Another jesting Pilate

Susan Matthews at Slate on that climate change denial column by the New York Times’s new mavericky guy Bret Stephens.

His debut column, “Climate of Complete Certainty,” published on Friday, supports my theory. The thesis of the column is that we would do well to remember that there are fair reasons why people might be skeptical of climate change, and that claiming certainty on the matter will only backfire. He casts himself as a translator between the skeptics and the believers, offering a lesson “for anyone who wants to advance the cause of good climate policy.”

He talks about the overconfidence of the Clinton campaign.

He then goes on to compare the Clinton failure and the science on climate change. “Isn’t this one instance, at least, where 100 percent of the truth resides on one side of the argument?” he asks facetiously.

I will be honest, I do not know what “100 percent of the truth” means. But I do know what Stephens is doing here. He is sowing the seeds of epistemic uncertainty. He is telling readers that the experts’ wrongness during the 2016 election is a good justification for doubting other established facts. People are right to look around at the institutions we once held onto and to doubt the veracity of the information they give us. It is entirely reasonable to stop trusting expertise, Stephens subtly suggests. Remember Clinton?

Clever people can get overconfident, therefore, assume all experts are wrong. Not so sure I agree 100% with the logic there Lou.

This is a classic strain of climate change denialism. Stephens does not call a single fact into question throughout his piece. Instead, he’s telling his readers that their decision not to trust the entire institution of science that supports the theory of climate change might actually be reasonable. “Ordinary citizens also have a right to be skeptical of an overweening scientism,” he writes. “They know—as all environmentalists should—that history is littered with the human wreckage of scientific errors married to political power.”

So just laugh merrily, fill up the SUV with 40 gallons of gas, and drive off into the sunset, leaving your children to deal with the floods and droughts and mass migrations.

The final shoe drops in the last lines of the piece:

Perhaps if there had been less certitude and more second-guessing in Clinton’s campaign, she’d be president. Perhaps if there were less certitude about our climate future, more Americans would be interested in having a reasoned conversation about it.

What he is suggesting here is that the rational way to go forward with a conversation about climate change is to admit that climate change might not be certain. This is similar to the torturous logic he puts forward throughout the rest of the piece—the only way to be reasonable about this topic is to give in to those who are unreasonable about it. While he calmly insists he is the only logical person around, he is spewing complete bullshit.

Trump will probably invite him to Taco del Mar next weekend.

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