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.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Sea change

A couple of weeks ago, I did a post about how scientists are beginning to learn how to talk to the rest of us slobs.  The problem, as I see it, is that scientists are trained to be cautious, not to draw unwarrantedly strong conclusions from the evidence, and to admit up front that future studies could change our understanding.  This leads the lay public to believe that they're uncertain -- which, in many cases, is not true.

One of the fields that has been plagued by this is climate science, which has become not only ridiculously politicized but rife with misunderstandings, deliberate falsifications, and outright idiocy.  (I'm lookin' at you, Senator James "Snowball" Inhofe.)  So it was with a great deal of joy that I read Phil Williamson's amazing takedown of climate change denier James Delingpole in this week's edition of The Marine Biologist. Williamson's piece, entitled, "Two Views of Ocean Acidification: Which is Fatally Flawed?" is a point-by-point response to Delingpole, who in April published an article in The Spectator entitled, "Ocean Acidification: Yet Another Wobbly Pillar of Climate Alarmism."

Delingpole's screed was, Williamson said, so full of factual errors and misquotations that it was completely worthless.  But let me quote Williamson's own words:
James Delingpole considers that ocean acidification is a scare story that is not only ‘fatally flawed’ but also grossly over-hyped by climate alarmists, for political reasons.  To give credibility to these views, information and quotes are given from four scientists (Patrick Moore, Mike Wallace, Matt Ridley and Craig Idso).  However, those sources are unreliable: none has relevant marine expertise, and the evidence they provide is either inaccurate or incorrect.  Three other scientists (Howard Browman, Richard Feely and Christopher Sabine) who do have direct research experience are either mis-quoted or their competence is dismissed.  The wider scientific literature is not considered.  Overall, Delingpole’s arguments are based on exaggeration, false dichotomy, deliberate selectivity and bravado assertion: almost everything that could be factually wrong, is wrong.
Which is ScientificSpeak for "BAM."

So the scientists are now playing hardball.  Which they should.  We're gambling with the long-term habitability of the planet.  There is no bigger threat to security, world-wide, than what we're doing to the climate.

The positive part of this is not that the deniers are being converted.  By and large, they aren't.  The reason, of course, is money and political bias.  Consider, for example, Craig Idso (cited repeatedly by Delingpole as a reputable climate scientist), who is the science advisor for the Science and Public Policy Institute, which is funded in part by -- you guessed it -- Exxon-Mobil.  Idso is also associated with the rabidly pro-fossil-fuel Heartland Institute, and has written papers for them calling into question established climate science.

Oh, and I should add that the SPPI has also questioned the dangers of mercury toxicity, and the Heartland Institute was hand-in-glove with Philip Morris to downplay the risks to children of secondhand smoke and to fight smoking bans in public places.

Tell me again how Idso is a reliable source?

[image courtesy of NOAA]

As for Williamson, he pulls no punches at all.  Which he shouldn't.  What is heartening about all of this is that the scientists are finally calling out the deniers for what they are -- either ignorant, anti-science, or in the pay of fossil fuel interests.  At this point, the evidence is incontrovertible.  Anthropogenic climate change is real.  You can deny it if you like.

But don't expect me, or anyone who has a background in science, to take you seriously.

And I said that deniers aren't changing their minds -- but that's not entirely accurate.  People who were in doubt, but kept their minds open and their understanding focused on the evidence, are coming around.  Just this week, CNN meteorologist Chad Myers, who for years placed himself in the doubtful column, wrote a piece called "Changing Opinions on Climate Change."  He methodically traces the evidence that has been uncovered since climate change was first made an issue in the mid-1980s, and describes how his thinking -- "There may be another explanation" -- eventually changed:
I was no longer a skeptic.  Humans were polluting the atmosphere to a point of no return.  I had finally excluded all other possibilities.  Had I flip-flopped?  Well, that is what it would be called in politics.  But in science, it is just an evolution of understanding.  I concluded that my original theory of "it could be something else" wasn't likely the case. 
As I tell my 11-year-old, "It's OK to be wrong as long as you learn from your mistakes." 
The records continue to be shattered every year.  The 15 hottest years on record have been since 2001 except for 1998.  2016 will likely be the hottest year on record, breaking the old record set in 2015, and the beat goes on.  With each year, with each major disaster, it becomes harder to be a skeptic of man-made climate change -- and that is why I am not one.
Well, exactly.  It's okay to be doubtful.  Being able to maintain a position of uncertainty for a while is a huge piece of being a skeptic.  But once the evidence is in, you're done.  To continue to cover your ears and say "la-la-la-la-la-la, not listening" isn't skepticism, it's anti-science bullheadedness.

So the tides are turning.  With luck, it won't be too late, although we still have the perennial roadblock in congress to deal with.  But it's to be hoped that once the word is passed to the public that the time for doubt and discussion is over, the pressure brought to bear on our leaders will finally force a sea change.

1 comment:

  1. I know this is a fatalist attitude, but understanding something doesn't mean we can or will suddenly fix it.