One reason people doubt global-warming-of-doom is because of lousy philosophers like N. Ángel Pinillos (note the New York Times-sophisticated inclusion of the accent). He wrote a piece entitled (in some places) “What philosophy tells us about climate change skeptics.”
Let’s read this essay and see how awful thinking can be and still make it into the “paper of record.”
It starts well, but ends badly.
No matter how smart or educated you are, what you don’t know far surpasses anything you may know. Socrates taught us the virtue of recognizing our limitations. Wisdom, he said, requires possessing a type of humility manifested in an awareness of one’s own ignorance.
A limitation of Á Pinillos’s is ignorance of climate science.
According to NASA, at least 97 percent of actively publishing climate scientists think that “climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely caused by human activities.” Americans overwhelmingly agree that the federal government needs to take significant action. In a recent poll [of citizen’s who can’t say why the sky is blue, let alone delineate the intricacies of climatology]…
Now you’d think Á P. before he gave a lecture of knowledge about global warming would take the trouble to look simple things up. But no. Instead he obviously relied on the media (yes, really), and on the opinion of people who haven’t a clue about, say, parcel theory.
The canard about “97 percent” is particularly stupid. First, 100% of scientists agree that man influences the climate. How could we not? But that in itself, as Á does not understand, does not call for any specific action. And 97%? Did Á even read “Climate Consensus and ‘Misinformation’: A Rejoinder to Agnotology, Scientific Consensus, and the Teaching and Learning of Climate Change“, which shows that the consensus over doom is more like 1%? No, sir, he did not.
Did Á even know to look for this paper? No, sir, he did not. He knows so little about the subject, he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.
He knows less about probability. Which is even more embarrassing, because nobody was expecting him to discuss the limitations of high-altitude cloud parameterizations. But we did think a professional philosopher would know the difference between decisions, knowledge, and probability. He doesn’t.
Suppose you observe a shopper at the convenience store buying a lottery ticket. You are aware that the probability that he will lose the lottery is astronomically high, typically above 99.99 percent, but it’s hard to get yourself to sincerely say you know this person will lose the lottery.
Look here, Á, if the shopper knew he would lose, he wouldn’t buy the damn ticket. We don’t know the shopper is going to lose. We only know it’s likely. Which means we also know he might win.
We can only know what is true. But we can believe anything. Right, Á?
If I had to bet whether the shopper would win, I’d have to think about the consequences about what would happen if I win or lose the bet, and the probability I calculate the shopper has the winning numbers. Probability is thus not decision. And my bet the shopper would lose is not knowledge he would. It’s a guess: a prediction.
Á does not grasp these distinctions, which are basic. He makes the same blunders in an example about his grading homework. I leave casting light on these as my own homework exercise for you, dear reader.
According to social psychology, climate change deniers tend to espouse conservative views, which suggests that party ideology is partly responsible for these attitudes. I think that we should also think about the philosophical nature of skeptical reactions, an apolitical phenomenon.
The standard response by climate skeptics is a lot like our reaction to skeptical pressure cases. Climate skeptics understand that 97 percent of scientists disagree with them, but they focus on the very tiny fraction of holdouts. As in the lottery case, this focus might be enough to sustain their skepticism.
Only a nincompoop uses the term “climate change denier”. Nobody denies the climate changes (I except lunatics). Knowing man influences the climate does not indicate any particular action, nor does it even imply that any such change is necessarily bad. Plus, climate skeptics (many of them) do not understand that 97% nonsense.
Á skates over the obvious fact that when some hear “climate change” they hear “I’m from the government and I’m here to help”. Which is precisely why “conservatives” doubt the (many already failed) predictions of global warming. And is precisely why progressives have no doubt that without drastic and constant government action, we are doomed.
Finally, Á explicitly brings up probability. “Instead of saying that you don’t know some claim, try to estimate the probability that it is true.” Here (as he continues) he makes another classic mistake: that of assuming things “have” probabilities. They do not. A “conservative” and progressive will come to different probabilities of the same thing because they are conditioning on different information.
It’s that information that we must concentrate on. To paraphrase Á’s last sentence, an appreciation of the distinction between probability, knowledge, and decision, the many, many, many failures of global cooling then global warming predictions, and how poor academic philosophers can get their name in the papers can help elevate public discourse on these important topics, including the future of our sanity.
P.S. I ignored the ridiculousness about psychology as if it were philosophy, but clever students may like to submit those errors below.