When it comes to climate science economists are still dismal

What never ceases to amaze me is the number of economists who have transformed themselves into world authorities on climate science and psychology.  Moreso than any other specialism, economists seem to possess a curious certainty that the climate is changing and that man is causing it.  It seems that tired of being specialists in what is known as the dismal science, many economists are trying to position themselves as actual scientists.  All too often the result is the kind of unthinking fanaticism and intolerance usually found in a religious convert.  A case in point is this ill-mannered rant by Jeffrey Sachs in yesterday’s Guardian.

Like many others of his ilk, Jeffrey Sachs had an eye to the main chance and jumped onto the passing climate bandwagon with the intent of pursuing a political agenda.  It is because Sachs’ interest is in political outcomes that his abusive op-ed is devoid of any coherent scientific argument.  It is  nothing more than a lazy rehash of tired and discredited claims designed to fill some column inches.  The thrust of Sachs’ piece is that people sceptical of anthropogenic (man made) global warming, or AGW, are horrid creatures doing the bidding of nasty lobby groups:

The global public is disconcerted by these attacks. If experts cannot agree that there is a climate crisis, why should governments spend billions of dollars to address it?

The fact is that the critics — who are few in number but aggressive in their attacks — are deploying tactics that they have honed for more than 25 years. During their long campaign, they have greatly exaggerated scientific disagreements in order to stop action on climate change, with special interests like Exxon Mobil footing the bill.

Sachs’ first paragraph hits the nail square on the head.  That is the root of the argument of the rapidly growing counter consensus.  But, you may wonder, what on earth does Sachs mean by this claim of tactics honed over 25 years?  It all becomes clear two paragraphs down.  It is just the latest variation on the theme of playing the man and not the ball:

Today’s campaigners against action on climate change are in many cases backed by the same lobbies, individuals, and organisations that sided with the tobacco industry to discredit the science linking smoking and lung cancer. Later, they fought the scientific evidence that sulphur oxides from coal-fired power plants were causing “acid rain.” Then, when it was discovered that certain chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were causing the depletion of ozone in the atmosphere, the same groups launched a nasty campaign to discredit that science, too.

It isn’t just pathetic, it is sad in its juvenile desperation.  Many AGW sceptics are frustrated that governments and organisations, such as preening Sachs’ own Earth Institute, fight a faux battle against CO2 while ignoring the real environmental damage caused by a range of different types of pollution and destruction of natural resources such as the rainforests.  As for Sachs’ argument that climate change will hit poor people more than the wealthy, people should ask themselves how the expensive ‘solutions’ proposed are any different.  The cost of the solutions will still be disproportionately borne by the poor.  But of course, they are beneficial for the industrial vested interests that Sachs supports.  As always, follow the money when people try to enforce changes on the rest of us.

What is noticeable about the piece is that is maintains a theme consistent in other such polemics, arguing simply that we must trust the science.  This continues despite the science being steadily discredited as every act of scrutiny throws up evidence of unsupported claims, or data manipulation, or inaccurate record keeping, or arbitrary adjustments or wildly overstated projections based on flawed computer models.

While asking Guardian readers to trust the science, Sachs is careful not to cite any specifics.  The reason is clear.  Sachs knows that any specifics will be scrutinised and there is a high probability that what he asserts will be similarly discredited, destroying his argument and whatever credibility he thinks he has.  So it is that the AGW campaigners are now restricted to crude generalisations and implorings that the underlying science is sound – when it is anything but – and repeated attempts to undermine their opponents with ad homines attacks rather than arguing points of science.  The game is up but they will not go down without a fight because money, power and influence are at stake, so the battle continues.

It seems almost ironic that we should describe Jeffrey Sachs as a ‘dismal scientist’.  The description of economics as a dismal science is generally attributed to Thomas Carlyle who gave economics that nickname in response to the assertions of Thomas Malthus, who predicted that starvation would result as projected population growth would exceed the rate of increase of food supply.  Sachs’ Earth Institute concerns itself with, among other things, overpopulation of the planet.  The parallels between Sachs and Malthus are extraordinary and the description of Sachs as a dismal scientist could not be more fitting.

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6 Responses to “When it comes to climate science economists are still dismal”

  1. 1 Drew 20/02/2010 at 3:56 pm

    Sachs is one of an exciting new breed, a post-dismal scientist, given the post-normal non-science upon which his AGW dogma is based.

  2. 2 Gareth 20/02/2010 at 5:15 pm

    Economic projections underpin the climate ones. Pseudo science built on dismal science.


  3. 3 Sebaneau 20/02/2010 at 10:03 pm

    An economist’s analysis of the warmist hoax

    Warmism is just a late development of Socialism, the very definition of which is the use of the supposed authority of “science” to violate natural individual rights.

    The difference is that, while original socialism first based its authoritarian and violent pseudo-elitism on an allegedly superior “science of organization” which has been discredited in the social sciences, warmism has been trying to abuse the good reputation of the natural sciences.

    The natural sciences owe such reputation to the fact that a natural scientist had generally rather reproduce a phenomenon, than find himself –or herself :-) –permanent excuses for failure [1].

    As a consequence, while the politicization of funding –the fact that most researchers now live on money stolen from the taxpayers– does develop a parasitic bureaucracy, it is not expected to produce a definite bias in scientific findings.

    The exception, however, is in the areas where:

    — there are large stakes for an entrenched power structure in finding a definite kind of results and

    — failure to reproduce phenomena is not readily evident, or was to be expected.

    One of those domains of science is long-term climate forecasting, which started receiving massive subsidies to find “evidence” for a politically pre-determined warmist conclusion during a warming period.

    If it hadn’t been for the fact that mean temperature is actually led by 11-year and 22-year sun cycles, such natural warming which might have gone on for many more years without anyone noticing a discrepancy between the forecasts and the observations.

    Even now that global temperatures have been going down for 11 years, there are still people who deny that it has statistical significance –while a few warmists deny the decline outright.

    The warmist hoax thus relied:

    — on the expected long-term nature of its forecasts –as opposed to the mean-term predictions of commodity shortages made by the Club of Rome, which were ridiculed within the time span of their forecasts (15 to 20 years)

    — and on the fact that most natural scientists have little experience of the corruption of their findings by politics.

    Economists, who have an inborn experience of such politicization and corruption, were never the dupes of the warmist hoax.

    Yet, there are elements of economic illiteracy which tend to make natural scientists the dupes of enviro-fascism:

    — they do not understand that the source of all wealth is the human mind (Julian Simon), and as a consequence, there is no such thing as “natural wealth”.
    That is why they do no understand that the only condition for development to be “sustainable” is that it be free.
    On the contrary, they will regard all claims that economic development is not naturally limited as based on a self-evident fallacy.

    — This comes from the materialistic methodology of the natural sciences, which systematically excludes creation as a kind of causality.
    Yet all wealth is indeed created: as a matter of fact, every time any man comes upon a new idea, it brings something genuinely new to the universe as we can perceive it
    –and the very existence of science is evidence of that.
    In that sense, every economist must be a “creationist” in order to be competent.

    [1] Cf. : “Austrian Rationalism in the Age of the Decline of Positivism”, Chapter 11 of: The Economics and Ethics of Private Property, Boston/Dordrecht/London, Kluwer, 1993, pp. 209-234.

  4. 4 Alexander 22/02/2010 at 12:10 pm

    Many years ago I tried to ‘do’ economics at universityy. Our class suffered three lecturers, one a foreign national whose English was so indistinct none of the class could understand him, the second was the Prof, head of the Economics department and a hard-line capitalist who often fronted for the Emeployeres Federation and various Manufacturers groups; the third was an avowed Marxist. By the end of the first term I withdrew! My point is that all three had ‘good’ academic credentials, had all published in prestigious journals, but their combined input came out as nonsense. I have since read some economics texts, but much of the ‘science’ of economics seem as meaningful as random conversations with ‘special class’ inhabitants.

  5. 5 Franks 22/02/2010 at 1:33 pm

    Good provocative stuff this article, full of myths and folklore that many pro alarmist Guardian readers will fall for without thinking.

    However I wonder if the Guardian by lifting this article unedited from the has been hoodwinked into publishing something that reads like thinly disguised publicity for a forthcoming book.

    After a general intro he slips in a paragraph about a forthcoming book “Merchants of Doubt” which apparently will be “an authoritative account of skeptics misbehaviour”. Presumably the rest of the article gives a flavour of how the book will cover the climate controversy.

    Maybe he actually believes it all, but does he have any links to to the authors Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway or even to the the book itself.

    Nothing like a conspiracy theory to get you going…

  1. 1 We surely owe Jeffrey Sachs our thanks « Autonomous Mind Trackback on 10/03/2010 at 10:36 pm
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