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!

Cool facts for Ark Encounter visitors: How old things actually are

Noah's Ark
Noah’s Ark Cartoon

In the spirit of Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter, the white elephant project celebrating scientific illiteracy that opened in Kentucky, it might be useful to have at the ready some fact-based talking points should you find yourself in a conversation with a Young Earth Creationist.

Here are the various ages of 38 things that I think are pretty darn awesome. Estimates here are of course based on the latest science, so being based on good science they are subject to adjustment with better evidence. Of course the astute reader will notice that 36 of these are actually older than 6000 years, but last two are so cool I included them in the count. Enjoy!

  1. Age of the Universe: 13.77 Billion Years
  2. Age of the Milky Way: 13.6 Billion Years
  3. Age of the Sun: 4.57 Billion Years
  4. Age of Earth: 4.54 Billion Years
  5. RNA on Earth: 4 Billion Years
  6. Prokaryotes on Earth: 3.8 Billion Years
  7. Photosynthesis on Earth: 2.8 Billion Years
  8. Eukaryotes on Earth: 2.1 Billion Years
  9. Sexual Reproduction on Earth: 1.2 Billion Years
  10. Multicellular life on Earth: 1.5 Billion Years
  11. Cambrian explosion on Earth: 570-530 Million Years
  12. Arthropods on Earth: 570 Million Years
  13. First animal footprints on land: 530 Million Years
  14. Plants move on to land: 434 Million Years
  15. Meet Tiktaalik roseae, the transitional fossil fish with a neck: 375 Million Years
  16. Dinosaurs and mammals on the scene: 225 Million Years
  17. Tyrannosaurus Rex roars: 68 Million Years
  18. Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event (bye bye Dinosaurs, make room for more mammals): 65.5 Million Years
  19. Earliest primate ancestor: 55 Million Years
  20. New World monkeys (long tails) and Catarrhini: 30 Million Years
  21. Catarrhini splits in to Old World monkeys and apes (Hominoidae): 25 Million Years
  22. Proconsul, one of the earliest monkey to ape transitional fossils: 21 Million Years
  23. Hominoidae splits in to Great Apes and Lesser Apes: 15 Million Years
  24. Speciation within Great Apes launches lines toward gorillas (10 Million Years), and our common ancestor with chimpanzees (7 Million Years)
  25. Strong evidence for bipedalism in Australopithecus afarensis (3.7 Million Years)
  26. First stone tools (2.6 Million Years)
  27. Homo habilis, the earliest of our ancestors to show a significant increase in brain size and also the first to be found associated with stone tools
  28. Homo erectus (aka Homo ergaster) (1.8 Million Years)
  29. Homo ergaster controls fire (1.5 Million Years)
  30. Homo heidelbergensis leaves footprints in Italy  (385 Thousand Years)
  31. Homo sapiens (200 Thousand Years)
  32. Homo sapiens leave Africa (100 Thousand Years)
  33. Homo sapiens arrive in Australia (50 Thousand Years)
  34. Neanderthal extinct (40 Thousand Years)
  35. Homo sapiens become last man standing (12 Thousand Years)
  36. Agricultural society develops (10 Thousand Years)
  37. The Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest story ever written by humans, is jotted down in Mesopotamia (4,150 Years)
  38. The age of the universe is estimated by Homo sapiens using the WMAP satellite (6 Years)

Please leave a comment below or contact me via Twitter or Facebook if you see any mistakes or updates that need to be made. Also let me know if there are some really cool events that I may have missed that you think deserve to be on the timeline.

Featured image via

Now that Bill visited Ken’s ark…tips for the next Evolution v. Creationism debate

Bill-Nye-Ark-Encounter-tourA giant replica of an ark has been built in Kentucky. Presumably this ark is of the same general size as the fictional boat made famous in the biblical story of Noah.

The construction of this ark was not without controversy, as the proprietor, Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis, is among the most infamous creationists in the world, and therefore his intention behind the construction of this massive unseaworthy vessel is to ignore all of science and to teach the story of Noah as if it’s true.

This of course would be perfectly legal, although colossally wasteful, were it not for the fact that for purposes of receiving tax breaks from the state of Kentucky, the project couched itself as more of a theme park than a religious institution, and conversely for the purposes of restricting who they hire to only “born again” Christians, the project couched itself as more of a religious institution than a theme park.

But these issues have been well documented so rather than rehash them here, I thought I would would revisit the Bill Nye, Ken Ham debate, especially since Bill took up Ken’s invitation to attend the Ark Encounter’s grand opening this past week. Keep in mind this “debate” turned out much like many of us who have experience speaking with creationists expected, and hence warned against (see my piece Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham: Dinosaurs vs. Dragons for more on that discussion).

So what follows are my suggestions should the two meet again to have a similar discussion.

My first four are below, but feel free to add your own in the comments section. So let’s get to it.

1. Bill: Right out of the gate, ask Ken Ham if he believes humans and dinosaurs lived on the planet at the same time.

As a Young Earth Creationist, Ken will be forced to answer “Yes,” thus exposing the depths of his delusion to the audience and to the hundreds of millions of people across the world who know that dinosaurs lived a very long time ago; between 230 to 60 million years to be a bit more accurate. We also know, thanks to the Ark Encounter theme park, that Ken literally believes dinosaurs were on the Ark.  He has some replica dinosaurs in one of Noah’s animal cages. I’m not kidding. Now, normally there is a cost associated with being irrational. For example, exhibiting irrational behaviors, such as “watch me fly” or “check out my force field,” often result in bodily injury to the irrational person. No doubt jumping off a bridge or walking in front of a bus extracts a very high cost for the irrational individual, and it also serves as an incredibly potent if not macabre illustration to others of the dangers of being delusional. Irrational ideas on the other hand are a bit easier to get away with, particularly if they are shielded from ridicule by the veneer of religion. But this isn’t fair. All irrational ideas should come with a cost; at the very least, the cost of public humiliation. Let’s play this out. Take Ken Ham to any elementary school in almost any town in the United States, and ask him to admit that he believes humans and dinosaurs lived together, and the reaction of the schoolchildren will be one of two things: laughter or fear. Why? Because kids know dinosaurs. They know Tyrannosaurus rex, they know Triceratops, they know Stegosaurus, they even know that Brontosaurus is actually an incorrect term for Apatosaurus, and above all, they know that dinosaurs ruled the earth for hundreds of millions of years, millions of years ago. So when Ken Ham says that dinosaurs lived alongside humans some five to six thousand years ago, kids will laugh at him thinking he’s joking, or they will be afraid of him thinking he’s serious. Either way, the cost of public humiliation will have been collected.

2. Ken: If you have to keep reminding people your scientists have PhDs, you are implicitly admitting you have a credibility problem.

Ken needs to realize that having a PhD in something, doesn’t preclude you from being painfully obtuse in something else. We understand that Ken has managed to recruit a few real scientists who were willing to waste what might have otherwise been promising scientific careers, in order to feed the Answers in Genesis confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance machine. It’s sad actually.  It’s also interesting to notice during their first debate, that when Bill was citing his scientific sources, he didn’t say “PhD astrophysicist Carl Sagan,” he simply said, “Carl Sagan.” Credibility is more than credentials.

3. Bill: Remind Ken there are no such things as secular versus religious science journals.

There are just science journals. If Ken’s “PhD scientists” are finding their papers are being rejected from science journals, it isn’t because the journals are explicitly irreligious as opposed to religious, it’s because the papers reflect bad science. Science journals publish evidence-based findings for peer-review. If that purpose precludes your papers from being published, then revisit your papers, don’t blame the journals. In fact, if a credible science journal were to stray from reality and publish a paper with poor or worse, fabricated evidence (religious or not), it would be forced to retract the paper or risk losing all credibility in the field. In effect, it would be finished.

4. Ken: We all know you “have a book,” now give us the evidence that supports your book.

During the first debate, Ken kept referring to the Bible as evidence for the claims in the Bible that he believes support Creationism. This is a fundamental circular reasoning fallacy that Ken will need to address in the next debate. We know his book means a tremendous amount to him and we aren’t denying that.  But it’s a religious text and religious texts only have special meaning to those who practice that religion.  For the billions of people who don’t practice that religion, it’s just another text.  Offering the claims of an old, personally sacred book as evidence for the claims in the same old, personally sacred book does not make for compelling evidence. By way of analogy, in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Hogwarts is a wizarding school in England;  but no rational person thinks that Hogwarts is actually a wizarding school in England. Claims need evidence and to quote the late Christopher Hitchens, “that which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”  Ken will need to remember that no matter how badly he hopes the claims in his book are true, his hope isn’t evidence.

And there you have it. A few pointers for both Ken and Bill should they meet again on the debate stage. Here’s to hoping that doesn’t happen.

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.