Cold records are being beaten right and left in the Northeast and in the Upper-Midwest. This time, it seems to me that advocates of global warming panic have been silent. They have mostly refrained from asserting that the colder it is somewhere or other, the more certain it is that humans are causing the atmosphere to warm fatally. Perhaps, they are ashamed of their past performance in the area of using anecdotal evidence to shore up their pseudo-science. I wouldn’t count on it but, just in case, here is my reaction: That’s not enough. To regain your intellectual respectability, you have to declare clearly that you are sorry for the bad evidentiary practices on which you relied on in the past. Also, you have to apologize for hounding the honest scientists who called them as they saw them.
The idea that one’s intellectual respectability is something to treasure seems to be losing ground. I am not sure why because it’s the foundation of credibility: Next time I assert something, others will be likely to believe me if I have a record of never violating, or stretching the truth. If I have a record of telling fibs and fabrications, they will discount my assertions. Even worse, they might automatically believe the reverse of what I assert. (“Dr J says it’s raining, it must be sunny.”)
It seems to me that this growing indifference to truthfulness comes from interacting mostly with those of like viewpoint. The costs of scrupulous factualness need not be incurred, it seems, if almost everyone who hears me shares most of my views. Existing among potential contradictors, by contrast, is healthy. It forces you to make the extra effort to check the veracity of your impression. It induces you to refine your perceptions to minimize the chance that where you see a zebra, there is actually a horse.
Paradoxically, the vastly more numerous and easily accessed sources of information the Internet offers may be worsening the natural tendency to know little of opponents’ ideas. The Internet allows one to obtain the comfort of a mere illusion of diversity of sources of information. It makes it possible to compose a dinner of six different courses of potatoes and to call it a well-balanced meal.
PS I think I am largely innocent of this vice. That’s because I make myself listen to National Public Radio for several hours every day. I subscribe to the Atlantic Monthly. Also, I sometimes glance at the New York Times when someone leaves a copy behind at the gym. It’s tough going, frankly but it’s good for me.