Peter Robinson of the Hoover Institution has interviewed one of the most interesting and intelligent of our public intellectuals, Thomas Sowell, on CommonKnowledge. Every segment of the 5-part interview, but if you're in a rush, at least watch segment five.
I thought this was excellent. It made me think about my own experience in education. I can think of teachers who were interested in forming thinkers (and therefore not threatened by dissenting arguments) and others who were inetersted in forming clones in their own image. I realize also that challenging the liberal elite on global warming is not just calling the issue into question, it is doubting their own image, therefore it is personal. This is why they cannot see that they are the ones ignoring the data and resorting to fear-mongering.
Gil, this interview—at least in the part about global warming—reminded me of Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code,” a work of fiction about a conspiracy that never actually occurred. The difference is that the words “a novel” follow the title of Brown’s book. Thomas Sowell, however, offers no disclaimer about his speculations. Nor does he offer a shred of evidence to support them.
Did you notice, as I did, that the interviewer never asked him to substantiate any of his claims?
The scientists who are telling us that global warming is a reality are not “public intellectuals.” Thomas Sowell is a public intellectual, and the reason he is so prescient about the tendency of public intellectuals to create a demand for their own services is that he is doing exactly that. But instead of proclaiming that there is a crisis when there is none (as he accuses climate scientists of doing), he is denying that any crisis exists when in fact one does. This is the way that he creates a demand for his services.
To me, the most noticeable thing about this interview is that there is no reference to science, other than a spurious claim that “temperatures went up first, and then there was an increase in CO2.” The interviewer (Peter Robinson) should have stopped him there and asked, “How do you know this?” Instead, we are supposed to take that claim “on faith.”
Faith is what it’s all about.
If you want to know the truth about global warming, then I would suggest looking at the scientific consensus. Thomas Sowell is not a scientist. He is a public intellectual. His opinion is unsupported by evidence, and he does not even bother to offer evidence because he knows that he is talking to believers and that he will not be asked any hard questions.
A first step in getting to the truth is to ask such questions, to challenge any and every claim that is not supported by evidence. Peter Robinson is either a wimp or a dupe.
"If you want to know the truth about global warming, then I would suggest looking at the scientific consensus."
That would be easy to do if there was a consensus, but there isn't one no matter how hard alarmists like yourself try to imagine that there is.
"A first step in getting to the truth is to ask such questions, to challenge any and every claim that is not supported by evidence."
Exactly. Unless, of course you are so attached to an idea that you don't see the truth when it is looking you in the face i.e. information that suggests the original data might have been tampered with.
Implicit in your statement is the consistant theme that all of the extreme left want to believe: People who question them or their theories must be uneducated, gun toting, superstitious, hillbillies. They must be, because if they are not, then we have to acknowledge the possibility that we might be wrong.(?) Now, the extreme left will never admit that as possible because they really believe that they already know everything.
This is why people like Thomas Sowell and Gil are so troubling. They shatter all of the typical stereotypes that you work so hard to put them under.
Mike, I don’t know what your definition of “consensus” is, but I suspect you may be confusing it with “unanimity.”
The scientific consensus about our solar system is that the planets, including Earth, orbit the sun. This is called the “heliocentric theory.” But there is still no unanimity about this. There are actually one or two “scientists” (having PhDs in some branch of science) who argue that the sun orbits the earth.
The scientific consensus about evolutionary theory is that it is correct, though there will continue to be some controversies among biologists about particular points. Nevertheless, there are still a few hundred biologists who reject Darwin’s theory. They are a tiny fraction (much less than 1%) of the total number of biologists worldwide.
The scientific consensus about global warming is that it is happening and that it is caused by human activity. All major world scientific organizations that have anything to do with climate science agree about this. In an earlier comment, several months ago, I listed a couple of dozen of these organizations. They include the American Geophysical Union, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the World Meteorological Organization, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
I am hardly “imagining” that this consensus exists. You can verify it for yourself by visiting the websites of the organizations I’ve listed.
I would suggest visiting the NOAA’s Frequently-Asked-Questions page, here, for reliable information about climate change. They answer questions like, “Is the climate warming?” and “Can the observed changes be explained by natural variability, including changes in solar output?” I think you will find it very interesting, especially the charts.
When there is a controversy about who is wrong and who is right on matters pertaining to the observable world around us, then one sure method of getting to the truth is to observe that world. Look at data that has been collected over many decades—data that is now available on the Internet for anyone to see. Fortunately, climatology is a fairly exact science, unlike religion and some of the human sciences, and it has collected a mountain of empirical data to support AGW.
If you are concerned about the hacked e-mails from East Anglia University last year, I would suggest researching the matter on some reputable sites, as I have done. Find out what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has to say about the matter. Skip the pundits, the tabloids, and the public intellectuals, and go directly to the websites of major scientific organizations like the NOAA and see for yourself what they have to say about East Anglia. I can send you some links if you are interested. If you feel that the IPCC or the NOAA are just part of a giant conspiracy to conceal the truth, then there’s not much I can do for you.
Gil and Thomas Sowell will succeed in misleading a few people, but they will not persuade those who respect empirical evidence. Gil has admitted he knows nothing about climate change, and from what I have heard of Thomas Sowell, he is also uninformed about the subject. Certainly, nothing that he said in his interview leads me to believe he has any expertise about it whatsoever.
"When there is a controversy about who is wrong and who is right on matters pertaining to the observable world around us, then one sure method of getting to the truth is to observe that world."
I agree. Part of what can be observed in the world is human behavior. We can determine some of what motivates people by watching the way they behave. We don't have to be scientists to know that something is rotten in Copenhagen. It just takes a nose.
Imagine if you will that a former president discovers a terrorist plot that will start a nuclear war in the next few months. He believes that the only way to prevent it is to go public with his discovery. Now imagine that his name is George W. How do you think his warning will be received? He would have to make a decision about what is more important: The fame and whatever fortune he may gain by having saved the world by spreading the message, or saving the world. Message vs. messenger. Because he is a polarizing figure, the message might not be received by many if he is the one to bring it forward. If he realizes that the most important thing is that the message be heard by as many as possible, wouldn't he find someone more accepted by the public to bring the message forward? Wouldn't he do everything he could to ensure that he wouldn't be seen as capitalizing on the situation? (Other than by not having the world destroyed.)
Now after discovering that the world is soon to be destroyed by global warming what did Al Gore do? He is so worried about global warming, that he did'nt do anything about his own humongous carbon footprint. He is so worried that he went ahead and received the nobel peace prize. He is so worried about global warming that he wants us to stop eating meat. It's not just humans, now it's the poor cows too. He won't stop eating meat by the way. Have you heard about carbon credits and who might stand to gain from them? If global warming was true, noone has done more to damage the message than Al Gore. More to follow.
Mike, you seem to have shifted ground pretty dramatically, from whether AGW is real to whether a particular popularizer of AGW science is to be trusted. Personally, I think it is a mistake to focus too much on personalities in a discussion about something as important as AGW. Considering the consequences of continued inaction, these speculations about the motivations of high-profile figures like Gore are a dangerous distraction. So I will just briefly address your concerns:
If I understand you correctly, you believe Al Gore should have stayed out of the limelight on global warming because he is a polarizing figure who has only succeeded in “damaging the message” by delivering it. I was surprised at your saying this, because it sounds like something a radical environmentalist might say. (I would have expected you to be grateful that Gore damaged a message that you disagree with.)
You appear to believe Gore capitalized on the situation so that he could get a Nobel Prize, and you find his personal behavior hypocritical insofar as he still uses fossil fuels.
And here I don’t quite understand your point. Are you suggesting that Al Gore cooked all this up so that he could get a Nobel Prize, and that his carbon footprint proves he does not believe his own message?
One thing we know for sure is that Al Gore did not invent global warming. As for his personal motivations, no one can look into his heart, but I certainly wouldn’t fault him for accepting a Nobel Prize for his work. I have no idea what his carbon footprint looks like, but it’s probably too big. Everyone’s is.
I think you may be vastly overestimating Al Gore’s importance in all this. If Al Gore had never been born, we would still be faced with AGW. He was, as you say, only the messenger. I think we need to start focusing on the message.
Here's an eye-opening video about the manufactured doubt industry and the way misinformation about AGW has been propagated.
Sorry it took me so long. I'll go ahead and reply to some of your previous points.
I never thought that your belief in gobal warming came from Al Gore. My point is that he is influencing many people, yet he himself does not seem to be as worried as he says he is because he isn't leading by example. I guess what you're saying is that you are not worried about his reasons or whether he actually believes what he is saying, just as long as he keeps saying it? I think that is a mistake in any argument. If you really believe in global warming, you should understand that he also has a negative influence because people know that he says one thing and does another. Does the end justify the means here or does it even matter?
"One thing we know for sure is that Al Gore did not invent global warming."
I know he did not invent global warming, or the internet for that matter, but he is trying to capitalize on it and he is a distraction.
Through our previous discussions, I realize that you have a significant amount of hope in science. I think you see it as the one true, objective, unbiased vehicle in which we can arrive at the truth. I see it as a very important means to the truth as well, but not the only one.
Moreover, the scientific method may be unbiased and objective, but determining which research gets funded is not. You're constantly qouting different scientific organizations and all of their data. That is like trying to convince someone of Christianity by quoting verses from the Bible. Until they understand a little more of the context and the history, or until they have some of their questions answered, the Bible means nothing to them.
Have you ever thought about what stake these scientific organizations have in their research? Where does the money come from? Who decides who gets the money and who does not? What would happen to climatology if global warming turned out to be only half as threatening as previously stated?
I hope you can see that while the scientific method is objective, the answers to these questions are not. And the scientific community is not immune to problems that plague any other group of people.
"The scientific consensus about evolutionary theory is that it is correct, though there will continue to be some controversies among biologists about particular points."
First of all evolutionary theory is far too broad of a concept to just throw out there. Do you mean that things evolve? Because most Christians I know would agree. Are you saying that the evolutionary process proves that "The Origin of Species" was not God? Because every Christian I know would disagree. BTW, if you want an interesting perspective about what is going on in the scientific community I recommend you see Ben Stein's documentary "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed." In many ways, it shows just how biased much of today's science is.
Mike, earlier this month, Pope Benedict denounced the failure of the Copenhagen summit and specifically expressed concerns about rising sea levels and desertification. Though I don’t particularly like Benedict (for reasons that will be obvious to anyone who has read my past comments), I am grateful that he supported a course of action to halt global warming. I liked the message, even if it was delivered by a messenger whom I consider to be as flawed as the rest of us, and I’m not interested in speculating about his “true” motivations or whether he “walks the talk,” etc. (I’m sure that his own carbon footprint is fairly sizeable, in spite of his installing solar panels on Vatican roofs.)
After addressing the Copenhagen issue, the pontiff turned to another issue that interests me—same-sex marriage. Only this time, I didn’t agree with his message at all. At this point, you might expect that I would attack the Pope personally, as a means of discrediting his message. But once again, I am not hugely interested in the Pope as the messenger. To talk about the Pope’s personal shortcomings would just be a distraction from the real issues and it might even suggest that I am not comfortable talking about those issues. It’s always easier to talk about personalities.
I don’t have any investments in the Al Gore brand. Al Gore may be high-profile, but he is only one of many, many people talking about AGW. Anyone who takes a position on AGW is going to come under attack and have his character and motivations impugned. That’s politics. I would be concerned about what Al Gore says if it did not accurately reflect the scientific consensus. But it does not.
I didn’t quite understand what you were getting at when you mentioned the money that funds scientific research. Were you suggesting that the entire world’s scientific establishment has somehow been subverted by ... someone or something? Who would have done this? Are you saying that government funding has somehow “bought” the world’s major scientific organizations? Who is behind this conspiracy, and how has it been kept secret among, of all people, scientists? If you were to claim that Wall Street bankers had been suborned, I might believe you, because bankers are primarily interested in, well, money. But, unless I am seriously deluded, most scientists are primarily interested in knowledge and the advancement of science, and many of them don’t care a fig about money. How could anyone hope to corrupt virtually all of them with offers of research funding?
If one wanted to corrupt them, I would think the place to start would be in the universities, where they are taught to question everything and to try to disprove each other’s theories. The universities provide training in intellectual rigor and honesty, and the results have been pretty impressive on the whole. Thus, when you board a jet plane, you are demonstrating your faith that entire communities of scientists and engineers have been both rigorous and honest. (I’ve worked in the tech industry, and I know that one doesn’t get through the first day on the job without these qualities.)
What I’m wondering is this: Who, in your view, is behind the conspiracy? How did they pull it off? How did they get hundreds of thousands of scientists to cooperate? Scientists are pretty smart (and sometimes pretty ornery), and most of them, I would hope, are resistant to corruption. (If not, then I’m not boarding any more jets or having any more surgery.) So who has manipulated them so successfully? General Electric? Wealthy environmentalists? Ideologues from Stanford? The liberal elite? President Obama? Hillary Clinton?
And why hasn’t Exxon-Mobil, with all its vast resources, identified the source of this conspiracy for us?
Mike, I’m aware that Christians believe that their god created everything, and many of them believe that their god started a process of evolution, though the Bible doesn’t support the latter conclusion. (Everything seems to have been created within that first six days.) It would be hard to profess belief in the Judeo-Christian god without accepting one of those two scenarios (the second one being a stretch). As a secular humanist, I don’t accept either of them. The so-called “intelligent design” theory posits a deity who could only have come into being through a process of... evolution (as described by Darwin). What other process could have produced a deity with so many of the attributes that we associate with human-ness?
"Mike, earlier this month, Pope Benedict denounced the failure of the Copenhagen summit and specifically expressed concerns about rising sea levels and desertification."
"I am grateful that he supported a course of action to halt global warming."
I would very much like to see the links to this information. I am sure that the Pope is for being good stewards for all of God's gifts including the earth. What "course of action" did he suggest though? Does taking reasonable measures to protect the planet equate to entering a binding agreement with questionable partners that will forfeit our granchildren's economic future when we are in a seismic resession? Does that sound reasonable? I think not and, correct me if you have proof that he has said otherwise, but I don't think the Pope would call that reasonable either.
Trying to understand motives is not an easy task, but it does give context to arguments, and we do it all of the time. Global Warming is a political issue and Al Gore has agendas like any political figure. Trying to understand his motives does give context to the political argument over the issue. Pretending that he is somehow not involved in the contemporary political argument over global warming is removing the issue from it's context. Everything becomes much clearer in context, which is a good thing. That is, of course, unless we don't want clarity to begin with.
"If one wanted to corrupt them, I would think the place to start would be in the universities, where they are taught to question everything and to try to disprove each other’s theories. The universities provide training in intellectual rigor and honesty, and the results have been pretty impressive on the whole"
I don't know if it has been a while since you went to college, or perhaps if you happened to believe everything your professors taught, but this is certainly not the experience I had. I could give you plenty of examples where I was not being asked to think, rather I was made to regurgitate the information that my professors "taught." Ask any good teacher and they will tell you that they have learned as much from their sudents as they have taught them. This a rare occasion at the University level because a student cannot teach a professor who thinks he or she already knows everything. And it is no secret that Universities are propaganda machines for liberal agendas. A teacher cannot tell his class why he belives in God without the ACLU knocking down his door, but my class was told by our professor why he is an atheist and why he believes religion is a man-made means from which he tries to confort himself. This was a middle-aged man preaching to a bunch of young kids. We were told by several professors about how horrible the Catholic Church was and given many examples.
I will have to disagree with your outlook on universities. By and large, they are no longer about challenging authority and asking relavent questions to discover the truth, they are about challenging traditional values and anything that threatens their intellectual superiority, and they hold power over their students. Do I think it is a global warming conspiracy? No. I think liberal anti-establishment has come to power and it likes it. Its problem is that it is now established and can no longer preach anti-establishment rhetoric without self-destructing. Asking questions and challenging authority isn't fun anymore. Now it's about how close you resemble the image and likeness of your professor. If he loses sleep over man-made global warming, you should too.
You are right to say, "Scientists are pretty smart (and sometimes pretty ornery), and most of them, I would hope, are resistant to corruption. (If not, then I’m not boarding any more jets or having any more surgery.)" But if you watched the rest of the interview, Thomas Sowell points out precisely that what is different between a building engineer and a climatologist is that if the building falls down, the engineer will be in serious trouble and will not be an engineer for long, if the global warming scientists are wrong, none of them will be alive by the time their dire predictions turn out to be false. We however, will have payed the price for their mistakes.
Mike, the reports about the Pope’s denunciation of the Copenhagen failure are easy to find. Just Google “Pope Benedict on Copenhagen,” and you’ll have your pick of articles from the Catholic News, the Guardian, the BBC, Associated Press, etc. As far as I know, he was not specific about what course of action should be taken, but he did appear to think that the Copenhagen summit had failed to recommend one. From what he did say, I gathered his concern was that we might forfeit our children’s future by not acting, and there’s plenty of logic in that. If what the climate scientists are telling us is true, then the cost of inaction is civilizational collapse by the end of this century or sooner. The cost of action, whether they are wrong or right, is economic hardship, waste, fraud, profiteering, and all those other things that we have somehow managed to survive over the centuries.
The college or university experience you had was probably not in the hard sciences. I still work at a university and can assure you that science students are not simply taught to regurgitate information. They are taught to question assumptions if they expect to advance beyond a certain level. And certainly, anyone who publishes a scholarly paper has got to be very rigorous in gathering and analyzing data and in drawing conclusions from it, because the paper will not even be published, in most cases, unless it adheres to these standards. In the world of science, theories are always subject to scrutiny, and fellow scientists are not always concerned about being “nice” and protecting each other’s feelings. The ethic, as I’ve observed it, is that if you’ve got an idea, you’d better be ready to defend it, and you’d also better take an attitude of welcoming criticism, because what we’re after is truth and accuracy, not (just) personal advancement. If this scientific culture were anything like what you have described, then I think we could expect to see planes, cars, and computers crashing right and left, surgeries getting botched, diseases spreading unchecked, satellite launchers exploding on take-off, buildings collapsing, ships sinking, electrical grids failing, etc. You are a beneficiary of the world of science much more than you probably realize. Science (natural or human) is still the best tool ever developed for understanding the world.
Universities are, by and large, places where free inquiry can happen. This is not true in an absolute sense, but it is certainly true in a relative one. There is certainly more free inquiry in a (secular) university than in a church or, in most cases, in a corporation. People who are engaged in free inquiry do challenge traditional values, and that is all to the good, in my view. If traditional values are sound, then they can withstand scrutiny. If not, then they deserve to be challenged.
I am a person who asks questions and challenges authority. I go onto a university campus four times a week, and I always feel at home there. But the university is a marketplace of ideas, and ideas without merit sometimes have a hard time there. Believe me, there are questions coming from “left” and from “right.”
Mike, I was just reading on the Catholic Online site about the Vatican’s 2008 decision to add seven additional “deadly sins” to the original seven, which were lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. (You can read about it here.) One of the new deadly sins is environmental pollution. This pope is apparently very concerned about environmental issues, and his recent addresses indicate that global warming high on his agenda.
I think some of your concerns about universities may be a little overblown. I’ve spent most of my adult life in and around them, spent about 20 years teaching in them, and still have my finger on their pulse, so to speak (my brother is a tenured professor, my son is about to graduate, I still teach a technical course, many of my friends and associates work or study at the university, etc.) In the course that I teach, I would never bring up religion or express my own religious views, and I don’t think that would be tolerated. We are not there to discuss religion, and I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable or disadvantaged because of their beliefs. However, as I said, the course is about technology. If it were a course in philosophy, comparative religion, or psychology, then the expectations might be somewhat different. There, professors are expected to challenge students’ assumptions about the world, even at the risk of offending them at times.
Nevertheless, the subject of religion should always be handled with care and sensitivity. No student should ever be made to feel that his or her success in the course depends on agreeing with the professor, though if the course is biology, for example, then students will need to learn the science of evolution whether or not they agree with it. In my experience, most universities have safeguards to ensure that students are not browbeaten or diminished because of their religious beliefs. These days, after all, students do evaluate their profs. My own students spend the last 15 minutes of the course evaluating me.
Science teachers just have to teach science, that is all. They should not be expected to teach pseudo-scientific theories, whether heliocentrism or intelligent design. If they are teaching climate science, then they need to teach the consensus views about global warming, though it’s certainly fair to allocate some class time for challenges.
I think the world’s scientific establishment—including the universities—are basically our best bet for understanding these new environmental challenges that the Catholic Church is now alert to. I don’t see any other contenders. Are you aware of any?
Correction: "heliocentrism," in the second-to-last paragraph of my most recent comment, should be "geocentrism."
"I think some of your concerns about universities may be a little overblown."
I can see how someone would think that unless they had actually had it happen to them.
"However, as I said, the course is about technology. If it were a course in philosophy, comparative religion, or psychology, then the expectations might be somewhat different."
Three different cases off of the top of my head were in Literary Criticism, English Composition II, and Earth Science. I actually got an A in English Comp I with the same teacher. It was in Comp II that the religious discussion occurred. I had an A up until that discussion, but never got higher than a B in the class afterward. It was the only B I got that year. It changed my response to any further discussion when a professor brought up religion which is sad.
By the way, this was at a State College in a fairly conservative state. And these are from my own personal experiences. I have heard many more cases from friends and family members over the years.
I think, based upon your response, in trying to shed light on the fact that science is corruptible, perhaps I sounded ungrateful to science and the University in general. I assure you, that is not the case. As I said, science is very important to our discovering the truth. And I have not forgotten the "inconveniant truth" that the Church gave birth to the University. That is a little fact that many in this country have forgotten, since it makes painting the Church in a negative light a little bit harder. But science and universities are made up of people (just like the church.)
I don't find it hard to see science gone bad. Look at the FDA. Time and again we see government approved science destroying not buildings or airplanes, but lives.
"They should not be expected to teach pseudo-scientific theories, whether heliocentrism or intelligent design."
Once again, I think you are confusing creationism with intelligent design.
"I’m aware that Christians believe that their god created everything, and many of them believe that their god started a process of evolution, though the Bible doesn’t support the latter conclusion. (Everything seems to have been created within that first six days.) It would be hard to profess belief in the Judeo-Christian god without accepting one of those two scenarios (the second one being a stretch)."
As I have said in earlier posts, Genesis is not a science textbook. It is written at a time when people believed in many gods. What it does is assure the Israelites that there is only one God and he created everything. It does not try to tell how he did it.
Mike, everyone who has attended college, including myself, has stories about professors who abused their influence. We need to hear these stories and to find remedies for the problems and redress for the wrongs that have occurred. But I don't think we should conclude that the university system itself is corrupted to the point that it cannot provide training to scientists. Wasn't that the question raised in our original discussion? Every human institution is fallible, and we do the best we can, but the fact remains that university science courses teach critical thinking skills without which our society could not function in the way that we have come to enjoy. To bring our discussion back up to the level where we started, I would just say that the likelihood of the entire world's scientific establishment being wrong about climate change is extremely small.
I was not confusing creationism with intelligent design (ID). I live in Seattle, the home of the Discovery Institute, and have watched them repackaging and rebranding their product over the years. The folks who are pushing ID are not deists. They are Christians, and they believe that Genesis is a science textbook and that it does tell how God created everything. I honestly do not see how any Christian can deny that God is the creator of life as we know it, unless he or she is a purely "ethical" or "secular" Christian who rejects a supernaturalist interpretation of scriptures.
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