Monday, March 12, 2007

The Duke lacrosse controversy and attitudes to global warming

Anyone who believes her ideological viewpoint does not color her analysis of an open question needs to do more introspection. I've thought a lot about that regarding the Duke lacrosse rape controversy, which has cross-cutting ideological currents for people on the left side of the spectrum. Left-leaners are more likely to believe defendants are innocent than most people, but they're also more likely to believe a bastion of priviledged white male pseudo-violence, a Southern Ivy-League lacrosse team, would gang-rape a working-class, African-American female stripper.

I often read two lefty blogs, Talk Left and Pandagon. Talk Left is run by a criminal defense lawyer, and Pandagon by strong feminists. Predictably, TL basically thought the players were innocent, and Pandagon (until recently, maybe) knew they were guilty. I always thought the case against the players was weak, but maybe that's because my sister was a criminal defense lawyer. The point is you have to be aware of your ideological viewpoint, however good it might be generally, and decide if it's helpful in this case.

That point isn't all that far from David Friedman, the "no big deal denialist" I wrote about recently, who says when deciding who to believe, we should "look at the incentives various people have to express the views they do." This is a reasonable point. That fighting global warming supports many of my other environmental goals could be evidence that I'm either deliberately skewing my judgment or that I'm fooling myself. Having recognized a potential splinter in my own eye, though, I'll point out his - as an (apparently) conservative libertarian, his no-big-deal scientific conclusion about global warming impacts is an extremely convenient match for his political beliefs in minimizing government. (UPDATE: David clarifies in the comments that he's an anarchist/libertarian. Interesting.)

For my part, I try to minimize the amount of scientific frolicking I do and rely on the scientific consensus - the scientists' motivation is to be right, something that's far more important to their futures than their background political beliefs. I'm not going to completely give up on my own judgment, but will be very careful when it contradicts the consensus. That's where Friedman goes wrong.

(It's interesting, btw, that the few remaining denialist scientists are generally older and unlikely to face long-term professional consequences for being wrong.)

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