כל־האדם

A Misdirected Analogy

Posted in Biblical Ethics, Carpe Diem, Climate Change, Ecclesiastes by Joseph Kelly on June 14, 2013

Reading a recent published review, I came across a peculiar analogy. What does the frame-narrator of Ecclesiastes have to do with the so-called “climategate” emails?

I argue that Qohelet’s words are used to draw in an audience who finds his query and methodology compelling, only to show them that the quest is pointless. By creating a sympathetic link between the audience and the character Qohelet, the author has cleverly avoided immediately alienating the audience by simply telling them that they are wrong. The leaking of the “Climategate” emails in 2009 illustrate the power of such an approach, doing far more damage to the credibility of climate science than did the direct confrontation of numerous “climate change deniers” over many years. Similarly, the honest words of the most highly regarded sage do more to undermine the legitimacy of speculative wisdom than any direct confrontation.

In other words, just as the words of climate scientists were more damning than skeptics arguments, so also Qohelet’s own words are more damning than any rebuttal the narrator might make.  (Don’t feel bad if you couldn’t make sense of the analogy the first time through; I had to read it three of four times before it made sense.)

I find this curious, if not problematic. Did “Climategate” do damage to the credibility of climate science? No. It only hurt the public’s perception of the credibility of climate science because the public understood neither the emails targeted by skeptics and pundits nor the nature of the science in question. (In case you are not already aware, eight different committees investigating “Climategate” have found no evidence of fraud or scientific misconduct.)

I guess it is possible that the frame-narrator let Qohelet speak without a point by point rebuttal as a clever way of letting Qohelet “damage” his own credibility. But I think that, like the “Climategate scandal,” this reading betrays either the ignorance or the predisposition (or both) of those who think Qohelet’s words are self-evidently flawed.

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  1. John Hobbins said, on June 14, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    Indeed, the frame narrator of Qohelet’s words thought of the latter’s words are honest and legitimate (see the book’s conclusions). There is no evidence to the contrary.

    As for Climategate, most of us do not need committees to tell us whether expressions in leaked emails damage the reputation of the scientist who wrote the emails. It is fair to say that some of the leaked emails damage the reputation of scientists – the findings of climate science, not so much. I can cite examples if you wish. They are not pretty.

    Regardless, the climate scientists I respect the most are not in the alarmist camp. Note also this recent article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/11/science/earth/what-to-make-of-a-climate-change-plateau.html

  2. Chris Heard said, on June 14, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    Wait … did I just see Joseph Kelly linking to Wikipedia? Rue the day! ;-p


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