If the Atlantic Monthly survives the new media hurricane in any form whatsoever, it will be because it maintains and strengthens its reputation as a good filter of information: a periodical that publishes what smart and competent people think about important topics, and so informs its readers. Once readers have to start throwing out whole sections of the magazine as untrustworthy, its likelihood of survival in any form is very low.
The Poor Man explains, slowly and patiently and politely, why publishing Gregg Easterbrook is the road to destruction:
The Poor Man Institute » Raise your hand if your opinion on global warming is worth more than s---. Whoa, whoa, whoa - not so fast, Mr. Easterbrook.: I would like to highlight one rather egregious item... from his dramatic announcement that, at long last, the science behind global warming has earned the coveted Gregg Easterbrook Seal of Sound Science:
When global-warming concerns became widespread, many argued that more scientific research was needed before any policy decisions. [sic] This was hardly just the contention of oil-company executives. “There is no evidence yet” of dangerous climate change, the National Academy of Sciences declared in 1991.
The thing is, Easterbrook was wrong about global warming, wrong and foolish, as he has been wrong and foolish about countless scientific questions over the years. This is not surprising, considering that he has no actual scientific background of any sort, and generally adopts a fashionably contrarian posture on whatever scientific topic he happens to be addressing. However, as he has (somehow) fashioned a professional career based on his “expertise” in “Environmental policy; Global warming; […] Science; Space policy”, it doesn’t look good if he is found out to be just another dilettante crackpot. So history - his, and everyone else’s - will have to be re-written, in order that he can claim that his anti-science position was informed, prudent, and consistant with the mainstream of scientific opinion. It was not.
Here is the relevent passage from that 15-year-old NAS report:
During the last 100 years the average global temperature has increased between 0.3° and 0.6°C (0.5° and 1.1°F). This temperature rise could be attributable to greenhouse warming or to natural climate variability; with today’s limited understanding of the underlying phenomena, neither can be ruled out.
Increases in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations probably will be followed by increases in average atmospheric temperature. We cannot predict how rapidly these changes will occur, how intense they will be for any given atmospheric concentration, or, in particular, what regional changes in temperature, precipitation, wind speed, and frost occurrence can be expected. So far, no large or rapid increases in the global average temperature have occurred, and there is no evidence yet of imminent rapid change. But if the higher GCM [General Circulation Models] projections prove to be accurate, substantial responses would be needed, and the stresses on this planet and its inhabitants would be serious.
Easterbrook cilps 5 words from page 2 of this report as evidence that the NAS was cautioning against making any policy decisions. Seventy pages later, in a chapter titled “Recommendations”, you find this:
Despite the great uncertainties, greenhouse warming is a potential threat sufficient to justify action now.
Ten pages of immediate policy recommendations follow. Again, this report came out 15 years ago.
The fundamental point is not that Gregg Easterbrook is not an authority on climate science - a glance at his resume could tell you that. Nor is it that, due to personal dishonesty or lack of interest, he doesn’t seem capable of absorbing not-at-all subtle points from minimally-technical overview documents put together - at great effort - by committees of actual world-class authorities, aimed directly at people who - like Easterbrook - who are interested in environmental policy. Nor is it that Easterbrook has a lot of poorly-concealed resentment directed at scientists and science … although, while we’re on the subject, I can’t resist bringing up this old chestnut:
Cosmologists talk rather casually of alternate dimensions during the Big Bang or of the “many worlds” hypothesis in which there are billions of parallel universes, perhaps an infinite number, occupying an infinity of different dimensions. Physicists rather casually speak of ten unobservable dimensions, in addition to the obvious three, existing in our own reality, all around us. […]
But the article left out the really interesting part, which is what the question of other dimensions says about the spiritual debate. At Yale, Princeton, Stanford, and other top schools, researchers discuss ten unobservable dimensions, or an infinite number of imperceptible universes, without batting an eye. Scientists banter offhandedly about invisible realities that might incorporate trillions of billions of galaxies, and suppose such things are real in spite of there being no physical evidence whatsoever to support such speculation. No one considers discussion of other dimensions to be peculiar. Ten unobservable dimensions, an infinite number of invisible parallel universes–hey, why not?
Yet if at Yale, Princeton, Stanford, or top schools, you proposed that there exists just one unobservable dimension–the plane of the spirit–and that it is real despite our inability to sense it directly, you’d be laughed out of the room. Or conversation would grind to a halt to avoid offending your irrational religious superstitions.
To modern thought, one extra spiritual dimension is a preposterous idea, while the notion that there are incredible numbers of extra physical dimensions gives no pause. Yet which idea sounds more implausible–one unseen dimension or billions of them?
Yeah, maaaaaaan. Additionally, while making up all these extra dimensions, these so-called “scientists” consistantly ignore the seminal rock group The Fifth Dimension, who were “too far” out and “cosmic” for any telescopes!
Though, like I said, that’s not the point. Most people aren’t authorities on climate science, or on much of anything, but that’s not some horrible moral failing. Most people don’t want to read all the way to chapter 9 of some assiduously dry science policy document; and, let’s face it, most people are full of weird ideas about shit they don’t know anything about. I know I am. The problem is that - for reasons I can’t begin to understand - Easterbrook is sitting in the chair that should be occupied by someone who knows what the hell they are talking about. There is no value added when you filter the ideas and opinions of experts through someone whose capacity for, and interest in, these subjects is so clearly limited. So now know-nothing Gregg Easterbrook believes that the science of global warming is solid enough to justify action. Who cares what Gregg Easterbrook thinks? There are plenty of professional scientists who are willing to write general interest stuff about their area of expertise, the public policy implications of their field, or whatever. Or, if you are really hard up, you could just reprint the relevent sections of some document produced by NAS or some similar organization, which, while not being particularly exciting reading, would have that most under-appreciated virtue of not being utter horseshit. There is simply no excuse for having burnouts like Easterbrook...