Tuesday, August 27, 2013

"Science: What's it Up To?"

Today in my international environmental law class I showed the below clip from the Daily Show to add some levity to the classroom. We were discussing scientific uncertainty, the precautionary principle, scientific consensus and a variety of other issues related to climate change and other global problems. Scientific data rarely, if ever, meets the 100% certainty mark, and the 95% certainty (now higher than that according to the recently leaked IPCC report) that scientists maintain about human contribution to climate change may be as close as we can get to absolute certainty.

We discussed "50-50" journalism, which is the concept that news media - in an effort to be "balanced" - often portray to the public one party agreeing with a majority of climate scientists and one party in opposition. The public, therefore, believes that the issue is a close call, or that the race for the truth is "spandex tight," as Dan Rather would say. Never mind the fact that if I offered climate skeptics a drink that was tasty, gave a boost of energy, and came in a cool can, but which also had a 50% chance of giving them cancer, they would surely turn it down. 

At any rate, this video gets at the heart of the contention that climate change is a conspiracy to line the pockets of academics. I first note for the class that, of course, there are extreme groups on both sides of the issue. But assuming for a moment that certain groups had more of a vested interest in skewing public perception on climate, would it be scientists in an effort to get "rich" on grant money (does this actually happen?) or entities within the economic sector most reliant on the burning of fossil fuels? To choose the former just indicates a serious deficit of common sense. 

At any rate, this is a fairly hilarious clip - and does get a few chuckles from the class, which is nice from time to time.


- Blake Hudson


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Good point Damien. I definitely think there is more purchase in that argument. I was merely addressing the "get rich" argument that I often hear (and trying to do so with oversimplified humor!). But I believe you are correct that this could very well be the perspectives of some of that side of the debate. I for one am not one of those academics, and yet I fully support action on climate change (though not government involvement or expansion in a number of other areas). I have a whole host of reasons for believing that the environment is a unique regulatory target, which I will not get into here. But my sense is that most of the scientists doing this research are also not motivated by growing the government - but that they truly are interested in science. Now, some of the political scientists or legal academics, perhaps. But I personally don't see that as being the case for a vast majority of climate scientists.

Posted by: Blake | Sep 9, 2013 8:03:14 PM

Is it just the "get rich" incentive? One might argue that there exists a perverse incentive for left-of-center types (who are common in academia) to be climate change partisans because most of the purported remedies to the problem involve radical expansion of government regulation, which is otherwise a pleasing outcome for these advocates?

Posted by: Damien Schiff | Aug 30, 2013 10:16:22 AM

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