I had meant to post after the holidays, but it needed airing out. Sorry for the lackadaisical editing and for making it so long... For those who don’t read me regularly, please be careful and enjoy the holidays.
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-=[ The Age of Unreason ]=-
in Times of Uncertainty
An open mind is a valuable thing, just not so open that your brains fall out.
My friend Will (Astranavigo) likes to point out what he feels is a sad but true reality: our nation (
In her work, Jacoby surveys the anti-rational landscape from reality TV and “infantainment,” videos for babies, to a pseudo-intellectual universe of “junk thought.” This vast realm of junk thought reaches from semiliterate blogs of all political persuasions to institutions of so-called higher education that offer that do not require students to obtain a thorough grounding in American and world history, science, and literature. Throughout our culture, contempt for logic and evidence is fostered by the infotainment media from television to the Web; aggressive anti-rational religious fundamentalism; poor public education; the intense politicization of intellectuals themselves.
The consequences are numerous and far-reaching. If you’re wondering how junk science such as creationism and the deniers of anthropogenic global warming get traction, look no further than this unreason posing as “skepticism.” I recently posted a blog that mentioned the consensus on anthropogenic global warming (AGW), the theory that global warming is caused by human activity. One respondent called it a hoax, others chimed in that the science is “uncertain” and “subjective.”
Let me be clear about this: nothing could be further from the truth. The scientific consensus on AGW is almost as unanimous as the science can get. Certainties are rare in science. Even the appearance of the sun over the horizon tomorrow morning can be reduced to a question of probability. On the question of climate change, scientists say they are more than 90 percent sure that it’s happening and that humans are responsible. If you knew anything about science, or ever worked on a research project, that last statement would awe you.
Sure, you just never know, but scientists embrace that kind of skepticism. It’s through doubting certainties of the world (the flatness of the earth, the utility of bloodletting) that scientists advance human knowledge. But no serious scientist will stand up and denounce a widely accepted scientific theory without making a verifiable argument to the contrary. Yet, that’s what some participants in this forum are doing. They are not scientists; are not experts on climate science, nor have they been published in a peer-reviewed journal, but they will tell you that I am a bully because I shove this scientific consensus in their face.
I just don’t abide quackery, nor those who would promote it. While it may be true (but highly improbable) that someone might come out disproving evolutionary theory or show that the world is flat, I don’t see that happening any time soon and if deferring to scientific knowledge is a form of “hero worship” or “bullying,” then, yup, that’s me!
Scientists -- real scientists -- bind themselves to a strict set of standards, setting out their theories and experiments carefully, subjecting them to review by other credible scholars who are knowledgeable in their field, and publishing their findings in reputable journals such as Science and Nature. The people who approach the science of climate change with that kind of integrity have agreed on its underlying premise for years.
The French physicist Joseph Fourier first postulated the greenhouse effect in 1824. In the 1850s, the Irish physicist John Tyndall figured out a way to test and measure the capacity of various gases to absorb and transmit radiant energy. By 1858, he effectively proved Fourier’s theory. At the end of the century -- the 19th century -- the Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius advanced the theory even further. Arrhenius, considered the father of physical chemistry, was the first to predict that humans might actually increase the temperature of the earth by burning fossil fuels and increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Over the last two hundred years, humans have been digging fossil fuels and setting fire to them, reintroducing the carbon to oxygen and releasing the resulting carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.
Arrhenius estimated that a doubling of the atmospheric carbon dioxide would increase Earth’s temperature by 3.8 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a remarkable bit of science considering that the most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that a doubling of carbon dioxide will increase global temperature between 3.6 and 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit. What is unnerving is that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen since 1850 by more than one third and we’re on track of reaching Arrhenius’s doubling by sometime the middle of this century.
The science progressed on through the 1960s and by the 1970s, scientists were getting nervous, beginning to speak as one voice. In 1979, a
I offer all this as a way of contextualizing the subject matter. I am neither a scientist nor a historian, and I have no intention of jumping into the “scientific debate.” Someone on my previous post mentioned that attaining a grasp of this issue is almost possible, but that’s patently untrue. You can go online and read the Assessment Report of the IPCC, a scientific collaboration of unprecedented breadth, depth, and reputation. You can Google Elizabeth Kolbert’s brilliant New Yorker series, The Climate of
My point, however, is that no one seems to be confused about climate change. As far as the scientific bodies of the world are concerned, as in the theory of gravity, the question of the flatness of the earth, and evolutionary theory, the consensus exists, not because a band of wild-haired pencil-necked academics want to take over the world on some presumed conspiracy, but because the science has answered the question.
With each new experiment, each new report, with each new article published in legitimate peer-reviewed scientific journals, the science community became more certain. Naomi Oreske tested the question of consensus in a paper she published in the journal Science in 2005. Oreskes searched the vast ISI Web of Knowledge for refereed scientific journal articles on global climate change that were published between 1993 and 2003. She analyzed them on the basis of whether they supported, contradicted, or took no position on the consensus that the human release of greenhouse gases was causing climate change -- and not a single study took exception with the consensus position.
So, while there are those here who claim otherwise, the fact of the matter contradicts their statements. I don’t know about you, but if I want a medical opinion I don’t go to the shoemaker down the street.
What has happened in the last 20 years is that the mainstream press has presented the issuewith a false sense of “balance.” The brothers Jules and Max Boykoff, published an article in the peer-reviewed Journal of Environmental Change in 2003 titled “Balance as Bias: Global Warming and the U.S. Prestige Press.” they searched the libraries of four “prestige” newspapers in the United States -- The New York times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times -- and analyzed their coverage of climate between 1998 and 2002. They found that while the scientific press was coming down to 928 to zero in accepting climate change, in 53 percent of their stories these four newspapers quoted a scientist on “one side” of the issue and spokesperson on the other.
I say spokesperson rather than scientist for legitimate reasons. First, the deniers were very often not scientists, but rather political ideologues or self-appointed “experts” (not unlike some here) from think tanks. Secondly, even when the experts had scientific credentials, in most of the cases those cred3entials were not relevant to the topic at hand. The experts were geologists or economists commenting outside their field of expertise, not climate scientists reporting on up to date peer-reviewed science.
In matters involving social policy, such as abortion or economic strategies, this isn’t such a bad thing. Science, ion the other hand, is a discipline in which there legitimate experts, people whose knowledge is weighed and measured by their scientific peers. This is the process people use, for example, to decide a surgical procedure or the structural strength of a new alloy. If I were to come to you and suggest that inserting my penis into your rectum is a good surgical procedure for your sore throat, would you accept my theory? If not then why are we accepting the nonsense being thrown around by public relations entities, pundits, and bloggers who know nothing of the subject, let alone the process of the scientific method?
And if I refuse to listen to pointless diatribes about “democracy in science” (science is beholden only to the truth), or to read the contents of websites proclaiming a “climate gate” (conspiracy!) does that make me an “authoritarian,” or a “bully” or closed-minded?
If it does, then I will state here unequivocally that I am proud to wear those labels. Just go argue against creationism, evolution, or AGW somewhere else. As far as I’m concerned (and the science agrees) the relevant discussion is not whether AGW is real, but about finding effective solutions for it. When and if there is an equal, credible body of knowledge that refutes AGW, or that world is round, I will be the first to own up to it. Until then, the shoemaker? He doesn’t get to tell me the earth is flat.