When the Uncertainty Monster Rears its Wicked Head Should We Tell the Truth?-A Comment on Curry

The Incredulity of St Thomas - Caravagio c.1601 - Truth is vouchsafed to the doubter

I have a comment in over at Judith Curry’s blog Climate Etc. on her recent post, Should We Tell the Whole Truth About Climate Change?  – Good long title there, I approve.  There are already almost 400 comments, so I am promoting my comment to a slightly expanded post here to cut through the torrent of bits over there.

Judy writes:

In principle, yes of course.  In practice, many journalists, scientists and government officials are not so certain as to how to balance telling the whole truth and being truthful in an “effective” way.

Truth is effective.

Therefore, if you are not being effective, you don’t have the truth.

The truth of the matter is, we don’t know what the ‘Truth’ is.  We have a enormous sets of facts and data, and a large number of narratives that attempt to string them all together in an orderly way, but no one can truthfully claim to be able to predict what the state of the Earth’s climate is going to be in fifty or a hundred years.  Nobody.

Judy has written very eloquently about the Uncertainty Monster and exactly how ‘wicked a problem’ we are faced with regarding our changing climate.  What that means is we don’t know what ‘The Truth’ is, we have some Scientific Wild-Ass Guesses, but that’s about it.

As soon a one takes the position that to be “effective” in action requires deviating from [what you believe to be] the truth and engaging in half-truths, fear mongering, and deception you have already moved into the terrain of intellectual bias and away from reason.  This is so because, any decision about how to balance the presentation of [my version] the truth about a complex and uncertain subject requires, assumptions, unprovable assumptions to be made that ultimately rest on that person’s set of biases and presumptions – you notice how circular this reasoning becomes almost immediately.

We also have to be very clear with ourselves that being ‘effective’ doesn’t really just mean, ‘getting our way’.

Which brings us to some excerpts from Michael Lemonik over at Climate Central that Judy quotes:

So that brings me to climate change. The essential and utterly valid message, based on the best available science, is that the Earth is warming; it’s largely due to us; it’s going to keep warming unless we do something, and there’s a significant chance that the consequences will be disastrous.
~Michael Lemonik posted at Climate Central

If one has taken the position that [my version of] the ‘Truth’ needs to be ‘made more effective’ in some way, how is anyone else ever to trust a statement like the one above or the person who makes it, much less any particular policy proposal he might make?  We know about the Uncertainty Monster, we know about the Wicked Problem, we know that we REALLY DO NOT KNOW; therefore, if you encounter someone saying, “The essential and utterly valid message, based on the best available science, is…” you can know with absolute certainty that that person has already fallen off the wagon of reason and [however nice a fellow he might be] has surrendered to bias and presuppositions that originate somewhere lower down in the cerebral cortex than that outer 4mm where most higher [human] reason takes place.

Once you surrender to the more slope-browed-retro-troglodyte portions of the [pre-human] brain you run the great risk of turning into an Andrew Tobis, a very smart, very well educated person, a scientist who is doing real work in the field, but whose paranoid narrative of ‘the Earth in danger’ has prevented him from updating his view of the issue since AR1, and has turned his formidable intellectual abilities into an overweening case of confirmation bias, and who’s hysterical emotional rants against his intellectual opponents are evidence prima facie, that his higher cortical functions are under a control of a much less advanced region of the brain, and who is not interested in finding out what is really going on [he already knows!], but enforcing his will upon everyone else.

But then what to do?

As human beings we are going to just have to suck it up and admit that science really, really can’t help us with this one and that we are going to have to start making decisions [or not] individually, nationally and globally about how to manage our global civilization using OTHER CRITERIA than readouts from a GCM and mass hysteria generated from scary stories about the Earth in danger.

Ultimately the solutions to these problems boils down to decisons we make based upon human values – hopefully truly human values and not the reptiloid slope-browed-retro-troglodyte values of avarice and anger, or…  <insert your favorite mortal sin here>

Let’s not turn the future of humanity into a negative sum game.



1 thought on “When the Uncertainty Monster Rears its Wicked Head Should We Tell the Truth?-A Comment on Curry

  1. Pingback: A Comment on Caravaggio and a Thought Experiment | The Coraline Meme

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