Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Honored Arrogance

One of the most notoriously wrong of the Eco-Doomsayers from the 1960s and 70s was Paul Ehrlich, whose book The Population Bomb was a sensational best seller.  I use the word "notorious" advisedly and deliberately.  The book opened with a dramatic prediction of doom:
The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate...
We all know what actually happened: food calories per capita have increased dramatically and death from starvation has plummeted.  Rather than hundreds of millions of people dropping in their tracks from malnourishment, the world population has approximately doubled since Ehrlich wrote his Magnum Opus.

We see that if you hold Approved Views® that it doesn't matter how spectacularly wrong you are.  Indeed, Ehrlich has become wealthy and honored, and is still publishing.  His latest predictions are now out, in no less prestigious a publication as The Proceedings of the Royal Society*:
But today, for the first time, humanity's global civilization—the worldwide, increasingly interconnected, highly technological society in which we all are to one degree or another, embedded—is threatened with collapse by an array of environmental problems. Humankind finds itself engaged in what Prince Charles described as ‘an act of suicide on a grand scale’ [4], facing what the UK's Chief Scientific Advisor John Beddington called a ‘perfect storm’ of environmental problems [5]. The most serious of these problems show signs of rapidly escalating severity, especially climate disruption.
I guess that I should point out here that his article is not just in one of the World's most important scientific journals, but that it is peer-reviewed.  It is not known whether the reviewers saw fit to question the scientific credentials of HRH Prince Charles.  One presumes not.

The article itself is a tedious repackaging of his old, busted predictions of mass famine.  Perhaps this time he will finally be right, although the way that the article is larded with "might result in" and "could lead to" suggests that Mr. Ehrlich has learned to camouflage  his more falsifiable predictions.

But this line in the article actually leaves me speechless:
The needed pressure, however, might be generated by a popular movement based in academia and civil society to help guide humanity towards developing a new multiple intelligence [135], ‘foresight intelligence’ to provide the long-term analysis and planning that markets cannot supply.
So humanity currently lacks this "foresight intelligence" and needs the likes of Ehrlich to develop it?  The same Paul Ehrlich who once said that a large portion of the human race would starve to death before 1980?  That we should look to him for foresight?

[blink] [blink]

And the Royal Society saw fit to honor this arrogant idiot by publishing it in their house organ,  publishing it after it was peer-reviewed by the scientific community?

[blink] [blink]

This is the point where everyone who ever uttered the words "Republican War On Science" can shut up and sit down in the back of the room; grown ups are talking.  And the Royal Society might consider changing their motto.  Sic transit Gloria Mundi might be appropriate.
IN Egypt's sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows:—
"I am great OZYMANDIAS," saith the stone,
"The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
"The wonders of my hand."— The City's gone,—
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.

We wonder,—and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro' the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.
– Horace Smith
Hat tip: William M. Briggs, who fairly demolishes the article.

* The Royal Society is presumed to be the oldest scientific organization still operating today, having received its charter from King Charles II in 1660.  It's motto - Nullis in verbo, or "take nobody's word for it" - would have been good advice for the peer reviewers.


Old NFO said...

Pathetic... and typical of 'peer' reviews today...

aurictech said...

In this case, "peer-reviewed" probably means they had a few random members of the House of Lords look at the paper.