I understand the CJR author's point, while disagreeing with some of her methods. I think Ron gets it too, as he recognizes that if the consensus is right, and global warming poses a serious peril to civilization, then anything that tells the voters that such peril doesn't exist will tend to slow down action to address it. Personally, I think of the situation more as deciding how much insurance to buy. You don't buy homeowner's insurance because you believe your house is definitely going to burn down. You buy insurance because it might burn down. If the best available science says there's a 1% chance of catastrophic climate change, the kind that sinks New York, Miami, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Boston under several meters of seawater—well, how much are you willing to pay for insurance against that risk? Is 0.1% of GDP unreasonable? 1%? 10%?
Given that there are also a bunch of non-global-warming-related disadvantages to our current energy system, I'd vote for devoting a significant chunk of GDP to dealing with this situation. Maybe not 10%, at least not immediately—trying to transition the economy that fast would cause a lot of dislocation and unnecessary pain. But a percentage point or two? Sure.
One of the most interesting replies came from Arlington, who sees parallels between our reaction to the bad news of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and today's response to global warming:
There are parallels to instruct us. When Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, she was attacked by debunkers who sounded like those now objecting to the global warming consensus. Some of it was very personal and mean, impugning her sanity and her sexuality, if you can believe it. Fortunately, most honest scientists recognized Carson was calling attention to a real crisis, something that was actually happening and could be documented, even though they realized Carson's appeal was largely emotional and scientifically flawed. The result was the DDT ban, which saved the bald eagle, among many other species, from extinction.
But Carson's detractors are sore losers. Now that the bald eagle is no longer threatened with extinction, the debunkers say the whole thing was a manufactured crisis in the first place and would have taken care of itself. There was no reason to ban DDT, they claim, and doing so promoted worldwide famine and caused malaria deaths by the millions. Carson was the devil.
And journalists hopped on the bandwagon. They reproduced accusations that Carson was responsible for more deaths than Hitler. They researched their articles by lifting quotes from authors who contribute to organizations like junkscience.com and others who insist that science should direct itself at the goal of making life easier, safer and more comfortable for a consumerist society. This was all very convenient, since Carson was long dead and the problem she identified had been effectively addressed by regulation and enforcement. And it sold newspapers.
This is the point of the CJR article. Go ahead and promote your byline. Sell your papers. Advance your career. Just don't forget you owe your readers something of the truth. Journalistic ethics require discriminating between various sources of information. Some sources should be used with skepticism and some should not be used at all. It's difficult to determine the difference, particularly when the writer doesn't have the scientific background to draw a clear line. Conveying the truth involves more than presented the reader with John said this and Mary said that. Who is John? Who is Mary? Where do they get their funding and support? What do their peers say about them? Not everyone who challenges scientific consensus is a martyr.
There are many more great posts in the Spectator Fray. Check them out and share your thoughts. GA … 2:18 p.m. PDT
Friday, August 8, 2008
A very welcome development this week,
Is the landline telephone going the way of the dinosaur? Readers are surprisingly hung up on the possibility of its extinction, as forecast by Daniel Gross in this July 25 article that made a mysterious reappearance yesterday on Slate's "most e-mailed" list.
Perhaps accounting for its renewed popularity is an improbable but vocal minority of land-line defenders who helped reactivate the debate in "Moneybox" Fray. Their many reasons for staying hard-wired include:
- Social-life management: i.e., giving out the home number knowing you will hardly ever be there to actually answer it (camiwa).
- Retro-chic appeal, particularly if it involves a rotary-dial telephone (NickD).
- Paranoia: access to emergency services in the event of blackouts, earthquakes, terrorist attacks, or other acts of God (VEH, NewYorkDave). Plus, the advantage of Enhanced 911, which automatically relays your street location to the operator (Tonyw1538).
- Coverage gaps in rural areas like western Wisconsin, where "you can be driving down major interstates and not have any bars for a good hour or two" (Chasmosaur).
- Potential health benefits: avoiding both the radiation emitted from cell phones and the " permanent crick … from trying to hold a tiny sliver of metal on my ear" (sugar_k).
- Fax machines and international calling, especially for mothers with children "scattered around the continent" (Herbie2).
- Peace, quiet, and simplification: "Now, when my under 30 husband and myself … are out, we can enjoy our time without the cellular leash" (trudycatsmom).
This type of age-conscious declaration was recurrent in the Fray and may have to do with a nerve that Gross unintentionally plucked, by equating land-line usage with the over-thirtysomething crowd.