Good on him
Via Treehugger, I just stumbled on this column from Reason magazine’s science writer Ronald Bailey from back in September. To summarize, he says: I was wrong about global warming, but I wasn’t paid to be wrong.
It would be easy to lampoon the column, or jump down Bailey’s throat. The commenters over at TH seem to be doing just that. But let’s not.
First, I think Bailey was obviously wrong to rely so heavily on satellite and other direct temperature measurements. More broadly, he was obviously wrong to substitute his own judgment (as a non-scientist) for the collective judgment of the IPCC. I disagree with him about that stuff, and still disagree with him on probably 90% of the policy questions we face.
But from what I can tell, Bailey’s column is a fairly admirable — and rare — mea culpa. He’s careful to detail all his occupational arrangements with various foundations and think tanks. He even discloses the amount of Exxon stock he owns.
More admirably, he owns up to his ideological biases:
And then there is also the matter of my intellectual commitments. We all have them. Since I work for a self-described libertarian magazine that should indicate to even the dimmest reader that I tend to have a healthy skepticism of government "solutions" to problems, including government solutions to environmental problems. I have long argued that the evidence shows that most environmental problems occur in open access commons-that is, people pollute air, rivers, overfish, cut rainforests, and so forth because no one owns them and therefore no one has an interest in protecting them. One can solve environmental problems caused by open access situations by either privatizing the commons or regulating it. It will not surprise anyone that I generally favor privatization. That’s because I believe that the overwhelming balance of the evidence shows that centralized top-down regulation tends to be costly, slow, often ineffective, and highly politicized. As a skeptic of government action, I had hoped that the scientific evidence would lead to the conclusion that global warming would not be much of a problem, so that humanity could avoid the messy and highly politicized process of deciding what to do about it. Unhappily, I now believe that balance of evidence shows that global warming could well be a significant problem. [my emphasis]
Bailey’s conversion, especially with the highlighted dynamic made explicit, could get through to others on the right who have locked themselves into this increasingly blinkered position. Perhaps through his example, his ideological fellow travelers can come to understand that it’s OK to believe something dirty hippies believe if it turns out the dirty hippies are correct.
People can be self-critical. Reasoning can be open and transparent. Minds can change. Let’s all hope ours have not frozen in place, and that each of us, when we inevitably find ourselves in error, is a mensch about it, as Bailey has been.