Sunday, 11 August 2013

Stupid Has Degrees, Stupid!

I listened to Radio 4's Science, Right or Left this evening as I was driving back from a weekend of statistics and playing with children (not concurrently; that can lead to poor modelling choices and children pawing carelessly at colourful graphs).  It wasn't very good, annoyingly.  The topic was the reasons why various political positions find themselves at odd with science (by which is meant scientists), but no real effort went into trying to figure out why such conflicts arise, in favour of merely noting them.

In among the presenter shaking his head sadly that laypeople are too dismissive of scientists and scientists are too full of themselves, the BBC found time to construct one of the most awesome false equivalences I've seen them manage, utterly dropping the ball in the process.  Looking for someone to present the climate change sceptic side (itself a ridiculous term, but that's not Radio 4's fault), the programme trotted out someone to offer the old saw that there could be loads of research demonstrating global warming isn't our fault, if only the government would start funding it.

In fairness, that might just have been a pre-recorded soundbite, leaving the program makes no chance to directly point out to this guy the obvious flaw in thinking all science research is public funding.  And if you can't confront the commentator directly, there is perhaps some problem in inserting a comment immediately after to the tune of "Of course, this is transparent bullshit" [1].

Trying to fold it into a false equivalence in the hope of seeming balanced, though?  That's pretty weaksauce.  With the utter refusal of wide swathes of the international right to countenance the possibility of climate change, it was time to look at a more left-wing phenomenon: profound suspicion of GM food.

Now, I know almost noting about the ins and outs of GM.  I haven't anything even close to an informed opinion. Maybe it's entirely safe, and those who don't believe that are terribly misguided, I've no idea. But the central tenet of those that object to GM is this - private enterprise has strangled fair research on the topic.

See the trick?  The right thinks vast international coalitions with access to phenomenal monetary and political resources have too little power.  The left thinks they have too much power.  A pox on both their houses!

The program is even good enough to make this explicit by asking one of the GM haters why he believes scientists are wrong about GM but right about GW. A more sensible way to phrase the question would be "If commercial interests failed to throw enough money at the theory of climate change to kill it, why do you think they have managed  it here?"  Because, you know, fair question.

But any time you're trying to argue politicians being in hock to the rich and powerful is as deluded as the idea that politicians ignore those people completely, then it's not just those can't tell a scientist from a snake-oil salesman who need to be paying more attention.

[1] This is the only explanation for why the programme rebroadcast Owen Patterson's claim from his Any Questions appearance that there has been no climate change in the last seventeen years without adding "In the same way that there's less light pollution this century because we haven't had another Tunguska fucking Event".

No comments: