Climate change: vehemence Vs competence

This text by Didier Nordon appeared in February 2011 in Pour la science, the French edition of Scientific American (N.400, Bloc-notes, page 5). Related posts: How difficult it is to be a climatologist.

The title is a pun based on a combination of la loi du plus fort (the law of the strongest) with the first verse of a Fable by La Fontaine, Le loup et l’agneau, The wolf and the lamb: La raison du plus fort est toujours la meilleure. This translates as The reason of the strongest is always the best (i.e. The strongest is always right; see here). Nordon substitutes la loi (the rule, the law) with la voix (the voice) which sounds alike.

Changement climatique:
véhémence Vs compétence

Climate change:

vehemence Vs competence

LA VOIX DU PLUS FORT EST TOUJOURS LA MEILLEURE

Il n’y a aucune incohérence à trouver instructif tel ou tel débat, et à ne pas s’intéresser à celui-ci. Par exemple, prétendre que je m’intéresse au
changement climatique serait exagéré. La thermodynamique, la dynamique des fluides, les statistiques, les probabilités, les équations différentielles, la modélisation, etc., sont autant de sujets qu’il faut connaître bien pour se faire une idée sur la question. Tel nest pas mon cas. Je ne pourrais m’exprimer sur
le climat qu’à condition de répéter ce que d’autres disent. Or ce n’est pas s’intéresser à un sujet que d’être incapable d’élaborer une opinion personnelle dessus.

Pourtant, le débat sur le changement climatique est instructif. Il met en évidence la loi d’indépendance de la véhémence et de la compétence. Que certains climatologues soient véhéments parce que leur travail les mène à prévoir des dangers dont ils pensent devoir avertir la population, c’est légitime.

Mais on ne me fera pas croire que ceux qui sont véhéments [et ils sont nombreux !] possèdent tous les énormes connaissances nécessaires pour avoir une opinion étayée. Ces suivistes se sont rangés à un camp, mais ne poussent pas leur intérêt pour le sujet jusqu’à se donner les moyens d’une analyse sur le fond. Pourquoi crient-ils si fort, alors? Parce qu’ils prennent cela pour une preuve qu’ils sont dans le vrai.

Comme souvent, ce qu’un débat a de plus instructif, c’est ce qu’il a de moins neuf. Car ce n’est pas d’hier qu’on voit la véhémence tenir lieu de compétence.

THE VOICE OF THE STRONGEST IS ALWAYS THE BEST

There is no inconsistency in finding that a particular debate is instructive, and not to have any interest in it. For example, to pretend that I’m interested in climate change would be an exaggeration. Thermodynamics, fluid dynamics,
statistics, probability, differential equations, modeling, etc.., are all issues that must be well understood to develop a personal opinion on the issue. This is not my case. I can speak about climate only if I repeat what others say. This is of little interest to others if I am unable to develop a personal opinion.

Yet the debate on climate change is instructive. It highlights the law of independence of vehemence and competence. It is legitimate for some climatologists to be vehement because they anticipate the dangers and they feel they must warn people.

But I will not be made to believe that those who are vehement [and there are many!] all have the knowledge required to have an informed opinion. They are just climate freaks who have opted for one side, but their interest in the subject is not so strong that they would be willing to make the effort and acquire the necessary knowledge for their own in-depth analysis.
Why do they shout out so loud, then? Because they take this for proof that they are right.

As often happens, the most instructive part of
a debate is also the least new one. It is not new to see vehemence take the place of competence.

The English translation on the right is a “manually-revised” version of an automatic translation with Google-translate. As usual, the words which the automatic translation gets wrong are interesting. In this case, Google had some difficulties with “suivistes”, i.e. more or
less “followers”, with a negative connotation. I first translated the word as “imitators” but then found that “climate freaks” comes closer to my opinion! I am glad to admit that there is no such thing as an impartial translation. I also simplified some sentences: French cannot help being verbous! As in the film Amadeus where the emperor found that there were
too many notes, French just has too many words. The text looks good in French, but the translations makes it clear that they are redundant.

 

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