Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Scientific Accuracy (Trust Me On This One)

Posted by James Spurgeon.

In a hurry this morning. Let's see what I can put up quickly for the cause.

Science is a method of acquiring knowledge and information, not an infallible source of knowledge. No, really. Science is a method, not a source. Ironic, is it not, that while science itself would seem to require skepticism, many in the scientific community would like for us to drop all skepticism when it comes to their latest, greatest theories. In fact, those of us who remain skeptical are dubbed ignorant rubes or worse. Scientists, it would seem, no longer have to prove anything. We should just believe them.

To do this I have to assume that they are (a) unbiased, (b) infallible, (c) have my best interests at heart, and (d) are capable of rising above the interests of those who are funding them (usually government).


Why should I give that much benefit of doubt to anyone? Are scientists super-human? Are they made from a better mold, cut from a finer cloth?


I like science and scientists, don't get me wrong. I am addicted to Discovery Science. I share with them an insatiable desire, that wanting to know. But, I have been around the block one too many times to just accept everything anyone says without question. History proves me right in this attitude.

Does it not?


Allen Lewis said...

I would also add this to the debate - especially as it relates to global warming hysteria (GWH): even if science could produce 100% concrete, undeniable evidence that was accepted by every human being on earth (i.e. GWH went from being a "theory" to a "law"), it would not give anybody a sanction to violate the private property rights of other individuals.

There are two reasons why I approach GWH with such skepticism. First, given my background in economics and finance, I understand fully that correlation does not equal causation. I believe I read in my CFA curriculum that there is a positive correlation with R2>0.7 between the daily high temperatures in St. Paul, Minnesota (or some other midwestern town) and the daily return on the DJIA during July. Nobody in their right mind would argue that the temperature was driving the market or vice versa. Obviously this is a spurious correlation.

Second, in my mind if GWH were proven to be a scientific law, it would bolster the case for a free market solution. Some capitalist would figure out a way to make money off of it. But that is not what's happening. The alarmists are calling for regulation, taxes, and brute force methods of achieving their desired outcome. The only money jumping into the game is politically connected (Al Gore) and/or artificially stimulated by government subsidies and favors.

One Salient Oversight said...

JP - there was no scientific consensus in the past that the world was cooling. Ever. One scientist came up with the idea in the 1970s and it became popular because the media hyped it up.

A TIME cover doesn't represent consensus or even good science, as the current cover (Ben Bernanke, man of the year) testifies.

One Salient Oversight said...


First, Climatologists have been very careful not to equate correlation with causation. Yet their independent studies have confirmed that human activity and the CO2 from it is causing our current episode of global warming.

Second, there are plenty of market opportunities and many capitalists ARE making money out this. Manufacturers of wind turbines, for example, are having trouble keeping up with demand. None of these wind turbine manufacturers are government departments.

The problem is that the danger is so serious that both government AND business need to work together. Just as the US Government raised taxes and purchased tanks and planes and ships manufactured by private business during the second world war, so will governments need to raise taxes to build geothermal power plants, wind farms, electric car infrastructure (and so on) - and this will be provided by private industry.

My preferred alternative would be this:

1. Laws are enacted that will prevent new cars and trucks from being powered by fossil and hydrocarbon fuel (gasoline, methane, etc). The law will come into effect 8 years after it is passed, giving car companies that amount of time to design and produce electric cars.

2. Laws are enacted that will prevent any power to be sourced from fossil or hydrocarbon fuels (eg coal plants, gas plants). The law will come into effect 16 years after it is passed, giving the electricity supply industry that amount of time to build new power plants and decommission the old ones.

3. Severe trade barriers will be imposed on any country that does not have similar laws being put into place (thus forcing China, India, Japan, Mexico etc to have the same sort of laws)

None of that solution involves government spending, tax rises or government ownership of anything. It simply gives a strict regulatory framework for the market (auto makers, power companies) to create their own solutions.

There are plenty of us who are AGW proponents who see the importance of the market in changing things. The reason why we focus on government is because we don't believe that the market will be able do anything without governments directing them (through laws).

James Spurgeon said...

So a "consensus" of the scientific community on any given topic at any given time equals fact?

That's not very scientific.

But beyond that, I was alive when that Time cover was on newsstands. I remember what I was taught in school about pollution and the coming ice age the automobile and factories were bringing about. It was not treated as the hype of a few media types. It was presented to me as fact.

Allen Lewis said...

OSO...first, thanks for the sincere reply. It is appreciated.

Regarding whether companies and capitalists are making money off of global warming...of course they are. In invest my clients' money in some of those companies (especially wind turbine manufacturers), not because I believe in global warming but because I know that governments will continue to subsidize and stimulate those activities. Governments have created industries where ceteris paribus there would be none through subsidies, political favors, and printing money. In the same way that troops do not make the foreign policy, (most) capitalists do not and cannot affect monetary and fiscal policy.

Regarding your desired legislative actions, I reject them all as massive violations of private property rights and individual liberty. You're taking something away from people (the right to make and sell gas-powered cars, fossil fuels, etc.) but not giving them any compensation.

Also, by banning fossil fuel and derivatives, you would certainly be eliminating possible future "green" alternatives that involve those products.