Morality tales

Sometimes you read the same column over and over again. Today provides one example. A still very confused Robert Samuelson writes:

>But the overriding reality seems almost un-American: We simply don’t have a solution for this problem. As we debate it, journalists should resist the temptation to portray global warming as a morality tale — as Newsweek did — in which anyone who questions its gravity or proposed solutions may be ridiculed as a fool, a crank or an industry stooge. Dissent is, or should be, the lifeblood of a free society.

A little context. Newsweek featured a story about industry-funded global warming deniers–the oil and auto-industry types that claim the global warming “consensus” isn’t all that, or that “consensus” shouldn’t be the basis of such judgments, or worse, that the whole thing is a hoax dreamed up by Al Gore for the purposes of self-aggrandizement.:

>Since the late 1980s, this well-coordinated, well-funded campaign by contrarian scientists, free-market think tanks and industry has created a paralyzing fog of doubt around climate change. Through advertisements, op-eds, lobbying and media attention, greenhouse doubters (they hate being called deniers) argued first that the world is not warming; measurements indicating otherwise are flawed, they said. Then they claimed that any warming is natural, not caused by human activities. Now they contend that the looming warming will be minuscule and harmless. “They patterned what they did after the tobacco industry,” says former senator Tim Wirth, who spearheaded environmental issues as an under secretary of State in the Clinton administration. “Both figured, sow enough doubt, call the science uncertain and in dispute. That’s had a huge impact on both the public and Congress.”

The article concerns the ridiculous amount of coverage the naysayers have gotten–especially in light of the strength of their view. But Samuelson seems to think this amounts to squelching dissent. Worse than this, he thinks global warming is an undeniable scientific fact. But he also seems to think that people who deny undeniable scientific facts ought to have equal time or consideration when it comes to public discourse–for every global warming story, perhaps, we ought to have a global warming denier present the “con” position. For every story about DNA, then, perhaps we ought to have someone represent the homuncular theory of human reproduction–dissent is the lifeblood of a democracy after all.

Few scientists would want to squelch dissent about any topic. But many would rather the media played things differently, that it represented scientific authorities (and cranks) in their proper context. Dissenters–such as science fiction novelists–perhaps ought not to get any coverage in a story about a scientific fact. But unfortunately that’s not the case. And the net result of the controversy style of press coverage is the confused mind of Robert Samuelson. While he thinks global warming is a reality we should do something about, he doubts whether anything can be done to stop it. Even he ought to realize that that is a separate question from whether it occurs.

Besides, this–like any other scientific question–is a fundamentally moral question. Do I believe things that have basis in reality, or do I deny them in the face of all evidence?

2 thoughts on “Morality tales”

  1. “Dissent is, or should be, the lifeblood of a free society.”

    I’m so confused. He just spent nine paragraphs talking about how this is a serious problem for which he thinks there are no good answers; I hesitate to believe that this is true, but whatever… And then he ends by saying we should still be giving serious attention to all the people who don’t think it’s a problem (in spite of their questionable methods) because this somehow provides something fundamentally valuable to society…

    As an aside, I’ve never read this guy, but I assume he writes the same kind of stuff all the time. In the above sentence, is he talking about a free society’s need to provide “the ability to be a dissenter” or its need to provide a platform which gives equal consideration to everyone’s ideas, irregardless of the facts/interests that motivate them? From this article, it seems that he thinks the first entails the second… but that’s just ludicrous…

  2. That seems right Goose. There’s a link in there to some of Samuelson’s previous work. There he takes the same line that global warming is a reality, but one whose solution is unclear. At the same time, he insists on the line that dissent about whether or not there it’s true has some sort of value. Part of the problem with Samuelson is that he confuses sensationalized headlines (not even the stories) with the actual problem and solution. So rather than gripe about these, perhaps he could expend his energy on all of the great money-making schemes for selling solar panels and such that would both reduce carbon emissions and make people some old-fashioned cash.

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