3 April 2009

Politics Dressed Up As Science- How to Spot It

Posted by Dan Satterfield

I received an email last week with a link to an article about Carbon Dioxide. The gist of the message was that all this talk of Carbon Dioxide affecting out planet’s climate is a hoax. That same day, another viewer told me that it was very difficult to tell what was Science and what wasn’t. Especially online.

That is not an accident.

So just how do you tell??

The secret is PEER REVIEW.

Peer review is how Science works. It’s not perfect, and sometimes some crazy stuff makes it into even respected journals. Peer review is the cornerstone of modern science. It’s also a good basic divider, between persuasion dressed up as Science, and the real thing.

No, I am not saying that you should buy a subscription to Nature, or Science or even Geophysical Research Letters. I am saying, that if you read something online, you should look to see if the article is about something published in a peer reviewed journal. If it’s an explanatory article in the mainstream press, you can hope they got the basic facts right.



If it’s on a blog written by Climate Scientists ,who themselves publish frequently in peer reviewed journals, then you are likely OK. Real Climate is a good example. The people behind that blog are all well known Climate Scientists. They frequently discuss articles in peer reviewed journals. They also call attention to junk that pretends to be Science.

Web sites such as Nature Reports Climate Change and New Scientist, frequently have articles on new research written for a general audience. The American Meteorological Society’s Environmental Seminar Series pages are excellent. I have a ton of other good REAL Science links to Climate, on my Wild Wild Climate page.

NOAA has a ton of good Climate info!


Be very suspicious of long retired scientists who make statements that are contrary to the overwhelming majority of opinion in the Science community. Someone once told me that when an old respected scientist says something is possible, believe them. When they say something is impossible, smile, and ask them how they like retirement!

In my example, the article on CO2 says that there is so very little that it doesn’t matter, and that the rise is not our fault anyhow. It was published by the Heritage Foundation, a well funded Libertarian think tank. The so called Science was not published in a peer reviewed journal, and it never would make it past peer review anyhow.

Heritage is funded by Exxon, and the American Petroleum Institute, among many others. The intention of this article was not Science, they have no intention of seeing it published in a real journal. It’s political persuasion dressed up as Science, with graphs and all.

Sherman and Mr. Peabody in the Way Back Machine

Sherman and Mr. Peabody in the Way Back Machine

On a side note, lets discuss the claims they made.

CO2 makes up only 387 parts per million of the air we breath. Not much is it. Still, that little bit keeps the planet from turning into a giant ice cube. With no CO2, the Earths average temperature would be well below freezing instead of 15C. The Heritage Foundation wants you to think that there is so little CO2, that doubling or even tripling the amount would make little difference. They also get the Carbon Cycle mixed up with new emissions. This is junk science at it’s best.

It’s also very Wrong.

If I stuck you with a needle and gave you 2 grams of morphine, you would be dead in a minute or so. Just two 1,000ths of a kilogram into a 90 kilogram person. CO2 is like Morphine. A little CO2 goes a long way.

How do we know the rise in CO2 is from fossil fuels?

Carbon Isotopes. Fossil fuels have no Carbon 14 (It has a half life of around 50K years).  It has long since decayed. Plants that produce Carbon Dioxide do have Carbon 14, and so do you in your body. The ratio of Carbon 12 to Carbon 14 is dropping in the atmosphere. Why?  Because we are burning fossil fuels that have no C14. (Carbon 14 dating is used frequently to measure the ages of artifacts.)

These are just some of the reasons why the article I mentioned, would never get through peer review. Not because, it’s some giant conspiracy, to keep the truth from the public.

If you see an ad in a newspaper that says Climate Change is a hoax, and it’s signed by 1 retired climate researcher, and 99 people who have never published anything on Climate, you are being persuaded, not given Science. (Especially if the ad was funded by a think tank).