Monday, December 10, 2007

The science behind global warmism

I was following a link from this post at Joust the Facts, and was reading The Science of Gore's Nobel by Holman W. Jenkins Jr. of The Wall Street Journal's editorial board (, December 5, 2007), when my husband (off on an errand) called to say that that it's brittle outside, and that's it's expected to sink to single digits or lower tonight. This in one of the banana belts of this part of the world...

So, now that I'm through chuckling (it was great timing, and a nice contrast), I think I'd better share with you what Mr. Jenkins points out as the science behind Gore's crusade (it's not what Mr. Gore would like you to think):

The media will be tempted to blur the fact that his medal, which Mr. Gore will collect on Monday in Oslo, isn't for "science." In fact, a Nobel has never been awarded for the science of global warming. Even Svante Arrhenius, who first described the "greenhouse" effect, won his for something else in 1903. Yet now one has been awarded for promoting belief in manmade global warming as a crisis.

How this honor has befallen the former Veep could perhaps be explained by another Nobel, awarded in 2002 to Daniel Kahneman for work he and the late Amos Tversky did on "availability bias," roughly the human propensity to judge the validity of a proposition by how easily it comes to mind.

Their insight has been fruitful and multiplied: "Availability cascade" has been coined for the way a proposition can become irresistible simply by the media repeating it; "informational cascade" for the tendency to replace our beliefs with the crowd's beliefs; and "reputational cascade" for the rational incentive to do so.

Mr. Gore clearly understands the game he's playing, judging by his resort to such nondispositive arguments as: "The people who dispute the international consensus on global warming are in the same category now with the people who think the moon landing was staged in a movie lot in Arizona."


Public opinion cascades are powerful but also fragile--liable to be overturned in an instant when new information comes along. The current age of global warming politics will certainly end with a whimper once a few consecutive years of cooling are recorded. Why should we expect such cooling? Because the forces that caused warming and cooling in the past, before the advent of industrial civilization, are still at work.

No, this wouldn't prove or disprove a human role in warming, only that climate is variable and subject to complicated influences. But it would also eliminate the large incentive for politicians to traffic in doom-laden predictions--because such predictions would no longer command media assent and would cease to function as levers to redistribute resources.

Read the whole thing

I think we all need to sometimes step back and ask if what we're championing is based on nothing more than a cascade that took on a life of its own, apart from the facts. I know I've had a few jolts in my life when I realized to my horror or dismay that I'd been working off of faulty info or misguided opinion. (I've been obliged to disown some of what I spouted when I was feminist, for instance... Ahem...)

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