When I started this blog back in 2013, I had several questions. The most prominent was how I, as an interested member of the public, could assess who is right and who is wrong. At that time, I also was looking for information on how laymen/interested members of the public could figure this out.
Initially, I played with the idea to tackle this question by using logic. I abandoned the idea rather quickly. Formal fallacies could surely distinguish between who is right or wrong, but these are not exactly the fallacies that one can readily find in the debate.
I also found some information that layman/interested members of the public had other ways of evaluating a subject, but I didn’t find much details back then. So now and then during the last six years of blogging, I contemplated on these two questions, but until recently these stayed unanswered.
Until I got this comment on a post dissecting the claim that there had been a “sudden rapid growth” of the number of registered all-electric cars in Flanders:
Question for you: As a professed layman, what do you suppose are the limits of your ability to make sense of anything that functionally you remain a layman in?
I was a bit surprised at first. Checking the activity of the commenter on other blogs learned me that the commenter was definitely not making a compliment. This response gives the suggestion that the topics I blog about are the exclusive terrain of experts and that, as a non-professional, this is something way over my head.
Although I can somehow understand this type of reaction and I think I know where it comes from, it is based on a big misunderstanding of what this blog is about. I didn’t make any extraordinary claim, heck, I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary in that specific blog post. I encountered a claim that seemed dubious to me (that the number of “all-electric” vehicles suddenly grew rapidly), this led to a search for more data (on car registrations in Flanders) and, after looking at that data, I came to the conclusion that the story was very different from what we were told (that “sudden growth” was of only one specific month and it was in fact a growth of 1.94% of something that has a current share of … 0.22%).
That isn’t by any means rocket science. One doesn’t need to be a scientist to understand that a 1.94% increase of something that has a share of 0.22% is not something significant, although it was presented that way. It is well within the ability of any member of the public with internet access, a browser and some time on their hands. Also in other posts where I look into claims, I limit myself to verifiable claims and try to find publicly available data so I can make sense out of the claim. Throughout the years, I became more knowledgeable and learned much more about where to find data (and how to process it), but the practice itself is something interested members of the public should be perfectly capable of.
I never claimed that I was smarter than the scientists or knew it better than them. What I did (and still do) is just verifying (one-sided) claims that are made in the context of global warming/climate change.
Then it dawned on me: that was (and still is) my way of figuring out who I could trust in the debate. But that is for the next post.
Whenever anything is hyped up, one has to suspect a hidden agenda behind the hype. More often than not, it’s there and I’m grateful for astute minds who expose such agenda where they exist.
Please keep at it!
Posting is currently low, I have been busy lately (learning a new way of data processing/visualization via Python, it will no doubt be useful for future blog posts).
Next post will be at the earliest tomorrow evening, but most probably this weekend.
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In many areas if you work at the problem then as a layman you can achieve as much as an expert. In the area of climate science or climate policy this is not that difficult as most of the experts assume what is published by experts is correct. Also, when making policy choices it is on the basis of what appears virtuous rather what will produce positive net benefits. To make a contribution often requires just questioning the assumptions or just working at the problem.
I agree with vuurklip. Please keep at it. Even if you get something wrong, by carefully laying out your arguments you can help others maybe more than the expert who states a better answer without the justification.
Interesting analysis, I didn’t look at it that way.