Clive James in the dark
October 28, 2009
Whether or not you believe that the earth might have been getting warmer lately, if you are sceptical about whether mankind is the cause of it, the scepticism can be enough to get you called a denialist. It’s a nasty word to be called, denialist, because it calls up the spectacle of a fanatic denying the Holocaust.
On the word “denialist”, fair enough. But on what, pray, is James basing his own view?
I know next to nothing about climate science.
Oh! Well, shouldn’t James make the teensiest effort to find out a bit about it if he wants to write about the subject? It’s really not that hard. Of course, James didn’t say he knew nothing, only “next to nothing”. So what manner of microknowledge has got lodged in his warming cranial globe?
All I know is that many of the commentators in newspapers who are busy predicting catastrophe don’t know much about it either, because they keep saying that the science is settled and it isn’t.
That is all he knows about climate science! It’s not much! But wait, how does he know it?
I still can’t see that there is a scientific consensus. There are those for, and those against. Either side might well be right, but I think that if you have a division on that scale, you can’t call it a consensus.
In this way, compulsive chiasmist Clive James exhibits the curious asymmetry often found in protestations of “scepticism”: knowing literally nothing about the science, he finds himself able to be “sceptical” of positive claims about AGW, while being generously credulous of claims by self-described “sceptics”. (I note in passing that this works just as splendidly for “Intelligent Design” or for Holocaust denial: since there are people who propound those views, we must on James’s logic also be allowed to say that there is no “consensus” on evolution or the Holocaust, without bothering to find out the facts for ourselves.) As it happens, if one makes the seconds-long effort on google to check, one finds that 97% of active climate researchers agree that AGW exists. Can’t call it a “consensus”? Really?
But that’s not all; there is a general moral-philosophical lesson here too about the future of the human race!
Sceptics, say the believers, don’t care about the future of the human race. But being sceptical has always been one of the best ways of caring about the future of the human race. For example, it was from scepticism that modern medicine emerged, questioning the common belief that diseases were caused by magic, or could be cured by it.
That’s an interesting example. Let’s imagine what James might have said when “modern medicine” was still in its infancy:
I don’t know anything about biology; all I know is that some people are insisting on this new-fangled germ theory of disease, and others say it’s nonsense? So really one ought to be sceptical of the existence of these so-called “bacteria”, and this proves my massive-brained love for humanity!
Thus has laugher-at-Japanese-people Clive James provided, for all our mental relaxation, a beautiful general method of asserting one’s moral superiority without ever having to trouble one’s intellect. As long as one is content to wallow in unashamed ignorance, one may continue to congratulate oneself on being caringly “sceptical” about everything under the sun.
What are you sceptical about, readers?