Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Realms of belief

This analysis in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has gotten some attention in precincts where people are interested in such things, but it hasn't led to any prominent corporate media mea culpas that I have noticed. And perhaps the scribblers and yackers don't believe it should.

In a nutshell, more than 97% of scientists who are actively publishing in the field of climatology are convinced that human activities are causing a rise in global C02 which in turn is causing global climate change. Furthermore, those who are not convinced have much less publication, and what they do have is in lower impact journals.

To the authors, and the scientists involved in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, this shows that media coverage of the issue, which reflexively "balances" findings of anthropogenic global warming with denials, is in fact unbalanced. It gives false credibility and stature to a position which is at best marginal within the relevant scientific community.

I agree with that assessment but I also know what the deniers will say: that the apparent scientific consensus is self-perpetuating because contrary views can't get published. It's nonsense of course. The vast majority of these publications don't specifically or directly make any conclusions about AGW, they deal with various bits and pieces of the climate system and its history. To generate the big picture of climate change, you have to put a whole pile of pieces together and you have to add up the relevant weights of several lines of theory and evidence. What the publication record shows is the relative scientific productivity and expertise of the investigator, not his or her adherence to a particular supposedly politically correct belief.

But, that ain't gonna cut any mustard with the deniers, because they just don't admit of the same criteria for credibility. Most people, most of the time, think backwards, from belief to evidence. Our tendency is to notice, or give more weight, to bits of evidence that seem to support our current beliefs; to assemble the evidence into supportive structures; and to discount or ignore contrary evidence. It's called confirmation bias and the resources people have to exercise it are truly impressive.

Forty one percent of Americans believe that Jesus will return by 2050. Only 46% consider it unlikely. I saw a guy reading a book on the subway this morning, SeƱales de su Venida (Signs of his Coming), and what he is reading is a systematic marshaling of evidence to convincingly demonstrate that we're in the End Times. These folks are convinced by an irrefutable assemblage of facts about the current world that correspond to elements of the Revelation of John, as interpreted by people with the right expert credentials -- ordained ministers of evangelical churches. Obviously what I have to say about the subject is not credible because I'm not an expert. So there.

1 comment:

C. Corax said...

I thought the end was coming in 2012! Damn, this eschatological b.s. is confusing!