After the GW Bush debacle, many of us in the reality-based community support the idea of a science debate for the USS presidential candidates (Science Debate 2008). But it seems to me this idea doesn’t go nearly far enough.
Would you be happy getting brain surgery from a lawyer? Do you want chief executives determining minimum wage levels? Would you trust a professional soldier to determine whether defence budgets should be cut in favour of education? Should religious nutters like Tony Blair be allowed to determine scienctific or economic policies?
It seems utterly bizarre to me that democratic countries choose to elect as leaders people who completely lack any knowlegde or understanding of key subjects, from the importance of randomised controlled trials to the Cuban missile crisis. Civil servants from China to Britain have to undergo tough exams, yet their leaders can be pig-ignorant. Why do we tolerate this? It’s crazy.
It seems to me every democratic country should, with the help of its citizens, develop a curriculum for politicians, covering everything from science to medicine to economics to history. There could, for instance, be a basic test politicians have to pass simply to stand for election, and a more advanced examination for politicians to undergo before they can take office.
Of course, getting agreement on a curriculum will be a challenging task in itself. But that debate could be very interesting in itself, in exposing the often-ludicrous beliefs on which many people base their everyday decisions. Ideally, of course, we should aim to eliminate all beliefs in favour of educated guesses.
OK, I’m coming to this party very late but I can’t let this go. Some reality-challenged editor at the New Statesman published this rubbish about global warming having stopped in 1998, which, as usual, lots of people leapt upon in their desperation to avoid facing the truth.
Personally, I didn’t have to look beyond the byline to know the article isn’t worthy of anything other than scorn. The author was apparently known among his erstwhile colleagues at the BBC as David Shitehouse for his habit of writing seemingly great scoops that turn out to be utter rubbish, or very old news rehashed, or both. (The other British science journalist whose work also deserves instant dismissal is Jonathan Leake of the Sunday Times. If he writes it, you can be confident it ain’t true.)
The reality is that the long-term temperature trend is very much on the up, despite the fact that we’re at the low point of the 11-year solar cycle, which means we’re receiving less heat from the Sun than usual. See here, here or here.
To spare you from damaging your brain by looking at this yourself, this is how the writer describes himself:
Sensible people don’t want to live in dangerous times. But solutions do not come from denial. They come from facing facts, thinking about them and taking proper actions. I am a scientist, writer and policy consultant.
And this is what he writes:
Unfortunately for [the International Herald Tribune], nobody has proven that CO2 is a “greenhouse gas” on the real Planet Earth, as opposed to laboratory jars. So the IHT just smuggles in the inference with the scare words “greenhouse gas.
A scientist? I don’t think so. Facing facts? How much further from facing facts could you be?
You’ve got to love this hoax – a fake scientific paper claiming bacteria are to blame for the recent climate change (in the long term, of course, they have caused massive climate change).
My favourite bit: a reference to a paper on the “Miocene, Pliocene and Plasticine fossil records”.
After all, the scientists were never going to be taken in. It’s the media and the blogosphere who fell for it, and you can’t help wondering how many eco-campaigners would fall for the opposite kind of hoax.
And the trouble is that now the climate deniers who leapt on the story have gone silent, and the believers are now whooping. I wonder if many people who heard about it on the radio, for instance, will ever discover it’s a fake.
I think the hoaxers should have been braver and made it less obviously a hoax. That way it would have been an even bigger story.
What makes people ignore overwhelming scientific evidence and insist the scientists have got it wrong? In the case of climate change, I’m slowly becoming aware that there’s a strong libertarian, anti-government, anti-Brussels or Washington element to the denial.
Basically, some people think they should be allowed to do whatever they want to do, without nasty governments stepping and, say, impeding their right to risk other people lives by driving too fast or playing with guns a la Dick Cheney.
If they admit global warming is real, however, it means we do have a planetary crisis that demands planetary-wide action and thus planetary-wide governance. Therefore global warming can’t be happening. Logical?
In the light of this, consider these authors’ description of their book, Scared to Death:
“Finally, most damaging of all, is the way again and again we have seen our political rulers, in Westminster and Brussels. reacting to these scares by dreaming up ill-conceived new laws for which we all pay a colossal price – amounting to billions, even in some cases hundreds of billions of pounds. Nothing has better illustrated the thesis of our book than the one-sided manipulation of scientific evidence used to promote the belief in man-made global warming, accompanied by the absurdly unrealistic measures our gullible politicians are now proposing in response to it.”
I’ve haven’t read it and I don’t need to know that it is utter idiocy. For instance, the other examples of “fraudulent science” it discusses include mad cow disease, lead in petrol and asbestos. Yup, nothing at all wrong with those. I have no doubt who the real frauds are here.
So you’ve moved house and an insurance salesperson comes round to sell you flood insurance. Your house is at risk, he says, the waters could rise as high as 2 metres – enough to wreck the floor.
Next day another salespersonn comes round and tells you that the flood waters could actually reach 6 metres. That’s well over the roof, which would be pretty catastrophic. But who should you believe?
A third salesperson comes round. “I’ll be honest,” he says. “We don’t really know how high the waters will rise. It could be 2 metres or 6 metres.”
You believe the third salesperson. So you decide it’s not worth getting insurance after all.
Not following the logic? Do keep up.
This is pretty much the situation we’re in regarding climate change. It looks as though not only do the models not tell us exactly how much warming to expect, they might never be able to tell us.
Inevitably, the deniers are claiming this somehow justifies doing nothing. It’s an interesting example in cognitive dissonance – how do they maintain their beliefs?
A good guide to climate myths here.