How does one explore a complicated issue when you believe that many of the experts are biased and you do not know which are not? Past posts dealt with versions of that problem in two contexts, climate and the origin of Covid. I know of four solutions.
“If someone writes an article arguing for a conclusion, does it offer and respond to all the arguments against that conclusion that you can think of? Does it qualify its conclusions where arguments and data provide only limited support for them? Does it use emotive writing to cover weak points in its argument? Is the author willing to reject parts of what his allies support because the arguments for it are weak?”
I write legal briefs for a living, so I do all of these things to some extent. So my primary test for evaluating information on the basis of internal evidence is “does this read like something I would’ve written on behalf of a client?”
It’s amazing how many journalists, scientists, and bureaucrats have become lawyers over the course of the past several years. And not even particularly good ones at that.
Humility is the way to wisdom.
I personally read your posts with interest. My focus is more spiritual, and I find climate change to be besides the point, but the desire for truth appeals to me.
@david - you have a few misspellings of "Cavanaugh" in this post.
I find myself sceptical about the Covid response pretty much for the reasons you give. It seems obvious to me that a mask with a gap round the sides is obvious nonsense. The authorities are pushing these so I heavily discount their advice. Similarly on global warming. If this were really the threat they say nuclear power stations would be everywhere.
But I worry I am just finding reasons to be contrarian. The at risk really do seem to have been made much safer by the vaccines and surely not all the climate scientists are unreliable. So I am back at square one.
But how is an "unbiased" science even possible? Ultimately, we have to decide on a point of view - whom to follow or whether we lead someone in a direction that is determined by our interests, fears, expectations, our will. What is "science" at all? Looking for "laws". What are laws? Repetions of identical or "similar" cases. Similarity depends on a point of view of what we think is "essential". We have to choose. It is ultimately an aesthetic decision.
Karl Popper in The Logic of Scientific Discovery:
"Generally, similarity, and with it repetition, always presuppose the adoption of a point of view: some similarities or repetitions will strike us if we are interested in one problem, and others if we are interested in another problem. But if similarity and repetition presuppose the adaption of a point of view, or an interest, or an expectation, it is logically necessary that points of view, or interests, or expectations, are logically prior, as well as temporally (or causally or psychologically) prior, to repetion. But this result destroys both the doctrines of the logical and of the temproal primacy of repetitions.
[...] for any given finite group or set of things, however variously they may be chosen, we can, with a little ingenuity, find always points of view such that all the things belonging to that set are similar (or partially equal) if considered from one of these points of view; which means that anything can be said to be a 'repetition' of anything, if only we adopt the appropriate point of view. This shows how naive it is to look upon repetion as something ultimate, or given."
Was the consensus about dangers of rising population similar to today's consensus regarding climate change? I couldn't find how many scientists actually believed in Ehrlichs predictions back then.
A couple interesting observations I have made, that maybe are relevant to the post would be that, a large percentage of people including two of my friends actually believe that Paul Ehrlich was right or is going to be roughly right in the near future, Our World in Data has decent evidence to the contrary but my guess is that even when shown such evidence most people would not update accordingly. The second is that lots of people concerned about climate change basically regard Nordhaus and especially Tol and some others as being crazy right wing hacks, which in the case of Nordhaus from our perspective seems like a bizarre characterisation for the reasons you mentioned. I think Noah Smith would be a good example of someone who doesn't have a very high opinion opinion of Nordhaus, and from his perspective Nordhaus would be clearly biased in favour of climate change not being bad.
Does it worry you at all that you are always coming to the conclusion favored by conservative well-off white males?