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.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Rising tide

The current administration's approach to facts they don't like seems to have three parts:
  1. Lie about them.
  2. Get all the members of your administration, and any other cronies you can convince, to avoid mentioning them.
  3. If the facts come out anyway, blame "Fake News."
If you needed any further proof of this, all you have to do is to look at the recent news release from the United States Geological Survey regarding improving infrastructure on the California coast.  The news release was based on a paper published earlier this year in the journal Scientific Reports, and focused on methodology -- ways to mitigate flood damage and damage from mudslides, for example.

The problem is, if you read the paper itself, you'll see that the press release neglected mention of the study's major conclusion -- that California is in dire danger of catastrophic flooding, with property damage in the hundreds of billions of dollars -- and that the cause is anthropogenic climate change.

Worse still, it wasn't a simple omission.  An earlier version of the press release included facts and figures from the study, including the alarming conclusion that between three and seven times more people and businesses will be at risk than estimated in earlier projections, but the Trump administration "sanitized" the press release by removing every single reference to climate change, and making it sound like the entire study was about thinking ahead and shoring everything up and making everyone safe.

"It's been made clear to us that we're not supposed to use climate change in press releases anymore," one federal researcher said, under conditions of anonymity for fear of reprisal.  "They will not be authorized."

The problem goes all the way to the top.  James Reilly, director of the USGS, authorized the scrubbing of the press release, despite his statement at his 2018 confirmation hearing that he was "fully committed to scientific integrity."

Which, at this point, appears to have been a blatant lie.

Flooding on Assateague Island, Virginia [Image is in the Public Domain]

Trump has been (rightly) criticized for his blatant disregard for scientific research and his overturning of dozens of environmental protections -- loosening standards for pollution, removing corporate oversight, making it more difficult for industry to be sued for cleanup.  Despite this, in a rant earlier this week that was bizarre even by his standards, Trump portrayed himself as an environmental leader, skewing facts (such as his claim that the United States has been a leader in reduction of carbon emissions, when in fact we're the second highest in the world) and rambling on with nearly incoherent bits like this:
You don't have to have any forest fires.  It's interesting.  I spoke to certain countries, and they said, "Sir, we're a forest nation."  I never thought of a country -- well-known countries; "we're a forest nation."  I never heard of the term "forest nation."  They live in forests.  And they don't have problems...  Remember, management.  It's called forest management.  So it's a very important term.  When I went to California, they sort of scoffed at me for the first two weeks and maybe three weeks and not so much four weeks, and after about five weeks they said, "You know, he's right.  He's right."
It's almost a guarantee that if Donald Trump said "I was told..." the next thing that comes out of his mouth will be a lie.  And for what it's worth, elected officials and policy leaders in California have all denied (some of them, after laughing uproariously) that they agreed with anything Trump said about environmental policy.

Remember, this is the guy who said that Finland avoids forest fires because they spend a lot of time raking.

For fuck's sake.

"Don't trust what the government says" has become almost a cliché regarding every resistance movement ever organized, but in this case, it seems like it's not an overgeneralization.  This administration has made a policy of deceit, coverup, corruption, and subterfuge that makes Watergate and Teapot Dome look like kids staging a play for their parents.  The problem here is that in this case, what they're lying about is the long-term habitability of the planet.

Which moves this whole issue from "immoral" to "unconscionable."


This week's Skeptophilia book recommendation is pure fun for anyone who (like me) appreciates both plants and an occasional nice cocktail -- The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart.  Most of the things we drink (both alcohol-containing and not) come from plants, and Stewart takes a look at some of the plants that have provided us with bar staples -- from the obvious, like grapes (wine), barley (beer), and agave (tequila), to the obscure, like gentian (angostura bitters) and hyssop (Bénédictine).

It's not a scientific tome, more a bit of light reading for anyone who wants to know more about what they're imbibing.  So learn a little about what's behind the bar -- and along the way, a little history and botany as well.

[Note: if you purchase this book using the image/link below, part of the proceeds goes to support Skeptophilia!]

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