Thanks to Akshay for his comment. From it, I learned something important (see the end of this post.) I love pushback because then I get off my lazy ass and actually write a post.
Both Carl Sagan and Freeman Dyson are excellent exemplars of people who are both well-informed and well-meaning. I would add that they were not just highly intelligent but were also exceedingly wise. However they differed in their assessment of how critical the climate change issue was. This is not surprising because the matter is one on which reasonable people could disagree. It is important to note their divergent opinions and explain it.
There is an excellent video of Sagan appearing as a witness in a congressional hearing on climate change in December 1985. It is important and as expected a pleasure to listen to him explain the science and what in his opinion ought to be done. He was definitely an expert witness. (Senator Al Gore was present at the hearing. I like to imagine him thinking to himself, “I could make a killing in the marketplace by exploiting climate change hysteria.”)
Sagan’s main point was that if humanity does not act to prevent the global temperature rise due to the greenhouse effect, the consequences could be serious. We must move away from fossil fuel use and move toward the use of solar, nuclear fission and when it becomes available, fusion energy is his recommendation. All the major nations have to work together to solve this problem. “We are all in this greenhouse together,” he concludes.
Freeman Dyson, a mathematician and a physicist of the first order, held that while the climate is changing (as it always does), there was no reason to be overly alarmed about it. He too, like Sagan, looked at the evidence and arrived at a contrary conclusion.
It’s not exactly breaking news that experts disagree on scientific matters. The reasons could be empirical and analytical. Different data and different interpretations could lead to different conclusions.
Sagan passed away in December 1996, just 62 years old. It was a tragic loss for humanity. Dyson lived to a ripe old age of 96 and passed away in 2020. He was extraordinarily productive even in his 90s. One of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century, he was usually swimming against the tide. He was, as he liked to say, “a scientific heretic.”
Dyson survived Sagan by nearly a quarter century. Therefore, he had a lot more empirical evidence to arrive at his position than Sagan had. Climate models have become more sophisticated now that we have immensely more computing power than was available in the mid-199os. More power does not imply better models, though. Models depend on assumptions; assumptions can be wrong. Garbage in, garbage out.
The trouble we non-specialist face is that we are forced to depend on experts. Experts, as noted above, frequently disagree on important issues. It is up to our own judgment whom we trust. Between Sagan and Dyson, I prefer to go along with the latter. Sagan was deeply committed to figuring out the truth and he communicated his understanding with unparalleled grace and honesty. Generations of scientists were influenced by his popular books and the television series Cosmos.
I have spent a great deal of time reading and listening to people who are derisively characterized as “climate denialists.” The only denialism they are guilty of is denying the catastrophizing of the fact that the climate changes.
And now I put on my economics hat. Climate changes. And so does technology. We humans are the only life-form on earth that in the present epoch have the power to affect the global climate for better or for worse. We can, and do, change the climate. Anthropogenic climate warming through emissions of greenhouse gasses may be a factor but humanity is not powerless to deal with the changes.
We humans are problem creators undoubtedly but we are even better as problem solvers. I am persuaded toward optimism having examined the data and the analysis. Each one of us has to come to our own conclusions based on what we know. I rely on experts and their analysis, and I am entirely skeptical of news headlines.
News headlines are essentially click-bait written by semi-literate ignoramuses meant to attract the gullible. My rule of thumb is that if the headlines say it’s raining, I should not bother carrying an umbrella. Whatever the popular opinion is, I suspect that it is probably wrong. I take Mark Twain’s caution very seriously: “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”
To conclude this bit, let me make a few random observations. The Our World in Data is a precious resource. If Bill Gates even partly funded it, I am surprised since now the evidence points to him being a pretty evil character.
Thanks to Akshay, I got to know about JASON :
JASON members, known informally as “Jasons,” include physicists, biologists, chemists, oceanographers, mathematicians, and computer scientists, predominated by theoretical physicists. They are selected by current members, and, over the years, have included eleven Nobel Prize laureates and several dozen members of the United States National Academy of Sciences. All members have a wide range of security clearances that allow them to do their work.
I see their members (past and present) and I am impressed to see so many people I deeply admire — Murray Gell-Mann, John Wheeler, Hans Bethe, Steven Weinberg, Freeman Dyson, William Happer, and Steven Koonin.
Bottom line: choose your experts wisely. Not that our individual opinions matter but in the end our collective decision making does depend on how smart our individual choices are.
It’s all karma, neh?
3 thoughts on “Experts”
Climatism is a religion – It stopped being science a while back. But now it is a full on cult.
You see those morons in Europe stopping traffic with their “Stop Oil” signs are pretty much zombies
BTW, they were convinced in 1970 that there’s going to be an ice age pretty soon
LOL. John Kerry flies all over the world in his private jet preaching about climate crisis – contributes more carbon in 1 trip that some poor entire village in developing countries doesnt add in a full year.
In other words, choose the experts that agree with your opinion and discard all that don’t. In addition, paint the experts that you don’t agree with as having a profit-driven agenda.
Best way to trust experts is to see if they pay the price for being wrong. It is easier to trust my car mechanic as an expert because he either fixes the problem or does not get paid. That expertise is real.
It is not possible to trust an expert like Dr. Fauci because not only he does not pay the price for being wrong, on the contrary he gets more attention and fame for it.
For cases like climate change, it is hard for us to trust anyone once the problem becomes a political issue. No one has strong feelings about Pluto being a planet or not. Because we know either ways no individual in NASA is making money for a specific outcome. For climate “science” opposite is the case. Depending on who is in power and where you work, your bread gets buttered based on what side you support. In this case the experts are likely to be wrong, lying and creating needless panic.