Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Encounter with a Climate Scientist


Who else could get into a debate with a climate scientist over climate change, in a rigged set-up designed to make him look bad—and hold his own? Or at least get a few shots in that weren’t part of the initial script.

Such was the case when I became part of sportswriter Jeff Pearlman’s “Quaz” feature recently. See this.


After my encounter with Professor Gleick, am I less skeptical about the theory of man-made climate change? More a believer?

No way! The presentation itself gave away the game—that we’re dealing with true-believing partisans.

Jeff Pearlman presents the Quaz as a match between Peter Gleick and myself—but gives all the cred and respect to the credentialed scientist. (As maybe he should.) I’m there as designated punching bag.

Gleick is called a “mastermind,” while I’m introduced as an ignorant Trump supporter. (In the eyes of status quo writers, anyone who says a few nice things about Donald Trump is ignorant by definition.)

If I’m Michael Spinks, I’m Spinks with his arms tied behind his back. Or a drugged Maximus near the end of the movie “Gladiator.” The Quaz is designed to have the reader accept a predetermined conclusion.

It’s like a bad pro wrestling show, with me in role of hapless opponent there only to be thrown around. Which is what happens in the Peter Gleick interview itself.

I am allowed however to take a few shots in the Comments section.


Science is only as sound as the scientist promoting it. Can we trust Peter Gleick to give us the unbiased truth? Does he play fair? Or does he have an agenda to pursue?

Two points stood out to me in his interview and comments.

1.) Gleick misread my question about computer predictions, bringing “weather” into it. My question didn’t mention weather.

2.) Peter Gleick misread my anecdote about Michigan winters, putting into quotes a word I didn’t use—“feel”—then mocking me and the word! So much for accuracy.

(If Peter Gleick misreads science data as easily as he misread my brief comments, his theory’s in real trouble.)


Another troubling aspect of Peter Gleick’s presentation was his use of the word “denier” in reference to me. It’s Orwellian use of language, and shows the extent to which our professor has been politicized. Using the word equates the theory of man-made climate change with a well-known, thoroughly documented historical event which occurred in the lifetimes of many people still alive now, and for which a mountain of eyewitness testimony—from survivors, guards, and soldiers—is available. For the Holocaust we’re not going back 800,000 years, or digging for proof in Antarctica.

The use of the word “denier” for the issue of climate change has one purpose—to shut down debate on the issue. Skeptics are discredited at the outset.


In his comments, Professor Gleick went after my little personal history anecdote about moving back to Detroit—in which I did indeed experience a very cold winter—but avoided the relevant points I made.


He didn’t acknowledge that there are huge gaps in the science of climate change—or that the use of ice cores is an attempt by scientists to fill in one of the gaps. He didn’t acknowledge that there are disagreements among scientists about exactly what ice cores tell us. He didn’t (can’t?) say what causes warming on other planets. He wouldn’t admit that life on this planet is totally, 100% dependent on the sun for its very existence. (We never got into fine-tuned universe theory, which tells us how precarious our situation in the solar system is.) Gleick discussed the motivations of skeptics—but never addressed his own built-in bias. Given that he’s devoted his life and career to the cause of science, he can hardly be objective about its effectiveness—especially where his own projects are concerned. In other words, he’s emotionally invested in his pet issue—his cause.


Rather than directly address my points, Peter Gleick was more about assurances. All questions have already been answered, he tells us—while simultaneously closing other arguments off from view, like a stage director pulling curtains across sections of the stage. “Don’t read those ideas on the Internet!” he cautions. “They’re just the Internet. They’re not valid.”

Instead he emphasizes the supposed overwhelming consensus. “97% consensus”—hitting us over the head with it. We’re being stampeded as if by an aggressive time-share salesman. “Sign here! Don’t question. Just sign.”

Argument from consensus. Of what does this remind me?

Of Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. But also of sports.

The Ali-Foreman fight, for example. The apparent evidence, in the person of George Foreman, was overwhelming. He’d destroyed other opponents—good ones like Joe Frazier, who’d defeated Ali. Watch Foreman destroy the heavy bag! How could anyone bet against him?

The experts predicted doom for Ali. Yet once the fight itself began, it became unpredictable. It became a live interaction between two elements of nature. The unpredictability came not from them being human, but from being part of nature. From being “live.” Every second there were a hundred variables for the two men. Possible moves. A dropped shoulder here or thrown punch there. Many, many seconds in a controlled encounter.

Expand that one controlled fight in a twelve-foot square ring over the entire planet—then plunge that planet into a vast universe. A universe that on a computer screen looks flat and predictable, but isn’t.

In his little office, Peter Gleick is able to isolate what he thinks are the relevant variables, break them down, analyze them—then assure us he has it all figured out! He and his 97% colleagues. They know. They carry with them “the truth” in the form of their scrolls of computer printouts. It’s right there, in data and numbers. Black and white. Irrefutable.

(I go back to my analogy of commodity futures trading—all variables assessed by experts upon experts, but with more urgency than science, as real money’s at stake.)

The studies are done. Then the bell goes off—whether for the commodity futures markets in Chicago, or a Las Vegas fight, and all bets are off. Things become “live.” A minute happening in round one—a small cut—can throw off all lines of probabilities and possibilities. All predictabilities.

As with the recent Republican party primary election campaign—the minute the candidates began interacting with one another in the first debate, all analyses and predictions fell apart.

This is what the psychology of the herd overlooks. A psychology trapped in an echo chamber where everyone thinks alike. A psychology that feeds on itself and steamrolls all before it. A mild form of mass hysteria. Like the sports fan he is, Jeff Pearlman is swept up in it.


Peter Gleick’s argument is that the authorities are on his side. The credible institutions and experts.

Gleick assures us we’re dependent upon experts—he states that no one questions their plumber or auto mechanic.

Really? I’ve always tried to have a working knowledge of both fields, lest the expert take advantage. Anyone who walks blindly into an auto repair shop is going to end up with a much larger bill than otherwise. No one knows what the mechanics’ internal needs are—the needs of the shop where the mechanic works. I don’t trust auto mechanics anymore than I do Peter Gleick!


Can one have a working knowledge of science?

It’s interesting that we’re told we can’t. It’s like the old-style version of the Roman Catholic Church, where only the priest understood Latin. Only the priest could read and interpret the Bible for us.

This is how the attitude today toward science is supposed to work. We close our minds and leave science to the scientists. The designated experts, like “mastermind” Peter Gleick. To do this puts you at the whim not of science, but of the flawed human who interprets it.

As a thinking person, I’ve tried to read the relevant texts on the topic of climate—the books of James Hansen for instance, who developed the theory. As well as the counter-arguments. I’d rather not be completely dependent for my beliefs on the assurances of others.


Finally, the question has to be asked whether Peter Gleick has slipped from the role of scientist into that of advocate. Has he become like environmental groups who see their role as being anything BUT objective, because their task is to alert the world about what’s happening—through any means possible?

This stance might be laudable. It might be called for. It might not be called for. But in either case, objective science has been tossed out the window. Advocates like Gleick best admit that from the outset.