On the road, so something quick.
Reader Paul Mullen writes:
A fellow at the salt mine was thoughtful enough to leave a copy in the break room of April’s issue of *Men’s Journal*. The back page features a short interview with Bill “The Science Guy” Nye. One of the questions was, “What do you think the average American needs to understand about science?” His reply:
The seriousness of climate change. It’s serious, serious business. Do not screw around with it. The fossil fuel industry has been very successful—using techniques pioneered by the tobacco industry—introducing the idea that scientific uncertainty is equivalent to doubt, which wouldn’t matter if we weren’t all going to die.
Ignoring his failure to answer the question, it seems to me that if you’re feeling uncertain while simultaneously not having any doubts, you’re doing it wrong. Does his statement make any sense from a formal epistemic standpoint?
That’s too telegraphic, so here’s a more expansive answer. It’s Lent, so I’ll interpret Nye’s response in the most generous way possible. Even given that, what he said is a mixture of falsity, confusion, and error.
Nye’s global warming conspiracy theory is either a direct lie on his part or blank ignorance, and anyway something close to the opposite of the truth. The fossil fuel industry is scarcely shoveling money into the hands of non-governmental scientists. Indeed, as Alex Epstein showed in the Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, they’re working against their own interests to appear to be good global citizens.
I’ve had my hand out, but have not received penny one from any fossil fuel company, nor any of their affiliates. I’m far from alone. Many global warming activists, on the other hand, are earning a tidy living pushing doom. I’m sure Nye gets something for his sky-is-falling speeches.
Suppose what is false: that I and my fellow skeptics have been as lavishly funded as Nye claimed. Not to the extent that research professors awash in the millions and millions of government—and activist and even fossil fuel industry!—grants are funded, just that we got money.
Are fossil fuel companies acting immorally or unscientifically when funding research which might provide information useful or amenable to them? If so, then isn’t the government as immoral and unscientific in funding research which provides information useful and amenable to them? What makes the government so pure? Nothing.
Isn’t it true that however scientific information comes to be known its source of funding is irrelevant to whether that information is true or false? Yes: yes of course.
About the phrase “scientific uncertainty is equivalent to doubt”. It appears—and this is only a guess on my part—that Nye equates “scientific uncertainty” with “highly probably true” or “mostly true with negligible indeterminateness on matters scientists will mop up in time”. And he implies, or appears to imply, “doubt” is tergiversation, purposeful evasion of known truths.
Epistemologically speaking, uncertainty is the measure of how probable some proposition is with respect to given evidence. Doubt is to say the proposition is not certain, or, familiarly, that it is improbable, or not likely on that same evidence. Nye is saying, or seems to be accusing, that because somebody finds uncertainty (given some evidence) that they are equating that uncertainty with doubt, or improbability. In other words, that global-warming-of-doom skeptics insist any probability less than one is automatically equivalent to a very small probability.
But nobody is saying this about global warming. Well, no scientist is. Lord only knows what the Internet holds. What some of us say is that, given the twenty-some year failure of climate models to make good predictions, it is rational to doubt them and the theories which created the models. It used to be a well known and accepted-by-all scientific principle that bad forecasts imply wrong theories. That principle, which Nye denies or is ignorant of, was abandoned in the face of strong politics.
What to make of Nye’s we’re-all-going-to-die hysteria? Well, it’s true. All of us will die. This should not be particularly newsworthy given the solid evidence that tens of billions of those not now alive have already died. Unless Nye means to claim that we’re all going to die because of global warming.
That is preposterous, utterly ridiculous, grossly irresponsible. It can only be doubted. Give what we know about model performance, it seems almost impossible any man even the least bit familiar with climate science would suggest such a thing. Yet it has happened. Why?