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Science

Oh, it’s a beautiful graph!

From SMBC (via Friendly Atheist):

smbc01

So, so perfect.

Nova-What Darwin Never Knew

Just a quick post to suggest a fantastic program. I watched this and was mezmorized. The last episode of NOVA (on PBS) was called, “What Darwin Never Knew”.  It delved into the genetics that Darwin could never have been aware of, yet reinforced his theories. The program illustrated just how brilliant Darwin’s theories were, considering he had no access to modern genetic research.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/beta/evolution/darwin-never-knew.html

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.”

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.

Jerry Coyne’s talk at the AAI convention

When Craig and I attended the Atheist Alliance International convention in Burbank this year in October, one of the speakers on Saturday was Jerry Coyne, author of Why Evolution is True. He gave an entertaining and informative talk summarizing the evidence for evolution and was probably one of my favorite speakers at the convention.

I came across the YouTube link to his talk again today, watched it, and thought I’d share. It’s about 57 minutes long, which includes a question and answer session at the end.

Well worth the viewing time!

PZ Myers re: The science of evolution

PZ Myers responded to another absurdist email that chastised him about promoting the theory of evolution. The emailer says "to have a degree or degrees in biology and to still believe in Darwinian theory, shows ignorance in the worst degree." PZ’s response was spot on and included this beautiful bit…

The science points ineluctably to evolution as a fact, as the mechanism for biological change over time. The only people who argue otherwise, and that includes those ‘sciences’ [sic] you claim have concluded that the theory is false, are ideologues who have had their brains addled by non-scientific presuppositions, and who have decided that their fallacious traditional myths must supersede observation and evidence.

Perfect.

Help Alabama students learn real science

On The Axis of Evo blog, Colin Purrington points out that Alabama puts a disclaimer sticker into the front of its science textbooks… since 1996. He’d like it to stop. I’d like it to stop. You should like it to stop.

Here’s what Colin is trying to do.

So I’d like your help in advertising this silliness so that the media might care, which it currently doesn’t: I want to collect high-quality photographs of students showing the disclaimer but who are also doing something like eye-rolling, gagging, or vomiting. Or just expressions of honest disbelief on his/her face while the student holds the book open to the offending disclaimer.  Anyone in Alabama who might be able to help me out? I’d normally nudge friends at Alabama Citizens for Science Education, but its web site (http://www.alscience.org/) seems expired. Perhaps they were besieged by an angry mob with pitchforks.  God help them.

Send me your photographs, science fans. Do it for the children.

If you can help out, or know someone who can, contact Colin via his website.

Here’s the sticker in question…

Alabama Science Book Dislcaimer Sticker

Deniers are gleeful about the CRU emails

I haven’t addressed the issue of climate change here very much other than mentioning it in posts about conspiracy theories or science denialism. However, with the recent hacked email “scandal” at the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, I thought it deserved at least a mention.

The reason I find it relevant to this blog, which tends to focus on issues where religion or dogma interfere with rational thinking, is that climate change seems to be one of those issues. It’s a scientific issue and the deniers tend to be, almost without exception, right-wing and/or religious… classic science deniers, though they’ll never admit as much. All the deniers that I’ve spoken with or read about fully believe they are basing their views on good, accurate science and that whatever it is they’re denying (climate change, vaccinations, evolution, etc) is only promoted by a conspiracy of dogmatic, agenda-driven scientists working with inaccurate, misinterpreted, or subversively modified data.

Frequently, it’s fairly easy to discern a denier’s ulterior motive. In the case of climate change science, the motive is most noticeably political… specifically financial. The “logic” goes something like this.

  1. Any action taken to mitigate climate change would be very expensive and would harm the economy.
  2. Therefore, scientists whose research indicates the Earth is getting warmer are wrong… perhaps fraudulent.

The rest is just smoke and mirrors… making unsubstantiated claims, getting the science wrong, misunderstanding the science, misdirecting from the main issues, taking things out of context, putting things in the wrong context, blowing things out of proportion, waving arms frantically, acting offended, and being dismissive.

The CRU email scandal is a combination of those actions. The illegality of the email hacking is a separate issue from the climate change issue and, for the purposes of this post, irrelevant. The content is what’s important and, as many other bloggers have already concluded, is mostly a non-issue. Chris Mooney does a good job explaining the issue in a post at Science Progress.

Says Mooney:

The truth, however, is that while the CRU emails don’t always look very good—and not all of them can necessarily be defended—in the end this saga amounts to little more than a distraction from the real and burning issues in climate science and climate policy.

The reason why the email amount to “little more than a distraction” is explained in detail in his article, but a quote that summarizes the conclusion is this (also from Mooney):

Unfortunately for climate skeptics, the CRU hacking incident fails to support the burden that they have placed upon it. Whatever behavior was revealed in these emails, even its most salacious interpretation can scarcely undermine the global edifice of knowledge about the causes of ongoing climate change—which may be bolstered by, but certainly does not rely solely upon, CRU’s research and analyses.

In essence, the most damning evidence in the emails, viewed with even the most scandalous interpretation, does nothing to undermine the vast, vast amount of evidence supporting the very real issue of climate change.

The American Meteorological Society, in response to questions about the email hack, re-affirmed their position on climate change, stating in part…

For climate change research, the body of research in the literature is very large and the dependence on any one set of research results to the comprehensive understanding of the climate system is very, very small. Even if some of the charges of improper behavior in this particular case turn out to be true — which is not yet clearly the case — the impact on the science of climate change would be very limited.

In addition to addressing what is in the emails, RealClimate notes another interesting point.

From the RealClimate blog:

More interesting is what is not contained in the emails. There is no evidence of any worldwide conspiracy, no mention of George Soros nefariously funding climate research, no grand plan to ‘get rid of the MWP’, no admission that global warming is a hoax, no evidence of the falsifying of data, and no ‘marching orders’ from our socialist/communist/vegetarian overlords.

I think it’s important to note that the emails in question span the past 13 years. If there were to be evidence of a giant scientist-created conspiracy, one would expect there would be at least something of an inkling about it in 13 years of email exchanges… but there’s not.

Deniers will continue to trot out snippets from the emails, however, with claims that all the climate research to date is now invalid, or that their (fallacious) claims have been verified, or that the scientific process has monumentally failed. They’ll continue their claims that climate change is not real, is not man-made, is not an environmental issue, and is not a cause for concern. They’ll continue to oppose any actions that would curb carbon emissions (and thereby curb pollution in general). They’ll continue to feign understanding of climate science (or even science in general) in order to give themselves the illusion of credibility. They’ll continue to use any bit of misrepresented, out-of-context, irrelevant data they can in an attempt to discredit actual scientists doing actual research into actual climate change.

They’ll continue to deny reality.

Right turn, Clyde… or not.

I’ve mentioned before that I wish the Republican party would “go back to being the fiscally conservative, small government party they used to be instead of the religious, anti-science, anti-intellectual, anti-environment party they are now.”

Andrew Sullivan, over at The Daily Dish,  seems to have the same idea, but in more detail. Andrew and I are not alone, either, since I’ve seen links to his post from two other blogs today, as well as a post by Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs who also put together a list of why he’s parted ways with the Right. No doubt there are plenty more who agree with these folks.

Here’s a sampling of items from both posts that I find particularly noteworthy (though I recommend going through the full posts of both blog authors).

From Andrew Sullivan:

  • I cannot support a movement that holds torture as a core value.
  • I cannot support a movement that holds that purely religious doctrine should govern civil political decisions and that uses the sacredness of religious faith for the pursuit of worldly power.
  • I cannot support a movement that would back a vice-presidential candidate manifestly unqualified and duplicitous because of identity politics and electoral cynicism.
  • I cannot support a movement that does not accept evolution as a fact.
  • I cannot support a movement that sees climate change as a hoax and offers domestic oil exploration as the core plank of an energy policy
  • I cannot support a movement that refuses to distance itself from a demagogue like Rush Limbaugh or a nutjob like Glenn Beck.
  • I cannot support a movement that believes that the United States should be the sole global power, should sustain a permanent war machine to police the entire planet, and sees violence as the core tool for international relations.

From Charles Johnson (reasons why he parted ways with the Right):

  • Support for bigotry, hatred, and white supremacism (see: Pat Buchanan, Ann Coulter, Robert Stacy McCain, Lew Rockwell, etc.)
  • Support for throwing women back into the Dark Ages, and general religious fanaticism (see: Operation Rescue, anti-abortion groups, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Tony Perkins, the entire religious right, etc.)
  • Support for anti-science bad craziness (see: creationism, climate change denialism, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, James Inhofe, etc.)
  • Support for homophobic bigotry (see: Sarah Palin, Dobson, the entire religious right, etc.)
  • Support for anti-government lunacy (see: tea parties, militias, Fox News, Glenn Beck, etc.)
  • Support for conspiracy theories and hate speech (see: Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Birthers, creationists, climate deniers, etc.)
  • A right-wing blogosphere that is almost universally dominated by raging hate speech (see: Hot Air, Free Republic, Ace of Spades, etc.)
  • Hatred for President Obama that goes far beyond simply criticizing his policies, into racism, hate speech, and bizarre conspiracy theories (see: witch doctor pictures, tea parties, Birthers, Michelle Malkin, Fox News, World Net Daily, Newsmax, and every other right wing source)

I think all of those issues are critical issues with the Right, but I tend to focus in on the anti-science, anti-intellectual issues like evolution and climate change… and then I just continue down the path of monumental incredulity at the crap that is touted, supported, and defended by what used to be a fiscally and bureaucratically conservative and responsible party.

I will grant that not all Republicans are this way, but the party in general (or as Andrew Sullivan puts it… “in so far as it means the dominant mode of discourse among the institutions and blogs and magazines and newspapers and journals that support the GOP”) has taken on the self-righteous air of superiority, while in practice, promoting ignorance, hatred, and the idea that the better educated you are, the smarter you are, and the more experience you have, the less qualified you are to partake in intellectually challenging endeavors.

If this country is going to improve its status (and it does need improving) or even maintain its current position in the world, the Right needs to change its ways or get out of the way, because its current pattern of blocking science and education, glorifying ignorance, and pounding its virtual fists on the podium of bigotry doesn’t cut it and it won’t cut it in the future.

As Charles Johnson said:

The American right wing has gone off the rails, into the bushes, and off the cliff.

I won’t be going over the cliff with them.

I won’t be jumping off that cliff, either.

Fundraiser video for the RDF

I love this video for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. It was made for their 2009 fundraising effort and it’s extremely well done.