Tuesday, October 25, 2011

International affairs and the scientific method

Anne-Marie Slaughter, she of impeccable credentials (Oxford, Princeton, Harvard, McDonald's, ack!) has suggested a “thought experiment” – this is Einstein isn’t it? – in which there is no military intervention in Libya.

Her conclusion:

"Let us do a thought experiment. Imagine the UN did not vote to authorise the use of force in Libya in March. Nato did nothing; Colonel Muammer Gaddafi over-ran Benghazi; the US stood by; the Libyan opposition was reduced to sporadic uprisings, quickly crushed. The regimes in Yemen and Syria took note, and put down their own uprisings with greater vigour. The west let brutality and oppression triumph again in the Middle East.
"This is the scenario many wise heads were effectively arguing for with their strong stands against intervention to stop Col Gaddafi. Over the months those analysts have reminded us of their views, calling Libya a quagmire."
This isn’t an experiment, and Ms. Slaughter has no data, only speculation. There’s an important difference between speculation and data. In international affairs of course, it’s difficult to do a controlled experiment, as it is in geology. It is however, important to distinguish the difference.

Likewise, Michael Ignatieff has written an eloquent statement about Libya, conveniently ignoring the Tunisian experiment, the Egyptian experiment, and UN Security Council Resolution 1970.

My point is not that Slaughter and Ignatieff are wrong, but that they exist in their own self referencing universe, that they ignore inconvenient data, and in fact that this is the problem of people who have impeccable credentials but no actual experience in testing reality, the scientific method, and who rely on "expertise" based on words meaning something exclusively to themselves, like the Sophists.