Sunday, June 03, 2007

More on the conspiratorial mindset and skepticism

Over at Slate, Ron Rosenbaum talks not only about his evolution away from a conspiratorial mindset, but also reminds us that certain conspiracies have been shown to be real, and that we need to be able to keep a healthily open mind to detect the real ones.

Similarly, a few days ago I posted a link to a series called "How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic," and I think I'd like to slightly retract my endorsement of it. Not because I found anything of substance to disagree with in the series, but because I'm a little off-put by the title, which implies that skepticism is bad.

But in truth, a healthy dose of skepticism is essential for scientific inquiry. I would, in fact, hope that a thinking person would be skeptical of any scientific conclusions (regardless of subject) they see presented by the media. A true skeptic would not allow that skepticism to just become ignorant denial, though, and would instead let that skepticism lead them deeper into the research. And if the research were, indeed, sound, then the skeptic would reach the same conclusion.

Of course, there are far too many subjects in this world for us to be skeptical of all of them. I've never done any particular delving into Holocaust research, for example, but there comes a point where we have to use our power of discernment to know when to accept what authority tells us and what should be a red flag. The concept of Holocaust denial stands in such stark opposition to common sense and the historical record that personally, it's not the sort of thing I care to look into any further (but I'm glad that there are people who have scrupulously debunked the deniers). The science behind global warming looks pretty airtight to me; some debates on the specifics remain, but the real question now is "What do we do about it?"


At Sunday, June 3, 2007 at 2:36:00 PM PDT, Anonymous doafy said...

The thing that gets me about people who claim that climate change is not caused by man is that they put so much emphasis on that point.

Who cares if climate change is caused by man?

Who cares if climate change is even happening?

Isn't it just a good idea to take better care of your environment?

I mean, if your bedroom stinks, and you go on and on about how it isn't your dirty socks that are stinking up the room, and instead the natural smell of, say, the walls, isn't it still a good idea to wash your socks? Even if you don't have a sense of smell and deny that any such stank exists?

I mean come on. Just do a better job for the sake of doing a better job!

At Sunday, June 3, 2007 at 3:26:00 PM PDT, Blogger Adam Villani said...

Well, take, for example, the EPA trying to claim that greenhouse gases aren't pollutants. If they *aren't* pollutants, then why would we want to limit their emissions?

Or look at priorities. Some environmentalists are saying we should look seriously into using more nuclear power, since nuclear waste can be more relatively contained than coal-burning plants, and they don't contribute to greenhouse gases.

At some point we need to understand the science behind these things in order to define what is and is not "taking better care of our environment."

At Sunday, June 3, 2007 at 3:49:00 PM PDT, Blogger Adam Villani said...

Another way to look at it is to answer the question "why?" If someone says, "You should drive a car with better gas mileage," and I say, "but I can afford the gas," for an argument to be convincing it needs to say more than just "well, it's better for the environment." I'd want to know how it's better for the environment and what the real implications of it are. That's why the science is important.

Getting the science accurate is important, too. Saying "we will run out of food in 25 years and worldwide catastrophe will result" hurts the cause because people will then tend not to believe environmentalists, and also because even within environmental causes it can skew priorities. And because it's dishonest. Read up on Paul Ehrlich's "The Population Bomb" to find otu about a man who drew a lot of attention to environmental causes but was also wrong about just about everything he said, and thus did a lot of discredit to environmentalism. It's important to get things right.

At Sunday, June 3, 2007 at 5:05:00 PM PDT, Anonymous doafy said...

I dunno if I place much truck in this argument:

"If someone says, "You should drive a car with better gas mileage," and I say, "but I can afford the gas," for an argument to be convincing it needs to say more than just "well, it's better for the environment." I'd want to know how it's better for the environment and what the real implications of it are. That's why the science is important."

The person saying "but I can afford the gas" is an asshole. I don't need to know that I'm running out of something to know that wasting is wrong.

So I can afford enough food to throw away my leftovers. I don't. Not because I enjoy leftovers (even though I do). But because wasting food is *wrong*. At the risk of channeling everyone's grandma, it's wicked. A sin.

Now, I know that the world is mostly populated by entitled assholes, and that's why we need the science--to prove to the assholes for whom "it's wrong" isn't good enough.

But "it's wrong" *should* be good enough.

Especially for things that are smaller, like having cars with better mileage and recycling.

If you're taking something like possible nuclear power, then you have to do the science on it because you have to weigh pros and cons. That's where your argument makes sense. But so many of the climate change deniers are so entrenched in their view that they can do whatever they want that they willfully ignore the obvious choice. It's like watching a two-year-old hold his breath.

It's not like "I won't have as much pick up if I have a car with better gas mileage" or "Recycling is a pain in the ass" are valid cons. That's just selfish people being selfish and whiny and not wanting to walk their filthy asses down to the garage to wash their nasty-ass socks.

At Monday, June 4, 2007 at 11:42:00 AM PDT, Blogger Adam Villani said...

But there needs to be a rational basis for declaring something to be wasteful. We don't worry about computers using up silicon because silicon is plentiful. Oil is limited.

And while using up, say, food or water is wasteful, using up oil is also dirty. It pollutes. OK, fine. But without the science, we wouldn't know that the pollution problem went farther than just making the sky ugly. It's unhealthful, and it contributes to global warming. It's a triple whammy.

Certain things are much worse to throw out than others. Sure, littering is bad no matter what. But throwing a stalk of broccoli out the window is a lot less of a problem than throwing a styrofoam cup out the window. That's the sort of thing the science can tell you. Sure, once we've all let it soak in, then it becomes intuitive --- you know that burying organic waste a few inches under the ground is A-OK, but styrofoam is forever. But you wouldn't know that if it'd never been studied scientifically.

At Monday, June 4, 2007 at 12:56:00 PM PDT, Anonymous doafy said...

I think maybe we're missing each other's points.

I'm not saying the science doesn't need to be done, especially on the big things. But there are some things that should already *be* common knowledge, like using less gas.

However, there are some people who refuse to believe that there's anything wrong with the amount of gas they're using other than that it costs a lot right now. In the same vein, there are people who get all up in arms about tax dollars being used to fund city recycling programs (I remember very specifically a few letters to the editor in N.O.)

There are also people (read: half my neighborhood) who seem to think that it's ok to litter. What's wrong with them?

Those are the things that seem like sock-washing to me.

The connection in to climate change (a much bigger issue) is that people use their denial of climate change as an excuse for not washing their socks because then if they gave in and washed them, it would be a victory for the other side.

I guess my main point is that people are so upset over whether various environmental protections "need" to happen that they forget to just look to see if it's a good idea, even if it isn't "needed".

Does that make sense?

Sorry for rambling all over your blog.


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