Category: Skepticism

Flatly wrong global warming denial

By Phil Plait | October 23, 2012 10:24 am

Sometimes climate change deniers make it all too easy.

The UK paper Daily Mail has a long history of courting climate change denial, and apparently it has no wish to change. It recently posted an atrocious article called "Global warming stopped 16 years ago, reveals Met Office report quietly released… and here is the chart to prove it". The article was written by David Rose, who wrote a pretty inaccurate article earlier this year on a similar topic.

In fact, this new article was so blatantly wrong that the MET office – the national weather service for the UK – wrote a rebuttal to it detailing the flaws. To start with, they point out they did recently update their global temperature databases, but that’s a very different thing than "quietly releasing a report", as Rose claims. Cue the conspiracy music!

It gets worse from there. They take on his points one at a time and take them down. I highly recommend reading them. And if you haven’t gotten your fill of it, or you’re still not convinced, you can check out The Carbon Brief’s article that gives more details on Rose’s denial.

Or you can read the takedown by Skeptical Science.

Or by Open Mind. In fact, let’s take a closer look at that.

Tamino, the author of Open Mind, shows just how Rose picks and chooses his data to make it look like global warming stopped years ago. In the picture here, the top graph shows what Rose says the temperature looks like: flat across the past 15 years or so. But that’s terribly misleading: the starting point he chose falsely makes the graph look flat. The bottom one shows the true situation as Tamino describes it. You have to go farther into the past to find a reasonable starting point, and when you do, you see what looked flat is actually a rising temperature over time.

To do what Rose did in that upper graph is to strain reality (and credulity) past the breaking point. It’s almost as if Rose specifically chose the data that he liked and rejected the rest. That’s a big no-no in the reality-based world. Tamino thoroughly vaporizes Rose’s article, showing that it’s wrong in its most basic assumptions, its methodology, and its conclusions.

But other than that…

This article is just another in a long line of climate change denials that fiddles with the data to make it look like the Earth isn’t warming up. But it adds up. This kind of nonsense is damaging to real efforts to do something real about a real problem. And venues like the Daily Mail are all too happy to fan the fire while the world burns.


Related Posts:

The US Congress Anti-Science Committee
Republican candidates, global warming, evolution, and reality
Is it hot in here, or is it just global warming?
Let those global warming dollars flow

Paul Kurtz, 1925 – 2012

By Phil Plait | October 22, 2012 11:58 am

I am greatly saddened to learn that one of the founders of modern skeptical outreach, Paul Kurtz, has died.

Paul was the motivating force behind the creation of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP, which recently changed its name to the much more palatable Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, or CSI), one of the leading centers of the skeptical movement. You can read more about Paul’s work on Wikipedia. Dr. Steve Novella, from the New England Skeptical society, wrote a nice piece about Paul as well.

I only met Paul a few times, and I don’t have any interesting stories of note, to be honest. I’m sure we’ll be hearing tales about the man over the next few days, and I hope you take the time to read them. Too many people in movements forget their own history, and knowledge of what happened in the past is always valuable in moving forward.

And move forward we must. There is no end to the weeds of nonsense that take root in the human brain, and we will never rid ourselves of them completely. As any gardener will tell you, it’s a full time task just to pull those weeds; it’s not something you can ever stop doing. But it’s the only way to let flowers grow.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, Skepticism
MORE ABOUT: CSI, CSICOP, Paul Kurtz

Big Picture Science: Doomsday live show

By Phil Plait | October 11, 2012 9:00 am

My friends at SETI’s Big Picture Science podcast – what used to be called the Are We Alone radio show – want to put together a live show for the October 27 Bay Area Science Festival, a huge public gathering of folks where they can learn about science. They plan on holding a lively panel of astronomers, climate scientists, and other experts about the facts behind doomsday theories (such as they are).

But they need help to raise the funds to do this. They need $4000, so they started a Kickstarter fund to help. They’re almost there – as I write this they’re only $600 away, with a couple of days left to go – though of course with more funds they can do more.

This is being done by my good friends SETI astronomer Seth Shostak and science journalist Molly Bentley, and I support them. In fact, I’ve done many a segment of the Big Picture Science podcast: Seth and I do a roughly once per month interview called Brains on Vacation (see Related Posts below). So I know this show does good work, and the live show will be really fun, entertaining, and of course educational. In a good way!

Go check out their Kickstarter and beam them some cash if you can. Thanks!


Related Posts:

Big Picture Science: Antivaxxers (and updates)
Faster than light Brains on Vacation
Beast of Skeptic Check
Big Picture Science: climate change denial on Fox News

Vaccines: opinions are not facts

By Phil Plait | October 9, 2012 10:07 am

There’s an old phrase among critical thinkers: you’re entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts*. The idea is that these are two different things: opinions are matters of taste or subjective conclusions, while facts stand outside that, independent of what you think or how you may be biased.

You can have an opinion that Quisp cereal is, to you, the best breakfast food of all time. But you can’t have the opinion that evolution isn’t real. That latter is not an opinion; it’s objectively wrong. You can have the opinion that the evidence for evolution doesn’t satisfy you, or that evolution feels wrong to you. But disbelieving evolution is not an opinion.

The same can be said for many other topics of critical thinking.

Deakin University Philosophy lecturer Patrick Stokes makes just this case in a well-written piece called No, You’re Not Entitled to Your Opinion. For his basic example of this he uses the modern antivaccination movement, specifically Meryl Dorey and the Orwellain-named Australian Vaccination Network, or AVN.

Dorey’s name is familiar to regular readers: she spews antivax nonsense at nearly relativistic velocities, able to say more provably wrong and blatantly dangerous things than any given antiscience advocate after eight cups of coffee (just how dangerous the antivax movement is has been written about ably by my friend Seth Mnookin in Parade magazine). She never comes within a glancing blow of reality, and has been shown to her face that whatshe says is wrong, but stubbornly refuses to back down. She claims vaccines are connected to autism, that vaccines contain dangerous levels of toxins, that vaccines hurt human immune systems. None of these things is true. Reasonable Hank, who is outspoken about Dorey, has an exhaustive list of the awful things she’s said and done.

But some media pay attention to her, and in Australia the rate of pertussis is skyrocketing. Babies have died from this illness – not that Dorey actually believes that. Despite this, some media let Dorey rant on with her medical health conspiracy theories, citing "balance" when doing their stories. This is, simply, crap. Talking to doctors and researchers with years of experience in public health, and then Dorey (who has zero qualifications to discuss this topic) gives her de facto equal footing with reality. It would be like having astronauts interviewed about the space station, then talking to a UFO hunter.

Specifically, the article by Stokes I linked above takes the station WIN-TV to task for interviewing Dorey, and lays out just why this was a boneheaded thing to do (the ABC program Media Watch did an outstanding job destroying WIN-TV and Dorey, too). His bottom line: sure, you get to have an opinion, but don’t confuse it with fact, and don’t think you have a right to state your opinion in the media.

Predictably, and with predictable results, Dorey herself has jumped into the fray on the comments to the article. She has an uncanny ability to completely miss the point of what’s being said, and as usual is tone-deaf to what’s being said. It’s fascinating, in its own way.

I don’t think Dorey will ever change. I’ll note too that there are groups out there looking for the real causes of autism; the Autism Science Foundation is one. They even have a page up showing no connection between autism and vaccines. It’s wonderful and refreshing, and we should praise them for it. I have, like here and here. They’re good folks.

And remember another stock phrase in the critical thinking community: Keep an open mind, but not so open your brain falls out.

Image credit: Shutterstock (jimmi)


* The phrase is generally attributed to NY Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.


Related Posts:

Stop antivaxxers. Now.
Debunking vaccine myths
Antivax kills
BREAKING: BMJ calls Andrew Wakefield a fraud

The US Congress Anti-Science Committee

By Phil Plait | October 6, 2012 7:00 am

[NB: As always with posts like this, I strongly urge you to read my note about posts covering politics and religion as well as my commenting policy before leaving a comment.]

Not too long ago, I (and pretty much the whole internet) wrote about the ridiculous and honestly offensive statements made by Representative Todd Akin (R-MO). His knowledge – or really, the profound lack thereof – of female anatomy made him the laughing stock of the planet. But I wasn’t laughing. I was, and still am, furious. And not just because of what he said, but also because he is a member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.

That anyone could spew such obvious and awful nonsense about biology and anatomy and yet sit on the US Congress’s science committee is, simply put, an outrage.

I also pointed out he’s not alone. In that article I devoted just one line to Representative Paul Broun (R-GA), saying how he was a creationist and also sits on that same science committee… but I think it’s time we take a second look at Congressman Broun.

Why?

In late September, Rep. Broun made a speech at the Liberty Baptist Church’s Sportsman’s banquet in Hartwell, Georgia. In this speech he said many, many things, including this:

All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior. You see, there are a lot of scientific data that I’ve found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth. I don’t believe that the Earth’s but about 9,000 years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says.

[The whole talk is online at YouTube.]

Sadly, that kind of antiscientific nonsense is de rigueur for a lot of folks these days, even ones who sit in Congress. But then, to close the deal, he goes on:

And what I’ve come to learn is that it’s the manufacturer’s handbook, is what I call it. It teaches us how to run our lives individually, how to run our families, how to run our churches. But it teaches us how to run all of public policy and everything in society. And that’s the reason as your congressman I hold the Holy Bible as being the major directions to me of how I vote in Washington, D.C., and I’ll continue to do that.

Two points: one is that all Congresscritters, upon entering office, have to swear to uphold the Constitution, and the second is that this document is pretty clear about legislating religion. In fact, Supreme Court judge Hugo Black said about this topic, "Government must be neutral among religions and nonreligion: it cannot promote, endorse, or fund religion or religious institutions."

Rep. Broun’s words don’t sound terribly neutral to me.

You may disagree with me about the shaky ground (like Richter 10 shaky) Broun stands on Constitutionally, but there is no doubt – none – that he is 100% completely off the rails with his science. The Big Bang is "straight from the pit of hell"? It’s bad enough that anyone would actually believe something like that, let alone a Congressman, but I will remind you he sits on the House science committee!

And he sits there with Akin. And Brooks. And Hall. And Rohrabacher.

These are the men whom the Republican majority placed on that committee. Men who think global warming is a fantasy. Men who think women have magic vaginas. Men who think the Earth is thousands, not billions, of years old.

I have my issues with Obama right now, which in truth are dwarfed by my issues with Romney. But remember that come November 6 of this year in the US we’ll be voting for members of Congress as well. And the majority party decides who sits on what committee, and those people will in turn decide what to legislate: reality, or fantasy.

The choice, quite literally, is yours. Choose well.

Tip o’ the gavel to TPM via CCounterman.


Related Posts:

Akin breakin’ science
Followup: Rep. Ralph Hall’s unbelievable statement on science funding bill
Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA): on climate change, makes wrong even wronger
Next up for Congress: repeal the law of gravity

SpaceFest IV interview

By Phil Plait | September 29, 2012 7:00 am

In May I attended SpaceFest IV, a gathering of space enthusiasts, astronauts (who, I suppose, are legit space enthusiasts), astronomers, and more. It’s a lot of fun, and great to see old friends and meet new science geeks. I missed last year’s, unfortunately, but was happy to be able to go this year again.

While I was there I was interviewed about the Mayan apocalypse, Symphony of Science, and building a real Enterprise. It was an eclectic series of questions.

There are also video interviews of my friends Dan Durda and Meteorite Man Geoff Notkin, too.

I hope there’ll be another SpaceFest next year! I had a lot of fun, and I bet a lot of you reading this would too.


Related Posts:

Come to Space Fest IV!
A Spacefest Odyssey
Spacefest 2009
Spacefest wrapup

Two talks in the Old Dominion!

By Phil Plait | September 26, 2012 12:30 pm

This week sees me returning to the state I grew up in: Virginia.

I’ll be at James Madison University Thursday, September 27 to give my "2012: We’re All (not) Gonna Die!" talk – basically destroying the Mayan December 21, 2012 apocalypse nonsense – at 7:00 p.m at the Wilson Hall Auditorium. Admission is free and open to the public.

The talk is sponsored by the John C. Wells Planetarium, JMU Department of Physics & Astronomy, College of Science & Mathematics, and the JMU Center for STEM Education & Outreach. They even made the awesome poster seen here! [Click to Kukulkanenate.]

Then, the next day – Friday, September 28 – I’ll be at my alma mater, the University of Virginia, to be the keynote speaker for the 2012 Forum for Interdisciplinary Dialogue called "Fact, Fiction, and Supposition"! I’m honored to be a part of this event sponsored by the Jefferson Scholars Foundation and the Jefferson Graduate Fellows at the University of Virginia.

That talk is also open to the public, and will be at 16:00 at The Jefferson Scholars Foundation Hall. They’ve set up a Facebook page for the event if you like that sort of thing. My good friend Dr. Nicole Gugliucci (and UVa alumna) will be speaking the next day there, too!

I haven’t been back to central Virginia in a good long time, so it’ll be nice to see it again. I hope the trees are turning now! And I hope to see some of you Wahoos there, too.


Related Posts:

If the Mayans were right, it was probably about Internet comments
Re-cycled Mayan calendar nonsense
MSNBC interview: 2012, the year the Earth doesn’t end. Again.

The puzzle of dogma

By Phil Plait | September 22, 2012 7:00 am

reddit user jerfoo created a lovely and simple photo series demonstrating the difference between experimental science – testing data and finding things out based on evidence – and dogmatic faith – belief in something rigidly and without wavering.

Read the whole thing; it’s wonderfully done. It’s been making the rounds on the net, and I like the way it’s set up and the message it delivers. Not everyone is so unwavering in their dogma, but enough people are (especially those who run this country) that this should be required reading by the time every US citizen reaches elementary school.


Related Posts:

Natural born scientist
Tennessee passes law allowing creationism in the classroom
A win for reality in Texas!
Texas creationist McLeroy spins the educational disaster he created

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, Religion, Science, Skepticism
MORE ABOUT: creationism

Let those global warming dollars flow

By Phil Plait | September 20, 2012 11:00 am

One of the weirdest (and by that I mean most ridiculous) claims I’ve heard from global warming deniers is the idea that somehow there is a cabal of scientists making up all the information we see about climate change.

First, scientists aren’t very good at that sort of collusion. As Ben Franklin said, "Three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead." Scientists as a rule tend to abhor misleading people or out-and-out lying. And those who do tend to be caught by the peer-review process.

Anyway, ignoring the idea that tens of thousands of scientists are playing a Jedi mind trick on the rest of us without a single one of them betraying the secret (and no, Climategate and its sequel don’t count since that was all trumped up smoke and mirrors by the denier crowd), the real reason this claim is ludicrous is because of its supernova-bright irony: a lot of the deniers can be traced to having fossil fuel funding.

Or, as this infographic from Occupy Posters puts it so succinctly:

Mind you, this isn’t supposed to be evidence that global warming deniers are paid frauds. It’s simply using Occam’s Razor, asking which makes more sense. Taken that way, it just shows the idea that scientists are on the wrong side of this is really silly.

Incidentally, guess who’s funding Mitt Romney’s campaign to the tune of tens of millions of dollars? Anyone? Bueller?

With the arctic melting earlier and deeper every year, with temperatures rising, with extreme weather more common, with glaciers retreating, with sea level rising, with droughts ravaging the US, reality is diverging more and more from the claims of the deniers.


Related Posts:

Case closed: “Climategate” was manufactured
Climategate 2: More ado about nothing. Again.
A case study of the tactics of climate change denial, in which I am the target

Symphony of Science: climate change

By Phil Plait | September 14, 2012 10:00 am

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a new Symphony of Science – videos autotuning scientists and science popularizers to promote critical thinking – and I’m pleased not only that a fresh one went up, but that it’s about a topic near and dear to me (and should be to everyone): climate change.

It’s nice to see Asimov included in the video. And I like the message: we can fix this if we take it seriously and try. I wind up spending a lot of my time and effort debunking the shills of the oil industry, and it’s good to remember we also need positive messages, too.


Related Posts:

-A new Symphony of Science: Wave of Reason
Symphony of Science: Onward to the Edge
A quantum Symphony of Science
Symphonic Symphony of Science
Symphony of Science: Children of Africa

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