Everyone knows the old adage that “even a stopped clock is right twice a day.” Then there’s that saying (which I’d always thought was a quotation from Mark Twain, but which turns out, at least according to some thinly sourced web pages, to be a quotation from someone named Lee Segall):
A man with one watch knows what time it is; a man with two watches is never quite sure.
Lately I’ve found both metaphors fighting for dominance as I read various climate change blogs. I’ve got my stopped clocks: blogs by committed partisans on one side (like Joe Romm) or the other (like Steve McIntyre), whom I’m used to reading with a grain of salt, since I recognize that, like a trial, I’m only hearing one side’s case at a time. Maybe they’re misleading me (well, they’re almost certainly misleading me, at least in the sense that they are going to exclude or de-emphasize truths damning to their case), but they still might be right, at least sometimes.
But in my post-Gleickian reading of a wider range of opinions, I’m now the man with two watches. And since they’re two stopped watches, with ideologically embedded opinions resistent to change, those stopped watches are never going to tell the same time.
It’s all quite bothersome, metaphorically speaking. Anyway, here are a few examples from my last few days’ reading.
- Why the Climate Debate is on a Road to Nowhere – Keith Kloor at his Collide-a-scape blog on Fred Singer (see next item).
- Climate Deniers Are Giving Us Skeptics a Bad Name – S. Fred Singer writing in The American Thinker.
I’ve been reading about Singer lately as I work my way through Oreskes’ and Conway’s Merchants of Doubt. For decades, according to Oreskes and Conway, Singer has made a habit of taking up contrarian scientific positions (on ozone depletion, the health risks of secondhand tobacco smoke, and global warming), then made use of media “fairness” policies to get himself lots of camera time (and corporate research funding). So yes, I’m sure the extreme denialists make it more difficult for Singer to stake out his contrarian-but-science-y-enough-to-be-credible positions. But I also suspect him of promoting a false equivalence by claiming it’s the extremists on both sides who are wrong, and lonely him in the middle who’s right.
- Jolis Reviews Mann – Steve McIntyre at his Climate Audit blog on Anne Jolis of the Wall Street Journal op-ed page. Jolis has written a negative review of Michael Mann’s The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars (currently waiting on my shelf while I finish Merchants of Doubt).
- The Climate Kamikaze – the aforementioned Anne Jolis review in the WSJ of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars.
- The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: The Book Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal Doesn’t Want You to Read – Joe Romm in his Climate Progress blog cites chapter and verse on Jolis’ past transgressions, then subjects the negative review of Mann’s book to a quick fisking.
Enough with the fighting over hockey sticks. How about a nice, non-contentious topic?
- UK Greens Divided on Nuclear Power – Thomas Miller writing in the Breaththrough Institute’s Breakthrough Blog.
Breakthrough is the think tank founded by Nordhaus and Shellenberger to push their politically liberal attack on what they view as the failures of environmentalism, more or less. Anyway, they’re big on the idea (also articulated fairly persuasively by Lovelock in The Revenge of Gaia, which I recently read and enjoyed) that environmentalists (and the public generally) greatly overestimate the risks of nuclear power, and that a major commitment to nuclear fission is the only way for us to replace our electrical generating capacity in the short term without wrecking either the economy or the climate. (Not sure if that last is really a Breakthrough position. It’s certainly Lovelock’s position.)
- Prospects for Nuclear Power – A paper by Lucas W. Davis in the American Economic Association’s Journal of Economic Perspectives (the link is to the abstract, but the full text is available as a PDF).
Davis argues that even if you could overcome the sorts of irrational nuke fears described by Lovelock and exacerbated by Fukushima, nuclear plants would still not be economically viable, due to the recent drop in price for natural gas due to techniques like fracking.
- Monsieur Fouche, Meet Professor Gleick – Jonathon Zasloff writing in the Legal Planet blog.
I don’t have an ideologically opposed “second watch” for this item, but I don’t feel like a post is complete these days if it doesn’t have a Gleick link. In this piece, Zasloff makes the case that Gleick’s actions may have been ethically justified under the tradition of people using deception to achieve a good end in cases where those ends can’t be achieved without the deception. I raise a question in a late comment (so far unanswered by Zasloff) as to whether he (Zasloff) was taking the account from Gleick’s confession at face value. That is, would the equation still show Gleick’s actions to be ethical if it turned out that he forged the strategy memo himself in an effort to mislead the public about how bad Heartland is?
So, that’s all I’ve got for now. Time ticks onward (or doesn’t, depending on whether your watches — either of them — are stopped). I’ll see what dissonance-inducing contradictions await me in the new day.