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Letter on Truth-Driven Thinking

After thinking about this some more, I am thinking about writing a letter to the author of Truth-Driven Thinking, that I commented on in my last post. It would go something like this:

Dear Mr. Gibson:

I recently listened to the audiobook of your book "Truth-Driven Thinking". I have some comments to make on the book, which, in the end, I found incredibly frustrating.

I don't think Carl Sagan's quote "there are no experts" means quite what you think it means. Sagan meant that we shouldn't take any "expert" as an authority, but should question and ask for evidence to judge for ourselves. However, barring our ability to check every fact in every arcane field, experts are important because they spend the time studying and questioning a topic in detail that we can't do. "Expertise" is earned, not bestowed. This goes directly to your assault on the science of climate change.

You did a disservice to your readers by using an economist to rebutt claims of climate change rather than a climatologist. That's a little like using an English professor to rebutt claims of evolution. Climate change is informed by a variety of lines of evidence, not only modern temperature spikes, but hundreds of years of testing atmospheric CO2 levels, the physics and chemistry of CO2, astronomy and 400 years of solar observations together with the physics of solar activity, orbital mechanics, ice core data going back 600,000 years and more, dendrochronology, amber gas bubbles, volcanic strata in rock layers, fossilized pollen and other plant and animal data, and on and on. What does an economist know of dendrochronology? Economists are fine people to ask for economically viable ways to approach a solution, but they cannot be relied upon as a serious critic of climate change.

Don't you think, that as science searches for the truth and we get closer to it, that challenging "conventional wisdom" that is based on science would more often lead you to mistakes than new insights? And the irony is, you are rejecting the scientific consensus of climatologists around the world, and then you turn around and tell us we should rely on science and the scientific method. This isn't nutrition, where we are getting conflicting studies on a regular basis. The only question with climate change is how much, how fast. And Peter Moore's claim that to affect climate change we need to "control the weather" is totally specious.

DDT is a poison. Why should we be shocked that it's poisonous to more species than just mosquitos? Furthermore, DDT probably wouldn't have been nearly so controversial if it hadn't been used with wild abandon, not just to control typhoid and malaria, but also in agriculture. The thing about poisons is that there is a dosage level. Small amounts might not be terribly harmful, but larger amounts will kill. The idea that this was not considered beforehand is insane and short-sighted. While certainly there is a fear factor involved in not allowing wider usage to kill disease-bearing insects, it is also quite rational knowing that it has been abused in our lifetimes, and could be so again without carefully crafted regulations. But you did not make the claim, as some do about marijuana, that just because some will abuse it, does not mean it can't be used appropriately quite safely the vast majority of the time. I don't know the answer to this question about either marijuana or DDT (what level of use is "safe"), but not to comment on the irrationality of using it without considering the consequences in the first place makes you sound like an anti-environmentalist shill, and not a rational moderate searching for the truth.

And your discussion of taxes and whether the rich are paying their "fair share". The data you gave was deeply flawed. While the numbers may very well be true, the data you used was straight forwardly biased. You didn't even provide an alternative method of looking at the numbers which would have served to make one of your points far better... that numbers can be manipulated to say what we want them to say, when we don't understand the details very well.

Your heart is in the right place. But I found it particularly ironic that for all of the suggestions you made, your book committed several of the errors you warn readers against, particularly the ones mentioned above.

With regards,...


science wins

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