Quartz: The Elite Talk to Themselves

Recently, I discovered the journalistic site Quartz. The articles are well-written and quirky. Many of the articles are career and business focused.

Quartz’s mission statement includes this: “Our highest work is bringing rigor, insight, and intellectual honesty to that ultimate purpose of separating the bad from the good, giving voice, argument, and flight to the latter.” That’s a pretty pretentious mission as compared to, for example, making money and entertaining the reader. Rather than rigor and intellectual honesty, Quartz popularizes trendy ideas. Quartz doesn’t seem to have a skeptical bone in its body.

What do Quartz’s stance of climate change and green energy have to say about its intellectual rigor? Those are topics that are trendy and not associated with intellectual rigor.

One article claimed that Americans want a carbon tax. The article presented the results of a survey of 1,202 Americans. I didn’t believe the survey in the sense that I don’t think that Americans would want a carbon tax if they understood a carbon tax. It is an old trick to bias surveys to support a particular objective. Intellectual rigor was missing, and the promotion of trendy ideas was present.

Another article was “As climate change worsens, mental health probably will too.” That idea is sponsored by 90 scientists from 40 countries, as well as researchers from MIT, Harvard, and other top research institutions. One wonders if the reverse is true. Does an improving climate improve mental health?

Measurement of the nation’s mental health is a slippery statistical game. If you put more money into treating mental problems, it is certain that you will find more mental health problems. Most claims of a mental health catastrophe are really disguised pleas for more money by the mental health industry. Those “top research institutions” are in both the climate change and the mental health businesses. Apparently, they have hit on the idea of a joint promotion. Both the climate change gurus and the mental health gurus are inclined to see their respective pending catastrophes as the root of everything that is wrong in the world. Both the mental health people and the climate change people offer the solution that we should give them more money and trust that giving them more money will help with the alleged problem.

No visible article on Quartz departed from the conformist line that the world is facing disaster from global warming. Climate-change hysteria has been exhaustively debunked by armies of skeptics, including many distinguished scientists. But debunking climate-change hysteria with reasoned arguments is about as effective as talk therapy is for curing schizophrenics. It doesn’t work. Climate hysteria is a passionate belief that has little or nothing to do with factual analysis. The phenomenon of passionate belief was well-explained by the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto in the early 20th century.

If Quartz actually applied rigor to their stories about climate change, they would immediately alienate that portion of their readers who have already made up their minds. Those readers want cheerleading, not rigor. The bitter truth is that the market for rigor and intellectual honesty is quite limited.

President Eisenhower, in his farewell address, warned against the scientific-technological establishment gaining control of federal policy to enrich themselves. It’s not clear that he anticipated that they would use fake science as their instrument. Climate change is fake science, or what the Nobel Prize winner Irving Langmuir called pathological science.

Another Quartz article proclaims: “Two US electric utilities have promised to go 100% carbon-free and admit it’s cheaper”. I actually wrote an article about one of those utilities, Xcel. My article was titled: “Dumb Energy Advances in Colorado”. The Quartz article is very dumb. Unless Xcel is planning to go nuclear, which it isn’t, 100% carbon-free energy is an impossibility because wind and solar have to be backed up by reliable plants that take over when the wind dies or the sun sets. Having more than half the power from wind or solar makes the grid unstable because there is then not enough conventional power on line to compensate for the ups and downs of the erratic wind and solar.

The Quartz article also claims, wrongly, that wind and solar are cheaper than conventional generating plants. How can it be cheap if every wind or solar installation has to be backed up by a redundant conventional plant able to take over on a moment’s notice? Even considering wind or solar in isolation, their numbers are wrong because they are including a subsidy in their cost figures -- the hidden tax subsidy called tax equity financing.

But what about the interesting and quirky articles that drew me to Quartz in the first place? When I evaluated Quartz’s treatment of subjects that I know a lot about -- global warming and renewable energy -- Quartz failed miserably.

Quartz is a mouthpiece for the hopes and dreams of what Charles Murray in his book Coming Apart calls the “new upper class. The new upper class consists of people who have good jobs, and who are intelligent and well educated. The formation of this class is a consequence of talent sorting by elite colleges and the increasing value of brain work. Members of the class marry each other and bear children that are even more isolated from the mainstream of America. The media is populated by members of this elite class.

The danger is that a new class of people have been created who have great influence but little connection with mainstream America. They believe in global warming and renewable energy because all their friends do. Their class interests are rooted in the status quo and in the fate of the big bureaucracies where they often work.

We need smart and educated people. But it is bad public policy for them to gang up on the rest of us and manipulate national policy for their own benefit. Some concrete steps might be breaking the monopoly of elite colleges and promoting part-time jobs for college and high school students. Anything that breaks the intellectual isolation of the new upper class would help.

Norman Rogers is the author of the book Dumb Energy.