This April 28 Bret Stephens op-ed debut is way off the mark every inch of the way.
First, what Old Jew Of Galicia? Milocz wrote that epigraph and hundreds or thousands have cited it as if it’s ancient and real wisdom that transcends the folly of whomever you want to lambaste. But what Old Jew of central or western Europe would use precise figures like 55% as opposed to 60% to describe degrees of being sure that one is right? And right about what? Everything? It seems to me that’s the only possibility of the quote, given no other information than the “quote” itself. It seems to be about totalitarian regimes that rewrite truth and history to their liking and allow no dissent. But that’s a whole different world! Climate scientists are not claiming they’re 100% right about everything, only 97% right about something very important that they’ve looked at from dozens or hundreds of different angles and almost always come up with the same conclusion, which is that warming will with high likelihood accelerate and all of humanity with high likelihood will be in a peck of trouble therefrom.
Then he writes, “In the final stretch of last year’s presidential race, Hillary Clinton and her team thought they were, if not 100 percent right, then very close.” Polls and betting sites showed a consistent 70-85% likelihood of Clinton winning, with her likelihood increasing right at the end most likely due to Trump’s bizarre behavior and words in the last debate, together with some of the Comey stuff. I tracked these numbers myself for several months from multiple sources. Who is Stephens to claim that Clinton and company thought they were all but 100%? He cites no source. It’s mere supposition.
Citations of made-up quotes, and suppositions? We are to trust and believe this writer over hundreds or thousands of scientists and their experiments and analyses and peer reviews?
Scientists are 100% right about Bernoulli’s Law, and thank goodness, because if they were not 100% right then some planes would go down inexplicably. Humanity is 100% right that four colors suffice to color a planar map so that no two countries with a shared boundary that’s more than a single point will have the same color. Anything not proved or demonstrated correct through a combination of rigorous analysis and consistent results from thousands of experiments can be no more than an informed opinion. Stephens does not apply information to buttress his opinion. Therefore his opinion is all but worthless. He does not cite even one example of “much else that that passes as accepted fact [but] is really a matter of probabilities.” He does not cite even one example of “history … littered with the human wreckage of scientific errors married to political power.” He seems not to understand that conviction is only “beyond a reasonable doubt” not “with absolute certainty.” He’s not worth listening to or reading.
And the New York Times has broken a contract with its readers by giving an imprimatur of believability and merit to him by publishing this op-ed.