Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Another Front in the Accreditation War

Rick Perry already has a spectacularly unpresidential gaffe to his credit, having called Ben Bernanke “almost treasonous” for even thinking about expanding the money supply. Evan McMorris-Santoro thinks he caught him in another one, offering this YouTube as evidence that Perry not only “does not believe that climate change is caused by human activity” but “stat[es] flatly that scientists drum up phony climate change data to make a buck.”

If you take a look for yourself, however, you’ll see that isn’t exactly right:

Notice that Perry didn't say, indeed visibly made a point of not saying, that the theory of man-made global warming is incorrect. He did his best to present himself as an agnostic on that score.  Instead, he principally made two points:

First, that the results of climate science are too indeterminate, and uncertainty about their validity is too high, to justify social expenditures and economic disruption of the magnitude that Cap-and-Traders are urging on us. You may disagree, but that’s not a particularly extreme position for Perry take. In fact, it’s pretty close to the default position of today’s Democratic Party, especially among a Democratic House caucus still licking its political wounds for having passed Cap-and-Trade in the last congress only to see it die without even coming to a vote in the Senate.   Politically speaking, Cap-and-Trade is water under the bridge because it exacts a short-term social cost that no one's willing to pay.

Second, Perry’s not so much impugning the validity of climate science as the political authority of climate scientists. Advocates of climate-control legislation usually act as though that’s a distinction without much of a difference inasmuch as, when it comes to climate-control policy, it’s obviously irrational for lay people not to defer to the consensus among accredited climate scientists. The absence of such deference in conservative circles is just the sort of thing liberals are pointing at when they complain about the “Republican war on science.”

Accredited climate scientists have gotten the liberal script. Too many of them strut around as if, being the only conscientious custodians of the planet, they’re entitled to deference, even when they’re pronouncing on highly charged political issues. The only thing that differentiates their trafficking on their scientific credentials in the political arena from undemocratic special pleading is the idea that their advice is a matter of diligently applying apolitical standards of scientific objectivity rather than dressing up their own political preferences in scientific garb.

When Perry complains that climate science has been “politicized” he’s saying that, within the profession of climate science, influence moves in the opposite direction; climate scientists' political preferences, and the incentives arising out of the way climate science is funded, are corrupting their standards of scientific objectivity.  That's another variation on a  tried-and-true conservative theme. Conservatives have been complaining for years that, having taken over professional accrediting institutions, liberals are doing their level best to turn professional credentials into political weapons.

If you ask conservatives, liberals corrupted formerly apolitical standards of academic distinction by treating liberal political correctness as a marker of intellectual seriousness within the university. They corrupted the legal profession when a special committee of the American Bar Association pronounced Judge Robert Bork, a distinguished legal academic, former  Solicitor General and a sitting D.C. Circuit judge, not highly qualified to sit on the Supreme Court. And now liberals have decided that the only responsible way to reign in out-of-control Medicare costs is to empower, and insulate from political pressure, a “Death Panel” of highly credentialed public health experts to decide what counts as sound and cost-effective medical treatment. When conservatives see an army of professionally certified climate scientists giving advice to policy makers with an embarrassingly high number of mistakes that always seem to lend specious credibility to a liberal political agenda, they think they’re just seeing more of the same.

If you ask me, liberals would be in better shape if the stopped calling conservatives stupid and started fighting back effectively in a war over accreditation that, from all appearances, they're currently losing.  Condescension isn't a battle plan.

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