Saturday, October 13, 2007

The "demigod" v. the scientist

You’d expect the Democrats at the NY Times to be gushing over Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize selection and you're right. The Times headlines its story:

With Prize, Gore Is Vindicated Without Having to Add President to Résumé
It follows with "reporting" such as this:
“Why would he run for president when he can be a demigod?” said Representative Rahm Emanuel, Democrat of Illinois, who was a top aide in the Clinton White House. “He now towers over all of us because he’s pure.”
Meanwhile, those of you who like your news to be less gushy and more grounded in facts will appreciate Danish scientist Bjorn Lomborg’s Boston Globe op-ed which begins:
This year’s Nobel Peace Prize justly rewards the thousands of scientists of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. These scientists are engaged in excellent, painstaking work that establishes exactly what the world should expect from climate change.

The other award winner, former US vice president Al Gore, has spent much more time telling us what to fear. While the IPCC's estimates and conclusions are grounded in careful study, Gore doesn't seem to be similarly restrained.

Gore told the world in his Academy Award-winning movie to expect 20-foot sea-level rises over this century. He ignores the findings of his Nobel co-winners, who conclude that sea levels will rise between only a half-foot and two feet over this century, with their best expectation being about one foot. That's similar to what the world experienced over the past 150 years.

Likewise, Gore agonizes over the accelerated melting of ice in Greenland and what it means for the planet, but overlooks the IPCC's conclusion that, if sustained, the current rate of melting would add just 3 inches to the sea-level rise by the end of the century.

Gore also takes no notice of research showing that Greenland's temperatures were higher in 1941 than they are today. (emphasis added)

The politician-turned-moviemaker loses sleep over a predicted rise in heat-related deaths. There's another side of the story that's inconvenient to mention: rising temperatures will reduce the number of cold spells, which are a much bigger killer than heat. The best study shows that by 2050, heat will claim 400,000 more lives, but 1.8 million fewer will die because of cold. Indeed, according to the first complete survey of the economic effects of climate change for the world, global warming will actually save lives.

Gore has helped the world to worry. Unfortunately, our attention is diverted from where it matters. Climate change is not the only problem facing the globe.

Gore concentrates on his call for world leaders to cut CO2 emissions, yet there are other policies that would do much more for the planet. Over the coming century, developing nations will be increasingly dependent on food imports from developed countries.

This is not primarily a result of global warming, but a consequence of more people and less arable land in the developing world.

The number of hungry people depends much less on climate than on demographics and income. Extremely expensive cuts in carbon emissions could mean more malnourished people. If our goal is to fight malnutrition, policies like getting nutrients to those who need them are 5,000 times more effective at saving lives than spending billions of dollars cutting carbon emissions.

Likewise, global warming will probably slightly increase malaria, but CO2 reductions will be far less effective at fighting this disease than mosquito nets and medication, which can cheaply save 850,000 lives every year. By contrast, the expensive Kyoto Protocol will prevent just 1,400 deaths from malaria each year.
The entire Times story is here; Lomborg’s entire op-ed is here.

I highlighted and linked. Now you decide: the “demigod” Gore or the scientist Lomborg.


Debrah said...

Well, look at it this way.

All the applause might help get Gore off the doughnut circuit.

Insufficiently Sensitive said...

Gore's the same jerk who put on a show of bellowing for the media that Bush 'betrayed' his country.

In school he sucked at any courses that addressed science or math.

His behavior in Congress was more or less rational regarding defense, but as VP his ethics were exposed as he worked the phones for partisan politics on company time and equipment. 'No controlling legal authority' illuminates his sense of his own entitlement to behavior that he'd proscribe for others.

So now he's set himself up as high priest of GW. But rather than a priest, who can usually preach the gospel convincingly, he acts as an agit-prop commissar. Refusing several requests to defend his cinematic assertions by debating them with real scientists, he simply declares his propaganda true by Authority. He has fetched it down from the mountain, and we must ingest it and obey. Maybe he thinks he's Moses.

His acolytes in the press certainly seem to think so.

Rational voices like that of Bjorn Lomborg provide a breath of fresh air to counter the Gore miasma and the anticapitalist support for it. It's up to us to be sure that channels are kept open for counter-voices like Lomborg's, in spite of the deafening hosannas of the GW megachurch.

Insufficiently Sensitive said...

Lomborg, surprisingly enough, is not a scientist. He's a statistician with a PhD in political science. But his assembling of the work of real scientists into the supporting data for 'The Skeptical Environmentalist' was a service to the world, and clearly showed that the costs of a political stampede into imposing anti-industrial restrictions would return far fewer benefits to humans overall than would investing the same resources into providing safe water supplies to undeveloped nations.

This, of course, was heresy to the politicians who think that science is settled by majority vote. That included the editors of 'Scientific American', once a good magazine but now a hotbed of politically biased activists who are fundamentalists in the GW church. Lomborg was fiercely criticized in the magazine, but refuted the critics decisively - whereupon the editors refused him any more space, and silenced him by using copyright laws to prevent his quoting any of the articles in future writings.

This is a vicious battle, but Lomborg is also a very capable exponent of logic and rational discussion - which have been abandoned by many of the 'scientists' who promote the GW gospel. And abandoned also by mendacious politicians such as Al Gore.

JWM said...

To Debrah,

"Doughnut circuit" is new term to me. Is it the same as "rubber chicken circuit?"

To IS,

I agree with almost everything you say and I want to ask you a question, but first two items:

1) You've always been a very civil commenter who relied on facts and logic, so I was a little surprised to see "jerk" and "sucked."

They don't cross the line but they get close.

2) Lomborg is a statistician, defined by Merriam-Webster as:

one versed in or engaged in compiling statistics

statistics is, again according to M-W,

a branch of mathematics dealing with the collection, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of masses of numerical data

and mathematics is, again M-W,

the science of numbers and their operations, interrelations, combinations, generalizations, and abstractions and of space configurations and their structure, measurement, transformations, and generalizations

Now my question:

I have some fading memories of Scientific American's treatment of Lomborg. Am I right in recalling that it was SA's contention, explicitly stated, that SA, by taking on Lomborg, was "defending science?"

I thought at the time that SA's treatment of Lomborg was very unfair to him and its readers.

Thank you Debrah and IS.


Debrah said...

To John--

"Doughnut circuit" refers to the time after Gore lost the election--although some still tell him that he won (another lie some gladly accept as fact)--when he grew a beard and began to gain so much weight.

He took on a hefty professorial look as he meandered about giving "lectures".

Some began to call it his "doughnut circuit" to describe the weight gain and his traveling around giving talks.

It should be remembered that much of Gore's past has been embellished and even invented.

Both he and John Kerry had lower GPA's in college than GWB, yet the media have always tried to make them into "intellectuals".

Gore flunked out of both law school and divinity his classmates reported him to be quite taken with the use of "pot".

His father, the late Gore Sr--who, btw, was against the Civil Rights Act and voted that way decades ago. At a time when his contemporaries were becoming more progressive, Gore Sr. seemed to remain quite the bigot.

Revealing look into the household in which Al Gore Jr. was raised. Not very "liberal" I would say.

There are so many falsehoods the media perpetuates. The one that GWB is dumb ranks among the most hilarious.

He's a bad speaker, but he's dumb like a fox.

Debrah said...

Make that perpetuate--plural.

Even Less Sensitive said...


I stand well and truly busted.

Sometimes my rural upbringing (not to mention the jolly hours I spent in finishing school at Fort Bragg) seizes control of the language department. However, in self-defense:

When Gore put on his dramatic production, turning purple for the cameras and bellowing about 'betrayal' by Bush (thus preceding MoveOn by three years - he is a leader, isn't he), he himself moved far beyond civil discourse. The First Amendment gives him license to do so, but that's the President of all of us he was bellowing at, and he furnished no evidence of any real betrayal. In short, he was simply namecalling for the cameras, and thereby acting as a jerk.

However, we might rephrase his mediocre performance in scientific studies as 'logically challenged', or 'verging on innumerate', or maybe 'the excesses of a youthful pothead', and cast enough aspersions to satisfy me.

He is, recall, attempting to throw his weight around among real scientists, and not all of them are as willing to yield him respect as do those with political agendas aimed at undermining the economy of the United States.

My memories of the SA - Lomborg dustup are fading too, so I can't recall (without a lot of Googling) whether SA was exactly defending 'science' against him. If not, it was close enough to that sort of arrogance to infuriate this kid, who was raised on SA.

My first inkling that SA was 'turning' from the rigorous thinking of the scientific method was its edition that carried an article strongly praising the urban paradise of Pyongyang - its clean streets, its order, its exquisite urban planning. There was nothing scientific about that paean to totalitarianism. Further readings among its articles on nuclear weapons diplomacy made clear that 'peace through strength' was furthest from the editor's minds, and that any move by the USA toward strengthening defenses would be excoriated by the selected writers of the day.

Then came The Skeptical Environmentalist. Four scientists were specially invited by SA to critique it. All did hatchet jobs - no surprise here, they were all GW church members. A common theme was that Lomborg was not a scientist (he never claimed it) and should just butt out of the GW discussion because he one way or another 'couldn't comprehend' what the big kids were talking about.

SA gave him just a small space to reply, but he made good use of it in rebuttal. In his book, he'd accepted the conclusions of a galaxy of scientific papers, and worked them into his discussion and conclusions of how humans might prosper best under GW circumstances (I have the book, and his assertions are footnoted and defended at least as well as KC Johnson's. This I consider high praise).

In my opinion, he walked all over the scientists, who were pushing an agenda far beyond simple inquiry into the causes and nature of things. I claim some knowlege of science as an engineer, and saw no intellectual wrongdoing by Lomborg. But he busted them more for their agendas than their science, and this they couldn't stand. Then of course the Editors slammed the pages shut, proving once and for all that they were right and he wasn't.

So it goes when the commissars take charge.

Anonymous said...

AL & Hillary,what a lovely duo for 2008!

Anonymous said...

A good rule of thumb is never to disagree with Freeman Dyson.Although Al and his sup-porters haven't heard of him.
My undergrad and grad degrees were in science,but I certainly don't have the knowledge or the math to have an informed opinion on global warming.Hence,I don't pontificate.
An aunt By marriage) told me she "hates Bush " because of warming.I asked her to convert 20Centigrade to Fahrenheit.When she couldn't,i suggested she shouldn't voice a srong opinion.I was asked to leave Thanksgivimg dinner for that.
My aunt is a nice person.My uncle is a rich orthodontist;it makes my aunt feel good to mouth these platitudes.But thought is not prominent in her make up.

Anonymous said...

Corwin - What a nasty turn of mind you have. You would be welcome (and have fun at) t-giving at my house.

People can't predict a horse race or the next hurricane season - of course they can't predict the weather in any specific sense for the next hundred years.

People may be right that human interaction with the env. may be adding to a natural global warming cycle, or it may just be a natural cycle of temp. extremes.

But any sensible person can see this is just a power grab by the PETA ilk who only want the SWAT teams to own hummers.