Jesse Singal in Email: Did anyone else find this Slate article annoying? I usually like Weisberg's stuff, but here's how it starts:
A lot of our premises have turned out to be wrong lately. I'm talking not about evanescent bits of conventional wisdom that have shifted but about overarching assumptions that were widely shared across the political spectrum—big things that experts and nonexperts agreed about—until they were proved false.
For instance, before 1989, virtually all Sovietologists agreed that the USSR was highly stable. Before 2001, few Middle East scholars worried that the United States was vulnerable to a major terrorist attack. Before 2003, everyone from neocon hawks to French lefties agreed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Before 2008, few economists wondered about the fundamental soundness of the American financial system. Popular opinion echoed the expert consensus on each of these points. Those who challenged the groupthink—such as Soviet dissident Andrei Amalrik, renegade counterterrorism expert John O'Neill, former weapons inspector Scott Ritter, and pessimistic economist Nouriel Roubini—tended to be dismissed as provocateurs, wackos, or (in Ritter's case) worse.
He then proceeds to list seven "issues on which the received wisdom may well be completely right—but deserves a stronger dose of skepticism than it usually gets." (How much hedging can you do?)
Two of them are "Climate change will be catastrophic" and "We're running out of fossil fuels." He doesn't do any actual reporting to explain why we should really treat these statement skeptically; instead, he cites two very controversial scientists, Freeman Dyson and Thomas Gold, neither of whose expertise is native to the field in question, and shrugs his shoulders: Who knows?
It's very aggravating to see non-scientists write about vital scientific issues in this manner, as though they were just political he-said-she-said debates. But what's most distressing here is the complete lack of any political awareness. Weisberg acts as though the blunders he mentions at the top of the piece existed in a political vaccuum, as though the eventually debunked groupthink were the result not of agenda-driven interpretations of the "facts," but of a scientific process that is never more than a coin flip in terms of accuracy. We were wrong about Iraq, therefore maybe the vast majority of climate scientists are wrong about global warming. Doesn't work.
Jesse Singal in Email: All Weisberg had to do was check Wikipedia and hit up the Googles. I know nothing about the subject, but in about two minutes of Googling was able to ascertain that this dude's views are far from the mainstream. Never reason enough to discount someone, of course, but it appears the actual geologists have this subject under control and that their models do a much better job of explaining this stuff. And besides -- I don't know anything about this, so I simply wouldn't write a piece about it before doing a lot more research! It's such an easy way out for non-scientists to say, "I don't get science so let's just listen to everyone!"