It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Consequences of Wishful Thinking

Expertise is worth something. To ignore expertise is to court disaster. For instance:

Before (June 25):

After (July 7, less than two weeks later):

Bobby Jindal's sandbars are an instructive example. These berms were constructed at the insistence of the Louisiana governor and popular pressure over the advice of scientists, the DoE, and the Obama administration, to hold back BP oil from the beaches. They appear to be spectacular failures.

The last thing we need is Dunning-Krugeritis victims in positions of power. To quote Dr. Leonard Bahr, author of a not-to-be-missed short blog article on the subject "these artificial sand ridges, planned in a science vacuum, will not survive the 2010 hurricane season".

According to Amy Wold in the Baton Rouge Advocate:
The gulf between science and policymaking — as it relates to Louisiana’s coastline — continues to widen, with the new push for sand berms and rock jetties being the latest example. ...

The plan for berms — as well as rock barriers — to serve as lines of defense for fending off oil pollution has been widely supported by coastal parish representatives, the governor and state officials.

However, science team members expressed their concerns about risks associated with the sand berm project, Twilley said, and they told state officials that in their opinion, the risks outweighed the benefits.

“But there are so many more things that go into a political decision,” Twilley said. He said he’s learned through experience that science has to be kept separate from political decisions and that science very often is just one consideration in forming public policy.

So when concerns about the sand barrier plan were presented to the state, Twilley said, those raising the doubts didn’t go public with their concerns because he expected the policy would be set and then publicly discussed with an acknowledgment of the risks and benefits of that decision.

It was never anticipated that science would be the only factor considered in making the sand berm decisions, he said.

"It was never anticipated that science would be the only factor considered in making the sand berm decisions." I like that.

Science is not "the only factor". No, it shouldn't be and it can't be. But it can't be just one constituency among many. The real actual world is an absolute constraint. As Dr. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber puts it: “Political reality must be grounded in physical reality or it's completely useless.” The more complicated we make our world, the more we need to rely on genuine expertise about it. Outvoting science is not a recipe for success.

Images: anonymous photographer via Leonard Bahr. h/t Joe Romm


Rattus Norvegicus said...

Like I'm surprised that a bunch of yahoos saying that something that was so f'in obvious was a good idea, in spite of what the "experts" said. Not the first time "common" sense fails. Won't be the last time either.

Hank Roberts said...

one attempt at an antidote:


Patrick said...

When I heard the talk of sand berms by the local politicians down I naturally thought that somewhere along the line they had called on the expert opinion of civil engineers with some relevant experience.

When I heard reports on the subject it was presented as penny pinching feds versus the local hero fighting to save his home.

Gee wiz.