Archive for May 3rd, 2010


Climate and Closure

May 3, 2010

John Quiggin over at Crooked Timber offers this fascinating connection of the “Oregon Petition,” which allegedly offers 31,000 scientists who reject global warming, with the discussion that has been all the rage among (primarily) the right-wing intelliblogigentsia on “epistemic closure.”

Here’s the Wikipedia article, a further debunking from DeSmogBlog and here’s my own investigation from 2002. Some basic points

  • “Scientist’ In this petition means anyone who claims to have gone to university (initially, they had to claim some study of science subjects). The number of actual (PhD with published research) scientists who reject any part of the mainstream consensus on climate change is far smaller (Wikipedia provides a list of such scientists who have at least one published article). The number of such scientists with relevant expertise, who are not obvious cranks, ideologues or hired guns, is small enough to be counted on the fingers of one hand.
  • The petition and its reporting are dishonest in obvious ways (fake PNAS style, misreporting of the content) etc
  • The promoters, Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine are obvious fruitcakes

I particularly appreciate the following observation, as I think it’s true. The standard defense is a sort of tu quoque, which makes it all the more refreshing that the discussion about epistemic closure is happening primarily among the right.

To avoid thread derailment, I’d like to defer to a separate thread (coming soon, I promise) the main rightwing response, which is a tu quoque, that is, that the left (here meaning Democrats and everyone to their left) is just as bad. I don’t believe there is anything comparable to the Oregon petition, but I want to leave this for a separate debate.

Instead, I’d like to end with the rhetorical question of whether, given the extent to which the US rightwing movement relies on the deliberate promotion of ignorance, anyone, regardless of their philosophical views on conservatism, libertarianism and so on, can associate with this movement and maintain any intellectual integrity. The converse question for the left, is whether there is any benefit in engaging intellectually with anyone who is, in the end, promoting ignorance and dishonesty by virtue of their affiliations.

For non-regular readers of Crooked Timber, but for climate scientist readers familiar with the Oregon Petition, you may be interested in heading there to participate in the discussion.

Finally, William Saletan offers what I take to be sage advice on how to avoid bubble think. Essentially, he offers the same tips that I propose all of my students should follow, but it should help to bear them in mind. My favorite? “5. Seek wisdom, not victory.”