Monday, May 13, 2013

The Fog of Lore

The new address of the Earth's atmosphere is 400 PPM Street, and it is a wonderful place -- according to the Wall Street Journal.

The only gripe they have with the place is that it is not the place down at 450 PPM Street; the place that scientists call The Hotel California (the place you can never leave).

The Wall Street gang's gripe is that we need more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of the Earth so the crops will do better.

What, the Wall Street paper owned by Australian neoCon Rupert Murdoch, now wants to tell us how to garden?

The climate scientists of the world, on the other hand say we have to move the other way, down to 350 PPM Street.

So, who are we to listen to besides Wall Street (they are doing so well on the economy thingy after all)?

On the one hand, this is yet another issue where we must do what scientists do, which is to rely on someone else in order to develop our opinion:
I find myself believing all sorts of things for which I do not possess evidence: that smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer, that my car keeps stalling because the carburetor needs to be rebuild, that mass media threaten democracy, that slums cause emotional disorders, that my irregular heart beat is premature ventricular contraction, that students' grades are not correlated with success in the nonacademic world, that nuclear power plants are not safe (enough) ...

The list of things I believe, though I have no evidence for the truth of them, is, if not infinite, virtually endless. And I am finite. Though I can readily imagine what I would have to do to obtain the evidence that would support any one of my beliefs, I cannot imagine being able to do this for all of my beliefs. I believe too much; there is too much relevant evidence (much of it available only after extensive, specialized training); intellect is too small and life too short.

What are we as epistemologists to say about all these beliefs? If I, without the available evidence, nevertheless believe a proposition, are my belief and I in that belief necessarily irrational or non-rational? Is my belief then mere belief (Plato's right opinion)? If not, why not? Are there other good reasons for believing propositions, reasons which do not reduce to having evidence for the truth of those propositions? What would these reasons look like?

In this paper I want to consider the idea of intellectual authority, particularly that of experts. I want to explore the "logic" or epistemic structure of an appeal to intellectual authority and the way in which such an appeal constitutes justification for believing and knowing.
(The Pillars of Knowledge: Faith and Trust?). That realistic appraisal comes from an "epistemologist" -- one who studies the nature of knowledge.

On the other hand, this is what we citizens do when we are on jury duty.

That is, we sit and listen to two experts who come to an opposite opinion from one another, on the same set of facts:
In the courts during trials experts are used. In the typical case experts will give their opinions to the jury. Typically this means an opposite opinion for each side. The experts are sworn in, list their degrees, and the court makes a ruling that they are experts.

Afterwards those experts explain that they looked at the evidence, and then they tell the jury what their opinion is. The expert for the defense has one opinion, but the expert for the prosecutor typically has another and different opinion. On the exact same evidence I should add.

Finally, the everyday folk on the jury make the decision as to which expert was right and who was telling the truth! Yes, the person who left the farm after a 5:00 AM breakfast, and then drove the truck into town for that day's jury duty, decides which rocket scientist had it right.
(Why Trial By Jury?). This is our modern world where it is dangerous for us not to be responsible citizens, because some of these things citizens must accomplish do not come with a second chance or a refund policy.

If our civilization listens to Wall Street and they are wrong, our civilization is without doubt going down.

So, we must make the correct choice on the issue of the global climate system by choosing which expert group is sane and honest, and which group is composed of psychopaths who are risking billions of lives.

About 98.4% of scientific papers conclude that global warming is caused because of the misuse of fossil fuels by human civilization (Quantifying the Consensus on Anthropogenic Global Warming in the Scientific Literature).

"Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature":

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