Today marks the debut of guest-blogger Cynthia Burack at TSZ. A professor at the Ohio State University, Cynthia is a political scientist who tools are feminist political theory and political psychology. We have worked together in the past on several projects, including work on group dynamics and resistance to diversity (see sidebar, NWSA Journal article) and on evaluating STEM department websites for diversity. What follows, however, is entirely Cynthia's work. I am grateful that she has allowed me to present it here. I think it is very important for all scientists to hear.
Zuska has asked me to write a few words about the Christian Right's approach to science, and when Zuska asks you to do something--well, it's an offer you shouldn't refuse. I'm not a scientist--in fact, I'm a political theorist--but I spend a good bit of my time following what Christian conservative leaders teach about a variety of political issues, including science policy. I want to know how leaders are instructing followers. This means that I'm interested not only in what political candidates people are likely to vote for but in how citizens come to understand issues and what kind of knowledge they are likely to pass on to others in their homes and communities.
In September, I attended a Christian Right conference with well over a thousand participants at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC. The meeting was The Washington Briefing: 2006 Values Voter Summit, sponsored by four conservative Christian organizations: Family Research Council Action, Focus on the Family Action, Americans United to Preserve Marriage, and American Family Association Action. Featured at the summit were many of the rock stars of the conservative Christian movement, including CR organization leaders such as Dr. James Dobson, Gary Bauer, and Tony Perkins, but also Republican members of Congress, Republican Governors, and luminaries such as Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter. For the most part, the subject matter of the conference didn't overlap significantly with science (interestingly, I heard no mention of recent debates over the teaching of evolution in public schools). Presenters discussed terrorism, presidential authority, abortion rights, gay rights, immigration (note: a dose of good sense about the engineering challenge posed by a 700 mile fence on our Southwest border would not have been out of order), and a host of other social/political issues. However, inevitably, some issues of interest to any social movement sit at the intersection of politics and science, and as it happened, one of the topics on which conferees were instructed in Washington, DC was global warming.
You may not be surprised to learn that, in the Right world, global warming does not exist. Nay-sayers have been making this claim since scientists first began sounding the alarm about climate change, and no amount of scientific evidence produced in the interim has had any effect on this conclusion. Some may be a little surprised, however, to learn just what it is that the Christian Right says its global warming adversaries are up to and why Americans should reject their claims. A member of Congress, James Inhofe (R-OK), was on hand at the Summit to instruct the hundreds of activists present, and the no doubt larger audience reached by other media, that global warming is a nefarious creation of the United Nations.
Why did the UN cook up the idea of global warming? To "shut down the machine called America." In fact, we learned, global warming is a plot to destroy the US economy and to initiate one-world government--a goal not only of the UN but of the American political left more broadly. Establishing his Christian credentials, Inhofe invoked Romans 1:25 (For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever) to suggest that taking steps to ameliorate global warming would constitute a form of idol worship. And he urged conferees to spread the word about the plot in their churches and in organizations of which they are members.
Scientists are in no way responsible for Inhofe's nonsense on global warming, which is particularly appalling from a political leader. However, we need scientists to explain and debunk, and scientists can't know what they're up against unless they listen in to venues like this one. Admittedly, listening in can be difficult (and time-consuming), but there's no other way to know what is passing for knowledge to many millions of Americans.
To learn more about the Value Voters Summit, check out web-published reports from critics: Running Against Sodom and Osama, by Chip Berlet and Pam Chamberlain of Political Research Associates and Internal Enemy: Gays as the Domestic al-Qaeda, by Sean Cahill and Cynthia Burack (yours truly) for The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Both reports follow the Summit itself in highlighting the threat of terrorism and gays to America--but don't miss any of the other scary bits!
Nay-sayers have been making this claim since scientists first began sounding the alarm about climate change, and no amount of scientific evidence produced in the interim has had any effect on this conclusion.
That's actually not really true. There are a lot of people who used to say that the evidence wasn't really there who have over time come to be convinced by the evidence as it mounted. Some nay-sayers are immune to science. However, I think a very strong point is to be made that many of the scientists who were once more cautious are no longer-- that's a testament tot he evidence.
Well, thanks for reporting back from the trenches for us.
I do find it very alarming when people are willing to dismiss evidence in favor of some fluffy pet theory. I see it happen all the time.
However, we need scientists to explain and debunk
Absolutely. I'm doing it, I'm sure you're doing it, and I hope many more scientists will come to see it as essential to doing science: also, explaining it.
Fascinating. The left *does* need to learn how the right thinks. Simple argument isn't going to work in such a complex, multi-faceted dymanic as the relationship of the American left ot the American right. Bravo.
I would like to know what they actually mean when they say they "don't believe in global wamring". Do they actually not believe the Earth's surface is on average not warmer now than 100 years ago? That it is a "natural" warming that has nothing to do with CO2? The people who do not believe the surface warming are lost causes. I'm not going to talk to any of them anymore, it's like talking to someone who think the Earth was created in 7 24-hour days.
I think the argument "against" Global Warming usually goes as follows:
1. There have been huge climate changes in the past, well beyond anything we've observed and the few-to-several degree warming we predict in the coming century. This is all part of the natural cycles; why get worked up? (All true; there were ice ages and things. Of course, any change like that would be disastrous for human civilization; if we thought it were coming, we'd probably want to do something about it even if it were natural!)
2. It's arrogant to suppose that we mere humans can have so large an effect on a planet that's far more massive than us and that can produce hurricanes and tsunamis that wipe out our villages and cities. (True, perhaps, but of course it's not supposition; it's evidence. Kind of funny how environmentalist terminology sometimes gets adopted to be used against them.)
3. Why should we believe you now when 30 years ago scientists were telling us an ice age was coming? (I don't have a quick answer to this, because I haven't spent a lot of time looking at it, but I think that the "impending ice age" thing is an overblown red herring.)
4. You don't really know what's going to happen, the climate is a complicated nonlinear system. (All true. But it is precisely because the climate is nonlinear that we should be scared. The CO2 levels are way outside the ranges they've been in during geogical history. And, even in geological history, there are climate changes that would have been disastrous for our civilization. The CO2 has tracked global temperature very well. We're doing a massive experiment, pushing the CO2 well outside the bounds of where it's ever been. Our best estimate is huge global warming. It could be a lot worse, something like the backstory of M. M. Buckner's post-apocalyptic sience fiction novels. Or it could turn out that there is some restoring force in the system that we don't understand. But it's clear that something could happen based on the evidence, and that we are doing an experiment on our only planet that could have massive consequences. Do we really want to be doing this?)
And this isn't even touching on the people who think that the evidence is all fabricated by some sort of anti-American conspiracy, or the people who generally reject science as being anti-their-religion.
Anyway, believing in global warming may possibly give you TEH GAY faster than eating Soy, so, there.
I think another popular way for the nay-sayers to challenge scientists is borrowed from the ID contingent: there is a debate on global warming, there's no consensus among scientists, it isn't a proven fact, scientists disagree about the data and the interpretation, we still need to study it further, and so on. No need to take any action because we still haven't discovered for sure that anything is happening; just need to keep studying and learning and IF we ever find out anything THEN we might think about doing something.
Then when you get back into the hinterlands and are preaching to the masses, you just tell them there's a passel of scientists who think differently about global warming and/or who interpret the data differently and it doesn't really exist and those leftist latte-sipping east coast secular humanists liberals who are trying to shove global warming down our throats are trying to DESTROY AMERICA and must be resisted.
Another argument is esentially the distrust of scientists. It goes thusly, scientists are not doing science, but fabricating results in order to insure continued funding. So for climate, threats are made up, in order to make the science important. This is a variation on the whole "follow the money" theme.
I do think some progress is being made. A great number of people who thought GW was a myth, now admit the climate is warming -but deny that humans could be responsible. Also we have some Evangelicals who have broken ranks, and are making preservation of nature into an issue.
The perfect gift for your global warming skeptic friends, family, and enemies of course, for this Christmas and beyond. :::[Global Cool Watch: Mug a Global Warming Skeptic]
Why should we believe you now when 30 years ago scientists were telling us an ice age was coming? (I don't have a quick answer to this, because I haven't spent a lot of time looking at it, but I think that the "impending ice age" thing is an overblown red herring.)
Here's your quick answer: it's not true. Scientists did not say that - journalists did. They took the emerging understanding of the orbital forcings that lead to ice-ages and constructed a scare story out of it, which was completely unsupported by the science.
There will be another ice-age at some point in the future. However, you can't call it "impending" or "imminent" in any human sense.
It may surprise you that the "argument" with the UN plot doesn't in the least surprise me. I'm European and even over here, we've had people explain to us that all "green" policies have as their only goal the destruction of the US economy. When it isn't the UN, we are sometimes the ones behind the plot. What I hadn't known is that we do these bad things because we lost our religion and do idol worship. You live and learn.....
I have to say, it is really embarrassing, at least to me, to have to admit that we have assholes promulgating this kind of bullshit to the masses in my country. I'm not sure whether the leaders espousing this theory believe it or not; they find it politically expedient, nothing else matters after that. What they do is worse than lying. As Harry G. Frankfurt has noted in his wonderful tome, "On Bullshit", http://press.princeton.edu/titles/7929.html at least when you lie, it means you have some respect for what the truth actually is. When you are spreading bullshit and don't have regard for what the truth actually is - current U.S. administration exhibit number one - you are a worse enemy of the truth than the worst liar that ever lived.
bush and company have no respect for scientific knowledge -- or for knowledge in general, for that matter.
according to their world view, there is no such thing as objective "truth". Instead, they believe that truth can be created out of thin air for the purpose at hand.
The earth is a complex, chaotic, dynamic system. Such systems often lack a long-range average that they invariably return to.