Clive James On The Value Of Scepticism

CliveJamesReams of information shooting at us via searches, social networks and email often make it hard to tell whether information is accurate. Expat Aussie writer and intellectual Clive James offers a thought-provoking summary on BBC News on why scepticism remains a useful value on nearly every occasion.

Picture by ronhogan

In typically discursive fashion, James addresses the issue by discussing the way in which golf balls can accidentally get introduced into the potato crisp manufacturing process. However, he quickly extends that to more topical issues such as climate change, and the crucial importance of realising that as more facts emerge, you may have no choice but to change your mind:

A conjecture can be dressed up as a dead certainty with enough rhetoric and protected against dissent with enough threatening language, but finally it has to meet the only test of science, which is that any theory must fit the facts, and the facts can't be altered to suit the theory.

For more of James' thoughts, check out his views on how clutter can help build tolerance.

In praise of scepticism [BBC News]

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Comments

    I'm not sure I buy this...

    Odd that he admits he doesn't know what he is talking about, and yet still ventures a view on climate change science (and gets it wrong on every count). That isn't scepticism, that's projecting your ignorance.

    In the end, this is not an academic debate, because we and our children are part of the experiment. The consensus among scientists (yes, with a few exceptions, as is always the case in science) is that we should decarbonise our economy as a matter of urgency.

    Let's take a bookie's eye view of the matter.

    Say we decarbonise our economy, and it turns out (unlikely as that may be) that IPCC view is wrong? Well, we will have created hundreds of thousands of jobs in insulation and renewable energy manufacturing and taken thousands out of fuel poverty. Not bad, but that's not all. We will also have reduced the shock of Peak Oil and Peak Gas, and reduced the acidification of the oceans. And addressed our energy security problems. And increased prosperity in hot countries. Not bad, not bad at all.

    Say on the other hand, we go the way of the denialists/skeptics, and it turns out, as per all reasonable expectations, that they are wrong? We will have problems with energy security, Peak Oil, Peak Gas, acidified oceans, acid rain, fuel poverty, unemployment, poverty, civil unrest and finally, massive, catastrophic climate disruption from droughts, floods, crop failures, disease, and war. With massive migration caused by environmental collapse. Not good.

    Any sensible punters would have to put their money on decarbonising the global economy.
    .See the video here

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