Climate Science Denial on Full Display in Washington D.C.

If you are tired of your hair and would like to pull it out of your head by the handful, then I invite you to watch the video replay of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s full committee hearing on, “Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications, and the Scientific Method.”

First, some warnings. Texas Republican Lamar Smith chairs the committee. Smith is a darling of the climate change denying machine, the Heartland Institute. You can probably guess that this committee’s grasp of the science, among the majority members at least, goes downhill from there. These guys are like a living Breitbart comments section on any article about climate change.

A typical Breitbart comment

The committee invited four legitimate scientists to testify. Three of the four are among a very small handful of go-to climate science denying scientists available for such exercises in cherry picking.  They are former Georgia Tech professor Judith Curry, University of Alabama professor John Christy, and University of Colorado professor Roger Pielke, Jr.

Full Committee Hearing- Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications, and the Scientific Method

The fourth scientist, Penn State University professor Michael Mann, rounded out the panel. Dr. Mann was the only voice representing the prevailing scientific community. This stark imbalance was not lost on Oregon Representative, Democrat Suzanne Bonamici who remarked that:

“The witness panel does not really represent the vast majority of climate scientists who have concluded that there is a connection between human activity and climate change so sort of visualize 96 more climate scientists who agree that climate change is caused by human activity…for a balanced panel we’d need 96 more Dr. Mann’s.”

So in effect, it was one against three.

No doubt, Dr. Mann was invited in to the anti-intellectual equivalent of the heart of darkness for a reason. My guess is they wanted to somehow make Dr. Mann look bad. His questions from Republicans on the committee ranged from the bafflingly ignorant to the downright creepy.

My own so-called representative, Georgia Republican Barry Loudermilk suggested that Dr. Mann, because he understands the physics, must therefore somehow be a denier of natural change. He also asked him if:

“There could not be no chance that human activity, does not, is not, the major contributor.”


There was also a very strange line of accusatory questioning from Louisiana representative Clay Higgins who asked if Dr. Mann could provide evidence proving he is NOT involved with a specific organization. As if Dr. Mann carries the membership lists of every single organization on the planet around with him, just in case he is asked to prove which groups he is not a member of. Bizarre to say the least.

But if the committee’s goal was to somehow make Dr. Mann out to be the villain, which they wasted no small amount of time trying to do, they failed miserably. Despite being outnumbered and surrounded by climate change deniers, Dr. Mann had one thing on his side that will always win out. Reality.

By sticking to facts and evidence, Dr. Mann was able to routinely inform the committee members, both pro and con, regarding the prevailing science. That said, at the end I am reminded of the famous internet meme about playing chess with a pigeon. For most of these science denying committee members, despite being told what is true and what is not, they will no doubt proclaim that they carried the day.

Here is the video in its entirety:



Climate Change Denial Hypothesis and Social Media

I think there’s an underlying psychology that each climate change denier displays. It is composed of classic anti-intellectual distrust of expertise and an over-amplified belief in intuition over data and evidence. This results in a huge range of conspiratorial thinking grounded in a devaluing of reason and evidence as good epistemology.

Facebook and to a lesser degree Twitter are two of the few avenues I’ve found that actually lets those of us who promote critical thinking, punch some holes in the confirmatory echo-chambers within which most science deniers live.

For example, a couple of times lately I’ve seen statements to the effect of, “the climate has changed in the past” as if that somehow obviates the fact that humans are causing the current change:

I’ve blurred Brad’s face and picture because he’s an old friend of mine but Twitter is an open forum so I’ve left that profile unobscured:

That the climate has changed before does not mean that humans haven’t pumped enough CO2 in to the atmosphere over the last century to cause more heat to be trapped (the Greenhouse Effect) which in turn causes the global mean temperature to rise (global warming) which in turn causes the climate to change. This is not a difficult concept.

But nothing beats a face-to-face “intervention.”

Happy critical thinking!

A brief note on scientific literacy

Just a brief note on scientific literacy that was prompted by the following ridiculous video that showed up on my Facebook feed.

I don’t know who the person speaking in this video is but he is clearly a crackpot. And while ad hominem arguments are normally just lazy, on this I don’t know what else to say. The science is clear. While not all vaccines are 100% effective, and while all medical procedures, including receiving a vaccine, carry a risk, there is no doubt that vaccines are among the most important and impactful public health inventions of human history.

And in general, I hope it’s also clear this is what I mean when I talk about scientific literacy.

I’m neither an MD, a climate scientist, nor a biologist for example, but I trust doctors on vaccines because I understand at a high level how vaccines work and I know their efficacy has the overwhelming consensus of the medical community…just like I trust climate scientists on climate because I know at a high level what is happening with greenhouse gas emissions and I know man made global warming has the overwhelming consensus of the climate science community and just like I trust biologists on evolution, etc. I don’t have to do the experiments or publish in peer-reviewed journals to be able to weigh the plausibility of evidence-based scientific truth claims.

This is what it means to be scientifically literate. The video below is a dangerous example of what it means to be scientifically illiterate.

What is Trump?

Angry_TrumpDonald  Trump’s rise to the top of the GOP heap is a symptom of classic American anti-intellectualism, which unfortunately is the real cancer eating away at the Republican Party.

While many see Trump’s rise and even Sanders’ rise, not as anti-intellectualism, but as purely symptomatic of a growing frustration with establishment government, and certainly to some degree that is true, Trump is something much more sinister. The current discontent with the establishment was summed up nicely by a smart conservative friend of mine when he said, “People are getting tired of business as usual in politics and want change. I truly believe that the lack of term limits, and the creation of career politicians that are more worried about their next fundraiser or election instead of doing what’s right, is the cause of what we are seeing now.” But let’s evaluate this idea by analyzing both Trump and Sanders.

We’ll look at Bernie Sanders first. Sanders is a mostly economic phenomenon. His supporters are comprised of largely young, student loan-laden voters who have come to realize that our politics have rigged our economic system to favor the wealthy; to their exclusion. Our system capitalizes profits and socializes losses, something that became painfully clear during the subprime mortgage crisis and the subsequent extensive bank and corporate bailouts of the last decade, and they see Sanders as a catalyst to shake that construct apart. But being frustrated in the status quo does not an anti-intellectual make.

Trump’s rise is much more than simple frustration with the establishment. His brand of political populism in the Jacksonian sense is often a fairly clean inverse of anti-intellectualism. As wonderfully documented in Richard Hofstadter’s brilliant book, “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life,” we know that this phenomenon ebbs and flows throughout our history, and here we are again.

But instead of a true salt of the earth populist like Jackson, today we have the billionaire Trump.

Trump is the perfect poisonous mushroom sprouting from the great pile of crap that was and is the rise of the Tea Party as the dominant Republican identity. These are the xenophobes, the homophobes, the conspiracy theorists, the racists, the birthers, the anti-science (read global warming deniers), the religious zealots, and other malcontents coalescing under a Gadsden flag umbrella and whipped into an angry frenzy by 24/7 “fair and balanced” nonsense and propelled by YouTube ranters and misinformed bloggers.  Trump is the absence of critical thinking. He’s the antithesis of reasonable discussion. He’s the personification of the comments section of any Fox News article about anything social or political.

In a nutshell, Trump is a creation of the GOP’s inability to keep its fringe on the fringe, and the party is all but lost as a result.

CO2 hits 407 ppm – this is not good news

220px-Pierolapithecus_catalaunicus_(Pau)_a_l'Institut_Català_de_Paleontologia_Miquel_CrusafontCO2 has been breaching the 400ppm threshold for well over a year and just a few days ago, it was measured at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Earth System Research Laboratory at just over 407ppm. This is not good news at all.

The last time the earth had this level of CO2 in the atmosphere, our human ancestor was Pierolapithecus catalaunicus (a creature who lived around 13 million years ago pictured to the left), and sea level was about 100 feet higher than it is today.

It would be nice if our political candidates from all parties were debating the best solutions. Yet we are stuck with an entire political party who refuses to accept the science. We have to be informed and vocal and we have to hold our political leaders accountable for their ignorance of facts.