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Pascal's Wager, Science style


I have noticed over the last year or two, that versions of Pascals Wager have been used to justify one position over another in the media on what are generally scientific arenas.

This is not a post on Pascal's Wager in its original form. Nor am I going to spend any time countering it. This has been effectively done over the last 340 years. It is effectively countered with an atheists wager.

However, the philosophical exercise that it incurs happens quite often in this information age. Behold: Global Warming.



I have written about global warming before. In that post I listed the specific reasons why we should be trusting the scientists who are predicting harsh outcomes of ignoring it. I don't think its the end of the world, and I don't think humans will be wiped out. I think that if we do not pay attention to it, we will be causing tremendous suffering around the world. Its immoral to not act to reduce it.

Now, we can not ignore the fact that there is no scientist who is 100% certain that all the doom and gloom will happen. We simply look at the evidence and act accordingly. The stronger the evidence, the more firm we should be in our resolve. However, there are a number of sites that are pointing out chinks in the global warming armor. We can't ignore them, we need to add valid data sets to our body of knowledge, and throw out the bad ones. Its the conclusions from these data sets that are the problem, not the data.

As a quick example, when I looked today at WattsUpWithThat they are talking about a volcano exploding, and therefore AGW won't be a problem, even Greg Laden said that (perhaps in jest). This of course doesnt stop the issues associated with continued CO2 release, it just makes a few colder years. It does nothing for the long term trend nor ocean acidification.

Anyway, the AGW denialist do come up with valid data (it happens), it can't be ignored, it must be added. But its the denialism that leads to legislative actions or business decision. Now we can compare to Pascal's wager. Pascal's wager and the atheists wager can be summarized in a table like this:

So, depending on how you define the parameters, you can generate a chart like this for anything. For example, global warming



Now if you already believe that we need to act against global warming, as I do, this makes perfect sense and seems like a good argument. Lets look at what someone else might think. These folks happen to have their own wagering chart, they are truly bizarre on many fronts, but they have their chart.
See? The definitions of good and bad are made so that All the squares are bad or all good or all irrelevant, depending on your point of view.

The point is that, when it comes to science and acting upon the conclusions of science, creating dichotomies and presuming that science doesn't actually know jack, is an exercise in futility. You will simply be making these arguments based on pre-existing assumptions. The reason we use science is to evaluate our observations, verify that our theories work and the check the predictive power and use those results. We shouldn't be fighting global warming because its the safer of the two bets, we should be fighting it because the evidence leads us to the conclusion that we will be causing tremendous suffering if we don't.

4 comments:

On 2/19/09, 10:47 PM , Valor Phoenix said...

I'm thinking of doing my own version of a Pascal counter-wager, and it's nice to know you didn't make it redundant.

I intend on basing it on the search for hazardous asteroids with numbers and probabilities versus the amount of public funding for finding the asteroids and researching counter-measures. Nice to know about the Atheist counter wager tho'.

 
On 2/20/09, 6:04 AM , Techskeptic said...

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!

LOL. I've been putting that exact post together for the last 2 weeks!

 
On 2/20/09, 5:09 PM , Valor Phoenix said...

Oh, feel free to go ahead, my first science related posts will be on light physics in regard to art and descent into a black box technology state.

 
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