Digital Chum - Virtual fish guts and other nonsense

climate change

My favorite hypocrisy

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.

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 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.

OMGZOR! Heat Wave!!!

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.

Satire is a beautiful thing

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
www.thedailyshow.com

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.

The RNC’s “Purity” Resolutions

The Republican National Committee will be in Hawaii this week for its annual meeting to discuss its agenda. One of the items on the agenda is a series of ten statements dubbed the “purity” test by the media. The actual name is a mouthful: Resolution on Reagan’s Unity Principle for Support of Candidates. The idea is that Republican candidates must agree with at least eight of the ten statements in order to qualify for campaign contributions and/or an endorsement from the RNC.

It seems it was originally proposed in November of 2009, but wasn’t taken up for consideration. Reportedly, it will be this week.

I’ve read mixed reactions about the proposal. Some think it’s a good idea. Some think the Republicans are shooting themselves in the foot. Of course, the RNC can do what it wants, and though I can understand their desire to have a sort of litmus test for candidates, this seems somewhat draconian.

Here’s a link to the entire document (it’s a PDF), and below I have a list of each of the ten items along with my commentary on each one.

We support smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama’s “stimulus” bill;

I’m onboard with that… except for the wording. It seems silly to include the final clause “by opposing bills like Obama’s ‘stimulus’ bill.” Not only are the scare quotes overly dramatic and laden with unnecessary sarcasm, but wouldn’t it be more constructive to give a more positive suggestion about how to reach the goal?

We support market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run healthcare;

Again with the unnecessary “Obama-style” word choice. Why not just “We support market-based health care reform?” I think a simple approach to health care reform would be a good choice, but of course there needs to be regulation. There is some good in the current healthcare proposal… no exclusions for pre-existing conditions, for example… but something leaner would be better. On the other hand, if the current proposal doesn’t pass, healthcare reform will be essentially dead for another few decades. I suppose I can say that I, too, support market-based health care reform, but it really depends on what is meant by “market-based health care reform.” There’s plenty more to say here, but I’ll just leave it at that, since the statement is so vague.

We support market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation;

This statement is mostly meaningless in what it supports, but says more about what it opposes. Republicans are notorious for being climate change deniers, and it almost seems that their denial stems from their dislike for any solution that costs money. I don’t know what is meant by “market-based energy reforms” but gauging from what I hear from many Republicans, it means letting companies pollute all they want, drilling for more oil, burning more fossil fuels, and flipping the bird to the environment… and to science.

We support workers’ right to secret ballot by opposing card check;

Hooray! This is one that I support 100%!… and it’s strangely specific compared to most of the other statements. The union push to eliminate anonymous voting is basically giving them free rein to use precision bullying and intimidation tactics. They complain about corporate intimidation of employees, but the fact is that, with secret ballots, neither the company nor the union knows how any individual voted. That’s as it should be.

We support legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants;

I’m of mixed opinion here. I support legal immigration and assimilation into American society. The rest of the statement is a non sequitur in reference to the first part. You don’t support legal immigration by opposing amnesty. The two are related but not dependant. I’m undecided on the amnesty issue.

We support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges;

“We support victory.” That’s meaningless tripe. Everyone supports victory. It’s not a question of whether someone supports victory or not. It’s a question of whether victory is even possible… which it probably isn’t in any meaningful way. Invading Afghanistan was understandable and (mostly) warranted. Invading Iraq was not. That aside, these people have been fighting amongst themselves for longer than our country has been in existence and suddenly we think we can resolve all their problems? Not gonna happen. Waste of money. Waste of time. Waste of human life.

We support containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat;

Yes. I support this as well, but the caveat is that it depends on what they mean by “effective action.” The recent Republican track record on this is less than stellar.

We support retention of the Defense of Marriage Act;

The Defense of Marriage Act is nothing but blatant rights-removing, religion-based bigotry and homophobia. No… I don’t support this statement in the least.

We support protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing and denial of health care and government funding of abortion;

This statement is laughable because our current system is all about rationing and denial of health care. Are they suggesting that everyone should have unlimited health care coverage? Isn’t that… *gasp!*… socialistic? As for government funding of abortion… I don’t care if it’s government funded or not as long as the right to have an abortion isn’t restricted. However, I do support protecting the lives of “vulnerable persons.”

We support the right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership;

I’m okay with this statement, too, assuming it doesn’t mean that Average Joe and Frank the Felon can stock up their houses with automatic weapons and RPGs. The statement is vague on that point. I think existing regulations are fine for the most part… waiting periods and registrations are nothing insidious.

So, overall, the statements are a bit too vague to just accept unconditionally… and a few of them are vague to the point of meaninglessness… and at least one is reprehensible. It doesn’t seem to be a collection of statements on which the Republicans want to hang their future, but it will be interesting to see what they decide.

However, it looks like I would pass the test because I support at least eight of the statements. In most cases, my support is conditional, but given the vagueness of some of the statements, I think it’s only fair that I add the necessary detail on my own. But even though I’m not a Democrat, I don’t think I’ll be calling myself a Republican any time soon.

They still have a long way to go.

Those stupid scientists!

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a huge problem in this country today.

Climate Literacy Primer

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

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

A climate-literate person:

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

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

The main points explained in the brochure are the following:

CLIMATE LITERACY: The Essential Principles of Climate Science

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

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

Chris Mooney wonders…

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

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

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

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

CLIMATE SCIENCE LITERACY IS A PART OF SCIENCE LITERACY.

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

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

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

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

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

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

…and that affects us all.

Oh, yes. I’ve heard this before.

Homer’s reaction pretty much sums up the climate change denialists’ behavior.

(via)

What if it’s a big hoax!?

As PZ Myers said, “Isn’t this what the global warming debate is actually all about?”

Climate Change Deniers - The Bottom Line

(via)

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.