This evening, January 23, 2015, the latest episode of HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher" had as a guest panelist Bret Stephens, who remarkably was allowed to totally dominate the entire discussion while spewing every slick climate denialist trope imaginable, and when he wasn't speaking he was smugly rolling his eyes at anything said by Howard Dean or anyone else on the panel. But some of his points were so transparently ridiculous, I wanted to punch the television when no one on the panel stepped up to refute them! A selection of these, and how I'd have responded, below the fleur-de-Kos...
I was pleased that when Stephens trotted out as a riposte to global warming concerns that various people (whom he didn't specifically name) had been claiming "the end of the world" was coming since 1935, but he did manage to specifically mention that infamous 1970s Newsweek "Global Cooling" article, Maher called him out on that (though not forcefully enough -- Bill didn't mention the linked statement by that old article's author that this one piece in no way diminishes the research on global warming of today).
But two comments from Stephens really got my goat.
First off, his statement that scientists don't know "public policy". Excuse me? What planet is he living on? As opposed to what? It was scientists who pointed out smoking causes cancer, and we ought to try to reduce it? As Neil deGrasse Tyson pointed out in the new COSMOS, it was a geochemist, Clair Patterson, whose research on the age of the Earth via radioactive decay led him to concerns about lead contamination and to realize the dangers posed by leaded gasoline. Would Stephens think we'd be better off as a nation if we were all still breathing lead fumes and nicotine?
Then he attacked the notion about how the overwhelming majority of scientists believe global warming is occurring and that human activity is causing it. He fatuously tossed off that "science shouldn't be ruled by consensus" and that essentially we only need brave truth tellers who deny the groupthink; like that Galileo guy who resisted the geocentric solar system consensus of his day. Um... the reason Galileo and Copernicus' heliocentric solar system model won out is because it was supported by EVIDENCE -- Galileo could show by direct observation in his telescope that not all bodies in the solar system orbited the Earth (the Jovian moons orbited Jupiter!) Scientists don't arrive at "consensus" just because some idea is popular and makes them feel good, they do so because the evidence supports it! Darwin's ideas about evolution by natural selection were widely criticized at first, but won out because of the overwhelming biological and morphological evidence he (and later other scientists) had gathered to support it!
His final smug assertion was to assert that we didn't need to do anything to ameliorate global warming because of a "study" by a Bjorn Lomborg, who brought together some collection of experts including some "Nobel Laureates" to consider what issues they would prioritize limited spending on, global warming among them. And they concluded that spending on global warming mitigation just wasn't worth it.
Problem with Bill Maher and the other guests is that no one knew anything about this or how to respond. But having followed some climate science debates, I do. Lomborg is a prominent scientist -- a polticial scientist and economist. He is not a climatologist or physicist. All his "Nobel Laureates" -- also all economists! So apparently according to Stephens, scientists know bugger all about public policy and can be roundly ignored, but economists are perfectly suited to set national policies in all sorts of fields! I mean, after all, economists did so well in organizing our national policies in the run-up to September 2008, right?!
Of course, as one might expect, an economic institute taking up considerations of global warming is supported by all the usual suspects, and much of the "research" in his "Skeptical Environmentalist" book has been challenged.