Denial Of Facts Is No Way To Understand Science

Mon, 2011-12-05 23:15Jim Hoggan
Jim Hoggan's picture

Denial Of Facts Is No Way To Understand Science

On Thursday December 1st, Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente declared herself a defender of scientific integrity by calling upon the scientific community to replace the “rhetoric” of climate change with open, honest debate.

According to Ms. Wente, the impacts of climate change remain a future fantasy, unquantifiable by data collected through “insanely complicated” climate science. Her perspective is informed by the omission of facts, falsehoods, and fake experts. In a dance with smoke and mirrors she creates issues where none exist and ignores others that do.

There was a time when I couldn’t understand what motivated writers like Wente to stand so firmly against such clear and solid science. The psychology of “confirmation bias” has provided the answer for me. 

Like all of us, Wente has her biases, and most of us, like her, like to have those biases confirmed. So we seek out the information that confirms what we already believe and disregard that information that might prove us wrong.

As a columnist, Wente presents the information which confirms her ideological beliefs as truths and facts to the readers of the Globe and Mail. She excels as a columnist in part because she mocks and jeers her detractors. This pleases the people who agree with her but makes her loathed by those who don’t.  It provokes reaction on both sides, and eliminates any possibility of civil conversation.

When it comes to climate change she suffers from an extreme case of motivated reasoning. She has to ignore the concerns and views of virtually all of the world’s scientific academies and rely on the views of oil industry funded groups like the Fraser Institute as she scrounges for shreds of evidence to back up her contrary view of climate science.

In the fantastical future Wente claims climate scientists are inventing, “the seas will rise, the glaciers will melt, the hurricanes will blow, the forest fires will rage.”

But climate change and its consequences are not mere predictions. We live in a world that is already affected by rising global temperatures, with more frequent and more intense heat waves, more powerful hurricanes, increasing numbers of forest fires, floods and droughts. These changes are consistent with the climate data on which future predictions are built.

In November, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report on the impacts and costs of rising global temperatures, with suggestions on mitigating the damage. The report points out that although it is difficult to attribute single extreme events to anthropogenic climate change, increased global temperatures do contribute to the extreme weather trends and those are already underway.

Wente admits to her lack of scientific credentials, but immediately slanders the world’s leading climate scientists. Their own lack of certainty about the earth’s changing climate and its causes, she implies, is clearly demonstrated by the “so-called Climategate affair.”  

The private emails between the world’s top scientists were stolen, misquoted and published as a massive accusation that the science behind climate change has been fabricated.

Wente mentions that Climategate has been “debunked,” yet goes on to re-state the initial false claims made through the “affair”. In this, she confirms research on “confirmation bias” that proves people who read false information continue to believe it even after it has been corrected, especially if the misinformation confirms their ideological perspectives.  

Whether she is aware of it or not, Ms. Wente has become part of an “echo chamber” of misinformation created through Climategate. Following the original theft of the emails, right wing groups in the US including the American Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, and the Heritage Foundation – to name a few – made sure the scandal’s message (climate change science is a hoax) was repeated publicly as much as possible.

She avoids mentioning that nine independent inquiries exonerated the scientists and their work, proving the biggest scandal of 2009 to be a fake scandal. After all of this, Wente still thinks the lie is worth repeating.

Happily duped into repeating and publishing proven falsehoods, Wente has not helped her readers gain any better understanding of “the Climategate affair”. A proper explanation of Climategate would include the facts about who funded it.

Koch Industries, owned by brothers Charles and David Koch have generously donated some $50 million of their company’s fortune to fund the same industry front groups and right wing think-tanks that fabricated Climategate. The Kochs' business activities range from the manufacturing, refining and distribution of petroleum, as well as the production of chemicals, energy, fiber, minerals, fertilizers, pulp and paper. In 2009 alone, Koch Industries paid more than half a billion dollars in fines for environmental damages. 

Looking for back-up on her false assertions on Climategate, Wente refers to economics professor Ross McKitrick. He agrees with her that Climategate proves climate science is phony, and thinks the IPCC should change its process entirely.

Surely, she knows that McKitrick is a fellow at the Fraser Institute (given $175,000 by Koch foundations between 2005 and 2008) and is affiliated with numerous other industry-funded think tanks. He is an open skeptic of climate science, and a perfect validator for Wente’s entrenched beliefs - and he has no credentials in atmospheric science whatsoever.

A recent study by Yale University law Professor Dan Kahan would suggest that Wente and McKitrick have a lot more in common than their view on climate change. Kahan surveyed more than 1,500 Americans and found that their cultural values had a far greater impact on their view of climate change than their level of scientific literacy. Most people who tended towards a view of the world that is hierarchical and individualistic were more skeptical of environmental risks including climate change than people whose outlook was communal and egalitarian. 

Margaret Wente is only human, and is as susceptible to her own biases as anyone else. As a journalist, however, she needs to be held accountable for her errors and omissions. While misinformed vitriol may provoke reactions, and may even sell newspapers, the Globe and Mail and other newspapers should be held accountable for the accuracy of the material they choose to publish.

If misinformation is the new journalistic standard, then people will only absorb more media that re-enforces their own opinions, and the possibility for consensus on any issue will be lost.

Previous Comments

Here’s Peter Hadfield’s coverage of the lastest lunacy;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4OB2prBtVFo

Here’s Peter’s first video on ‘Climategate’;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7nnVQ2fROOg

His second;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uXesBhYwdRo


So… here’s the part I don’t get about this climate conspiracy. How do you get 10,000’s of scientists world wide to fake and hide data, then pass it off to good scientists.  Many of the scientists involved are of course government and military (look up treason) and are colluding to force some sort of political agenda.

Seriously, if you believe that, then you’ve never been in an office or work place. 

And for what?  How?  Never mind…

Now lets look at the other side of the equation;

http://www.spectator.co.uk/essays/7438683/rising-credulity.thtml

http://www.skepticalscience.com/Nils-Axel-Morner-wrong-about-sea-level-rise.html

Here’s a little about Nils; (the extent of his knowledge of oceans is ‘dowsing’) Hmm… must be an expert.

http://www.desmogblog.com/nils-axel-morner

So… he’s paid directly by oil companies to say what he says.

Say it with me; “Con-spir-a-cy”.

“If misinformation is the new journalistic standard, then people will only absorb more media that re-enforces their own opinions, and the possibility for consensus on any issue will be lost.”

That’s exactly what the neolibs who are funding the denialist propaganda campaign want.  By denying the possibility of consensus, they make it politically impossible to take any action to control greenhouse gas emissions.

Understanding why people are willing to be duped is all very well, but it won’t help tackle the issue, when most of the media outlets, and many politicians are owned by those spreading misinformation.  Having said that, I wish I could offer a better idea how to regain control of the agenda.  How can you raise awareness, when you don’t have access to the channels of communication?

Denialism is strongest with conservative elements of society.

Isn’t the term in the US the ‘neocons’?

My contention is that the neoliberal economic agenda, which has made its proponents unimaginably rich (the 1%), has most to lose by the implications of AGW.  I doubt that they could care less if the climatologists are right, they just want to make sure that enough people doubt it, so they can carry on with business as usual.  Such amoral behaviour is well documented in the tobacco industry, which provided the model for the denialist propaganda campaign. (Yes, I’ve read Climate Cover-up!)

Neo Liberal = Republican or Tea Party?

For me this is terribly confusing… Especially since in Canada a Liberal is a centrist.  (That would be me.)

In Canada a Liberal is part of the fossil record but isn’t known to exist in modern times. 

Naomi Klein, who’s also Canadian, explains all in her book The Shock Doctrine, which this review summarises nicely:

http://www.naomiklein.org/reviews/ms-magazine-review-shock-doctrine

The process that she describes is currently under way in the UK, under the guise of recovering from the 2008 economic crash, including privatising health and education.

 

The nomenclature can get confusing sometimes. Neoliberalism comes from the phrase: trade liberalization. In the 18th and 19th centuries conservatives were generally speaking against too much international trade. They often saw it as a potential threat to sovereignty. This, of course has reversed in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Hence the ‘new’ or ‘neo’ attitude towards international trade, or what we now call globalization.Neoliberalism is a term mostly used by the left to characterize conservative economic policies which promote globalization. Neoconservativism is a term applied to the upsurge in popularity of conservative ideology that began in the late 1970s and early 1980s with Reagan and Thatcher. By contrast to neoliberalism, the term neoconservative was a self-appellation by conservatives to distinguish themselves from previous stereotypes associated with stodgy-ness and parochialism. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoliberalism

Confirmation bias: you say we have more powerful hurricanes when there is no trend and only predictions of more energetic storm activity.

You believe something exists when it is only predicted. 

http://www.usgcrp.gov/usgcrp/links/hurricanes.htm

My reading of her column is that there are uncertainties about the future - thats about it. Lets admit that uncertainties exist and lets not declare things to be facts when they don’t exist yet.

This is exactly the problem. The faithful would have us believe that everything is ‘settled’ and proven and that we must just shut up and go along with the outrageous claims and financial commitments that go with them. This is Climate we are talking about, and it’s just not that simple.

Acknowledging the uncertainty is key to advancing the message, contrary to what people think. It’s what Dr. Judith Curry calls the “Uncertainty Monster”. Pretending it’s not there just reduces the credibility of the whole AGW message, imo.

The kind of blathering from Ms Wente and her creed  supported by Fox news, Koch Bros, and various right-wing interest-driven ‘Think-Tank’ reports is as disquieting as it is foolish; and only a couple of strategies seem to have any potential for countering such piffle:

- calling the media responslble, and its sponsors, to the carpet when they provide a platform for cranks like Wente. Sometimes they listen, and make appropriate editorial changes;  other times you have to give them an option: make a change or face a different outcome, like boycotting key sponsors until such time as when they …

- clearly we need to support and amplify our own media messaging around such issues; this is an excellent venue, as are many other portals. And, of course, we know it’s not enough, so we must dig deeper, be more clever, and enlist all the tools and resources at our disposal to achieve our goals. That’s what ‘they’ do, and while it may look like they’ve got it all sown up, I ain’t giving up yet. 

- Michael Maser, Gibsons BC

And thanks for your excellent column here Jim and your unwavering support for this issue.

Wente sounds like she caught a bus to investigative journalism…….but instead decided not to go all the way & got off at the first stop…confirmation bias.

There was a good article on this subject this week here in Oz by Dick Gross.

http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/blogs/godless-gross/faith-science-and-lies-20111202-1oapl.html

Excerpt: “

I have just finished marking climate change essays and then exams for the climate course I teach at Melbourne University.  My head is full of the stuff.  Moreover, with the emissions trading scheme legislation recently behind us, I thought it was a propitious time to look at the issue from the perspective of faith and ethics, the principal concerns of this blog.

FAITH

The climate change debate exemplified the uneven impact of faith on our knowledge.  Much of what we ”know” is based on faith in the people or media that informs us.  How do I know that bypass surgery works?  It is not from knowledge of the heart or surgery. 

 

I know because quite a few people have told me that it works.  And I believe them.  The same goes with sub-atomic particles, the Big Bang Theory and the insides of the computer I am now working on. It may sound paradoxical for the hard-core atheist to trumpet his faith but it is self-evidently the case that, particularly in science, it is my faith that guides me rather than my knowledge.

Of course, the credibility of science is manifest for all to see.  Science can be misused but this is another question.  Planes fly, computers work and life expectancy has grown with medical science.  Moreover, the scientific methods of reasoning and testing seem to be particularly robust.  Scientific method is not perfect.  It can be wrong, but compared with the accuracy of religious revelation, it is a minor miracle.  So with the runs on the board, my faith in science has been rewarded (I now walk without a limp after doctors cured the effects of decades of rugby and ballet) and my faith has grown accordingly.

So you can imagine my surprise the climate change debate where, in Australia, the US and Canada in particular, shrill untutored voices claim an ascendant knowledge over science.  Science is suddenly portrayed as biased, self-interested and unreliable.”

And this:

 

http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/blogs/godless-gross/the-hierarchy-of-ascending-scientific-plausibility-20110714-1hfg3.html

 

 

DICK’S HIERARCHY OF ASCENDING SCIENTIFIC PLAUSIBILITY

1. Pure Science  - {e.g.: astrophysics, pure maths}.  The common response is scorn - “Geek central.  Who cares what these white coated nerds think?”

2. Intangible Applied Science -  {e.g.: applied maths, statistics. climate change}.  The common response of the laity is distrust - “Unreliable – you can prove anything with statistics!”

3. Tangible Applied Science  -  {e.g.: research on medical cures}.  The common response swings the other way a could be characterised as “We believe and acclaim these visionaries.”

4. Commercialised Science - {e.g.: IT, surgery, air travel}.  The public response could be portrayed as “I embrace and use this miraculous science without a second thought”.

Climate change is in the second category.  It is applied science that has as yet intangible consequences. Thus, climate change science is in that part of my hierarchy which more easily attracts denigration. “

 

so I don’t want to be confused by the facts.

I’ve known quite a few like that.  Still do.

But not you, of course …

despite my advanced years, to continue to be a scientist.

commenters here don’t seem to care for mine.

I talk to myself too sometimes and it’s not proof of being crazy either. Yes it is. No it’s not.

by the way, I like your short cryptic comments just fine.

Margaret Wente is a serial misinformer and mis-representer when it comes to virtually any issue of concern to anyone who values maintianing the environment. She gets her talking points from right-wing blogs such as the Drudge Report, and regurgitates the talking points expressed therein.

I only got through the 3rd paragraph of this diatribe before giving up on it.

“As Roger Pielke Jr…..one of the saner voices on the climate scene”. MW thereby neatly sidesteps the fact that this guy is NOT a climate scientist, but a ‘Political Scientist’. So basically, she could not be bothered to contact any of the scores of real climate scientist for proper background and perspective but instead somehow managed to find a discredited (at least among real climate scientists) self-promoter like RP Jr.

Next up in the same parag, “hurricanes have failed to blow since 2005”. This was clearly lifted from an appalling op-ed in the Wall Street Journal if memory serves. Does MW think everyone is stupid or suffers from amnesia? Did not two devastating storms cause billions of dollars of damage on the East coast of the US just last year. According to the very same Wall Street Journal, Hurricane Irene caused upwards of $12 billion damage and 27 deaths, unprecedented flooding, several million homes/business without electricity for days.

Then we get “the U.S. has now experienced its longest period free of major hurricanes since 1906”. Complete and utter BS!

Next up; “Climate science is relatively new, and it’s also insanely complicated. No one knows with any certainty the exact impact of carbon dioxide emissions, what long-term climate trends will be or the effect of other factors, such as the sun. But don’t take it from me. Take it from the climate scientists themselves.”

My Gawd, the chutzpah. I wish she would take it (just once) from a climate scientist him/herself. I would collapse in shock!

Frankly, she’s a disgrace, along with one or two other regulars like Gwyn Morgan.THe G&M is certainly moved to the right over the last few years and it is NOT pretty.

This highlights the issue perfectly and the diverging views regarding the analysis of facts from differing eyes. Confimation bias goes both ways and has always been a strong part of the global warming concept.

Marc Morano of Climate depot has a good article summarizing a few facts.

http://www.climatedepot.com/a/14051/Climate-Depot-Special-Report-AZ-Climate-Reality-Check–SubPrime-Science-Exposeacute-The-claims-of-the-promoters-of-manmade-climate-fears-are-failing–Presented-to-UN-Summit-

RalphNader:

That summary of “facts” that you recommended only links to other articles on Climate Depot.  You really are scraping the barrel with that.

Incidentally, if AGW is nothing to worry about, why are you bothered by what other people think about it? (That’s a rhetorical question, because the answer is obvious.)

“That summary of “facts”“

Facts are not Ralph’s interest.

Ralph, one of the world leaders & fore fathers of AGW, Al Gore, an authority on these issues & person all scientists check their research with, has said that:

“Denialists are in denial”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/al-gore/denialists-in-denial_b_554520.html

I tend to think he is right. I would go a step further & say that many are deniers & liars for hire.

rhyming works as a debate strategy. See O.J. Simpson trial. I think you should use this one more often and do it to a rap beat if possible.

“rhyming works as a debate strategy.”

Thanks for the tip Rick, I’ll take that on board. ;)

“I think you should use this one more often .”

Thanks, I will. You are an ideas man you are Rick.

 

Compulsive rhyming is also a common symptom of various psychotic mental disorders.

Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind.

 

Interesting, although no lying is required as the facts speak for themselves, of which Morano has outlined quite a few. Is it a lie to proclaim something to the public and then in private e-mails state the exact opposite?

“as the facts speak for themselves, of which Morano has outlined quite a few.”

Ralph, I’ve often read about Morano’s admission that he was a liar & the fact that he thought Al Gore was far superior to himself. Just recently he admitted that it was getting increasingly harder to keep up the denial fascade in the face of barrages of facts.

 

this would be a good time for a link, Phil.

My internet search indicates that Morano stays on message pretty well. So far I haven’t noticed him saying a whole lot of nice things about Gore. I would think he would at least be applauding Gores remarkable success as a carbon spewing, mansion building, climate killing pure capitalist. It must be out there somewhere.

Oh yes he has Rick, just google it. It’s everywhere.

 

So, no link, then.

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