Respectful Insolence

Falling for one manufactroversy

The other day I had a bit of fun deconstructing a shockingly bad post by a blogger at the anti-vaccine crank blog Age of Autism named Dan Olmsted. In his post, he criticized the progressive movement for not “getting” autism. It was one of the silliest bits of whining I had ever seen, in essence a crybaby crying because “his people” weren’t paying attention to his book.

Shockingly, yesterday Olmsted was able to find a post from a “progressive” who was willing to drink deeply of the anti-vax Kool Aid without realizing that he’s doing so and agree with him. For instance, let’s take a look at this quote from the “progressive” Critical Dune:

Personally, I’m (along with former head of the National Institute of Health, Dr. Bernadine Healy) in “the jury is still out” camp on this high decible debate within and outside the autism community.

This debate’s been going on at volume 10 for a long, long time now and, despite huge PR efforts on the part of government, trade organizations and the very public discreditation of a critical study by a British researcher suggesting a link between MMR immunizations and autism, it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

Let me rephrase that quote for ya, Critical Dune:

I’m (along with Ian Plimer) in the “jury is still out” camp on this high decible debate about anthropogenic global warming.

This debate’s been going on at volume 10 for a long, long, time now, and, despite huge PR efforts on the part of government, scientific organizations and the very public discreditation of a critical studies suggesting that global climate change is not due to human activity, it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

One wonders if Critical Dune would be so quick to accept an argument that, just because there is still a vocal “debate” about AGW, that means there must be a real scientific controversy. After all, there is a large and well-funded denialist contingent actively trying to produce the appearance of a real scientific controversy, even though there isn’t really one regarding whether human-produced CO2 is largely responsible for global climate change. My guess is that the answer is no. Yet CD accepts the same crappy argument from another denialist movement.

Denialist campaigns depend upon manufactroversies; i.e., “controversies” that are not really scientific controversies but rather are manufactured. The anti-vaccine movement is no different. Too bad Critical Dune fell for the manufactroversy.

Comments

  1. #1 Phillip IV
    November 20, 2010

    Oh, come on – have you never heard of the “Volume Theory of Scientific Believability”? It’s the newest thing! Look, it’s easy:

    phrenology = discredited theory

    PHRENOLOGY
    PHRENOLOGY
    PHRENOLOGY = controversial theory

    PHRENOLOGY!!!!!
    PHRENOLOGY!!!!!
    PHRENOLOGY!!!!!
    PHRENOLOGY!!!!!
    PHRENOLOGY!!!!!
    PHRENOLOGY!!!!!Eleven!!!! = scientific fact

  2. #2 MikeMa
    November 20, 2010

    Well, everyone knows the louder you yell, the more valuable the message.

    Just like watching Americans talking louder and slower when traveling in Europe sure that by doing so, the listeners will understand English better as a result.

  3. #3 Broken Link
    November 20, 2010

    Olmsted must have been very disappointed in the comments section of the Daily Kos article. Not only are they very strongly pro-science, pro-vaccine, but there are so many of them. DanO would be in seventh heaven if he ever got that many comments at AoA. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more comments at that article than copies of the book “Age of Autism” sold.

  4. #4 Joseph
    November 20, 2010

    How do anti-vaxers reconcile the fact that Big Oil doesn’t seem to be very effective at organizing complex conspiracies that are able to dominate the scientific debate, compared to Big Pharma, in their mind?

  5. #5 Not House
    November 20, 2010

    I really, really wish there was like, a mandatory course in basic scientific literacy that everyone had to take every 5 years or so, and score a passing grade in. Kind of like a driver’s license.

    Either that or just mail out a copy Ben Goldacre’s book to everyone.

  6. #6 shortshrift
    November 20, 2010

    @Not House

    I’ve thought the same.

    Shouldn’t people be taught at school how the scientific process works and why hand-waving about, say, homeopathy is not just as valid as a scientific theory that explains a phenomenon by proposing a physical or biological effect which we can conduct experiments to corroborate or refute, and which contributes to our understanding such that we are able to achieve something tangible like the transistor or a new drug?

    Google turns up crank papers just as easily as credible ones and being taught to distinguish them seems an important skill for the internet age.

    The friends of woo, of course, would see this as indoctrination.

  7. #7 knotfreak
    November 20, 2010

    @Not House and Short Shrift

    Me three!

    I always wonder how people can so easily accept the science behind the technology that they use every day, but then do a complete turnaround when it comes to some other aspect of science/technology that interferes with their “faith”.

  8. #8 Mark P
    November 20, 2010

    I really, really wish there was like, a mandatory course in basic scientific literacy that everyone had to take every 5 years or so, and score a passing grade in. Kind of like a driver’s license.

    That’s not going to help that much, depending on the argument at hand.

    Few people with scientific training believe in homeopathy or reiki.

    Quite a few will believe in various causes of autism being man made. There is nothing implicitly unscientific about it being caused by mercury, for example. The evidence is solidly against it, but prima facie it is credible.

    AGW, on the other hand, has an enormous number of scientifically trained doubters. That alone suggests the evidence is not quite as straightforward as laid out by the proAGW camp.

    Scientific training is a two-edged sword. It will not solve the issue that people disagree with you, although it might move the points of discussion to different ground.

    Interesting how badly Orac responds to allegations he is a big Pharma shill, but happy to lay out the ridiculous claim that the “denialists” are all shills. Show me any anti-AGW group with a budget close to that of Greenpeace or WWF first please.

  9. #9 Joseph
    November 20, 2010

    Interesting how badly Orac responds to allegations he is a big Pharma shill, but happy to lay out the ridiculous claim that the “denialists” are all shills.

    I must have missed that part of Orac’s post. What he did say is that there’s a well-funded denialist contingent.

    And there is. There are several industry groups that are in the business of denying climate change.

    I think any anti-science manufactroversy requires funding. Anti-vaxers are funded too, except not by industry, but by private interests (e.g. JB Handley.)

  10. #10 NJ
    November 20, 2010

    Mark P @ 11:

    Show me any anti-AGW group with a budget close to that of Greenpeace or WWF first please.

    Wish granted.

  11. #11 shortshrift
    November 20, 2010

    #11

    “There is nothing implicitly unscientific about it being caused by mercury, for example. The evidence is solidly against it, but prima facie it is credible.”

    I think teaching could help here in giving people the tools to rationally assess the evidence (the editorial guidelines on Wikipedia regarding credible sources and scientific consensus point in the right direction).

    Type ‘aspartame’ into Google, for example, assess the results uncritically and it all points to a diabolical cover-up.

    Clearly few people are in a position to understand all the science behind an argument for or against, say, the neurotoxicity of aspartame, but we can reasonably form judgements about the credibility of the various sources, the weight of their evidence, and whether they could have a motive to mislead.

    And what we see is that sources such as the World Health Organization, European Food Safety Authority, US National Cancer Institute, UK Food Standards Agency, etc. have all reviewed the literature on aspartame, and are of one voice.

    In terms of evidence base, the reality is that because of all the Volume 11 noise, aspartame is among the most tested food additives ever.

    To reject the ‘credible’ assessments in favour of the conspiracy theorists, then, you have to in essence argue that the staff of the WHO and the government scientists in numerous countries are all (for some imagined monetary gain on a substance long out of patent) prepared to throw morality to the wind, suppress solid evidence of harm and endorse a mass poisoning of their own populations. Which a rational analysis would consider unlikely at best.

    Nevertheless the number of aspartame toxicity pages at least creates the appearance of a debate and many people haven’t been given the tools to discriminate.

    Another point, pertinent to the mercury-autism link, is that if you approach this theory (any theory) from a scientific perspective you will always be looking for evidence that refutes it. The anti-vax lobby only look at evidence that appears to confirm their already-held beliefs, which blinkered approach leads their adherents into pitfalls like devoting a chapter of a moronic book to explaining how neurosyphilis was the product of mercuric chloride treatments, when neurosyphilis is still with us in the developing world, appearing in the absence of any medical intervention.

  12. #12 shortshrift
    November 20, 2010

    … and perhaps while we’re at it we could address a few of the traditional staples that always litter crank arguments like the “post hoc ergo propter hoc” fallacy, “correlation is not causation”, and the timeless “the plural of anecdote is not evidence”.

    But then wouldn’t life get boring?

  13. #13 Chris
    November 20, 2010

    shortshrift:

    Another point, pertinent to the mercury-autism link, is that if you approach this theory (any theory) from a scientific perspective you will always be looking for evidence that refutes it. The anti-vax lobby only look at evidence that appears to confirm their already-held beliefs,

    For an example of a completely blinkered autism/mercury argument, check out the behavior of one Jim Thompson here. Be sure to put a soft pillow on your desk, and do not be drinking any fluids near your keyboard.

  14. #14 shortshrift
    November 20, 2010

    @Chris

    Amazed that Brian Deer still has the energy to pursue this. I’d taken it as read that he’d won decisively, Wakefield’s credibility was beyond repair, and any sensible debate was over.

  15. #15 Chris
    November 20, 2010

    I suspect that Mr. Deer has more revelations to reveal, perhaps later. Though it should be interesting to see what will be revealed in two new books: Deadly Choices and The Panic Virus.

    But the true believers will continue!

    Though I really pointed you to that thread to show how evidence is cherry picked, and all other information is ignored if it does not conform to the notions of someone who is determined to believe thimerosal in vaccines cause autism. Despite there never being any in the MMR, and it being removed from pediatric vaccines ten years ago (including some flu vaccines!).

  16. #16 MartinM
    November 20, 2010

    AGW, on the other hand, has an enormous number of scientifically trained doubters.

    Just not usually trained in any relevant field, unfortunately. The consensus amongst legitimate experts is overwhelming.

  17. #17 iamnothouse.com
    November 20, 2010

    @ #9
    The failing, as I see it, is in the way our educational system is structured.

    * Gets on Soapbox *

    We’re moving towards increased specialization in education. I remember (and admittedly, I didn’t go to a traditional public school) having to choose in the 11th grade to either take my biology and chemistry courses or to take creative writing and sociology. When you move on to university, you’re shuttled into science or arts streams, with little in between. Oh sure, every science has a pithy requirement for an arts course here or there (my personal favorites for selections were “Pop Music Post WW2” and “Gemstones”) but those are mostly paid lip service by the university. On the other side of the coin, you have arts students who may be excellent critical thinkers (or not, depending on the quality of your university), but are unfamiliar with the scientific research/process. The result is colleges to graduate students who can wax poetic on how Oscar Wilde’s writing inspired the 18th century English renaissance, but are unable to apply the same critical insight to a scientific publication and scientists who can’t critically apply their analysis to anything beyond their own narrow field (just look at the number of engineers who seem to follow the logic ‘things are designed, humans are things, therefore humans are designed). Very few colleges or universities offer true liberal arts programs, where you can truly hone the skills of critical thought in a wide domain of disciplines (in my opinion anyway). This is especially disappointing given how universities are supposed to be these havens of intellectualism and knowledge exchange.

    Unfortunately, it looks like we’re driving more and more towards specialization (at least in Canada). Just look at this article (http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/880962–is-specialty-u-the-future-of-ontario-s-ivory-tower), claiming how universities ought to just “do what each does best” and not worry about trying to provide a holistic and complete education. If this trend continues, we’re going to see even greater success of woo like this, with a populace that continues to move away from critical thinking and examination to one of compartmentalized intelligence.
    *End rant*

  18. #18 Mark P
    November 21, 2010

    NJ @ 13

    I said with a budget bigger than Greenpeace and the WWF. $240,000 is not enough (especially only for one year).

    There is a funny idea that the Greenies are small guys, but the reality is that they are enormously well resourced, with cheap support. So is the Tea Party of course, but whereas the Greenies concentrate on the environment, the Partiers have their main focus elsewhere.

    MartinM @ 19

    The “overwhelming” nature of scientists is very much down to the counting. If you count people who publish papers on climate change, then yes they dominate. Duh!

    My brother-in-law is a geologist. His assessment is most of those are not convinced by the CO2 warming theory. (“Global warming” is a silly title, because the warming is well known, its only the mechanism at dispute.)

    Meteorologists are notorious sceptical, perhaps because they don’t have any faith in predictions of any sort.

    I might add that scientific consensus is over-rated. How’s that string theory working for you?

  19. #19 Mark P
    November 21, 2010

    You know that link complaining about how the Tea Party got $240,000 to fight climate change? I followed it through.

    It’s funny that Climate Action Network should be complaining! They’re HUGE. This is the funding for the European branch:

    http://www.climnet.org/about-us/caneuropesfundings

    That’s a climate focussed group getting $600,000 a year, complaining that their opponents (for whom climate is only a side issue) getting much less!

    The pro-CO2 warming side of climate change is far better funded than the sceptics.

  20. #20 Chris
    November 21, 2010

    MarkP, there was no comparison with funding entities in Orac’s article.

    Oh, and string theory is still a theory. Not really much contention, and it is being debated honestly.

    Your brother-in-law is a geologist! Oh, wow! Um, that has nothing to do with climatology or meteorology. Do you actually know there are chemical and mechanical differences between solids and gases?

    Also, counting how many articles are writing articles is a stupid way to determine literate consensus. Do you consider the articles written at Ago of Autism on the same basis as those published by the American Academy of Pediatrics? Look at the bias, and the expertise. Really.

    Even though I was an engineer, I give no credence to any ot the medical pontifications of Andrew Cutler, Gary Goldman, Amy Lansky, Andrew Schlafly or Jim Thompson… even though they all have earned one or more degrees in engineering or computer science. I would hope you would have the same level of critical thinking and “consider the source”, and to please stop posting off topic.

  21. #21 Composer99
    November 21, 2010

    Mark P:

    Rather than argue over funding, I suggest reviewing sites like Skeptical Science or Spencer Weart’s Discovery of Global Warming and review the peer-reviewed scientific evidence on the subject and the historical discoveries that led to our current state of knowledge of Earth system climate.

    You might also check out this summary of the rather basic physics undergirding our knowledge of global warming.

    After all that, you can then kindly explain why you still think there is a genuine controversy.

    On topic:
    Critical Dune is making the assumption that the mere presence of active agitation against mass vaccination by the anti-vaccine movement provides legitimacy to anti-vaccine claims.

    It strikes me as question begging, although given the time of day during which I post this comment I don’t seem able to parse out CD’s argument to show it.

  22. #22 Composer99
    November 21, 2010

    While my other comment is in moderation (foolish me, adding a third hyperlink!), I followed the link provided by Chris in #16 without following her advice regarding pillows.

    Now my head hurts. :)

  23. #23 Ivan
    November 21, 2010

    @MP #21
    interesting that you cite your anecdotal relative the geologist as saying most geologists aren’t convinced.

    Two recent studies tackle the same question with direct survey methods and arrive at the same conclusion as reached in our study. First, Doran and Kendall-Zimmerman (2009) surveyed 3,146 AGU members and found that 97% of actively publishing climate researchers believe that “human activity is a significant factor in changing mean global temperatures.” A recently published study, Rosenberg et al (2010), finds similar levels of support when surveying authors who have published during 1995-2004 in peer-reviewed journals highlighting climate research.

    link

    That AGU is the American Geophysical Union, which would include a lot of geologists.

    In terms of the funding of climate change vs denialists, the actual $$ aren’t really the issue, although I am highly doubtful that

    The pro-CO2 warming side of climate change is far better funded than the sceptics.

    A lot of the denialists are at think tanks that receive funding from oil and coal companies. Those relatively small amounts of $$ are amplified by a communications and lobbying infrastructure that is designed to further conservative/business goals. While not direct $$, those resources are immensely valuable, and are what is mostly responsible for the popularity of denialist ideas.

    I have been following this issue for the last 10 years or so. Each time that I actually wade into the arguments of the denialists, I find sloppy work, distortions and fabrications. Real Climate is a good source for takedowns of the denialist crud. See here for one of them.

  24. #24 Travis
    November 21, 2010

    MarkP, #22
    I am going to be a bit mean here. I am not in a charitable mood I am afraid.

    Others have already mentioned why your geologist anecdote is not very convincing so I will not bother.

    Your point about string theory is confused. The comparison with climate change is pretty awful and suggests to me you know very little of how string theory is viewed within the physics community as compared to how climate change is viewed by climate scientists. I used to work in experimental particle physics and so I have experience in the field (maybe you would take my opinion more seriously if I was a geologist or meteorologist rather than someone directly related to the field) and know plenty of particle physicists from both theory and experimental sides. String theory is viewed by some to be very promising and some people have made some very strong claims about it but there is certainly no consensus that it is physical and really describes our universe. In fact the whole area of particle physics is up for debate now as there is a bit of a stall. The field has not moved forward a great deal due to a lack of experimental evidence to drive theory. This is one of the big hopes for the LHC, to open up new avenues of research, to give some definiative answers as to where we should be looking. I doubt you will find many theorists, even people working in string theory, that would say it was a theory accepted by many as true. It is very speculative and untested. But it may lead to something interesting. Many people also think it is going nowhere and are looking elsewhere. And I would say experimentalists are even less impressed for the most part.

    However many authors of popular science have claimed string theory to be true and made the evidence seem stronger than it is. Perhaps your confusion stems from this and your willingness to accept the opinions of those who are in fields outside of the one being discussed above those who actually work in it.

  25. #25 shortshrift
    November 21, 2010

    #21

    String theory is not an example of the failure of the scientific method.

    The very first paragraph in Wikipedia nails the point: “The theory has yet to make testable experimental predictions, which a theory must do in order to be considered a part of science.”

    … and it’s certainly not the case that the Anthropogenic Global Warming lobby has always been better funded than the doubters. When the oil companies were still pushing a denialist agenda, the Bush administration was heroic in their dismissal of evidence for AGW. That only really changed when Bush left office and the oil companies reinvented themselves as pursuing alternative energy. (Which is not intended as a political point, heaven forbid… just the reality of where that administration stood.)

  26. #26 Orac
    November 21, 2010

    Ha. I wondered how long it would be before someone like Mark P showed up to spew nonsense about the nature of scientific consensus, AGW denialist talking points, etc. Particularly amusing is his appeal to the “skepticism” of meteorologists, the vast majority of whom are not climate scientists. Ditto his appeal to his brother-in-law geologist. Let’s see. Who else likes to appeal to “skeptical” scientists who are not scientists studying the relevant specialty to promote their pseudoskepticism of a scientific consensus?

    Oh, yes. “Intelligent design” creationists.

  27. #27 Joseph
    November 21, 2010

    I said with a budget bigger than Greenpeace and the WWF.

    Apples and oranges, Mark. Neither Greenpeace nor WWF exist to debate the science of climate change.

    If you count people who publish papers on climate change, then yes they dominate. Duh!

    Bullshit. Surveys have looked at climatologists in general, and climatologists who publish about climate change. There is a difference, but the biggest difference in opinion is between scientists and the general public.

    Meteorologists are notorious sceptical, perhaps because they don’t have any faith in predictions of any sort.

    Meteorologists, in general, probably know very little about the physics of the greenhouse effect, the black-body spectrum of a planet, how radiation is absorbed by different gases, etc. Why would they need to know about this stuff?

    Also, they are completely mistaken if they think predicting the climate years from now is like predicting the weather next week.

  28. #28 Joe
    November 21, 2010

    An antivaccine PSA is expected to be shown in select movie theaters next weekend. http://skepticalteacher.wordpress.com/2010/11/20/anti-vaccination-psa-coming-to-a-theater-near-you-literally/

  29. #29 MartinM
    November 21, 2010

    The “overwhelming” nature of scientists is very much down to the counting. If you count people who publish papers on climate change, then yes they dominate. Duh!

    Why ‘duh’? There’s nothing stopping anyone who thinks AGW isn’t a problem from publishing papers on climate change, except from the distinct absence of evidence in support of that position. Counting people who publish papers on climate change could have produced evidence of a significant split within the group of relevant experts; it didn’t, because there isn’t one.

  30. #30 Travis
    November 21, 2010

    I would love to see AGW denialists, creationist, HIV deiners etc start a site listing all of the papers, and hopefully the reviewers comments, that the evil journals have been rejecting due to their bias against their position. I mean, how else would they know that this is why there are no papers published that support their position aside from having just made it up as an excuse for having no evidence? I almost want to start the site myself just to prove a point.

  31. #31 Chris
    November 21, 2010

    Travic, kind of like what happened not long ago with this list that was dismantled is just a few hours?

  32. #32 Chris
    November 21, 2010

    (oops, should proofread more, especially on names)

  33. #33 DLC
    November 21, 2010

    Okay.. so let’s at least settle this “Mercury causes autism” business for our AGW-Denier. No, there is no credible mechanism by which mercury can cause autism. none. not even the wildest imagination. Autism is not mercury poisoning.
    Read some toxicology before you make that statement again, please.

  34. #34 Travis
    November 21, 2010

    Well, not quite what I had in mind. I did see that and thought it was very amusing though.

    That post was showing that the papers they often claim support them absolutely do nothing of the sort. I mean dealing more directly with the claim I often hear that the reason there are so few papers published supporting denailist positions is because journals are biased against them and will not let them publish. That the man is keeping them down. I just follow that line of reasoning and have to assume if they know this is the case they must have attempted to publish papers and had them rejected. But I never see these rejected papers, or find out who wrote them. So I would like to see a place where they can post these papers and the reviewers comments showing why it was declined. So everyone can see if they are being unfairly rejected. Of course I suspect that there are no papers (or very few), that the reason are so few papers is that there is no evidence for their positions and they have and they have not tried to publish at all for the most part.

  35. #35 Chris
    November 21, 2010

    Oh, okay. I understand. Something like this at Talk Origins“? Is this at Real Climate similar to what you are thinking about?

  36. #36 davep
    November 21, 2010

    Mark P@21 “I said with a budget bigger than Greenpeace and the WWF. $240,000 is not enough (especially only for one year).

    There is a funny idea that the Greenies are small guys, but the reality is that they are enormously well resourced, with cheap support”

    You are BSing. It’s easy to come up with counter examples!

    http://www.thiscantbehappening.net/node/17

    In terms of vague “funding” (overall? GW-related?), Greenpeace and WWF combined are a mere pimple on the ass of industry!

  37. #37 Travis
    November 21, 2010

    Still not quite my idea. I do not mean something that takes on their claims or lists their claims. I guess I am not describing it very well. Basically a place where they themselves could upload the papers they say have been rejected from mainstream journals, along with the reviwers comments etc. This is because they often claim that mainstream journals are not willing to publish their work, that they are biased. But I only want to see the papers that have actually been submitted to real academic journals and have been rejected.
    Now I suspect if I set such a website up it would be pretty empty. That they have never had any papers rejected unfairly by journals, that they have never even tried to publish it. But I want a place where they can put up or shut up.

  38. #38 Chris
    November 21, 2010

    I have a feeling that they would not post the critiques. Wattsupwiththat does have this page (pretty much just raw data and articles, but obviously no comments on them): http://wattsupwiththat.com/resources/

  39. #39 shortshrift
    November 21, 2010

    @davep

    Thanks for the link. Also interesting – and directly addressing Orac’s remark about a “large and well-funded [AGW] denialist contingent actively trying to produce the appearance of a real scientific controversy” (oops, I’ve strayed “on topic”, must make a note not to let that happen again) – is the Union of Concerned Scientists report, “Smoke, Mirrors & Hot Air: How ExxonMobil Uses Big Tobacco’s Tactics to Manufacture Uncertainty on Climate Science”:

    http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/global_warming/exxon_report.pdf

  40. #40 idlemind
    November 22, 2010

    Well, given that the majority of geologists are employed by the extractive industries, and chief among those are oil, coal, and gas, I’d say that there is likely to be a considerable vested interest by many geologists in AGW denial.

  41. #41 realinterrobang
    November 22, 2010

    Let’s take a quick fun multiple-choice quiz! Pick the best answer!

    Weather is to climate as:

    a) Yugos are to Lamborghinis

    b) “To be or not to be” is to an annotated Complete Works of Shakespeare including critical commentary

    c) AGW “skeptics” are to actual skepticism.

    If you picked (b), you win a deep-fried battered internet in a basket with a side of fries and a Coke.

  42. #42 Travis
    November 22, 2010

    realinterrobang, can I have onion rings instead of fries?

  43. #43 intercostal
    November 22, 2010

    I think much of the reason there’s so much (unwarranted by the evidence) doubt of AGW is that the idea that we need to do something about it *is*, sadly, largely confined to one political side (and many of the same people *do* hold some extremely doubtful Malthusian-esque views on economy and the environment). Ad hominem is a logical fallacy, but it is a part of how people naturally evaluate claims; and it’s not actually that bizarre for a strong capitalist to have suspicions that AGW is being used as a measure to get more government control of industry, since most people advocating doing something about it *are* tending to be politically left-leaning.

    The attitude isn’t *correct*; the evidence still says what it says, AGW *is* real. But it’s a more understandable bias than some suggest.

    Why environmental issues got so politically polarized in the first place is is itself an interesting question…

  44. #44 Militant Agnostic
    November 22, 2010

    @43 – exactly. Dollars to doughnuts Mark P’s geologist brother in law is a petroleum geologist. Also, a petroleum or mining geologist with a BSc is no more a scientist than I (BSc in Mechanical Engineering) am.

    I have been in the upstream oil and gas industry for over 30 years mostly in well test analysis and I have found that exploration geologists are more salespeople than scientists. A good bullshitter can go a long way and blame his failures on the completion engineer. Early in my career I had the exploration manager of a medium sized oil company I had ask my boss and myself “what do you mean by the formation is oil wet?”.

    I would really like AGW to be nonsense, but I know where the overwhelming evidence points.

  45. #45 Calli Arcale
    November 22, 2010

    Side-point: I have a relative who is a mining geologist. He doesn’t doubt global warming. This may be because he works mostly in tundra regions, where it’s harder not to notice the changes.

  46. #46 Prometheus
    November 22, 2010

    Not House makes an interesting suggestion:

    “I really, really wish there was like, a mandatory course in basic scientific literacy that everyone had to take every 5 years or so, and score a passing grade in. Kind of like a driver’s license.”

    And if they failed to pass….? Would their ‘blog posting (and commenting) privileges be revoked?

    Sadly, the problem isn’t just that a great number of people never had any education in critical thinking – there are a number of people who did receive a post-graduate science education who still can’t think critically.

    This is much like the current “tempest in a teapot” over “nutrition education” in the public schools. My children’s school wants to add (to an already over-stuffed curriculum in an already too-short school year) education about “proper nutrition”. Not only is this going to be a fertile field for every food-faddist and “proper nutrition can prevent cancer” nutcase, it will ultimately fail to meet its goal of reducing childhood obesity. From my own (admittedly small and non-random) survey of middle-school children, they already know about “proper” nutrition (more fruits and veggies; less fats, sugar and “prepared foods”) – they simply choose to eat poorly (hint: it tastes better).

    Likewise, we can teach people about critical thinking all we want, but we can’t make them think. It’s hard! It is so much easier to simply sit back and let people tell you what to think by appealing to your biases and emotions.

    Intellectually, many people (most people?) are like the “couch potato” sprawled on (what else) the couch watching the telly and saying (to whoever will listen) that he/she is going to start going to the gym tomorrow (and tomorrow never comes). They want to think critically (or, more precisely, they think they want to think critically), but they just never get around to it.

    This, by the way, is not a recent phenomenon. I suspect that citizens of Ur were also not “big” on critical thinking.

    Prometheus

  47. #47 paulmurray
    November 24, 2010

    “Shockingly, yesterday Olmsted was able to find a post from a “progressive” who was willing to drink deeply of the anti-vax Kool Aid”

    What’s shocking about it? Quite a few progressives came to progressivism by way of hippie nonsense. Progressivism and skepticism are separate axes to grind. (Ho ho ho! Pun on the plural of “axis”, if anyone didn’t get it.)

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