Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Voyaging on That River in Egypt

I guess I've been bored, because I've been arguing with the climate change denialists again. Most of those I talk to are actually quite well-informed. They know a great deal. The only problem is that much of what they know isn't so. One of the things that always strikes me is their reaction to evidence. Any contrary evidence, even or perhaps especially if it's published in a major journal is dismissed as part of the conspiracy. Argument or evidence fitting their prejudices, on the other hand, is accepted as gold even if it comes from a teen-aged half-wit with a blog (poetic exaggeration, maybe).

Anosognosia - "lack of insight" or "lack of awareness" - is believed to be the single largest reason why individuals with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder do not take their medications. A result of anatomical damage to the brain, it affects approximately 50% of individuals with schizophrenia and 40% of individuals with bipolar disorder.

Dealing with the denialist reminds me of dealing with individuals with psychosis. There is a remarkable lack of insight into the fragility of their own evidence. Arguments against are first ignored, next met with diversionary tactics ("but what about the really cold day they once had in Edmonton, Alberta. Doesn't that disprove Arctic warming?" - an actual argument used with me, by the way.) If that fails, insults and anger follow.

Our friend Lumo is an interesting case. I notice that lately, he never even makes an attempt to present any evidence or logical argument. Instead he goes straight to obfuscation (Marxist plots), insults and denial, no matter how ridiculous:

Elimination of all CO2 wouldn't make an easily detectable difference for ice ages or any other aspect of climatology or meteorology on Earth.

My meteorologist and engineer friends are able to mount a much more plausible defense. It's only a guess, but mine is that Lumo's inner brain is smart enough not to get caught making any check-able claim (except for the patently ridiculous, as above), because he is afraid that his powerful logical brain might talk him into something that he is afraid to believe. Dumber guys don't have that worry.

The ability to believe improbable stuff is not confined to the certifiably psychotic, of course, or even the certifiably crackpot fringe. Probably everybody does it to some extent, which was Feynman's point about the necessity of the scientist to be diligent about self-criticism. It might be a crucial component of our social instincts which more or less allows us to align our beliefs with the tribe - maybe that's even why psychosis is so common. On the other hand, believing nonsense can also be hazardous to one's prospects for successful reproduction.