From evolution to global warming to vaccines, science is under assault from denialists – those who dismiss well-tested scientific knowledge as merely one of many competing ideologies. Science denial goes beyond skeptical questioning to attack the legitimacy of science itself.
Recent foment over stolen e-mails from a British research group inspired an American creationist organization to pronounce that “a cabal of leading scientists, politicians, and media” has sought to “professionally destroy scientists who express skepticism” about climate change. The Discovery Institute usually uses this kind of over-the-top language to attack evolution, so it was remarkable to see it branch out to climate-change denial.
Frequently this denialism is mixed with religious beliefs. Which serves to act as both a shield from criticism and conveniently avoids having to provide any rational empirical evidence for the denialism – I have a right to believe whatever I please and anyone who disagrees with me is attacking my freedom believe in whatever spins my props. The shield of belief forms a circle of defense for the believer not dissimilar to the circular logic of claiming this or that in a holy book is true because a higher power wrote it and is thus inerrant. This phenomenon does not apply to everyone that believes there might be some force or power in the universe beyond themselves, but the anti-science world view has taken a prominent place in the thinking of conservative religious thinking in both Christianity and Islam.
Science denialism works differently. Creationists are unmoved by the wealth of fossil, molecular, and anatomical evidence for evolution. Global-warming denialists are unimpressed by climate data. Denialists ignore overwhelming evidence, focusing instead on a few hoaxes, such as Piltdown Man, or a few stolen e-mails. For denialists, opinion polls and talk radio count for more than thousands of peer-reviewed journal articles.
Denialists often appeal to the ideal of fairness, arguing schools should “teach the controversy” and address “evidence for and against” science, as in then-Sen. Rick Santorum’s proposed amendment to the No Child Left Behind bill in 2001. But they apply the ideal selectively to science they dislike: evolution, climate change, vaccines. They hope to cloak themselves in the mantle of science without being restricted by its requirements.
If denialists had evidence disproving global warming or evolution, they could submit it to scientific conferences and journals, inviting analysis by scientists. But, knowing their arguments don’t hold water, they spread misinformation in arenas not subject to expert scrutiny: mass-market books, newspapers, talk radio, and blogs.
Anti-evolutionists seemed to have latched on to the Piltdown Man scandal as a gotcha moment in the history of science. In a recent discussion Piltdown has also moved into the lexicon of the global warming deniers – Piltdown Man hoax = scientists are always lying and misleading people, thus global warming is just another Piltdown Man. One can tell the person read that off a blog or heard it on conservative radio. The far right noise machine has spoken, no further thinking required. Except, well, the Piltdown hoax was exposed by scientists like Kenneth Oakley and Gerrit Smith Miller whose findings were published in The Times of London.
Those hacked e-mails from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. One contains the word “trick” (‘trick’ — a scientist’s slang for a clever (and legitimate) technique). The global warming deniers have now taken it as a matter of deep faith and repeated as though mere repetition will make it true: those e-mail are proof that all global warming data from Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia and thousands of climate scientists from around the world is fake. That is not even remotely true. Where is the counter research. The aggregation of compelling data to the contrary. There is at least one scientist who has been published who says global warming is doubtful and even if the planet is warming it is part of a natural cycle. Why was he even published. He seems to been able to skip over the peer review process as no one is able to replicate his data. Seen any headlines or featured news columns about the dubious data being used by global warming deniers like James Inhofe (R-OK). No, you have to go to science journal and research center sites. The science writer for the librul New York Times wrote about how the scientists at Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia decided not to use tree ring data ( discussed in the infamous e-mails) and then admits they used instrument temperature measurements instead. The rest of Tierney’s piece simply goes off on a tangent of possibilities to be inferred from that snippet of information. Instead of full stop – scientists rejected spurious data, only published data they had hard evidence for. Tierney does not link to other research done at climate centers such as Yale – Global Temperatures Could Rise More Than Expected, New Study Shows, or Concordia University’s Department of Geography, Planning and the Environment – Carbon Emissions Linked To Global Warming In Simple Linear Relationship or the California Academy of Sciences – New study finds that the average ecosystem will need to shift about a quarter mile per year to keep pace with global climate change or even our very own NOAA reports – The Instrumental Record of Past Global Temperatures and Paleoclimatic Data for the Last 2000 Years. No Tierney actually links to a blogger who he says is dissecting the e-mails. Science writer at the librul NYT links to climate skeptic with zero science credentials and dubious analytical skills – not a new low in journalism, but certainly belongs in the annals of journalistic hackery. John provides no links to even one of the thousands of papers that support anthropogenic global warming.
Tierney was also the science writer that cried wolf about the city of New York considering passing a law against adding salt ( sodium chloride) to foods claiming the government was thus experimenting with people who could suffer dire effects from low sodium laws. He left out two simple facts, people would still be free to add iodized salt to their food and that most foods naturally contain sodium chloride – thus people generally not only get more than they need, a salt free diet is very difficult because it occurs naturally in so many foods – especially meat.
More on the subject of hackery – Reason Editor suggests his own magazine is lying By Glenn Greenwald. Reason has always been a mixed bag that included some good pieces on 1st and 4th Amendment. For the most part they have always been weak on economic issues – American labor is either invisible or unreasonable in expecting a living wage. They have not figured out that corporate collectivism – the shrine at which they worship – is every bit as evil as Stalin’s state collectivism. The general tenor over there is being further compromised by a mild panic over being associated with the conservative/Randian inspired economic policies that lead to the Great Recession. The back pedaling and excuse making should be an embarrassment, but hey they have a site that needs traffic and a magazine to sell.
So according to Welch, Obama “lied” because he used the word “report” to describe what the CBO does and because he suggested the CBO’s projections are reliable. What, then, does that say about numerous Reason editors and writers, who wrote the following back when Reason loved the CBO because it was reporting that Obama’s health care proposal and other policies would increase the deficit? Using Welch’s “reasoning,” it must mean that Reason’s staff is filled with outright liars:
Reason Editor Peter Suderman, July 10, 2009: “I won’t dispute that Medicare is popular, or that politicians — even Republicans — don’t usually criticize it, but it hasn’t exactly been an unqualified success. On the contrary, as the CBO reports, the program’s fiscal future looks dire.”(bold mine)
Few things invented by man and certainly no social policy has ever been “an unqualified success”. An editor no less reaches for a meaningless cliché to convey a message devoid of any substance, but passes for a semantic wink and node. A dog biscuit treat of sorts for a readership always anxious to hear that some enlightened social policy is not or was not up to Galt-like standards.
The thrush of Glenn’s column was Reason was glad to quote CBO reports as an authoritative source until the CBO issued a couple reports that were contrary to Reason’s agenda.