“[Christopher Keating] rigged the bet. Compare it with the old-West poker player who stacks the deck, marks the cards, seats his opponents so he can see their hands in mirrors, and hides a few aces up his sleeve.”
“Physicist offers $10,000 to anyone who can disprove ‘man-made global climate change'”, the headline at Daily Kos (June 22, 2014) proclaimed. “Climate change deniers using same methods as tobacco industry, says physicist.”
Wow! It’s put-up or shut-up time for climate skeptics like us at the Cornwall Alliance, right? Ten grand ripe for the picking!
All we have to do is lay out our proof and collect the dough. And if we don’t? Well, obviously we’re admitting we don’t dare put our arguments to the test.
But there’s a whole lot less here than it appears. Never mind that Dr. Keating states, in making the challenge, “I am the final judge of all entries but will provide my comments on why any entry fails to prove the point.” That of course means he’s a judge in his own cause.
Ask some lawyer you know what “conflict of interest” means. No, the bigger problem is that even if we assume that Keating would be an honest judge, he hasn’t framed the question to reflect the real debate. He’s rigged the bet.
Compare it with the old-West poker player who stacks the deck, marks the cards, seats his opponents so he can see their hands in mirrors, and hides a few aces up his sleeve. No global-warming skeptic I know denies that “man-made climate change is occurring.” Here are things many do deny:
Keating’s challenge would have been a little more respectable if he’d said, “I will award $10,000 of my own money to anyone that can prove, via the scientific method, that human emissions of greenhouse gases have not been the primary cause of global warming over the last 50 years or so; that the harms likely to come from those emissions are not likely to exceed the benefits; and that the benefits of mitigating the warming by reducing the emissions will not likely exceed the harms.”
But really, since it’s Keating and his ilk who want us to spend trillions of dollars fighting global warming, he should shoulder the burden of proof. Rather than requiring critics to prove the negative of each of his positions, he should challenge them to show that what he considers scientific proof of 1, 2, and 3 above fails to prove one or more of them. In either case, he should then set forth objective, publicly recognizable criteria by which to make the judgment.
Perhaps Keating and his Progressive friends are hoping this wager offer will gain the kind of fame, and teach the kinds of lessons, another one 34 years ago did. But it won’t. Why? Because that earlier, famous bet wasn’t rigged.
In 1980, the late Dr. Julian L. Simon, the author of The Economics of Population Growth (1977) and an economist and statistician who believed human ingenuity leads to declining resource scarcity over time, challenged Dr. Paul Ehrlich, the author of The Population Bomb and a biologist who believed human consumption leads to increasing resource scarcity over time, to a bet over mineral scarcity.
Ehrlich et al, including now-Obama science advisor John Holdren, picked five commodity minerals. The time period was 1990, ten years out. Ehrlich bet that the inflation-adjusted price of each would rise; Simon bet they would fall. Ehrlich accepted the challenge—and lost. The real price of each fell over the agreed period. In nominal terms, three minerals declined. (The bet is described here.)
A Real Bet
Simon’s historic wager had clearly defined terms and objective criteria of judgment. Keating’s is nothing but a publicity stunt—a stunt to which the folks not only at Daily Kos but also at Grist and Salon.com, plus many other Progressive/Left/Liberal sites fell prey (just search the web for “Christopher Keating $10,000 bet“).
Simon knew a real bet from a false one. When he invited a repeat of the mineral pricing wager—or any other direct measure of human welfare—the other side came in with something quite different, such as an increase in carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere. But, as Simon would ask, is this a good or a bad thing? “Indirect measures,” Simon explained, are secondary to the real issue of the ultimate resource (human ingenuity) in free-market settings making life better and longer, not poorer and shorter.