Will Cain, ESPN’s new hire, has appeared on The Blaze, CNN, “The View,” etc., and is by any measure an affable moderate right-of-center squish—a fact that would be apparent to anyone who’s spent more than two minutes watching his stuff. He’s also a pretty good journalist*, although this is irrelevant to Deadspin. If a person has some iffy ideas about the world, he must be drummed out of sports media—and, I imagine, any other public space.
Here is how one of the site’s intellectually incurious writers put it:
A quick trip down the Will Cain rabbit hole shows that before ESPN, he rarely spoke about sports. More often, though, Cain has carved out a role as a shill who works to further the interests and ambitions of oil corporations, Republican political candidates who attempt to hoodwink and/or energize their base, and those who vilify women and/or minorities while denying their agency.
This is dumb in that unique way that dumb people who think they’re smart are often dumb. Each platitude in the paragraph sounds like it was mined from some long-lost Debbie Wasserman Schultz appearance on Current TV. Though, to be fair, the author makes the unintentionally persuasive case that some people shouldn’t wander too far from their chosen field of expertise.
But since we’re on the topic of denying people their agency; what kind of McCarthyite wants to banish a person they disagree with from a job that has nothing to do with politics? So while Cain may be kinda smart and he may have a knack for tracking down interesting stories and people, because he’s skeptical about the nature of predictive science his coverage of the Biloxi Shuckers is no longer interesting or valid?
The original headline of the Deadspin piece was, “New Hire Is A Climate Change-Denying Stooge”—which is problematic, because Cain does not deny climate change. A person can believe in climate change and also believe it’s harmless, unavoidable, overstated, or totally worth it. Cain argues that scientific models can’t possibly calculate the millions of unknown variables that pop up over time, or the vagaries of nature, or the power of human adaptability. It’s a completely reasonable argument.
The new headline is “ESPN’s New Hire Says Global-Warming Fears Are ‘Intellectually Dishonest.'” Here’s how the author recounts Cain’s exchange on Bill Maher’s show (some bad language follows):
‘Isn’t lying about blowjobs,’ Bill Maher asked, ‘way less important than lying about the things Republicans lie about? Like global warming isn’t real? Do you think Ted Cruz—who has degrees from Princeton and Harvard–do you really think he thinks global warming is a hoax, or does he know it’s true but he tells that to the rubes who vote for him? Because they believe it. Which is a worse lie?’
‘I genuinely like debating you,’ Cain responded, through audience applause. ‘One of your great failings is your inability to see the intellectual response in the global warming debate. The response which is: you can’t predict the future.’
Ah, that’s the good shit. The pure uncut. The Peruvian flake. Chop it up, Will.
‘Thousands and millions of variables dictating what the climate will be 100 years from now,’ Cain went on, ‘and you’re gonna give me Celsius it will be? That is intellectually dishonest.’
On this count, Cain is on solid ground. Malthusians have been doggedly wrong about everything forever —and there is little reason to believe Malthus’ intellectual descendants are going to fare any better at fortune telling. Even mainstream science has been wrong consistently about how climate change would unfold.
Moreover, Cain’s point is that Maher’s focus on a global warming “hoax” is a political matter that allows him to ignore genuine arguments about environmental scaremongering and the feasibility of the liberal policy. That is what’s “intellectually dishonest.”
(It’s also quite amusing to watch Alex Wagner argue that Republicans are hypocrites for relying on science when advocating for abortion limits at 20 weeks, but not trusting science on climate change. Let’s turn it around. Wagner will deny one of the most basic questions of settled science—when life begins—but accept, without any skepticism, that scientists can nail down the average temperature, to the Celsius, a hundred years out? If we’re going to drum anyone out of the public life for denialism, perhaps we should start with those who reject biology.)
You might recall a similar campaign to convince FiveThirtyEight to get rid of Roger Pielke Jr., a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. Like Cain, Pielke Jr., is not a climate change denier. His crime? Failing to accept all scary scenarios about anthropogenic climate change without posing some questions. One Slate writer claimed that engaging in this sort of intellectual exercise, the type of intellectual exercise smart thinkers have always engaged in, was an “embarrassment to Nate Silver’s new venture.”
And then, of course, there is the smearing of Willie Soon.
Even if we defined “denial” using the expansive parameters offered by this Deadspin author—who probably understands as much about climate science as he does about Edmund Burke or “oil corporations”—Cain is still well within the mainstream of American public opinion. According to Gallup, and other polls, more than 60 percent of American don’t believe global warming poses a serious threat to our way of life. One imagines this split is reflected in ESPN’s audience—an audience that probably does not care less about the environmental views of the on air talent.
Nor should they. Here’s what one perplexed commenter at Deadspin had to say:
I get that people who write for Deadspin are always the smartest guys in the room, but why aren’t people entitled to their opinions anymore? You can argue all day about whether you think he’s right or wrong, and I honestly couldn’t care less. But ostracizing him for actually stating an opinion—whether or not you agree with it—seems like it might be against everything you learned in Journalism school. Did I miss something here?
Yes, you did. You’re entitled to their opinion. Because today’s locksteppers are far more interested in ostracizing you than debating you.
*For a short period, Cain and I were both employed by The Blaze.