Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Global Warming: Round 2
It seems that as time goes on, more and more people are believing Al Gore's rendition of global warming. I believe there is a lot of psychology involved in this phenomenon. I say psychology because people's belief aren't grounded on reading actual scientific reports or conducting their own analysis, but on their perception of the people dishing out the information. We know not to trust studies sponsored by the tobacco company on the effects of smoking to lung cancer. We know that we should listen to our doctor when they tell us to eat a healthy diet and exercise. Do we feel the same way when we hear on the news "Researchers discovered..." or "Scientists found ..." on the news? Often times the news media will tell us which scientists are making the claim and how they came about doing it, but would you still believe the report if they didn't?

I'd like to point out the irony of skepticism. When we first heard about global warming we probably had some reservations, but eventually we accepted it because that's what mainstream media has accepted and surely, if most people accept it, then it must be true, right? We didn't really research the data that was out there, we demanded that news media digest it for us and provide us the Cliff's notes. Then when the skeptics voiced their concerns we branded them as heretics. "How dare they challenge mainstream perception!", "The opponents are just spokespersons of big oil". We were immediately skeptical of the skeptics, but we lost all skepticism of the topic at hand.

This brings me to the next point. If only Galileo was here. Galileo was an astronomer in the 1600's who was branded a heretic by the Church because he was a proponent of a solar system where the earth revolves around the sun instead of the sun going around the earth. The church couldn't challenge his theories with science so they would just say that his ideas were absurd and heretical. When people cannot challenge something logically or scientifically, they resort to name calling and non-scientific labellings like "that's stupid" or "only idiot's would believe..." without backing up their argument with any facts. The declaration of stupidity alone seems sufficient for the end of debate. I'm sure all of us are guilty of this phenomena. Haven't you called someone's idea "stupid" and marveled at how they could still keep talking about their idea? You would think to yourself "Why would they keep talking? I told him/her it was a stupid idea to begin with!". We thought the stupidity was so obvious that we did not have to justify that the idea was stupid. This is because we all have an intuitive sense for what is stupid, but our intuition is not always grounded in logical reasoning. Sometimes our intuition comes from what others tell us, like "the 5 second rule" where its okay to eat something that has fallen on the ground for less than 5 seconds. If you're a fan of Mythbusters, you'll know that the number of seconds something is left on the ground has almost no correlation to how many germs it picks up. So if you manage to rescue absorbent $100/lb black truffle mushrooms that fell onto the counter covered with salmonella infested chicken blood within a second, don't let your friends tell you you're stupid for throwing the truffles out. They would be hard pressed to come up with support for their case other than the "5 second rule". This leads me to the point that when people make unsupported claims that something is absurd or stupid, its because they don't really have anything to support their case.

What's my point?
1. Commonly accepted does not mean true.
2. If you have skeptics, be skeptical of what you are supporting. You can only make your case stronger by alleviating their concerns rather than shedding even more skepticism on the skeptics.
3. Challenge those who call you names to support their arguments and avoid the temptation to become a name caller by always supporting your own claims.

We can only progress the discussion on global warming once we can get past the psychology and get to the science of it.