Look closer. Think harder. Choose the sound argument over the clever one.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Availability Entrepreneurs

Hats off to the NYT's John Tierney, for pointing out the selective reporting by the "availability entrepreneurs," and experts' reluctance to cross them: In 2008, a 100 Percent Chance of Alarm:

You’re in for very bad weather. In 2008, your television will bring you image after frightening image of natural havoc linked to global warming. You will be told that such bizarre weather must be a sign of dangerous climate change — and that these images are a mere preview of what’s in store unless we act quickly to cool the planet.

Unfortunately, I can’t be more specific. ...

But there’s bound to be some weird weather somewhere, and we will react like the sailors in the Book of Jonah. When a storm hit their ship, they didn’t ascribe it to a seasonal weather pattern. They quickly identified the cause (Jonah’s sinfulness) and agreed to an appropriate policy response (throw Jonah overboard).

Today’s interpreters of the weather are what social scientists call availability entrepreneurs: the activists, journalists and publicity-savvy scientists who selectively monitor the globe looking for newsworthy evidence of a new form of sinfulness, burning fossil fuels. ...

The availability cascade is a self-perpetuating process: the more attention a danger gets, the more worried people become, leading to more news coverage and more fear. ...

“Many people concerned about climate change,” Dr. Sunstein says, “want to create an availability cascade by fixing an incident in people’s minds. Hurricane Katrina is just an early example; there will be others. I don’t doubt that climate change is real and that it presents a serious threat, but there’s a danger that any ‘consensus’ on particular events or specific findings is, in part, a cascade.”

Once a cascade is under way, it becomes tough to sort out risks because experts become reluctant to dispute the popular wisdom, and are ignored if they do. Now that the melting Arctic has become the symbol of global warming, there’s not much interest in hearing other explanations of why the ice is melting — or why the globe’s other pole isn’t melting, too.

I'm skeptical of global warming because it seems mired in observer bias. In other areas of research, observer bias is presumed until disproven, as it should be. In climate science, models upon models obscure the fact that each model is another vehicle for more observer bias.

Via Instapundit

More, 1/12: Tierney, again (emphasis mine):

If scientists can’t even agree on what has happened in the past, imagine how much more difficult it is to figure out the future. I’m not suggesting that the global warming isn’t real, or that the uncertainties justify inaction — we take out insurance all the time against risks that are uncertain. I’d like to see a carbon tax. But I’d also like to see fewer dogmatists claiming that the scientific debate is over.

...

“Rather than select among predictions, why not verify them all? ... Once predictions are made, they should not be forgotten, but evaluated against experience. This is not skepticism at work, just the good old scientific method.”

Well put.


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