2 August 2009

August 2009- Science Fights Back

Posted by Dan Satterfield

Many would argue that the science community began to fight back three or four years ago, but I think this Summer and perhaps August in general is when it finally reached critical mass.

I’m not just referring to attacks on certain scientists like James Hanson, or even the attempts by government officials to impede scientific research, and the dissemination of the results to the wider public, it goes much deeper than that.

What got me really thinking about this was the sad story of the girls who died of a treatable form of Diabetes, because her parents trusted their religious beliefs, and refused to take her to a Doctor. The Father was convicted of Homicide. This is truly a sad case, but I think the roots go much deeper into the national psyche. It started in the 1980’s and has gotten much worse in the last 10 years.

Click to order from Amazon

Click to order from Amazon

Awhile back I recommended the book Unscientific America by Chris Mooney, in this corner of cyberspace. I am still reading it and I want to quote some from it to make my point. That said, you should really get the book and read it. It’s uncomfortable reading for someone who has spent much of his career explaining science to the public.

One reason I went into TV as I finished my degree in Meteorology in 1981, is the widespread belief by those who were trained in the field, that TV weather was a ridiculous representation of Meteorology, (and science in general). I thought I could change that. Well, when you’re young… still I think I have made a small contribution. More recently than in the past, thanks to the Internet and Twitter.

I try hard to avoid the political side of science. Most especially with climate change. You will not hear anything from me about the pro’s and cons of Waxman-Markey’s climate bill. Joe Romm at Climate Progress will handle it better than I could. You might even be surprised on what I think about it. Honestly, I have no better ideas than anyone else. It’s a policy question.

We need to base our policy on Science though and not propaganda, or dogma.

I do speak up when someone starts spreading propaganda disguised as Science. Whether it be someone trying to convince people they can run their car on a tank of water in the trunk, (I still get emails from folks over that!) or that El Nino and, or Cosmic Rays are causing the planet to warm. (El Nino seems to be the latest fad this month among the anti science crowd.)

When I get the all to often email stating “It’s The Sun Stupid”, I want to reply with “No, it’s the science stupid.” I try to refrain though.;)

In Unscientific America, the fly leaf has some very disturbing facts.

1. For every 5 hours of cable news, one minute is devoted to science.

2. 46% of Americans believe the Earth is less than 10,000 years old.

and this: “They reject bedrock scientific findings- including an entire field, Evolutionary Biology, because they wrongly think it’s incompatible with faith.”

This is scary. There is a Museum in Kentucky where hoards of visitors are told, that the foundational theory of all Biology, perhaps the most tested and successful scientific theory of all time, is wrong. That humans and Dinosaurs coexisted!  Don’t get me wrong here. We live in a country with freedom of thought and religion. That’s a good thing.

However, when this kind of anti science leads to little girls dying of a treatable medical condition, then something is wrong.

Yes, I know, there will always be those with wild ideas, and conspiracy theories. 6% of this country thinks the moon landing was a hoax! But is general ignorance reaching a critical mass??

When 46% of this country thinks that the foundational theory of Biology is wrong, and the 95% of climate scientists including NASA/NOAA and the National Academies of every major country on the planet are perpetrating a hoax on climate change, then we have big trouble. Even if 99% of the country thinks these things- they will still be scientific facts.

How do we approach this problem. Most people are interested in Science, and have an open and inquisitive mind.  While I certainly don’t recommend you take Buzz Aldrin’s approach, and sock one of the moon landing hoaxers in the nose, I can understand his frustration.

On July 15th, I wrote a post called Watts Wrong With That?-Plenty
It was about a slick piece of Junk Science, put out by a guy called Anthony Watts. It basically called the NOAA scientists who have put together the historic temperature record charlatans. I was among thousands of other meteorologists, who received it in the mail.

The Scientists at NOAA had had enough, and responded to it. That was just the beginning though. Peter Sinclair made a well produced video called The Climate Denial Crock of The Week. It took apart Watt’s silly pamphlet, bit by bit, and showed without a doubt, why NOAA was right.

Mr. Watts complained about it to You Tube, citing copyright violations. He apparently understands even less about “Fair Use” under copyright law, than he does about climate physics. It was initially removed, and like anything else – banning something is a sure way of getting maximum exposure! If this episode keeps someone searching for accurate information on Science from getting sucked into that Internet collection of propaganda sites cloaked as science, then that is one battle science won.

Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum make a good case, in their book, that Scientists themselves bear a lot of the blame for the situation we are in. That hurts, but is probably couched in a lot of truth. I am curious as to what my readers think Science can do to change things.

For those who want to explore this issue more deeply, I highly suggest you bookmark Only In It For The Gold. Micheal Tobis impresses me constantly with his ability to logically think deeply about things.

So, read the book, and with apologies to Simon, Garfunkle, and of course Mrs. Robinson…

Where have you gone Carl Sagan, a nation turns it questioning eyes to you.