then conservatives need to explain where their scepticism was when they voted them into power.

    Having said that, Bush did recently state that he didn’t believe in the literal truth of the bible. It’s a pity he didn’t say it 8 years ago, it would have saved us a whole heap of trouble.

  44. Tony G
    January 13th, 2009 at 13:59 | #44

    Ben @ 43

    Left wing socialists can live in denial if they want, but the fact remains that a left wing socialist party the “National Socialist German Workers’ Party” implement the science of Eugenics. A ‘science’ based on the theories of evolution, natural selction and Social Darwinism.

    It is ludicrous to suggest the right is verse science.

    What the right is verse is Excessive Government, a mandate of the left. Combining Excessive Government with science can be disastrous. This can be seen with the Eugenics experiece .

    Misguided policies based on misrepresenting the science in the name of excessive government, that is the mandate of the left.

    Now the left feel we need excessive government again to fight a new scientific evil, AGW (or is it AGC? who knows?… anyway, lets call it climate change, because we can prove to the masses that’s happening, before we extort them.)

  45. Ender
    January 13th, 2009 at 14:23 | #45

    Tony G – “What the right is verse is Excessive Government, a mandate of the left.”

    So ‘right’ thinking people would be against privatising insurance companies and banks? Have a look at your free market capitalism mates bailing out US companies and supplying them with 700 billion of welfare payments. All the people in welfare in Australia would be hard pressed to get through this amount in a century.

    As for your reference to the Nazis I hereby invoke Godwin’s Law so no further mention of them will be tolerated unless you wish to appear more foolish.

  46. Smiley
    January 13th, 2009 at 14:31 | #46

    You really are funny Tony. What doctrine of socialism states that you should persecute people based on race? That’s right… none! Your argument is flawed because the Nazis weren’t socialist; they were fascists hiding behind socialism.

    And you cannot even claim that communism is a socialist system because it operates a two tiered class system.

  47. January 13th, 2009 at 14:34 | #47

    @ Tony G. If you think the Nazis were following: “A ’science’ based on the theories of evolution, natural selction [sic]…” you know nothing of the two. A common misconception, to be sure, but one nonetheless. You’re thinking of selective breeding as applied to humans. Natural selection does not involve the a conscious agent managing reproduction.

  48. Ben
    January 13th, 2009 at 15:00 | #48

    Tony [email protected]:

    Sorry mate, epic fail.

    You obviously have not even bothered to read the article which was attached to the other end of that link you posted.

    PS: I think what you meant to refer to was eugenics.

  49. charles
    January 13th, 2009 at 15:02 | #49

    Tony G @38

    What are you trying to say; facts should be ignored because knowledge can be abused?

    As an aside, from my memory of history book burning was a highlight of that period. The mad right haven’t got there yet but they are sure working hard at it.

  50. Jill Rush
    January 13th, 2009 at 15:03 | #50

    Ben #43 – agree that science is pure. Prof Q’s posting argues that the right is discrediting itself and threatening its own institutions as a result of its rejection of scientific evidence.

    Pure science is rare however as it exists in a political framework. The Howard Govt cut funding to the CSIRO for scientific investigation, when it wasn’t connected to an economic benefit. Much data hasn’t been collected to provide scientific evidence of climate change in Australia.

    The right’s approach to science is also seen in the science research conducted within universities. Research programs paid for by mining companies has meant that universities have lost much control over scientific research. The right likes to control (and limit) the knowledge base.

    Despite all of those efforts at control, freedom of speech has ensured that the science on climate change is well known – even if not well understood. Al Gore can take a great deal of the credit for making people think about the issue in the English speaking world.

    Tony G #45 does make one point (indirectly); the way that science undertakes its research is based on a set of values. He fails to acknowledge however that industry itself skews scientific studies. The tobacco and asbestos industries are good examples of government failing to involve itself in the science and allowing those with a vested interest to manage the “research” and its results. The free market at work.

    Thanks for the laugh BilB #35- all we need is an experiment to find out the type of toaster that mice have adapted to genetically so we can advertise all the other brands “guaranteed mice free”.

  51. BilB
    January 13th, 2009 at 15:19 | #51

    Good thinking Jill R. I see that there is a very clever commercial side to you!

  52. Nick K
    January 13th, 2009 at 15:24 | #52

    Ender says “Have a look at your free market capitalism mates bailing out US companies and supplying them with 700 billion of welfare payments. All the people in welfare in Australia would be hard pressed to get through this amount in a century.”

    In 2005-06, the federal government spent $61 billion on direct cash payments. This does not include expenditure on other welfare services. And this figure has increased significantly since then.


    Even taking into consideration different exchange rates, I am sure you would find Australia’s welfare recipients would get through US$700 billion in a fraction of a century.

    If you take into account things like health and education also, then you’d probably struggle to fund the welfare state for a decade on this amount.

  53. Ben
    January 13th, 2009 at 15:54 | #53

    [email protected]:

    I wasn’t trying to argue that research takes place in a vacuum. Scientists are fallible people subject biases and emotion just like everyone else, and research takes place according where society directs its resources, which is a political process. A lot of money is being splashed around on clean coal research and carbon sequestration at the moment and a negligible amount on something fairly obscure like hermeneutics, for example.

    Further, while the Howard Government might have cut CSIRO’s funding for fundamental research, I’m still waiting for the Rudd Government to restore it; something which I can’t see happening any time soon.

    I don’t see private investment in research at universities in hot button areas such as mining, biotech or IT as necessarily a problem, as there is nothing inherently immoral about self-interest. If private entities want to pay, let them.

    What the government really should be doing is funding fundamental research, which is where most scientific breakthroughs occur, but which take a long time for their value to be realised by society.

    As I said in earlier posts, ‘the right’ does not have a monolopoly on trying to control scientific findings that they find distasteful. Nobody likes being told they’re wrong, it’s human nature.

  54. Ender
    January 13th, 2009 at 16:13 | #54

    Nick K – “In 2005-06, the federal government spent $61 billion on direct cash payments.”

    OK fair enough however are you saying that the recipients of the 700 billion deserved it more than the people on welfare in Australia? Also that figure, like other forms of welfare, is the tip of the iceberg when you consider the money spent in other countries as well.

    However I do concede that I did underestimate the amount of money spent on welfare in Australia.

  55. Keiran0
    January 13th, 2009 at 16:13 | #55

    Then some people simply see earth’s climate politically with all the alarmist warmers on the left. But the big misconception here is that sunnyboy doesn’t go to the ballotbox and vote on anything.

    JQ is just using his piddling anthropocentric mindset.

  56. rog
    January 13th, 2009 at 16:56 | #56

    If you want to test the validity of a hypothesis this might be of help; surprisingly the Pope might be right!

  57. Alanna
    January 13th, 2009 at 17:43 | #57

    Oh Kieran….sigh. Ben stated back at #32
    Politrical rhetoric ” is dependent upon charisma, group-think, fallacious reasoning, and a priori assumptions which cannot be falsified”.

    To those relativities Id like to add the use of the catchphrase stereotype….as in “all those alarmist warmers on the left”.

  58. Alanna
    January 13th, 2009 at 17:50 | #58

    I could turn that around Keiran and say I object “to all those shonky sneaky right wing corporate execs who commission tweaked and twiddled research and hire “for sale” economists to write a blatantly erroneous economic analysis” which they then spread through the SMH,the errors in which a first year student could have detected, (as some poor sold out soul compiled for the coal industry a few years ago because they didnt want to pay any carbon tax).

    But I really dont want to go there.

  59. Ian Gould
    January 13th, 2009 at 19:51 | #59

    “So we are talking about pseudo-science and its probabilities, not REAL science that actually predicts a future outcome and can repeat its prediction successfully many times over.”

    Yeah none of that fake science like quantum mechanics for Tony.

  60. charles
    January 13th, 2009 at 20:28 | #60

    I wonder if Tony comprehends Ian’s comment, I doubt quantum mechanics is on the standard science skeptic’s study list.

    “God does not play dice with the universe.” — Albert Einstein.

  61. Nick K
    January 13th, 2009 at 22:25 | #61

    Ender says “OK fair enough however are you saying that the recipients of the 700 billion deserved it more than the people on welfare in Australia?”

    No, not really. But I think that a lot of this corporate welfare is really a logical extension of the social democratic state. The problem is that the more that government grows, and the more that the state is seen as being responsible for covering risks and providing for everyone’s needs, the more groups that will inevitably try to go to the government for special favours.

    We are rapidly creating a society where working hard, paying your way, and not being a burden on others is basically for suckers and old-fashioned squares, and everyone is encouraged to overplay their neediness and victim status. Basically a society where everyone is a rent-seeker.

    This is not to deny that there are a certain number of people who are genuinely needy and deserving, and that some safety nets are beneficial. But the perverse incentives and moral hazard have reached unsustainable levels, and so economic collapse will follow.

    The other point I would make is that the US$700 billion bailout is actually relatively small compared to how much it will cost taxpayers in future to cover unfunded liabilities of programs like Social Security and Medicare.

  62. To Tony G.
    January 13th, 2009 at 23:07 | #62

    Hey Tony, saw your comments.

    Look, you’ve convinced me that the warming is not happening. Whats annoyed me recently though is that the arctic ice has been melting itself to trick us.
    With that in mind, would you consider signing the below petition.

    The Arctic Ice
    North Pole

    Dear Arctic Ice,

    Please stop disappearing at once. Tony G, a commentator at John Quiggin’s site, has determined that global warming isn’t happening, and your self-melting is clearly a deliberate socialist trick. Stop it at once ice!!


    Tony G.

    Tony, do I have your permission to write to the ice above?

  63. January 14th, 2009 at 06:28 | #63

    What selfish nonsense all this AGW stuff is. As though The Earth cares what gas is pumped into its current atmosphere or which bits of its structure may be lost or gained. Consider the hellish broil from which all life sprang and perhaps we might understand that The Earth doesn’t give a shit. Fire, flood, gas or ice will come and go and as conditions flux some life forms will flourish and others die. Species swell, distort and fade – ‘twas ever thus.

    Stop trying to change the rules and deny the laws of natural selection. The Age of the Hominid is almost over and it’s time to give The Age of the Cockroach a fair go. Stop being so bloody self-centred.

  64. Tony G
    January 14th, 2009 at 09:52 | #64

    Happy new year Ian,

    Nice try. We have been over similar ground before and like the AGW theory, many Quantum Theories have a problem with deterministic causality, as Einstein is alluding to above.

    The use of the classical concepts is not the same in quantum mecahnics as in classical physics.

    It’s because of the imaginary quantities in quantum mechanics (where the commutation rule for canonically conjugate variable, p and q, introduces Planck’s constant into the formalism by pq ? qp = ih/2?) that quantum mechanics does not give us a ‘pictorial’ representation of the world. Neither does the theory of relativity

    The ?-function does not represent a new kind of reality. Instead, the square of the absolute value of the ?-function expresses a probability amplitude for the outcome of a measurement. Due to the fact that the wave equation involves an imaginary quantity this equation can have only a symbolic character, but the formalism may be used to predict the outcome of a measurement that establishes the conditions under which concepts like position, momentum, time and energy apply to the phenomena.

    Anyway as JQ says “Either global warming will continue, finally confirming the mainstream scientific viewpoint, or it will not.” As you guys have made a prediction the causation nexus question will be answered soon…. the knowledge to do the same for quantum theories my be a bit further out.(so it could be a while before we get a QT tax)

    Pseudo-Tony G might of convinced himself the ice is melting, but as you are not real its not really melting is it?

    Ender @ 46;
    The government supplies money, sets its cost, regulates it and the financial intermediaries. Obviously they weren’t doing their job properly and so we had a melt down. Now they are giving it($700b) away. They seem to be acting more like your “mates” around here.

    Bye the way, Godwin is a closet socialist living in denial and engaging in “negationism” A Socialist Workers’ Party is exactly what it says.

    Theo @ 48 sorry, it should of read Artificial selection not natural.

  65. Ben
    January 14th, 2009 at 10:55 | #65

    Tony G, I’m curious as to how you would define a ‘socialist’? From your comments here it would appear to be anyone who doesn’t agree with you?

    Nazism took its cues from both extreme ends of the political spectrum, but when push came to shove, it aligned itself with fascist/militaristic regimes against the socialists in Europe. This is why political scientists have traditionally placed Nazism on the extreme right (although once you take any kind of ideology to lunar extremes, they all start looking curiously alike).

    Just because something calls itself ‘socialist’ doesn’t necessarily mean that it is.

  66. Ender
    January 14th, 2009 at 11:40 | #66

    Tony G – “Nice try. We have been over similar ground before and like the AGW theory, many Quantum Theories have a problem with deterministic causality, as Einstein is alluding to above.”

    So are you attempting a straw man here or are you just dazzling us with your ‘knowledge’ of quantum theory?

    Nice try however the problem of climate change is risk assessment not quantum theory. We understand the science of climate enough to assess the risk of climate change. Nobody will ever ‘prove’ beforehand global warming leading to climate change nor could you expect anyone to. We can only talk of risks. Right now the leading scientists in the field of climate science are saying that there is a significant risk of climate change from anthropogenic sources of greenhouse gases and land use changes.

    Some people disagree however the disagreement is based on far less science and has a minute amount of the agreement that agreement with the risk assessment has.

    To mitigate the risk to some degree we can lower the emissions of these greenhouse gases and also try to restore some of the carbon sinks that we have destroyed over the years. As this has been portrayed as getting in the way of people making money and feeding their families nothing that will have an effect has been done.

    The wedge tactics employed by the vested interests have worked exceedingly well with debate reduced to Nazis (in your case) and hockey sticks instead of the real issues.

    Finally Godwins law was devised to prevent the sort of degeneration of threads, such as happening here, by a troll invoking the Nazi Party whatever the thread is about to distract people from the point. As you seem to have completely missed this point I have taken pains to explain it to you and hopefully stop all future spurious discussion of Nazis in this thread.

    BTW I have just finished Quantum – Einstein, Bohr and the Great Debate About the Nature of Reality by Manjit Kumar. Really interesting book.


    Have a read as it does have some lessons for the current AGW debate including references to religion regarding the Copenhagen Interpretation.

  67. January 14th, 2009 at 11:51 | #67

    The debate is not between ‘science’ and ‘the political right’. What’s more, left/right analysis of climate change policy is unhelpfully circular. More insightful is the fourfold typology of cultural solidarities proposed by grid-group cultural theory. This suggests there are four worldviews which can be labelled hierarchist, egalitarian, individualist and fatalist. John Quiggin’s view is broadly egalitarian, whereas the view of the Murdoch media (and Quadrant, etc) is individualist. Egalitarians are sensitive to large-scale social threats (global warming, nuclear waste, global financial meltdown, war) because they lend strength to the argument that society needs to become more equal, more sharing, more frugal. For egalitarians, group coherence is all.
    Individualists, however, tend to deny the existence of such large-scale threats, since social change is always an opportunity for someone somewhere. The trick is to leverage your skill and hard work to benefit from inevitable change. As the former treasurer of NSW said, ‘climates change’. What to one worldview seems unbearably complacent, appears as plain common sense to another worldview.
    But the debate is far from two-sided. Hierarchists take a third line. for them the key global warming question is ‘Who’s in charge?’ The problem of climate change is essentially solved by creating a ministerial portfolio and making sure everyone knows its level of cabinet seniority. Furthermore, climate change is a great opportunity for funding more experts (eg the IPCC) and a more extensive bureaucratic apparatus. Finally, a fatalist approach holds that nature is entirely capricious. The best we can do is to duck and hope to get lucky. Climate change proponents prevail when they forge temporary alliances between the different world-views. They fail when they seek to go it alone. Climate change ‘believers’ have forged an alliance between egalitarian and hierarchist solidarities, epitomised by Kyoto and its successors. Meanwhile climate change ‘sceptics’ have bridged the gap between individualists and fatalists, as shown by Australia’s coal export policy ( ‘there’s nothing we can do about it except make a profit’). But these alliances are unstable and failure-prone, since they depend on the exclusion of at least one solidarity. Marco Verweij, Michael Thompson and others have termed the more inclusive alliances ‘clumsy solutions’. It’s an unfortunate label, perhaps, but contrasts nicely with the kind of elegant policy failure we see so often on the part of policy purists, left and right. More on this at Fourcultures.

  68. Come on Tony G
    January 14th, 2009 at 12:49 | #68

    No Tony, the Arctic Ice is melting, see the latest US Government reports (unless they are lying).

    Now, obviously it can’t be global warming, so it must be something else – like a socialist conspiracy. So again, do I have your permission to write to it?

  69. Keiran0
    January 14th, 2009 at 16:45 | #69

    Fourcultures, i like what Richard Feynman says ….
    “Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”

    These four cultures that you describe, simply find and fool themselves. Science is about discovery.

  70. Alanna
    January 14th, 2009 at 17:07 | #70

    Ben –

    you said

    “although once you take any kind of ideology to lunar extremes, they all start looking curiously alike”

    a truer word was never said.

  71. January 14th, 2009 at 17:27 | #71

    JQ- when considering the positions of ‘left’ versus ‘right’ over climate change, it is useful to consider past environmental battles in Australia. My conclusion is that over the past 30 years, the LEFT has always been RIGHT on issues such as:
    * the problems with use of DDT in agriculture
    * the uselessness of nuclear power as a baseload energy source, especially in Australia
    * GW- Greenpeace ran a campaign in 1992, well before IPCC 4
    * the need for proper funding/support for renewables (first payment for private wind generated electricity was in WA in 1982)
    * the link between nuclear power and nuclear proliferation (India/Pakistan, Iran/Israel…)
    * water use in Murray Darling
    * salinity in WA wheatbelt

    and on and on. The RIGHT has ALWAYS been wrong, and the latest defeat for their ideas is the global financial crisis flowing from 20 years of government deregulation and privatisation of our economy.

  72. Alanna
    January 14th, 2009 at 17:55 | #72

    I think the (qualify – extreme to far right – there are some very reasonable moderates) right has also been wrong on appropriate economic policy (not just the appropriate response to climate change). What is of interest is that these views dont belong to one particular party and exist in both. The Hawke ? keating government went way too far down the de-regulation road and Howard came along and consolidated it. Look at Costa and Roozendahl!! CXommonwealth Treasury completely abandoned unemployment as a policy target, concentrating on inflation and as a result unemployment has been allowed to grow to something like 6 to 10 times the rate of the three decades post ww2. State Treasury pursued privatisations, didnt fight for their own method of revenue raising (instead going for the easier to manage Commonwealth government grants). No one has fixed the vertical fiscal imbalance that has contributed to run down (parlous even) state government infrastructure. The idea of government as a source of jobs and demand has been abandoned also with the public sector denuded and stripped and whatever they thought would trickle down as a result of this foolishness clearly got jammed somewhere. This cannot go on without great cost to the Australian economy which has already suffered enough under false ideological economic policy advice. Many people dont want 15 flexible hours a week work or precarious casual positions where employees have no rights. They just want to do a decent weeks work and be decently treated and the ability to manage their family – that means real jobs now, not jobs in the future if they swallow a bitter pill now.

    Climate change initiatives look to be heading the same way. While the governments kowtow to fossil fuel industries and impose pathetic carbon taxes – they keep hauling out coal exports by the tonne and exporting it. Really what is the point of asking the small population of Australia to lower their carbon footprint when government and the fossil fuel industry acts like bigfoot?

  73. Mr Denmore
    January 14th, 2009 at 18:53 | #73

    What strikes me about this debate is that,as Professor Quiggin observes,the self-declared Right has lined itself up against Science, or to be more precise, Reason. This is but the latest manifestation of a disturbing trend, in which a once respectable conservative tradition has degenerated into a sinister irrational and reactionnary rearguard seeking to twist issues of genuine and pressing importance into vehicles for pursuing a vainglorious culture war they have already lost. So determined are they to defend an imagined beach-head that they would deny already generally accepted truths. The ridiculous attempted diversion above by ‘Tony’ just provides further proof, if any more were needed, of their descent into the darkness. Even liberal pragmatists such as myself are shocked by this crude attempt at polarisation. God help us all if the Right remains divorced from Reason.

  74. Chris W
    January 14th, 2009 at 21:06 | #74

    Thank.you.Mr.Denmore !! Agree 100% – I just wish I’d said it.

  75. Alanna
    January 14th, 2009 at 21:27 | #75

    Mr Denmore#74, I dont want to congratulate you too much in case one of those dark knights thinks accuses you of turning left (moderate is the new left), but very well said and I agree 100% as well.

  76. jrbarch
    January 14th, 2009 at 22:35 | #76

    ‘The worldly mind is born in darkness, lives in darkness, dies in darkness’ – so says somebody in the Upanishads. In Western terms all concepts that are human-centric are either ‘selfish’ (at somebody else’s expense) or ‘un-selfish’ (beneficial to one and/or all). There is no left or right. There is the human heart, from which flows beneficience; and there is the human mind – which when motivated by self interest attracts the blessings of that great servant of mankind, Pain! Like attracts like.

    If in a group you have a preponderance of individuals who are more generally focused on the growth and expression of individuality then they are recognised as belonging to the ‘right’. If more generally focused on the collective and the environment they are recognised as ‘left’. Both groups are necessary; both can be as selfish or as unselfish as the other.

    The human heart has no experience of duality; the mind knows it too well!.

    How long did it take us to figure out where the rain comes from?

  77. Tony G
    January 14th, 2009 at 23:32 | #77

    Ben @ 66

    “Just because something calls itself ‘socialist’ doesn’t necessarily mean that it is.”

    Oh sorry, now I understand what you mean,‘socialist’ negationism. “Just because something gets called ‘AGW’ doesn’t necessarily mean that it is. (unfortunately, contrary to the doctrine the world mysteriously cooled recently, so now we have to call it ‘climate change’)

    Ender @ 67

    “Nobody will ever ‘prove’ beforehand global warming leading to climate change nor could you expect anyone to”

    Why not Stephen?

    We are not dealing with microphysical events that we can’t make the measurements of, that would allow us to make precise predictions of what is going to happen.
    When in the macrophysical environment as the proponents of AGW are, then they must be able to predict a future outcome. The reason they can’t demonstrate causal determinism is that there is no demonstrative nexus between anthropological activities and global temperature changes. (up or down)

    Anyway on AGW we will have to agree to disagree. The Quantum stuff is quite interesting as was some of the alternate energy and environmental stuff I use to read on your blog. Just because I am ultra sceptical about AGW and hate excessive government with its associated waste, doesn’t mean I can’t be a fan of renewable energy and other environmental issues.

    Re 69

    “the Arctic Ice is melting, see the latest US Government reports”

    No Richard Cranium or whatever your real name is, there is plenty of Arctic Ice see for yourself. In fact 2008 had the largest extent for many years.

  78. Ben
    January 15th, 2009 at 07:37 | #78

    So Tony G, I take it we are in agreement then, that the Nazis were not socialists?

  79. Ken
    January 15th, 2009 at 07:51 | #79

    I think the Right chose the easy expedient of blaming the loudest voices – Left-Green voices – for AGW, not expecting strong scientific confirmation and are going to regret that quick and easy resort to pressing their followers buttons, if they aren’t already. Having gone to some effort to persuade people it’s all hype and nefarious manipulation of their political opponents, they are now left with an entrenched chunk of loyal supporters who aren’t going to be quick to accept that they’ve been duped by their own. Better to still believe that it’s a hoax, a conspiracy, an attack on Business and society at large than face that worst of political indignities – admissions of being wrong. The worst denialism may be expressions of loyalty to their side, by those who don’t understand or respect science and see everything through a filter of political ideologies- and the more outragious and unsupportable their statements the more loyal they are showing themselves to be. But with climate science failing to fall like the house of cards they’ve been claiming it is and more and more real world evidence undermining those claims, their position is untenable.

    I think that underlying all the denialist arguments is the unproven but widely accepted orthodoxy that nothing people do changes forces of nature such as climate and the appealling to that orthodoxy has been easier and more convenient than dealing with complex science.

    The Barnaby Joyce’s will be a big problem for the Right, but I don’t think this kind of denial is confined to the Right. The Left has it’s deniers too, mostly closet ones who will, like Rudd, talk the talk but fail to walk the walk. Shorter term expediency will continue to dominate political decision making, thus we get a 5% emissions reduction target onshore at the same time as we increase coal exports that contribute 30 times that to global emissions.

  80. jquiggin
    January 15th, 2009 at 07:58 | #80

    “Just because I am ultra sceptical about AGW and hate excessive government with its associated waste”

    The fact that it’s natural for Tony G, and others, to link these two ideas, speaks volumes about the rightwing approach to science (one that used to be prevalent on the left, but has now just about disappeared, fortunately). Work out the correct political line, then formulate your opinions on scientific issues to suit.

  81. Ender
    January 15th, 2009 at 09:06 | #81

    Tony G – “Why not Stephen?

    We are not dealing with microphysical events that we can’t make the measurements of, that would allow us to make precise predictions of what is going to happen.”

    Because we are dealing with a complex system that we understand imperfectly. However the understanding we have now we are perfectly able to assess risk. We know the science behind warming however the exact effects of this warming on our planet is not clear cut and predictable. That is why we reduce it to a risk assessment.

    As an analogy despite centuries of crime data and research into crime would you expect anyone to accurately predict the date when your house is going to be broken into. However very large companies manage to make a living out of assessing the relative risk and correctly pricing this risk to offer you home insurance.

  82. Keiran0
    January 15th, 2009 at 12:14 | #82

    The real problem for the JQs in this world is that there resides in many people a will to truth driven by a curiosity as well as an altruism. i.e. The will to not allow ourselves to be deceived as well as the will not to deceive. Why should we allow some arrogant designer try to codify their domination politically by seeking to take these abilities from our lives?

    Rather than the very timid, lazeybrained, consensus types let’s try the much harder true achievement of human potential. In reference to these snug, smug playpens like alarmist AGW, let’s just dare to step out and take in the bigger picture EXPERIENCE because when we speak of “experience,” the “ex” refers to “external” or “outside,” which is what science is best at.

  83. Ben
    January 15th, 2009 at 13:18 | #83

    Ender @ 82: I would also add onto that comment that we are transferring that risk to future generations.

    Keiran0 @83: I’m not sure what you mean by “timid, lazeybrained, consensus types”? Are you referring to climate scientists or the people who defer to their expertise?

  84. Tony G
    January 15th, 2009 at 14:04 | #84

    Ben @ 79
    Yes in the same way AGW is something else as well.

    JQ @ 81 said;

    “Work out the correct political line, then formulate your opinions on scientific issues to suit.”

    That seems right considering you have deleted “renewable energy and other environmental issues” of science from your linked ‘ideas’ quoted.

    Your blinkered view highlights the lefts ‘excessive’ approach of trying to control everything, even what I say. Also putting forward metaphysical ideas as an “approach to science” “speaks volumes” of the lefts definition of science.

    Ender 82 said;

    “We know the science behind warming however the exact effects of this warming on our planet is not clear cut and predictable. That is why we reduce it to a risk assessment.”

    You can not draw a parallel with quantum mechanics as that has the end result and works it way back into the ‘presently’ invisible. With AGW you do not have a result yet, when and if that happens you will be able to.

    Risk assessment is not science. Stephen as I said above, on AGW we will have to agree to disagree as it is an argument that begs the question.

  85. Ben
    January 15th, 2009 at 14:31 | #85

    So Tony G, if I understand this correctly, you object to the word ‘anthropogenic’ being used, because in your mind, this in some way precludes other causes for the upward trend in global temperatures?

  86. Tony G
    January 15th, 2009 at 14:33 | #86

    What upward trend?

  87. Keiran0
    January 15th, 2009 at 14:51 | #87

    Ben, much of what we do in life does revolve around consensus, the will of the social majority and the weight of numbers but with science no matter how aesthetically pleasing something is, or how prestigious its supporters are, or how many billions of dollars a certain “religious industry” has bet on it….. it will always come down to ….. does the theory over-ride the evidence? Honest science is all about discovery and the greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

    Applying consensus to science means there is no thought of reason, humility, free inquiry, dignity, participatory democracy or the true achievement of human potential, because it is this systematic manipulation free of discovery.
    Am I “referring to climate scientists or the people who defer to their expertise?” … yes … both, where it is not opinion verses opinion but show me the evidence.


  88. Ben
    January 15th, 2009 at 15:42 | #88

    Keiran0 @ 88: Those are my thoughts exactly. Science is not a democracy and the term ‘consensus’ should never have even entered this debate.

    In the case of AGW (or any other scientific theory), it all comes down to weighing the evidence. In this instance, the absolutely vast bulk of evidence comes down for the affirmative and there is trivially small amount that does not.

    For example, I could give to our friend Tony G, an enormous list of peer reviewed papers demonstrating the consistent upward trend in global average temperatures over the past century and no doubt he could provide me with some saying the opposite. Now given that neither myself nor Tony G are professional climatologists (forgive me if I’m wrong here Tony) I must defer to what the experts say the evidence is.

    At this point I have two options; I can agree with the experts that the weight of evidence that they have presented for the affirmative is indeed convincing or I can propose an alternative hypothesis e.g. it’s the most secretive and stupendously well orchestrated conspiracy since the CIA destroyed the Twin Towers.

  89. mp
    January 15th, 2009 at 16:20 | #89

    I’m a strong believer in AGW and a stronger believer in free markets. Where does that place me?

  90. January 15th, 2009 at 16:22 | #90

    To give credit where it’s due: @ 65 Tong G says: Theo @ 48 sorry, it should of read Artificial selection not natural.

    I like people who aren’t afraid to acknowledge mistakes (albeit, a minor one in the case). Giddy up!

  91. Ubiquity
    January 15th, 2009 at 17:15 | #91

    mp @90 I think

    A free market solution to “AGW” makes you a Left-Right-Left. Me, well i think an environmentally friendly free market solution to sustainable energy (on a case by case basis)makes me a Right-Left-Right.

  92. Alanna
    January 15th, 2009 at 20:13 | #92

    Germany has been increasing its GDP whilst its poulation has not been increasing to the ame extent. How? They haved adopted sustainability in production. Houses are not connected to the electricity grid but rather are mostly on solar etc 30 years ago when I was in Germnay – you could dump your excess packaging at the supermarkets bin in front of the supermarket (the supermarket pressures the supplier to reduce packaging). No plastic bags etc and we are still struggling with this one issue in Australia 30 years later. We need to follow German iniatives for sustainability of production. Where are you Mr Garrett and what are you really doing? We need to get on with some werious policy – not a pathetic 5% carbon taz.

  93. Ender
    January 16th, 2009 at 08:53 | #93

    Tony G – “Risk assessment is not science. Stephen as I said above, on AGW we will have to agree to disagree as it is an argument that begs the question.”

    Never said it was. The scientists have done their job and assessed the science relating to AGW. They have given us a set of risk assessments that as citizens and politians we can either ignore or accept.

    With AGW there is nothing to agree or disagree on. The science is clear cut and you either accept the science or not. It like asking me to agree or disagree on gravity or thermodynamics. The science of AGW is basic textbook stuff that is well accepted. You can’t deny converting energy from chemicals to electricity and motion releases fossil CO2 and you can’t deny the behaviour of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

    The EFFECTS of AGW is a completely different thing and it is here we can disagree if you like. I am siding with the weight of work done with models that predict some degree of warming over the next century leading to sea level rises and changes in weather patterns on a global scale.

  94. Tony G
    January 16th, 2009 at 14:40 | #94

    Ender said

    “Releases fossil CO2 and you can’t deny the behaviour of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”

    Nobody is denying it is the job of greenhouse gases to keep the planet warm, although it does seem to have been getting cooler over the last decade.

    According to the IPCC, one thirtieth of the amount of carbon that goes into the atmosphere every year is emitted by humans, nobody seems to be denying that either. Although you can’t deny that it is only a very small percentage of the total carbon go into the atmosphere each year.

    The amount of carbon in the atmosphere has gone from 0.030% to 0.038% over the last 150 years, which is said to be unusual, although it is only a very small fraction of 1 percentage of the atmosphere, nobody is denying that.

    Considering about 97% of the carbon going into the atmosphere comes from some where else, it is probable 3% doesn’t makes much difference. If you Look at it as 3% of 0.038% of the atmosphere, it definitely looks like sweet FA and it is highly probably to be doing nothing. Hence no causation, no reducing polar ice extents and no temperature rises. Now if the poles do start to recede or temperatures rise, then you can start to look for causes.

  95. David Irving (no relation)
    January 16th, 2009 at 14:59 | #95

    Tony G clearly lives in a reality-free zone. It’s pointless to engage him, so he’s best ignored.

  96. Chris O’Neill
    January 17th, 2009 at 00:20 | #96

    Tony G:

    it does seem to have been getting cooler over the last decade

    None of the surface temperature records, Hadcrut3, NCDC, or GISS say it has been getting cooler over the last decade. None out of three sums up Tony G’s credibility.

  97. Tony G
    January 17th, 2009 at 16:52 | #97

    NCDC overview;

    “Many parts of the globe are inaccessible and therefore have no data…..Using the collected data available, the whole Earth long-term mean temperatures were calculated by interpolating …..one can CREATE….[I guess something that]…..approximates the temperature of the Earth….”
    …..I thought the left were against creationism, but then again the proponents of excessive government will say anything to promote their cause.

    My old maths teacher use to say that the PC is an improvement on the pocket calculator, but it wont think for you.

    Where I live the highest temperature over the last 150 years was back on the 14th of January 1939 and the highest minimum temperature was back on the 6th of February 1973, if it is getting warmer Greenhouse Gasner Millers..’why is it so’?

    What is ‘cataclysmic’ is how a 0.0000114 change to the composition of the atmosphere can result in the worlds biggest ever research grant.

  98. Chris W
    January 17th, 2009 at 18:19 | #98

    Tony G,

    I prefer these guys http://www.nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/. They probably know a bit more about it than D’Aleo. Have a read of what THEY think the data for 2008 sea-ice extent actually means when looked at in context.

    Have another look at the links Chris O’Neill provided.

    No warming trend ?! Artic sea ice is back to historical (2002) levels ?!

    Man … you are off with the fairies.

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