The less you know, the less you think there is to know

I’m enjoying the heck out of a new blog called You Are Not So Smart, which-according to its About page-is “devoted to self delusion and irrational thinking.”

Perhaps you are wondering which blog isn’t, but of course this one is actually devoted to exploring and explaining the reasons for self delusion and irrational thinking, which puts it in rather more rarefied company.

For example, this post on the Dunning-Kruger effect helps explain why it is such a headache-inducing waste of time to argue about global warming with people who’ve gotten their entire education on the subject from insecure weathermen and furious right-wing screeds about the University of East Anglia’s email leak.

“The more skilled you are, the more practice you’ve put in, the more experience you have, the better you can compare yourself to others. As you strive to improve, you begin to better understand where you need work. You start to see the complexity and nuance; you discover masters of your craft and compare yourself to them and see where you are lacking.

On the other hand, the less skilled you are, the less practice you’ve put in and the fewer experiences you have, the worse you are at comparing yourself to others on certain tasks. Your peers don’t call you out because they know as much as you do, or they don’t want to hurt your feelings. Your narrow advantage over novices leads you to think you are the shit.”

The above quote comes from a line of reasoning about why, say, so many obvious incompetents seem so surprised to be told that’s what they are when auditioning for American Idol, but it also seems to neatly sum up the mindset of someone who has spent about five minutes actually considering the body of knowledge known as climate science (as opposed to the time they’ve spent considering the body of “knowledge” informing the industry that has been created to defeat the findings of climate scientists).

And a quote from Charles Darwin thrown in by the post’s author seems to neatly encapsulate the desperate feeling of frustration that so often comes over me in discussions with opponents of the theory of anthropogenic global warming (AGW), or opponents of vaccines, or opponents of Keynesian economic interventions, and on and on.

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”

At any rate, I am reminded of the form response I recently prepared in the course of the last on-line argument I’ll ever have about global warming. As it happened, I got the last word in that argument without having to deploy this, but I offer it here for your own reuse and modification in similar circumstances. You don’t have to credit me:

[Name redacted], I would really encourage you to check out a book, like the one I linked or any other similar one you like, that drinks the Kool-Aid and talks about (1) what the AGW conspiracists would at least like you to believe, and (2) the evidence they claim to have that supports that belief. You might also want to double-check critics’ claims about whether the IPCC “ignores” something, which you can easily do here.

Then you will have a better idea of the types of objections and arguments that would be necessary to really confront the theory as a whole. The ones you offer are simply insufficient. You can quickly prove this to yourself on line, if you’re really interested-if you’re arguing in good faith. Let me know if you want some help devising search terms, but I’m not going to get into a link battle. I’ve had lots of these discussions, and I decided recently that-even if I could convince every self-styled “skeptic” (most of them not skeptical enough by half) of what I think are the error of their ways-it’s too big a job to do for free.

This is because, in my experience, the skeptic tends to set an impossibly high standard for pro-AGW evidence but has virtually no lower limit on the quality of the anti-AGW evidence they will accept.

More specifically, before they will be convinced, they demand to see it proved that-unlike any other scientific discipline (or, indeed, any other complex human enterprise in general)-the field of climate science does not include at least some charlatans or incompetents, or that there is not a single weakness (if only intuitively apparent to non-specialists) in any component of the theories proposed or data used. I can’t prove these things, of course, but even if I could, I’d still have to respond to criticisms like “but Al Gore lives in a big house” or “but Obama burns fossil fuels when he flies around in Air Force One” or “but bankers have figured out a way to get rich from global warming just like they have from everything else.”

In fact, I have often looked into objections raised by skeptics, and have never needed more than a few minutes of searching to understand what they have overlooked, or how little effect their claims would have on the validity of the overarching theory even if true. This is because the edifice that is the theory of AGW is very large and complex, and it is built on a broad, deep foundation consisting of hundreds of years of data from dozens of fields. The building will not fall down, in other words, just because someone pulls out a few bricks.

I know my saying that won’t necessarily be enough to convince you-it’s not meant to be-but I hope you’re enough of a critical thinker to avoid concluding that my unwillingness to rehearse the entire theory of AGW before your eyes means that I’m not credible, and that you will continue to ask challenging questions of any sources you consult on this topic. Good luck in your ongoing studies!

By the way, in case you were wondering if I would like to debate you on any of the non-AGW topics I mentioned, I’ll have to beg off there, too. But thanks for reading!

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