Monday, August 07, 2017

How to understand science news

So's your momma.
Recognize, first, that it's very often propaganda calling itself science. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in "reporting" on the climate.

Jay Richards, research professor in the School of Business and Economics at the Catholic University of America, writes:
One of the benefits of the recent Climategate scandal, which revealed leading climate scientists manipulating data, methods, and peer review to exaggerate the evidence of significant global warming, may be to permanently deflate the rhetorical value of the phrase “scientific consensus.”
That was not the first such scandal. Just recently in Australia it was discovered that temperature numbers were being recorded in such a way as to exaggerate the suggestion of warming.

Richards suggests a dozen signs to look for when presented with evidence that the world is about to end. I don't have room to list them all here, but go to his article.

1. When different claims get bundled together.
With global warming, there’s the claim that our planet, on average, is getting warmer. There’s also the claim that human emissions are the main cause of it, that it’s going to be catastrophic, and that we have to transform civilization to deal with it. These are all different assertions with different bases of evidence. 
Evidence for warming, for instance, isn’t evidence for the cause of that warming. All the polar bears could drown, the glaciers melt, the sea levels rise 20 feet, Newfoundland become a popular place to tan, and that wouldn’t tell us a thing about what caused the warming. This is a matter of logic, not scientific evidence. The effect is not the same as the cause. 
There’s a lot more agreement about (1) a modest warming trend since about 1850 than there is about (2) the cause of that trend. There’s even less agreement about (3) the dangers of that trend, or of (4) what to do about it. But these four propositions are frequently bundled together, so that if you doubt one, you’re labeled a climate change “skeptic” or “denier.” That’s just plain intellectually dishonest. When well-established claims are fused with separate, more controversial claims, and the entire conglomeration is covered with the label “consensus,” you have reason for doubt.
2. When ad hominem attacks against dissenters predominate.
It’s easier to insult than to the follow the thread of an argument. And just because someone makes an ad hominem argument, it doesn’t mean that their conclusion is wrong. But when the personal attacks are the first out of the gate, and when they seem to be growing in intensity and frequency, don your skeptic’s cap and look more closely at the evidence. 
When it comes to climate change, ad hominems are all but ubiquitous. They are even smuggled into the way the debate is described. The common label “denier” is one example. Without actually making the argument, this label is supposed to call to mind the assertion of the “great climate scientist” Ellen Goodman: “I would like to say we’re at a point where global warming is impossible to deny. Let’s just say that global warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers.” 
There’s an old legal proverb: If you have the facts on your side, argue the facts. If you have the law on your side, argue the law. If you have neither, attack the witness. When proponents of a scientific consensus lead with an attack on the witness, rather than on the arguments and evidence, be suspicious.
If you doubt No. 2 happens, just this week Al Gore -- you've heard of him? -- compaed those who disagree with him with racists:
"Believe me, the resistance to civil rights was at least as ferocious as the resistance to the climate movement in solving the climate crisis. In the anti-Apartheid movement, Nelson Mandela once said, ‘It’s always impossible until it’s done.’ And we are right at that tipping point where the climate movement is concerned.” 
Al understands these things. After all, his father voted against the Civil Rights Act.

And, right on cue, Al shows us yet again how to use ad hominem. He has just released a new movie, saying: “By filling theaters, we can show Donald Trump and the other climate deniers in the White House that the American people are committed to climate action –– no matter what they do, say, or tweet!”

Trouble is, the movie bombed, probably because Americans don't believe his lies.
Overall, majorities of Americans appear skeptical of climate scientists. No more than a third of the public gives climate scientists high marks for their understanding of climate change; even fewer say climate scientists understand the best ways to address climate change. And, while Americans trust information from climate scientists more than they trust that from other groups, fewer than half of Americans have “a lot” of trust in information from climate scientists (39%).
Guess they read this blog.

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