Monday, April 09, 2007

When Stupidity catches its prey

John Murney reprints this little nugget from Kate McMillan of Small Dead Animals, saving me from having to link to her cesspool:
Kate: You do realize, John, that intelligence estimates about WMD's in Iraq was research funded by US, British, German, French, Russian, Israeli and UN governments?

Everyone remembers the Eisenhower quote about the military industrial complex. They conveniently forget what he said about government funding of university research.

John: To address your point (a very good one by the way), in the beginning, and for many, many years, I was extremely skeptical of warnings of climate change by intellectuals. I used to laugh at the warnings. and I too reverted to name calling and such for people who issued the dire warnings.
Mr. Murney unfortunately labels this "the first intelligent and rational criticism of arguments made for human induced climate change." It is, in fact, so incredibly stupid I'm upset to see him dignify it as he has. There are so many possible ways this is brain-dead, let's just start with the easiest:

--Process matters: the lies about WMD were cooked up in secret, away from the public eye, and then not allowed to be independently verified by Congress until after the war had already begun. Global warming can and has been verified with a look at publicly available and independently-verified records.

--Age matters: the science of global warming has been vaguely understood for over a century, and verified for decades. The lies about WMDs were cooked up over the summer of 2002 and few endured the light of public scrutiny for more than a few days after their first utterance.

--The messenger matters: The people warning us about global warming are respected academics and scientists, including the vast majority of the world's living Nobel Prize winners. The people warning us about Iraq were the Bush Administration, who even pre-9/11 had already been caught lying about every major matter of public policy -- taxes, education, stem cells, Enron, etc.

It's simply insane to think there's some kind of equivalence between the Bush White House and the IPCC. But this coda by Mr. Murney really confuses me:
I always see red flags when it comes to anything that government takes an interest in, which is originally why I was in denial about the climate change phenomena.
Huh? The government of Canada, and that of the US as well, has been committed (in deed if not word) to doing absolutely nothing about climate change. There is a decade-long policy of denying the risks, and avoiding any commitment that would inconvenience the oil industry in Canada, or the coal industry in the US.

To read the events of the 1980s and 1990s as the governments of North America "pushing" climate change seems so blinkered to me, it really leaves me gasping. (The subtext of an anti-government fetish just further underlines my skepticism of the libertarian/anarchist spectrum.) We've made the scientific progress we have in understanding climate change largely in spite of the US and Canadian governments, not because of them.

And what, pray tell, did Eisenhower say about publicly-funded research? Here:
In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.
Whatever Eisenhower was worried about, I think it's clear -- with a President who wants to teach creationism in school -- that America is far from being captured by a "scientific-technological elite". I think it's also clear that Eisenhower's concerns about public research were clearly intertwined with his beliefs about the M-I complex, and aren't directly relevant to the debate over climate change.

But of course, cherry-picking irrelevant data points isn't new to the climate change debate either.

On a related note, take a look here and watch grown men fail before the superior understanding of climate change demonstrated by a 6 year-old. If only this weren't so representative...

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