If you’re a fan of The Daily Show, you probably remember Jon Stewart being unaccountably super-sympathetic to SuperFreakonomics co-author Steven Levitt on October 27. Levitt, of course, is an economist-turned-amateur-climatologist. And Jon Stewart was being super-sympathetic about the book’s misconceived amateur climatology.
To Stewart’s credit, he did acknowledge a few days later that he may have made an error (though it fell far short of being an apology or a mea culpa):
We had on a guy on the show, Steve Levitt — Freakonomics — whose science was, according to actual people who know climate science, not good, but it seemed like the tone of the book was, “Why don’t we just think about these other things?” People came at him hard.
The other co-author of SuperFreakonomics turned up recently on (where else?) Fox Business Network to offer some particularly disturbed ravings:
Thousands of emails from the webserver of the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit (CRU) — a top climate research center in the United Kingdom — “were hacked recently” and dumped on a Russian web server. Global warming deniers are sifting through the illegally obtained letters of private correspondence for “proof” that the scientific consensus on climate change is actually a global conspiracy to suppress “skeptics.”
This week, Stephen J. Dubner, co-author of SuperFreakonomics, embraced the fevered “Climategate” ravings of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), and other global warming deniers in an interview with Fox Business Network host David Asman. Dubner purports that the hacked University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit (CRU) emails reveal that the supposed consensus on global warming is because “everybody’s scared to be an outlier, everybody’s scared to be a skeptic (emphasis mine).” After Asman compared climate scientists to Joseph Stalin and Adolph Hitler — Dubner did his own Glenn Beck impression, accusing “potent” scientists of “colluding” to “tell Al Gore what to say,” and “distorting evidence” to “make their findings be right for their position”
These ravings are very much of a piece with the book’s tone towards climate change:
Levitt had portrayed former Vice President Al Gore as the “patron saint” of the “religion” of global warming, who has chilled investigation into “cheap and simple” solutions because of his “moralism and angst.”
Actually, if global warming is a hoax perpetrated by a cabal of powerful scientists,
a) It should be possible to produce papers that incontrovertibly debunk many of the key pieces of evidence supporting global warming. For example, it should be possible to prove that Arctic sea ice is not shrinking at an alarming rate, or that the world’s glaciers are not disappearing at an alarming rate, or that the past decade has not been the hottest in recorded history.
b) The first scientist who can do so will be set up for life (and then some).
That’s the nature of science, especially today, with keen competition among international institutions to hire world leaders in their field, especially paradigm-shifting trailblazers. So the fact is that if the Dubner-Levitt premise of a global conspiracy of scientists is true, then “everybody’s scared to be an outlier” is balderdash and poppycock. Everybody’s actually dying to be the outlier who huffs and puffs and blows the house down.
That’s the nature of science. And without invoking hysterical global political conspiracies, there have always been powerful vested interests in every scientific field who had much to lose from the prevailing orthodoxy being overturned. From time to time, such vested interests have even tried to collude to prevent new ground-breaking discoveries from being published in reputable journals. And they’ve failed every time. Because that’s the nature of science. And somebody who doesn’t understand even this much about science has no fucking business dabbling in it.
And certainly shouldn’t be taken seriously by the likes of Jon Stewart. He still owes his viewers an apology; these ravings give him a perfect opportunity to tender it.