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.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Doubling down on error

Is it just me, or is the defining hallmark of discourse these days a steadfast refusal to admit when you're wrong?

Surprisingly enough I'm not referring here to Donald Trump, who has raised a casual disdain for the truth to near-mythic proportions.  What's even more astonishing, though, is his followers' determination to believe everything he says, even when it contradicts what he just said.  Trump could say, "The sky is green!  It is also purple-and-orange plaid!  And I didn't say either of those things!  Also, I am not here!" and his devotees would just nod and smile and comment on what an honest and godly man he is and how great America is now that we've been abandoned by all our allies and the national debt is a record 22 trillion dollars.

In this case, though, I'm referring to two Republican policy wonks who apparently wouldn't believe climate change was happening if the entire continent spontaneously burst into flame.  The first was Matt Schlapp, head of the American Conservative Union, who was pissed off by Bernie Sanders publicly calling Trump an idiot for not accepting climate change, and responded in a tweet, "They can’t even predict if it will rain on tues but we are certain about the weather 12 yrs from now."

This is such an egregious straw man that it's almost a work of art.  In 21 words, we find the following:
  • Weather ≠ climate.  For fuck's sake.  We've been through this how many times before?
  • Meteorologists are, actually, quite good at predicting when and where it will rain.  Weather is a complex affair, so they don't always get it right, but if the evening weather report says your annual family picnic tomorrow is going to get a drenching, you should probably pay attention.
  • Knowing the climatic trends tells you exactly nothing about "the weather twelve years from now."  Cf. my earlier comment about how weather ≠ climate.
  • Predictions and trends don't imply certainty.  Ever.  But if 99% of working climatologists believe that anthropogenic climate change is happening, and that it's going to have drastic negative effects not only on the environment but ourselves, I'm gonna listen to them rather than to a guy whose main occupation seems to be sneering at people he disagrees with.
Then there was writer and pontificator Dinesh d'Souza, who posted a video of kangaroos hopping about in the snow with the caption, "Global warming comes to Australia.  Unless you want to believe your lying eyes!"

Unsurprisingly, within minutes d'Souza was excoriated by hundreds of people letting him know that (1) the Earth is spherical, implying that (2) there are these things called "hemispheres," which (3) cause the seasons, and (4) since Australia is in the opposite one than North America, they're experiencing winter right now.  Also, he was informed more than once that the largest mountain range in Australia is named "the Snowy Mountains," and it's for an analogous reason that the Rocky Mountains got their name by virtue of being composed largely of rocks.

A grove of native trees in New South Wales, Australia.  They're called "snow gums."  Guess why?  [Image licensed under the Creative Commons Thennicke, Snow gums, Dead Horse Gap NSW Australia, CC BY-SA 4.0]

What gets me about this is not that two laypeople made a mistake about science.  That is gonna happen because (let's face it) science can be hard.  What I find astonishing is that when confronted with multitudes of fact-based objections, neither man said, "Wow, that sure was a dumb statement!  What a goober I am."  Both of them took the strategy of "Death Before Backing Down," and I can nearly guarantee that this incident will not change their minds one iota, and that (given the opportunity) they will make equally idiotic statements next time.

Look, I'm not claiming I'm infallible.  Far from it.  But what I will say is that if I'm wrong, I'll admit it -- and if it's in print (as here at Skeptophilia) I'll post a correction or retraction, or (if the error was egregious enough) delete the post entirely.  I've done so more than once over the nine years I've had this blog, and although admitting you're mistaken is never pleasant, it's absolutely critical to honest... everything.

But that seems to be a lost art lately.  The attitude these days is, "If someone proves you're wrong, keep saying the same thing, only be more strident."  Evidently truth these days isn't about who has the stronger evidence, but who yells the loudest.  It's no wonder the American citizenry is, as a whole, so misinformed, especially on scientific matters -- in science the touchstone is not volume but factual support.

And that seems to be the last thing any of these people are looking at.


This week's Skeptophilia book recommendation is sheer brilliance -- Jenny Lawson's autobiographical Let's Pretend This Never Happened.  It's an account of her struggles with depression and anxiety, and far from being a downer, it's one of the funniest books I've ever read.  Lawson -- best known from her brilliant blog The Blogess -- has a brutally honest, rather frenetic style of writing, and her book is sometimes poignant and often hilarious.  She draws a clear picture of what it's like to live with crippling social anxiety, an illness that has landed Lawson (as a professional author) in some pretty awkward situations.  She looks at her own difficulties (and those of her long-suffering husband) through the lens of humor, and you'll come away with a better understanding of those of us who deal day-to-day with mental illness, and also with a bellyache from laughing.

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

1 comment:

  1. These folks are perfectly well aware of the reality of climate change. It's just not politically convenient for them to admit it.