The other day I had an interesting and spirited discussion with a colleague at the food bank where I volunteer. Initially the conversation revolved around the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the possible loss of the team with City Council's decision to proceed with the West Harbour as the site of the new stadium over the objections of team owner Bob Young.
The discussion then progressed to how we evaluate the information we receive. My position, using two illustrations, was and is as follows: Because whatever personal expertise we may possess is usually very limited in scope, it becomes incumbent upon us to be very much influenced by experts in any given field.
Take, for example, the Conservative Government's decision to abandon the mandatory long census form. To be quite honest, the topic of the census, until the controversy erupted, was of no interest to me. The subject of statistics is like a foreign language to me, and seemingly of no pertinence to my life. However, after the almost universal condemnation of the Harper decision by a wealth of experts, critical thinking demands that I accept as true that it is a very bad decision that should be reversed.
We then went on to talk about, and disagree upon, climate change. Her position was that she wants to decide the truth for herself, through research on the Internet. That may well be a sound approach if she has enough time and the ability to evaluate the sources of her information, something that is very hard for a lay person to do on issues with a high degree of technical information.
Nonetheless, I have already accepted the truth of climate change, not just because of the worldwide evidence of something happening at an unprecedented rate of change, but also because, again, the overwhelming majority of experts in the field say that it is essentially indisputable. I italicized the word experts because a favorite ploy of climate change deniers is to have people whose credentials lie elsewhere to call into question the analyses of the real experts, thus sowing doubt amongst the lay people.
In fact, that is the tack regularly employed by Globe and Mail writer Neil Reynolds who, in his last column on climate change, cited the opinion of some environmental economists to support his thesis, and in a previous piece used the 'expertise' of a Nobel Prize-wining physicist.
Bringing these issues into sharp relief is writer Antony black, who had a column in today's Hamilton Spectator. I urge those of you interested in critical thinking to take a few moments to read it, as the evidence he presents to undermine the climate change deniers is quite interesting. I urge those of you interested in critical thinking to take a few moments to read it, as the evidence he presents to undermine the climate change deniers is quite interesting.