Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


How trustworthy are scientists anyway?

posted by Rod Dreher

This morning on the way into the office, I heard a radio discussion on the BBC on whether or not scientists and researchers ought to be more open for scrutiny in the wake of the East Anglia climate office scandal. One commenter said yes, because scientists should want their research open for public scrutiny, because that’s precisely how science improves. Another said no, not really, because public debate can be so abusive these days; researchers are loath to open themselves up to the kind of viciousness that’s routine nowadays.
I thought about that this afternoon when I read William Saletan’s Slate essay about the Elena Kagan abortion policy mess that’s come out of her hearing. Saletan says the real scandal here isn’t that Kagan, working as a senior White House staffer, tweaked a scientific report to better reflect the Clinton administration’s political priorities; the scandal is that the scientists at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists went along with it. Excerpt:

Kagan, who was then an associate White House counsel, was doing her job: advancing the president’s interests. The real culprit was ACOG, which adopted Kagan’s spin without acknowledgment. But the larger problem is the credence subsequently given to ACOG’s statement by courts, including the Supreme Court. Judges have put too much faith in statements from scientific organizations. This credulity must stop.

Saletan goes on to say that while conservative critics of Kagan aren’t exactly right here, they do make a pretty damning case that she flat-out said something untrue about science because it was politically useful — and that scientists accepted the lie. Saletan:

But if conservatives are being naive about the relationship between science and politics, Kagan is being cynical about it. “There was no way in which I would have or could have intervened with ACOG, which is a respected body of physicians, to get it to change its medical views,” she told senators on Wednesday. With this clever phrasing, she obscured the truth: By reframing ACOG’s judgments, she altered their political effect as surely as if she had changed them.
She also altered their legal effect. And this is the scandal’s real lesson: Judges should stop treating the statements of scientific organizations as apolitical. Such statements, like the statements of any other group, can be loaded with spin. This one is a telling example.

And, as Saletan further laments, this officially sanctioned lie by ACOG formed the basis for subsequent jurisprudence on partial-birth abortion. In other words, the law of the land stands on outright falsehoods propagated by medical scientists.
Saletan is certainly right. I remember sitting in editorial board meetings, in which all it took to more or less shut down a debate was to cite “the science.” Because most of us journalists (myself included) are fairly ignorant of science, we were trusting the integrity and accuracy of scientists — just as surely as in an earlier age, one would have said to trust “the Church.” But we live in a scientistic age, in which many of us — again, I do not exempt myself — fail too often to be skeptical about what scientists tell us. Just this weekend, I was talking with a friend my age about the insane things that medical science told our mothers to do re: proper care and feeding of babies, e.g., that formula was superior to breastmilk.
On the BBC debate, one listener wrote that of course we should trust scientists, because our only other choice is to trust religious leaders, which is obviously (in his view) unacceptable. That’s plainly a false choice, but one that seems normal to many people — as if to be skeptical of what scientists claim is therefore to endorse religion, and vice versa. Absurd. What we should be skeptical of is anything human beings touch, because everybody has motives for spinning facts. To be skeptical is not to distrust everything. Rather, to be skeptical — or at least properly skeptical — is to distrust to a point. Even skepticism has its polemical uses. Science can be telling the verifiable, empirical, straight-up truth about some things, and there will always be somebody who won’t believe it because it doesn’t suit his prejudices, and who will congratulate himself on being undeceived and undeceivable.
UPDATE: Reason’s Ron Bailey writes about how “scientific consensus” has not in the past been a guarantee of factuality. Great aside here:

We all surely want our decisions to be guided by the best possible information. Consider the overwhelming consensus among researchers that biotech crops are safe for humans and the environment–a conclusion that is rejected by the very environmentalist organizations that loudly insist on the policy relevance of the scientific consensus on global warming. But I digress.

Confirmation bias is a powerful thing.



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elizabeth

posted July 7, 2010 at 3:15 pm


Even if the science is open to public scrutiny, so what? Most of the public are so ignorant of the scientific method that they’ll believe Glen Beck’s or Rush Limbaugh’s interpretations.
The checks and balances in science come from Other Scientists, reviewing studies and then repeating the experiments to see if the original findings have any validity. One study, after all, proves nothing.
Science should not be making truth claims anyway, and to use “the science” to shut down an argument is to abuse science. Science is self-correcting over time. But people who have agendas will grab snippets of theories or studies to “prove” their arguments. We see it happen in these comboxes all the time by those who think statistics is science (it is not) and that such numbers “prove” something.
The example of the Kagan memo impacting the professional organization is an example of politics, not science. Don’t mistake medical doctors for scientists. They studied science to get in to medical school but unless they go on to become MD/PhDs or pure researchers, very few if any come out of medical school as scientists. Professional organizations exist to keep doctors in line to a standard of conduct and practice which is as much a consensus on what to do as a response to actual data. (And let’s not pretend data is not skewed by financial interests, but that is another story.)
A reporter should not get shut down by “the science” but dig further. Ask some real scientists what “the science” says instead of being cowed by representatives of interest or advocacy groups. But mostly, let science be science instead of a punching bag or excuse in social and political arguments.



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Turmarion

posted July 7, 2010 at 3:28 pm


Good post, elizabeth.
There are some valid points here, but the problem is that those who want to deny global warming or evolution or the safety of vaccinations (after the now-debunked autism scare) or even (on a loonier note) the reality of the moon landings (I’ve known people who really thought it was staged) use (or better, abuse) the exact same calls for greater skepticism of science that Saletan suggests. Yes, scientists are flawed humans, too, and may play politics, but when the public is as ignorant of and illiterate in science as it is (and as a sometime science teacher, believe me, it’s really bad out there), skepticism is all too easily manipulated.
[M]any of us… fail too often to be skeptical about what scientists tell us.
Thus, I’d say that this should be altered to, “Many of us fail to learn enough about science so we can better evaluate what scientists tell us.” I’m not saying non-scientists have to become PhD’s or go back to school. I’m saying that we need to improve science education in this country, but that in the meantime there’s no excuse for adults not to inform themselves. Yes, as elizabeth points out, we should “ask real scientists what the science says”; but if we’d just learn a little about how science is done and learn some basic information that’s not that hard to learn, but which most of us lack, we’d be better able to assess various claims and to understand the answers better when we do ask the scientists.



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Scott Lahti

posted July 7, 2010 at 3:29 pm


Most of the public are so ignorant of the scientific method that they’ll believe Glen Beck’s or Rush Limbaugh’s interpretations.
Applying my own scientific method, ignorantly after my fashion to be sure, I merely note that since only about 7 percent of US adults listen to Limbaugh regularly, and about 2 percent are steady watchers of Glenn Beck, and that many within those legions take much of what they hear and see for entertainment purposes, and, more astonishing still, that “most of the public”, at least that portion inclined to pull a lever in a quadrennial way, voted for the current incumbent. They may be ignorant in ways all their own, just not so much after the gaudy fantasies of right-wing rodeo clowns the magnification of whose power over the great public suits the purposes of their friends and foes alike. Alas.



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Scott Lahti

posted July 7, 2010 at 3:39 pm


The chief value of science lies in its capacity to provide us with more and more refined and efficient ways of doing certain things.
But as to that most important question of all – whether such things are worth doing in the first place – Science, you need, as my friend likes to say, to STFU – Speak The Fewest Utterances.



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M.Z.

posted July 7, 2010 at 4:00 pm


At some point, one has to cede questions to experts. That still doesn’t excuse people treating as gospel exceptional claims. Most every scientific discovery falls along this line. Even a decade after the methodological basic of the gay gene study has been called malarkey, there are still people propping the discredited study as a biological proof of homosexuality. Add to that all the health claims.
One thing that must really occur is for people to stop giving organization an imprimatur. The standards of most any organization today are so loose and politically driven so as to be worthless.



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kevin s.

posted July 7, 2010 at 4:02 pm


“Even if the science is open to public scrutiny, so what? Most of the public are so ignorant of the scientific method that they’ll believe Glen Beck’s or Rush Limbaugh’s interpretations.”
Huh? People believe Beck because they are ignorant of the scientific method? I think what you are saying is that certain people will mistrust scientists, while trusting their favorite pundits. I fail to see what this has to do with the scientific method.
Also, did you read the post? It seems as though the scientific method was eschewed, by scientists, for political reasons.
“The checks and balances in science come from Other Scientists,”
Who are capitalized in aggregate, for some reason. Sorry, not relevant.
“But people who have agendas will grab snippets of theories or studies to “prove” their arguments. We see it happen in these comboxes all the time by those who think statistics is science (it is not) and that such numbers “prove” something.”
Who here has argued that statistical analysis is equal to science?
“The example of the Kagan memo impacting the professional organization is an example of politics, not science. Don’t mistake medical doctors for scientists.”
Fair enough. But most people do, in fact, make this mistake. Doctors are frequently employed to engage scientific arguments. So what do we do about this?
“A reporter should not get shut down by “the science” but dig further.”
When pigs fly. Reporters are coke-addled morons who confuse a clever turn of phrase for intellect. Okay, that’s probably not true in 60% of cases, but then, I’ll leave that question to the scientists. Suffices to say, they are in no position to “dig further”. My goodness, have you ever met one?
“But mostly, let science be science instead of a punching bag or excuse in social and political arguments.”
AGREED! Thank you.



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dave

posted July 7, 2010 at 4:24 pm


While your article made one or two decent points the one main thing to remember is that science is always checking itself(The breast milk vs. formula is evidence of that).
As for the question of should science be open. That depends. You said, “Because most of us journalists (myself included) are fairly ignorant of science,…”. That is exactly why you should trust science, because they know more than you. Leave it up to the other scientists(ones void of moral, political, personal, etc. beliefs). An example of this is global warming. Nearly everyone in the US, for example, has an opinion of global warming. Many of them I would guess do not have a strong background to say the least in this area, yet there are die hard believers and deniers. You could compare that to two elementary school students trying to draw up plans to build a skyscraper. Not something you want to be around when they break ground.
On a final note about science is even if they can not EXPLAIN everything does not mean they are wrong. Just look at when electricity was being discovered. Scientists understood how it worked for the most part, but when you had two currents running near each other there was a change in the results. They had no idea why this was occurring and could not yet explain it. Thy DID realize the equation for this mysterious phenomenon and correctly identify it, but still could not identify WHAT it was. Later they discovered the magmatic field and it reason for what they had already solved.



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polistra

posted July 7, 2010 at 4:37 pm


Partial-birth abortion is similar to “global warming” in that you don’t need to be an expert to disprove the consensus view. (Some other controversial subjects are more subtle and do require real expertise to argue either side.)
With partial-birth abortion, the consensus view says that we must make an exception for cases involving mother’s health. Nonsense. If the mother’s health has become problematic at that late stage of pregnancy, you either do a Cesarean or you get the baby ENTIRELY out of the mother as fast as possible. There is no CONCEIVABLE health situation that could require you to deliver partway, pause to kill the baby, then finish the delivery. At that point dead baby is no better for the mother than live baby.



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Turmarion

posted July 7, 2010 at 4:57 pm


Explain, please, polistra, exactly how a non-expert disproves the consensus view of global warming.



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Abelard Lindsey

posted July 7, 2010 at 5:02 pm


Academic scientific research is paid for by government grants. It is bureaucratically driven and “results” are measured by the number of papers published by the researchers. This creates a momentum consensus to say whatever keeps the money, in the form of government grants, rolling in. In other words, much of academic scientific research is essentially a “welfare program” for PhD’s. This is the reason why the Tokamak has not lead to commercial fusion and why NASA has not lead to commercial space development. The same is true for “climate” science, which is just another fraud put on to the tax payers.
Hitler once said that if you tell a lie enough times, people will come to accept it as true. This is called the great lie theory. One of the great lies of our time is that the public sector is responsible for most innovation. This is a pure lie. Almost all innovation (except for nuclear weapons) have been the result of private research. Teflon, which NASA claims to have invented for the Apollo program, was actually invented in 1938 by a private chemical company. Texas Instruments, another private company, invented micro-electronics.



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Zzzzz

posted July 7, 2010 at 5:34 pm


In other words, much of academic scientific research is essentially a “welfare program” for PhD’s.
No. Most of academic scientific research is a HIGHLY competitive effort to discover something new and worthwhile. Considering that the peers who are judging your grant efforts are also competing against you, you have very few stupid grants slippy through (regardless of what you hear on conspiracy theory AM radio). You can thank medical research for keeping people healthy and alive, despite the explosive growth in waistlines. Of course, you, like most of the people who like to stick their noses up at scientists, will continue to benefit from the work of people you snub.



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Broken Yogi

posted July 7, 2010 at 5:38 pm


The problem with these deferentially authoritarian attitudes towards science is that it fails to understand how and why science often goes wrong for long periods of time, and in fact is always “wrong” in any absolute sense, in that it always has incomplete data and relies on the fallibility of human reasoning and human judgment.
There’s a great desire to invoke incomplete science as if its temporary, current set of conclusions were written in stone and actually reflected reality, rather than the limits of the scientific method. And yes, we do see that in the climate debate, where the cry “the science is settled” rings out before the actual data is even in, much less the scientific understanding of it settled.
This makes for purely opportunistic invocations of scientific authority. I love watching Bill Maher, but he’s utterly schizophrenic in his relationship to science. On the one hand, he’s utterly convinced at that the scientific “consensus” on climate change is final, complete, and perfectly one-sided, whereas when it comes to another of his pet peeves, vaccination, he’s completely opposed to and dismissive of the far more overwhelming scientific consensus on that issue. He readily derides “deniers” of AGW as anti-science ignoramuses, and yet he utterly denies the science of vaccinations without a sign of even being aware of the hypocrisy. And the same dynamic is present in a whole lot of areas.
The problem isn’t just this cherry-picking of scientific results, it’s the fact that even scientists themselves are human beings with prejudices, preconceptions, and fallible judgment. But scientists themselves try to deny this, and pretend that their findings are entirely objective and personal-prejudice free, when this is just never the case. We do have a current scientific consensus on a lot of things, and the only thing certain about it is that it’s going to turn out to be wrong in very important ways somewhere down the line. We just don’t always know where or how or to what degree.



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Zzzzz

posted July 7, 2010 at 6:29 pm


Broken Yogi,
I think your comment is a good one. However, I think it is entirely too easy to read that, and come away with the view that scientific opinion is just as flawed as other opinions and so you should just believe what you already do.
Authoritarian deference to science is a problem, but utter dismissal of scientific research in favor of poorly reasoned politically-based opinion is a bigger problem. You touch on that, but I don’t think you take it to its logical conclusion. In my mind, the sin is one of degree. Scientists TRY to be objective, they may not always succeed, but they TRY. Further, they are carefully scrutinized by their rivals, who pick apart every flaw.
Political commentors don’t even try. They cherry pick which analyses to present. They deliberately leave out information in order to slant the opinions of their listeners/readers. They hysterically hype some things, while utterly ignoring others (including the updates containing new information which dispute what they were hyping- the East Anglia thing is a fine example. You aren’t going to hear Beck or Limbaugh retracting their claims about those scientists).
I think there is a real danger that paying too much attention to the human flaws of scientists, you create a false equivalence between people who are honestly seeking truth and people whose only interest is in which ‘truth’ better serves their team.



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Franklin Evans

posted July 7, 2010 at 7:26 pm


Excellent opening post and thread so far. I’m left with little to do but chime in on both the ignorance of science most people have, and the cure for it.
Valid science has the same prefix to the answer to every question. It goes something like this:
This is the best explanation (answer, etc.) we have for this thing (phenomenon, etc.) today. It may be the same one we had yesterday, or maybe a bit better. It is certain that sooner or later, it will be eclipsed by a better one.
Religious leaders and the politicians they support, who want to promote their agendas, hate that. Religion takes the diametrically opposed stance, and answers every question with God (to some degree, from some angle). Politicians can’t sell ambiguity to the voters (except where they can smear their opponents with it), and the people — bless their ignorant hearts — seek the security of absolutes with every breath.
So, science by definition is uncertain (to some degree, from some angle). Religion and politics require absolutes (to some degree, from some angle). Should we be surprised at the tensions and conflicts that result?
Scott, since it’s something I obsess over, I can’t let your half-fallacious description stand. Science gives us ways to do things, at their inception inefficient and expensive. Technology gives us improvements in efficiency and reductions in cost. Just for example, fusion produces much more energy with much less fuel than fission. See many fusion power plants around? ;-)



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Hector

posted July 7, 2010 at 8:15 pm


The pro-choice lobby has as much respect for science as the diehard creationists at Bob Jones University. Indeed, the parallel is pretty close. Just like the creationists believe that human beings were created miraculously with a snap of God’s fingers, the pro-choicers believe that something magical happens at birth so that a ‘fetus’ which has no rights and can be butchered without compunction, miraculously transforms into a human person. Science tells us, on the other hand, that the fundamental difference in kind (as opposed to difference in degree) happens at conception. A fetus is different in kind from a sperm cell, whereas a born baby and a fetus are merely at two separate points along the continuum.
Not that the NARAL, NOW crowd gives a tinker’s d*mn about science. Their agenda relies on obfuscation, ignorance, and fear mongering, not on truth and facts.



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kenneth

posted July 7, 2010 at 8:22 pm


It’s not a problem of people taking scientists word as gospel. It’s a problem of a nation which by and large doesn’t have the scientific competence to evaluate a middle-school science project, let alone critical public policy problems rooted in science. We are also a society which has mostly lost the ability and habits of mind for critical thinking. I’m not talking about cynicism and conspiracy theorist paranoia, but the ability to apply reasoning and standards of evidence to make a decent judgment about data. Until we develop that, we will fall prey to whatever con artist tells us what we want to hear and tune out the rest.



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MH

posted July 7, 2010 at 8:47 pm


After reading Elizabeth’s first post in the thread I decided I couldn’t top it. But there have been some other good posts as well.
The only thing I’ve decided to add is that you are supposed to be skeptical of scientific claims! Science is the opposite of an argument from authority and skepticism is good because knowledge should be able to withstand it. Granted many claims are beyond the ability of the average person, but other scientists can serve as your proxies. But it is good practice for the average person to try and prove to themselves the truth of some claims.
In this sense science is much like capitalism. The competitive pressure refines things and prevents collusion in the market. That is good for the consumers of that knowledge which is the rest of humanity.



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nnmns

posted July 7, 2010 at 9:16 pm


There are some good posts here pointing out that scientists, for the most part, are trying to reach the truth, and we can reasonably assume this decade’s scientific results are better than last decade’s and much better than those fifty years ago.
On the other hand there’s little if any progress in religious pronouncements except maybe when the pronouncers are a little more humanistically educated with a little better results. But in fact several of the noisiest Christian pronouncers show little humanistic influence or even common sense. And no one updates the holy books. They use the same old error-filled ones they always did.
Now as to Hector’s post, fortunately there’s the Roe v. Wade decision, which accomplishes much of what Hector seems worried about. It does allow states to give more protection to the more developed fetus than to the less developed zygote or blastocyst or embryo. Thus giving a reasonable amount of protection to the unarguably human woman and her family. It’s a very wise decision.



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Broken Yogi

posted July 7, 2010 at 9:30 pm


Zzzz,
I agree that rejecting science and just going by one’s gut or ideological bent or whatever isn’t a good plan. But I think pretending that those things don’t figure in science itself is just not true, regardless of the effort made by some scientists some of the time to be “objective”. No one is ever objective, however, and this is one of the lessons of the climate scandal that you bring up.
Clearly, whatever one thinks of this issue, the scientists involved are not objective. They have a conviction about climate change, and they are devoted to proving it. They are not devoted to any genuine objectivity on the subject, they are clearly of a very strong opinion and bent, and they aren’t above bending things in favor of their hypothesis along the way. And that’s commonly how it is in science – you get people who become enamoured of their own hypothesis, and if you add to it as in this case the messianci “save the world” motive, you find people perfectly willing to distort and exagerate the actual objective science in the service of a “greater goal”. You point to people like Beck or Rush hyping the scandal as evidence that it’s somehow a dubious issue. But broken clocks can be right twice a day, and the “story” that these climatologists have been cleared of wrong-doing is a clear whitewash if you read the details. The inquiry itself was not objective, and it simply can’t be, because this is a highly politicized area of science, and I mean that on both sides of the issue.
The real problem with the climate debate is the assertion of scientific authority on an issue which science doesn’t actually understand well enough to make authoritative statements about. Science can be really good at things it understands really well, like gravitational mechanics, say. But other things, like the complexity of a huge and chaotic living system like climate, are simply not quantified by linear equations and mechanistic thinking. Observation is the key in such systems, not “theory” or computer simulations. But climate science has gone way overboard in the direction of unconfirmed theories and computer models that try to approximate complex systems but which fail due to the overwhelming complexity. And yet climate scientists try to trade on the reputation science has earned in the area of linear thinking and mechanics to suggest that their conclusions rest on the same, firm “scientific” ground, which they do not. And the result is a scandalous bastardization of science which will, I think, make for some serious and embarrassing retractions in the years to come. Out of that will have to come a greater skepticism of science itself, and that may even be a good thing.



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Hector

posted July 7, 2010 at 9:33 pm


NNMS,
What are you smoking?
The Roe v. Wade decision guarantees the right to butcher unborn children in their mother’s womb. It’s a vile decision, but I don’t see what was particularly wise about it. I don’t give a tinkers d*mn about ‘more developed’ fetuses, I think that early term unborn children deserve as much protection as later term ones. Your whole taradiddle about trimesters and stages of development presupposes that our physical form (accidents) is the same thing as what we are (essence), which I don’t agree with. Personhood begins at conception, and except in the case of serious threats to the mother’s health, abortion should be illegal throughout pregnancy in any civilised society.



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Hector

posted July 7, 2010 at 9:37 pm


It seems to me that science is pretty clear in its answers to the following questions, and there really isn’t as much debate or room for questions as some would like to believe.
1. Climate change is happening, and it’s due to increased carbon dioxide from human activity.
2. The life history of a diploid biological organism (including, you know, humans) begins at conception.
You’ll find plenty of people (conservatives in the first case, liberals in the second) who deny the facts so that they won’t have to change their own behaviour, but the science is pretty clear. Nature doesn’t care about our lifestyle preferences.



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Broken Yogi

posted July 7, 2010 at 9:44 pm


Hector,
“Just like the creationists believe that human beings were created miraculously with a snap of God’s fingers, the pro-choicers believe that something magical happens at birth so that a ‘fetus’ which has no rights and can be butchered without compunction, miraculously transforms into a human person.”
Not a single thing is true about this statement. Pro-choicers do not believe in any “magical moment”. They simply don’t think that merely combining a sperm and an egg creates a human person, that this occurs in the course of pregnancy, and thus legal lines must be drawn in the sand which define when abortion is legal, when it is illegal, and when it is murder. It is legally defined as murder only after birth, and that is because of both legal tradition and common sense. So it’s simply false to suggest that pro-choicers believe in magical moments. They don’t. They simply acknowledge that the legal system always has to create lines in the sand to make laws clear and thus enforceable. That is not anti-science, since they use science to help draw those lines, but they are legal lines, not intended to be defined by the moveable goalposts of science, except as far as viability outside the womb goes.
The transformation from fetus to “person” is a legal one, and it takes place at birth because that has been the human legal tradition for thousands of years. Personhood, mind you, is a legal concept, not a scientific one. It has no meaning in science, but it does in law. The rights of persons, legally, are quite different from the rights of non-persons, which includes fetuses and embryos.



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Hector

posted July 7, 2010 at 9:51 pm


Broken Yogi,
I don’t know just what you mean by ‘thousands of years’, but the Christian church held starting in the first century that abortion was homicide. There was some doubt raised, under unfortunate Aristotelian influence in the high middle ages, about exactly when it became homicide, but the earliest Christian viewpoint on this matter was the same as it is today, i.e. that abortion is homicide. You can plausibly make some health exceptions, I think- Christianity grew out of Judaism and Judaism does recognize health exceptions- but that’s it.
The pagan Greeks and Romans did widely practice abortion, so perhaps that’s what you’re referring to. Unfortunately, they also practiced any number of other horrid things, so I don’t think you want to go there.



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Broken Yogi

posted July 7, 2010 at 9:55 pm


Since I’m a contrarian liberal, I’ll disagree with your first statement and agree with the second:
“1. Climate change is happening, and it’s due to increased carbon dioxide from human activity.”
I’m of the view that climate is always changing, and that there is nothing abnormal about the current climate and its changes that requires any anthropogenic driver, nor does it suggest some extreme result in the future of dramatic warming. Increased CO2 undoubtedly contributes a small degree of warmth to whatever the climate would be without it, but it’s not a significant driver of what we see going on now, or in the future, and the dire warnings we hear all about us are not based in genuinely verified and proven science, but on highly speculative hypotheses that have powerful emotional appeal, even to scientists.
“2. The life history of a diploid biological organism (including, you know, humans) begins at conception.”
Of course the life of a new organism begins at conception. But that does not make the new organism a “person”, nor are such organisms imbued by our Creator with the rights of born persons. Science has no concept of “personhood”, so using science to establish such a thing is a perversion of science. Whatever one’s moral stance on the treatment of such immature organisms is, it’s not scientific to refer to them as “persons”.



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kevin s.

posted July 7, 2010 at 10:03 pm


@NNMS
“Now as to Hector’s post, fortunately there’s the Roe v. Wade decision, which accomplishes much of what Hector seems worried about. It does allow states to give more protection to the more developed fetus than to the less developed zygote or blastocyst or embryo. Thus giving a reasonable amount of protection to the unarguably human woman and her family. It’s a very wise decision.”
Or, would be, if we constitution tasked the Supreme Court with making such distinctions, and if everyone agreed that such distinctions should be made. Alas, all you can really say is that you agree that an embryo does not deserve protection, and you are excited about any decision that inures to your conclusion. This is neither scientific nor interesting.
“1. Climate change is happening, and it’s due to increased carbon dioxide from human activity.”
This is the consensus, since most scientists personally believe it to be true. However, I have yet to see anyone suggest that climate change is solely the product of human activity. The crucial question, and one science has yet to answer (rather than assert) is to what extent humans are involved, and what we can now do about it.



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Broken Yogi

posted July 7, 2010 at 10:04 pm


Hector,
I’m not familiar with first century Christian theology in regards to abortion and homicide, but I am familiar with the general legal tradition throughout the world of considering only those born to be actual “persons” with legal standing. Let me remind you that theology is not the same as legality, and I don’t know that in any historical setting abortion has been legally treated the same as murder. There may be a few exceptions that prove the rule, but the rule is how it has been through human history. And certainly our own constitution describes the rights of those who are born, and not of the unborn. It’s perfectly fine to outlaw abortion if there’s enough votes for that (constitutional amendment required, however), but it’s a terrible idea to do it by conferring actual legal rights on the fetus.



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Franklin Evans

posted July 7, 2010 at 10:54 pm


Clearly, whatever one thinks of this [or any, FE] issue, the scientists involved are not objective.
Yes, Yogi. And that’s why the scientific method, by design, requires things like falsifiability, peer review and repeated experiments by scientists other than those promoting the issue.
With respect, the real issue of climate change is non-scientists, lead by politicians and abetted by some scientists, opining and emoting about the issue to support pet agendas.
I’m less cynical about that than my tone would indicate. Humans, and my own fellow citizens in particular, seem unable to make decisions that are not forced on them by catastrophic proofs.



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sj

posted July 7, 2010 at 11:14 pm


s Saletan further laments, this officially sanctioned lie by ACOG formed the basis for subsequent jurisprudence on partial-birth abortion. In other words, the law of the land stands on outright falsehoods propagated by medical scientists.
Saletan doesn’t say that at all — rather he comments “These charges [of deception] are exaggerated. The sentence Kagan added was hypothetical. It didn’t assert, alter, or conceal any data. Nor did it “override a scientific finding,” as National Review alleges, or “trump” ACOG’s conclusions, as Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, contends. Even Power Line, a respected conservative blog, acknowledges that ACOG’s draft and Kagan’s edit “are not technically inconsistent.” Kagan didn’t override ACOG’s scientific judgments. She reframed them.”
Saletan’s real concern is that judges take political statements like ACOG’s and treat them like scientific fact. He believes that they do so out of naivete. Working as a lawyer in the medico-legal field, I think Saletan is naive — judges know what they’re getting when they get statements like ACOG’s and they happily seize upon them to provide the support for the position they were inclined to take already.



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Broken Yogi

posted July 8, 2010 at 12:48 am


Seem to have lost a post.
Responding to FE, yes, I agree that science requires falsifiability. But that’s part of the problem with AGW theory – it has no clear falsifiability standard. It seems able to classify virtually every kind of climate data as compatible with its theory. If it gets hot, cold, wet, dry, you name it, it can all be explained by greenhouse gases. What, may I ask, would actually falsify it? And yes, has it actually been independently verified? Or verified at all? Can we verify a prediction about the future? Can we verify a prediction about the future based on hypotheticals not demonstrably proven in the present?



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nnmns

posted July 8, 2010 at 8:17 am


We can verify the effect of greenhouse gasses, which we are adding to our air in great quantities over long periods of time. We can verify that it’s getting warmer faster overall. We can run varieties of the best available models and their consensus is that what we are doing does bad things to the climate.
And in another arena we can acknowledge oil and coal companies and their investors (the short sighted ones, anyway) have a vested interest in keeping their use high and a lot of money they are spending to accomplish that and we can acknowledge conservative commentators often shill for companies. I don’t know whether anyone has followed the money from oil interests to the conservative propaganda machine but it would be incredibly foolish to assume it doesn’t exist.



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nnmns

posted July 8, 2010 at 8:36 am


“How trustworthy are scientists anyway?”
On average a lot more trustworthy than religious leaders or politicians, especially conservative politicians who have the discipline to follow the party line to power, wherever else it may lead.



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Rod DReher

posted July 8, 2010 at 9:52 am


My answer to that, nnmns, is in my original post:
On the BBC debate, one listener wrote that of course we should trust scientists, because our only other choice is to trust religious leaders, which is obviously (in his view) unacceptable. That’s plainly a false choice, but one that seems normal to many people — as if to be skeptical of what scientists claim is therefore to endorse religion, and vice versa. Absurd. What we should be skeptical of is anything human beings touch, because everybody has motives for spinning facts.



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TTT

posted July 8, 2010 at 9:55 am


Scientists are already perfectly open about their RESEARCH. They do not need to be more open about their private emails typically written in shorthand jargon for an audience of their peers who already know the backstory, which were the items stolen in this case and then quoted out of context by professional liars and industry shills. Eco-denialists should be more open about their objections to climate science being based entirely on a cultish anti-science ideology and not any amount of evidence in either direction.
As for Bailey, clearly he’s still embarassed about having had to admit that AGW is real after having spent about 15 years denying it, and so he’s trying to get his licks in afterwards with ridiculous pap like this:
Consider the overwhelming consensus among researchers that biotech crops are safe for humans and the environment—a conclusion that is rejected by the very environmentalist organizations that loudly insist on the policy relevance of the scientific consensus on global warming.
No, frankly, let’s NOT consider it. You cannot consider the fundraising folderol from activist groups to be part of the scholarly consensus of researchers publishing within peer-reviewed journals. It’s like holding dentists and their consensus acknowledgments of which teeth go where responsible for a Crest ad campaign. Bailey knows better, and if he doesn’t, shame on him.
Bailey is also 100% wrong about ozone depletion–I have no idea whatsoever how he can even try in good conscience to say the consensus was off-the-mark. The link between CFCs and ozone depletion was incontrovertibly proven.
If you want to talk about alarmist rabble-rousers, let’s go back and look at all the libertarians and anti-science types in the early ’90s who were sure that the Montreal Accords on ozone-destroying chemicals were actually part of a socialist global takeover designed to destroy our economy and force us back to living in caves.
See this link, then ask yourself if it sounds like every AGW “skeptic” today: http://www.wunderground.com/education/ozone_skeptics.asp
Gosh, remind me what the economy of the ’90s actually was? The companies that make dishwashers and air conditioners switched to different chemicals, the rate of increase of CFC emissions slowed (which is all anybody ever claimed to be able to achieve), and everybody went on with their lives. The Chicken Little apocalyptic hysteria of conservative economists and industry shills in the face of every new piece of proposed environmental legislation is as repetitive as it is shameful.



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meh

posted July 8, 2010 at 11:05 am


John Derbyshire: Trust Science (But Don’t Trust Scientists)



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Abelard Lindsey

posted July 8, 2010 at 12:20 pm


Zzzzz,
I stand by my point. At least half of all published papers are fraudulent. 95% of all government-funded research never leads to any meaningful commercial technological innovation. The big science programs, in particular, (NASA, Tokamak fusion, 99% of all medical research) are completely politicized and therefor worthless. Also, the peer-review process is highly political as well.
I will have more later. But I will say if there is to be government-funding of research, it should be in the form of X-prizes rather than direct finance. X-prizes pay for results. Examples of X-prizes would be for the development of commercial fusion power, various milestones in commercial space development, and curing aging and development of regeneration in humans (e.g. make humans with hydra-like regeneration capability) and maybe the development of sentient AI.



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Broken Yogi

posted July 8, 2010 at 2:45 pm


“We can verify the effect of greenhouse gasses, which we are adding to our air in great quantities over long periods of time. We can verify that it’s getting warmer faster overall. We can run varieties of the best available models and their consensus is that what we are doing does bad things to the climate.”
But has any of this been verfied? yes, the earth has warmed by about 0.8C over the last 129 years, which coincides with our industrial age CO2 increase, but is it verified that this is a causal relationship? What would the temperature of the earth be without the CO2 increase? Would it have gone up anyway? Previous to this period, the earth was in the “Little Ice Age”, a cold period, and previous to that, it was in the Medieval Warm Period, which even Jones of CRU says was probably as warm or warmer than the present. None of those warmings or coolings were due to greenhouse gases. Why shouldn’t the current warming be due to similar natural causes? And have scientists actually verified the source of this current warming? Well, drum roll please. No, they have not. And are these computer models actually accurate? Well, no, they are not. They have virtually no predictive value. So where does this “consensus” come from. It’s basically “we like this particular theory, even though we can’t prove it”.
And saying it’s getting warmer faster is simply not true. It was getting warmer faster in the 1980s and 90s, but for the last decade it’s been slowing down, flattening, or even going slightly down, depending on the scale and the data sources you use. Even Jones admits that there’s been no statistically significant warming for the last 15 years. So it’s not getting warmer faster. You hear stories like this but the facts state something different.
As for TTT’s assertion that the scientists in the email scandal were perfectly open about their research, just not their emails, this is also patently and obviously untrue. They had been fighting the release of their research data for a decade, and refused to make it public in spite of the fact that there is a legal process of Freedom of Information Act that requires that publically funded research be open and available to the public. They were not only in defiance of the law, but in defiance of the scientific principle of making their research available for inspection, criticism, and yes, verification and duplication, which is part of the scientific method. They’ve gotten a lot of criticism from scientists around the world for this lack of openness. Even before this unauthorized release of info (which looks, on the face of it, to have been compiled internally as a preliminary gathering of material related to the FOIA requests), Briffa was forced to release some of his tree-ring data by a scientific publication which he had published a paper in, which requires that all researchers make public their data, in line with standard scientific protocol. So Briffa was forced to release data he had witheld for years, and which showed a truly terrible method of cherry-picking tree ring data in order to support the AGW idea. So let’s not pretend this is all standard science. It isn’t. Science isn’t perfect, but it’s supposed to have safeguards against manipulation by making its research open to others, especially to critics who want to disprove one’s theories.



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TTT

posted July 8, 2010 at 3:22 pm


Previous to this period, the earth was in the “Little Ice Age”, a cold period, and previous to that, it was in the Medieval Warm Period
No it wasn’t. Both of those were regional phenomena, of which we are disproportionately aware because that region happened to be Western Europe.
Briffa… showed a truly terrible method of cherry-picking tree ring data in order to support the AGW idea
No he didn’t. He released a perfectly standard and defensible data series and was then slandered groundlessly by conspiracy cranks, simply because he’s in this field. No different from 9/11Truthers claiming every latest architect and engineer is “in on it”.
http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/09/hey-ya-mal/



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Heather

posted July 8, 2010 at 3:31 pm


“…curing aging and development of regeneration in humans (e.g. make humans with hydra-like regeneration capability…”
How about asking science to do something possible??
The issue I have with non-scientific people criticising scientists is that they don’t have any idea what they are talking about. Read up. THEN try and criticize. Often misconstruances and issues come up from non-scientists not understanding what they are talking about. If you want to criticize the details then you need to at least basically understand them. If you don’t want to then you need to trust that those who do are acting ethically.
To me we need greater ethics in science. With that comes honesty and accuracy and all that that entails.



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Broken Yogi

posted July 8, 2010 at 3:48 pm


“No it wasn’t. Both of those were regional phenomena, of which we are disproportionately aware because that region happened to be Western Europe.”
And you know this how? Through Mann and Briffa’s discredited tree-ring proxies? Even Jones how admits these were not local, regional phenomena, and lots of research around the world shows similar results. You are just repeating propaganda, and pretending its actually been verified.
And Briffa’s tree rings and the data behind them have been widely exposed as completely misleading, and now most researchers agree that tree ring data is highly unreliable. Even the IPCC says you can’t trust it to reconstruct old temperatures from the LIA or MWP. And you rely of course on “RealClimate”, which is an environmental lobbying group run by Joe Romm, a notorious political operative, not a scientist, who can’t tolerate any criticism on his site. And this is why science is deemed not trustworthy by many, if you needed to know.



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Franklin Evans

posted July 8, 2010 at 4:11 pm


Ahoy, Yogi. I didn’t have time today to keep up with this thread (too much fun up-blog, dontchyaknow), so I just wanted to request that when you make such strong assertions, you try to do at least a general citation. You’re open to the same challenges you are issuing.
And if you have time and inclination for a more specific citation, this is the one I’d like to see you back up:
But that’s part of the problem with AGW theory – it has no clear falsifiability standard.
Unless you are a climatologist yourself, I must (respectfully) reject that sort of assertion unless you can prove it. Sorry.



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TTT

posted July 8, 2010 at 4:22 pm


Yogi, RealClimate has nothing to do with Joe Romm. He runs an entirely different website, and that is a matter of elementary documentary fact. Don’t let that stand in the way of your talking points though.



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Broken Yogi

posted July 8, 2010 at 5:09 pm


TTT,
You’re partially right. Romm directly runs the ClimateProgress site. But RealClimate was created by Romm’s lobbying concern, and its efforts are coordinated with Romm’s ClimateProgress at the Progressive Think Tank “Center For American Progress” The point is, this isn’t independent science, it’s a lobbying and PR concern trying to promote AGW-based political policies. RealClimate is the “science beard” for this effort.
Now, mind you I have nothing against people pursuing their various political interests. I’m a liberal progressive on most issues myself. But science isn’t a political enterprise, and it only gets corrupted when it is made into one.
FE,
This isn’t the place to do a full blown scientific analysis of the AGW theory with cites and so forth. In any case, I was merely asking others here to tell me what is the falsifiability standard for the AGW theory. I guess you don’t know of one, or you’d say. I don’t know of one either, and I’ve at least looked. You’re the one who said science requires falsifiability, and I’m just pointing out that we aren’t seeing the AGW hypothesis put forward with any kind of falsifiability standard built into the theory. If you can point me to one I’d be very happy to check it out.
My sense of things is that even if temps fail to go up as predicted, we’ll see a new wave of AGW apologetics to explain it, and promising that some catastrophic rise is “in the pipeline”. In fact, they’ve already made that claim about the current plateauing of temps. Scientists who devote their lives and careers to a particular hypothesis tend never to let go of it.



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Franklin Evans

posted July 8, 2010 at 7:12 pm


Thanks, Yogi, and point taken. Your assertion as phrased does not look like that sort of question, so I hope I can be forgiven for not seeing it as one. Also, while I agree about this forum, some sort of reference would appropriate, something that has a reputation better than a website founded by a lobbyist… a sentiment I happen to share with you on that score.
Science is not monolithic, as I’m assuming you know at least as well as I do. The other aspect of your phrasing with which I have issue is implied absolutes, and that is not how such things work in the real world. It’s expressed as degree of confidence. One could say, even laymen such as us, that the degree of confidence in AGW is low. I can stand behind that sort of statement. But I just can’t sit still for any layperson critiquing the details of scientific research with absolute phrasing.
There is no “standard” of falsifiability. It either exists, or it doesn’t. Science makes room for plausibility, like the big bang theory. It has a terrible “standard”, as I think you mean that qualifier. It may see in the next year or so a drastic reversal of that degree of confidence if the Large Hadron Collider performs as hoped.
The other thing about weather and climate in general is that it is almost entirely dependent on statistics gathering and analysis. The balance to that is the longevity of the effort, and the constant effort to refine the analysis as that time period grows longer. As an illustration (and not assuming you don’t know this, playing to the house as it were), when you see or hear “and there’s a X% chance” in a forecast, it is based on a simple foundation: Of all the days in this region with the anticipated conditions during the forecast period, X is the proportion of days where the predicted event happened. If the forecast is for tomorrow, then the next future date for which those conditions apply might see a slightly adjusted percentage in the forecast depending on what actually happens.
One cannot see falsifiability in that, because it’s built in. People who don’t understand weather forecasting see it as hedging bets or just blowing smoke. Those people are just plain wrong. Just a thought.



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Franklin Evans

posted July 8, 2010 at 7:32 pm


Scientists who devote their lives and careers to a particular hypothesis tend never to let go of it.
Missed that the first time around, Yogi. That in a nutshell describes the final two chapters of plate tectonics, as it went from an official laughingstock theory to the pre-eminent uber-theory for geology. Granted, earthquake and volcano eruption prediction is in its infancy (and not even close to crawling yet), but I think if the science of geology survived the transition to plate tectonics, meteorology and climatology will survive the current controversy over AGW.



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Broken Yogi

posted July 8, 2010 at 7:56 pm


FE,
I like what you say about confidence levels, and I agree that these things are always expressed as a percentage of certainty that’s inherently under 1.0. And that’s the problem with conflating all scientific theories as being “settled science”. The confidence level of various aspects of science is all over the place. And likewise, the standards for falsifiability are all over the place. We have a very, very, very high degree of confidence in various theories about motion, mechanics, gravity, quantum mechanics, etc. Why? Because they offer very precise predictions that have been very precisely matched in experiment after experiment, and in nature as well. With climate science, this isn’t the case. It’s different than weather predictions, but the complexity is so immense and the lack of experimental data and historical data creates so many areas of uncertainty and a lack of verification that our models are just not reliable.
I don’t mind that uncertainty, it’s just part of the landscape, and science does what it can under such conditions. But what it shouldn’t do is pretend that it actually knows with some gut level degree of confidence that this is true, and that it’s therefore “settled science” if enough scientists agree. For example, the earlier IPCC report characterized it’s degree of confidence in its scientific predictions as “60%”, and then a few years later it increased this number to “90%” But it didn’t explain how it calculated those numbers. In effect, it merely pulled them out of its ass.
In a different circumstance, you probably hear every year or two about astronomers discovering some comet or asteroid that might be on a collision course with earth. And they will usually say something like, “It has a 1 in 1000 chance of hitting the earth, or coming within X number of miles of earth”. In these cases, there’s an actual calculation of the certainty, based on gravitional and orbital calculations, in which they actually know what these uncertainties are, and as the object keeps coming closer than can refine their calculations and narrow the uncertainty. But in climate, there is no such calculation, there’s just a bunch of guys reviewing the data and making an educated guess that is slanted in the direction of their own particular hypothesis. Others, not wedded to that hypothesis, would calculate the confidence level quite differently.
As for falsifiability, most theories have some pretty clear and obvious standards for falsification. Einstein’s general theory of relativity made precise predictions about the gravitational bending of light that, if measurements had come up with a different number, would have falsified his theory. Instead, it helped verify it. As did all kinds of other measurements and predictions. So yes, there really are standards of falsifiability, there really is such a thing as an hypothesis making unique and precise predictions that can be judged by actual data. But with AGW climate theory, this isn’t the case. The range of predictions made by climate models is within a range of at least 4 to 1, meaning virtually any kind of warming at all is within its range, including no warming at all, because they will posit unknown heat sinks somewhere in the model that accounts for a lack of warming, or even cooling. I really can’t see how anything other than an ice age would falsify AGW theory, and even then they’d probably blame it on greenhouse gases (as in that crazy ass movie of a few years ago).
I really wouldn’t mind it if these scientists just humbly said, we have reasons to be concerned about greenhouse gases, even if we don’t know what’s actually going on. That’s a fair statement. But instead, we get these very authoritative voices telling us the world is most certainly coming to an end with devastating warming if we don’t immediately begin drastically lowering our CO2 production. That’s just a perversion of the true confidence level of current climate science. Nor does it acknowledge the greater likelihood that our current warming is just part of the usual natural cyclical trend that comes and goes, and is not of any serious concern to us. That wouldn’t create headlines or drive billions of dollars into climate research. It’s not too hard to see how these things become self-perpetuating.



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Broken Yogi

posted July 8, 2010 at 8:06 pm


FE,
Yes, the comparison to plate tectonics is apt. And yes, of course climate science will survive this current mess, however it turns out. But the arguments of geologists were hardly front page news driving the politics of the world for decades on end. If this whole AGW thesis turns out to be hokum, it’s going to really poison public perception of the reliability of science altogether. What will evolutionary biologists be able to say about their confidence in evolution that people won’t be able to toss aside and say, “yeah, you guys said the same thing about global warming”. It becomes a body who cried wolf problem. Back-tracking from the current level of hysteria and exaggeration is going to be really, really hard. So I’m not so sure the public perception of science is going to survive well, even if science itself adjusts as always.



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nnmns

posted July 8, 2010 at 8:47 pm


We can sure hope the whole AGW thesis turns out to be hokum, but it would be foolish to expect it, based on the evidence for the thesis, and it is stupid to act as if it’s hokum because of the costs.
If we act as if all those greenhouse gasses we’re pouring into the air are actually causing significant warming (and acidifying the oceans), and find ways to cut them down, we’ll have learned a lot, we’ll have cleaner air and we’ll have accomplished an important goal as a world. Those are all good things. Oh, and some companies and some people (B.Y.?) may have to take a bit less profit for their oil and coal.
On the other hand if, as the evidence suggests (more accurately, shouts) the AGW thesis is basically correct but we fail to act, then the oceans rise some feet, cities and farmlands drown and millions of people are displaced. Temperature rises cause water systems that depend on winter storage of water as snow fail, causing immense water shortages and crop failures. Hotter temps cause deaths and require air conditioning using up more energy, putting more carbon into the air (positive feedback). Species die for a variety of reasons related to advanced seasons and hotter temps. Water wars ensue. And if things go really badly the human race dies.
So I fail to see why any sensible person would not act to prevent the unthinkable. Unless of course greed has overcome sense.



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nnmns

posted July 8, 2010 at 8:51 pm


Oh, and Rod, if you are still following this, regarding your July 8, 2010 9:52 AM response to my comment that scientists are more trustworthy than religious leaders and especially conservative politicians, on average, that was in response to the title of your column not to any suggestion one has to believe scientists or religious leaders or, gods help us, conservative politicians.



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MH

posted July 8, 2010 at 11:20 pm


nnmns, to my knowledge very few scientists have been caught railing against homosexuals only to be caught looking for gay sex on the side. But we’ve had three clergymen and two conservative politicians caught doing that. The mind reels.



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Broken Yogi

posted July 9, 2010 at 12:03 am


nnms,
You’re just speculating, as are the scientists you claim have the evidence to back them up. You can speculate in both directions. If the weather cools, it will also kill many people. Does that mean if it starts to cool, we need to increase greenhouse gas production? What is the perfect temperature for the earth anyway? Do you really think if we cut down on greenhouse gases that the climate won’t keep on changing? And yes, some of what you say about rising temps is true, but none of that demonstrates that humans are causing temps to go up. We didn’t cause temps to go up during the MWP, when it was warmer than it is now, and I populations around the world rose during that time, so it couldn’t have been all bad.
And yes, I’m making millions from oil and gas companies. You can count on it. Why else would I be talking like this? (I guess conspiracy theories are okay if the targets are oil companies and not climate scientists).
The fact is, if we act as if the greenhouse gases we pour into the air are the cause of the temperature rise, and they actually aren’t, it won’t help a darned bit to reduce them. And that’s the problem. According to AGW theory, the reduction we would have to undertake to actually make a difference are huge and costly and would cost millions and even billions of lives, because a lot of people depend on fossil fuel energy for their lives and economies. So don’t pretend there’s no serious human downside to radical action. Acting in the PC manner here is not cost-free, and the people who will pay the biggest costs aren’t the fat cats, it’s the poor of the world who are already on the edge.
The basic economics of this situation tell us that NOT dramatically reducing fossil fuels, but instead helping poor countries cope with climate problems regardless of the cause, will make a better world. The most likely fix for these problems are all in the area of new energy sources and new technology, the development of which would actually be slowed down by reducing our energy economy, rather than speeded up. In the long run, we certainly do have to replace fossil fuels, but the smart way to do that is gradually and through a growing economy, not by going back to pre-industrial economies.



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nnmns

posted July 9, 2010 at 4:17 am


“Does that mean if it starts to cool, we need to increase greenhouse gas production?”
Well if we did we’d sure know how, wouldn’t we.
“Do you really think if we cut down on greenhouse gases that the climate won’t keep on changing?”
No doubt the climate would change a bit but we would no longer be driving it in the direction of hotter and hotter by our activities.
“According to AGW theory, the reduction we would have to undertake to actually make a difference are huge”
Yes, they are. And just throwing up your hands and saying “I give up, oh, wait the problem’s not there after all!” does no good. We owe it to our children and to their children to do all we can to solve this problem we and our parents and grandparents have been creating. You are doing all you can to keep it from being solved. I will get no joy in saying “I told you so.”
“Acting in the PC manner here is not cost-free, and the people who will pay the biggest costs aren’t the fat cats, it’s the poor of the world who are already on the edge.”
Yes, for starters a lot of them will never be able to drive SUV’s. They may have to keep riding bicycles or taking trains. Oh, the horror. Sure it would be to their benefit if they could have boundless energy to live as they’d like. It would be to our benefit if we could too. But no one said it’s a fair world and it’s sure not a Garden of Eden. Perhaps you and I have lived through the best times of the human race in one of the best places or perhaps through ingenuity we’ll find better ways to live greener. But if we pretend the world can go on as we have everyone will have a bad future.
“helping poor countries cope with climate problems regardless of the cause, will make a better world.”
A world full of that will be needed. And maybe you can guess how much will be delivered. It’s going to become a really dog-eat-dog world out there. The more we can throttle this monster down the less of that there will be.
I absolutely agree we need new energy sources and new technology. But the oil industry isn’t interested in green energy sources if they can’t profit from them in their economic model. Are there profits to be made from green energy sources? You betcha! Will the oil and coal companies try to corner some and keep others off the market? Absolutely. And are those industries funding AGW deniers? Of course they are. Willie Soon, George Marshall Institute, Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine. Anything with those names related is poison. I hope you haven’t been taking poison.



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Broken Yogi

posted July 9, 2010 at 2:35 pm


Nnmns,
“No doubt the climate would change a bit but we would no longer be driving it in the direction of hotter and hotter by our activities.”
A bit? You think climate has been some kind of stable constant even in historical times? Good God, man, are you that unaware of the variations even within the current holocene, much less the ice ages themselves? Climate goes up and down and sideways and it dwarfs our human influence upon it. Yes, cutting down on greenhouse gases could have a tiny effect, but not a significant one.
“And just throwing up your hands and saying “I give up, oh, wait the problem’s not there after all!” does no good. “
If the problem really isn’t there, then yes, it does a lot of good to not waste one’s time, energy, and wealth on it. Those can be devoted to other things that really do benefit mankind, rather than merely hurt it. And AGW is a problem that we have no real certainty actually exists. It rests on the fact that over the last forty years temps have gone up a few tenths of a degree, and the idea that only human activities could account for that. It’s a prime example of confusing correlation and causation. It’s bad scientific reasoning.
“We owe it to our children and to their children to do all we can to solve this problem we and our parents and grandparents have been creating. You are doing all you can to keep it from being solved. I will get no joy in saying “I told you so.”
We owe it to our children to get it right, not to act hysterically like Chicken Little. I am doing what I can to make sure we get it right. And I will get a lot of joy in saying “I told you so”, because it will mean that we are not facing some climate catastrophe. And you will be embarrassed, but also happy, I hope, unless you are so committed to the ideology of AGW that you can’t see how much better the world will be in not having to orient ourselves around a fictitious problem.
“Yes, for starters a lot of them will never be able to drive SUV’s.They may have to keep riding bicycles or taking trains. Oh, the horror.”
Now, THAT is a truly ignorant statement. As if the world’s vast poor’s only suffering is not enjoying luxury items. You are simply ignoring how many human being are killed by poverty every year, in very simple ways. It will mean little or no electricity for billions, little or no clean water, medicine, food, all kinds of things that economic activity brings. Higher energy costs will be disproportionately born by the poor, not the rich, and it will cost many of them their lives. Why isn’t that important to you?
The fact is, fossil fuels are used so much because they are cheap and efficient. Green energy is not, as of yet. It probably will be in a few decades, but not now. The smart way to go about this is to keep using cheap fuels to help the world grow, and spend a lot on energy research until the green stuff catches up. The natural course of industrial evolution, I think, will move away from fossil fuels on its own, if we keep it growing. If it contracts, that actually slows down this evolution. There’s lots of good reasons to move away from fossil fuels over time that have nothing to do with AGW. Check out the Gulf, for example.
“The more we can throttle this monster down the less of that there will be.”
Actually, this is simply wrong. The more we throttle down economic growth and efficiency, the more constraints we put on future development of any kind, including green energy. If there really were some catastrophe on the horizon, it would of course be necessary in any case, but intelligent evaluation tells us pretty easily that we simply aren’t facing catastrophe. Even the IPCC’s estimates show no more than 2C temp increases and 18” of sea level increase over the next century, during which time we will likely move away from fossil fuels in any case, both through technological innovation and increased extraction costs (peak oil, anyone?) And I don’t even believe those estimates. The climate models that I think make the most sense, based on ocean current and other natural cycles, suggest we are in for a mild cooling period for the next 50 years.
What the oil industry thinks makes no difference to me. I’ve never heard of the sources you mention, and I don’t care if they can make a profit off green energy or not. What I do know is that scams like cap and trade will simply allow these Enron types to make even bigger profits than before. And yes, they are investing money in green tech, which is good, and a sign that the profit motive isn’t all bad. And whatever funding they give to some skeptics has no bearing on whether AGW is a real concern or not. Does the fact that scientists have a huge incentive to produce research supporting AGW or they won’t get grants and funding concern you? Probably not, but it should.



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nnmns

posted July 9, 2010 at 4:32 pm


Ok let’s start at the end in case nobody else got there.
“Does the fact that scientists have a huge incentive to produce research supporting AGW or they won’t get grants and funding concern you?”
What “fact”? That’s a baseless claim. There’s a ton of money from the oil and coal industry to finance anti-AGW claims (much like yours, as it happens). There’s no corresponding financing for AGW beliefs, so it was necessary to make something up. And you have, to be charitable, swallowed it.
Now as to your implied claim progress, oil-based progress, will cure the world’s ills. Well it’s had decades to do that and they are still there. And those ills will get worse as the world gets warmer and the oceans rise, not better. Oh, and for your claims about what the IPCC says, let’s look at this from the Wikipedia article:World temperatures could rise by between 1.1 and 6.4 °C (2.0 and 11.5 °F) during the 21st century and that:
Sea levels will probably rise by 18 to 59 cm (7.08 to 23.22 in).
There is a confidence level >90% that there will be more frequent warm spells, heat waves and heavy rainfall.
There is a confidence level >66% that there will be an increase in droughts, tropical cyclones and extreme high tides.So your claim of “just” a 2C rise is way to the low end, not what you said. And they predict a minimum of 7 inches rise in sea levels, along with more cyclones and extreme high tides. More likely, to take a mid-range but still conservative number, 15 inches higher oceans by the end of the century, and 25 inches higher would not be surprising since icecap melting has been going faster than predicted. And when salt water washes onto agricultural land it’s no longer usable agricultural land.
I’m glad you brought up peak oil. The likelihood oil will dwindle naturally in the next few decades makes it even more sensible to start cutting our ties now. If we make its use more expensive now it will last longer and hurt us less when it gets really expensive. And speaking of really expensive, just what we know has happened to the Gulf of Mexico means oil as fuel is far more expensive than what’s charged for it. (But you could ask the parent of any soldier who died in the Middle East defending our access to oil.)
We’ve beaten these horses (mine alive, yours phantom) enough. I’m leaving here. I urge you, if you act on rationality instead of greed, to rethink your position.



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Broken Yogi

posted July 9, 2010 at 7:48 pm


nnmns,
Yeah, you go ride off on your white horse as the “good guy”, have fun while that fantasy lasts.
Five billion a year is spent on climate research by various sources, mostly government, and yes, that money is targeted to scientists who are pro-AGW, and it’s very, very hard to get funding if you are a skeptic. Oil and gas industry research funding? Don’t know the exact, numbers, but it’s probably about a thousandth of that.
As for the IPCC the 2C number is their “most likely” estimate, and I used a relatively “high end” estimate for sea level rise, about double that of the 20th century. And icecap melt has NOT been going faster than predicted. You are confused by arctic ice, which is floating and which, when melted, does not increase sea levels at all. Antarctic ice melt is probably negative, and greenland’s melt is so slow it is having hardly any significant effect. Most sea level rise is due to thermal expansion.
As for oil, you can’t “cut ties” with it without a backup, and we don’t have one currently. Making it more expensive than it actually is doesn’t extend its use, it just makes it cost more, since there isn’t actually an alternative.
I’m not sure how I’m acting on greed, since I don’t profit from fossil fuels, but go ahead and believe nonsense like that if it helps you sleep better at night. This is how science gets bastardized – people turn it into a form of moral righteousness rather than dispassionate observation of what’s actually occurring in the natural world.



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JAFD

posted July 12, 2010 at 9:35 am

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