Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Think Globally -- and Badly


I criticized populists and isolationists of various sorts over the past few days — but that shouldn’t be taken to mean (as some cosmopolitan globalist-establishment types are understandably inclined to think) that people with big visions involving the entire, interconnected world are necessarily less dangerous — nor even that they are any more sophisticated in their thinking.  Take Al Gore, that heavy-handed, unscientific propagandist recently awarded a Nobel Prize (by one of the globe’s most politicized and elite political elites).

The unsubtle simplicity of Gore’s book titles makes me suspect that (admirably, I suppose) he actually chooses them himself: Earth in the Balance, An Inconvenient Truth, The Assault on Reason, Our Purpose, and coming in November: Our Choice — not to mention the less-than-nuanced titles on his coauthored books, such as Putting People First (with Bill Clinton).  Maybe next he’ll do Hooray for Citizens, Stop Bad Things, or Making Life Good.

The pro-local, isolationist folks may limit our options in some very crippling ways, but they also have the advantage of inflicting any one nut’s ideas on a relatively small group of people.  Better a village idiot than a global-village idiot.

(And perhaps our May 6 debate on animal welfare, come to think of it, will have some divergent opinions, even just in the pro-animal side of the crowd, on the relative virtues of local and global societies.  The ideal, of course, is keeping the stupid ideas local and letting the good ones travel, even if that always risks making snooty people think they can sort the good from the bad with a simple local-is-stupid rubric.  On balance, I favor letting markets sort it out.)


Todd Seavey said...

Speaking of Gore: pure anecdote, I know, but it’s snowing on the Upper West Side of Manhattan right now.

Dylan said...

“Better a village idiot than a global-village idiot.”

Good line. I might use it at some point. I’ll make sure to attribute …

Mitch Golden said...

I have to say I am baffled by the accusation (frequently made in conservative circles) that Gore is “unscientific”. It is true that he is not a scientist, but he is always quite clear to indicate the limits of his expertise. So, on what basis would such a statement be made?

For example, regarding the subjects he discusses, the relevant scientific body in the US is the American Geophysical Union. If he were regarded as misrepresenting their work, it seems rather unlikely that he would be invited to give the keynote address at their meeting (as he was in 2006), and receive a warm reception, as he did:

I believe it is quite safe to say that Bjorn Lomborg (just to name one) will never give such as speech.

BTW, do you what the historic date of the last snow in NY was? I seem to be unable to find it, but having grown up here, it seems to me that it used to be much later in the year than it is now.

Todd Seavey said...

You need to at least consider the possibility that the AGU — like countless other bodies — likes the attention and political prestige that goes with inviting Gore to speak. Everyone I know who has expertise in some area relevant to Gore’s claims says he has misrepresented that area of the debate — even as they praise him for (they assume) properly raising awareness in other areas.

My doctor/scientist co-workers were alarmed by his free-associative pastiche of disease claims, for instance, which was meant to imply warming is directly responsible for things like malaria increases (no mention, naturally, of the un-p.c. chemical DDT, the banning of which made malarial mosquitoes harder to fight a few decades ago).

In general, I would ask that you — and even my fellow _Skeptical Inquirer_-type skeptics — keep in mind the possibility that when these bodies bestow an award on a politically-esteemed crank, they decrease their own legitimacy rather than increasing his. Our scientific institutions are far gone in the direction of pro-government activism already, but that is another topic we’ll deal with at length at ACSH soon, I expect, so no more here, for now, if you’ll forgive me for brevity.

Mitch Golden said...

Actually, I know well several climate scientists (i.e. not those in related fields – one was a lead author on the IPCC report) who spoke to me about his movie, and found it broadly correct. A more public example is the review on the blog realclimate, which said he did “admirably” on the coverage of science. (And while DDT is an interesting subject, it’s complicated, and afield.)

It is also worth noting that Gore received a warm welcome from the AGU’s individual members, not merely an invitation to speak from the organization.

This is not to say that he gets everything right. Most non-experts talking about science do get stuff wrong. I’d be interested in seeing the specific quotes about disease that render him “non-scientific”.

The fact is, the broad misrepresentation of science comes from those “skeptics” such as John Stossel. I wrote a careful, science-based review of the relevant section of his book, which you can find on my site, here: