Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Follow the money

There is nothing like blatant hypocrisy to put me in a blood-boiling rage.

It's even worse when the hypocrisy is coupled with mealy-mouthed self-righteousness.  That puts me in a condition that calls to mind the word "apoplexy."

And as Exhibit A, I give you: Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, chairman of the House Committee on Space, Science, and Technology.

How Smith ended up in a leadership role in the oversight of scientific research is one of those mysteries that even the Peter Principle is insufficient to explain.  Whenever Representative Smith opens his mouth, he utters such moronic statements that you have to wonder how he successfully got out of grade school, much less how he got elected to public office.  This is the man who said in 2009,  "The greatest threat to America is not necessarily a recession or even another terrorist attack. The greatest threat to America is a liberal media bias."  He claimed in 2014 that the policy of allowing immigrants to achieve US citizenship by serving in the military -- a policy that has been in place since the country's founding, and the awarding of citizenship to Baron von Steuben by George Washington -- was "President Obama aiding and abetting an immigrant crime spree."

But on no topic has he as vividly illustrated an understanding of the world that would be sub-par for an eighth grader as on climate science.  Smith is a diehard climate change denier, and in fact wrote an op-ed piece in 2013 that contained the mind-boggling line, "Contrary to the claims of those who want to strictly regulate carbon dioxide emissions and increase the cost of energy for all Americans, there is a great amount of uncertainty associated with climate science."

I'm not sure in what BizarroWorld a near 100% consensus amongst climate researchers constitutes "a great amount of uncertainty," but that is evidently Lamar's viewpoint.

[image courtesy of NASA]

What is most appalling about all of this is that one of the rallying cries of the deniers is "follow the money" -- implying that the scientists are getting rich off of fat government research grants, so they have every reason to cook the data to make it look like the world is warming up.  If there was no anthropogenic climate change, Lamar suggests, the funds would dry up.  So the scientists are inventing an ecological crisis in order to feather their own nests.

You have to wonder how the scientists are also conspiring to make the glaciers melt, surface seawater heat up, and creating an El NiƱo that is shaping up to the the most powerful one since records have been kept.  Mighty desperate, those scientists, to go to those kinds of lengths.

But you haven't heard the most appalling part yet.  Lamar Smith, who brands climate scientists as self-serving liars who are making shit up so they can get money, is now threatening Kathryn Sullivan, the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with a subpoena -- in a move that is hinted to be only the first of a sweeping attack on anyone influential who is researching anthropogenic effects on climate.

"NOAA needs to come clean about why they altered the data to get the results they needed to advance this administration’s extreme climate change agenda," Smith said, a statement that ranks right up there with "When did you stop beating your wife?" in the Heads-I-Win, Tails-You-Lose department.

Of course, there are people who are just tickled to pieces about Smith's campaign of harassment.  Robert E. Murray, head of Murray Energy, the largest privately-held coal mining company in the US, thinks that Lamar is just wonderful.  The climate researchers are "not telling hardly any truth" [sic] about what the global climate is doing.  The world is actually cooling off, Murray says, which I'm sure will be a tremendous relief to all of you who listened to the scientists when they said that 2015 is almost certain to be the hottest year ever, shattering all previous records by a considerable margin.

Don't listen to those damn ivory-tower thermometer-wielding geeks, Murray says.  "They’re crony capitalists.  They’re making a fortune off of you the taxpayer."

And if you're not already mad enough, guess who funded the gathering at which Murray dispensed his wisdom?  The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a "nonpartisan research institute" that is still completely nonpartisan and unbiased after receiving the bulk of its funding from Koch Industries, Crownquest Oil & Gas, AEP Texas, ExxonMobil, VF-Russia, Texas Western Energy Corporation, ConocoPhillips, Devon Energy, Chevron, and Henry Petroleum LP.

Speaking of following the money.

And outside, the world continues to warm, the ice caps continue to melt, and the weather continues to destabilize.  As we speak, the United Nations Conference on Climate Change is going on, a conference that is very likely to follow in the footsteps of the ones before it in accomplishing nothing -- because science research oversight in our country is being kept in a stranglehold by anti-science loons like Lamar Smith and his counterpart, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, another climate change denier who astonishingly enough has ended up chairing the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

You know, by nature I'm an optimist.  I like to think that most of the time, most of us are doing the best we can to live according to our moral codes.  But when I find out about stuff like this, I start slipping over to the world of the conspiracy theorists, and that worries me.  I don't like to think that our country is being led by people who know full well that we're headed for an ecological catastrophe, and from a combination of greed, short-sightedness, and stupidity are willfully lying to the American people about it.

But increasingly, that's what looks like is happening.

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