April 29, 2010 Leave a comment
I meant to link to this article in Salon months ago, but never did. I remembered it yesterday when I covered "public policy myths and realities" in my last day of Intro to American Government for the semester. Lots of students were unhappy when I pointed out that "there is a scientific controversy over global warming." As you surely know, there's not. There's plenty of non-scientific controversy, but the science behind human-caused global warming, though very much a work in progress, is still largely a settled issue. Pointing out that the head of The Weather Channel or some TV weather forecasters don't buy global warming is not exactly an indicator of actual scientific controversy. Sure, somebody can read the newspapers every day and decide that issues play an important role in the outcomes of Congressional elections, but that doesn't change the fact that people with PhD's in Political Science who have vastly more expertise and have devoted years to studying issues like this, have concluded that this is, in fact, not the case. Anyway, here's the intro, which I especially love, of the aforementioned article:
So what's next? A series of essays by Sarah Palin about the Large
Hadron Collider and the mysteries of dark matter? An MIT lecture series
by Rush Limbaugh regarding the thermodynamics of black holes? A
Festschrift of Sean Hannity's scholarly articles on plate tectonics and
volcano formation? Glenn Beck performing live heart-lung transplants on
Everybody understands that these things couldn't happen. That when
it comes to serious scientific endeavor, years of study and professional
apprenticeship are required. In a word, expertise.
Ex-beauty contestants, drive-time DJs, TV sports announcers,
hairstylists, newspaper columnists — basically anybody whose math
skills topped out in the 10th grade — rarely have anything substantive
to add to the sum of technical and scientific knowledge. That's what
they most resent about it.
It's not impossible that such persons could educate themselves
sufficiently to have an informed opinion, but it's rare. Most of us,
most of the time, are like historian and blogger Josh Marshall: "The
fact that the vast majority of people with specialized knowledge in the
field think there's a problem is good enough for me," he wrote. "I can't
be knowledgeable about everything. And I'm comfortable with the modern
system in which the opinions of really knowledgeable people with
expertise counts more in cases like this than people who know nothing at
Of course science and the scientific method of peer review and such gets things wrong, but damn it, it's the best we've got. You can't just choose to reject this when it clashes with your preconceived ideological notions or whatever Sean Hannity tells you.