Wednesday, 30 April 2014

A place for scholars?

In the early days of the internet, I sometimes asked myself if such a vast repository of information would lead us towards a love of learning for its own sake. Would we all become scholars? Okay I wasn’t quite that starry-eyed - but I did wonder. I still do at times.

I have a tendency to see scholars as dry, academically-minded folk with a hawk-eyed hatred of error and little time for anyone not cast in the same mould. It’s a stereotype of course and a somewhat old-fashioned and misleading one at that, but there have been such people and still are today.

Around the blogs for example. It seems to me that there are those who wish to confirm their biases and those who wish to understand. I know the distinction is a somewhat diffuse generalisation, but I find it useful enough.   

Perhaps the modern scholar tends to be rather more human than my stereotype, but whatever their personal quirks we have much to thank them for. Catastrophic climate science would not have been challenged effectively without scholarly dissection of the alarming claims plus a rather less scholarly vivisection of the activists behind them.

Outrageously cavalier attitudes toward obvious sources of uncertainty would not have come to light without the tireless efforts of those for whom science is essentially a scholarly activity. Nothing seemed to stop them in their determination to examine the data for themselves. No amount of stalling, obfuscation or outright lying seemed to have discouraged them.

In my view it was the scholar’s brusque disdain for the argument from authority which really sealed the intellectual fate of climate science. In the public domain, this was almost the only argument one ever saw. It would come wrapped in some specious claim about melting ice, sea levels, droughts or whatever, but the core argument was always the same, always liable to arouse suspicion.

I think this is what piqued the interest of so many people around the world, especially those with scholarly inclinations coupled with the technical skills to dissect such obviously extravagant claims.

For apocalyptic climate scenarios were and still are absurdly extravagant, which is not the scholar’s way. Like loud music in a crowded supermarket, it grates and brings to the surface a barely dormant dislike of all that is brash, shallow and showy.

How the whole disgraceful fraud will be viewed by future historians I have no idea. It all hangs on the climate itself. If global cooling sets in then maybe the verdict will be damning, but if the climate warms, then as ever history will be written by the winners, however unworthy they may be.

Maybe scholars may not take too much notice as theirs is mostly the satisfaction of a job well done. What if nobody applauds their efforts? Well that’s not the point and we are all the better for it.


James Higham said...

Around the blogs for example. It seems to me that there are those who wish to confirm their biases and those who wish to understand

Or in fact both. Wishing to undertand, I looked at global warming and decided against, thereby creating my bias.

A K Haart said...

James - ah but a bias towards scepticism is okay.