Saturday, February 10, 2007

Rising Sea Levels Lift All Skeptics

This past Wednesday, our monthly Debate at Lolita Bar was about climate change, and it pitted Gore-trained Andrew McKeon against Chuck Blake, a friend of mine who has been a thoroughgoing skeptic on many topics — only recently adding catastrophic climate change to the list — since we were friends in high school back in Norwich, CT in the 1980s. We were fans of the magazine Skeptical Inquirer back then, and it was virtually the only magazine (since joined by Skeptic magazine) consistently arguing that one ought to have good scientific evidence before believing an extraordinary claim. That was what really set me on the road that eventually led me to work for skeptic/libertarian TV anchor John Stossel in the late 90s and, for the past five years, for the American Council on Science and Health — which, I should note, does not have a position on the issue of climate change, sticking to more bodily-health-type issues.

In an interesting bit of cross-pollination, the debate was written up on by Alan Miller, who is helping to organize a debate on similar eco-topics, run by, taking place Tuesday night, February 13. NYSalon is essentially an offshoot of one of my favorite bunch of London-dwellers, the circle of post-Marxists centered on, the Institute of Ideas, and the Centre for Science and the Media, who (while they may not share all my views on economics) argue for progress and Enlightenment/pro-science thinking — and promote fearless, un-p.c. debate — as a reaction against what they see as their fellow leftists’ (especially greens’) growing tendency toward pessimism, hatred of technology, and distrust of rationality.

If all Marxists eventually ended up thinking like these guys (and they really are from the left, remnants of the old Revolutionary Communist Party and the now-defunct Living Marxism magazine), intelligent dialogue across the right-left divide would be much, much easier.

Meanwhile, as it happens, the parent organization of Skeptical Inquirer has announced a change in its mission — promoting science in general instead of specifically debunking unscientific and paranormal claims — and is opening an office in Washington, DC, to lobby for more science-based policy. If this means, though, that SI will be promoting exaggerated climate change fears or jumping on the latest health-scare bandwagon, I may find myself in the odd position of feeling more sympathetic to quasi-Marxists from England than to my old skeptical allies.

P.S. This would mark four ways, incidentally, in which I feel as though an era has recently ended, and with it four of my main interests. I spent about two decades thinking about:

(1) alternative rock

(2) comic books and sci-fi

(3) conservative politics (in so far as it might be a vehicle for government-reducing libertarian policies)

(4) the skeptics movement

…and then within a period of about one month in late 2006, I found that:

(1) the founding punk club CBGB’s, here in Manhattan, closed

(2) I was finally compelled to stop collecting comics after DC Comics started repeating plots (about time-altering crises) from my teen years

(3) the Republicans lost Congress, having accomplished little in the last twelve years by libertarian standards — and almost simultaneously, an aged William F. Buckley (to my mind, the most important “fusionist” figure spanning the conservative and libertarian movements, though he is not fully libertarian and isn’t usually thought of that way) announced that a speech at Yale would be his last, and Milton Friedman, who I was lucky enough to meet while he was alive, passed away (he was one of about seven Nobel Prize-winning libertarian economists; and let me add the econ Nobel has only been awarded for the past thirty-eight years, so you do the math — not a bad showing by a political faction that only about 2% of the population explicitly identify with, not that this high achievement rate stops most people from calling libertarians crazy fringe figures).

(4) the best-known skeptics organization is moving to DC and giving up on merely debunking ghosts and Bigfoot over and over again, for good or ill.

I may need new hobbies, and you may have to read about them on this blog.

UPDATE 3/27/2007: Chuck Blake and another physics-trained attender of our February debate, Mitch Golden, debate climate change in a pro/con pair of articles on the site I edit at work,


Chuck Blake said...

Sadly, of course, I lost the vote at the Lolita Bar debate. My charismatic and distinguished counterparts, Michael Crichton, Richard Lindzen, and Phillip Stott won an almost identically titled debate about whether global warming is a crisis. Links to the transcripts of that are here:

Intelligence Squared has the interesting policy of taking a vote both before and after the debate.

Brain said...

Yes, but you won a moral victory, in presenting better arguments. And you were articulate enough to merit a further invitation to argue the matter elsewhere.

Todd Seavey said...

[...] I was recently pleased to discover a book that, while far more focused on practical, unphilosophical matters, does as much to angry up the blood and make one want to burn Washington, DC to the ground as radical philosophical screed: Philip K. Howard’s The Death of Common Sense, published in 1994 at the peak of Gingrich-era anti-government sentiment (and the start of the Republican Congress, replaced by the Democrats last month after twelve frustrating years).  It’s a marvelous collection of infuriating anecdotes about the stupid results of government regulations, about one per page, starting off with the story of how New York City elevator regulations prevented Mother Teresa from opening a homeless shelter here (and still we leap to government regulations as the only imaginable solution for problems like climate change, to use the topic of this month’s Debate at Lolita Bar as an example). [...]