Bucking conventional wisdom: the new black
A couple days ago, Roger Pielke Jr. posted about "non-skeptic heretics," a group of which he and Gregg Easterbrook are allegedly a part. I left a slightly intemperate comment about it, to which Roger responded at some length. Several issues are getting run together. I’m going to take them one at a time.
The least significant in the grand scheme of things, but most personally aggravating to me, is this question of a "third way" (in general, not on climate change in particular).
It is conventional wisdom now that every issue is defined by two shrill, partisan camps, and that it is a mark of intellectual integrity to choose a path between them.
As a heuristic, this may have once had some value, but today it’s become a fetish. A tic.
Let’s be clear: There is no empirical significance in falling between, or even just outside, two opposing positions. A position’s truth value has nothing to do with its number of adherents, or its adherents’ rhetorical acumen. The desire not to be a "joiner," not to belong to a "tribe," is a matter of temperament, not empiricism.
Over at No Se Nada, Kevin makes much of the fact that he and Roger "aren’t afraid to dissent from the conventional wisdom, even when dissenting gets them a lot of flak." But what flak? There’s no more reliable shortcut to flattering attention these days than disagreeing with conventional wisdom. The press and the blogosphere love nothing so much as a man-bites-dog story: A Democrat criticizing Democrats, an environmentalist supporting nukes, a Republican opposing a tax cut, a CEO preaching sustainability, or a global warming believer disputing the importance of cutting CO2 emissions. Far from being particularly courageous, counter-intuitive stances are catnip to a feline media. Why do you think Joe Lieberman and John McCain are always on television?
Guess what, though? Some folks have figured it out that the media will valorize the in-between. So they deliberately lie. They deliberately push one extreme, dragging the middle in their direction. Knee-jerk "balance" unwittingly serves the side that’s willing to lie the most.
This is not to denigrate independent thinking. But everybody thinks they’re thinking independently.
I hereby decree: "both sides disagree with me" no longer counts as a stand-in for "I’m right." It’s possible, and frequently true, that one side’s right and the other is wrong, even if many of the correct people argue poorly or are otherwise annoying. It’s simply empirically fantastical to think that partisanship is automatically disqualifying. Gregg Easterbrook (and John Tierney, and Ronald Bailey, and Michael Shermer) have struggled for so long not to be "on the side" of "global warming alarmists" that they have clung to false beliefs. Is that somehow preferable to "tribal thinking"?
Not believing something because a "tribe" believes it is just as fallacious as the converse.
(NB: This is not to impugn Roger’s motives. He argues his positions in good faith and is uncommonly open to other viewpoints. But still, I suspect that he, like lots of smart people, has a temperamental bias against tribalism that leads him in the wrong direction just as often as the right one.)
Next, on to the question of mitigation vs. adaptation.