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Greg Craven - What’s the Worst That Could Happen?
Posted: 02 November 2009 07:59 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Greg Craven is a high school science teacher and climate change activist from Oregon.  His new book is What’s the Worst That Could Happen? A Rational Response to the Climate Change Debate.

In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Greg Craven discusses the youtube video on global warming he created that now has nearly 8 million views. He talks about applying game theory to the “decision paralysis” people have surrounding the global warming debate, using a “decision grid.” He explores misunderstandings most people have about the nature of science, and whether or not science can provide certainty about important questions facing society. He emphasizes as a starting point the acknowledgement, whether one is a skeptic of global warming or a “panicked activist,” that one could be wrong about global warming. He argues that the evidence is not what is most important in the climate change debate, because each side has “evidence” to support its conclusions. He talks about “confirmation bias,” and how it makes it difficult to find out the truth about global warming. He explains why it is less important to personally live “green,” and why others kinds of social environmentalist activism is more important. He details why America’s mobilization in World War II and also modern social networking on the internet are the only two things that give him hope regarding responsibly responding to climate change.

http://www.pointofinquiry.org/greg_craven_whats_the_worst_that_could_happen

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Posted: 06 November 2009 10:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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The argument (as expressed in the seat belt analogy) sounds like “just-in-case” Christianity. Science can’t disprove the existence of god, so you’re better off believing just in case. You can’t prove impending doom from anthropogenic climate change, but you’re better off behaving as though it’s real—just in case.

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Posted: 06 November 2009 02:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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One could make Greg Craven’s argument when discussing almost any serious dilemma. It would inevitably lead to comparing two worst cases and acting to prevent the worst of the worst. How is that not a fallacious approach?

Dick Cheney infamously used this logic in his “1% Doctrine.” Here’s the Cheney quote from Ron Suskind’s book: “If there’s a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It’s not about our analysis ... It’s about our response.”

Let’s look at the possibility of nukes in Iran. Draw the Craven decision matrix. Inevitable conclusion (cue John McCain singing): bomb, bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran.

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Posted: 08 November 2009 02:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I don’t think it’s accurate or fair to compare Craven’s risk strategy with Pascal’s wager.  Craven, as outlined in the PoI episode and in detail on his various You Tube presentations, uses the considerable amount of evidence amassed as a weighting factor.  Pascal’s wager doesn’t have the benefit of evidence to back it up, and falls back on philosophical footwork.

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Posted: 10 November 2009 10:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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brian paget - 08 November 2009 02:27 PM

I don’t think it’s accurate or fair to compare Craven’s risk strategy with Pascal’s wager.  Craven, as outlined in the PoI episode and in detail on his various You Tube presentations, uses the considerable amount of evidence amassed as a weighting factor.  Pascal’s wager doesn’t have the benefit of evidence to back it up, and falls back on philosophical footwork.

I agree: “There might be a really pissed off deity out there so we better believe in him” is a whole different line of logic than looking at historical data points to identify trends and making predictions of what the rise in CO2 will do to acidify our oceans and heat the atmosphere, especially when it seems to be worrying the majority of our best and brightest who study climate for a living.

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When I was 15 years old, I could no longer reconcile religion with reality, and I knew one of them would have to go.  It still amazes me how many people make the other choice.

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Posted: 10 November 2009 11:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Pascal’s Wager is an argument from ignorance: “Even if we didn’t know anything about God, we should still believe he exists, because not believing would be so dire.” The problem is that it makes the unjustified assumption that one particular sort of Christian deity is the only possible God.

However, there are an infinite number of possible sorts of God, so the wager (“better to believe in [this] God than not to”) falls apart. Which God are you supposed to believe in? Any of them could be jealous Gods. Or, indeed, any of them could be a rationalist God who doesn’t like people who kowtow to jealous Gods ...

The question is whether Craven’s strategy falls afoul of the same sort of counterargument.

Sure, it’s possible that future climate could be very different from that which the global warming proponents theorize. But this isn’t simply an argument from ignorance. It’s not, “We don’t know anything about the climate, so let’s pretend that it will be warming in the future.” That would be clearly fallacious. It’s rather, “The best evidence we have now is that the climate will be warming in the future. That evidence isn’t perfect, so we’re going on limited information, but the costs of neglecting the evidence could be very dire indeed, so it is in our interest to make some steps towards decreasing our output of greenhouse gases.”

So I don’t think this is the same as Pascal’s Wager.

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Posted: 10 November 2009 07:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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The worst that could happen is that Global warming isn’t as inevitable as it is touted to be. But in the meantime the amounts of poisons that are leaching into the groundwater, and the particulates, and toxic vapors that are permeating the air finally reach such a critical mass that Cancer and other diseases are finally accepted officially as the number one side-effect of Pollution.
NPR had a little bit on the other nite about this River in Michigan. During the 80’s it made National News(like lots of other sites) for being contaminated with Dioxin. Now nobody remembers that River. And it was disclosed that the EPA let the Big Chemical Company take part in the final official draft for the Analytical Findings of the EPA Study. Ha Ha Ha.
You….me….we are Bought and Paid for! Remember that the next time you have to visit your loved one in the Cancer Ward.
It isn’t Global Warming that is going to kill us….it’s Toxins. They already are.
The man who was in charge of the Branch of the EPA was highly critical of the system. I can’t remember his name…he went on to serve 2 terms as Lithuania’s President. He said the problem with the EPA was endemic. I can’t remember if he resigned in disgust or just left to go back to Lithuania….Reagan gave Him the highest Civil Service Decoration for integrity.
It’s Toxins….that’s the worst that could happen! I hope Global Warming isn’t misdirecting the focus.

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Posted: 11 November 2009 09:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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As I listened to this episode of PoI, my immediate response was that Craven’s argument is a variation on Pascal’s Wager, just like earlier posters, and I still feel that way after thinking about it for a bit.  His position as articulated during the interview was based on the idea that each side has their evidence, and that his risk assessment approach allows one to determine a course of action without a detailed understanding or evaluation of it.  Risk assessment certainly has it place in determining how to approach this (or any) problem, but it cannot be divorced from consideration of the evidence.  I applaud his efforts here, and he certainly brings a fresh angle to the public discourse on this subject, but the evidence must be considered when assessing the likelihood of the various outcomes against their consequences.  Otherwise, this argument is functionally equivalent to Pascal’s Wager.

Has anyone out there read his book?  Craven mentioned during the interview that he has refined his arguments and addressed weaknesses (again, very commendable), but he didn’t go into the details with DJ.  I’ve got to believe that this was one of the first objections he heard.

Having said that, I was very impressed with Craven’s communication skills, and his emphasis on confirmation bias and admitting to one’s self the possibility that one might be wrong on this (or any other) topic.  These concepts are the best inoculation against fundamentalism of all stripes.

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Posted: 11 November 2009 03:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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dougsmith - 10 November 2009 11:17 AM

Pascal’s Wager is an argument from ignorance: “Even if we didn’t know anything about God, we should still believe he exists, because not believing would be so dire.”

Technically, Pascal’s Wager is a Prudential argument, not an argument from ignorance.  Prudential arguments are not necessarily fallacious.  However, you’re correct to say that Pascal’s Wager “falls apart,” and for some of the reasons you cite, and primarily because there is no evidence for the existence god.  It wouldn’t be prudent to believe in something for which there is no evidence.  There is, however, a good deal of evidence that global warming is indeed happening and that the activities of human beings can have an impact on it.  Thus, Craven’s prudential argument is a good argument whereas Pascal’s is not.  Of course, you seem to suggest the same in the latter part of your post, so I guess I’m just nit-picking. 

Here’s a quote from DJ paraphrasing Craven: “You don’t need certain knowledge in order to have reliable enough knowledge to act.”

A fallacious argument from ignorance is: “You cannot prove that god does not exist, therefore god exists.”  We’ve all heard that one before!?!  hmmm

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Posted: 12 November 2009 10:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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19Winston67 - 11 November 2009 09:22 AM

Craven mentioned during the interview that he has refined his arguments and addressed weaknesses (again, very commendable), but he didn’t go into the details with DJ.  I’ve got to believe that this was one of the first objections he heard..

Winston was right.  Pascal’s Wager was the very first (and most fatal) hole in my original video that was pointed out, and it’s what turned a simple project (a ten-minute video) into two years of sprinting hell, leading through 8 hours of videos to the damn book.

I encourage you all to read it.  Obviously, the response to all the concerns here is too detailed to give here (that’s why it’s a book—and only about half of what I wrote made it into the final book).

In short, while I thought I was writing a book about climate change, it turned out that I wrote a book about how a lay person can go about making the best decision they can with the time they have regarding a complex, urgent issue that contains uncertainty.  It details a fairly simple system, including the cheesy (but sincere) device of blank templates for the reader to fill out, and the final chapter “Reader’s Conclusion:  Some Assembly Required.”

If you read it and have suggestions on deficiencies, fallacies, or suggestions for improvements (these are the most helpful of criticisms), please share them in the discussion forums at manpollo.org.  It was this dialectical process that led to a book that I’m pretty damn proud of, and fairly confident that it’s well-refined.  My conversations with Richard Lindzen of MIT (the chief skeptical scientist) about my ideas early in the writing process even led him (in my opinion) to write a non-peer-reviewed article as a pre-emptive strike on one of my central ideas:  http://arxiv.org/abs/0809.3762

Please do take the time to pursue this issue.  I’ll buy you a drink if you do, but end up thinking it wasn’t worth your time and your ten bucks (on Amazon).

Thanks,
Greg Craven

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Posted: 12 November 2009 05:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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thecardiffgiant - 06 November 2009 10:00 AM

The argument (as expressed in the seat belt analogy) sounds like “just-in-case” Christianity. Science can’t disprove the existence of god, so you’re better off believing just in case. You can’t prove impending doom from anthropogenic climate change, but you’re better off behaving as though it’s real—just in case.

I was thinking of Pascal’s Thermal Wager myself…


http://www.skeptic.com/the_magazine/featured_articles/v14n01_climate_of_belief.html

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Posted: 13 November 2009 09:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Before deciding between the two columns, I would like to know what the possible worst outcome would be if trying to prevent global warming. Would something like “a really bad depression” be the end of it? Could this lead to a really bad war for example? Maybe acting to prevent global warming (even though the danger was not there) would result in outcomes as bad as not acting and suffering from the disastrous future shaped by global warming; in which case we are almost better off not doing anything so that we get to enjoy “life as we know it” for a little longer.

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Posted: 13 November 2009 09:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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No, I am wrong: If acting to prevent GW would end up in a global disaster then we are better off not doing anything simply because there still is a chance that GW won’t be as bad as we think.

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Posted: 13 November 2009 04:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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George, how would action to prevent climate change present the scenario you suggest?  Wouldn’t climate change increase the chances of conflict due to resource depletion and population movement?

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Posted: 13 November 2009 08:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Hi Brian,

My answer is: I don’t know. All I was trying to say is that I don’t see the problem as black and white as does Greg Craven. As far as I know (and let’s be honest, I don’t much at all grin), in order to slow down global warming (assuming it is caused by us—which I do believe is the case), the economy would either have to come to a complete stagnation, or we would have to “eliminate” the number of people on our planet. How would our society react to “a really bad depression”? Until we have at least some idea how we may respond to such a scenario, I just don’t see the column A solution to be as clear as Greg Craven may suggest.

[ Edited: 13 November 2009 08:36 PM by George ]
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Posted: 23 November 2009 11:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Mr. Craven,
I very much appreciate your efforts, and to a large degree your basic argument for critical thinking as made on the podcast.
Further, I fervently wish all high school science teachers - and parents - were as thoughtful, intelligent, and dedicated as you appear to be.
But contra what you (I think) asserted, it seems logical to me to do both as much as possible of the sort of energy conserving activities suggested by folks like Al Gore and to act to increase critical thinking and political will among the populace, rather than to ignore one at the expense of the other.

In any event, I came to this thread hoping to find a link to your original youtube video, which I believe was promised in the podcast.
I’m sure a simple search on youtube will bring it up.
My plan is to avoid offering any further analysis or criticism of your efforts and arguments until I at least see and possibly read more of them.

Also, regarding youtube, I noticed that Ben Radford and DJ also discussed how useful youtube has become in spreading knowledge and ideas.  It is a great new tool!

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