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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Fact, Opinion and the Warming Globe

One of the most important skills a citizen of an enlightened society must have is the ability to distinguish between fact and opinion. And yet, facts, the hardest facts of all, are the conclusions of a discipline (science) that is founded on the assertion that there are no facts as such--only evidence, only the best possible conclusions based up the evidence. This quibble, this little instability at the core of the structure, may contribute to the particularly modern, endemically American belief that the conclusions of science have no more force than opinions--that "what's the best restaurant in Kalamazoo?" and "is global warming real?" are questions about which we are equally entitled to weigh in on. An astonishingly large portion of the American public, without a scrap of expertise or training, without the most fundamental prerequisites for understanding how to address the question, assert without irony or embarrassment their conviction that global warming is a myth. The ignorance is mind boggling. What can we say? "I am not an expert. You are not an expert. The question of whether the globe is warming, by how much and in response to what causes is a question beyond  my ability, at present, to answer. I have not the time or interest to get the vast training in math and science that are required for me to have, on my own, the ability to make an assessment on the question. And there is no need for me to do so. There are clearly experts on this issue out there, genuine scientists who with careful and expert research address this question every day. And among them there is no controversy regarding the basic facts: the globe is warming. Human activity is a significant contributing factor. Global warming is dangerous. If we act now, we can do something about it. Scientists disagree with one another whenever possible. Scientists are by nature as well as by profession necessity skeptical. Yet no meaningful number of experts. It is prudent therefore to defer to the experts in such a case." We can say that. I do. But people who cannot see the truth will crucify a savior so they do not have to listen.

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