Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Ignorant and the Enablers

The latest ignorance platter served up by the Grand Forks Herald is a letter from one Lynn Hoghaug.

It has no simple pretending there is no science behind climate change like the recent columns from Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk and the CEI. Hoghaug claims "proven fraud" by scientists.

Hoghaug is an example of Dunning-Kruger effect in public discourse on climate. This will be a continual theme here, and it may get fuller treatment on its own at some point. In short, Hoghaug is a classic case - mostly ignorant on the topic of climate change, fails to recognize that personal ignorance, and dismissive of those who actually do have expertise.

People like Hoghaug are quite easy to pick out, and they pop up all the time exactly as Hoghaug does. Hoghaug has a few tidbits of misinformation picked up from the climate change denialsphere but demonstrates no understanding of climate science. This is clear from citations of a few key names, buzzwords, and claims - Hoghaug flashes "e-mails from the University of East Anglia" (which were not any revelation of fraud, conspiracy, or malfeasance ), "Michael Mann" (vindicated), and "hockey stick" (continually supported by further research).

To support his claims that the scientists "cooked the books" you would expect some whopper of evidence, right? Hoghaug has the use of the word "trick" from a stolen email which is attributed to a false interpretation of the "hockey stick" graph. I found 81,000 Google search results for "math trick division", including this one. I knew it! Division is a hoax, and all those so-called mathematicians can now be exposed!

The "trick" was using observational data for the last few decades on the graph because of the recognized divergence problem where the proxy data of the "hockey stick" study did not follow the thermometer record. Scientists have actually investigated and continue to investigate all this. Again, further study and analysis has confirmed the general conclusions of the Mann "hockey stick" study from now over a decade ago. It is a safe bet all of this would be news to Hoghaug.

Hoghaug has an anecdote about raising crops in Greenland that supposedly overrides the actual research into global temperatures over the last couple millennia. Greenland was not very inviting in that earlier colonization, and even if it was, Greenland is not the whole Earth. Expert analysis, including the "hockey stick", has pointed to the Medieval Warm Period (including 900-1300AD as Hoghaug cites) not being an era of global temperatures like the current. But with his story of crop-growing in Greenland Hoghaug assumes the scientists are incompetent or deceitful.

Would Hoghaug feel ill, accept a dubious diagnosis from the internet, then go to the doctor and accuse quackery when the doctor (and many other physicians) declares the problem to actually be very different?

Of course Hoghaug's letter concludes with a screed on taxes and "follow the money", though of course not following the money to the fossil fuel interests who have fought the science of climate change and actions to address it. But I want to again raise questions regarding the Herald for providing this platform for misinformation, for being the enabler.

What is the Herald policy (or stance if there is nothing formal) that leads them to publish such misinformation and defamation of scientists? Do they feel obliged to serve as a platform for anything someone wants to trumpet? Would similarly innuendo-backed claims George W. Bush orchestrated 9/11 or that Barack Obama is a Muslim Kenyan on a mission to destroy America be given equal airing? Do they simply erroneously believe there is controversy with two sides of comparable heft?

The last seems likely and is depressing in a couple of ways. But it would also seem to be correctable.

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