Krugman on extracting a price for intellectual dishonesty (climate scientists, take note)

Just a small point, but with it I want to make a larger one.

The small point is about Paul Krugman and his slow path to calling out his professional fellows who … lie. Used to be, professional courtesy seemed to quiet his tongue, making him assert his “disagreement” even as he says the facts are in another direction.

Let’s say that differently. In the past, when fellow credentialed economists and related professionals misused their credentials to mislead — when they acted like lying right-wing operatives with an agenda — he would point out their errors but not their obvious motives.

That’s been changing, however, and in “state of the Krugman” posts I’ve been taking note. Here’s one of those posts from 2011:

In addition, [Krugman has been] getting to the point … where he sees “Republican-leaning economists” as not just confused, but actual bad actors who “lend their credibility” to the party’s delusions, and by extension, to the party’s bad-faith … political behavior.

That’s quite an admission for a professional academic — to accuse your peers of intellectual dishonesty, not just idiotic (but forgivable) disagreement.

At that point Krugman wasn’t ready to kick these people out of the profession, but he was getting close, sneaking up on it.

This week he got even closer in his discussion of Niall Ferguson’s lies in the Newsweek cover-story take-down of Barack Obama (my emphases):

We’re not talking about [Ferguson’s] ideology or even economic analysis here — just a plain misrepresentation of the facts, with an august publication letting itself be used to misinform readers.


[M]aking false claims about readily checkable facts … was unethical on his part[.]

“Unethical” is a strong accusation, PhD-to-PhD.

But Ferguson lent his professional cred to Newsweek to further a lying and cynical political hit. “Unethical” is a mild world for that; “hackish” would be closer.

The next step would be to kick Ferguson out of the profession so you don’t have to keep debunking him, time after painful time. How do you accomplish that? By removing the one thing he needs to do cloaked operative work — his professional reputation.

If he’s no longer in the profession, simply say so (it’s not a crime; I’m no longer in many professions). Then just say what profession he is in.

My fun version goes like this:

“For a while now, Niall Ferguson has been making counter-factual assertions, all of which tend to produce political results, not intellectual ones.

“I can only conclude that he’s decided to leave the academic profession under which he writes and enter another — that of ‘Say-Anything Political Operative.’

I honor that change and wish him well in his new career. He is no longer a member of mine.”

Following this, all references by me to Ferguson would be accompanied by a standard Homeric epithet. Instead of “grey-eyed Athena” he’d be “Ferguson the political operative.” For example:

“I see that Ferguson the political operative has published another factless diatribe in The Economist. I counted seven attempts to mislead. Have I missed one?

“In other news, zombie-eyed Paul Ryan has cited Ferguson the political operative in support of raising taxes on kittens and dogs. How nice.”

I joke, of course, but it’s really pretty simple. If a so-called “professional” won’t act like one, say so. It’s only the truth, which is more than you’re getting from them.

Which leads me to fact-challenged climate-denial “scientists” on the take. Why should they not get the same treatment I would give Ferguson (above)?

It’s one thing to constantly debunk them; this is happening now. But that pretends they’re honest actors. Why not just say, in words of your choosing:

“You’re not a professional scientist; you’ve become something else. The discussion no longer includes you.”

If the grown-ups in the climate profession take this advice, they’ll get two benefits. One, they’ll clear the fog from the room, allowing for honest scientific debate. How helpful is that?

And two, they will hasten work that needs to be done before a life-changing deadline occurs — 12°F baked-in warming and no way back. It will be a whole lot easier to “unconfuse the people” about their choices without all that faux-science noise.

The way to remove that noise (I’m using the term in a “signal-to-noise ratio” sense) is to discredit them professionally, marginalize them, within the community and in the media they so depend on to do their damage.

This executes prong four of our five-pronged solution. They keep their money from Heartland, but you take away their lab coat, their place at the table.

After all, it was their choice to leave the profession for better pay; all the reputable scientists need do is … say so.

UPDATE: A complete list of climate series pieces is available here:
The Climate series: a reference post.


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

Share This Post

© 2019 AMERICAblog Media, LLC. All rights reserved. · Entries RSS