Thursday, November 17, 2005

My phone conversation with Bill Gray

Although there may have been no doubt by this point, global warming skeptic Bill Gray is not willing to make a bet based on his prediction that temperatures will decline in 5-8 years.

I got tired of approaching the issue in a roundabout way, located his number and called him this morning. I explained I wanted to bet him over his prediction, but admitted it would take some time, maybe as long as 15 years, to resolve a bet. Dr. Gray said that as a man in his seventies, that wasn't practical. I explained that there's a charitable foundation that we could both give our money to now, and the foundation would award the money to the charity of the winner's choice, which could be Gray's own research center. Gray then said that he just wasn't interested in participating in a long-term bet.

So it is frustrating that Dr. Gray isn't willing to back up his policy position, which will have catastrophic impacts if he's wrong, with his money. On the other hand, he was nice enough in our conversation and I think his beliefs are sincere (which I don't think is true for some prominent denialists). He said he assumed I'll still be around in fifteen years and that he believes he's right, but if he's wrong, to please forgive him. It's hard to be angry with an unpretentious, sincere, elderly scientist that I've talked to directly. But he's wrong.

One way to look at betting over this kind of issue is to view it as a form of ethical insurance. The person who is wrong and loses the bet will have hindered the development of policy that follows the correct, winner's view. As an ethical matter, the loser should take some consolation that some of his/her money will go the winner or winner's charity, where it can hopefully do some good. I'm going to email this post to Dr. Gray - if he wants to figure out a way to be "forgiven" if it turns out he's wrong 15 years from now, then a bet that sends money to an appropriate charity would be a good way to do it. Meanwhile, I suggest he encourage other people who support his position to take up a bet on his side.

(My other bet offers may not exactly match his position, so I'll suggest this: I'll give 2:1 odds that temperatures in 15 years will be warmer than they'll be in 5 years. That should be good odds from his perspective.)

UPDATE: A simple alternative way to arrange a for-profit bet when the parties aren't sure they'll be around long enough - simply agree the bet is cancelled if either party dies before the bet's decided. I should've thought of this before.

key: global warming, bet

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