Specter's First Reply: Denialism Kills People

By Chris Mooney | November 5, 2009 8:05 pm

It is now up on Slate and you can read it here. There are many good points but I’ll just quote the end; Specter responds to my remark about the Internet and misinformation spreading as follows:

There will always be irresponsible blogs and Web sites. But there is also the New York Post. What we need to defeat denialism are independent and thoughtful publications (like this one, for example) that serve up information that is at least as reliable as newspapers have been. We will get there, but it is going to take a while, and the journey has and will be painful. In the mean time, the American public, and particularly those of us who write about science, need to start talking more vigorously about our scientific opportunities and their potential risks. If we don’t start soon, we are going to let some very promising solutions to our worst problems slip away. Do you agree with me that a national discussion on the future of synthetic life is necessary? More importantly, do you think it’s possible?

I think it’s crucially important to have a national discussion on synthetic life…and I’m now writing my next response to Specter. Meanwhile, read his here.

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Comments (8)

  1. Wil

    In the U.S., journalists used to often be accomplished specialists in the areas that they covered. For example, a science journalist was an experienced scientist, a music journalist was an accomplished professional musician, and so on.

    Then journalism schools came along, and the newsrooms gradually became filled with folks that had bachelors and masters degrees in journalism, and no experience, training, depth, or contacts what-so-ever in the areas that they covered as journalists.

    This was a big factor in the great “dumbing down” and cheapening of all news media in the U.S. The journalists didn’t know what they didn’t know, including all branches of science. Thus, they couldn’t know what were important events and what were trivial, or what was bullshit and what was true and rigorous. And they merely pass this incredible ignorance along to their readers.

    In my opinion, this is a large reason that the human-caused global warming theory has been such a mindless religion with the media, despite absolutely no evidence that the airborne CO2 concentration (and nothing else in all the heavens or the earth) might cause the average air temperature of the world to go up or down in the next 10, 40 80, or 150 years.

    In addition, it is much cheaper, faster and easier to be lazy, and to practice simplistic and sensational journalism, rather than spending weeks studying complex topics, then explaining all the subtle nuances to the readers. For every Mozart, there are 100 Britney Spears.

    If modern journalists had even a little background, or spent more than four hours per topic, they might find (and care) that many of their sources are using them for a hidden agenda, or that some of their sources are lying nutjobs, or some or their sources just want to be famous for a few days, and so on.

    People no longer trust, respect or believe journalists, and they shouldn’t.

  2. Jon

    despite absolutely no evidence that the airborne CO2 concentration… might cause the average air temperature of the world to go up or down

    Um, except this evidence, and all this evidence, and all these scientists saying the evidence is overwhelming, and all these senators from both parties saying it’s a big problem, etc. etc.

  3. Arrow

    Jon: “Um, except this evidence, and all this evidence, and all these scientists saying the evidence is overwhelming, and all these senators from both parties saying it’s a big problem, etc. etc.”
    Your first “evidence” shows a correlation between CO2 and temperature, correlation is not causation but what is really critical here is that in each case pictured temperature rise precedes CO2 rise by 1-2 thousand years. So it certainly doesn’t prove that CO2 causes temperature to rise if anything it’s the opposite. To me this nice graph clearly shows that hot periods are a natural cyclic phenomena.

    Your second “evidence” is just a writeup on scientific *opinion* which is certainly not evidence in any sense. You can find scientists on both sides and even if those who promote global warming are more numerous this doesn’t prove anything.

    Finally your third “evidence” – senators opinion carries even less weight then scientific opinion.

    There is no objective evidence that man made emissions significantly contribute to global warming. It is possible but far from proven.

    PS. To Errasmusimo the resident AGW prophet (AGW is now officially a religion http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/11/04/its-official-climate-change-beliefs-now-have-religious-status/) of this forum who is bound to appear any moment now: I know you disagree but I have no time to discuss your dishonest arguments.

  4. Jon

    Your first “evidence” shows a correlation between CO2 and temperature, correlation is not causation but what is really critical here is that in each case pictured temperature rise precedes CO2 rise by 1-2 thousand years.

    Coby Beck has a writeup on that common objection.

    Your second “evidence” is just a writeup on scientific *opinion*…

    My second evidence are these studies: http://www.tinyurl.com/heatisonline

    My *third* evidence is scientific opinion of dozens of scientific organizations worldwide–interestingly, no dissenting opinions. From where we sit as laypeople, that’s evidence. It would take a pretty astounding conspiracy for every single scientific organization worldwide to be wrong.

    My fourth is, yes, Republicans and Democrats in the senate. For all Republicans to be agreeing there’s a problem chances are there’s some serious evidence. As there is.

    There is no objective evidence that man made emissions significantly contribute to global warming.

    Yes, there’s plenty. See my link above: http://www.tinyurl.com/heatisonline

    Wattsupwiththat’s Anthony Watts is a meteorologist at KPAY 1290 AM radio in Chicago, not a climate scientist.

  5. Arrow

    Jon, opinions are not evidence and appeal to authority is a logical fallacy.

    The explanation for why CO2 lagging behind temperature does not prove temperature causes CO2 to rise which you linked to makes sense but that leaves us with just correlation with no proven causality either way.

    The only real evidence is mentioned in your second link (http://www.tinyurl.com/heatisonline) but even that is hardly conclusive. All those studies rely on unverified climate models – models which have never been shown to successfully predicted global climate.

    Without experimentally verified models it’s impossible to prove what impact man made emissions have on global warming and predict how climate will behave in the future.

    For example despite CO2 (and other greenhouse gases) concentration increasing during the last decade warming greatly slowed down proving there is a powerful mechanism capable of offsetting the greenhouse effect of man made emissions. None of climate models managed to predict this slowdown which means they fail to account for this mechanism and probably many others, predictions and conclusions based on incomplete models are simply not trustworthy.

    For evidence to be convincing climatologists have to produce a model capable of predicting global average temperature during the 20 century with reasonable accuracy from first principles – using only climate data from previous centuries and data on human emissions (without any fudge factors). Science has seen plenty of sensible models which turned out to be spectacularly wrong, comparing model predictions with reality is the *only* way to verify whether the model is right.

    Once some model is proven to correctly predict climate it can be used to reliably asses the effect of man made emissions by running simulations with and without them.

    Until such a model is developed man made global warming will continue to be only a plausible hypothesis.

  6. Jon

    All those studies rely on unverified climate models

    No, they don’t.

    I’ll look forward to your published journal article debunking all these scientists. Otherwise, I’m wasting my time.

  7. John Kwok

    Specter was interviewed for a television segment on whether one should take the H1N1 viral vaccine, which appeared this morning as the lead segment on “CBS Sunday Morning”. He stressed that people should heed information given by scientists and statisticians in describing the relative risks involved in taking – or not taking – the vaccine. Unfortunately he was on for only about a minute or two, but it was an important contribution from him nonetheless.

  8. It seems that Specter’s endorsement of race-based medicine, in light of the recent findings for the cardiac drug, BiDil, may be a form of evidence-free speculation that author himself rails against. A recent analysis published in the RSS journal, Significance, of the statistical shenanigans needed to claim support for the drug’s race-specific effects should have been considered by the author, if only to convince himself that there’s actually “no there there.”

    Medicine in black and white: BiDil®: race and the limits of evidence-based medicine

    by George Ellison

    ABSTRACT
    When the US Food and Drug Administration licensed the drug BiDil® in June 2005 it was hailed as a significant step towards “personalised prescribing”. This is because BiDil® had been patented, tested and approved for use by just one group of patients: those “of African descent”. George Ellison examines the statistical evidence that underpinned the development of BiDil® as a “racial drug” and finds it less than satisfactory.
    http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/118592621/abstract?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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