RealClimate had a post today regarding scientific ignorance. In the post, they mention a recent editorial:
There have been even more strongly worded editorials in the scientific literature recently as well. Trevors and Saier (2011)*, in a journal with a strong tradition of stating exactly where it stands with respect to public policy decisions and their effect on the environment, pull no punches in a recent editorial, describing the numerous societal problems caused when those with the limited perspective and biases born of a narrow economic outlook on the world, get control. These include the losses of critical thinking skills, social/community ethics, and the subsequent wise decision making and planning skills that lead a society to long-term health and stability…
*Trevors, J.T & Saier Jr., M.H. 2011. A vaccine against ignorance? Water, Air and Soil Pollution, DOI 10.1007/s11270-011-0773-1.
Before this paragraph they mention a Nature editorial condemning the Republicans for their anti-science antics, and after this paragraph they mention that scientific bodies are continually issuing statements about the severity of climate change. RealClimate obviously supports the Nature editorial and the statements from scientific bodies about climate change, and from the context of the article they support the Trevors and Saier (2011) editorial. I’ll refer to the editorial as TS11.
In their synopsis of TS11 RealClimate claims that the editorial is “describing the numerous societal problems caused when those with the limited perspective and biases born of a narrow economic outlook on the world, get control.” They don’t bother to explain who those are with a limited perspective, or what a “narrow economic outlook” means. Let me clue you in: it means capitalism.
TS11 is just an anti-capitalist tract. Don’t take my word for it, read it. It’s only three pages, but those pages are filled with malice and spite towards free markets and nothing but admiration for government planning and direction. Let me give you some quotes, and feel free to read the article to ensure I’m not taking them out of context. All emphasis is mine.
First page, middle of second paragraph:
Thus, the capitalistic systems of economy follow the one principal rule: the rule of profit making. All else must bow down to this rule. For this reason, a capitalistic system cannot be expected to provide for its citizens without strictly imposed regulations on the capitalistic system itself; the owners of industry yield to their specific selfish interests—usually short term—without thoughts about the greater good of humankind or long-term planetary sustainability.
RealClimate was right, they don’t pull punches. Of course they make these statements as if they were fact, not their own opinion. All must bow down to the rule of profit making? What is this rule? In a free market system, one person or group provides a good or service for someone else, voluntarily. Who is bowing down here, and to whom are they bowing?
The current USA is an example of a failed capitalistic state in which essential long-term goals such as prevention of climate change and limitation of human population growth are subjugated to the short-term profit motive and the principle of economic growth. It seems incredible that the richest nation on Earth is the only developed country not to have signed the Kyoto Accord and to be unwilling to provide health care for its citizenry.
The USA is a failed capitalistic state which has failed essential long term goals! And who gets to determine these goals? Trevors and Saier I suppose. They consider combating climate change and human population growth as “essential goals”. However, I don’t consider those goals essential at all.
In fact, the entire concept that there are societal long term goals which need to be achieved is a suspicious claim. A warmer planet will undoubtedly benefit many people. Population growth will also undoubtedly benefit many people, including those born! Who exactly are Trevors and Saier to proclaim that our country is a failure because their own goals haven’t been met?
They are indignant that the richest nation on Earth hasn’t signed Kyoto and is unwilling to provide health care to its people. Why exactly are these two things “incredible”? There are myriad reasons why not to join Kyoto. Opposing an unwieldy international treaty with uncertain economic impacts is not incredible. It makes a lot of sense, which is why most Americans weren’t too upset about it. Their second point about not providing health care is laughable. Health care is a scare good, meaning someone must sacrifice time and money in order to provide that product to someone else. People only make this sacrifice if they are going to be compensated for it (thus the evil profit motive), otherwise they are unable to continue providing the product. However in Trevors and Saier’s minds, this scarcity can be overcome if we simply mention that we are a wealthy nation. How exactly do we provide this scare good for free? Their economic ignorance shines through in mentioning health care and Kyoto.
More drivel immediately following:
So why has the USA failed so miserably to act in the interests of the common good? The answer lies at the human root of capitalism. The existence of human-caused Global Warming is an established fact with no evidence to contradict the basis for its occurrence. And the theoretical basis was established over 50 years ago! So why are so many people in the USA so confused? To answer this question, we can go back to the days when the harmful effects of cigarette smoking were still being debated. The debate continued for a couple of decades, long after the scientific data were unequivocal, because lies continued to be propagated about the harmful effects of cigarette smoking on human health. The result? Legislation to protect American citizens was delayed for over 10 years.
Wow. The “interests of the common good”? We haven’t achieved those interests, because of capitalism. Also, human caused global warming is an established fact with no evidence to contradict it! And it is caused by capitalism too. Our capitalist society was duped by lies about smoking…for 10 years. This is evidence of failure? A ten year lag in legislation? That’s politics, not capitalism. Capitalism is an economic system, not a political one. Why is capitalism the culprit in this? Companies made cigarettes, people bought them. When studies showed they were unhealthy, the companies got in bed with politicians to delay action. Why blame the companies for this? Blame the politicians, they are the only ones who can create law. It certainly isn’t compelling evidence to abandon capitalism.
Now, some people and special interests continue to propagate misleading information about climate change. They are using all of their newly gained knowledge (on how to fool the public) to enhance their greedy benefits. Once the method of scientific inquiry is understood, and the knowledge of how to evaluate scientific claims is at hand, people are not likely to be swayed or confused by misinformation. Some poorly educated people, on the other hand, will be at the whim of the profiteers, not being able to distinguish a lie from a statement based on scientific data.
By now you can clearly see that TS11 isn’t going to provide evidence for any of their claims, they are simply going to spout off tired anti-capitalist lines and pretend they are fact. Greedy benefits of profiteers? You mean the people that put gas in my car and power my furnace? Even more frustrating is their patronizing language regarding “poorly educated people”. They imply that anyone skeptical of scientific data is uneducated. First of all, most people are not skeptical of the data (although data sometimes deserves scrutiny), they are skeptical of the interpretation of the data. Data is open to interpretation and different scientists interpret the same exact data differently. I am skeptical of the interpretation of climate data by many scientists; I am not poorly educated.
Their disdain for the uneducated doesn’t stop there:
In fact, the more complex an explanation, the more distasteful it might appear to them. These people do not want to be burdened with factual information that their backgrounds do not prepare them to conceptualize; they want to believe in ideas that require minimal intellectual effort. They are likely to prefer a fairy tale to reality; it’s so much nicer (for a while) to think that no serious problems exist. Such people just continue to live in a fantasy world that will dissolve when reality becomes oppressive, just as does a dream fades away after one wakes. Then it will unfortunately be too late to correct the problems that were propagated by ignorance.
I don’t even know how to respond to this. I don’t even know if it is prose or bad poetry: “just as does a dream fades away after one wakes”. Ugh.
Some governments tend to value and maintain the status quo. But our world is always changing, and to keep up, we must change with it. This requires governmental change, providing clear information to a confused citizenry. It requires financial assistance for our educational systems at all levels. But there is far more need: a deep feeling of compassion and responsibility towards all, a feeling of dedication to the welfare of humans and other beings on the planet. We believe these values can also be cultivated through education. They certainly will not result from the yielding to the greedy interests of profiteers!
The government’s role is to provide clear information to a confused citizenry? Do the authors really believe the government has the monopoly on true information? And why do they assume government’s motives for disseminating this information are pure? If people are so ignorant on so many issues why is government (a collection of people) immune from such ignorance?
Here is the thrust of the article: education is the key to fighting ignorance. In fact, the authors believe that the proper values of love and compassion can be cultivated through education. Which is good, because greedy profiteers certainly aren’t loving or compassionate! Again, the authors are creating their own values and claiming they should be society’s as well. Why should I have a “deep feeling of compassion and responsibility towards all”? I’m sure if we created a system where everyone was responsible for everyone else, there would be no abuse of that system (maybe not).
Unless the impediments that prevent people from gaining the educations they desire are overcome, we will remain intellectual barbarians. Moreover, we need principles in order to live responsible and caring lives. Even sympathy and empathy can be learned. One’s life’s experiences should be our primary teachers, but many, blinded by their greed, do not learn. How can they be taught? Can they be injected with a vaccine that will cause them to see the light? Is there a vaccine against ignorance? If so, that vaccine must be education. Education, perhaps, in human rights and needs, sociology, psychology, jurisprudence, and logic. Would it work? We suspect that will depend on the individual: Some will continue to pursue their own selfish interests at the expense of others; only the more secure may be able to see beyond the horizon of greed.
Education prevents people from becoming “intellectual barbarians”! If we choose to pursue our own interests, we are blinded by greed! Here’s more evidence of their absurd view of economics. Impediments that prevent people from getting education must be overcome. What are those impediments? I don’t know, but certainly a significant impediment must be cost. But education is a scare resource. Books, room and board, teachers salaries, maintenance, all of these things cost money. Why should everyone be able to get this resource for free? It isn’t free to provide education.
I think this was the point at which I was astonished this got published in Water, Air, & Soil Pollution. I know it is an editorial, but this has very little to do with pollution or science and more do to with a radical political ideology. It doesn’t get any better from here:
Many countries devote inordinate amounts of money and other resources to the military and propaganda. Major fractions of federal budgets are spent on military, on immigration control, on spying, on deception, and on clandestine unethical behavior. As a result, wealthy countries cannot provide sustenance, birth control, housing, and medical care for its citizens. The urge of the insecure is to spend excessively on military, even when the military approach has proven futile as in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just imagine how much good the wealthy countries could do if they would focus on constructive measures rather than on weapons of destruction. A mere $30 billion per year would provide all countries in the world with the means to limit their populations, so that citizens everywhere would have a chance to live decent, productive lives. As long as the human population does not increase, but instead goes into decline—without compulsion—it seems likely that with intuition and intelligence, the human population might be able to solve its grave problems.
I actually agree with the authors that government spend too much on the military. But look at their conclusion: because of this spending, we can’t provide housing, food, birth control, and medical care for our citizens! They make the assumption that if only government had more money they could provide everyone with all of these things. First of all, that is a dubious claim which ignores the scarcity issue I brought up earlier. Secondly, they overlook the issue of the role of government. The government providing housing or birth control isn’t just a matter of funding. Many people (myself included) don’t believe the government should be providing people these things, since they must take things from others first. It makes government the arbiter who decides which person receives goods and which person has their goods taken. In a free market, this is voluntarily decided through free exchange.
Humanity certainly needs to be immunized with a vaccine for ignorance, and we propose that that vaccine is education. But education would have to be coupled to restrictions on people, agencies, and corporations determined to follow the profit motive, and in so doing, undermine the intelligence of the populace. Just imagine the outcome: ignorance would fade into the background, and discrimination, racism, intolerance, terrorism, crime, and fraud would be countered by the larger more rational segments of the human population. We might find that there could be unification of countries within organizations like the United Nations. And nonprofit organizations that try to help rather than harm others would receive much more support. If this could be achieved, we might be able to combat human population growth, global pollution, and the other disastrous human activities that plague us. Perhaps then, humanity could move forward.
Education will have to be coupled with restrictions on the profit motive, because they are undermining the intelligence of the populace! Why does the profit motive undermine people’s intelligence? Before capitalism most people worked on a farm and had no education at all. Only because of capitalism do we even entertain the concept that everyone should be educated. It simply wasn’t possible before.
Imagine the outcome of unlimited education: ignorance would fade and most other problems would be countered by all those rational people. Hmm…I see a problem. Many people that are ignorant or engage in these other activities are already educated. For example, these authors are clearly ignorant of basic economic theory, and I’m assuming they are educated.
The mention of the United Nations made me laugh. The authors assume that if only more people were educated more countries will be unified like the UN. The UN is evidence of a unified organization? Wow. I’m surprised they mention the UN as a desired outcome, considering how remarkabely ineffective they are at everything of consequence. Maybe it’s the capitalist’s fault.
We are not suggesting the resurrection of a utopian wish. This is a call for the citizens of the world to combat ignorance so humanity can move forward to achieve sustainability. Clearly, we must succeed in controlling human population growth so we can manage global pollution, that immense driver of global climate change. However, this goal can only be achieved when the inferior ideas and thoughts in ignorant human minds are eliminated from the equation and replaced with superior ideas resulting from a sound education. And with this education will follow a genuine concern for humanity. Humanity can then proceed forward, reducing human population growth and preventing to spread of life-threatening pollution into the only biosphere we have.
Alright let’s break down this penultimate paragraph. The authors want:
1. Population control to reduce pollution
2. Elimination of “inferior ideas and thoughts in ignorant human minds”
3. Replacing those ideas with “Superior ideas resulting from a sound education”
If you value liberty in any sense of the word these goals should frighten you. Who decides what “inferior ideas and thoughts” are, and how are they eliminated? How do we achieve population control? What is a sound education and who provides it?
These answers must involve a system where the select few whose thoughts are superior and who are not ignorant control the education of the masses. I don’t trust that system. The authors clearly do.
Here is their closing statement:
But education is expensive, difficult, and time consuming. And it requires effort—lots of it. We will have to overcome the irrational pull of mysticism and mythology. We will have to shift our emphasis away from destruction and towards mutual benefit. We will have to submerge our selfish desires for the betterment of humanity and the planet. We will have to change our way of thinking. Can we do so? Let’s hope so, for the sake of all humanity and the biosphere. We simply need to do much better.
At least they admit that education is, in fact, a scarce resource. But what is this talk of the “irrational pull of mysticism and mythology”? Is this a reference to religion, or a disbelief in science? It’s unclear. Also, this statement kills me: “We will have to submerge our selfish desires for the betterment of humanity and the planet.” What selfish desires? I want to eat, I want to be warm, I want to use a vehicle to travel in order to provide a good or service to someone else so that I can eat and be warm. Capitalism already serves humanity. It wouldn’t work otherwise.
I recommend these authors read Hayek. Their condescending view of average people ignores the fact that societies order themselves spontaneously, without any governmental direction. We don’t need government for education, in fact, they generally provide a very inferior product compared to private schools. Capitalistic societies have the least amount of people who can’t get access to food, water, education, and anything else. We aren’t ignorant dolts who stand around all day wishing someone else would give us something. We know what is best for us, not some academic who doesn’t like our values.
I don’t know why RealClimate chose to highlight this editorial. In my opinion it is every bit as ignorant and disrespectful as the actions of the silly Republicans in DC, who RealClimate blasts. Does RealClimate actually want to dismantle the capitalist system in order to instill superior thoughts into the ignorant masses? If not, I don’t understand the support of the editorial. Maybe they didn’t read it.