From Ruben Bolling… on-target for so many topics.
(h/t The Daily Kos)
Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy beat me to it (as did probably another 50 blogs).
I heard the report last week about the decrease in sunspot activity and just knew that the global warming deniers would pounce on it with a vengeance, even though plenty of articles had statements such as…
But scientists warn that the temperature change due to a decline in sunspot activity would likely be minimal and not enough to compensate for global warming. – Global Post
Statements like that will most likely be dismissed with a haughty "poo poo" from deniers, however, because it doesn’t fit into the strategy of cherry-picking data in vain attempts to support their untenable position.
It’s one thing to disagree on policy issues and about how to handle the situation. That’s a matter of political opinion and can be debated endlessly from various ideological viewpoints. However, to avoid the policy issue by trying to discredit the actual science… the science that is backed up by virtually all the available data, by virtually all climate scientists, and by virtually all scientific organizations… is disingenuous, dishonest, and despicable.
I constantly read deniers railing against climate science based on policy issues, saying things that basically amount to "climate science is wrong because cap and trade legislation would cause job losses!" It’s an absurd statement, but it’s one that gets repeated, in various forms, over and over and over and over by global warming deniers… seemingly without any awareness of how ludicrous it is.
It’s the position that "facts don’t matter to me because they don’t fit neatly into my preconceived conclusions based on my ideology."
Having dealt with global warming deniers and having read many of their claims (and rants), I’ve noticed a few common hypocrisies. I paraphrase my favorite one below.
Denier Claim #1: Global warming isn’t happening. In fact, temperatures have been declining for the last 30 years.
Denier Claim #2: The temperature record is too unreliable to conclude that global warming is happening.
That’s classic denialism and a good example of how deniers will just parrot arguments they’ve heard without really giving them much thought or taking the time to get more in-depth information.
Of course, if they did that, they might not be deniers.
From evolution to vaccinations to global warming, something I encounter on a regular basis on television and the internet is denialism, rejecting the scientific evidence in favor of an alternative… an alternative which could be anything from pure woo to scientific-sounding arguments: “Just have faith” to “irreducible complexity.” Denialism is something that invariably causes a collective sigh an eye roll from the skeptic community because logical and fact-based responses seem to have no effect on denialists.
An article from the European Journal of Public Health defines denialism as “the employment of rhetorical arguments to give the appearance of legitimate debate where there is none, an approach that has the ultimate goal of rejecting a proposition on which a scientific consensus exists.” The article goes on to identify five common characteristics of denialism. I’ve seen all of these “in the wild,” but items one through three are the ones I see most often.
These five characteristics were summarized by Debora MacKenzie in a New Scientist opinion piece titled Living in denial: Why sensible people reject the truth and are as follows:
MacKenzie also adds a sixth characteristic.
Manufacture doubt. Falsely portray scientists as so divided that basing policy on their advice would be premature. Insist “both sides” must be heard and cry censorship when “dissenting” arguments or experts are rejected.
In the New Scientist piece, MacKenzie looks at the “why” of denialism.
This depressing tale [about swine flu] is the latest incarnation of denialism, the systematic rejection of a body of science in favour of make-believe. There’s a lot of it about, attacking evolution, global warming, tobacco research, HIV, vaccines – and now, it seems, flu. But why does it happen? What motivates people to retreat from the real world into denial?
Her approach uses a softer glove than many skeptics use, avoiding outright condemnation of deniers but instead making an attempt to understand how denialism spreads: identifying common characteristics, tactics (above), causes, motives, and possible solutions.
The most notable common characteristic that MacKenzie defines is this.
All [denialists] set themselves up as courageous underdogs fighting a corrupt elite engaged in a conspiracy to suppress the truth or foist a malicious lie on ordinary people.
I can anecdotally confirm that statement, both in my personal life and in my readings.
Where MacKenzie goes after that is to a hypothesis that what really triggers denialism is a sense of loss of control… a hypothesis that seems a good fit to the major denialist issues.
It is this sense of loss of control that really matters. In such situations, many people prefer to reject expert evidence in favour of alternative explanations that promise to hand control back to them, even if those explanations are not supported by evidence
All denialisms appear to be attempts like this to regain a sense of agency over uncaring nature: blaming autism on vaccines rather than an unknown natural cause, insisting that humans were made by divine plan, rejecting the idea that actions we thought were okay, such as smoking and burning coal, have turned out to be dangerous.
She goes on to explain that this position is not necessarily malicious or anti-science. They simply require a human reaction.
It only requires people to think the way most people do: in terms of anecdote, emotion and cognitive short cuts. Denialist explanations may be couched in sciency language, but they rest on anecdotal evidence and the emotional appeal of regaining control.
The origins of denialist claims are another matter, and MacKenzie talks about how many of the more prominent claims (tobacco, global warming) got their start with corporate backing, how deniers tend to attract other deniers, and how claims become politically and religiously charged.
The European Journal of Public Health article isn’t as philosophical in its analysis of denialist motivations, but hits home nonetheless.
Denialists are driven by a range of motivations. For some it is greed, lured by the corporate largesse of the oil and tobacco industries. For others it is ideology or faith, causing them to reject anything incompatible with their fundamental beliefs. Finally there is eccentricity and idiosyncrasy, sometimes encouraged by the celebrity status conferred on the maverick by the media.
Whatever the motivations (personal, political, financial, etc), the one thing that remains true among denialist claims is their distortion (or complete rejection) of the truth. For many issues, such as vaccinations and global warming, denialism has caused and will cause lives to be lost. For others, such as the rejection of evolution, their positions simply contribute to the “dumbing down” of America.
The frustration of dealing with most deniers is the almost impenetrable armor of ignorance they wear which deflects attempts at presenting actual evidence, be it factual or logical. They counter by trotting out any of the tactics listed at the beginning of this article, selecting the one that best fits the topic at hand. Cherry pick this evidence. Trot out this fake expert. Rage about this conspiracy theory.
When all else fails, bring up Hitler.
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 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 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.
Amusingly, temperatures in Colorado (home of the National Weather Service Forecast Office) for the past few days have been higher than average, but all those people who were decrying global warming during the snowstorms this winter aren’t piping up about the above average heat.
It seems their lack of understanding about global warming only goes in one direction.
Amazingly enough, there are still people who claim to understand the science behind global warming, yet make the mistake of thinking localized cold temperatures, such as the recent snowstorms in the Eastern United States, are somehow a refutation of global warming. It’s almost as if they don’t understand the meaning of the key word “global.”
Jon Stewart captures it (and mocks it) perfectly in this Daily Show clip.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Unusually Large Snowstorm|
That bit makes fun of the “local versus global” aspect of global warming denialism and it is amusing, but at its heart is a serious issue… the denialist combination of ignorance and arrogance fueled by political and/or religious ideology. It’s a combination that inspires deniers to manufacture evidence, take evidence out of context, twist and distort evidence, and cherry pick evidence in their attempts to bolster their cause.
What makes it worse is that the denialist propaganda seems to be having its intended effect. Despite overwhelming evidence showing that our planet is warming faster than what natural cycles would indicate and that the warming is strongly affected by human activity, fewer and fewer people accept the science. What makes the denialist position so successful? Is it because their “evidence” is valid? …because their position is somehow warranted? Or is it, perhaps, that climate science is complicated… and therefore boring to a lot of people? Could it be that it takes too much effort to research the basics in order to gain a modicum of understanding of the science? …that real science is hard?
Here’s a hint. It’s not because denialist “evidence” is valid (and yes, the scare quotes are warranted).
Certainly, it’s far, far easier to look out the window at an above-average snowfall and conclude that no warming is occurring… and if that nicely-boxed conclusion is spruced up by your strongly-held ideology or by a level of (perhaps understandable) apathy that makes you susceptible to the loud voices of denialism, then it’s fairly easy to consider the matter closed and ignore any further evidence to the contrary.
That’s the scary result of politics trying to invalidate science… or religion trying to invalidate science. People get bad information and then they get the idea that there’s a controversy (where none should exist), or they start to think that scientists are full of crap, or that a biologist is the same as an astrophysicist (ie… a scientist is a scientist is a scientist), or that politicians have some sort of special “in” when it comes to the truth. People start to think that the scientific process is broken, or that a single mistake invalidates years (or even decades) of research, or that a scientist in a bitchy mood indicates that scientists are corrupt, or that scientists should be automatons who never get cranky when quote-mined by some junk-science-peddling politician.
The denialists’ position against global warming science is political, pure and simple. It can be summarized by the idea that, because the fix would be a hassle (or expensive), they want nothing to do with it. On that foundation is built their structure of misinformation… with twists, distortions, and lies… that only continues to stand because they yell loudly, they yell repeatedly, and they yell authoritatively. They do it with a self-righteous arrogance, implying that anyone who disagrees is not only wrong, but unpatriotic and stupid… perhaps socialist, too. They set up towering straw men to burn to the ground with their trite arguments, paying no mind to whether the argument is scientifically valid.
Despite all the denialists’ blustering, the thing they lack is truth. Perhaps truth isn’t important to them as long as they get their way, but truth is the intended destination of science.
The scientific process is self-correcting. Mistakes are sometimes made, but through the process, those mistakes are found and corrected. Science moves on, leaving behind an understanding of our world that is just a little bit better than before. That’s what science does. It moves. It progresses. It refuses to settle. It refuses to stop.
…and all the denialist blustering in the world won’t keep it from moving ahead.
Via The Intersection blog, Chris Mooney made me aware of a great brochure (pdf) from NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that gives some basic climate science literacy information. It’s a great introduction to the multifaceted complexities of climate science, how climate works, how it’s measured, and how humans effect it.
It starts out with a great definition of a “climate-literate person.”
A climate-literate person:
- understands the essential principles of Earth’s climate system
- knows how to assess scientifically credible information about climate
- communicates about climate and climate change in a meaningful way
- is able to make informed and responsible decisions with regard to actions that may affect climate.
It continues with information about why climate science literacy matters (and why science literacy in general matters), how climate science is an ongoing process, and how we can know what is scientifically correct.
The main points explained in the brochure are the following:
CLIMATE LITERACY: The Essential Principles of Climate Science
- The Sun is the primary source of energy for Earths climate system.
- Climate is regulated by complex interactions among components of the Earth system.
- Life on Earth depends on, is shaped by, and affects climate.
- Climate varies over space and time through both natural and man-made processes.
- Our understanding of the climate system is improved through observations, theoretical studies, and modeling.
- Human activities are impacting the climate system.
- Climate change will have consequences for the Earth system and human lives.
There’s plenty of detail for each point given and the explanations are clear, giving a solid foundation for learning more about climate science and actually understanding the climate issues that are affecting (and will affect) our lives.
Chris Mooney wonders…
But anyway, it is interesting to contemplate whether climate “skeptics” take issue with any of these basics, or whether they are indeed “climate science literate” by this standard. For after all, the complicated data and “hockey stick” type issues that “skeptics” seem to seize upon don’t appear to have much to do with these basics; and yet these basics are all you need to know that global warming is a serious concern and that we stand to get fried.
(ed. …and by “skeptics” he means “deniers”… hence the sarcasm quotes)
I’ve heard and read plenty from deniers who plainly lack a basic understanding of the science and who enthusiastically ride the denier bandwagon regardless of where it leads… whether it’s something as silly as offering a big snowstorm in Montana as evidence against global warming, using a few out-of-context comments by some climate scientists to decry the state of scientific research, or claiming that a lone scientist with a new way of looking at data has overturned decades of climate research. The bandwagon in question is propelled by politically-created excrement.
Here’s one of my favorite parts from the brochure.
CLIMATE SCIENCE LITERACY IS A PART OF SCIENCE LITERACY.
“Science, mathematics, and technology have a profound impact on our individual lives and our culture. They play a role in almost all human endeavors, and they affect how we relate to one another and the world around us. . . . Science Literacy enables us to make sense of real-world phenomena, informs our personal and social decisions, and serves as a foundation for a lifetime of learning.”
From the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Atlas of Science Literacy, Volume 2, Project 2061.
The fruits of science are all around us, yet the state of science literacy in our country is horrifyingly low. Not only do we have people who don’t understand science or how it works, but we have the much more harmful group of people who think they understand how science works and who think they have an understanding of scientific issues, but are hopelessly lost in an ideological quagmire created by politics, religion, or other insidious cultural influences.
Climate science denialism is a perfect example of how anti-scientific ideology mucks with the real issues in ways that will create tangible consequences. It’s not just a matter of philosophical differences (you go your way and I’ll go mine). It’s a matter of the actual, physical consequences of promoting actions (or non-actions, as the case may be) that would lead to the degradation of our environment (you can’t go your way and I can’t go mine… since you borked it all up, thank you very much).
There is no “your way” and “my way” when it comes to the habitability of this planet. There’s simply an “our way” because just like the anti-intellectual, anti-science deniers, I’m stuck on this planet. It’s my home. It’s where I keep my stuff. It’s where all my friends and family live. It’s where my daughter lives and will continue to live after I’m gone.
The anti-science crowd puts lives at risk. They put our country at risk. They put our world at risk. Whether it’s the climate science deniers, anti-vaxxers, homeopathy pushers, or the myriad of other pseudo-scientific proponents, it all boils down to a lack of understanding of (or a deliberate rejection of) science.
…and that affects us all.