In a sober world, learning is a constructive process, it requires a willingness to look at all the evidence that’s available.
A couple months ago I had a friend from near Pacifica, California inform me that Jim Steele had attained a new soapbox, a regular column titled ‘What’s Natural?’ in the Pacifica Tribune. (For what it’s worth, I've noticed the contrarian blog “WattsUpWithThat” hosted by the infamous Anthony Watts is mirroring Steele’s column.)
The column was bugging my pal since he could recognize Steele was playing fast and loose with the facts but didn’t have the scientific background, nor familiarity with Jim Steele’s game, which tends to overwhelm the uninitiated, to do the column justice.
He knew I was no scientist, but that I was a dedicated life long self-taught student of Earth and climate sciences, and that considering I graduated high school in ’73, I’ve seen a thing or two.
He kept challenging me to explain the rest of the story. So, here I am. Priorities and to-do lists rearranged and I’m on the way to finishing my second (link for the first one) detailed examination of Steele’s “What’s Natural?” column.
I’m trying to be as concise as I can, so this morning, when a new introduction came streaming into my thoughts, I didn’t know what to do with it. At 280 words it was too long, besides I already have a short to the point intro that’s more appropriate for the lean clinical examination approach I’m striving for.
Still it’s a good overview of my perspective and why I’m doing this, so I’ve decided to post it as a stand alone comment on Jim Steele’s writing in general and what I’m trying to document.
You see Jim Steele deals in doubt - he brews together a bouillabaisse of scattered information and then folds in his political message, which is basically: don’t pay any attention to the settled facts, focus on tiny nuances, expect super-human perfection from opponents, laugh off scientists and ridicule real experts.
Steele’s brand of science comes from pundits with political attitude for sale and his advice is: don’t prepare, wait and see how bad it gets before changing your ways. Oh and deliberately ignore the evidence we are accumulating.
In a sober world, learning is a constructive process, it requires a willingness to seriously look at all the evidence that’s available.
It requires honest curiosity, objective evaluation along with a willingness to accept, understand and learn from one’s own mistakes.
Constructive learning also requires some self-skepticism and a willingness to allow the evidence to direct what one believes.
Meaning even one’s most cherished ideas are on the chopping block, if new valid information reveals a different, I should say more refined, truth. (§)
But you’ll never know, if you don’t go, look at the evidence and learn from it!
In reading through Steele’s words, please notice that he never writes in a constructive clarifying progression of evidence, it’s always a disjointed cherry picked combobulation with his opinion pasted on top of it.
A witches’ stew brewed up from tidbits of information, not used as building blocks, but rather as props in the hands of a rhetorical magi casting a sleeping spell.
If you've never read this essay by Isaac Asimov you should:
(§) The Relativity of Wrong By Isaac Asimov
The Skeptical Inquirer, Fall 1989, Vol. 14, No. 1, Pp. 35-44