Thursday, July 16, 2015

Capitalists vs. Scientists

First, just what is a capitalist.  Most are definitely not the little top-hatted guy in Monopoly or big-hair Donald Trump.  Surprisingly, if you look in the mirror you might see a capitalist.  A capitalist is a person who provides money, directly or indirectly, to the funds of a company, be it Behemoth Industries or Tiny’s Corner Store.

If you are contributing or have contributed to a company pension plan, you are a capitalist. Most pension funds invest in stocks or bonds.  If you invest in an IRA or 401K, you are likely a capitalist. We could quibble whether an investor in government bonds is a capitalist.

Government “bureaucrats” are often capitalists.  CALPERS is the pension fund for many California public employees, whether they are school teachers, snow plow operators, or motor vehicle clerks.

Union members are capitalists.  Teamsters employed by UPS can have 401K accounts managed by Fidelity Investments.

Who we think of as capitalists sometimes really aren’t capitalists in the sense of putting their own money into a company.  These “capitalists” are executive hirees who are given humongous stock benefits to run a company.  These hirees or those who inherit a company from a parent can be, but not always, focused on short-term profit without consideration to the environment, employees, or customers.

Fortunately, there are many capitalists, both stock owners and corporate hierarchy that think of the long term effects of their businesses.  Unfortunately, it is the short-term profiteers who too often have the ears of politicians to serve their short-term interests.  These are the people that Adam Smith had in mind when he wrote, “This order of men is not to be trusted…”

These short-term thinkers are the ones who do everything they can to discredit those who get in the way of their profits, be it in food, medicine, or climate.

Many CEOs don’t care about the long-term consequences of their actions.  Scientists do.

Scientists are the ones who seek out answers to life’s persistent questions: what causes this disease and how do we best cure it, what is the safety of our air and water and can we make it better, and what is happening to our climate and can we mitigate any adverse effects?

All of these scientists have had their detractors who use all the tools they can find to discredit the scientists: “junk science”, “just a theory”, “doctored data”, and lists of “scientists” who disagree with the scientists doing the actual work.  Everything except do some actual scientific work to evaluate the evidence on its merits.

Newspapers have been filled with letters denying global warming, aka “climate change”.  They almost seem orchestrated with far-fetched “proofs” that there is no climate change.  One is tempted to put these deniers on an Arctic ice floe in the winter and see how soon they call for help in the summer.

I was inspired to write this column after having had on my to-read list for a very long time Michael E. Mann’s “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines”. I finally read it. I knew that many distortions had been made about climate research, but Mann provided many of the details.

“The Hockey Stick” relates to the graphs showing global warming.  The graphs aren’t nice straight lines with a sudden rise up, but they are lots of squiggles as temperatures vary from year to year but in a band that doesn’t drift very far.  Then in the middle of the Nineteenth Century the band angles steeply up.  Mann has been attacked for manipulating data, for leading a cabal of renegade scientists, and for much more, but his results have been replicated independently by others many times over.

You probably read about the falsifying of data by climate researchers at the University of East Anglia.  But, did you read that the email was hacked and phrases cherry-picked from them? One example of the deceit of the hackers was to rewrite a sentence using “trick” as a clever way to do something to imply that the “trick” was deceit.

Time and time again, the deceit is on the part of the deniers, and very few reporters follow up with the truth.  Very few of these follow-ups make it to the front pages or opening news bites. Unfortunately, there are too many news outlets that will never admit they are wrong, especially if the truth doesn’t match the owners’ view of the world.

One weapon that deniers have is a Congress which is now heavily weighted with Senators and Representatives heavily subsidized by certain old-style energy interests.  This weapon is a double-barreled shotgun.  One barrel shoots out thousands of misleading statements about global warming.  The other barrel shoots out subpoenas to climate researchers to appear before Congress.  Often researchers have to appear because many of their funds come from Federal grants.  These subpoenas have the effect of taking the researchers from their work and providing a grandstand for the deniers in Congress.

After I finished Professor Mann’s book, I had an exchange of emails with him.  One paragraph I wrote was a parody of Galileo being put under house arrest for asserting that the Earth moved around the Sun (Eppur si muove):
“Sen. James Imhofe, Pope of the Wholly Wrong Church, condemned Michael Mann to house arrest for the heresy of questioning a static climate.  As Mann was condemned, he muttered, ‘It’s still getting warmer!’”
Mann replied that in many of the hearings he was tempted to mutter: “Eppur si riscalda”.