Saturday, June 03, 2017

Poets make pretty crook scientists

Clive James is apparently a wiz at languages, and his intellectual life has always been in the humanities.

His lengthy piece decrying climate change "alarmists", run in The Australian today with much prominence, is plainly, to anyone who has read widely on the subject, as worthless and utterly unreliable and out of date as a poet's analysis of the current state of a field of science could possibly be.  (It really feels like it was written 8 or 9 years ago, at the height of the question of the what the "pause" meant - not that serious scientists ever thought it meant that rising global temperatures had magically stopped.) 

There's a reason we don't rely on poets to instruct us on whether vaccines are good public policy, or what form of cancer treatment to take, or if Einstein could really be right because his ideas don't make much intuitive sense.   Fortunately, most know their limits. 

I don't wish James ill - he's been a very funny man in his day - but it is true that such ill formed views are literally dying out.


TimT said...

Really, 'artistic sorts with no scientific expertise with an opinion about global warming' probably describes 90 per cent of my friends... though they've never been attacked over it, because they've never held an un-PC opinion about it.

TimT said...

I've just finished reading one of his recent books - 'Later Readings'. He talks warmly about his family and only the odd spot of politics gets into the literary analysis. One does rather get the impression of a daggy, embarrassing dad who just happens to also be brilliant.

Steve said...

Tim, they probably also haven't appeared in a national newspaper giving their opinions high prominence.

I don't see that it's any more unfair to attack James' article than it would be to attack him if he had instead been written in support of Andrew Wakefields's thoroughly discredited views on vaccination and autism.

TimT said...

Sure, no problem with James' views being attacked. But it's the mode of attack that seems particularly silly: this artistic guy is writing an anti-AGW article even though he has no scientific expertise!

I mean, complete lack of expertise never stopped any of the others from blowing off steam about everyone's favourite topic. (And some of them are quite well connected and have long publishing histories in the MSM).

Interestingly, the common theme seems to be that of disappointment. They are all affectionate to James - and then here he comes along and writes about AGW in the media.... which is all well and good, but he actually disagrees with them!

The article is an entertaining enough James waffle, by the way. I skipped some bits but it does make some good points. James actually anticipates everyone's criticisms at the start by articulating it himself: he has no scientific expertise, but he has a lot of expertise in the media. And he's right to do so - most of these arty sorts get all their global warming information from the mass media, and as we know, the MSM is entirely unreliable on scientific reporting.

Steve said...

The problem with James' attempt at deflecting criticism ("hey I admit I'm no scientist, but I want to assess alarmists via what I do know: the use of the media) is that it's completely disingenuous. Because he clearly does go on to assess the skeptics as more credible and their (according to him) entirely valid points as not being rebutted. So he is making science based judgements, after all. In fact, he does it in the very opening paragraph - ridiculing "the missing heat is hiding in the oceans" statement which was never a ridiculous suggestion, and was, broadly speaking, true.

He also is completely unread, by the looks, on the various, detailed rebuttals that have appeared whenever a prominent article appears by Ridley, Booker, etc on sites (or in publications) run by actual climate scientists.

It is almost impossible to over criticise the article as to its (lack of) accuracy, fairness and knowledge of the actual state of play of the science.

But sure, if you want me to not use the fact that he's on the artist side as the reason why he has such hopeless judgement on this issue - I don't care. If anything, I thought I was being generous in trying to find an excuse for him!

As for Sinclair Davidson, with his quasi scientific knowledge of stats and economics - well, he doesn't even rate that possibility of an excuse.

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I've just finished reading one of his recent books - 'Later Readings'. He talks warmly about his family and only the odd spot of politics gets into the literary analysis.

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