As by no doubt you've heard by now, on Tuesday December 8th conservative human rights activist Mark Steyn testified before the United States Senate in a weird exchange where it turned out that no US Senators expected they'd have to listen during their hearing.
That Steyn had the good lines shows that this isn’t a debate so much as performance art. Scientists, like Judith Curry, spoke but few listened. Steyn’s argumentative skills forced Senator Ed Markey to respond, but such exchanges have no more political impact than speeches at a high school debate — providing exchanges that Left and Right cheered and booed.You can read Steyn's entire testimony here (minus the YouTube links) where he manages to bring it back full-circle to his musical theatre reviews. No, seriously:
Markey appeared to have been briefed by activists and didn’t listen to the testimony, so not only does not understand the other side of either the science or policy debates, he does not even know there is an other side (he just sees error). He ignored material that contradicted his belief. He illustrated the “dogma” side of the “Data or Dogma” debate.
I have been around the theatre my entire adult life, and once in a while one runs into an example of an official government musical. There was the celebrated socialist operetta, The State Department Store, which was produced in Hungary and other Warsaw Pact countries after the Communist regimes banned all the old-school operettas for having too many singing princes and countesses as the principal characters. There was also Zabibah and the King, a musical version of Saddam Hussein’s allegorical novel in which the nubile virginal heroine represents Iraq and her manly yet tender expert lover the King represents Saddam. Unlike the NSF-funded Great Immensity, it got rave reviews from the Baghdad critics – because, if you gave it two thumbs down, you got one head off. The National Science Foundation does not yet enjoy that power, although clearly Dr Mann, Senator Whitehouse, Congressman Grijalva, Attorney General Schneiderman, and those scientists demanding that climate justice trump democracy are moving in that direction.He also borrows from my verbage a bit, and openly refers to fraudulent "hockey stick" scientist Michael E. Mann as "cowardly".
And in fairness neither the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe nor the Baathist tyranny of Saddam Hussein had their scientific bodies invest in musicals. That grotesque innovation came from an agency for which you are responsible.
If you’re a professor emeritus, you’re told you’re senile. If you’re one of the few women in this very male field, you’re told you’re whoring for Big Oil: The aforementioned Michael Mann of Penn State, who is too cowardly to be here today and has instead sent his proxy, approvingly linked to an Internet post accusing Dr Curry of sleeping with me. This is how a supposedly distinguished climate scientist treats those who disagree with him.But Steyn throws in the best in his jabs at the US Senate itself. Some of them are subtle:
The case was assigned to Natalia Combs Greene, a since reprimanded landlord-and-tenant judge appointed by President Clinton and confirmed by this honorable Senate. After a botched ruling in which she confused the parties, she said the case was “complicated” and shuffled it off on a colleague, but not before procedurally mangling it so that, for a while, two different trial judges were ruling on the case simultaneously – something that’s a big no-no in functioning jurisdictionsAnd some not so subtle:
Nevertheless, this Senate confirmed Judge Ruiz. Under the Home Rule Act, the District of Columbia operates in a constitutional no-man’s-land whereby it enacts legislation for which this honorable body is ultimately responsible. In practice, that means they pass slapdash, poorly drafted laws, and you guys rubber-stamp them. The constitutional limbo allows serial plaintiffs like Michael Mann to use the DC courts to torture non-DC residents: this is a disgrace, and ultimately it is the responsibility of you and your colleagues.Steyn doesn't really pepper these with a lot of the quick tweet-able notes he's known for, so if you want quick soundbyte-able aspects you're best dealing with his more off-the-cuff remarks. He does manage gags like "House UnEnvironmental Activities Committee" though. He also touches a bit on the fact that Nature and Science have decided to ditch science and instead deal with "advocacy":
This is a key and fundamental shift, and it's important to note that as soon as they start with "advocacy" instead of research they no longer get nor deserve any "weight" to their roles. (This is precisely why the infamous Tony "Harperman" Turner was such a dangerous loony: you get the distinct impression he'd gladly falsify his research in order to obtain his pro-liberal policies). As I wrote once before, science itself can't even tell you that global warming should be stopped/slowed/fought.In our view, sound climate and energy planning should not treat all stakeholders in the same way. Instead, preferences and roles should be weighted to consider criteria related to equity, due process, ethics and other justice principles.So the fake 97 per cent consensus is no longer enough. These scientists are saying that, because there’s a supposed 97 per cent consensus among climate scientists, they don’t need a 51 per cent consensus from the electorate.
And if the answer is "deal with climate change and keep doing what we're doing", what should the scientists have against that? They can tell us if X is happening or not (which you may find several of them lose interest in doing without the ability to tell us to do the Y that they wanted to do anyways), and should let us know about ramifications and paths to take in the various Ys we consider so that we know what the end result Z would look like, but the decision on how to act is rightly in the hands of the people.Notice I didn't say "government", and probably best to ignore the parts in that post about Danielle Smith, but the key point remains: science can't be advocacy.
Let's look at my favourite example. Can we burn asians for fuel? The science on the subject is fairly clear. Burning humans is (back of envelope calculations) only 30% as efficient as burning coal, if you assume a 7500 BTU/lb and remove the 50% body weight caused by water. Removing that water can be relatively low-energy within 16 weeks, which isn't a huge lead time as long as fuel goes (this is why the enviro-nuts at Mother Nature Network can be safely disregarded when they complain about Glenn Beck). The average weight in China is about 135lbs, apply our 50% formula and the biomass BTU, and we find that science says we can burn the entire population of China and generate 1.3739 x 1015 BTUs of heat energy. That's 4.03 x 1011 kWh! That's a lot of energy! But let's not stop there...Chinese people are renewable! They keep on making more, and have recently begun to phase out their one-child policy. Fittingly enough for a Mark Steyn related post, if the Chinese could get their birth rate up around the 3.26 births per woman in nearby Pakistan that would translate to 23.19 births per 1,000 people or 31.469 million kids per year. Now that's a renewable resource!
Now at some point of the past paragraph you may have gone from impressed to queasy to disgusted to outraged to sickened to who-knows-what, and I'm sure that at least 73% of my readers would be opposed to slaughtering a billion or so human beings, drying them out on barges, and then burning them for fuel. (It's because of the CO2 emissions that would result, isn't it?) But whatever motivation or rationale or basis for your outrage, you know who isn't upset? Science. Science heard what I just said and nodded quietly to itself. At the very most, it would set out to verify and if necessary tweak my numbers. It would determine the accuracy of my Fermi assumptions and ultimately come up with a more accurate number. Maybe it's only 8.72 x 1010 kWh generated. That's what science can tell you. What it can't and won't tell you, though, is whether or not we should burn all asians for fuel. (Feel free to post pros and cons in the comments). Science, strictly speaking, is 100% neutral on the subject. As with all matters of public policy (or even private action) there are pros and cons which have to be determined, but science can't tell you jack shit about them. You'll need to start making value judgements. Which would you rather have: five therms of energy (almost exactly 1 USD of natural gas at current to this blogpost pricing, as it happens), or a living Chinese man that you didn't kill? Again, science isn't going to be able to answer this question for you. You'll have to go out on your own into the big bad world in search of an answer.
So in other words, once we've used science to give us the figures as discussed, the scientists themselves are no longer in any position to bear extra weight in the rest of the problem: what should we actually do? Science magazine thinks that if 200 people are in a room and 150 of them are asian, if 180 people vote against burning the asians for heat and 20 vote for burning asians for heat, the democratic decision should be to burn them if the 20 people who vote yea are scientists. You can perhaps see why Science's editorial team thinks this is a good idea (likewise I'm sure the editors of Dirt Rider would love the idea of dirt bikers getting five ballots every election), but you may be sensing that it doesn't necessarily speak well for democracy, or even necessarily good public policy. After all, despite their moral preening the mad scientist wasn't a standard trope in fiction for almost 100 years. Science has done some pretty sketchy moral things over the years. Indeed, the same folks who freak about global warming also are absolutely scared shitless about GMOs, turning to those same tropes ("Frankenfoods") into reasons to never trust scientists about how to grow a tomato ever again. As soon as science turns against them, then it's "funded by evil corporations" which is, of course, the worst thing a scientist can do. (Getting funded by evil governments, though, is just peachy).
Judith Curry came armed to talk about the science, Mark Steyn came armed to talk about the culture. Ultimately, science may or may not be able to come up with an answer on how the planet warms and cools itself and what role our little species might play. What it absolutely won't be able to do is tell us what to do about it. For that, Mark Steyn or me or you are just as much allowed our voice as Michael Mann.
For more, see Steyn's first post on the subject.