IN A RECENT THREAD VJTORLEY WRITES:
Here’s a question for everyone: when is it rational NOT to believe an expert? That’s a difficult one. The following is a (by no means exhaustive) list of “warning signs” which indicate that what an expert says may be open to legitimate doubt:
(1) The question in dispute relates to a single discipline, in which the known facts are dwarfed by the unknowns, as much remains to be discovered. In that case, even if the expert knows a LOT more than you do, he/she is about as much in the dark as you are.
(Here’s a concrete mathematical illustration: if you know 0.01% of everything that could be known in the relevant field, and the expert knows 100 times more than you do, that’s still only 1%, which means that he/she is 99% in the dark, while you are 99.99% in the dark. That’s not much of a difference.)
(2) The question in dispute relates to a single discipline, in which the relevant uncertainties have not been adequately quantified.
(3) The question in dispute relates to a single discipline, in which the predictions made by the dominant scientific model are based on mechanisms whose causal adequacy to generate the effects predicted has not been established – in other words, where the capacity or efficacy of the mechanisms has not been adequately quantified.
(4) The expert makes a claim which strikes you as prima facie outrageously implausible, but is unable to demonstrate that the dominant scientific model upon which he/she relies is adequate to support that claim – in other words, the expert can’t prove to you that his/her model is at least capable of getting you from X to Y.
(5) The question in dispute relates to a single discipline, in which the predictions made by the dominant scientific model are highly sensitive to the initial assumptions which are input, so that a tiny revision in these assumptions dramatically alters the predictions made by the model.
(6) The question in dispute relates to a single discipline, in which the predictions appear to accord well with the data, but the mechanics of the phenomenon itself are poorly understood, so that the currently accepted model, while plausible, is not necessarily the only possible way of explaining the phenomenon – in other words, another model may supplant it in the future.
(7) The question in dispute relates to multiple disciplines, in several of which you have a limited degree of expertise, whereas the expert you are listening to has a great deal of expertise in just ONE of these disciplines.
(8) The expert in question has a track record of making bad judgements on other subjects with which you are familiar, and most of these judgements tend to betray a common cognitive blind-spot.
(9) The expert in question is very dogmatic about his/her claim, even though other experts in the same field have contrary opinions, or are considerably less certain about the claim.
(10) The claim itself appears to be ideologically motivated to some degree – i.e. it is accompanied by snide put-downs of alternative world-views which are held by many people, but not by the expert.
(11) The expert has been financially rewarded or has obtained fame or promotion by promoting his/her claim, but would not have been so rewarded had he/she promoted a contrary claim.
(12) The expert’s claim is asserted hotly and with great vehemence, accompanied by moral indignation and/or contempt towards those who question or reject the claim.
Can anyone think of any other warning signs? If so, please feel free to add to the list.
As an exercise, readers might like to check the boxes for neo-Darwinian evolution (as opposed to common descent) and the hypothesis of dangerous anthropogenic global warming.
Regarding global warming, I think it’s best to be prepared. Personally, I’m skeptical that anthropogenic global warming is likely to be dangerous on a global scale over the next 100 years. But of course, I could be completely wrong. The good news is that even if anthropogenic global warming does pose a real threat to the biosphere, we have a feasible action plan that won’t cost the earth, that won’t line the pockets of the bureaucrats, and that will solve all our energy problems:
Sustainable Nuclear Power by Professor Barry Brook.
The following articles show (I hope) why it remains rational to doubt the claim that anthropogenic global warming is likely to be dangerous in the foreseeable future.
Why I am a Global Warming Skeptic by Dr. Doug Hoffman.
The Crumbling Pillars of Climate Change by Dr. Doug Hoffman.
The Grand View: Four Billion Years of Climate Change by Dr. Doug Hoffman.
Could Human CO2 Emissions Cause Another PETM? by Dr. Doug Hoffman.
Connecting the Dots: Theoretical and Observational Evidence for Negative Cloud Feedbacks by Dr. Roy Spencer and Dr. William Braswell.
Global Warming Skepticism 101 by Dr. Roy Spencer.
A Climate of Belief by Dr. Patrick Frank