We know what we know, and deny what we deny

(Letter to the LRB, sent 24 April 2007, unpublished)

Dear Ms Wilmers,

Re: Letters, LRB 29/8 (26 April 2007)

In an attempt to play down the global scientific consensus on climate change, Louis Harovitz employs philosophy of science with cavalier disingenuousness. If one cannot disprove a criminal case in which one has an interest, one might refer airily to the philosophical uncertainty of the forensics which underpin the interpretation of the evidence, in order to sway the jury. While that might be logically correct, it could also be argued as irrelevant and misleading in the least, to sow doubt by discussing the characteristics of knowledge in general rather than the specific application of one particular theory.

However, all this academic disputation aside, does Harovitz honestly expect us to believe that Popperian falsifiability is the acid test for economic and social decisions? That it is an adequate reason for putting the brakes on all efforts to combat a climate problem that the vast majority of climatologists are convinced is occurring, efforts which target what are agreed to be its most likely causes?

Are the electronics, communications, laser, military, biochemical and genetics industries, all of whom are founded on the results predicted by such theories as relativity and quantum mechanics, similarly cowed by the fundamental unproveability of the scientific method? Are bridge-builders and aeroplane pilots skeptical of those who try to remove flat-earth theory from some established canon? And is hard-headed Harovitz really willing to risk almost certain economic disaster—if he prefers that measurement of unprecedented human suffering—rather than pre-emptively tightening our belts now? If so, then he has probably learnt his statistics from the same tutor as his rhetorics.

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