We’ve been living through a heat wave in the Midwest which recently broke.
That’s not unusual.
What is unusual is the silence from climate change skeptics who were out in force during the pervious snowy winter. Folks like Republican Senator James Imhoff built an igloo on the capital hill and labeled it Al Gore’s New Home. But the way that this thing goes, Al Gore doesn’t have the opportunity during the latest heat wave to put a similar public sign out next to a thermometer at the same location saying “Hot enough for you yet?”.
Even the e-mail controversy that grew to be called Climategate has closed with a whimper.
A recently released report from a British investigation revealed that scientists are just as susceptible to petty and vengeful electronic correspondence as the rest of world. But there was no deliberate or unintentional cover-up of data. Just the normal sorts of debates that are an essential part of the scientific process of getting to the truth.
Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that “the combined global land and ocean surface temperature” in May were the warmest on record. In fact, NOAA reported, the whole period from January through May, on average, was the warmest since recordkeeping began in 1880.
The problem is that some people these days don’t trust science. In fact they don’t trust anyone or anything that calls their world view into question. This is called self-serving perception bias.
We also have all manner of politicians, pundits, and media taking advantage of this bias. They do that by appealing to what they call common sense, when they know the actual solutions to the problems are actually counter intuitive. Here are some examples.
Common sense says that in tough financial times you should reduce your spending and save your money because you may need it.
There are lots of conservatives bleating about the size of the federal deficit and objecting to any spending that adds to it. Unfortunately, for governments, this is exactly the WRONG thing to do. During a recession, unemployment and under-utilized capacity are the problem. Governments need to spent massively in the short term to help get the economy going again. When the economy is booming and individuals are spending money is when Governments need to raise both taxes and interest rates. This brings down the debt accumulated during the period of stimulation, slows inflation, and prevents the sort of market bubbles that cause recessions.
Common sense says “how hard can it be?”. There is a broken pipe, just plug it up. This sort of stuff happens all the time to oil drillers. Why is this so different?
What is particularly disturbing about this line of reasoning is the corollary – the reason this isn’t being fixed is because the Obama administration wants to prolong the spill in order to gain support for their socialist alternative energy agenda.
The reality is that this particular well is so deep under water that the reliable ways of fixing oil well blowouts just don’t work. Which calls into question why BP was allowed to drill this deep to begin with when the known ways of remediation were also unproven. Unfortunately, the “drill baby drill” crowd are just as silent these days about their claims that offshore drilling was safe as climate change skeptics have been during our hot summer.
Common sense says that is has to cost more to insure more people. So the healthcare reform bill is just another big government giveaway to the poor.
The reality is that insurance rates go down as the number of insured goes up. That’s because most people are healthy and the more healthy people you have paying insurance, the more sick people you can afford to cover. So the way to get the best rates for everyone is to require that everyone have some sort of insurance.
The other reality is that sick people are going to receive care in one form or another. If they have no insurance, they will be cared for in emergency rooms which is the most expensive care our system has to offer (at least $1000 per visit). If they have insurance, they have the option to receive care from community physicians ($50 per visit). This care could prevent a trip to the emergency room.
Common sense says that if someone comes to this country illegally, they are a criminal and as a result a threat to society.
Statistics suggest that illegal immigrants are more law abiding that the average citizen. They come here to work. They avoid trouble because they don’t want to be deported. They pay their taxes and use less services than the average citizen. They are also willing to take huge sometimes life-threatening risks to work here because they believe that America is the land of opportunity. The only citizens we ask to take similar risks are in the military. Most of the rest of us would not work the jobs these folks are willing to work and would not take the risks these folks are willing to take just to have a job. They are teaching their children the value of hard work in much more effective ways than the average American family.
Statistics also say that children of these immigrants blend just as quickly now into society as they did during the European immigrations of the past. These immigrant populations are keeping our country young, because they have larger families. That’s important because our economy is based on the assumption that people will buy things. Kids drive the consumer economy. Fewer kids = slower growth.
Common sense says that the planet can’t be warming because we had a cold snowy winter.
The reality is that the planet’s weather system is vast and complex. One person’s perception of weather is only one data point among billions. We have to rely on experts who have devoted their lives to climate study to get a clear picture of what is happening. Even then, the best picture will only come from the majority opinion – since science also encourages dissent and debate. The majority opinion is that the earth is warming at an alarming rate that exceeds all previous natural causes – which only leaves our activities at the root of this dramatic increase.
There is much to be said for common sense. But when it ignores science and experts, it has stopped being common sense and has morphed over into populism. Just like the Luddites who tried to stand in the way of the Industrial Revolution, those who have joined this tea-party populist movement are driven by fear of change. There are powerful forces feeding this fear with distrust of any opposing view, regardless of how well researched that view might be. The result is a mob mentality that is deaf to reason and intolerant of dissent.
That is rarely if ever a recipe for success.