When I lose patience with the liberal U.S. media, I go to the Prvada website, browse for a while, and feel better knowing that it could be worse. Russia is a strange country. Someday we will delve into that in more detail, but no time tonight. Let’s just say that the country is still somewhat isolated, and not fond of the U.S., or Canada either it seems. A Canadian friend sent this Pravda story on the Vancouver Olympics. It is hate filled and completely inaccurate. Just so you know what the Russian people are reading about Canada, you should go to Vancouver: Mutton Dressed as Lamb. I don’t know what that means either, but it is not good. Continue Reading
The absolute truth is that we can’t choose truth. It is what it is. We can try to discover it, but choice isn’t an option. Nevertheless, in the world today, we speak of choosing our truths; to make a point, we will too.
The prevailing global warming theory claims that (1) man is a significant contributor to global warming, (2) the warming of the earth is accelerating and if left unchecked, it will have catastrophic consequences, and (3) the warming trend can be reversed by reducing man-made carbon dioxide emissions. Few North Americans or Europeans have carefully investigated the evidence for and against the theory. This does not, however, prevent many of us from forming strong opinions. But if we don’t base our views on an analysis of the evidence, then where do these strong opinions come from?
When our beliefs are based on factors other than a fair review of the evidence, we can be absolutely certain of one thing. The belief we settle on will always be consistent with what we prefer the truth to be.
As economist John Galbraith suggested…
We associate truth with convenience, with what most closely accords with self-interest and personal well-being, or promises best to avoid awkward effort or unwelcome dislocation of life. We also find highly acceptable what contributes to self esteem.
In other words, if we have strong personal incentives, financial or emotional, they greatly influence our opinions. We tend to believe what we want to believe.
When new to the paper business, I happened across a classic example. My employer at the time, Ecusta Paper, produced both printing papers and cigarette papers. My position was in the printing papers division, but customers from both sides were occasionally combined during large company outings.
At dinner one evening, after a hard day’s work killing innocent pheasants, I was seated next to one of the cigarette company paper buyers. We were comfortable with each other – for a little while. Then the question of smoking and health was raised; in hindsight, a very bad idea. The thought was that maybe we could share mutual concerns – we both worked for companies whose very existence depended on selling a product that caused the deaths of millions of people. I was more subtle than this when raising the subject, but that was the point of the discussion. It was stunning to hear him deny that there was proof that cigarettes caused cancer. This college educated executive then cited a number of smokers who lived into their 80’s as proof.
Cognitive dissonance is the tension that is created when we are forced to “choose” between two important but contradictory ideas. We have an emotional need to reduce that tension. The buyer of cigarette paper considered himself a good person who would never intentionally cause harm to others, but he also worked for a cigarette company that sold a deadly product. He had to change his belief (or his job) or live in discomfort. He chose to believe that cigarettes were no more harmful than lots of other unhealthy choices people tend to make.
In Mistakes Were Made by Tarvis and Aronson, the authors delve into the psychology of why we often tend to ignore persuasive evidence, and find it so difficult to change our mind. The authors provide a book full of examples. Self-justification and/or cognitive dissonance often keep us from getting the information we need, and assessing issues clearly.
In one important study, researchers re-enacted murder trials with mock jurors. However, unlike real trials, the jurors were privately questioned at various points during the process. The results of this study demonstrated that . . .
Most people immediately constructed a story about what had happened and then, as evidence was presented during the mock trial, they accepted only the evidence that supported their pre-conceived version of what had happened. Those who jumped to a conclusion early on were also the most confident in their decision and were most likely to justify it by voting for an extreme verdict. This is normal; it’s also alarming.
Saved By The Scientific Method? – We might assume that objectivity built into the scientific process would limit self-justification. Perhaps this helps a bit, but not all that much. The authors of the book provided numerous examples of self-justification on the part of professionals in medicine, psychiatry, and law enforcement that make injustice routine.
In fact, scientists are capable of extraordinary feats of self-justification. While all of us have a strong vested interest in our decisions and opinions, scientists are wed to their theories. When money from government agencies and foundations determine funding as well as career advancement, objectivity suffers. Estimates of world-wide global warming expenditures now total from $50 to $100 billion. That money employs a lot of scientists, and builds a lot of college laboratories. This all disappears when the global warming threat dies.
The passage that follows comes from a story (February 3) in the Financial Times, UN Climate Scientist Defends Record. As the United Nations IPCC house of cards begins to collapse, the Chairman of the IPCC has provided us with another classic example of self-justification. None of the problems of the IPCC are his fault. Note in the last paragraph that he hopes climate skeptics die of asbestos poisoning.
Rajendra Pachauri, the embattled chairman of the UN’s Nobel Prize-winning climate change panel, lashed out on Thursday at the flurry of attacks on the panel’s credibility, calling climate change skeptics’ criticism “skullduggery of the worst kind”. Last month, Mr Pachauri was forced to acknowledge his panel’s prediction that the Himalayan glaciers could completely disappear by 2035 if global warming went unchecked was unsubstantiated and an error, a painful admission from a scientist long treated in his native India as the last word on environmental issues.
The pressure on Mr Pachauri has been so great because the damaging revelation came amid a scandal engulfing scientists at the UK’s University of East Anglia. Climate skeptics allege hacked e-mails between scientists that were posted on the internet show some researchers tried to hide data that did not fit with their theories. Mr Pachauri told the Financial Times that recent assaults on the reputation of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – and on his personal probity – were “carefully orchestrated”, with the aim of stalling international action on global warming.
Although he declined to name names, he said he believed the attacks were probably backed by certain companies that feared that tough action to battle global warming would threaten their profitability.
“They are the same people who deny the link between smoking and cancer,” he said. “They are people who say that asbestos is as good as talcum powder – and I hope they put it on their faces every day.”
The Politics of Global Warming – The Economist ran a global warming story a few years ago. After an exhaustive analysis of current opinion which, by the way, was more balanced than was typical at that time; the author got to the heart of the disagreement.
(The debate on global warming) is charged by the belief on one side that life as we know it is under threat, and by the conviction on the other that scientists and socialists are conspiring to spend taxpayers’ money on a bogey. It is sharpened by a moral angle – the sense, deep in the heart of the environmental movement, that the consequence of individual selfishness will be collective doom: The invisible hand is a fist, and original sin an SUV.
And, for the mainstream media, the “environmental” movement, the academic elite, and much of the political establishment, this is the issue. It’s not the science. It’s not the environment. It’s distrust and distain for the free-market system. It’s about control. And its anti-consumerism emphasis hits directly at the excesses the world sees in the U.S.
Public Perception – Many scientists, academics, and politicians have built in incentives to become true believers, but what about the rest of us? It turns out that global warming is, for the general public, also more about politics than science.
We all have our own cognitive dissonance issues. If we consider the mainstream media as basically trustworthy; if we have more faith in governments and environmental organizations than in the free market system; then, in order to reduce cognitive dissonance, we will tend to accept the conclusions these institutions promote: the environment is deteriorating due to industrial development, scientists are objective truth-tellers, corporate greed is the crucial problem of our age, and global warming is an established scientific fact. This belief set tends to fit with the Democratic Party.
Conversely, those who favor business over government, distrust the media and environmental organizations, believe that the environment is in good overall condition, distrust international alliances, work for a business rather than in education or for a government entity, and are Republicans, will almost always be climate skeptics.
Many people fall somewhere in the middle; independents, as well as “soft” Democrats and Republicans. The recent climate scandals had a big impact on this group. They are the ones more open to changing their minds. They feel lied to, and won’t easily swing back to the global warming side.
As partial confirmation of our previous claims, we note a recent Pew Research Center survey of the U.S. public’s priorities. As an issue of concern, global warming was dead last with Republicans at 11%, but ranked at 43% for Democrats. Independents were at 25%.
Global Warming – The Truth Is… – The key point of this report is that self-interest tends to play an important role in what groups and individuals believe. That should not be the case, but it is. We all know to be cautious of the claims made by businesses and politicians. We also should expand that caution to environmental organizations, scientists, academics, and organizations with a vested interest in any conclusion it is promoting.
In regard to the global warming debate, I see the evidence as convincing. The warming trend of the last 140 years is predominately a natural occurrence, and unlikely to escalate dramatically in the future. It is also highly likely that this warming will be a net positive to the earth’s ecology. But then again, this has been my public view for many years, so perhaps my vested interest has had an impact on my perception of the science.