Friday, 3 June 2016

What the EU referendum has taught me about climate change


I've gone through a phase of scepticism of eurosceptics because many of the arguments they advance as to why and how we should leave the EU have proven entirely bogus. There is a groupthink which will go the surprising lengths to maintain the orthodoxy when challenged. I've had to come at my thinking from scratch. And being that these same eurosceptics tend to be the same crowd as the climate sceptics there is every reason to hold them in equal doubt when they say climate change is doubtful.

And so should I now start believing in climate change? No. I don't now and I never did. The very foundation of science, as was taught to me, is that to get anything close to an accurate picture you must have a control - a precedent against which you measure your results. You must also use the same means of measuring. What I see in most climate science is statistical models underpinned by assumptions and statistical probabilities. There are too many variables and too many unknowns to arrive as anything conclusive, and the margins we are speaking of are so small as to fall well within the margin or error.

And central to the scientific method is having the intellectual honesty to admit when results do not match your expectations and follow where the evidence leads. This is a rare trait in humanity I find. Yet bizarrely there is a widely held belief that academics and scientists are somehow elevated above these very human flaws - that they are not subject to the same political and peer pressures, and that the competitive need for recognition does not distort their motivations.

But climate scientists have two assets on their side. Mystique and prestige. They have the high prestige of the UN and academic institutions on their side (which is nearly always a free licence to talk crap) and then there's the fact that what they do is inaccessible to us mere mortals, what with it being shrouded in complex mathematics.

They can say with some justification that "you wouldn't understand". So they are asking us to take their word on trust. And I don't. This referendum has reaffirmed my scepticism.

I have always regarded economists with suspicion but none more so than when it comes to the subject of Brexit. On this, I very much would understand. To plot any kind of economic projection you must first be in command of all the details. You must have an extensive knowledge of the institutions, the globalisation mechanics at play and the most likely form of leaving the EU. If you are choosing any of the popular straw men as put forth by either campaign on which to model your projections, then you're not going to get near to the answers.

What we have seen, though, is prestigious economists advancing their pet theories and insisting that their scenarios are the only scenarios. Individuals like Simon Wren-Lewis, who complain that economists are not heeded. We see yet more special pleading, insisting Brexit will make us worse off, calling on political allies to shore up their deeply political case.

They are not in the least bit interested in discussing their findings with critics. They see themselves of guardians of a sacred truth and it is impertinent of us plebs to question their wisdom. Wren-Lewis has it that:
"we now have more evidence besides letters that there is indeed an overwhelming consensus among economists, thanks to the Observer. True, not quite as overwhelming as I had imagined, but 9/10 counts as a consensus for economists."
The majority agree! There is a consensus! The science is settled. Now where have we heard that before?

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