"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

1 Science 2 Science Red Science Blue Science

Thanks to Ron Spross, a regular reader in the Houston area, who manages to be a Democrat and a petroleum engineer at the same time, and a delightful fellow at that, I had the honor to address the Democratic Party of Harris County TX (Houston) on climate change.

My thoughts were much influenced by the fact that simultaneously, Chris Horner was talking to the Young Republicans organization at Loyola University of Chicago, where I remain to this day on the rolls as an adjunct professor. Chris Horner has a pretty looking resume, but he says things like
Liars--Al Gore, the United Nations, the New York Times. The global warming lobby, relentless in its push for bigger government, more spending, and more regulation, will use any means necessary to scare you out of your wits--as well as your tax dollars and your liberties--with threats of rising oceans, deadly droughts, and unspeakable future consequences of "climate change." In pursuing their anti-energy, anti-capitalist, and pro-government agenda, the global warming alarmists--and unscrupulous scientists who see this scare as their gravy train to federal grants and foundation money--resort to dirty tricks, smear campaigns, and outright lies, abandoning scientific standards, journalistic integrity, and the old-fashioned notions of free speech and open debate. In Red Hot Lies, bestselling author Christopher Horner...exposes the dark underbelly of the environmental movement. ... In the name of "saving the planet," anything goes. But why the nasty tactics? Why the cover ups, lies, and intimidation? Because Al Gore and his ilk want to use big government at the local, state, federal, and global level to run your life, and they can brook no opposition.
Ah, well that's their explanation then. I'm in an ilk.

Now we are in a pickle, when one party goes to one group for their science and another goes to the other. It's practically a caricature of Sanchez's epistemic closure. Now, I have a hard time presenting Horner's point of view, but I did raise the question of how you should go about deciding between us, since clearly we can't both be right, and clearly indecision ends up in Horner's favor.

In the end it wasn't the tightest presentation I've ever pulled together, but see for yourself. The audience was highly interactive, and most of them laughed at most of my jokes. Some of them asked for my slides. So I guess it was a hit. Anyway, here they are.

But I sure wish we weren't to the point where the two parties have two different sciences. You know, at least one of them has to be completely wrong.

The dems paid expenses including a generous per diem which Irene and I blew on dinner at a Pappadeaux somewhere in the Houston burbs, to straggle home at 2 AM. One thing about Texas is that there is a more than ample supply of it. On the plus side, Texas has some wonderful, clever, charming and original people in it; I especially appreciated meeting the members of the Oil Patch Democrats, a fascinating crew.

(PS - I'm available for talks and panels. Let me know if you're interested.)


Steve Bloom said...

If you're in an ilk and a pickle at the same time, can you be said to be in a Pielke?

wv cleverly confirms!: solidea

manuel moe g said...

I have to read each slide, one by one. You have an annoying habit of burying very deep good stuff in a single paragraph of your writing, or in a single slide of your presentation.

It makes the stupider of us look bad in comparison. But I will try to be big about it. ;-)

Great stuff, as usual. Cheers!

Ted Kirkpatrick said...

Michael, I think it's inaccurate to call both approaches "science". (Nothing new in that suggestion, but it bears repeating.) I think it's really useful how John Quiggin characterized the denialist style as "legalistic". Look at how Horner's blurb begins with assertions of intent and frames every interpretation of scientific statements within that presumed intent---a legal style. Similarly, it's acceptable within legal arguments to raise self-contradicting possibilities---the goal is to cast doubt on your opponent's case, not present a coherent explanation of your own.

Quiggin's point helped me because it suggested an existing style of argumentation that includes these tactics. Doesn't make them acceptable in this context, of course, but situates them within a real tradition.

Oh, and what's Christopher Horner's profession? A lawyer. Fancy that.

[I like the slides, particularly the phrase "Pollutants have no rights", but I suspect Slides 7-9 lose something without your mellifluous narration. Especially Slide 8.]

Webpage Admin said...

Michael -- I was both fascinated, educated, and disturbed by your presentation at Harris County Dems' evening brown bag. I'm going to make my daughter and grandson read your slides one by one, slowly. And I hope you can come talk at our caucus at the State Democratic Convention in Corpus at the end of June: we need more of your truth in our ongoing discussions and percolating on our back burners, as well.