Sunday, April 1, 2007

Old Lies About Global Warming Repackaged

Today’s Arkansas-Democrat Gazette contains an opinion column from Jonathan Last again suggesting that global climate change is not settled science and that Al Gore has exaggerated claims of the damage that climate change will cause. He quotes the recent New York Times article that drags up criticisms of Gore. The NYT article, which says that a few--a few--climate scientists think that some of Gore’s claims might be somewhat overstated is pretty nicely debunked here. He drags up the old claim that a study by the Max Planck Institute blames global warming on an increase in solar energy—an idea which the authors specifically refute within their study. (Click here for details.) He then quotes a couple of fringe authors to attempt to link global warming scientists with UFO-chasing nutjobs. Mighty fine “journalism,” if you ask me—much like the rest of those who argue with global climate change science, Last simply repeats old lies and half-truths, and restates tired attacks on Al Gore, without any new information.

Note, please, that Jonathan Last is not a scientist, or even a science writer. He is an ultraconservative opinion writer and on-line editor of the Weekly Standard, the neocon rag which recently ran an article claiming that there was money to be made in the “Global Warming Industrial Complex,” apparently without a hint of ironic intent. Last also writes a weekly column for the Philadelphia Inquirer, the dying daily paper recently placed under the charge of Republican activist Brian Tierney. Recent "scientific" columns by Last include attacks on the abilities of American actors and an anti-aborition screed. This is another example of why it is important that people interested in the truth surrounding scientific issues don’t get their information from pundits and columnists. Instead, if you want to know what scientists have found, and what they think, ask the scientists.


Thomas Paine said...

Hard to believe that supposedly half-way intelligent people are still holding to this position.

Christ, even Dubbya seems to be coming around to the recognition that there is something to the whole Global Warming bit -- and one would be hard-pressed to keep a straight face while calling HIM half-way intelligent.

Certainly, one can quibble with specific details, and some other scientists' forecast models might come up with somewhat different projected results, but I don't know of ANY reputable scientists with any expertise (meaning those not in the employ of the major oil companies or conservative think tanks -- oh wait, that is the same thing!) who do NOT believe that it is a serious problem.

Keifus said...

Hmm, not sure the experiment worked. Replied to you elsewhere.

hrlgf: hourglass is half-full

Keifus said...

Screw it. It was crap as a top-post anyway. Here's my reply:

When I was in engineering school, they made us take humanities classes to make us more well-rounded. Often these were scoffed at by us nerdy, techie types--sometimes they were scoffed at with reason, but sometimes they were great. (As for me, I loved that I could take literature classes and the like, especially since they only helped my gpa.) But a lot of them really were blow-offs, and one of the courses most worthy of derision was science and technology studies.

I'm kind of ambivalent about the intrinsic value of an STS department. On one hand, it was, best I could tell, staffed by dropouts from the actual science and engineering programs.* Their observations were tendentious and annoying, and if it was full of liberally-thrusted claptrap, that didn't stop it from being propaganda. (I remain annoyed at the being subjected to that PETA-like video that included veal abuse AND footage of surgery to remove arterial plaque--and then subjected to promises about consuming beef.**) But on the other hand, their futile hope was an honest one. They wanted to stress a focus of social impacts of R&D on a bunch of otherwise indifferent soon-to-be scientists and engineers, which isn't in itself a bad thing. Bad: they made me read Jeremy Rifkin. Good: they made me read Science in a generalist way.

Scientific inquiry--empiricism--is one dreaded chink in the armor of rule through condidence, a bulwark against cults of personality. It's the sunny side of American capitalism: it's not enough to scream about faith, but, well, results matter. But predicting, and even reading results takes some expertise, and faith in experts is another kind of faith. I guess the complaint that I'm leading up to here is that most people just don't know how to be skeptical. You need some observations about how society behaves to indulge in what-if scenarios, you need understanding of scientific communities (or similar communities) to criticize their social dynamic, you need some understanding of the science itself to go about shooting holes it. It's not that I support credentialism, either, but if you purport to logically refute something, then at the bare minimum you need to use acceptable fucking logic. Our bullshit detectors have been woefully underprepared as well.

I resist myself as little as anyone when it comes to attempts to puncture the delusions of naked emporers, but Jesus, I do try to take the appropriate tack, try to keep in mind that I might be wrong. Do we need something like STS for the general public, or, at least for the alleged thinkers? Despite my biases, I vote yes. Critical thinking is a lost art.


* I hate to be mean, as I thought some of them were good guys, but sitting through a "seminar" consisting of hot android chicks from science fiction covers was a little too much.
** If any sometimes-militant hippophiles are reading, I disclaim that my objection is to the delivery more than the cause.

twiffer said...

this is in response to both your and keif's post:

the "discussion" on climate change has reached the point that i simply cannot discuss it anymore. there are two major problems i have with the: it's not our fault! crowd. the first is, even if you don't ascribe to human CO2 emissions as causation, um, what in fuck's name is wrong with reducing CO2 emissions anyway?

the second is more complex and gets into the complaint you touch on: a sufficent body of knowledge and understanding is needed to discuss this topic. simply put, climate is perhaps the most complex system on our planet. nearly everything effects climate, including climate (no, that's not really a paradox. simply that it tends to be self-reinforcing.). when people bring up solar radiation levels, milankovitch cycles, water vapor, etc. and say "what about this?", they are making the mistake in assuming these factors have not been considered. they have. unfortunately, the news most are exposed to is a simplification and is focused on conclusions, not the process by which they were arrived at. the water vapor people are my favorite, as they cling to two misleading facts: atmospheric water vapor is a better insulator (greenhouse gas) than carbon dioxide and atmospheric water vapor levels were lower during the last glaciation. this is true in both cases, but it neglects the niggling fact that atmospheric water vapor levels are a function of and bounded by ambient temperature. water vapor might trap more heat, but it cannot build up to trap more because once it reaches the saturation level, it rains. this is one of the reasons we have tropical rainforests. as for lower H2O levels during global glaciation, again, temperature is the culprit. colder air holds less water. it is more likely an effect of the glaciation than a cause.

and so on, but i'm rambling. the point is that, of the myriad factors that affect climate, CO2 emissions are the variable that we know is not only increasing, but something we can control. hence the focus on our actions and responsibility for them. even if, say, increased solar radiation were the cause of the warming we're seeing, increased CO2 emissions will still exacerbate the trend. like pouring gas on a forest fire and claiming you've done no harm because it was started by a lightning strike.

Keifus said...

Thanks twiff, I didn't let it survive as a top-post--didn't feel it made even my minimal standards of interesting. So chalk the experiment up as a loss, at least this time. Your response is a great one though, and right to the point.

Much as credentialism (i.e., "I have a degree, so I'm right") can be suspect, a consensus of the scientific community is no joke, and I've seen very little honesty in the dissent. Maybe it's some basic scientific literacy I'm stumbling at an argument toward. Science is a good journal in that a reader in any scientific discipline should be able to read an article and at least get the reasoning.

And "shouldn't we anyway" is right on.


Archaeopteryx said...

Thanks for the comments guys. Twif, you have a better understanding of what's going on than most of the biologists I know--and that's a damn shame.

I think a large part of the global warming deniers' strategy is to use the rampant American anti-intellectualism, along with the "everybody's opinion is equally good" idea that goes with it to try to attack global warming science. I know I come off sounding like a conspiracy theorist on this, but Exxon really is funding most of the deniers' "science." Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that somebody's not out to get you.

twiffer said...

scientific consensus certainly isn't infallable (though i know you aren't claiming it is). however, if you are going to challenge it, you need to understand the subject deeply and intimately. rehashing discredited and/or inaccurate talking points doesn't cut it. moreover, you typically need some new evidence. consensus tends to be the best understanding of the available evidence. to challenge it, you need a compelling counter-argument. wergner's theory of continental drift is a good case to illustrate how this works. his theory was initially panned for two reasons. one (and an unfair one) was that he was a meteorologist, not a geologist; the second was that he could not supply a plausable mechanism for why continents would move, based on the current understanding of geology. however, he did present enough evidence to get people interested in the problem (not just matching coastlines, but fossil and geologic evidence too). continental drift, while initially panned and not entirely accurate anyway, led to the development of plate tectonic theory (which, as i'm sure you know, is to geology what evolution is to biology) because there was enough evidence to challenge the consensus. but it takes study, devotion, understanding and research. not google searches.

twiffer said...

hey arch. well, i minored in geology and try and keep up my reading in the subject. granted, geologic processes are only a subset of the factors affecting climate, albeit a fairly important one. to understand the processes and systems affecting our planet (and by extension, us), it helps to understand the internal workings of the earth itself.

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