Thursday, March 26, 2009

Dyson isn't a right wing hack, but he'd rather be contrary than right

Revkin at NY Times writes about skeptic Freeman Dyson, recipient of a long profile:

Personally, I see Mr. Dyson (he never pursued a Ph.D) in a different camp, as one of a handful of scientists for whom ideological predispositions have no bearing on how they approach a technical question.

Maybe it's not a political predisposition - I'll get back to that - but the profile has Dyson saying three things: models projecting dangerous climate change are wrong, what change will occur is a net benefit, and technology can easily handle anything potentially dangerous.

Where I'd disagree with Revkin is that each assertion is an independent technical question, but they all, conveniently, are concluded by Dyson in a way that supports a position that we shouldn't reduce fossil fuel consumption. Many right-wing hacks also find the same conclusions, all against the scientific consensus. Dyson isn't a right-winger, but he is a contrarian, and I think he likes reaching a conclusion that opposes the consensus. Within his own field of expertise, he's occasionally done that correctly, but he's also been wrong. This isn't his field, other than some minor work Revkin points to from 30 years ago. (Mooney has more on this.) In other words, Dyson is biased.

And there's a political ideology driving Dyson as well. He clearly thinks coal should play a major role in Third World development. Even if he doesn't follow typical denialist politics, his political preference is driving his analysis.

Finally, since any accusation of bias could be turned around against the accuser, let's examine it. The models seem to have held up pretty well over the past 10-20 years, and the theory of destructive climate change is a century old and doesn't rely on modelling. The evidence strongly suggests changes will be net negative, as can be seen in significant part by the fact that we are adapted to the current climate. (If we could choose in advance, maybe we'd prefer a Jurassic climate, but switching to a warmer one from the present imposes huge costs.) Finally, technology might save us, but blindly counting on it is a huge mistake. Maybe I'm as blinded as Dyson by my ideology, but I doubt it.

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