Thursday, January 18, 2007

Decertifying Skeptics...

The Weather Channel’s most prominent climatologist is advocating that broadcast meteorologists be stripped of their scientific certification if they express skepticism about predictions of manmade catastrophic global warming.
My initial reaction to this was shock and revulsion at the attempt to silence skepticism. I'm not a professional scientist, so certainly my understanding of the scientific method is limited. But I think I'm right when I say that skepticism is a builtin part of the deal. So to hear someone deeply involved in climate science attempt to deny skepticism, it strikes me that someone might be asking for a method to the truth other than the scientific method.

I think that's a reasonable conclusion to make and I find it highly ironic that this is being done by a professional scientist. But it doesn't address the core problem: should this person's recommendation be applied? And I'm surprised that my answer is, "I hope so".

First, this recommendation really ignores how I think many people will react to this. What I think will eventually happen is that the value of the AMS certification will be diminished. When people consume weather forcasts, they look for accuracy. There seems to be little relationship between the accuracy of:
  • Local, short term weather predictions
  • Global, long term climate change
A stance on the latter is unlikely to influence the accuracy of the former. And consumers of weather forcasts will prefer those from anyone who can provide them, whether they've got an AMS certification or not.

So the impact is to increase the supply of accurate weather predictors who don't have AMS certification. In addition, by increasing the scarcity of AMS certifications, they increase the wages of AMS certified meteorogists. Which creates incentives for those who hire meteorologists to ignore the certification - accurate weather predictions are not related to whether someone is AMS certified or not. This can't be good for the certification. So, I suspect that the AMS will plainly ignore the recommendation.

However, I hope they don't. I hope that they're foolish. I've become convinced that the US health care system is where it's at, in part, because of licensure. Only those who are licensed are allowed to practice medicine. This sets a floor on the minimum quality of medical provision. Which, in turn, sets a floor on the cost of that provision. Why is this bad? Some states require certain procedures to be performed by opthamologists, while other states allow optometrists to perform those same procedures. Clearly, there is a set of procedures that can be performed by both, yet in some cases, licensure prevents it. Licensure ensures that only the higher cost provider does the job. The end result is that licensure in US health care, results in higher wages for health care providers at the expense of health care consumers. Licensure becomes a form of rent seeking.

I'd like to see the AMS certification devalued in order to put the idea in people's minds that perhaps certifications and licensures are subject to being questioned. I'd like to see licensure not be legally required. And if that happens, then a more open market for provision of those services can develop.

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