Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Recognize the junkyard for what it is

Several weeks Joe Romm used the metaphor of a "house of cards" not once but twice when discussing what might be termed the "Wegman affair".

Romm describes the retraction by the publishing journal because of plagiarism of the paper that grew out the congressional report that supposedly undermined (but in reality did not) a swath of paleoclimatology as well as the credibility of climate science as an area of research as something that "rocks cornerstone of climate denial."

I like methaphors and similes, but I strongly disagree with the notions that denial of climate science has a cornerstone or even that it amounts to a house of cards.

Climate science denial, where there is even an attempt to justify it, is generally marked by a mishmash of assorted and often contradictory ideas that do not actually fit together to paint a coherent, fully explanatory picture. A metaphor I have used is that of a casserole bound by "anything butter" where anything in isolation that has a whiff of suggesting for whatever reason that human-driven climate change is not a concern is thrown into the mix with little to no thought of how the ingredients fit together.

Calling climate science denial a "house of cards" or saying it has a foundation gives it way too much credit. Even a house of cards implies pieces intricately and carefully put together. John Cook expounded on a difference between a "skeptic" and a "denier".
Do you look at the full body of evidence, considering the whole picture as you build your understanding of climate? Or do you gravitate towards those select pieces of data that, out of context, give a contrarian impression, while denying the rest of the evidence?

Skepticism demands concern for consistency in the big picture. Denial chases any nugget that might dispute what is not wanted to be believed, like saying it not warming (despite the all the varied evidence of warming), then that it is warming but because of the sun (despite the lack of a trend in solar activity), then that it is because of an ocean cycle (despite the lack of a physical mechanism by which that could cause the observed warming), then that even if it is us we cannot change our ways to do anything about it.

A common other side of denial is the belief that tugging at any supposed loose thread in the whole of climate science unravels the whole thing. That is why there is all the rock-throwing attempting to punch holes - the belief that the science is a house of cards that can be toppled by anything. Thus there is so much of anything being thrown out trying to do that. The goal in attacking the science is to justify preconceived notions, not to satisfy curiosity or build our understanding.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Credit where credit is due, hopefully

I am not shy about being harsh toward the Herald for what it publishes that is dismissive of anthropogenic climate change. The last week or so though as been a breath of fresh air with a few op-ed contributions touching on the issue but none trying to sell the case that we do not know anything, that doing anything positive would wreck the economy, etc.

Last Sunday relatively regular positive contributor Dr. Dexter Perkins in calling for limiting coal pollution again noted the problem with climate change and how well-known that is by experts. The next day in Lloyd Omdahl's weekly column he lamented the "present-oriented mentality" that, among other things, ignored the need for clean energy because doing that is cheaper today than taking a longer view and addressing the issue. This Sunday featured a column from Naomi Klein making the connection between our fossil fuel dependence and direct disasters like oil spills as well as climate impacts.

I understand statistics and the peril of making decisions on the basis of small samples. The next several days may feature multiple pieces disputing fundamental science, ranting that a price on carbon pollution is socialist economy-destroying tyranny and the like. But there is one other thing from the past week that makes me hopeful that the Herald maybe gets it on climate change, or at least can get it. It was the day with the dualing viewpoints with pro and con pieces on the idea of a balanced budget amendment to the federal constitution.

That day's editorial dismissed one of the main hand-waved declarations supposed to favor such an amendment, that the government has to be like a household and maintain a balanced budget. The first problem is the fallacy that households must have a constantly balanced budget and cannot take on debt, but the Herald devoted most of the column space literally to a textbook dismissal of the idea that the federal government is comparable to a household when it comes to budgeting. The fact that the column based on such flawed reaching for straws still is published is not so great. But it is nice to see that basic and well-established concepts from actual experts are used to parry political statements attempting to masquerade as evidence-backed arguments.

Maybe just maybe, the Herald will dismiss the similar baseless attempts to sow doubt about climate change. Perhaps they might even decide that their responsibility to inform the public does not mean reciting whatever fossil fuel industry or conservative think tank attack du jour but rather conveying the most accurate information even if that comes from only one side.