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Thursday, September 9, 2010

People Will Believe Whatever They Want

Science--One, Chiropractor Assn--Zero

Here is Penn explaining why he used the term "baby twisting motherfucker" in a short clip in defense of Simon Singh back when he was first being sued by the British Chiropractic Association. [Update--the original video was removed, possibly under threat of a lawsuit? I've replaced it with another one. Hang in to the end to see the snails]

From Wired:

Losing the case would have cost Singh both his reputation and a substantial amount of his personal wealth. Such is the state of science, where sometimes even stating simple truths (like the fact that there’s no reliable evidence chiropractic can alleviate asthma in children) can bring the wrath of the antiscience crowd. What the British chiropractors didn’t count on, however, was Singh himself. Having earned a PhD from Cambridge for his work at the Swiss particle physics lab CERN, he wasn’t about to back down from a scientific gunfight. Singh spent more than two years and well over $200,000 of his own money battling the case in court, and this past April he finally prevailed. In the process, he became a hero to those challenging the pseudoscience surrounding everything from global warming to vaccines.

Wahoo! Haven't been this elated since a judge smacked down the Intelligent Design fruitlogs.

On the other hand, this is a struggle that can't be won. Self-deception is built into our genes. From an article by George Monbiot where he vents about the stupidity of his fellow environmentalists:

"...each of us exists in our own world of meaning, constantly at risk of being shattered by inconvenient facts. If we acknowledge them, they can destroy our sense of self. So, to ensure that we won't be "overwhelmed by the uncertainty inherent in living in a world we can never truly know", we shut them out by lying to ourselves."

Evidence plays a small role in what we choose to believe. The ubiquitous belief in an afterlife is all the evidence needed. If we are going to find a way out of the global warming trap we will have to find a way to do it without wasting all of our energies trying to get the public to read, understand, and accept science. In any case, that isn't a scientist's job.

You can lead a horse to water ...

A case in point would be an excellent article over on Class: M called "An elegy for the oceans."

It's about ocean acidification caused by high atmospheric CO2 concentrations. I may not sleep well tonight. It seems to me that the public might accept ocean acidification as evidence for the need to do something about CO2 emissions. Warmer winters and slowly rising sea levels just don't put the fear of God into most people. Could this aspect of global warming have an impact? Probably not. The vast majority of Americans would very likely find a way to blow it off, assuming there was a way to get them to read anything as boring as a science blog. If we lose the oceans, the game is over.

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