Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fuzzy thinking

One thing I am sure of in this life, and that's the fact that public debate is marked by fuzzy thinking. Take (oh no) climate change, for instance.
Is the climate changing? It would be strange if the climate were not changing. After all, the history of the world is the history of climate change. If an ice age is not climate change, then I don't know what is. Yet, much of the discussion assumes that the climate, if it had any sense at all, would stay the same all the time. After all, global warming interferes with so many social activities. The reality of it is that climate will change, no matter what humans do.
So, the next question is: How much responsibility do humans have in the changing climate? The answer is, some. But then, beavers influence climate, bees influence climate, trees influence climate, a butterfly influences climate.
How about pollution? Ah, here we come into the area where fuzzy thinking kind of dominates. The air is actually cleaner today than it was 500 years ago when a cold snap in England called the "little ice age" forced people to burn more wood, generating more pollution, generating more heat, and possibly averting a real ice age.
Notice how nobody talks about the hole in the ozone layer anymore? Reason is, it doesn't seem to be doing much. The hole had its 15 minutes until hard data demonstrated that it wasn't doing the doomsday thing after all. So we passed on to something else to panic about.
So, why are so many scientists jumping on the global warming bandwagon? The cynical answer is that science today isn't about science. It's about grants, tenure, and publications. Proving that there is no appreciable human influence in global warming won't get you an NSF grant of a zillion dollars to study the effects of warming on plant lice.
What troubles me most is that the cynical view is probably the correct one.

4 comments:

bekkieann said...

Cynical answers aside, what do you think of the Utah Legislature's (specifically Mike Noel's) approach described here?
http://blogs.sltrib.com/slcrawler/index.php?p=4547&more=1&c=1&tb=1&pb=1

On both your houses said...

I've been talking about this with colleagues. Open dialog is very important in a univesity setting, and I see this as an attempt by the legislature to bully the university. On the other hand, shouldn't a legislator have the right to an opinion too? Complicated, ain't it?

On both your houses said...

At least he didn't slam evolution too.

bekkieann said...

You'll find I'm a very vocal critic of Noel - past and present. I don't mind his expressing his opinions. But attempting to use his weight to subversively control someone else's opinion is not only not right, it's a misuse of his office. It doesn't seem complicated to me.

And trust me, he'd slam evolution given the opportunity.