Sunday, May 29, 2011
Ron Smith: A Wingnut fights back
In the very first paragraph, Edmonds gives two examples of the sort of ‘wingnuttery’ he is talking about. One of these is resisting the challenge of ‘climate change’. I suppose he means by this, expressing doubt about the thesis that the planet faces a serious problem concerning anthropogenic global warming. I also suppose that he intends us to understand that persons that have such doubts, such as, for example, Associate Professor de Freitas at Auckland University and Dr de Lange at Waikato (as well as all members of the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition) are unhinged activists, etc... The 31,486 American scientists who recently established a website dedicated to this same proposition, presumably fall into the same category.
Readers who wish to check on the occupations and professional qualifications of these malicious propagators of public misinformation may do so at their website (http://www.endoftheworld2012.net/20100210%2031000%20Scientist%20disagree.pdf).
In regard to the second example of ‘wingnuttery’ (also in the first paragraph) it is less clear what the offending thesis is. Edmonds refers simply to the challenge of ‘resource depletion’. He presumably has in mind some form of denial that contemporary humanity faces a resource crisis, rather like the well-known feed shortage which was about to cripple (horse) transportation at the turn of the last century, or the earlier anxiety about peak coal, and I am taking it that the offending propagators of misinformation are those who are optimistic about humanity’s potential to supply its future needs by innovation and discovery.
But Edmonds’ article is not so much concerned with exposing the follies of climate change sceptics, or resource optimists, or even homeopaths or purveyors of natural remedies. It is rather to advise a threatened scientific community on how to deal with such persons. He has ten wonderfully patronising rules, which reveal no capacity for self-awareness on his part, whatsoever. ‘Use simple language’, he tells us in rule 2. Of course that is important when dealing with simple persons of limited education, like the thirty thousand American scientists, mentioned above. Rule three is: ‘Respond to rudeness in a calm manner’. By rudeness he presumably means referring to persons with whom you disagree as ‘wingnuts, or ‘unhinged activists’. It seems like a good principle, to me and I am certainly attempting to follow rule 3 in my response to Dr Edmonds article. ‘Remember-wingnuts are people too!’, he tells us in rule 4, going on to observe that, ‘no one is completely rational’, and that we may all suffer from ’intellectual attribution bias’. What is astonishing about this, is that Edmonds himself does not appear to consider the possibility that it may apply to him. There may be a problem in attempting to discuss the complexities of science with a person who has no science background, but to conflate this with the difficulties that arise in the highly-politicised scientific debates that are a feature of modern life is a great mistake, or simply a malicious slur.
In the end, though, the most surprising thing about Edmonds article is that this most intolerant piece should appear in the official journal of New Zealand Skeptics. ‘Irrationality waxes once again’, said the last editorial. It sure does, and it is close at hand.
at 4:04 PM