A few days ago, I posted about the conservative dogpile over at the Weather Channel because one of their bloggers had some very scathing comments about global warming denialists. I found this post by a self-described “literature guy” which makes two very good points.
First, he makes a very good point about expertise and trust (italics mine):
Read posts by people who are angry that Dr. Cullen has made the monumentally unremarkable statement that anti global-warming dogma is junk science and that meteorologists–who have as much right to offer authoritative opinions on climate change as Imams in Iran have to offer authoritative opinions on the Holocaust–should probably do everyone a favor and either read the literature on the subject of global warming or–my words, not hers–shut the fuck up.
I’m a literature guy, not a science guy, but that just makes all of this even more troubling to me, because it isn’t like I can say, “Well, I’m not a scientist, so I understand why all this is so complex for the deniers.” Jesus. I’m not a scientist and I’m hear [sic] to report that all this is exceedingly simple for a normal human being with a normal intelligence to be able to understand. It doesn’t require calculus. It doesn’t require an understanding of advanced statistics. It requires a basic belief that people who have doctoral specializations in a subject mostly know what they’re talking about when they talk about those issues.
I would only disagree with the idea of “belief”, when I think trust is a better description. He follows up with an interesting observation about the internets:
Sadly, as I pointed out earlier, the internet’s one major flaw is that it gives the unredeemedly stupid a giant megaphone, so that people whose jobs involve hairnets can wander onto the blog page of a woman with a doctorate from Columbia University in Oceanographic and Atmospheric Dynamics (short version: climatology) and claim that she clearly doesn’t know the most basic principles of science, like how stuff gets cold in the wintertime (take that, you global warming freaks!!), or how the poster knows that Cullen must be in the pocket of Big Business, because she supports global warming theory, and we all know how much of Big Business is driven by the very people who spend their vacations attacking whaling ships in little rubber dinghies, or driving nails into endangered old-growth forest trees.
…I understand that people who don’t have college degrees are mostly mystified by scientific method and by the rigors of peer-reviewed research. Being ignorant of scientific method doesn’t make a person a dipshit. What makes a person a dipshit is the inability to post responses to a scientifically arrived-at position that doesn’t rely on conspiracy theory (Big Eco-business-driven theory), clap-trap (global warming being caused by sun, which has become noticeably whiter, apparently, over the last 50 years), and an empirical foundation that takes “would you like to supersize that?” as its first postulate and works–badly–from there.
I too was stunned by some of the utter ignorance about the basic science of global warming in the comments (e.g., not knowing what ice cores are, or any of the other tools used to measure temperature before we started hanging thermometers outside). You don’t have to think that New York City will suddenly become covered with glaciers and giant freezing tornadoes of death will visit destruction upon us like in that stupid Dennis Quaid movie to think that:
1) The evidence indicates global warming is a real phenomenon.
2) A significant fraction of that warming results from human actions.
3) Bad things will happen if global warming continues at its present pace (for me, the concerns, which are backed by models, are drought in many areas, combined with the range expansion of many debilitating diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever).
Given that the U.S. invaded Iraq based on neblulous data–which turned out to be incorrect–which hinted that Iraq just might have some kind of something related to WMD, the much greater likelihood (which is pretty damn close to 100%) that global warming is a real problem, and that we’re partly responsible should lead us to act.