Things are not looking good for National Review. Remember the old epistemic closure attempt over at NRO to discredit Mark Levin and his best-selling book?
Liberty and Tyranny and Epistemic Closure
Jonah notes Ross Douthat’s very interesting post, in which Ross had this to say:
Conservative domestic policy would be in better shape if conservative magazines and conservative columnists were more willing to call out Republican politicians (and, to a lesser extent, conservative entertainers) for offering bromides instead of substance, and for pandering instead of grappling with real policy questions.
I thought some about this over the past few days, and took this as a direct challenge.
I started to read Mark Levin’s massive bestseller Liberty and Tyranny a number of months ago as debate swirled around it. I wasn’t expecting a PhD thesis (and in fact had hoped to write a post supporting the book as a well-reasoned case for certain principles that upset academics just because it didn’t employ a bunch of pseudo-intellectual tropes). But when I waded into the first couple of chapters, I found that – while I had a lot of sympathy for many of its basic points – it seemed to all but ignore the most obvious counter-arguments that could be raised to any of its assertions. This sounds to me like a pretty good plain English meaning of epistemic closure. The problem with this, of course, is that unwillingness to confront the strongest evidence or arguments contrary to our own beliefs normally means we fail to learn quickly, and therefore persist in correctable error.
I’m not expert on many topics the book addresses, so I flipped to its treatment of a subject that I’ve spent some time studying – global warming – in order to see how it treated a controversy in which I’m at least familiar with the various viewpoints and some of the technical detail.
It was awful. It was so bad that it was like the proverbial clock that chimes 13 times – not only is it obviously wrong, but it is so wrong that it leads you to question every other piece of information it has ever provided.
Levin argues that human-caused global warming is nothing to worry about, and merely an excuse for the Enviro-Statists (capitalization in the original) to seize more power. It reads like a bunch of pasted-together quotes and stories based on some quick Google searches by somebody who knows very little about the topic, and can’t be bothered to learn.
There are many reasons to write a book. One view is that a book is just another consumer product, and if people want to buy jalapeno-and-oyster flavored ice cream, then companies will sell it to them. If the point of Liberty and Tyranny was to sell a lot of copies, it was obviously an excellent book. Further, despite what intellectuals will often claim, most people (including me) don’t really want their assumptions challenged most of the time (e.g., the most intense readers of automobile ads are people who have just bought the advertised car, because they want to validate their already-made decision). I get that people often want comfort food when they read. Fair enough. But if you’re someone who read this book in order to help you form an honest opinion about global warming, then you were suckered. Liberty and Tyranny does not present a reasoned overview of the global warming debate; it doesn’t even present a reasoned argument for a specific point of view, other than that of willful ignorance. This section of the book is an almost perfect example of epistemic closure.
Mark Levin's response:
Liberty, Tyranny, and the Globe
I don’t know Jim Manzi, but given his out-of-nowhere rant, you’d think I ran over his dog or something. Feel free to read my book, and the chapter Manzi distorts and cherry-picks, yourself. You don’t need Manzi to interpret it. He’s no true expert on the subject, nor is he logical or coherent in his post. Indeed, he’s a very, very angry advocate of open and well-reasoned debate!
His style of argument here reminds me of that of Andrew Sullivan, for whom Manzi has the highest regard. Which makes me wonder: Since Manzi has appointed himself the umpire around here, will he call out Sullivan for his continuing obsession with Trig Palin in equally harsh terms? Call it the lunacy it is, or even call it “wingnuttery”? At the very least, Manzi is guilty of “epistemic one-sidededness.”
Here are the facts: There is an enormous amount of fraud and politics involved in global-warming science, some of which I mention in the chapter, much of which I didn’t have room to, and none of which Manzi acknowledges. But the research and evidence are available and extensive. I touch on it as best one can in a book that is not focused exclusively on the subject.
I would also encourage you to look at the petition Manzi disparages, having, I’m sure, carefully reviewed the qualifications of each and every expert listed, as he dismisses the entire lot of them. He mentions that 20,000 of the signatories don’t have doctorates. But more than 9,000 do.
Even so, that alone is not the standard. Reading his post, one would think they’re all a bunch of kooks and frauds. He knows this because Scientific American did the hard work of taking a small sample of the group and contacting them. Now, how scientific is that? Global-warming bloggers have unfairly attacked this petition relentlessly. Manzi simply repeats the mantra. He even refers to the phony names on the list, which he hopes will degrade the effort, without realizing that global-warming zealots are responsible for inserting them. How embarrassing.
The true believers used to cite Mann’s hockey-stick curve as conclusive evidence of man-made global warming. The graph has been demonstrated a fraud, as I point out in the chapter. They used to cite the U.N.’s IPCC findings. The panel is not scientific and its findings have become a joke, requiring the IPCC to try and save face by amending them. Manzi doesn’t talk about the temperature stations, of which there has been a great deal of research and criticism. What about Hansen’s models and recent “errors” in temperature reporting? Manzi ignores it, as he must.
Manzi mocks some of the experts cited in my chapter, dismissing them as few and inconsequential. Actually, they are very serious and substantive experts. And I mention and cite more than three. There are many others available to anyone who wants to look, but I chose to mention them for space-limitation purposes. But notice the pattern: Manzi mocked the long list of experts as well. So, I reference too few experts? Too many experts? Not the right experts?
Manzi provides us with his own list of authorities — a list of impressive-sounding and -seeming groups. As I began going through a “sample” of their findings, I noticed many of them were saying the same things and citing the same information. Could it be that Manzi, having lectured about basic research and mocked Google (Manzi’s good at mocking), actually came up with his list from Wikipedia?
Well, that’s what he did. Check it out here. It states that there are 32 academies that conclude man-made global warming is a threat that requires international action, among them the academies of Zimbabwe, Sudan, and Uganda, all of which are undoubtedly top shelf. I can’t understand why Manzi excluded them from his authoritative list.
Contrary to another of Manzi’s assertions, I make no references to conspiracies in the book, although, thanks to scores of news reports a few months back, we now know that some very notable global-warming authorities did, in fact, destroy raw data and manipulate other data to advance the global-warming argument — as Manzi might put it if he were intellectually honest, they “colluded across decades and continents to fool gullible” policymakers. Among them is Prof. Phil Jones (who, Manzi will be glad to know, has a doctorate), who had to step down as director of the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit. Jones now claims that there has been no global warming since 1995. What a fickle bunch. Manzi didn’t mention any of this in his post, although he cleverly implies that anyone who isn’t epistemically open to their hoax must be wearing a tin-foil hat and obsessing over the Queen of England and the Trilateral Commission. Very compelling stuff.
In depicting global-warming doubters as lunatics, Manzi scoffs that they are at odds with the entire global scientific establishment. Manzi’s use of “entire global scientific establishment” is tellingly misleading. He uses that term to avoid saying what global-warming zealots used to say — “consensus.” The fact is that there is none. As I wrote in the chapter, “There is no consensus that man has influenced the earth’s temperature or that the earth’s temperature is warmer now than in past periods. And even if there were a consensus, science is not about majority rule.” So, where is this representation by the “entire global scientific establishment”?
Moreover, as I wrote further, MIT professor Richard Lindzen, whom Manzi approves of, classified “scientific consensus” respecting global warming as “unscientific.” But it is the global-warming alarmists who seek to cut off debate, which, again, I explain in the chapter. It’s quite remarkable to be accused of “epistemic closure” when it is Manzi who clings to a list of academies and others who insist with certitude that the end is near and we must act now no matter the cost. (By the way, here’s Lindzen in today’s Wall Street Journal, in an op-ed entitled “Climate Science In Denial — Global warming alarmists have been discredited, but you wouldn’t know it from the rhetoric this Earth Day.”)
Manzi also cannot comprehend why I would dare mention that in the 1970s, scientists were warning of global cooling and the coming Ice Age. Don’t I think that these scientists are also aware of what was said back then, he muses? Well, let’s see, could it be that the science remains as inexact or bogged down by politics today as it did then? And what if we as a society had acted on the bad information promulgated only three decades ago? That’s another debate Manzi doesn’t want to have.
Science requires proof. Where’s Manzi’s? Knowledge is something you can acquire. Class, apparently, is not.
Not bad. Especially that zinger about class considering NR was WFB's rag. But this is better as it says everything Mark ever said. From the WSJ today:
No Need to Panic About Global Warming
There's no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to 'decarbonize' the world's economy.
Editor's Note: The following has been signed by the 16 scientists listed at the end of the article:
A candidate for public office in any contemporary democracy may have to consider what, if anything, to do about "global warming." Candidates should understand that the oft-repeated claim that nearly all scientists demand that something dramatic be done to stop global warming is not true. In fact, a large and growing number of distinguished scientists and engineers do not agree that drastic actions on global warming are needed.
In September, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Ivar Giaever, a supporter of President Obama in the last election, publicly resigned from the American Physical Society (APS) with a letter that begins: "I did not renew [my membership] because I cannot live with the [APS policy] statement: 'The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring. If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth's physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now.' In the APS it is OK to discuss whether the mass of the proton changes over time and how a multi-universe behaves, but the evidence of global warming is incontrovertible?"
In spite of a multidecade international campaign to enforce the message that increasing amounts of the "pollutant" carbon dioxide will destroy civilization, large numbers of scientists, many very prominent, share the opinions of Dr. Giaever. And the number of scientific "heretics" is growing with each passing year. The reason is a collection of stubborn scientific facts.
Perhaps the most inconvenient fact is the lack of global warming for well over 10 years now. This is known to the warming establishment, as one can see from the 2009 "Climategate" email of climate scientist Kevin Trenberth: "The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't." But the warming is only missing if one believes computer models where so-called feedbacks involving water vapor and clouds greatly amplify the small effect of CO2.
The lack of warming for more than a decade—indeed, the smaller-than-predicted warming over the 22 years since the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) began issuing projections—suggests that computer models have greatly exaggerated how much warming additional CO2 can cause. Faced with this embarrassment, those promoting alarm have shifted their drumbeat from warming to weather extremes, to enable anything unusual that happens in our chaotic climate to be ascribed to CO2.
The fact is that CO2 is not a pollutant. CO2 is a colorless and odorless gas, exhaled at high concentrations by each of us, and a key component of the biosphere's life cycle. Plants do so much better with more CO2 that greenhouse operators often increase the CO2 concentrations by factors of three or four to get better growth. This is no surprise since plants and animals evolved when CO2 concentrations were about 10 times larger than they are today. Better plant varieties, chemical fertilizers and agricultural management contributed to the great increase in agricultural yields of the past century, but part of the increase almost certainly came from additional CO2 in the atmosphere.
Although the number of publicly dissenting scientists is growing, many young scientists furtively say that while they also have serious doubts about the global-warming message, they are afraid to speak up for fear of not being promoted—or worse. They have good reason to worry. In 2003, Dr. Chris de Freitas, the editor of the journal Climate Research, dared to publish a peer-reviewed article with the politically incorrect (but factually correct) conclusion that the recent warming is not unusual in the context of climate changes over the past thousand years. The international warming establishment quickly mounted a determined campaign to have Dr. de Freitas removed from his editorial job and fired from his university position. Fortunately, Dr. de Freitas was able to keep his university job.
This is not the way science is supposed to work, but we have seen it before—for example, in the frightening period when Trofim Lysenko hijacked biology in the Soviet Union. Soviet biologists who revealed that they believed in genes, which Lysenko maintained were a bourgeois fiction, were fired from their jobs. Many were sent to the gulag and some were condemned to death.
Why is there so much passion about global warming, and why has the issue become so vexing that the American Physical Society, from which Dr. Giaever resigned a few months ago, refused the seemingly reasonable request by many of its members to remove the word "incontrovertible" from its description of a scientific issue? There are several reasons, but a good place to start is the old question "cui bono?" Or the modern update, "Follow the money."
Alarmism over climate is of great benefit to many, providing government funding for academic research and a reason for government bureaucracies to grow. Alarmism also offers an excuse for governments to raise taxes, taxpayer-funded subsidies for businesses that understand how to work the political system, and a lure for big donations to charitable foundations promising to save the planet. Lysenko and his team lived very well, and they fiercely defended their dogma and the privileges it brought them.
Manzi's own words -"Levin argues that human-caused global warming is nothing to worry about, and merely an excuse for the Enviro-Statists (capitalization in the original) to seize more power."
Speaking for many scientists and engineers who have looked carefully and independently at the science of climate, we have a message to any candidate for public office: There is no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to "decarbonize" the world's economy. Even if one accepts the inflated climate forecasts of the IPCC, aggressive greenhouse-gas control policies are not justified economically.
A recent study of a wide variety of policy options by Yale economist William Nordhaus showed that nearly the highest benefit-to-cost ratio is achieved for a policy that allows 50 more years of economic growth unimpeded by greenhouse gas controls. This would be especially beneficial to the less-developed parts of the world that would like to share some of the same advantages of material well-being, health and life expectancy that the fully developed parts of the world enjoy now. Many other policy responses would have a negative return on investment. And it is likely that more CO2 and the modest warming that may come with it will be an overall benefit to the planet.
If elected officials feel compelled to "do something" about climate, we recommend supporting the excellent scientists who are increasing our understanding of climate with well-designed instruments on satellites, in the oceans and on land, and in the analysis of observational data. The better we understand climate, the better we can cope with its ever-changing nature, which has complicated human life throughout history. However, much of the huge private and government investment in climate is badly in need of critical review.
Every candidate should support rational measures to protect and improve our environment, but it makes no sense at all to back expensive programs that divert resources from real needs and are based on alarming but untenable claims of "incontrovertible" evidence.
Claude Allegre, former director of the Institute for the Study of the Earth, University of Paris; J. Scott Armstrong, cofounder of the Journal of Forecasting and the International Journal of Forecasting; Jan Breslow, head of the Laboratory of Biochemical Genetics and Metabolism, Rockefeller University; Roger Cohen, fellow, American Physical Society; Edward David, member, National Academy of Engineering and National Academy of Sciences; William Happer, professor of physics, Princeton; Michael Kelly, professor of technology, University of Cambridge, U.K.; William Kininmonth, former head of climate research at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology; Richard Lindzen, professor of atmospheric sciences, MIT; James McGrath, professor of chemistry, Virginia Technical University; Rodney Nichols, former president and CEO of the New York Academy of Sciences; Burt Rutan, aerospace engineer, designer of Voyager and SpaceShipOne; Harrison H. Schmitt, Apollo 17 astronaut and former U.S. senator; Nir Shaviv, professor of astrophysics, Hebrew University, Jerusalem; Henk Tennekes, former director, Royal Dutch Meteorological Service; Antonio Zichichi, president of the World Federation of Scientists, Geneva.
Mark Levin worked for Reagan. Are we seeing a pattern?