David D. Friedman

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A Trumped-up “Consensus”

Friday, February 28th, 2014

“A co-founder of Greenpeace told a Senate panel on Tuesday that there is no scientific evidence to back claims that humans are the ‘dominant cause’ of climate change,” the Washington Times reported yesterday.

But what about that grand consensus — “97 percent” — of scientists saying the exact opposite?

Well, economist and legal theoretician David D. Friedman wrote, this week, that one of the most famous citations about the climate change consensus is the result of some, uh, data fudging.

Friedman chased down the origin of that infamous and oft-repeated 97 percent figure through three papers, all available online. Despite the high tone of certainty, the scientists who collated information from surveys of other scientists did not find that “over 97% endorsed the view that the Earth is warming up and human emissions of greenhouse gases are the main cause.” At best, a huge cohort of these scientists agreed that humans merely contributed to global warming. Very different.

Friedman concluded that the main author responsible for the strong interpretation of weak findings,  John Cook, told “a deliberate lie.”

This scientist’s misrepresentation of “the result of his own research” doesn’t prove that Anthropogenic Global Warming is true or untrue, of course. But it does suggest that the “consensus” so much talked about is shaky indeed.

I began the week talking about our reliance upon experts to gather, analyze and report on information honestly and reliably.

And how horrible it is when they let us down.

The climate change we need is in the culture of academic responsibility.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

The “Barbaric” Visigoths

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

Thanks to the September 11, 2001, atrocities, some Americans began to accept a practice previously considered barbaric; thanks to John Yoo and the Bush administration, that practice became something American military and “intelligence” organizations did. Torture.

The moral aspects of the issue convince me that good people do not use torture. But, apart from concerns of justice and principle, there’s a big hurdle: unreliability. Torturers rarely retrieve good information.

Under torture, victims will say almost anything; even the innocent fabricate confessions to stop the pain.

Economist David D. Friedman recently discussed one “ingenious, if imperfect, solution to the problem in what is apparently the oldest surviving Germanic law code,” that of the Visigoths: The judge compels the accuser to describe the crime in detail and in writing, and makes sure this information is not told to the person about to be tortured. If, under torture, the victim confesses with the appropriate detail, then he’s considered guilty. But if he confesses without the appropriate detail, then the accuser is himself tortured.

What’s good for the goose. . . .

On Sunday, viewers of CBS’s 60 Minutes took a gander at Jose Rodriguez, the CIA official who says he’s proud of the “enhanced interrogation techniques” he oversaw, and not ashamed of his destruction of the 92 tapes of those interrogations. It was a bizarre interview, at the very least not “enhanced.”

Amy Davidson, writing for The New Yorker’s online site, argues, “There is much evidence to suggest that Rodriguez and others are simply lying when they claim that the torture produced reliable intelligence.”

I’m no expert, but I’d bet a solidus she’s right.

The solidus, in case you were wondering, was a coin used by the Visigoths.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.