Jim Manzi is one of the best conservative critics of global warming solutions. This is typical of his work. He argues that carbon capping is such a massive all-encompassing and expensive “solution” that it would leave us helpless if a more pressing crisis erupted like an asteroid strike or an epidemic.
Yesterday, he wrote a nice post on the epistemic closure on the Right — what I call the Right Wing Echosphere. It’s the tendency of conservatives to only listen to each other. In particular, he talks about the chapter on global warming from Mark Levin’s book in which he: cites global cooling; cites the bogus “30,000 scientist” petition and cites three people who do not work in climatology as a springboard to saying it’s a all Left Wing Plot.
On one side of the scale of Levin’s argument from authority, then, we have three scientists speaking outside their areas of central expertise, plus a dodgy petition. What’s on the other side of the scale that Levin doesn’t mention to his readers?
Among the organizations that don’t reject the notion of man-made global warming are: the U.S. National Academy of Sciences; The Royal Society; the national science academies of Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, India, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand. Russia, South Africa, and Sweden; the U.S. National Research Council; the American Association for the Advancement of Science; the American Chemical Society; the American Physical Society; the American Geophysical Union; and the World Meteorological Organization. That is, Levin’s argument from authority is empty.
Of course, this roll call could be arbitrarily long and illustrious, and that does not make them right. Groupthink or corruption is always possible, and maybe the entire global scientific establishment is wrong. Does he think that these various scientists are somehow unaware that Newsweek had an article on global cooling in the 1970s? Or are they aware of the evidence in his book, but are too trapped by their assumptions to be able to incorporate this data rationally? Or does he believe that the whole thing is a con in which thousands of scientists have colluded across decades and continents to fool such gullible naifs as the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, numerous White House science advisors, Margaret Thatcher, and so on? Are the Queen of England and the Trilateral Commission in on it too?
Levin doesn’t answer this question. Manzi, however, could. He would point out that all of these societies are accepting the results of an IPCC report that is, at the very least, poorly sourced. He would point out that there are only four direct temperature lines, at least one of which is suspect. He would point out that the models predicting doom and gloom are sketchy to say the least.
But that would be Good Skepticism. Levin is peddling Bad Skepticism. And his fellow conservatives have predictably circled the wagons.
Update: I would be remiss if I failed to note that the Left has a lot of epistemic closure, particularly on the issue of the climate.
Criticism of climate policy, including legitimate criticism, is frequently blasted as denial. Good Skeptics like Bjorn Lomborg and Ron Bailey are unfairly blasted as “tools of industry”. Algore has been saying “the debate is over” for twenty years, including on issues like overpopulation that turned out to be overblown. And the response to Climategate on the Left has been to dismiss it as though, at the very least, failure to comply with FOI requests and poorly written and documented climate code are acceptable scientific practices. And we are told that doomsday AGW scenarios are the most likely and should be the basis of policy.
It doesn’t help the epistemic closure on the Right when the response of the Left to any criticism is to circle their own wagons.
Update: Levin responds by calling Manzi a liberal and a “global warming zealout”, which is both ridiculous and totally expected.