If it’s cold, it’s evidence!

I find it noteworthy that the global warming deniers, many of whom were touting the recent cold snap in the USA as evidence against global warming, are strangely silent about the recent warm temperatures we’ve been having. In Pennsylvania, it was about 60 degrees this morning, which is pretty high for this time of year… not unheard of, but definitely high. The entire past week has been warmer than usual, actually.

Now, those who understand anything about climate change understand that local temperature variances really say nothing about global climate change (hence the word "global"), but the deniers latch onto this sort of thing and wave it around as if it somehow validates their conspiracy theories. The caveat is that they only do it when it suits their purposes. If there is contradicting "evidence," it is ignored.

Evolution deniers do the same thing… tout irrelevant things as evidence in support of their delusion, but ignore (or deny) evidence that refutes it. Anti-vaxxers do it, too… as do moon hoaxers, flat earthers, 9/11 truthers, and Obama birthers. It’s a common theme among conspiracy theorists.

And all that is fine… unless they have any political clout.

Sadly, that seems to be the case in some instances.


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Those stupid scientists!

Calamities of Nature - Hot Debate From Calamities of Nature comes this comic (the image here is just the first panel). I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I’ve heard a similar argument made by Sam Harris concerning the word “elite” in a Newsweek essay about Sarah Palin and politics last year. Not exactly the same argument, but related.

The comic brings up a valid point (though highly simplified to fit into three panels) and I’ve commented on it before… with no small amount of disdain. The point is relevant to more than the topic addressed and I’ve encountered the same seeming inconsistency-of-thought regarding evolution, the age of the Earth, cosmology, and a few other science-related topics.

It’s an attitude that science is great… unless it conflicts with your political or religious ideology… that it’s better, in that case, to trust someone who’s not too educated, not too intelligent, not too well informed, not too “elite”… rather than someone who is highly trained in the related field.

Here’s the excerpt from Sam Harris’s article (to save you the time of searching the Newsweek article for it):

Ask yourself: how has “elitism” become a bad word in American politics? There is simply no other walk of life in which extraordinary talent and rigorous training are denigrated. We want elite pilots to fly our planes, elite troops to undertake our most critical missions, elite athletes to represent us in competition and elite scientists to devote the most productive years of their lives to curing our diseases. And yet, when it comes time to vest people with even greater responsibilities, we consider it a virtue to shun any and all standards of excellence. When it comes to choosing the people whose thoughts and actions will decide the fates of millions, then we suddenly want someone just like us, someone fit to have a beer with, someone down-to-earth—in fact, almost anyone, provided that he or she doesn’t seem too intelligent or well educated.

It’s a huge problem in this country today.


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Dr. Oz is promoting woo

Dr. Mehmet Oz, a long time guest on Oprah, used to be lauded as being one of the few guests on her show that dispensed practical, real medical advice. However, it seems that lately, he’s given in (at least somewhat) to the woo side of things. Orac, over at Respectful Insolence gives a rundown of some recent offenses, but the main point he makes is that Dr. Oz has recommended reiki as a valid medical treatment (Dr. Oz is also making some vaguely anti-vaxx statements, too).

Reiki is a type of “energy healing” or, as Orac puts it…

As I’ve pointed out before, reiki is nothing more than faith healing using Eastern mysticism rather than Christianity as its base, and the “demonstration” on Dr. Oz’s show really is more akin to the sorts of demonstrations at a Benny Hinn or Peter Popoff revival

I first heard about reiki around eighteen years ago from an audio program by Wayne Dyer (Real Magic: Creating Miracles in Everyday Life… I know. I’m ashamed) and it seemed pretty fishy, especially given his description of it (flashing lights, shocking hands, cuts magically healing, etc). Scientifically, there’s no evidence that it works for… well… anything, except perhaps lining the pockets of “reiki masters” with money.

So here’s a clip of the reiki demonstration on Dr. Oz’s show.

The first thing that should raise a red flag when it comes to an explanation of “alternative medicine” treatments is deliberate vagueness. Here’s what Pamela Miles, the “reiki master” says in way of explanation.

Reiki is a balancing practice and so, rather than addressing the headache or whatever else is the problem, what it does is it influences the person’s overall system toward balance and then, as her system becomes more balanced, symptoms tend to fall away. Then, over time for example, if you get headaches, you know, you may find that you get them less frequently.

Now that is some world class vagueness. She admits to not addressing the actual problem, but only “influencing” the person’s “overall system toward balance.” I’d bet that even she doesn’t know what the heck that means.

So then the conversation continues with Dr. Oz asking, “Do you feel anything, Dalita?” (the woman getting “treated”).

She replies, “Oh, yes. My headache’s going away.”

Oz says, “Your headache’s going away. Do you feel any heat?”

“Yes.”

Break out the reiki fireworks, it’s a miracle!

The really sad part is that Dr. Oz’s recommendation will mean that people will go out and possibly try reiki rather than going to an actual doctor. In many cases, no harm will be done. I’m sure that Dalita would survive her headache without any kind of treatment. But there will be others, and this is where Oprah abdicates her responsibilities, who will take what Dr. Oz says as valid medical advice, seeking out a reiki master to treat them… and the only symptom that will be relieved is a heavy wallet.

Dr. Oz should be ashamed.


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Steven Newton on Science Denialism

Over at EvolutionBlog, Jason Rosenhouse links to an editorial by Steven Newton, a project director for the National Center for Science Education. The editorial is posted on Huffington Post, which, as Rosenhouse points out, is "not usually the go-to place for intelligent commentary on scientific issues," but in this case, Steven Newton represents the NCSE and does it quite well.

Some excerpts:

From evolution to global warming to vaccines, science is under assault from denialists–those who dismiss well-tested scientific knowledge as merely one of many competing ideologies. Science denial goes beyond skeptical questioning to attack the legitimacy of science itself.

[...]

Science requires conclusions about how nature works to be rooted in evidence-based testing. Sometimes progress is slow. But through a difficult and often frustrating process, we learn more about the world.

Science denialism works differently. Creationists are unmoved by the wealth of fossil, molecular, and anatomical evidence for evolution. Global-warming denialists are unimpressed by mountains of climate data. Denialists ignore overwhelming evidence, focusing instead on a few hoaxes, such as Piltdown Man, or a few stolen e-mails. For denialists, opinion polls and talk radio are more important than thousands of peer-reviewed journal articles.

[...]

Understanding science has never been more important than it is today. Critical issues such as climate change and the threat of newly evolved flu strains demand greater scientific literacy among the public and politicians. As long as scientists must squander their time defending their work from denialism, we will fall behind on our fundamental responsibilities.

Check out the full piece. Newton makes some great points about denialism, things I’ve seen happen over and over. What makes it increasingly frustrating is that the denialists themselves can’t recognize what they’re doing. They think they’re actually being scientific. They think they’re rational. They think they have actual damning evidence.

They’re not, they aren’t, and they don’t.


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Climate Literacy Primer Follow-up

My post about a climate literacy brochure from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration drew a lengthy response from Tom, which he posted on his Facebook account. He also provided a link in the comments section of my post (to view his response, you need a Facebook account, but do not need to have him on your friends list). The response only briefly addresses my post, but addresses some of Tom’s concerns about climate change. I felt it warranted a follow-up for a number of reasons, but I will spare my readers a point-by-point analysis, since most of the science-related points that Tom makes are easily addressed with a bit of modest research.

(Note that, since Tom’s Facebook profile is public, I felt it not inappropriate to post excerpts from his response for the purposes of this follow-up. Please read his entire response to get the full context and meaning of the included excerpts. This follow-up post was made here because I generally keep my Facebook account free from political and religious material.)

Tom questions my motivating principles because my “About” page says that this blog was created as a “way to take action against the flood of religious fundamentalism that has been slowly taking control of the United States of America.” I’m not sure how that would invalidate science, but further in the about page, the stated method of taking action is “by promoting rational thought and honest, intellectual questioning.” Promoting science, which I do here on a regular basis, is an effective way of promoting rational thought.

Tom breaks down the climate issue as follows:

Unfortunately, the debate over anthropological global warming (AGW) is no longer a purely scientific endeavor. It cannot be, since the potential consequences are global and political. One side argues that if we do nothing, we are doomed. They want governments to take action through policy and regulation. The other side argues that to take action is a veiled attempt to further the reach of government power into private enterprise and personal freedom, which will stifle economic growth, creativity and human dignity.

I would further his first statement and say that the “debate” over climate change (for so long as there has actually been debate) has never been purely scientific. The science itself has been and remains scientific (if you will pardon the redundancy), but the debate started because of politics. There is very little scientific disagreement over the conclusions of climate change science, despite the claims of deniers. Tom brings up the Global Warming Petition Project (also known as the Oregon Petition) and the Heidelberg Appeal as evidence of scientific disagreement, but used for that purpose, both documents are questionable at best.

The last sentence in the above quoted paragraph, summarizing Tom’s position, is the one I find most telling. It has the very strong appearance of promoting a political conspiracy theory. Indeed, much of Tom’s response is an admission that he looks at climate change science, not through an objective, scientific lens, but through a political one. I don’t think that can be stated strongly enough.

Tom is rejecting scientific facts because of his political ideology.

Here’s an excerpt from his post explaining why he is motivated to challenge the science behind Anthropological Global Warming (please read the whole post for context, though this excerpt stands on its own fairly well).

The conclusions of Biffa, Mann, et al, the CRU are championed by the IPCC which is an arm of the United Nations. The UN has clearly revealed its stripes as a bureaucracy which advocates and actively works for a global government. An unelected body, their veiled objective is redistribution of wealth and the demise of the United States as a leader in business, finance and innovation – all the while suckling off the teat of tax-payers. The technocrats behind AGW find their only solution in more government, more regulation, more taxation, taking away decision-making from business and private citizens.

If that doesn’t sound like conspiracy theory propaganda, I don’t know what does, but more importantly, it shows that the motivation for attempting to discredit climate change science does not come from finding objective flaws in the related science. It comes from political ideology. Everything else is just smoke and mirrors.

I find it very similar to “debates” about evolution. Since intelligent design creationists cannot accept evolution because of their biblical predispositions, they will come up with all kinds of arguments against evolution, none of which hold water. Not only that, but the arguments get recycled ad nauseum. See the Discovery Institute website or Answers in Genesis for plenty of examples.

It seems that climate change deniers have adopted the same strategy. Since they don’t want to accept the scientific research due to their ideological predispositions, they manufacture objections… manufacture controversies… manufacture scientific “flaws” in ongoing research… and accuse climate scientists of all kinds of shenanigans.

Tom mentions the standard canards such as Mann’s “hockey stick,” the medieval warming period, urban temperature stations, the CRU emails, sediment cores, and my favorite, Antarctic sea ice. All of these objections have either been shown irrelevant, understood and accounted for, and/or actually in support of climate change science. Most of the objections have been addressed long ago, but climate change deniers repeatedly trot them out to advance what seems to be a purely political agenda.

Tom continues with the political argument.

And those environmentalists who align themselves with draconian measures to stop so-called AGW, and handing over decisions to the UN – they show their illegitimacy when they reject nuclear power as a solution to reducing industrial and residential CO2 output. “Clean energy” – windmills, solar, geothermal – does not have near the efficiency or output to replace carbon-based energy sources. Clearly one of the objectives of the fanatical environmentalists is to return our standard of living to the pre-industrial era.

I’ve already said that none of the political issues invalidate the facts, but I think here, Tom is addressing a hypocrisy (with a dose of conspiracy thrown in) that he sees in those who accept the science. I haven’t heard others objecting to nuclear power, so I can’t comment on that other than to say that I have no problem with it. It’s clean, efficient, and provides a stable power base for our electrical grid all across the country. I do, however, find it somewhat amusing that he concludes that the objective of “fanatical environmentalists is to return our standard of living to the pre-industrial era.” …as if that’s the only alternative to inaction.

In his conclusion, Tom sets up some ecologically-friendly straw men to knock down, saying that deniers are painted as “indiscriminate environmental rapists” and that I claim that deniers are “religious fundamentalists hell-bent on extracting wealth from the environment.” I have no idea how he inferred that from my post, since the only mention of religion at all was in the following paragraph (and since I don’t believe it to be the case, anyway):

The fruits of science are all around us, yet the state of science literacy in our country is horrifyingly low. Not only do we have people who don’t understand science or how it works, but we have the much more harmful group of people who think they understand how science works and who think they have an understanding of scientific issues, but are hopelessly lost in an ideological quagmire created by politics, religion, or other insidious cultural influences.

One of my contentions about climate change deniers is that (I have found) most of them are either politically right-wing and/or very religious (not, as claimed, “religious fundamentalists hell-bent on extracting wealth from the environment”). Tom epitomizes this in his response by not only admitting that his rejection of climate science is based on political ideology, but by quoting bible passages in his conclusion in order to knock down the aforementioned straw men.

Tom’s concluding sentence:

I find the irony that the subject piece which has stirred my rebuttal is so entirely tone-deaf to its own strains of fundamentalism as it tries to teach us lesser vassals how we must think, and render homage to our more educated peers.

If my attempts to promote a scientific, reality-based, rational way of thinking are considered fundamentalist, so be it. Teaching people how to think (as opposed to what to think) is something this country could use. However, a blind appeal to authority is never warranted and I have not (nor have I ever) suggested that it should be.

If people choose which facts to believe based upon political ideology or religious dogma, they are abdicating an intellectual responsibility… and this country, this world, is weakened as a result.

I think a quote from Daniel Patrick Moynihan would be a fitting conclusion.

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”


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Climate Literacy Primer

Via The Intersection blog, Chris Mooney made me aware of a great brochure (pdf) from NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that gives some basic climate science literacy information. It’s a great introduction to the multifaceted complexities of climate science, how climate works, how it’s measured, and how humans effect it.

It starts out with a great definition of a “climate-literate person.”

A climate-literate person:

  • understands the essential principles of Earth’s climate system
  • knows how to assess scientifically credible information about climate
  • communicates about climate and climate change in a meaningful way
  • is able to make informed and responsible decisions with regard to actions that may affect climate.

It continues with information about why climate science literacy matters (and why science literacy in general matters), how climate science is an ongoing process, and how we can know what is scientifically correct.

The main points explained in the brochure are the following:

CLIMATE LITERACY: The Essential Principles of Climate Science

  1. The Sun is the primary source of energy for Earths climate system.
  2. Climate is regulated by complex interactions among components of the Earth system.
  3. Life on Earth depends on, is shaped by, and affects climate.
  4. Climate varies over space and time through both natural and man-made processes.
  5. Our understanding of the climate system is improved through observations, theoretical studies, and modeling.
  6. Human activities are impacting the climate system.
  7. Climate change will have consequences for the Earth system and human lives.

There’s plenty of detail for each point given and the explanations are clear, giving a solid foundation for learning more about climate science and actually understanding the climate issues that are affecting (and will affect) our lives.

Chris Mooney wonders…

But anyway, it is interesting to contemplate whether climate “skeptics” take issue with any of these basics, or whether they are indeed “climate science literate” by this standard. For after all, the complicated data and “hockey stick” type issues that “skeptics” seem to seize upon don’t appear to have much to do with these basics; and yet these basics are all you need to know that global warming is a serious concern and that we stand to get fried.

(ed. …and by “skeptics” he means “deniers”… hence the sarcasm quotes)

I’ve heard and read plenty from deniers who plainly lack a basic understanding of the science and who enthusiastically ride the denier bandwagon regardless of where it leads… whether it’s something as silly as offering a big snowstorm in Montana as evidence against global warming, using a few out-of-context comments by some climate scientists to decry the state of scientific research, or claiming that a lone scientist with a new way of looking at data has overturned decades of climate research. The bandwagon in question is propelled by politically-created excrement.

Here’s one of my favorite parts from the brochure.

CLIMATE SCIENCE LITERACY IS A PART OF SCIENCE LITERACY.

“Science, mathematics, and technology have a profound impact on our individual lives and our culture. They play a role in almost all human endeavors, and they affect how we relate to one another and the world around us. . . . Science Literacy enables us to make sense of real-world phenomena, informs our personal and social decisions, and serves as a foundation for a lifetime of learning.”

From the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Atlas of Science Literacy, Volume 2, Project 2061.

The fruits of science are all around us, yet the state of science literacy in our country is horrifyingly low. Not only do we have people who don’t understand science or how it works, but we have the much more harmful group of people who think they understand how science works and who think they have an understanding of scientific issues, but are hopelessly lost in an ideological quagmire created by politics, religion, or other insidious cultural influences.

Climate science denialism is a perfect example of how anti-scientific ideology mucks with the real issues in ways that will create tangible consequences. It’s not just a matter of philosophical differences (you go your way and I’ll go mine). It’s a matter of the actual, physical consequences of promoting actions (or non-actions, as the case may be) that would lead to the degradation of our environment (you can’t go your way and I can’t go mine… since you borked it all up, thank you very much).

There is no “your way” and “my way” when it comes to the habitability of this planet. There’s simply an “our way” because just like the anti-intellectual, anti-science deniers, I’m stuck on this planet. It’s my home. It’s where I keep my stuff. It’s where all my friends and family live. It’s where my daughter lives and will continue to live after I’m gone.

The anti-science crowd puts lives at risk. They put our country at risk. They put our world at risk. Whether it’s the climate science deniers, anti-vaxxers, homeopathy pushers, or the myriad of other pseudo-scientific proponents, it all boils down to a lack of understanding of (or a deliberate rejection of) science.

…and that affects us all.


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