Saturday, May 2, 2009

Christopher Pearson, John Quiggin, Climate Change, Angels on a pin and science as theology

(Above: Christ in the Sepulchre, guarded by Angels. William Blake, about 1805).

Sadly with things quiet on loon pond this weekend, we have to devolve into an argument about counting the number of angels on the  head of a pin, a futile exercise with no practical outcome or bearing on the real world. Still, you take your fun as you find it.

And  it's always fun to see Christopher Pearson get righteous about dissent, and freedom of thought, seeing as how he's inclined to the fundamentalist tenets of the Holy Roman Church.

I guess the best way to start off a column in relation to freedom of thought involving Pearson would be to follow his own guidelines, established by his header Chairman Manne's no to dissent, and call  it Chairman Pearson says no to condoms (or should that be Chairman Pope says no to condoms and church member Pearson agrees?) For a man to so constrict his intellectual freedom by faith, and then berate others for having constricted intellectual freedom ...

Pearson seems a little miffed that John Quiggin (blogger, columnist and economics  professor at the University of Queensland) has slagged off The Australian for publishing an unremitting and ultimately tedious pile of warmista bashing columnists, most notably the scientifically inept offerings of Pearson himself, and the most joyously irrelevant featuring Greg Melleuish's meanderings on Greek tragedy and hubris.

Pearson is unhappy the Oz is at the centre of the self-inflicted warmista storm, citing Andrew Bolt as another major expert in a different Murdoch tabloid rag (but where does that leave poor Tim Blair and his relentless sniping - are some tabloid loons better than others in terms of intellectual weight?) 

Well if Andrew Bolt's a consummate scientific expert, with a zillion degrees in various branches of science, as required by Ian Plimer before any understanding of the science can be achieved, that settles the matter, doesn't it.

Pearson's also unhappy about Quiggin's suggesting he inhabits a parallel universe, though this might be self-evident if Pearson actually bothered to read and analyse Pearson.

Poor Quiggin talks of reality being made to conform to the dictates of ideology, with fact replaced by talking points. So let's get Pearson talking:

This is precisely the kind of analysis I apply when trying to explain what sociologists call the plausibility structures that serve to underpin the twilight world of the warmists.

Quiggin is fighting fire with fire, in much the same way that Marxist and Christian apologists used to try and encompass and thus explain away one another's world views. He knows enough about the sociology of knowledge to understand that his preferred paradigm is in deep trouble.

Yep, you've got it in one. The question of warming is not an issue for science, it's something that comes in handy for true believers and apologists, and for loons to reference a sociology of knowledge and paradigms and apologists. Sssh, whatever you do, don't mention the science. It's really just another form of theology.

Pearson adopts the usual strategy of the non-scientists in the debate, which is to argue over the argument, and to introduce bizarre theological notions like belief:

What Quiggin failed to tell his readers is that belief in global warming primarily caused by human activity is falling fast. For example, a mid-April Rasmussen poll tells us that in the past 12 months the number of Americans who say they believe it has fallen from 47 per cent to 34 per cent. Given that Australians have historically been more temperamentally inclined to a sceptical attitude, it's likely that we'll be seeing an even greater swing locally.

And so this proves exactly what about the debate? As if belief has anything to do with it. Millions believed that the sun revolved around the earth, and it took a while for the real deal to get around. And as I've mentioned before, half of all Americans believe they're protected by guardian angels, one fifth say they've heard god speak to them, one quarter say they've witnessed miraculous healings, sixteen per cent say they've received one and eight per cent pray in tongues (Half of Americans believe  in angels).

All very interesting no doubt, but who cares how many Americans believe or don't believe in global warming. What does that factoid tell us? Like creationists, or intelligent designers, Pearson wants to argue the controversy, and not the science. (Could it be that he - gasp - has troubles with the science, as it doesn't form part of the catechism?)

When The Australian starts publishing a set of scientists in the opinion pages (and not in its hived off climate section), instead of the quasi-sociological and theological tendencies of a Christopher Pearson, it'll be time to think they're being serious about a genuine debate on global warming.

And don't you just love it when Pearson embraces the word 'sceptic' as in healthy scepticism when in fact he means a fierce atheism in matter of global warming, while the true believers are on a religious crusade. Sure and fire is ice, and ice is fire. Bizarre, it somehow evokes for me a parallel universe inhabited by sceptics.

But wait there's more. Loquacity is never an issue for Pearson, and he gleefully seizes on the recent teacup storm over the resignation of Sally Warhaft from the leftie magazine The Monthly to give Robert Manne a bashing.

At this point Pearson's column becomes surreal and comical, because everything he accuses Manne of exhibiting, Pearson exhibits in spades - such as moralizing, and a failure to grasp fundamentals, and acting as a practised cultural gatekeeper. Manne's real crime? Having a go at Pearson and The Weekend Australian for its enthusiastic tracking of Ian Plimer's new book Heaven and Earth.

But Pearson is disappointed in Manne's preaching because it lacked fire, and he cunningly tags The Monthly furore as the reason, but let's not reheat that tired can of baked beans, as Pearson adds no new spice to it, outside a touch of bile, so let's see what countervailing argument to Manne that Pearson offers.

By Australian standards, Manne is better at shutting down debate and issuing anathemas than anyone else in the business. But last Saturday's performance was lacklustre and perfunctory, the rhetoric more what you'd expect of an Anglican bishop from a country diocese.

That's right, here we go again with Pearson. Talking religion, talking the argument, never talking the science. Somehow it's all about rhetoric, and Manne is dismissed as an Anglican bishop, when surely what we want is a decent fundie Catholic bishop inviting us all to suffer in hell for a zillion years for helping a nine year old (in danger of dying) having an abortion as a result of being repeatedly raped by her step father.

I think I'd rather believe in angels, than believe in Pearson's stance on climate change, but on the other hand, I'd rather not believe at all. I'd rather be sceptical in the genuine and original meaning of the word, not its recent Orwellian deployment. 

How long before The Australian decides to publish some real scientists in their columns section, instead of this kind of re-heated theologically inclined belief based tosh?

Chances are, hell will freeze over, the Arctic ice will melt, and we'll have gone through a new ice age before that happens.

Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Robert Frost

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Another example of bias in "The Australian": Christopher Pearson's "Chairman Manne's no to dissent" is arguably full of half truths at best. Quoting from the mid-April Rasmussen poll, he says "...belief in global warming primarily caused by human activity is falling fast. For example, a mid-April Rasmussen poll tells us that in the past 12 months the number of Americans who say they believe it has fallen from 47% to 34%. Given that Australians have historically been more temperametally inclined to a sceptical attitude, its likely that we'll be seeing an even greater swing locally."

What Pearson failed to tell his readers is that: The poll was of 1000 "likely voters." In other words it was already significantly filtered before it was carried out. At the time of the poll, Americans were just coming out of one of the coldest winters since 1995 (ref, hardly an auspicious time to poll them on global warming. Incidentally, although cold, this was still significantly above their mean winter temperature for the period 1895 to 2009. Australians, on the other hand, have had some very severe weather (floods in Queensland and unprecedented drought, high temperatures and bushfires in Victoria). As such, they may understandably be somewhat less sceptical of global warming. The Rasmussen poll also reported that "64% of voters now regard global warming as at least a somewhat serious problem, with 41% saying it is very serious." 58% of the respondents in the Rasmussen poll were of the opinion that "more nuclear power plants should be built in the United States." This begs the question that if they don't believe that coal fired power stations are significant in contributing to climate change, why go to nuclear power? In a separate American poll "Climate Change in the American Mind" of mid March 2009, researchers from Yale and George Mason Universities published results from a poll of more than 2164 Americans which indicated that "despite the economic crisis, over 90 percent of Americans said that the United States should act to reduce global warming, even if it has economic costs." The statistics quoted by Pearson from the Rasmussen poll are arguably worthless, and as a professional journalist, Christopher Pearson has clearly failed in his duty to supply objective and unbiased information to his readers.