This is the first of a series of posts to “join the dots” to account for the state of climate science and the way that the mainstream views on climate change have been taken up in political circles.
The first of the dots are some general features of the intellectual landscape.
* The post World War 2 decline of education at all levels and the need for attention to what Jacques Barzun Called “the house of intellect”.
* The radicalisation of the environmental movement which grew out of the “Ban the Bomb” movement of the 1950s and the international campaign against nuclear energy which followed.
*The postwar development of Big Science funded by Big Government.
* The rise of relatively uncritical “normal science” flagged by T. S. Kuhn and the impetus which he unwittingly gave to it, in opposition to the critical approach expounded by the likes of Karl Popper.
* The long-term implications of the radicalisation of university students in the 1960s and ’70s.Then some of the features of climate studies.
* The role of environmental entrepreneurs in the United Nations, the proliferation of climate relate organizations and the defective governance of the IPCC.
Finally the contribution of Gordon Tullock to explain how certain motivational factors on the part of scientists and the institutional structure of science can combine to run down the quality of scientific publications to the point where the point of view becomes a criterion for acceptance for publication.
Jacques Barzun on education, the universities and public debate.
Jacques Barzun (1907-2012) was one of the most productive and interesting intellectual figures of our time. French-born and educated in the US he published thirty books and a mass of other writing on education, the history of ideas, cultural studies and music. A profile can be found in the first edition of the Revivalist series in the Rathouse.
He wrote about education, especially the universities, but his concerns extended much further to encompass the quality of critical commentary in the press and the way people exchange ideas in the daily commerce of life. He considered that the dictum “no politics or religion at the dinner table” marks a failure in “polite society” to handle serious disagreements in a civilized manner.
He published four significant books on the trends in US education, starting with Teacher in America in 1944,reprinted in 1983. (The Preface of the 1983 edition is on line).
To those who follow the news about education, the present state of American schools and colleges must seem vastly different from that described in this book. Thirty-five years have passed, true; but the normal drift of things will not account for the great chasm. The once proud and efficient public-school system of the United States, especially its unique free high school for all—has turned into a wasteland where violence and vice share the time with ignorance and idleness, besides serving as battleground for vested interests, social, political, and economic. The new product of that debased system, the functional illiterate, is numbered in millions, while various forms of deceit have become accented as inevitable—”social promotion” or for those who fail the “minimum competency” test; and most lately, “bilingual education,” by which the rudiments are supposedly taught in over ninety languages other than English. The old plan and purpose of teaching the young what they truly need to know survives only in the private sector, itself hard-pressed and shrinking in size.
Meantime, colleges and universities have undergone a comparable devastation.
The book is a survey the major deficiencies and impediments in the education system, like the idea that all learning has to be “fun” and the soul-destroying drudgery of the PhD ordeal. In The House of Intellect >(1959) he explored the influences that distract educated people from clear, direct and critical thinking. He described some problems which follow the well-meaning efforts of foundations and corporations to save the world by funding university-based research and the international exchange of ideas. One result has been the trampling of long-term research programs in the rush to obtain grants for “exciting and relevant research” followed by international conferences in exotic parts of the world.
In Science: The Glorious Entertainment (1963), he catalogued and criticised several popular misperceptions of science, some of them trivialising and others sensationalising the activities of scientists. This has become particularly relevant to the reception of climate science because misconceptions about the nature of science and research have contributed to the low quality of debate about climate science issues.
Finally The American University: How It Runs, Where Is It Going? (1968) documenting the confusion that prevailed about the purpose of higher education after decades of rapid growth. To underline his concerns, the book appeared in the year when students around the world started setting fire to their campuses, including his own home base, Columbia University, in New York. The fires were extinguished but the young radicals pressed on to undermine the integrity of the academies and set loose the half-educated agents of progressive leftism who dominate in education, the media, the white collar trade unions, the arts and political commentary. And, of course, commentary on climate change.
For more on Barzun in addition to the website material, see the essay “Style in the House of Intellect” which was on the site and has been published in a ebook in the collection Jacques Barzun and Others. The others are Bill Hutt (economist), Ian D. Suttie (Neo-Freudian revisionist), Yvor Winters (literary critic), Ludwig von Mises (economist), Cedric Emanuel (Australian artist and illustrator) and Liam Hudson (psychologist).
The next “dot” in the series is the role movement to oppose nuclear power which became a Trojan horse for the radical left to take control of the environmental movement as it became influential in the 1970s and ’80s.