Thursday, April 1, 2010
Climate Debate Apogee
Foil hat image from Wikipedia Commons.
Climate Gate was inevitable. For a while there the lay press and television news was rife with headlines about various and sundry climate science "hoaxes." I dutifully chased down one claim after the other, which all turned out to be hoax hoaxes. Luckily there are a few blogs out there that serve as liaisons to climate scientists, conveying explanations to the general public. Most researchers are not real interested in engaging the ignorant masses (and who can blame them). They just want to do their research.
Climate Gate reinforced my opinion that climate change is real. Nothing more convincing than watching three or four front page hoax claims go down in flames in quick succession. You would think that a line of debunked claims stretching past the horizon would dampen a skeptic's enthusiasm but then again, the majority of Americans don't buy the theory of evolution.
Climate Gate had the opposite impact on many people, reinforcing their suspicion that climate change is a hoax. The difference being that some sought out and read science-based sources to get the real scoop and others stuck with what they last saw in their local newspaper, or most likely, television news. Television is the backbone of ongoing adult education in America. Read "Entertaining Ourselves to Death" then rent the movie Idiocracy ; )
The game is over. Public interest is rapidly waning. Most have made up their minds. Not that it matters. It is unlikely that our government is capable of solving the problem--not real sure they should try. There is a very real chance they would only make things worse as witnessed with corn ethanol. Hopefully, solutions will arrive "despite" government, as sometimes happens. It is possible that a green energy meme has been set in motion as happened with family size in the past. Time will tell.
If we are to replace fossil fuels with something better, it will happen for reasons unforeseen at this time. The future is notoriously hard to predict. I once thought that personal computers in homes were a fad that would eventually give way to cheap word processors (which was actually starting to happen) and machines dedicated to computer games (which is happening). Then the Internet came along.
There are still quite a few sputtering armchair climatologists out there (a subspecies of Internet Baboon) participating in the skeptic echo chamber. One great explanation I've seen for their existence (on top of my contention that people are capable of and willing to believe anything they want) involves an aspect of the Dunning-Kruger effect. I'm not sure how seriously to take parts of this study. The authors were the recipients of the prestigious Ig Nobel prize (get it, ignoble?). The Dunning-Kruger studies are sometimes used (wrongly) to beat debate opponents about the head and shoulders with the claim they are too stupid to know how stupid they are.
It isn't about stupidity (whatever that is). It is about ignorance. We can be too ignorant to know just how ignorant we are. You see this a lot in comment fields.
I read the book Superorganism by Bert Hölldobler and E.O. Wilson. It must weigh five pounds and represents the tip of an iceberg. Who would have dreamed that there is so much to know about ...ants. Imagine the equivalent of today's armchair climatologists engaging Wilson in debate on the subject of sociobiology, or ants for that matter.
I recall the time I used the Great Wall of China as an example of government waste in an article only to be called on the carpet by a scholar who studies great walls around the world (and apparently there are many such walls). In another article about rhino poaching I attracted a specialist in rhinos with similar results.
I also recall a beer commercial where the engineer put the finishing touch on the business jet he just designed (closing the radome). Miller time! The person who wrote that commercial had no idea what it takes to design a jet, or a radome for that matter ; ).
[Update 4/12/2010: A short, relatively respectful debate ensued in the comment field from which I drew a few more insights. What motivates the armchair climatologist? Some apparently see themselves as purveyors of truth and justice, struggling against the "establishment." This suggests to me that whatever it is that motivates the stereotypical conspiracy theorist is also at work here in the climate skeptic blogs.
In this case my nemesis used the bacterial-ulcer link and continental drift as examples where the established science was overturned by armchair versions of geologists and medical researchers. I love analogies but a bad analogy is worse than no analogy. For starters, my debate partner got it ass-backwards. The new science is climate change. The old guard is saying that there is no anthropomorphic climate change. He's defending what was once thought to be true.
The continental drift theory had been kicked around for centuries and was not particularly controversial. A concerted attempt to debunk it was made by a physicist as late as 1953 and his arguments would have looked very sound to armchair plate-techtonisists. I'm sure he would have had a large following had the internet existed.
The bacterial link to ulcers was discovered by researchers using the scientific method and peer reviewed publications.
All new theories, evolution, relativity, you name it, are met with resistance by other scientists The scientific method works because it meshes with human nature. Scientists love to prove their competitors wrong, which can also be an easy ticket to fame and glory. Finding flaws in a theory or hypothesis is much easier than forming a new one.