It’s a truism that whenever I write about the solid fact that the Earth is warming up, that post will get comments that make it clear that denialists — and please read that link before commenting on my use of the word — are like religious zealots, writing the same tired long-debunked arguments that are usually debunked in the very post they’re commenting on.
Still, we press on. The noise machine only wins if they can outshout reality, so it’s important to keep writing about it. Here are five news items about climate change that might help mitigate the nonsense.
1) Last week, I posted the results from studies showing 2011 was the 9th hottest year on record. Forbes online has more information on this. They take a different tack on it, but get the same results I do: the Earth is warming up, and humans are why.
2) Some very welcome news: the National Center for Science Education — who for years have been at the forefront of battling creationists getting their "curriculum" into schools — is adding climate change to their syllabus. At that link they have well-written descriptions of the problem, how to teach about climate change, and how take action against denialism.
You can watch NCSE’s Executive Director, the wonderful Genie Scott (full disclosure: she’s a friend of mine) talk about climate change, and why it’s so important that we tackle this issue politically.
3) One tactic of denialists like Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and several Congressmen is to use witch hunts against climate scientists. By filing court orders to get access to emails, for example, they endlessly hound scientists. This serves their purposes quite well: it sets up a chilling effect, for one, making a hostile environment for the scientist; and it sets up doubt in the public’s mind despite there being zero real evidence for it. Michael Mann has suffered this sort of thing many times, despite being cleared of all wrongdoing over and over again.
Now the tables are turned. Scientists have filed a Freedom of Information request to find out who is bankrolling the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a denialist "think tank" with "shadowy funders". In the US, there are groups like this aplenty, and in many cases their funding can be traced to oil companies, the Koch brothers, and so on.
The more people see who actually funds these denialist groups, the better. Once it became public that it was the tobacco industry pumping so many lies into the media about cigarettes the tide turned, and these global warming denialist groups are literally using the same tactics. And hey, the Heartland Institute, which bills itself as libertarian, also has ties to tobacco at the same time it funds New Zealand climate denial groups, too.
4) Apropos of that, some good news in the fight: the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund — which helps raise money for beleagured scientists under attack by denialists — has a new home: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). PEER will provide sponsorship and logistical support for the fund. Money raised goes to help defray the costs of legal fees for scientists who are the subjects of the above-mentioned witch hunts. The CSLDF also helps educate scientists about their rights, recruits lawyers to help out, and serves as an information database related to legal actions against scientists.
Wanna help? Donate to the fund here.
5) … and apropos of that, it’s nice to see scientists fighting back, too.
Some great news out of the Lone Star State: the Texas State Board of Education unanimously rejected creationist supplements to textbooks, instead voting to endorse science-based ones.
These supplements are for students to use in classrooms in addition to their textbooks. A passel of creationist ones had been submitted for approval by the BoE back in April by a creationist special interest group, as well as materials based on science submitted by mainstream publishers. Last week, the BoE voted on which to use, and science won.
The links above go to the National Center for Science Education. They are a group that fought valiantly for the science-based materials, which is clearly why they won the day; they greatly outnumbered witnesses for creationism. Clearly, showing up is half the battle. At least. My congratulations to everyone at the NCSE for this victory.
Josh Rosenau, who writes the Thoughts from Kansas blog and was one of the people at the Texas hearings, has written about this debate in detail (including earlier posts here, and here) if you’re looking for more info from an insider’s viewpoint.
So, because of this, I am happy to create this new graphic:
I hope I have many, many more chances to use it in the future.
Some good news from Texas! Yeehaw!
The Institute for Creation Research — one of the biggest nonsense-peddlers in the 6000 year history of the world — was handed a nice defeat this week. That link to the National Center for Science Education (the good guys) has all the info you need, but to summarize: the ICR moved from California to Texas. In the previous state, for reasons beyond understanding, they were able to grant Master’s degrees in their graduate school. But Texas didn’t recognize their accreditation, so they filed to get it approved.
Not so surprisingly, scientists and educators rose in protest, and in 2008 the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board — the organization that grants accreditation — denied the ICR. The creationists appealed. In the meantime, they also tried to extend their ability to grant degrees temporarily while the lawsuit continued. What happened this week is that the extension as denied.
And I mean denied. Check out what the court said:
It appears that although the Court has twice required Plaintiff [the ICR] to re-plead and set forth a short and plain statement of the relief requested, Plaintiff is entirely unable to file a complaint which is not overly verbose, disjointed, incoherent, maundering, and full of irrelevant information.
That’s not surprising, as that’s the only kind of information the ICR is capable of producing. Not to mention wrong. See the Related Posts links below for lots more on the ICR’s recent follies.
As far as I can tell, this defeat means that the ICR is still seeking accreditation, but until and unless it does, it cannot grant degrees in Texas.
So what can be said about this? Oh, let me quote one of the pithiest and to-the-point minds of our day:
<Nelson Muntz>Haha!</Nelson Muntz>
Steven Newton, a project director for the wonderful National Center for Science Education — a group that fights creationists who want to shred the Constitution — has written a nice article about science denialism in, of all places, the Huffington Post. Generally, HuffPo is
a wretched hive of scum and villainy a repository of antivax and alt-med nonsense, but it’s nice to see that some of the contributors are pro-science. Full disclosure: I wrote several astronomy articles on HuffPo, but stopped when the antivaxxers became the darlings of the site.
Newton’s article talks about how science learns, but denialists remain firm in their denial. It’s a good read.
Speaking of which, I just finished reading Michael Specter’s book Denialism. It’s an interesting look into the attitudes of people who deny obvious reality — people like antivaxxers, creationists, and so on. The book is mostly specific examples of these folks. Specter does discuss a bit why some people are denialists, and it’s mostly what you’d expect: it’s safe, it’s comforting, we have a tendency to believe pre-conceived notions and look for confirmation. I’ll note the book goes off the rails a bit in the last two chapters where he talks about genomics; it becomes more pro-genomics than a refutation of denialism. He pulls it out in the last few pages though, and all in all I’d recommend the book.
All of us — especially skeptics, but all of us — need to understand why people deny reality. In many cases the only thing these people damage are themselves. But they also vote, and cause health problems, and never forget that not only do they run for political office, they often win. Denialism is safe and comforting, and while science is more important in the long run, the denialists are getting more and sometimes better press.
We can deny that all we want, but what does that make us?