Respectful Insolence

Al Gore = Jesus?

Shot with my iPhone camera Friday at our campus bookstore:

i-b159dd670f9600344ba0810a47b3133a-WWAGD.JPG

Although I’m sure this was meant ironically (although one can never be sure), somehow I don’t think that linking Al Gore with Jesus is a particularly good idea. Climate change “skeptics” already focus on Al Gore as though discrediting him somehow discredits behind science of anthropogenic climate change. Of course, Al Gore isn’t a scientist. He is a popularizer and a politician; so even if his credibility were utterly destroyed it would have nothing to do with the validity of global climate science.

It’s the same with other types of denialists. They seem to have a tendency to emphasize the person over the actual science. Thus, creationists try to emphasize Charles Darwin as though the theory of evolution hasn’t undergone considerable revision since he first proposed the theory–in other words, as though the validity of the theory of evolution depended on Charles Darwin. Antivaccinationists tend to go after Dr. Paul Offit, as though he were the final word on the science of vaccination and destroying his credibility would have one whit to do with whether or not vaccination was safe. It also seems to be the reason that pseudonymous bloggers drive such cranks crazy. They don’t look at the arguments and facts; they want to tear down the person, as though tearing down the person has anything to do with whether the science is valid. Bloggers using a pseudonym make that more difficult. The reason, I suspect, that denialists tend to do this is because it’s far easier to tear down a person than it is to construct a cogent scientific argument. People are imperfect; they have foibles and make mistakes. It’s always possible to find flaws. It’s much more difficult to address the science.

In any case, feeding into this perception of a “cult of personality” around Al Gore strikes me as playing right into the hands of climate change “skeptics.” They frequently claim that it’s all about Al Gore rather than the science. It’s not. But such items make it easy for them to claim that it is.

Comments

  1. #1 Pinko Punko
    August 6, 2008

    I see your point, Orac, and it is somewhat legit, but argument from tee shirt is a little bit like argument from blog comment.

  2. #2 Paul L.
    August 6, 2008

    Here is the best way of addressing the denialists of the “peer-reviewed” “settled” science from Anthropogenic climate change alarmists.
    “We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it. There is IPR to consider.”

  3. #3 llewelly
    August 6, 2008

    FWIW, Tim Lambert at Deltoid has many times debunked Andrew Bolt’s lies about Al Gore.
    I certainly agree that it is a mistake to put Al Gore, or Jim Hansen, or anyone else, on pedestal, or treat them as a sort of prophet.
    However, it must noted that so far, when the denialists have attempted to defame the characters of these people, they have been forced to lie copiously.
    Thus the strategy of attacking efforts to cope with AGW by attacking Al Gore are only effective on the ignorant – and even in the case of the ignorant, when the ignorant are informed, they sometimes start feeling angry and betrayed.

  4. #4 DavidCT
    August 6, 2008

    PP:

    It’s an argument from a tote bag not a T-shirt. It must carry more weight that way.

    luckily one can still worry about climate change and dislike Al Gore at the same time without going crazy.

    It seems as if the “Orac” pseudonym is here to stay – good deal!

  5. #5 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    August 6, 2008

    Don’t fight it, ride the meme! Put out a series of WWOD T-shirts.

  6. #6 Pinko Punko
    August 6, 2008

    If it were a PBS-style pledge-gift DIRECTOR’S CHAIR, that would truly be beyond the pale.

  7. #7 Josh K
    August 6, 2008

    We all use trusted sources to some extent.

    It’s a shorthand for having to do serious digging at the data; it isn’t a bad thing per se, it’s just a timesaver.

    Every complex debate uses trusted sources to some degree or another, and both sides of a debate do, to at least some extent, try to point out the flaws in the trusted sources used by the other side while building up the credibility of the trusted sources on our own side. It’s ideology, not science, but we all seem to do it to some degree or another.

    For every person pointing at Hansen’s funding, there’s another pointing at Spencer’s. For every person shouting “alarmist” there’s another shouting “denialist”. For every crank shouting “government conspiracy” there’s another shouting “corporate conspiracy”.

    Because that’s the easiest way to promote one idea over another.

    Not the right way, but the easiest.

    Actually digging down to the information to make informed decisions on a complex topic is a fair bit of work; unless someone’s very interested in it, it doesn’t get done. So we use trusted sources.

    Going straight to the data isn’t necessarily easy.

    To illustrate, I started out pretty skeptical about the whole thing (AGW), but bumped into Carroll’s citation on climate skeptics. I’d come to view Carrol as a trusted source, so I felt a real need to take another look at the issue. So I grabbed some pro-AGW and anti-AGW books.

    I read Spencer’s Climate Confusion (anti-AGW theory), but, while it was well written and contained some very useful information (at the layman level) on climate, it pretty much could be summed up as “we just don’t know enough to do anything” with a subtext of “…and we may never know enough to do anything”.

    This went against my training in engineering. “Act with good prudence on the data you have” summs it up for me…and I’ve yet to see an instance this guideline has proven less than optimal.

    I’ve read (portions) of Harvey’s Global Warming: The Hard Science and found it very convincing (pro-AGW theory), but it isn’t an easy read by any stretch of the imagination.

    And I looked at more material, pretty much everything on realclimate (I think Gavin, et al do an excellent job of presenting the material) and…but this is long winded enough.

    I just wanted to illustrate that a journey from skeptic (“denialist” if you like) to cautiously persuaded, based purely on the science, isn’t necessarily an easy one.

    So most people use trusted sources instead. Pumping those up, or tearing them down is part of promoting a idea. And people from both sides of the idea do it, and they do it all the time.

  8. #8 Shygetz
    August 6, 2008

    When your opponents are willing to blatantly lie about you regardless of what you do or what you say, EVERYTHING plays right into their hands. So, fuck ‘em. I find the tote bag funny.

  9. #9 lambic
    August 6, 2008

    I have a t-shirt with “WWTDD” on it, as in “What Would The Doctor Do”. I get some interesting guesses from people who don’t know Doctor Who but I think t-shirts (and tote bags) like this are just poking fun at the WWJD crowd.

  10. #10 Phoenix Woman
    August 6, 2008

    Considering Al was a divinity student at Vandy before going into journalism (he spent his time in Vietnam covering the war for Stars and Stripes), he’d be the last person to want to deify himself.

  11. #11 Jon H
    August 6, 2008

    Um, yeah, I don’t think they’re seriously making a case that Al Gore is Jesus. But it’s probably a bit more sincere than South Park’s “What Would Brian Boitano Do?”

    It’s a totebag, which are currently being promoted for environmentally-friendly use when shopping instead of using disposable plastic or paper bags. So I’m guessing the intent is limited to environmentalist concerns, and is tongue-in-cheek.

    What would [blank] do is a bit of a well-worn cliche at this point. Just google “what would * do”

  12. #12 D. C. Sessions
    August 6, 2008

    This is surprising — how?

    Science doesn’t come naturally to us, nor do most people understand (or want to understand) the epistemology of science.

    The epistemology of religion is much more natural: “The Great Authority told us so, therefore it is true.” Once you create the one-to-one relationship between some “truth” and the “authority” behind it, you can’t attack one without attacking the other. Attacking the “truth” by itself still leaves the “authority” and implicitly the support for the “truth.”

    Nothing for it but to attack the “authority.”

    Not, mind, that the people doing this have actually thought all this through. It’s just The Way Things Are Done.

  13. #13 Sastra
    August 6, 2008

    I also think this is satirizing the claim that environmentalists are just following an authority as if he was a religious figure. Oh, yeah, right. Fine. We’ll feed your paranoia for you.

    It’s a bit like the Darwin fish. It’s mocking the creationist belief that anyone “worships” Darwin. The fact that some on the other side take it literally is supposed to be part of the joke.

  14. #14 Joseph Hertzlinger
    August 6, 2008

    The epistemology of religion is much more natural: “The Great Authority told us so, therefore it is true.” Once you create the one-to-one relationship between some “truth” and the “authority” behind it, you can’t attack one without attacking the other. Attacking the “truth” by itself still leaves the “authority” and implicitly the support for the “truth.”

    There have been times when Great Authorities changed their minds only to find that many of their followers will start following other Great Authorities that maintained the old opinions. For an example, the mainstream churches have changed their minds over the past few decades on enough topics for some of their followers to join fundamentalist churches instead.

  15. #15 RedGreenInBlue
    August 6, 2008

    I think WWJD works fine as it is.

    The J, of course, stands for James (Hansen)…

  16. #16 DLC
    August 6, 2008

    Al Gore positioned himself to be the point-man on the dangers of climate change. As such, he opens himself to being pulled off his horse and trod on. Not that I’m saying Gore is wrong, or deserves being trashed, but that I’m sure he expected such when he made his decision to take the lead on the AGW issue.
    Not that I’m saying Vice President Gore deserves this sort of bashing, but I expected it.

  17. #17 Harry Eagar
    August 7, 2008

    It’s fun to needle Gore because he’s a lying hypocrite. If you can’t ridicule ignorant, lying hypocrites, who can you make fun of?

    On the other hand, the alleged science behind global warming would be a joke even if Al Gore went around in a hairshirt, handing out candy to little kids and solving quadratic equations in his head.

    It’s a win-win situation!

  18. #18 Paul Murray
    August 7, 2008

    Great minds watch ideas.
    Average minds watch evenets.
    Small minds watch people.

    Unfortunately, there are a lot of small minds who vote and who need a focus for their thinking.

  19. #19 Andrew Dodds
    August 8, 2008

    Harry –

    I’m quite interested – which parts of radiative transfer physics do you consider a joke?

  20. #20 TTT
    August 8, 2008

    There’s another acronym I prefer: GDS, for Gore Derangement Syndrome. It’s what causes wingnutty denialists to say that global warming isn’t real because of Al Gore’s electric bill, or whatever. Whether they’re in a personality cult of fawning adoration like with Reagan and Dubya, or a cult of personal destruction and defamation like Gore and Obama, for the right-wing denialist all topics can only be engaged through a personality-based, ego-driven, anti-evidentiary means. Whatever beloved says is true.

  21. #21 Josh K
    August 9, 2008

    I’m not a big fan of ‘denialist’ as a descriptive term. Some of my objection comes from involvement from quasi-religous groups…they just *love* ‘denial’ as a explanation for why their quackery doesn’t work.

    To me, it’s a $64 word for ‘crank’, yet feels ‘sciency’ enough for the users of the term to pop it out there whenever they’re tired of ‘teh stupid’ from ‘teh deniers’.

    The phrase added years to my acceptance of AGW as the most likely explanation of our current environmental state…is it *really* that useful?

  22. #22 Josh K
    August 9, 2008

    This is probably not the right forum for my comment above; I’ll drop something to Gavin over at realclimate.

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