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Skepticism Unchecked

28-May-07 09:25 pm EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

Scott Adams, the author of the Dilbert comic strip, is a talented satirist.  Reading his blog, I’m getting a picture of where some of this talent originates.  It’s particularly interesting to hear his views on the subjects he choses to blog about too, because his unique mockery of day-to-day life in what was once called a "dot com" business is grounded in a healthy skepticism.  Or so I thought.  Now I’m starting to wonder if it’s not simply a skepticism that’s gone unchecked.

Perhaps unlike Adams I tend to be more of an optimist about human nature.  While I can relate closely to many of the situations he turns into his particular brand of comedy – a rather cynnical point of view, in general – I would not describe my boss as pointy-haired, my company’s management as incompetent or my colleagues as pathologically dysfunctional.   (Quite the contrary.)  So it seems strange for that same cynnical attitude to suddenly appear as a serious commentary on any subject – particularly that of his latest article, which concerns global warming.

To summarize Adams, his view is that the jury is still out – so far as he’s concerned – on whether global warming is actually occuring as a result of human activity.  Leaving aside the fact that I’m unused to hearing anything so seemingly contrary to common sense being repeated from a source other than the friendly neighborhood Republican party mouthpiece, Adams doesn’t seem to fit the description of a person who would hold this view.  It’s precisely because of his unrelenting, daily critique of authority one would be predisposed (wthout more intimate knowledge of the man) to think he’d err on the side of criticism of the ultimate authority on this planet: the office of the Whitehouse than to echo its propaganda.

Most fascinating of all is his rationale for holding this view: that scientists have simply not proven their case, that the data is too finite a sample, that apparently too much effort and money has gone into making the case, and that the resulting  technobable which inevitably accompanies the in-depth analysis of subject matter with which he lacks particular expertise is essentially as valuable as the useless product of a travelling snake oil salesman, until more obvious and uncomplicated evidence, which he can readily absorb, is at hand.

Perhaps fortunately, Adams didn’t venture any particular conclusions beyond his statement that he’d remain unconvinced until reports of temperatures reaching 60 or 70°C at the Earth’s equator (too hot for human biengs to live) finally reached his ears.  But one wonders what, if anything, could change a person’s mind when an otherwise healthy skepticism – which one needs ot have these days when the enemies of truth are found preaching manipulative lies to you in one way or another on every second television channel – goes completely unchecked.  It’s one thing to not subscribe automatically to an argument from authority, and quite another to conclude that anything not dumbed-down enough to fall within the cognitive capacity of a radish is a potential plot to mislead you.

Most of us, who seek to have a healthy skepticism about what we’re being told on the subject of climate change (or anything else demanding specialized expertise to understand fully) have a reasonably good chance of gaining sufficient understanding of the many problem domains which face us in the world and help make it a better place by simply seek verification of the facts from reasonably independent parties who’s stake in holding a particular point of view is reasonably limited.  Often easier said than done, but almost always easier than learning everything one owuld need to about a subject to make truly empircal judgemetns in every case.

Where climate change is concerned, the prevaling view of several, large international bodies seeking to establish the truth thorugh time-honoured scientific methodologies and empirical data are quite enoguh for me to feel safe in asserting that climate chnage can, and is very likely happening as the result of human activity.  Perhaps even more pertinent is that regardless of whether this is ultimately true or false bears little issue where deciding on whether it is preferable to be environmentally conscious as a society or not.

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Terry Glavin

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