The Perception of American Ignorance

New Scientist magazine earlier this month ran a special report called: “Unscientific America: A dangerous retreat from reason.” (If you are unfamiliar with the highly respected New Scientist it is a newsweekly for and by scientists, much like The Economist that examines stories, trends and analyses in science. It is published in Great Britain.) It opens, “As campaigning for the 2012 presidential election gets into full swing. US politics, especially on the right, appears to have entered a parallel universe where ignorance, denial and unreason trump facts, evidence and rationality.” It points out that while America was founded on enlightenment values it as fallen off the wagon (And while the dizzy argue about whether the founding fathers were Christian, there is no doubt that they were profoundly educated and versed in the best science, philosophy and theory available at the time). One doesn’t have to listen very far into the current political debates to see that America is in deep doo doo as its commitment to science slips further and further into an allegiance of the unenlightened and the uninformed.

The report blames the current catastrophe in American values of learning and education on several concurrent storms. I’m not sure if I agree with these, but they are worth exploring, if just for discussion.

First, the article points to is the prominence of the growth of relativism in the academe. A growing perception that there were no standards of truth that can be rigorously applied, created a climate that no truth could trump any other. In essence, all truth is opinion and truth is a function of how it is rhetorically defended rather than appeals to data and fact gathering.

Second, the articles opines that as news reporting became more competitive, its entertainment value began to be recognized and relied on. It became a generator of advertising revenues and this begin to trump actual reporting. Controversy sells and by generating controversy where none exists, alliances begin to form within certain factions of the public and news reporting (cough, cough, Fox News, which is apparently worse than no news for staying informed according to recent studies).

Lastly, Congress became more and more scientifically illiterate. Congress now has only 2% of its members with a scientific background. The article points out that 222 members of Congress are lawyers who (it argues) are products of a culture that focuses on winning arguments over objective facts of the matter. Congress members also are paid millions of dollars in special interest money. This does not help to create a climate where unbiased assessments of matters of fact are the course of the day.

The article takes Climate Change as a case study. Thousands of independent scientific studies all conclude that the planet is warming and humans are largely responsible. It is an unparallel consensus that converges on the same story from multiple disciplines as varied as satellite studies, oceanography, ecological studies from every biome on the planet from Antarctica to the Arctic and from the mountains to the great plains of Africa, ice core studies, dust deposition studies, you name it. Yet with a public ignorant of this consensus story (as influenced by entertainment news) and an even more cadre of ignorant politicians, this can be swept away as just another opinion. Every GOP candidate has distanced themselves from this data and claimed everything from it is a hoax (the recently stepping down Bachman) to it is a conspiracy among scientists (Now gone Perry) (and incidentally if it is I’m like totally mift that I wasn’t included when the big bucks were passed around and scientists were being asked to join). Huntsman was the only one who accepts the scientific reports and, well, he’s now gone too in the polls now so you see what it got him. (For a hilarious take on the state of things watch this. Greatest line, “Pretty soon you’re hooked on that grant money waiting for that next big score.”)

The report says further that last year the energy industry spent a half a billion dollars on fighting climate change legislation and anther 73 million on anti-clean energy ads. And you wonder why you can find copious well-designed websites claiming climate change is a hoax. Scientists have no advertising budget and rely largely on news media to take the story told in scientific research papers to the public—a media with a growing interest in new’s role as entertainment. A toxic mix.

Global warming is just an example. The problem runs across the spectrum from biology and medicine to many of the sciences we have today. Examples in history where political will chooses to walk away from science’s warnings are well known and calamitous. Look at what happened with Lysenko in USSR (who refused to believe in Darwinian evolution and thus knocked Soviet genetics back 100 years) to Mao jailing the scientists warning of the food collapse in China. We are not immune from our own idiocy and we will pay the costs of such ignorance.

So what can you do? Become informed. Read science. Read magazines like Discover, Scientific America, Science News, National Geographic and reliable newspapers. Follow what the scientists are actually saying. Sites devoted to an agenda usually aren’t the best. If someone copies you hundreds of websites against things like climate change thank the high prices in fuel costs that fund those websites. They are paying for it. (Invariably in a post like this. someone will post links to sites doing just that. Notice no science is being done on those sites.)

Demand better from you political leaders. For example, BYU Professor Barry Bickmore, a conservative Republican runs a site called, Anti-Climate Change Extremism in Utah: A Local Front in a Global Battle that calls Utah Politicians out on their uninformed views on climate change (find his exchange with Senator Hatch, it’s priceless). Call them out when they say that the science is unsettled, or that more research is needed (like they don’t do for the ‘dietary supplement’ industry.) or that vaccines cause harmful effects. And most importantly vote people into office who understand how science works. I trust far more those who know how to weigh and apportion evidence, then those who have spend their lives in the pocket of the greedy. Mormons have long had a tradition of being scientifically literate. Don’t let the growing trends in its abandonment pull you over to the dark side.

Our gains from the modern rise of science are too precious to be left to the hands of unenlightened men and women. As I argue here it is the best way we have of exploring the material world. It is a gift from God. Rise up. Demand that American rise from its retreat from reason.

Note: I will not be debating climate science here. I’ve done it enough and I’m not interested in debating with those who have chosen not to follow the science in this. The sources are abundant any reputable scientific site can give you the facts. I’d especially recommend Jared*’s LDS Science Review or Science Daily; Another is the Berkeley Earth Project a group of climate change skeptics who set out to do their own analysis of the data and came away completely convinced (I love people who are intellectually honest enough to change there mind when the data warrants it. So in this post I’m interested in discussing the threat of growing ignorance.

Comments

  1. Also an issue of example: if, as a teacher, you don’t love learning yourself you’re not really going to inspire that impulse in others…when was the last time you had a teacher who was genuinely excited about the subject he or she taught?

    Too, too rare these days.

    Mogs

  2. I know. I read the predictions. Florida 2′ under water. Now that they are true, the climate change deniers still keep claiming that the science is wrong.

    Which is the problem. We have so many people acting like they have borderline personality disorder distorting the facts to support agendas. There is a real perception that there is no “objective truth” — instead there are factoids pushed to support agendas.

    As a result, so much gets rejected and science is seen as mutable, created, and not factual at all.

    An interesting problem …

  3. BTW, for some interesting reading on academic frauds, etc.:

    http://blog.sethroberts.net/category/academic-fraud/

  4. See also, if the spam filter doesn’t lock this one out too: http://www.onlinecolleges.net/2011/12/05/10-academic-frauds-fooled/

  5. I think science educators, especially at the lower levels, need to push the kind of critical thinking skills necessary to determine whether something stands up scientifically. I tried doing this my one year teaching high school biology–I made up a list of how to determine if something is scientifically credible or not, and then brought in a bunch of books for the students to look at, and asked them to use my list to determine whether the books were trustworthy. I don’t know how effective the lesson was, but I do know that, if I were to ever go back to teaching, I would spend more time on that subject. Critical thinking skills are much harder to teach than, say, the names and functions of different parts of a cell, but those critical thinking skills are so much more useful.

  6. Another important component to add is Evangelicalism’s success in creating a persuasive alternate reality in which religious figures with zero training in science hold more credibility than actual experts. This counter-scientific culture has been outlined in many places, but I found it most powerfully and most recently done in Stephens’ and Giberson’s The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age (Harvard UP, 2011). Sadly, many Mormons have bought into this alternate reality, though with our fascinating folk twist of locating even secular truth within priesthood parameters.

    Frankly, I find myself nearly daily having to explain to this to my students and colleagues out here in the UK, who are befuddled that such a large number of Americans (including people who are elected to make national decisions!) are unable to sustain fundamental scientific truths. I wouldn’t typically consider myself a single-issue voter, but if someone doesn’t have the mental capacity to acknowledge these types of scientific principles, they are in no shape to make substantive decisions.

  7. “…when was the last time you had a teacher who was genuinely excited about the subject he or she taught?”

    Mogs, my students are lucky then. :)

  8. SteveP, is there a stand-alone book you feel you could recommend that you feel adequately and accurately introduces the topic of and evidence for Climate Change, written for a relatively popular audience?

  9. Chris H beat me to it.

    The concept of equal time on the two sides of the argument seems to be central to the culture at this point, as if the scientific method has been replaced by the Crossfire method.

  10. David, For a quick view of the issue, the Rough Guide to Climate change is nice, as is the Oxford Short introduction to Global Warming (it’s 2009 so some of the latest findings are not included). For a nice view of the history of how something so settled scientifically became something that some can claim is still an open question there is nothing better than Science Historian Naomi Oreskes’ Merchants of Doubt. For a serious in-depth look, I like the Academic Press text book, Climate Change Biology which moves beyond the temperature graphs and looks at the biological changes being seen across the globe in every ecosystem. But the science magazines above really have some understandable articles that are accessible and informed.

  11. Ben, I can relate. I spent a year at the UN and my colleagues from other nations were astonished at what they saw as stunning lack of scientific understanding in the American public’s response.

  12. SteveP, thanks for the recommendations!

  13. SteveP, this is a great post. Can you comment on Mormonism’s way of knowledge seeking “search ponder and pray…then believe what you feel good about” in relation to this issue? I fear that genuine “searching” is sidelined in favor of listening to a few people that you already agree with, feeling good about it, and then moving on with a worldview that is skewed from a lack of critical thinking.

  14. “Vaccines don’t cause harmful effects?” Intramuscular injections carry an increased risk of poliomyelitis. This fact has been known for years and is corroborated by the findings in several studies such as HV Wyatt’s 2003 study, a 1995 study by Strebel et. al., and the 1949 JK Martin study. New York University’s Langone Medical Center’s website states that exposure to vaccines containing aluminum can contribute to aluminum toxicity. In his book “Malignant Mesothelioma: Advances in Pathogenesis, Diagnosis, and Translational Therapies” researcher Michele Carbone details how he proved conclusively that the brain tumor causing Simian Virus 40 was spread by polio vaccines in use between 1954 and 1963. In 1953, Tavia Gordon, a statistician with the Office of Vital Statistics wrote a glowing report about the decline in deaths from infectious diseases, including measles, diphtheria, pertussis and scarlet fever. The whole cell DTP vaccine was first licensed in 1949, but the charts in Gordon’s report show that by 1942 had reached less than 1 per 100,000, with little change afterwards. Pertussis deaths declined from about 17 per 100,000 in 1918 to less than 1 per 100,000 in 1945. The measles vaccine was not even in use at this point. By 2016, the vaccine industry is projected to be worth $52 billion and you don’t think anyone in there could be motivated by profit? Half a trillion dollars that is motivated only by a desire for humanity’s benefit? Is it that we’re all ignorant or maybe some of us have a healthy skepticism?

  15. Steve Evans says:

    me2, the former. If you don’t vaccinate your kids, keep them out of my Primary.

  16. “Vaccines don’t cause harmful effects?” In comparison with the enormous good they have done and millions of lives they have and continue to save. We will not be debating the pseudo science here that continues to keep children away from the most important thing parents can do to protect their children.

  17. Clark Goble says:

    I’m not sure I’d call New Scientist “highly respected.” It’s widely read but has a penchance for highly sensational stories. It’s sort of the Sun of the scientific journal world. I have a subscription myself, but you have to know what articles to read with a rather jaded eye.

  18. Not half a billion dollars. Pardon my mathematical errors. This will be my last comment since I will not turn this into a vaccine debate. If you believe vaccination protects your child, then what difference would it make? If vaccines, for example do protect individuals, then why should even a significant number of unvaccinated individuals cause those who are vaccinated (and therefore protected) to become sick? Doesn’t that sound a little magical to you? After all, the 1953 Office of Vital Statistics Report shows that even with an entire population going unvaccinated, the rates of death from diseases still dropped.

    And take climate change. In the 1970′s, scientists said that we were heading for another ice age. So what are we to make of that? What if the global warming advocates are wrong? But I think it only fair that if you are advocating what you believe to be a scientific stance that you take a scientific look at issues by examining both sides of the argument instead of labeling uncomfortable information as pseudo-science. That is what you are advocating isn’t it? So, I am joining in and bringing up scientific information. I’m asking questions and drawing conclusions based on facts and not believing everything I hear from the media. Isn’t that what you are advocating?

  19. Clark Goble says:

    BTW – I also am skeptical that Americans are guided by unreason more than the European public. What they are concerned about differs. In Europe the big concern is GM plants which is mostly a non-issue in the US. At least with most products. Europeans might hold to the “right” views but why they hold to them isn’t necessarily done out of reason. I suspect the much, much higher support for evolution comes out of the same authoritarian mindset that causes Americans to not accept it. They get the right answer but not necessarily for good reasons.

  20. it's a series of tubes says:

    If vaccines, for example do protect individuals, then why should even a significant number of unvaccinated individuals cause those who are vaccinated (and therefore protected) to become sick? Doesn’t that sound a little magical to you? After all, the 1953 Office of Vital Statistics Report shows that even with an entire population going unvaccinated, the rates of death from diseases still dropped.

    The benefits of herd immunity aren’t magical in the least.

    An unvaccinated individual is a great risk to young children who are not yet old enough to have been vaccinated against the disease in question. Babies younger than 2 months have not been vaccinated against many, many diseases.

  21. They get the right answer but not necessarily for good reasons.

    So, is anyone asking them to show their work?

  22. Clark Goble says:

    me2, I’ll agree not to turn this into a vaccination fight, but there have been breakouts of once contained diseases mainly due to vaccine paranoia. This has been widely reported on and they are now doing studies on areas with low vaccination rates. The last while it seems like there has been a breakout of some once controlled disease due to people not vaccinating their kids. Measles has been quite bad but there’s even been whooping cough problems in some areas.

  23. Nicely done. Thanks for pointing to the article in New Scientist. I think sometimes we have to know a little to realize the depth of our ignorance. I was actually having a conversation this week with a friend about news as entertainment, and the chilling effect it is having on political discourse these days. We know way too much about the troubles of Demi Moore or Lindsay Lohan than we do about climate change and other important issues.

  24. Speaking of Evangelicals and like-minded LDS, it is interesting to me that those who believe in absolute truths from a religious point of view are all-too-ready to embrace “relative truth” in matters of science.

    The Jon Stewart video was terrific.

  25. Sidebottom says:

    @18 – Second that on whether “New Scientist” is highly respected. It’s kind of like a cross between Discover and a British tabloid.

  26. Bravo, SteveP

  27. This is great, SteveP. “Mormons have long had a tradition of being scientifically literate. Don’t let the growing trends in its abandonment pull you over to the dark side.” The thing that really bothers me is how easily politicians – from all over the spectrum – get away with giving flat-out false information. It seems like this is a product of either the campaign to glorify ignorance or extreme laziness on the part of American voters (maybe/probably both). I’d love to see our political culture be such that politicians actually saw consequences for just blathering nonsense.

  28. Climate science strikes me as being complex and difficult to understand. Who has the time to become an expert on it? The real issue is that people are resistant to changing their lifestyle. For most of the rank and file of the American scientifically-illiterate masses, they see the cost being borne by them and not by the scientists who seem to advocate heavy-handed, draconian measures to deal with climate change.

  29. Great post. I dislike New Scientist, but I do think the issue of how scientific evidence is handled by the public is important. I wish I had a better idea of why scientific ignorance and even opposition was so common. I don’t know a thing about global warming, but I do know a thing or two about vaccines, and think that denial of vaccine efficacy is super crazy. Yeah, there are risks. But compared to the risks of NOT vaccinating . . .

    I looked at the exchange with Orrin Hatch referred to above. It was indeed priceless. That said, I feel like the most successful approach in many of these arguments, in particular, global warming, is to emphasize that not every opinion has equal costs in the event of being incorrect. Yes, it is logically possible that 98+% of scientists who look at this data professionally are wrong. But should one really be willing to bet the future of the planet against a small and temporary economic benefit on that possibility?

  30. Climate science IS complex and difficult to understand and it is overwhelmingly politicized with “facts” being stretched on both sides of the argument. SteveP is echoing a party line here that is far from settled given that everything doesn’t line up quite as nicely behind the science as claimed here. There are hypotheses around the causes and direction of changes happening in the world and I’m not one to question that mankind has contributed to that change but the degree of impact and the level to which our changing behaviors would ameliorate the situation is worth questioning.

    As members of the LDS faith we should be more than open to allowing room for honest skeptics to call out the errancies in the conclusions that are so popular in the pseudoscience that often is leveraged for pushing specific agendas.

  31. “Lastly, Congress became more and more scientifically illiterate. Congress now has only 2% of its members with a scientific background. The article points out that 222 members of Congress are lawyers who (it argues) are products of a culture that focuses on winning arguments over objective facts of the matter. ”

    Indeed. See the recent ill-informed congressional cluelessness about the internet.
    “This used to be funny, but now it’s really just terrifying. We’re dealing with legislation that will completely change the face of the internet and free speech for years to come. Yet here we are, still at the mercy of underachieving Congressional know-nothings that have more in common with the slacker students sitting in the back of math class than elected representatives.”-http://motherboard.vice.com/2011/12/16/dear-congress-it-s-no-longer-ok-to-not-know-how-the-internet-works

  32. Alain: if the opinion 98% of climate scientists constitutes a “party line,” then I’m damn well going to be joining that party, and I’m going to question the sanity of the knuckledragging dunderheaded 2% who don’t. The science is as settled as science ever gets.

    You say that LDS should be open to “honest skeptics” who question the “psuedoscience.” Sorry to break it to you, but if 98% believe one thing and 2% question it, the 98% ain’t the pseudoscientists.

  33. Clark Goble says:

    The reason climate science is politicized is precisely because the implications call for massive expensive changes. It’s interesting that in Europe where everyone purportedly believes they are unwilling to do what it takes. When given a choice between nuclear power or climate change most choose climate change. Even a liberal country like Canada basically isn’t doing anything.

  34. “SteveP is echoing a party line here that is far from settled given that everything doesn’t line up quite as nicely behind the science as claimed here.”

    Astonishing. No. Scientifically it is settled. If that changes it will be science that figures it out.

  35. it's a series of tubes says:

    Sorry to break it to you, but if 98% believe one thing and 2% question it, the 98% ain’t the pseudoscientists.

    Boo on that pseudoscientist Galileo and his minority heliocentrist view!

    Not a comment on the underlying science WRT climate change, by the way, just a note that truth is not established by weight of opinion or by majority vote. Something can be true and believed by next to no one; moreover, much that is not true is widely believed.

  36. “Yes, but Galileo is celebrated today because he was correct, not because he was persecuted. If an idea is right, it will be supported by additional evidence and will lead to successful predictions – at which point it will likely be accepted. The ‘Galileo’ defence (and its corollary the ‘establishment conspiracy’) are usually a sign that the additional evidence and the successful predictions are lacking”

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2005/12/how-to-be-a-real-sceptic/

  37. Matt Thorley says:

    Hi Steve,

    You don’t want to debate climate change, and I don’t either. We’ve done that. However, are there any other areas besides climate change and evolution where American science is lagging behind? As far as I could see (the site requires a subscription which I am not willing to pay) those are what most of the articles are about, and as we all know, those issues come with a lot of baggage. So what about it Steve, in what other scientific areas, besides climate change and evolution, is America lagging behind, and what would you suggest we do about it?

  38. #32, Clark: In Europe they are unwilling to do what it takes? France has a huge commitment to Nuclear energy. Wind farms are under construction in the north and solar arrays in the south. Diesel fuel allows substantially lower carbon emissions in vehicles than petrol. High fuel taxes incentivize more fuel efficient vehicles.

  39. Clark Goble says:

    Lagging behind whom? There’s plenty of pseudoscience and superstition in Europe. Europeans just tend to feel more smug because it’s not associated with more formal religions. But there’s plenty of folks embracing alternative medicine in both Europe and the US. Which is worse is a bit harder to say. I don’t know anyone attempting to answer that. I have heard that homeopathy in particular is much more popular in Europe. But one reason I think we have to be careful in making “anti-reason” claims.

    If you want some scary comparisons over basic scientific literacy check out this study. Note that this is pretty minimal literacy. Neither Europeans nor Americans exactly came off well. (More Americans than Europeans thankfully knew the earth rotated around the sun and more Americans knew antibiotics didn’t kill viruses) Comparing by country only Sweden did better than the US.

  40. Clark Goble says:

    Paul, France is the one hold out and long has been. Germany had been embracing nuclear power to deal with climate change and since the Japanese disaster has strongly backed off. Wind farms at projected construction are insufficient to reach goals for climate change. Diesel fuel was already in use in Europe and not primarily due to climate change. And fuel taxes were high long before the climate change issue.

    But my point was whether they were willing to do enough and they aren’t. Almost no one is.

  41. “So what about it Steve, in what other scientific areas, besides climate change and evolution, is America lagging behind, and what would you suggest we do about it?”

    American Science lagging behind? Heavens no. America’s science continues to be the best in the world. We are not lagging behind in climate change or evolution. We lead the world on that as well. It just the American people who largely dismiss American science. We still are the #1 destination for foreign students to study. No American science is as good as it gets. But like Cassandra too few believe us.

  42. Thanks for the nod, Steve.

    re: 13. “Intramuscular injections carry an increased risk of poliomyelitis.”

    As written, that is plainly false. But the kernel of truth behind the statement is interesting, and I learned something today. But keep in mind that this is in the context of the oral polio vaccine (OPV) which, although it has saved untold numbers of people from polio, is a live attenuated virus and does revert to virulence sometimes. But not to worry; these days the U.S. uses a killed vaccine (IPV) that cannot give you polio (in spite of the fact that it is injected).

  43. I’m not a New Scientist reader, but this evening I did read a couple Physics Today interviews with BP’s current and former chief scientists, Ellen Williams and Steven Koonin. Scientists like them who can work with industry are essential to any large scale issue involving science and the public good.

  44. Thank goodness there’s *some* kind of buffer between scientists and policy making — even if that buffer is comprised mostly of self-seeking agenda-driven politicians. Heaven knows even *that’s* better than having a bunch of nutty professors running the country.

    SteveP, I’m a lukewarmer. Yes, the earth is warming and yes we have something to do with it. But I’m not convinced of catastrophe. And until we get a higher percentage of scientists (out of all of those involved in the many, many lines of evidence) working specifically on detection and attribution I’m not likely to be convinced otherwise. Also, I don’t think scientists really have a handle feedback in the climate.

    Fix those two things and I might be a believer someday.

  45. When something is settled its resolved and fixed. Finalized. Not moving it or changing. So when someone says, ” Scientifically it is settled. If that changes it will be science that figures it out” it causes some people to raise a both eyebrows. I would have no problem saying “it’s where the best science is pointing, but we don’t know as much as we’d like to about it and we have no idea about how the effects can play out in the next 100 years, we can only guess on how the climate can be affected over a much longer geologic scale if all the trends continue.”

    Anyone who claimed to know otheriwse what the scale and scope of human caused climate change and then proceeds to suggest policy prescriptions that gives lots of money to legislators based on settled science in order to alter climate trends in good ways (with the caveat that science will nobly tell us if it becomes unsettled, so no worries) doesn’t realize that once inacted government programs, especially those that extract taxes, have a way of growing even after their reason for existence has passed.And frankly there should be a concern that funding for science to support the science that creates evidence for more funding can create powerful tempatations for abuse in the best case and dangerous confirmation bias in the worst.

    I’m OK with talking about the evidences. I’m not OK with the increasing urgency that the evidences are being used to compel us to taxation.

  46. Chris, Science is cheap, cheap, cheap on the government scale. (For example, 7 billion annual NSF budget compared to ~ 1 trillion for defense). Scientists are poorly paid, especially the quantitative modelers. Nearly all of them (us) could double or triple our salaries by walking out of our jobs and going to Wall Street or software. The lifestyle isn’t even that much worse. I would work possibly less hours on Wall street. Money grubbing scientists isn’t the issue.

    I do not understand the “We’re not sure yet” attitude. A vast majority of the people who spend their lives studying the climate say that there is a major risk. A vast majority of the people who professionally analyze other kinds of scientific data who have looked into their results agree. If this persuasive group is right, then catastrophe is a real possibility. And we want to wait to act because energy might get more expensive?

    The strangeness of this reasoning is pointed out by an analogy. Imagine you find out by taking your car to the best 100 mechanics in town that 98 of them say that your brakes are going to fail soon if not repaired. Would you still take your children in that car without repairing it? Even though the two dissenters may be (without any evidence that they are smarter or better) “Galileos of the shop”?

    The question is not “is the science certain?”, but rather: “Are you willing to take the kind of chance involved in betting against it?”

    Science matters. Galileo is not an excuse for ignoring data. Everyone who reads a contrarian website is not a climate scientist or a physical anthropologist. SteveP had it right in the OP. Read Scientific American, Discover, etc. The smartest thing that any non scientist can do in assimilating scientific knowledge is to try to grasp as much as they can about the scientific consensus. They will be right far more often than they would if they look to the fringe attacking the consensus.

  47. I think I heard someone say once,

    “Once religions impose commands that dictate actions, they tend to grow even after the reason for their existence has passed to the point where they impose restrictions that weren’t contemplated originally . . . I’m OK with talking about signs that we need to repent. I’m not OK with the increasing urgency that the signs are being used to compel us to repent.”

    When I hear arguments against things that really are established science (against the science itself, not against how to deal with the implications of the science), the thing I want most is consistency. If someone is going to make an argument against the science, they really shouldn’t be making the opposite argument in favor of things of which they approve.

  48. The largest ten U.S. oil refiners had $1.3 trillion in revenues for 2009. (Those ten companies ranged from Exxon Mobil and Chevron at $443 billion and $263 billion to Murphy Oil and Western Refining at $28 billion and $11 billion. If the revenue from the other five Fortune 500 refiners is added, the sum still rounds to $1.3 billion.) Companies the related production (including mining), pipeline, oil and gas services, and energy sectors made up 91 of the Fortune 500 and brought in $570 billion. GE, GM, Ford, Boeing, United Technologies, Caterpillar, and Deere together took in $677 billion.

    That’s a lot of money. On the other hand, the U.S Dept. Of Education tells us that the country spent at federal, state, and local levels a total of $650 billion for elementary and secondary education, half the revenues of ten largest oil refiners. So if the oil industry is a reality-distorting behemouth, the education sector is at least a major giant, and education is considered the key to all wellbeing.

    It’s apparently held by many that American education is under some stranglehold by Republicans whose devotion to religious zealotry is almost as great as its love for blood-soaked oil money. How well, though, does the ox on the other side of the aisle take goring? The subject of hundreds of newspaper headlines each year, and some number of laws, is the disparate statistical performance, particularly in schools, of different demographic groups. If the composition of the National Academy of Sciences or the next U.S. men’s Olympic track team or the group that passes a police sergeant’s exam or the top quintile of students taking the SAT is different from the nation’s overall composition, is the disparity plain proof of bias? Or is it possible that there are significant statistical differences between groups that account for some large portion of different outcomes? Is some large portion of such difference as immutable and inheritable as the length of a femur? Are such questions things worth investigating by scientific means as a guide to education and employment policies? Or is any person who might wonder such things a thoughtcriminal? Was London’s Science Museum (not an American institution) right to cancel James Watson’s lecture a few years back? (link)

  49. So, Chris, what you are saying is that you have already decided what you can believe about climate change and what you cannot believe. You will believe it as long as it says it is relatively uncertain and won’t have negative implications for the style of government you prefer. And you are doing what the majority of Americans are doing right now: allowing political preferences to run ahead of our ability to assess empirical evidence. We should spend our energy debating policy but instead we are having arguments ad nauseum about what the proper role of government is. If you read the evidence directly, it isn’t hard to come away with an understanding of how serious the situation is. But until we can agree on the evidence, our differences of opinion about the government’s role will impede our ability to find viable solutions. If you and I were brothers and our mother were seriously ill but we had disagreements about health care policy, would it be right to spend our time disagreeing about the proper method for getting help for her while she remains untreated? It’s not an easy scenario since real political differences exist in this country, but we should be careful about assuming that it can’t be so bad that we have to act urgently. What I am certain of is that we will all have to make compromises to find the right solutions. Let’s hope we are up to the task.

  50. (link)

  51. Yes George, if you interpret what I said in the worst possible way to fit your assumptions of my political views distorting my regard for science you are correct. Nevermind the fact that if the USA did everything a certain community of scientists would like us to do, nothing would actually change in regard to global climate change. But that’s not scientific to point out that if some calls for action A to prevent consequence B from occurring, that if consequence B still occurs perhaps there was something either wrong with the science or the action. Telling me, that the USA alone doesn’t go far enough and if only we were a leader, others would follow.

    That doesn’t change the concept of we really just don’t know what would happen, and when it would happen, and even if we did, we don’t know if our various schemes would actually work or be grafted away in political influence. Europe has been spending quite a bit of money on various carbon trading schemes and all that has changed in my view is things have been made more expensive for consumers, carbon output has increased, and others have been made very rich, while thousand of others have employment in a new regulator and trading system. Not to mention the side effects these schemes have had in creating alternate distorting markets, with their own subsets of regulator bodies, etc. (ie, I know a guy who now has a job working in the short term energy futures markets, shorting and buying options on power output – related to the carbon trading- over the next few hours). Markets are great, but it seems to me the zeal for doing something to save the environment was just pushed into fiddling with markets to make a lot of people money, entrench existing companies, make unconnected start-ups more difficult, and the carbon output continues.

    When I take all of that into account, combined with the fact that even if the money were somehow magically all put into saving the environment (without interested parties being about to get their hands on it!) we actually don’t even know if it could have an effect. So back to the point, study away. Draw conclusions, but don’t expect everyone to line up to spending trillions on something that we don’t have a clue about, and yes in my view we can’t have a clue about until we have a couple hundred years of observation. And I realize it’s easy to get alarmist to that and say in a hundred years it will be too late. Well, to that I say you’ll never get enough of the world to agree with you to actually do something effective (best case is create cost regulations and siphon away much of the taxes) within 100 years anyway.

  52. Steve Evans says:

    chris, every one of your comments is obsessed with taxes and money. You sure like to think about money a lot! Have you considered that Satan has his chains around your neck and is dragging you straight to hell because you’re so focused on material things? Think about it.

  53. ManBearPig Skeptic says:

    Let me get this straight: the assertion is that Americans are running away from scientific inquiry because the notion that a “scientific truth” (e.g., global warming) is becoming more and more attacked as a “truth”?

    So which is it? Is it ignorant to look with skepticism on a “scientific truth,” or is it ignorant not to embrace a “scientific truth”?

  54. “Congress members also are paid millions of dollars in special interest money.”

    This statement is false. Congressmen who personally take money from special interest groups are violating ethics rules and criminal statutes. When this happens, they are prosecuted and they go to prison. It doesn’t happen very often. Campaign contributions are not paid to members of Congress. They may still have a bad influence but the notion that members of Congress are personally enriching themselves from corporate donors is by and large false.

  55. Pop quiz: Which of the following is closer to the truth?

    1. 98 percent of all climate scientists believe that it has been scientifically established beyond any reasonable doubt that recent and near future climate change is or will be mostly the result of human activity.

    2. While the vast majority of climate scientists believe the evidence favors a human role in recent and near future climate change, only a minority would claim to be completely convinced.

    You can find the answers here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_opinion_on_climate_change#Surveys_of_scientists_and_scientific_literature

    Here’s another pop quiz about the meaning of consensus. Can you see any difference between the following statements?

    1. Nearly all of the most informed experts think that X is probably true.

    2. X is an established fact.

    (Example: X = “Saddam has WMD”.)

  56. “And until we get a higher percentage of scientists (out of all of those involved in the many, many lines of evidence) working specifically on detection and attribution I’m not likely to be convinced otherwise.” Jack, actually because the media reportage mostly focus on temperature data the public perception of the extent of the problem ecologically is largely underrepresented. Coral reefs are dying world wide, Jake Sites in my department is watching a long established kind of lizard disappear from the Southwest across Europe. Species are shifting world wide bring pests to agricultural and ranch production that have never been there before. We are in the middle of a major ecological shift. The number of fields where climate change is affected things is stagering. So while the deniers are misinterpreting surface warming anomalies. What’s happening on the ground is stunning and frightening.

    What Chris misunderstands so badly in his focus on fears of economic disruption is how closely tied economies are tied to ecology. New types of economic analysis are stopping their just black boxing of economic inputs with it’s big “Natural Resources” which traditionally have jump started economic analysis and are realizing that the health and safety of those resources are vital. Climate change has already opened for the first time in history the elusive Northwest passage so Russian Markets have direct access to Markets in Japan and China, will that effect the economy. Fishing industry is showing signs of collapse because the suport structure of their food base is eroding. Costs of fire control are in the drying west are consuming state budgets. Snow control in DC. Disaster relief from floods as rain patterns redistribute (last year was the most expensive on record) sucks out tax revenues (your love Chris). Pest control in farms is increasing. Crop pests are now overwintering in places where they did not increasing costs for growing food. In the west spruce bud worm is destroying our forests (you might like timber, I like natural areas). Go anywhere in the west and you will see dead trees everywhere. Everywhere because warm winters are not killing the pest and drought-stressed trees are not able to mount a defense. Drought in Africa is causing regional wide political instability, and forcing people to flee to Europe for relief creating refugie problems. Part of the ignorance people are seeing is the how naive people are to the ties of ecological processes to economies and how disruptive these changes can be. And it is just plain wrong that there is nothing we can do. You may think it ethical to push these problems onto our children and grandchildren, but I find that immoral.

  57. The first class I took at BYU was Voodoo Science during Late Summer Honors with Dr. John Lamb. The class was based on a short book with the same title; it explored the proliferation and propagation of falsehoods within popular society, or what it termed voodoo science. Why a similar course isn’t taught at the junior high level, I do not know. We need to create a population of wise consumers, who can then create a population of wise voters. That would probably be more useful than learning how to write an analysis on Jim’s character in Huckleberry Finn (though it is one of my favorite books) and other less meaningful things.

    Loosely connected story: After kayaking on Utah Lake last week, I got sick. A friend of mine asserted that it was basically my own fault for getting wet and cold. This individual, a high school and college graduate, seemed still stuck on the theory of miasma. That was so last year; germ theory is now in. And it’s not that the individual isn’t smart. They can read, write, and speak in several languages very well and play many musical instruments, but when it comes to scientific reasoning, they are like me in the seventh grade!

  58. Chris, I didn’t think I took liberties in my interpretation of your view. You said you were okay with a certain description of the problem but not okay with another. You never acknowledged if evidence could persuade you that the situation was worse than you said you believed it to be. What is the empirical basis of your claim that we can’t know what to do until we have “a couple hundred years of observation”? Your basis, as far as I can tell (and I am happy to be corrected here), appears to be an assumption that climate change can’t be helped at all and that nothing we have done or could do would make enough difference and would cost too much. That is a more valid statement (although one with which I still disagree) but even if you are right, it does not mean that the situation is not dire or that we don’t have enough evidence–which is what you are claiming. You are making claims, in other words, about empirical reality but you don’t have empirical evidence from science to back you up, only your concerns about taxation. My point is simply how easy it is to slide this discussion into something other than what the science is saying. Until we stop doing that, we can never responsibly deliberate about what the right tactic might be.

  59. Sometimes in the talk of scientific consensus, just what that consensus is can get a bit confused. Here is the IPCC’s Summary for Policymakers from the 2007 Fourth Assessment Report. (The fifth assessment report will be out in 2014.) On page 8 is “Table SPM.2: Recent trends, assessment of human influence on the trend and projections for extreme weather events for which there is an observed late-20th century trend.” Seven weather phenomena are tabulated with assessments as to 1) likelihood that trend occurred in late 20th century 2) likelihood of human contribution to an observed trend, and 3) likelihood of future trend. Tabulated likelihood levels are “virtually certain,” “very likely”, “likely,” and “more likely than not.” For the assessments of likelihood of human contribution to an observed trend, two phenomena were rated likely, and the other five as more likely than not. None were considered very likely or virtually certain to have had a human contribution.

  60. Thanks John, there as also been a lot of research in the last five years that has strengthened the case significantly since the IPCC report. e.g.

  61. John, this refers to the likelihood of a human contribution to specific weather patterns, am I correct? That is different than what the report says about the likelihood that human beings are contributing to climate change. It is much harder to reliably map the human contribution to specific weather patterns than it is to climate. It would be incorrect to assume that the IPCC is saying that we don’t have a high degree of confidence that climate change is posing a serious threat and that human-emitted CO2 is the major driver.

  62. Thanks George, I misread his comment.

  63. George, take a look for yourself. “Warmer and fewer cold days and nights over most land areas,”Area affected by drought”, etc. are descriptions of global climate.

  64. What did you misread, Steve?

  65. I do think a lot of it is lack of desire to make lifestyle changes.

    It is interesting to consider what rationalizations can be used…you can use the religious: God given TRUTHS are true…but science is the philosophies of man which are temporary and not to be trusted.

    Or you can have the Liberal: I question everything and think for myself..therefore if scientists are telling me something I must question it.

    It could also be magnified by the economic stress…which leads to a depressing instability…not a good place to think new thoughts and change your mind.

    It’s also overwhelming.

    Education plays a part…I wonder how closely our views on science are reflected in our testing in other areas…math or history for example.

  66. John. That is weather, not climate, as I said. See p. 3 on the report, which cites “very high confidence” in human-driven climate change.

  67. That bit on p. 3 regarding the high confidence of a positvie net anthropogenic radiative forcing is significant. I’m not following, though, how you take those seven predications in Table SPM.2 to be some sort of weather forecast. “Did most land area experience warmer and more frequent hot days and nights in the late 20th Century? Will they in the 21st Century?”

  68. Thanks SteveP. Great post!

    I have a minor quibble with the original article, though. It says (or you say it says):
    “First, the article points to is the prominence of the growth of relativism in the academe. A growing perception that there were no standards of truth that can be rigorously applied, created a climate that no truth could trump any other. In essence, all truth is opinion and truth is a function of how it is rhetorically defended rather than appeals to data and fact gathering.”

    Is that really true? I’m quite sure it’s not true of science, but to be honest, I haven’t found an anti-evidence attitude among my humanities friends either. In the news industry I’ve seen everything from individual reports to entire media conglomerates (*cough*rupertmurdoch*cough*) where opinions are based on whatever evidence is most convenient, but that’s not academia, it’s infotainment. It seems to me like critical thinking is taught as critical thinking no matter which branch of academe you’re in. The problem is that a lot of news makes it look like critical thinking has taken place in the creation of a report, but really evidence has been cherry-picked to make a case rather than to reach the truth. News is in the business of keeping people watching and feeling informed (which is a lot easier if you *don’t* contradict someone’s beliefs), not of educating people.

    From what I’ve seen, many people (myself included) are far to fast to accept claims, espeically from trusted sources, without questioning the evidence, mostly because of laziness. Given contradictory data most people I know are willing to concede small points at least (though refuting an entire way of thinking takes quite a bit more, if it ever happens. Intellectual honesty of that caliber is rare), but most people aren’t willing to put forth the effort. I think most people do inherently believe in absolute truth, it just takes too much effort so we all take the shortcut of believing sources that conform to our own observations (or observational biases as the case may be). People might believe academia is a bastion of relativism, but I’d suggest that’s an observational bias rather than a true statement, or, in other words, an earthenware container of fragrant excrement.

  69. “I think most people do inherently believe in absolute truth, it just takes too much effort so we all take the shortcut of believing sources that conform to our own observations (or observational biases as the case may be). ”

    Yeah, that tendency trumps ideology. The main difference between extreme liberals and extreme conservatives is what they accept as evidence (how they interpret what they “see”), not their method of reaching their conclusions – or more / less bias on the part of one compared to the other. At the extremes, a liberal is nothing more than a conservative who says the same thing (“I’m right; you’re wrong.”) more blatantly.

    Most of us are somewhere between the two extremes, and it’s hard for everyone (no matter where they fall on the spectrum) to remember that we can’t see our own blindspots. To recognize them, someone else needs to point them out to us – and then we have to admit them, even as we only see them through their effects.

  70. George, I think I understand our difference now. Pages 3-5 deal with the high confidence that anthropogenic effects have produced a net positive radiative forcing of between 0.6 and 2.4 W/m^2. (This compares with the 0.06 to 0.30 change due to solar irradiance over the last couple centuries and to the peak high-noon, cloudless day flux of about 1kW/m^2.) High confidence in that measure alone can’t in itself say what the effect of that change is on climate. I pointed to the levels of confidence in changes in extreme weather events. Each of those events is weather. Overall, though, they are part of the climate. (We don’t know which particular days a given city will experience a rain storm, but we can estimate how many will hit over a decade.) Incidence of extreme weather events are just one kind of climate prediction, though. Average temperatures and precipitation and such are another and dealt with further on in the assessment.

  71. Straight Talker says:

    I’m a professional physical scientist with over 30 years in industry and find this all amusingly naive and arrogant at the same time. The science is only a fraction of the issue once you stipulate to the phenomenon, and I think the lay American public intuitively grasps that very well. The follow-up questions regarding practical and executable remedies remains largely unanswered. As long as the developing world doesn’t buy it and take suitable actions, it doesn’t matter what the developed world does. So the issue comes off as a scam to further expand the state over the freedom of the citizen in the developed world. That in turn leads skeptical people to reasonably question the motives of scientists turned advocates.

    Some European counties have a propensity to take silly, ineffective, self punishing, unilateral actions to make themselves feel good but accomplish little, such as shutting down their nuclear power industry for safety concerns at the same time upwind France will remain overwhelming nuclear for generations to come. Most Americans are smarter than to screw themselves for nothing.

  72. Several years ago, my husband and I took our son to see _An Inconvenient Truth_. We did this because we wanted to see the film anyway, but also because our son was in a HS Earth Sciences class, and he would get extra credit for writing a review. We talked about the film afterwards, and our son wrote his review. He had been persuaded by the film. At parent/teacher conference, though, it became clear to me that the teacher himself did not agree with the concept of a man-caused environmental change. I don’t think he was as silly as some I’ve heard who think that a snowstorm is evidence against global warming, but he did not agree with Gore. It was a rather odd moment as I realized that I had a fundamental difference with the man who would grade my son in this class.
    Also, the absolutely best forum I attended at BYU-H was from Paul Cox, showing convincingly how the extinction of one little species had a devastating effect on everything else. Delicate balance indeed. We are sometimes capricious stewards.

  73. So I realize this isn’t really about global warming but since it already moved that way… I have a bunch of different questions about it.
    I don’t deny that the earth is warming (since the ice age) and even accelerating now or that the acceleration is very likely caused by us… My questions are 1. Why are we sure that the acceleration of warming today will continue into the future – how do we know it doesn’t just level off at some point that is safe? 2. How do we know global warming is bad, what if it pushes out the ice age by 10,000 years wouldn’t that be a good result, maybe I should be for global warming? 3. If it is really bad why are some solutions off the table – I’m no scientist but Steven Levitt has some interesting cheap solutions that everyone dismisses because they don’t follow the green crowds popular expensive solutions? One is delivering enough sulfur dioxide to the stratosphere on a continuous basis to effectively cool the Earth, cost estimate a few 100M dollars.

  74. Greg,

    Answers:
    1. Because we continue to release vast amounts of compounds into the air–compounds that contribute to a warming earth. As countries like China and India start improving economically, that amount will continue to increase unless we find feasible, economical clean alternatives.

    2. One of the problems with global warming is that it’s occurring at too fast a rate, at least on an ecological basis. If it happened at a much slower rate, both humans and other life would have more time to adapt. And I’m not aware of any impending ice age, so…

    3. Solutions like that are apt to create more problems than they solve. Ever heard the song about a woman who swallowed a fly? She tried to fix the problem by swallowing a spider, but her actions only made the problem worse. Spewing a vast amount of sulfur dioxide is bound to create a host of problems.

  75. Thanks Tim, I agree with answer #1 if in fact humans are causing it – more are coming and more are going to use fossil fuels. On #2 do you have evidence that the rate is too fast? I’m not predicting an ice age but if you like history they seem to come around every so often, I think scientists think we have had 10 or so and one should be due in next 80,000 years, Not sure if we could survive that – it could be worse. On #3 I’m not sure it would make problems worse, its basically a volcano going off which has been shown to cool the earth sure the cooling has caused problems but that is what we are trying to accomplish with the other actions proposed I think.

  76. We had an interesting lecture on climate change the other week. The presenter did not link CO2 to that change except as correlated data. However the extrapolated line of warming leads to the conclusion that the climate will warm by 8 degrees in 100 years at the current rate. This is by all measure enormous and the changes are likely to be catastrophic.

    Do the deniers deny the data? If faced with this calamity, should we sit on our hands and let it overtake us? Should we not be looking for reasons, and if those reasons are under our control, should we not undertake to stop this from happening?

    (It is a mystery why the deniers think that climate scientists have a monetary motive but deny that the fuel companies do not. I have an acquaintance, an earth science researcher who was an early denier, who has made a hansom living by denying.)

    Too much TV, no critical thinking, no trust in authority. Thank the Vietnam War for that last. And thank modern physics for introducing weirdness into the debate of what is truth.

  77. Straight Talker, perhaps we should do it to set an example of right action, certainly I’ve never held to the notion that doing the right thing should be abandoned just because others don’t follow suit.

    Margaret, Paul Cox is one of the great LDS environmental thinkers and it’s cool you got to hear him. I remember his line from a talk he gave at BYU when he pointed out that when Christ came again he would likely ask, “What have you done with my desert tortoises?” and when we showed him the golf courses we’d built at their expense, He would not be amused.

    Tim hits it exactly right.

  78. Late coming to the discussion, but I’d have to call any claims about academic “relativism” being a factor in anti-scientific thinking ridiculous. Even the strong program of scientific sociology, which really took off in the 90s as a way to criticize and study the way science produces truth, never tried to deny the conclusions that modern science was coming to. It did, however, demonstrate very conclusively that science as a means of creating truth is a human institution: subject to bias, personality, culture, and money. Unfortunately this offended a some of strict-rationalist types who see Science as the objective, godlike Truth-giver, descended from the heavens to dispense wisdom to the unwashed masses (and some humanities people don’t help by tossing around careless comparisons to quantum physics). Nowadays most people involved in that discussion seem pretty amicable over the whole thing as the “science wars” mellowed, but in journalism and punditry there’s a lot of cheap strawmen that get thrown around still, especially by self-appointed defenders of science. It’s aggravating.

    (the Humanities/History grad has shut up; you may resume the global warming bash)

  79. I believe we should always be asking difficult questions and examining every side of an issue. It’s impossible to come to a fully educated stance on an issue without examining all the evidence. We can’t afford to take everything- or even some things- as truth simply because they come from someone in a position of authority. It’s only by asking difficult questions that progress happens. For example, if you lived 200 years ago, would you allow yourself or your wife to be examined in childbirth by a doctor who hadn’t washed his hands? 200 years ago, the idea that not washing your hands spreads disease was considered highly unscientific. Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis was one of the first to advocate hand washing to prevent the spread of puerperal fever, but he and other doctors who practiced it were largely ignored or derided by the medical establishment until the 20th century, despite the fact that they saw dramatic reductions in the rates of death and infection in their patients. But it was the early doctors’ questioning of authority that led to better health and care for us today.

    From the abstract of a paper about Semmelweis from the Clinical Investigation Department of the Naval Medical Center: “Semmelweis’ test of his hypothesis reduced the obstetrical death rate from 18% to almost 1%. However, he was degraded, defrocked, and driven to death by a profession whose emotions contradicted the evidence. Medical professionals like to believe they are not gullible, a trait defined as being easily duped. They rightly believe in their ability to avoid the error of accepting a result not supported by adequate evidence. They are not so free of the complementary error: refusing to accept a result that is supported by adequate evidence, which might be thought of as reverse gullibility. It is just as bad a logical error and just as serious a denial of the best medical care for our patients. Clearly Semmelweis, and later Louis Pasteur and others who were disbelieved, were correct. The profession was duped by its emotional adherence to current practice. To be truly professional, let us believe our evidence rather than our biases and not suffer from reverse gullibility.”

    The challenge at the end of the Book of Mormon is not to blindly accept it as truth, but to study it out and ask God. Doctors, scientists, scholars and politicians are educated but not infallible. I believe we should always be asking questions.

  80. Casey, you are Humanities/History? I was Humanities/ Music at the Y. =)

  81. Nicky: I hopped around English and PoliSci before settling on History, so I consider myself a humanities guy in a broader sense, and one of my pet study areas was the history of science :). The Semmelweis example is really interesting for a lot of reasons, because it brings up questions about community and sources of authority. We’re social beings, and probably more than we realize our beliefs are shaped by the communities we feel attached to. Doctors in those days had their consensus, and didn’t want to look stupid following this new “hand washing” fad – who would?

    In global warming I can understand why a lot of conservatives are attracted to denialism – their community places great importance on certain economic principles that seem threatened by the policies of global warming advocates, who are usually liberal (and a lot of liberals don’t acknowledge that the science and the policies are separate issues). The conservative community has produced its own experts with plausible-seeming evidence. Never mind that the experts may be hacks or a tiny minority – most people lack the time and inclination to find and pore over all the data themselves, not to mention acquire the necessary prerequisites to understanding it and THEN after all that make coherent policy decisions. We all rely on “experts” to help draw our conclusions, and deciding which ones believe is a social decision, not a scientific one. I’m aligned with liberal political/intellectual community that feels less threatened by climate change policy and is therefore more inclined to accept the scientific majority, but the left doesn’t necessarily have a sterling history of following the scientific majority, from anti-vaccine efforts to a general distrust of the scientific “establishment” back in the day when people unironically used phrases like “the establishment”. And as we’ve seen from history one can’t blindly accept that the scientific majority is necessarily correct.

    Furthermore, liberals do themselves no favors by implying that conservatives are stupid – it only reinforces the conservative belief that the other side has nothing constructive to offer. It’s the same reason missionaries feel strengthened when other religionists try to bash – “well, who cares what their doctrines are, look at how unchristlike their attitude is!” It’s poisoning our own well.

    So anyway, I think climate change advocates need to be more careful about parsing science science from policy and learn to reframe the debate in economic terms like some of the previous comments do, because lamenting how dumb and uneducated Americans (read: conservatives) are just isn’t gonna get anything done. Good gravy this post got long. I apologize.

  82. I agree with nearly everything the author of the post says–especially how dumbed-down the Republicans have become (and I used to be one). However, I do disagree with “As I argue here it is the best way we have of exploring the material world. It is a gift from God.” I don’t know if the author means the world is a gift from God, or “it” (the way we have of exploring the world). But, neither are gifts from God–science and logic say so!

  83. Oh dear, oh dear, Casey. You are being so open-minded, tolerant and pleasant to “talk” with that I am going to have reply back to you and drag this out longer!

    I believe there is evidence that points to the world temperature warming, at least for now- and what that means for our future depends on a lot of factors like changes in lifestyle and fuel consumption, new information from continued research, etc. And humans have certainly abused the environment and need to stop. And in all honesty after seeing “An Inconvenient Truth”, I think it was a shameless attempt on Al Gore’s part to bolster his political career. That doesn’t mean there aren’t problems with the environment, it just means that I don’t think Al Gore is a reliable source. As for me and my family, we turn off the lights when they’re not in use, cloth diaper our baby, and recycle everything we can. (In the future my husband and I would even like to brew our own bio-diesel!) In short, we do the best we can and don’t wring our hands over it. I think the small things will make more of a difference than launching a missile into the atmosphere.

    I wholeheartedly agree with you that lamenting the ignorance of Americans (read:conservatives) really only contributes to the problem. Anyone purporting to be a beacon of scientific thought would do well to remember that science (like scripture) is a matter of continuing revelation and that today’s scientific fact might be tomorrow’s science fiction.

    BTW, according to “Inside the Victorian Home” by Judith Flanders, the scientific explanation for puerperal fever in the 19th century was that women were too excitable and overemotional! Just a fun fact. =)

  84. This was an interesting thing to stumble across today. Reading the signatory list was interesting.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204301404577171531838421366.html?mod=WSJ_hp_mostpop_read

  85. Wall Street Journal on Global Warming? Well known denier agenda. I wish you could compare it to the list of those who support climate change, it would take hundred of pages. We call that gang the ‘usual crowd.’ Notice most are physicists, chemists, and the like. Such nonsense is the equal-time news junk I’m referring to. Kininmonth, the meteorologist, has been fighting global warming since he retired in 1988 (when it made sense to be cautious). Lindzen has cred, but is dated and a lone voice in a sea of new data. But this is exactly what I’m talking about when a few evangelical deniers can hold the attention of the nation against literally tens of thousands of other scientists.

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