Thursday, April 03, 2008

Rolling the Dice on Climate Change

I just read this

Dangerous games: selfishness v altruism on climate change

on the Enviroment Blog over at New scientist magazine. The thrust of that post was that people tend to risk all if they think there is an even chance of personal benefit. This means that if people think they have a 50/50 chance of coming out ahead by not doing anything about climate change well, bring on the Hummers and coal fired generators(even my so-called environmental activist brother idles his truck in summer to keep the ac working, and burns logs in his fireplace year round).

When you consider the proportion of popular press articles arguing for or against climate change(50/50) versus the peer reviewed scientific articles(100% the climate is getting warmer, we are responsible, and the consequences, conservatively speaking, look bad).

Journalistic "Balance" in a broader sense is guilty of a logical fallacy - an appeal to authority(Govier, 1988). The arguements or claims of individuals and organisations that have limited knowledge or a vested interest in presenting false information are give the same weight as that of those whose knowledge is expected to be accurate. Another logical fallacy- an appeal to ignorance("How are we supposed to know, we're journalists, not scientists, so we gave them equal billing) is even more despicable, because it serves to hide bias- 'We report, you decide!"

I admire the polymath, the jack-of-all-trades, those with broad talents- but a press release is not the same as a body of careful scientific research. The individuals presented to give balance, individuals who often are very accomplished in many fields, are not the same as the scientists who do specialised research into this, and other fields of inquiry. Journalists are pandering to our own worst instincts when journalists give equal weight to climate change deniers.

Govier, Judy. A Practical Study of Arguement. Wadsworth, Belmont,CA 1988, p329

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"If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country."
-E.M. Forster