I ran into a couple of videos recently. The first is from Neil Degrasse Tyson about climate change.
This is a typical rant that you will see from people who purport to represent science. But the entire way they approach the issue is antithetical to the practice of science itself. First of all they are stating that man made global warming is a fact, based on almost no evidence. Look, in the scientific universe facts are things that are indisputable. Facts are testable and don’t change regardless of how many different methods that you use to test them. Speed of light in a vacuum. FACT, because it’s been tested every which way and it’s always the same. If it wasn’t, we’d have new science. AGW(Anthropogenic Global Warming) isn’t a fact because there’s no way to test it and make it falsifiable. To say that AGW is a fact is making a mockery of what science is supposed to be.
Yet here we are with Tyson using his credentials on TV to give AGW the cloak of science that it hasn’t earned. The fact is that anybody who takes even the most tiny glimpse at the science starts to see the issues. If you approach AGW in a scientific manner, starting from what you know are strictly facts, the emissive spectrum of CO2, for instance, or the atmospheric constituents. Or the amount of ice in the Antarctic, you quickly find that what you see and what the AGW proponents say are at odds with each other. The facts on the ground don’t seem to follow the AGW hypothesis.
All of the so called “deniers” got themselves on deep crap for pointing this out one way or another. In all innocence, many people with specialties outside climatology would start asking questions. Aside from high level academics like Lindzen, Spencer and Curry, ordinary people with an interest in weather, physics or statistics started to ask questions. With Anthony Watts, it was weather station siting in the climate network. With Steve McIntyre it was looking at the statistics. Over and over people started looking at those facts on the ground and started to ask questions.
What was the response from the climate scientists at places like NASA GISS and Hadley CRU? Thanks to the Climategate email drop we know what it was. To circle the wagons, refuse to distribute the statistical data even under the force of law, label the people asking the questions “deniers,” as in science denier, a label that’s still being used and sic the media on the questioners, attempting to destroy their credibility. A close look at the climate gate emails shows that this was a pattern among the top climate scientists, such as Jones at Hadley CRU and Mann. A pattern that continues to this day.
The second video is from Bill Nye the so called “Science Guy” ranting against nuclear power at a Columbia University sustainable development conference.
I have an issue with people speaking as an expert on a subject that they know absolutely nothing about. Especially when the lack of knowledge is more or less inexcusable for somebody who has an engineering degree. I got my degree about the same time that Bill did and I know a quite a bit how a nuclear reactor work, not least because of a little book called Steam, It’s Generation And Use . Steam was and still is the complete guidebook on all things power plant. Steam is produced and distributed by Babcock and Wilcox as a book sized advertisement of the their primary product, large steam generators, including nuclear reactors. The information in the book is as complete as they could make it and focused at engineering students. And it includes all the information you would need to build a power reactor.
This isn’t unusual. The fact is that nuclear physics is nuclear physics and the facts of what needs to be done for using the atom to generate electricity aren’t huge secrets. For Mr. Nye to say that about nuclear energy means that either he was asleep in class for about a month when that stuff was being talked about in about four different classes or he’s forgotten what he was supposed to learn in the face of his prejudices. I’m guessing that since he’s never actually tried to understand nuclear energy, yet spouts off about it at places like the sustainable development conference, that it’s the latter.
Here’s an interview of Nye about climate change. The mere fact that the word “denier” is used says volumes about the articles tone. And as expected Nye sends the right virtue signals and says all the right things.
It’s rather amazing that nobody points out the logical fallacies involved stating that the opposition HAS no arguments and are all “deniers” rather than actually addressing their supposedly false arguments. Somehow in all the debate, the side that says that they are on the side of “science” never seems to present any, well science.
This is not uncommon. Going back centuries, people have wanted to wrap themselves in authority that they are not entitled to. “Science” has been a part of that for centuries now. There’s a good reason for this. Wrap a man or woman in “science” and put them in a lab coat and suddenly you have authority even when they are speaking absolute nonsense as this video demonstrates.
Now the turbo encabulator video is a classic because it demonstrates the power of a reasonable voice and the power of authority even when it’s spouting nonsense. We, as human beings want to trust that there’s somebody who knows more than we do. That trust though is often misplaced. The problem starts when other factors influence research. When there’s agenda driving things the science becomes yet another tool to push the politics to drive the agenda and get the desired policies. When the policies are the desired result, all you end up with is people in lab coats spouting nonsense.
One argument that the people in authority will make is to “check the literature.” Of course they want you to do that. When the science has been corrupted to drive policy, the peer review process is going to be tainted. The people pushing policy can’t afford contradictory research to muddy things up so they will take steps to ensure that there isn’t any. And in the “publish or perish” exotic world of grant driven science, that’s proven to be remarkably easy. What it costs is the value of open enquiry.
The problem is that in order for the censorship and suppression to actually work that suppression has to spread across anything related. So AGW isn’t only a part of climatology the consequences have to be seen over anything that’s affected by climate. So AGW become the reason for everything and if you disagree with that you become yet another “denier.”
That has worked for a long time now, but the ever more strident screams and demands of the AGW crowd are getting noticed. When you make unfounded accusations and the repeat them over and over, slandering all and sundry, you lose what little credibility you have left.
That’s the problem with corrupting science by using it to drive an agenda. That’s especially true when you muddy the water with unfalsifiable claims and name calling. You don’t have a leg to stand on when you get caught out and so you don’t have any choice but to escalate the language. which is how you get the “death trains,” “working big oil” and “deniers should be prosecuted/oppressed/executed” language.
The problem with the scientist as prophet scenario is that science is ultimately about discovery, not prediction. So when you treat science like a religion you are no longer dealing with discovery of what is, you are preaching what you want things to be. That’s not science, it’s using the appearance of science to legitimize your agenda.
When you use the appearance of science to further your agenda, you turn it into something else. You create the appearance of the workings of science, but what you have is a cult. Cults surround themselves with ritual and pageantry to suppress the doubt. They close off outsiders and only listen to insiders. Like the cargo cults in the Pacific after WW2 the appearance is not the reality.
Look science is not that complicated. I will let professor Feynman explain. Science is no more than an educated guess. Then you test that guess and if the test fails, you guessed wrong.
The thing is that having wrong guesses when big time policies are at stake is something that the people supporting those policies cannot tolerate just guessing. They want “facts” based on “science” that are indisputable. The essence of science is that everything is in dispute. That’s why things like the LHC and LIGO exist. It’s one thing to hypothesize about the Higgs Boson or gravity waves, but until you have a way to see them those things might as well not exist. And what the LHC or LIGO saw can and will be disputed. Because that’s science.
The powers that be, whoever they may be, want certainty and are willing to pay big money for that certainty. Money that has corrupted the scientific process across multiple disciplines. It may be that he who pays the piper calls the tune, but valid policies need correct data upon which to base those policies. Corrupt the data and you corrupt the process.
That may be fine with the powers that be, but for the rest of us, not so much. Especially as the corrupt science is waved around as the reason for some policy or other that affects the lives and welfare of everybody and creates an atmosphere of muddy FUD.
The recent debate over neonicotinoid insecticides is a perfect example of how the corrupt system works. “Scientists” from a NGO, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature(IUCN) decided to go on a pesticide hunt. Did the “scientists” at the IUCN conduct any studies or do any research before going on the hunt? Apparently not.
Instead they followed the tried and true method of making unfounded accusations and planted papers in the journals refereed by themselves while their associated activist NGO gins up a campaign against the “dangerous chemicals” which the media obligingly parrots and governments and industry caves under the pressure. Long term, the only people hurt are the people that have to deal with the bugs.
Of course, using these sorts of tactics has a long history, going right back to DDT and Racheal Carson. Lack of evidence has never stopped the activists before. It doesn’t stop them now as long as they can keep the FUD going.
But how do you defend against this sort of attack. It’s seemingly almost impossible. By the time the attack is ongoing the first thing they attack is the oppositions credibility. For these people their opponents are always in the pay of the “chemical companies, big oil, the Koch Bros. or shadowy forces.” Once they get your credibility there’s no defense than you can make.
For the activists, your own efforts to maintain your integrity are actually pointless. It’ doesn’t matter how many double blind studies and safety tests that you conduct. It doesn’t how much data you collect. Unless of course you find data that might confirm their accusations. Even if the evidence is completely shaky and irrelevant to the issue at hand. The important thing is to make sure that any efforts to defend yourself never actually work.
The agricultural-science world is looking on in horror as countries, regions and retailers are beginning to ban glyphosate, the active ingredient found in Monsanto’s main herbicide, Roundup. These restrictions are not being implemented on scientific grounds (per exposure level, coffee and biscuits are far more toxic than glyphosate) but on the basis of moral outrage. Somewhere over the last decade, the chemical industry has lost its right to market and has become “denormalised” much like the tobacco industry, making their science and data unwelcome by regulators, and powerless in the face of sustained activist campaigning. Public affairs specialists in other industries (like emerging technologies, banking, pharmaceuticals, petroleum and alcohol) need to study this evolution in communications campaigns in order to anticipate systemic threats to their own public trust.
The dilemma for the pesticides industry is how to defend itself against this seemingly relentless onslaught from the organic food lobby and environmental NGOs who have proven to be quite open to lie, frighten and act in completely unethical manners to win the debate, gain market share, increase donations, beat up big industry and implement their myopic strategy of changing society. Should “Big Chemical” fight back, run the same hit-and-run campaigns against organic pesticides and frighten even more people from eating fruit and vegetables? If one group is behaving unethically (and winning the argument), should the other side also break rules and violate their ethical codes of conduct? If they do, they might defend their products and allow farmers to continue to viably bring produce to market … but they will have lost their integrity. This is the pesticide industry’s moral dilemma.
The integrity of the activists and the media friends is never called into question. Though maybe it should be. Whether it’s creating a consensus about AGW or attacking a pesticide the activities of these people leaves a lot to be desired. But this was inevitable. Give power to people and the corruption and all it brings soon follows.
What are the consequences of this corruption? Is it just bad scientific papers that nobody reads or are there real consequences for real people. With pesticides and food the consequences are obvious. To say nothing of mosquito borne diseases. How about genetic manipulation of food crops and developing plants that have increased resistance to blight and insect damage? Or plants like golden rice that help to solve dietary deficiencies.
If there’s anything that’s been created by human beings that is an complete and total good, golden rice has to be on that list. Golden rice doesn’t require any changes in the lives of the people that need it’s benefits and will resolve severe health issues created by vitamin a deficiency. Yet there is severe opposition based on “scientific” grounds of course.
Of course the science activists and the NGO’s that support them are never called into account for the damage that they cause. Their moral authority shield seems to be unbreakable no matter how much flimsy that shield is. Which is strange considering the millions of people that have been affected by the consequences of their activities.
Of course those people who are affected are usually far away and without influence. The people in charge of the NGO’s who are responsible for the numerous calamities and millions of unnecessary deaths due to terrible diseases and poverty don’t seem to concern themselves with the loss of the dark skinned hordes far away. More likely, they are concerned with the “excess population” as if the people were deer to be culled.
The same sort of thing happens close to home, where urban populations have been used as props and experimental subjects for decades. Has there ever been any people more “scientifically managed” than the urban African American community in the US with consequences more punishing to that community?
Does lead paint cause mental issues in in African American children? I don’t know. The thing is neither do the people responsible for promulgating the hypothesis, yet we are expected to accept their pronouncements as fact with no basis or data to support them.
This is part and parcel of how the African American has been treated as lab experiments by social scientists, an endless series of “experts” and a meddling government. The one thing that all those people won’t do is free the people from the meddling and let them run their own lives.
Of course the government and the social scientists want to expand their meddling to everybody and create an regulated and managed society. The fact those kinds of societies have never worked doesn’t seem top phase them very much.
Nowhere is the politicization of science more egregious than the Dept. of Agriculture’s attempts to manipulate the diet of Americans in support of whatever vested interest is dominant at any given time.
Which is why we are continually bombarded with diet and health information. But how much real science is behind it all? Seemingly very little. All to often it seem that the studies are flawed, or even rigged to get the desired results.
The stuff the people in the bureaucracy may be flat out wrong or actually lethal, but that doesn’t seem to bother the bureaucrats and their pet scientists very much. It never seems to occur to them that the reason so many people are unhealthy isn’t because they aren’t going by the health directives, but because they are.
So much of the health related stuff seems to be hokum rather than science. Yet because it’s wrapped around the voice of authority, we tend to believe it. Which is a mistake. Especially when concerning health where everybody is an individual and what works for some people might actually harm another.
The problem is to separate the good from the bad. The power of seeming reason is a powerful tool when you are pushing snake oil. Add to that that much of what science is surrounded by jargon that may be impenetrable by outsiders seemingly. Which is actually the point. The problem is that all it takes is one bad study surrounded by all the trappings of authority to do tremendous amounts of harm.
Why bad science won’t ever die
It’s not just vaccinations. There’s so much bad science out there that it beggars description. Much of it coming from organizations and governments that under many circumstance we would be likely to trust.
When the agenda is manipulation and control, you would be better off listening to snake oil salesmen. At least you know enough to approach them with skepticism. And the snake oil more than likely won’t kill you.
The shocking thing is how much “science” is actually just made up. Postulating hypothesis is part of the process. The important part is testability and reproducibility.
The Mythbusters can do a behavioral experiment.
But if nobody repeats the experiment, it’s just television. It seems though, that most of the studies are no more valid than what the Mythbusters did. When 2/3rds of the experiments that the reproducibility people perform, fail, then there’s a real problem.
That goes double for trying to find statistical significance that doesn’t exist. I’m reminded of the time when the electrical substation across the street from the apartment I was living in was the substation of doom according to a study done for an attorney(ambulance chaser suit against the power company claiming that the substation’s EMF caused cancer.) This was hokum of course.
So much of what we are continually bombarded with might as well be voodoo from witch doctors for all the real science involved. Yet there’s so much hokum out there.
The typical pronouncements that we see should peg our BS meters. Especially when, like Tyson and Nye strong language is used to suppress dissent and debate. If there is an effort to suppress argument, that’s your first huge clue that what you are getting is BS.
So how do you tell real science from hokum. Simple, you don’t allow anybody to keep you from asking questions. Look, I’ve asked crazy physics questions of Nobel Prize winners. And got answers. If instead of answers you get bullying and scare tactics, then what you are dealing with isn’t science, regardless of the numbers of people wrapping themselves in authority and other logical fallacies.
If somebody is using FUD to scare the hell out of you and using media campaigns like the billboard above they aren’t presenting arguments based on science, they are pushing snake oil and using voodoo while calling it science.