Saturday, July 02, 2005

Penetrating the Fog, or, He Said She Said

A person I have reason to respect recently suggested that I was not following the hockey stick argument in the right place, and suggested I see an alternative source of information on the topic.

The Hockey Stick is a graph showing the reconstruction of Northern Hemisphere temperature for the past 1000 years. It's the subject of considerable controversy.

This controversy is a perfect example of the difficulty in trying to make sense of the world, and why I so like the line from The Quiet American that goes something like:
Sometimes, in order to preserve your sanity, you just have to pick sides.
The climate scientists behind the Hockey Stick run a blog called

Some of the chief Hockey Stick detractors run another blog (the alternative I was referred to) called

I decided to add ClimateAudit to my regular rounds because among the very few certainties I hold is that I am frequently mistaken. Maybe I'm too easily impressed with the Hockey Stick.

Well, it turns out I had read ClimateAudit before, and after a while had turned away. Now that I've again invested several hours in seeing what they have to say, I intend to read their stuff for a while longer, but frankly, I'm afraid I'm going to have to turn away again. I'm just not persuaded that their arguments are as likely as RealClimate's Hockey Stick to represent reality.

How do I make that determination? Malcolm Gladwell, the author of The Turning Point, wrote another book, Blink, reporting on how human beings deal with complex situations through a process of rapid cognition involving a process called "thin slicing". Gladwell's book is about snap judgments and first impressions, whereas the process I appear to use in deciding how to pick my side is longer-term. I think there's still some "thin slicing" type of stuff going on between my ears, and I think it's a valid enough mechanism. Valid enough, but subject to error, which means I always have to entertain some uncertainty about my positions.

Why turn away though? Because I only have a certain amount of time, and I don't want to spend it all trying to penetrate the fog enshrouding the issue of climate change. I have other interests and concerns, too.

Based on what I know and read and see, I think the odds are quite high that the scientists behind are more credible than the minerals consultants and economists behind I agree with Scientific American, whereas my referrer probably agrees more with the Wall Street Journal.

Scientists and economists. Maybe they're all priests. I'll stick with the scientists for now.
For every expert there's an equal and opposite reexpert. - Anonymous
Onward through the fog together.

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