Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Skeptical about policy versus skeptical about climate

I've been corresponding with one of the bloggers I invited to bet me over climate change, Craig Newmark. He gives his reasons for skepticism and for not betting me here.

Among the not-unusual reasons that I find unpersuasive, Craig includes a kludge factor that I've often seen in various places, along the lines of "I'm not betting over global warming because I think Kyoto Protocol is a bad idea from those watermelon socialists."

This is a kludge because the question of what do about a problem is separate from whether the problem actually exists. I'm trying to advance the policy discussion by eliminating areas of disagreement, and I think there's less actual disagreement about climate change than the denialists claim, as shown by their general refusal to bet. Getting rid of that non-controversy can help us move on to determining the best solution.

Craig defends the kludge as a persuasive strategy akin to what lawyers use. It may be persuasive to some, and some desperate lawyers use it, but it's not good legal reasoning. Legal analysis (in theory) dissects issues into their component parts, answers each part, and then comes up with the overall answer. Craig didn't do that.

I'll add to his lawyer story with another my law professor joked about, concerning what to do when arguing in front of a judge: "If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. If you have the law on your side, pound the law. And if you don't have the facts or the law on your side, pound the table."

Being skeptical about the science, based on the allegation that Kyoto is bad, is just pounding the table.

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