Mike the Mad Biologist

A few days ago, I posted about the conservative dogpile over at the Weather Channel because one of their bloggers had some very scathing comments about global warming denialists. I found this post by a self-described “literature guy” which makes two very good points.

First, he makes a very good point about expertise and trust (italics mine):

Read posts by people who are angry that Dr. Cullen has made the monumentally unremarkable statement that anti global-warming dogma is junk science and that meteorologists–who have as much right to offer authoritative opinions on climate change as Imams in Iran have to offer authoritative opinions on the Holocaust–should probably do everyone a favor and either read the literature on the subject of global warming or–my words, not hers–shut the fuck up.

I’m a literature guy, not a science guy, but that just makes all of this even more troubling to me, because it isn’t like I can say, “Well, I’m not a scientist, so I understand why all this is so complex for the deniers.” Jesus. I’m not a scientist and I’m hear [sic] to report that all this is exceedingly simple for a normal human being with a normal intelligence to be able to understand. It doesn’t require calculus. It doesn’t require an understanding of advanced statistics. It requires a basic belief that people who have doctoral specializations in a subject mostly know what they’re talking about when they talk about those issues.

I would only disagree with the idea of “belief”, when I think trust is a better description. He follows up with an interesting observation about the internets:

Sadly, as I pointed out earlier, the internet’s one major flaw is that it gives the unredeemedly stupid a giant megaphone, so that people whose jobs involve hairnets can wander onto the blog page of a woman with a doctorate from Columbia University in Oceanographic and Atmospheric Dynamics (short version: climatology) and claim that she clearly doesn’t know the most basic principles of science, like how stuff gets cold in the wintertime (take that, you global warming freaks!!), or how the poster knows that Cullen must be in the pocket of Big Business, because she supports global warming theory, and we all know how much of Big Business is driven by the very people who spend their vacations attacking whaling ships in little rubber dinghies, or driving nails into endangered old-growth forest trees.

…I understand that people who don’t have college degrees are mostly mystified by scientific method and by the rigors of peer-reviewed research. Being ignorant of scientific method doesn’t make a person a dipshit. What makes a person a dipshit is the inability to post responses to a scientifically arrived-at position that doesn’t rely on conspiracy theory (Big Eco-business-driven theory), clap-trap (global warming being caused by sun, which has become noticeably whiter, apparently, over the last 50 years), and an empirical foundation that takes “would you like to supersize that?” as its first postulate and works–badly–from there.

I too was stunned by some of the utter ignorance about the basic science of global warming in the comments (e.g., not knowing what ice cores are, or any of the other tools used to measure temperature before we started hanging thermometers outside). You don’t have to think that New York City will suddenly become covered with glaciers and giant freezing tornadoes of death will visit destruction upon us like in that stupid Dennis Quaid movie to think that:

1) The evidence indicates global warming is a real phenomenon.

2) A significant fraction of that warming results from human actions.

3) Bad things will happen if global warming continues at its present pace (for me, the concerns, which are backed by models, are drought in many areas, combined with the range expansion of many debilitating diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever).

Given that the U.S. invaded Iraq based on neblulous data–which turned out to be incorrect–which hinted that Iraq just might have some kind of something related to WMD, the much greater likelihood (which is pretty damn close to 100%) that global warming is a real problem, and that we’re partly responsible should lead us to act.

Comments

  1. #1 Herb West
    January 22, 2007

    Wow, that was snotty. Literature guy is treating global warming merely as a license for name-calling, profanity, condescension and snobbery. People like this should not be held up as examples.

  2. #2 quitter
    January 22, 2007

    Sounds more like Literature guy is sick of denialists

    Nothing more. Yes they are frustrating, I hate them too. It’s ok to be snotty to denialists.

  3. #3 Troublesome Frog
    January 22, 2007

    Yes, Literature guy was being snotty. And he’s generally right. It’s amazing to me the number of people who, without understanding why roller coasters can go upside down without dropping their passengers, would be perfectly willing to go toe-to-toe against Albert Einstein in a discussion of relativity. Albert, you moron. You don’t have the first clue about physics! You’re just a shill for the clock manufacturers who stand to make a FORTUNE on the whole time dilation thing.

    When I don’t know much about a subject and my understanding of the subject disagrees with the overwhelming consensus of the experts, I first assume that I should probably do a little more reading and ask the experts some questions. When I ask those questions, I’m polite about it and ask them as a generally curious person–not a as a person who’s about to tear down the dogmatic orthodoxy. I don’t assume that everybody except me is an idiot. If I did that, I’d be deserving of whatever condescension and snobbery was directed at me.

  4. #4 XPM
    January 22, 2007

    Albert, you moron. You don’t have the first clue about physics! You’re just a shill for the clock manufacturers who stand to make a FORTUNE on the whole time dilation thing.

    Much of conservative Weimar Germany took precisely this sort of attitude, and this long before the “megaphone” of the Internet. I surely need to remind noone of what that mentality culminated in.

  5. #5 Oran Kelley
    January 22, 2007

    Snotty? Well, if it’s snotty to tell people who have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about to either school themselves or shut the hell up and move on to the next thing, then long live snotty.

    Arrogant ignorance needn’t be coddled.

  6. #6 Edward
    January 22, 2007

    It’s easy to deny things you don’t want to be true. People are very good at ignoring the facts. I remember hearing about global warming, overpopulation, and a host of other problems back in the 1970′s when I was in grade school. It wasn’t until high school, when I took an astronomy course over the summer and we did some calculations on how hot Mars, Earth and Venus would be with just sunlight and no greenhouse effect and then compared the numbers to the actual temps that I “got” why some people were worried so much about global warming. However, most college grads have less science education than I had in high school.

    Most people do tend to believe the experts, but if two experts present conflicting oppinions, people go with the expert that is telling them what they want to hear. Exon-Mobil has gone to great lengths to find the few climate scientists still in denial over global warming and to shine the media spotlight on them so that people will think there is far more scientific controversy than really exists.

  7. #7 Troublesome Frog
    January 22, 2007

    Arrogant ignorance needn’t be coddled.

    Wow. That’s probably the most perfect slogan I’ve heard for organizations like the TalkOrigins archive and a lot of the posters on ScienceBlogs. They should print it on shirts.

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