Real experts don't know everything

A short piece for the general audience of RTR radio, Perth, Australia.
(listen to the original audio podcast)

What does the color of tomatoes have to do with the price of catfish in Venezuela?

Nothing whatsoever, as far as I know.

Now suppose your gardener claims to be an expert tomato chromatologist one day, and then a leading ichthyologist the day after. Would you trust his expertise?

And would you trust this guy if he first claimed that tomatoes weren’t red and then tried to convince you that catfish don’t have gills?

Probably not.

We all know that we must trust experts at one point or another; we must trust our dentist to decide how to fill our teeth, for example, and we must trust the plumber’s advice on our broken hot water system.

But we also know that experts are experts precisely because they specialize in one thing and one thing only. We would not trust our plumber with doing a root canal or with the welfare of Venezuelan fish.

So if anyone claims to be an expert on completely unrelated things, we should become suspicious. And if that person says the opposite of everything we’ve ever heard before, then we should be doubly suspicious.

This is one of the many reasons we should be very, very suspicious of the so-called “skeptics” who deny the basics of climate science. Many of the same so-called “skeptics” who presently seek to create doubt about climate science are the very same people who 20 years ago tried to tell us that smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer.

Yes. The very same people who denied the link between smoking and ill health are now also denying the basic laws of physics when it comes to climate. Oh, and they also denied the link between CFCs and ozone depletion, and they also denied that acid rain posed a problem in the 1980s.

The very same people and the very same shadowy “think tanks” and “policy institutes.”

This common denominator underlying the repeated denial of scientific knowledge has been revealed with devastating clarity in a brilliant recent book by science historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway. Their book revealed how a network of think tanks aided by a tiny number of politically-motivated scientists was able to forestall action on many issues that affect our daily lives—from our own health to the future well-being of our planet.

This is a fascinating story; and it is a story you can hear from Professor Oreskes herself, because she will be visiting Perth on the 22nd of November, where she will give a free lecture at UWA about those “Merchants of Doubt.” That’s a Monday evening, 22nd of November, 6pm in the Social Sciences Lecture Theatre at UWA.


Details of Naomi Oreskes' events

Place Time Details
Sydney Monday
15 Nov
6.00 to 8.00pm
Where: University of New South Wales, Law Theatre (Law Building)
RSVP: No booking required.
Presented by: Climate Change Research Centre and Faculty of Arts & Social Science
(Prof. Oreskes will be introduced by Robyn Williams, Presenter of the ABC’s The Science Show)
Brisbane Tuesday
16 Nov
5.30 to 6.30pm
University of Queensland, Abel Smith Lecture Theatre, St Lucia.
Presented by: The Global Change Institute.
(Prof. Oreskes will be introduced by Prof. Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Director of the Global Change Institute. Merchants of Doubt will be available for purchase.)
Melbourne Wednesday
17 November
5.45 to 7.00pm
Where: Experimedia, The State Library of Victoria, 328 Swanston St, Melbourne.
RSVP: No booking required
Presented by: The Monash Sustainability Institute & The Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute. (Prof. Oreskes will be introduced by Prof. Karoly, with Q&A moderated by Prof. Dave Griggs, MSI. Merchants of Doubt will be available for purchase before the lecture, with signing and sales afterwards.)
Adelaide Thursday
18 November
6.00 to 7.30pm
Where: RIAus @ The Science Exchange, 55 Exchange Place, Adelaide.
Presented by: RIAus 
Perth Monday
22 November
Where: University of Western Australia, Social Sciences Lecture Theatre (parking P3, Hackett Entrance)
RSVP: No booking required.
Presented by: The Institute of Advanced Studies.
(Merchants of Doubt will be available for purchase from 5.30pm with the author signing afterwards.)

Posted by Stephan Lewandowsky on Wednesday, 10 November, 2010

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