Christopher Hitchens and the IPCC

One often encounters in the climate change debate, those who carry on with what can be called the ‘ecologists’ mindset’. This is, perhaps a poor choice of words, to describe a certain phenomenon – of our repeated and fumbling efforts to do a so-called ‘systems thinking’. Why, after all, should I invoke a specific discipline’s name to criticize a oft-committed intellectual error to which we are susceptible, throughout ages?

Nevertheless, and the politics of nomenclature notwithstanding, the outcome of this mode of thinking is felt in the climate and environmental arenas all the time. Thus we find an enlightened cadre who presume to be capable of knowing everything, because they calculated everything in their computer models, because they took a ‘systems approach’. Thus do we find environmental scientists who presume to argue, not for our well-being (as humans), but for the well-being and health of ‘the system’ itself, for the well-being of other species, and in fact, of all species and of life itself.

Given that it were however, that our individual mental capacity to actually perform any valid ‘systems thinking’ is indeed very limited, the net result is amusing. As Lubos Motl notes here, Nature magazine, supposed epitome of staid scientific wisdom succumbs to the temptation—they title their editorial on climate science: “whole-system science”.

Let Christopher Hitchens remind us, at this juncture that ‘we’, as ‘a species’, are not even good at speaking for ourselves, and perhaps will never be and that there is a long way to go. When a bunch of us get together and presume to think for the rest of humanity and write the rules down in a book, that is called religion, in other words, ‘systems thinking’ for mankind. How far is that from what the ‘Intergovernmental Panel’ does?

Do I, who have read Freud and know what the future of an illusion really is and know that religious belief is ineradicable as long as we remain a stupid, poorly evolved mammalian species, think that some Canadian law is going to solve this problem?


No. Our problem is this: our prefrontal lobes are too small. And our adrenaline glands are too big. And our thumb/ finger opposition isn’t all that it might be. And we’re afraid of the dark, and we’re afraid to die, and we believe in the truths of holy books that are so stupid and so fabricated that a child can – and all children do, as you can tell by their questions – actually see through them. And I think it should be – written religion – treated with ridicule, and hatred and contempt. And I claim that right.

N.B. This is what Lubos had to say about systems-science:

The very concept of a “Whole-System Science” is an oxymoron. Science may study complicated systems but whenever it works, it always decomposes them into pieces that are studied separately. If a scientific disciplines remains a “whole-system science”, it’s just junk science. A “whole-system science” and “bad science” are pretty much synonymous.



  1. greg2213

    Hitchens is a very interesting fellow and has written some very interesting stuff. Not the least interesting part is that he’s a self-proclaimed communist (Trotskyite, they’re the “nice” ones) hating on religion. Ok dude, whatever…

    As long as I skip his anti-religion rants I find him to, frequently, be a great read. And no, I’m not at all religious.

    As to his point… I think we all have some form of Utopianist in us, for instance, “If only I could rule the world…everything would be wonderful!”

    We tend to gloss over the inconvenient truths of that fantasy, and give our perfect “theories” fancy names and credentials. Such as “Systems Thinking” and “IPCC Summary Report.”

  2. Shub Niggurath

    Yes Greg.

    Look at this Wikipedia list of ‘subjects applying systems thinking to tackle problems’:

    Science of Team Science
    Organizational architecture
    Job design
    Team Population and Work Unit Design
    Linear and Complex Process Design
    Supply Chain Design
    Business continuity planning with FMEA protocol
    Critical Infrastructure Protection via FBI Infragard
    Delphi method — developed by RAND for USAF
    Futures studies — Thought leadership mentoring

    Leadership development
    Oceanography — forecasting complex systems behavior
    Quality function deployment (QFD)
    Quality management — Hoshin planning methods
    Quality storyboard — StoryTech framework (LeapfrogU-EE)
    Software quality
    Program management
    Project management
    MECE – McKinsey Way
    Linear Thinking

    In other words, precisely the kind of wooly ‘buzzword’ selling, manageralist and pretentious scientificality that any real science, including climate science, should be moving away from.

  3. Alexander K

    The urge many feel to impose some form of ‘system’ on our environment seems to be almost universal; Every so often, my wife, a brilliant and very successful professional manager in education, suddenly has the urge to rearrange the furniture and ‘impose some order’. She always feels better when the rearrangement is complete, but nothing actually changes much. She does get annoyed if I don’t take the activity seriously, however.