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Rachel calls bull-pucky

Phil Plait is a Rachel Maddow fanboi and I can’t say I blame him. Though Rachel is fallible and has made mistakes before, more often than not, she hits the proverbial nail on the head, so when she gave her commentary on Climategate, the ACORN “scandal,” and other right-wing, anti-reality nonsense, Phil couldn’t resist linking to her video (and commenting on it…worth a read)… and I couldn’t resist watching it.

Another dead-on hammer-strike.

Phil rightly comments that the far right doesn’t have the copyright on nonsense, but the Republican “unholy alliance” it has formed with fundamentalist religion has led it to its pervasive anti-reality stance.

He concludes with this…

Global warming is real. Evolution is real. Vaccines do not cause autism. Homeopathy doesn’t work. These are facts, and they don’t care whether or not denialists spin, fold, and mutilate them. Until we face up to reality, however, they will spin, fold, and mutilate us.

I’ll drink to that.

The ignorance is astounding

I managed to get on the mailing list of Worldview Weekend, which tends to be one of the largest repositories on the internet for right-wing, religious, conspiracy-theory crazies. I leave myself on the list for entertainment purposes and I’ve yet to be disappointed. Unfortunately, it’s a little scary, too, because I know there are people who actually believe what’s being presented on the site.

This week, Phyllis Schlafly decided that she was going to take on the role of climatologist in a piece titled Global Warming Is Frozen Over, with predictable results. Here’s her opening salvo.

Whether or not the groundhog sees his shadow on February 2, there’s no denying that January put into a deep freeze the claims of crisis by global warming alarmists. Frigid temperatures destroyed fruit and coral in Florida, and snow fell on Al Gore’s palatial home in normally warmer Tennessee.

What I find most significant is that she thoroughly discredits herself in her first sentence by demonstrating a significant lack of understanding about global warming. She’s not the only one, though, as I’ve seen similar claims made by people all over the internet and even among my friends on Facebook. It’s as if Schlafly (and the others) completely overlook the meaning of the word “global” in “global warming.” They also tend to misunderstand (or ignore?) the difference between “climate” and “weather.” In addition, from what I’ve generally seen, they also have a very thin grasp on science in general… especially when science points to something that contradicts their firmly entrenched political or religious ideology.

Schlafly goes on to bring up the CRU email “scandal” (Climategate) which is essentially a manufactured controversy, calling the CRU an “official collaborator” with the IPCC. She says…

Those disclosures told the world about some scientists’ willingness to suppress climate-change data and rig the process in order to pretend there is consensus among scientists about global warming, to ostracize contrary views, and to promote their globalist agenda.

As anyone who’s honestly followed the incident knows, the CRU emails did no such thing. The inclusion of “globalist agenda” is also discrediting and points to her conspiracy-theory leanings, something which will no doubt endear her to global warming denialists everywhere.

In her rant, Schlafly says that lowering our level of emissions to the level that Obama has proposed will also lower our standard of living to 19th century levels, that Scott Brown’s election in Massachusetts “repudiated cap-and-trade,” and that Osama Bin Laden has blamed the United States for not stopping global warming (as if the notion that Bin Laden accepting global warming somehow means it’s not true). She also includes lengthy quotes from Czech Republic president Vaclav Klaus as if he is some sort of leading climatologist when it seems, based on the included quotes, that he’s basing his analysis on political ideology instead of on science.

Of course, no Worldview Times rant on global warming would be complete without a reference to Al Gore and An Inconvenient Truth and, for an added bonus, Schlafly includes a slam on The Story of Stuff, a video that promotes conservation, albeit in polemic way.

In her conclusion, Schlafly says that what we need to do to solve unemployment and poverty is to increase our use of energy (which is Schlafly’s way of saying “burn more fossil fuels”). Think I’m kidding?

The main cause of unemployment and poverty is the lack of enough energy. Rather than expanding government to limit energy, we should be increasing the use of energy to eradicate hardship.

In the immortal words of Wikipedia… Citation needed.

Teaching ignorance and bigotry

In the comments section of an American Spectator article about Wikipedia, while there are some good, valid warnings against using Wikipedia as a reputable source for everything, there are some pretty amazing comments…. and by “amazing,” I mean “hyperbolic, right-wing, anti-science, anti-intellectual” comments. Though the article is related to the issue of climate change, that’s not where I want to focus, but I did want to convey the source for this post.

One of the commenters, Margie, responding to a long display of denier talking-points and conspiracy theories, posted that her advice, as a solution, was home-schooling. Here’s her initial comment [sic].

My advise? Home school your children. You have to re educate them anyway when they come home from public school anyway if you want them to learn the truth. The truth being that our founding Fathers were not racists, that God created man, that 2 +2 really does equal 4.. that man really cannot control the environment but God does in His loving kindness since the very beginning of this wonderful planet He has given us, that abstinence really does work, that homosexuality is really sin and God did not make us that way.. and I am sure I am missing some other things too.

Home school if you can!

What she is suggesting is to teach ignorance… to teach willful ignorance of reality… to teach that it’s better to not question, to be satisfied with not knowing, to be bigoted and intolerant, and to believe despite a complete lack of evidence. I’ll grant her the 2 + 2 = 4 part and perhaps the founding fathers part (though I’m not sure the relevance), but aside from that, she’s suggesting we keep children ignorant. Worse, actually… that we keep them misinformed with falsehoods and fantasies.

There is a response by William to her post.

If you want to advise people about schooling, it would be a good idea to learn how to spell “advice”.

Did you know that the bible forbids you to eat weasels?

Though I generally find spelling corrections in comment threads to be a bit obnoxious, in this case it was somewhat relevant. The “weasel” comment was amusing, and if you check his website, it makes sense why he included it. The verse to which he refers is Leviticus 11:29-30, which states (in the King James translation):

29 These also shall be unclean unto you among the creeping things that creep upon the earth; the weasel, and the mouse, and the tortoise after his kind,

30 And the ferret, and the chameleon, and the lizard, and the snail, and the mole.

Of course, Margie responds to William’s comment with…

Picky, picky, picky. Typical Leftist picking on the spelling. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t home schooled..ha!

Judging from your website I’d say you definitely weren’t. An atheist, are you?

Now that would be the real issue here, wouldn’t it?

Another sign that you weren’t home schooled is that you don’t know your Bible. It forbids no such thing, as God declared to call nothing unclean as far as animals, to eat! (Acts 10:13).

If you don’t know God, you know nothing.

Even if you do know how to spell.

It’s a disturbing response, but not surprising, given her previous comment (and the venue). First, he’s automatically a “Leftist.” Then she continues by stating that she’s deduced he’s a scientist (based on his website… it’s true), he’s not homeschooled (also probably true) and he’s an atheist (also true). None of that is an issue except, based on the rest of her comment style, it’s a pretty safe bet that she means it all as a bad thing. Of course, the cherry on top is that she says that his atheism is the “real issue here.” I beg to differ and think it’s more likely her love of ignorance and her belief in ancient mythology that is the “real issue here”… the issue being the quality of education.

Of course, according to Margie, not knowing your bible is also a sign that you’re not homeschooled. Since she wasn’t homeschooled, either, it makes sense that the verse she lists doesn’t say what she thinks it says. Acts 10:13 says (again King James)…

13 And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.

Perhaps she meant to add verses 14 and 15, but it’s hard to say.

14 But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.

15 And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.

That seems a bit contradictory to the Leviticus passage, but perhaps God changed his mind… and in context, it doesn’t seem to be particularly supportive of her claim, anyway.

In fact, there’s nothing about most of her claims that is supported by anything factual. She simply spouts unsubstantiated religious platitudes as if they are self-evident truths… in support of something that would be horrendously damaging to the intellectual stability (and development) of our country. In addition, she insinuates that being a scientist (and an atheist, though that’s not necessarily related) is somehow an indication of a poor education. That is a clear, cut and dry example of anti-intellectualism… the idea that the more education and training you receive, the less credible you become.

Margie displays a perfect example of the right-wing attitude that “well-educated” equals “untrustworthy.” She holds to her anti-education position by clinging to her religion’s dogma with pit-bull tenacity, evidence be damned, and decries anyone who doesn’t follow in her self-righteously pious footsteps as the “real issue here.”

Her attitude is one that, sadly, must be constantly challenged in this country. It’s an attitude that, unchecked, would lead us toward a theocracy full of ignorance, something that our founding fathers (something about which Margie makes a knowledge claim) would definitely have not wanted. Our purely secular Constitution is perfect evidence of that.

Of course, not all religious people are ignorant or bigoted or anti-intellectual… but the ones like Margie are. Unfortunately, they’re also loud and plentiful enough that their message tends to spread like wildfire, infecting the public discourse with disinformation, pseudo-science, blatant falsehoods, and vitriolic, spiteful indignation. Rational discussions and open, honest debates are nearly impossible in the environment they create. It’s frustrating. It’s sad. It’s pathetic.

But sadly, like Margie, it’s reality.

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.”

How is ClimateGate like Creationism?

The “ClimateGate” email “scandal” about climate change reminds me very much about the manufactured controversy about evolution and Charles Darwin. How so?

In the case of evolution, deniers will frequently make accusations that Darwin was racist, or misogynistic, or anti-Semitic as “evidence” that evolution by natural selection is unreliable (or untrue). Whether those claims about Darwin are true or not is debatable, but even if they were all true, it has zero effect on the validity of the theory of evolution by natural selection.

Scientific theories are based on facts, not the personalities of researchers.

With “ClimateGate,” deniers focus on a small number of cherry-picked, old emails from a few climate scientists, take them out of context, twist (or misunderstand) their meanings, point out some crankiness on the part of the scientists, and claim that they somehow debunk and discredit decades of climate research and mountains of evidence compiled and analyzed by hundreds (or thousands?) of other climate scientists.

It’s absurd thinking of the highest degree.

Phil Plait nails it… again.

Phil Plait over at Bad Astronomy is pretty science-minded (intentionally understated for dramatic effect). One of his latest posts deals with the email "scandal" at the CRU and as usual, Phil makes his point both decisively and eloquently. Here are a few choice bits, but the entire post is well worth reading.

On what the CRU scientists were doing…

What these files do show is scientists trying to deal with data, software, and science, all the while also trying to figure out what to do with attacks on their work that are largely ideologically driven. I don’t think they handled that all that well, and that doesn’t surprise me. They’re scientists, not wonks. Of course, if you look at the files from the point of view of giant conspiracies it seems very racy […]

On the attitude of the CRU scientists…

As far as the scientists’ attitudes go, much hay has been made of that as well. But I wonder. Imagine you’ve dedicated your life to some scientific pursuit. You do it because you love it, because you want to make the world a better place, and because you can see the physics beneath the surface, weaving the tapestry of reality, guiding the ebb and flow of forces both subtle and gross. Then you find that people start attacking you with flimsy evidence, politically motivated vitriol, and even elected officials say that what you are doing is a "hoax". How do you react?

That’s one of my favorite points. Wanting to stop bad or faulty research from getting published in reputable science journals is not a bad thing. The climate change deniers generally have nothing valid or worthwhile (from a scientific standpoint) to publish.

On how science works…

Science is necessarily conservative. Once something is established as being an accepted model/theory/law, then it becomes the standard paradigm until it is shown to be flawed in a significant way. You may not like it, but in modern climatology, global warming is accepted as the standard. It’s not up to me or anyone to prove it right at this point, it’s up to scientists to show it’s wrong. To do that you’ll need a lot of really good evidence, and from what I have seen and read that evidence is not there. Maybe it’s fair to say not yet there, but in reality it may not be there at all.

On the term "denier" versus the term "skeptic"…

I’ll note that some people are still upset by my use of the term deniers. Again, to be clear: a skeptic is someone who uses evidence and logic to reach a conclusion. A denialist is someone who will say or do anything to deny an issue. I stand by my definition. There are actual global warming skeptics out there — and I would not only support their efforts but praise them — but what I see on the web and in the comments overwhelmingly is denial, not skepticism.

That’s what I usually see as well, though I do see some "skeptic" papers from time to time. Deniers, however, latch on to the irrelevant papers or the quote-mine papers or the artificial drama papers and hold them up as proof positive that climate change is a hoax or a scam. It’s somewhat pathetic and really shows a lack of understanding of science… how it works, and how it’s used.

But I suppose that’s to be expected from deniers.

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.