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Meet the Denialists
October 8, 2010 3:46 PM   Subscribe

A handful of US scientists have made names for themselves by casting doubt on global warming research. In the past, the same people have also downplayed the dangers of passive smoking, acid rain and the ozone hole. In all cases, the tactics are the same: Spread doubt and claim it's too soon to take action.
posted by gerryblog (31 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
I found this via The Awl, which has been giving me a lot of good links lately.
posted by gerryblog at 3:47 PM on October 8, 2010


Ad hominem
posted by A189Nut at 3:51 PM on October 8, 2010


Why are these people always physicists and engineers? Why would I listen to a physicist telling me that climatologists are wrong about the climate?
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:53 PM on October 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


Well, to be fair, they're not all engineers. Some are crazy people.
posted by sneebler at 4:01 PM on October 8, 2010 [10 favorites]


A disproportionate number of terrorists are engineers, too! What's going on in these engineering schools?
posted by mrnutty at 4:08 PM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Related posts.
posted by homunculus at 4:12 PM on October 8, 2010


Why are these people always physicists and engineers? Why would I listen to a physicist telling me that climatologists are wrong about the climate?

Because the climatologists aren't telling me what I want to hear!
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:12 PM on October 8, 2010 [6 favorites]


When do we get to read these guys emails again. I mean what fair is fair.
posted by humanfont at 4:18 PM on October 8, 2010 [2 favorites]




A disproportionate number of terrorists are engineers, too! What's going on in these engineering schools?

If you run an engineering school, this is no joke from what I understand. It's actually kind of a big deal.

Anyway, I don't get these people. They want infinite freedom to pollute endlessly which seems like a pretty ignoble goal.
posted by GuyZero at 4:27 PM on October 8, 2010


Once read an interview with a dude being dismissive of the World Scientists' Warning to Humanity because only a "population economist" was possibly qualified to comment on humanity's effects on the environment. By some rare coincidence, this person identified as a population economist, and said we had nothing to worry about. All good!
posted by Zed at 4:43 PM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you guys want to balance things out I have a climatologist friend who thinks that Einstein was a FOOL WAKE UP SHEEPLE!!!!111
posted by Avenger at 4:44 PM on October 8, 2010 [6 favorites]


Sorry I wasn't here to participate in the thread, but the claim that this is an ad hominem is preposterous.
posted by gerryblog at 5:34 PM on October 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


There are some engineers that absolutely cannot deal with the unknowns in the equation. For them things aren't shades of grey. THey're not black and white. They're the inside of the apocryphal black body, and the surface of the sun. They use pi out to eight digits, when all the other variables are small whole numbers. They use third-or fourth-order instead of linear interpolation in their thermo class. In quantum physics, they tie up whole class periods saying that you shouldn't simplify the integral of a series of sines from -pi to pi, to twice the integral from 0 to pi, because it's sloppy, even if it's the only known way to get something useful at the end.

These are almost always men. They are almost always poorly socialized - they require their personal relationships to be just as exact, and then do not understand why they have these useless, distracting feelings. Then the feelings take over, but the binary of their worldview does not. They cannot possibly be wrong. They cannot possibly be to blame.
posted by notsnot at 5:50 PM on October 8, 2010 [11 favorites]


In other words, Ayn Rand was a social engineer.
posted by SPrintF at 5:57 PM on October 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


notsnot, you forgot: They are always absolutely sure of their opinions, which, since they are based on factual observances and Logic!!!, are irrefutable.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:25 PM on October 8, 2010



These are almost always men. They are almost always poorly socialized - they require their personal relationships to be just as exact, and then do not understand why they have these useless, distracting feelings. Then the feelings take over, but the binary of their worldview does not. They cannot possibly be wrong. They cannot possibly be to blame.


And yet, there are still those of us out here who don't quite see what the hypothetical male engineers' hypothesized personal relationships and assigned, generalized personality quirks have to do with global warming. Does this produce some kind of feeling of comfort, i.e. "Well, if I hadn't gotten that date to the prom by using my slammin' social skills, I wouldn't believe that global warming was a threat either?"

I've recently noticed this on "The Fringe," as well. Milo was turned into a supra-logical being who could eventually only really communicate with computers, because his drug-induced logic rendered ordinary humans unable to comprehend his thoughts. He, of course, was the dangerous villain who had to be turned in by his emotional, "ordinary" sister.

I am, of course, not suggesting that notsnot writes for "The Fringe" or that the two points are related in any way but the most inconsequential. It just marks the second time in 24 hours (well, 28) that I've seen the very logical, data-cruncher-type thinkers among us caricatured as destructive and not fully "human." When did logic go out of fashion?
posted by deep thought sunstar at 10:57 PM on October 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Well said deep thought sunstar: It just marks the second time in 24 hours (well, 28) that I've seen the very logical, data-cruncher-type thinkers among us caricatured as destructive and not fully "human."

"When did logic go out of fashion?" When it disagrees with you.

The smug certainty on both sides belies the fact that the physics here is not fully understood - and may never be fully understood - by anyone. A preponderance of evidence is probably the best we can hope for - far less than the absolute certainty with which each side advances its argument. This discussion, like every other discussion of political substance, has degraded into a choice of two unlikely propositions: man-made global warming is a complete fact or a total fraud.

In the current climate of admit no weakness, show no flaw, give no ground, us or them, good or evil, this is what you have and it is impossible to have anything like a logical, rational, respectful discussion over the middle ground where the truth is most likely to be found.

Conclusion: those who benefit from the status quo continue to benefit.
posted by three blind mice at 12:33 AM on October 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


But I'm not being smug, three blind mice. I know the physics is not by any stretch of anyone's imagination "fully understood," and I wasn't trying to suggest that I understand it. I also think you're assuming perspectives on my (or others') part that aren't really warranted.

I was specifically addressing the statement referenced in my above comment, and was actually concerned about much the same thing you are. Ripping on imaginary scientists' "social skills" seemed rather a derail from the topic at hand, and certainly plays into the scenario of "we're right, and you are stupid assholes because your shitty approach to the world leaves us no choice but to conclude that you are wrong."
posted by deep thought sunstar at 12:46 AM on October 9, 2010


The problem with relying purely on logic is when you fail to realise the importance of the premises you start from. Witness Einstein and his cosmological constant so he could fit his theories around the idea of a static universe. If even the smartest amongst us can fall prey to a faulty pre-conceived premise... In his favour, he abandoned the idea after finding out his premise was wrong.

When I was first at uni, I often wished I could be more mechanistic, strip myself of complex emotions that often caused me pain. I wished others were more logical, instead of the messy illogical unthinking people I perceived them to be. You combine that kind of thinking with some faulty premises and the arrogance to be unable to question your own motives and conclusions, and you can end up with a sociopath. Or a terrorist. Happily, I grew out of it. Mostly.

Logic is a great tool to help us follow through an idea to consequences. It's not a substitute, or even a very useful tool, for interacting with other people, who generally are pretty damn illogical. Or for coping with faulty premises. See Reductio ad absurdum for how logical thinking can fail. You have to combine logic with an ability to look at all the evidence, not just the part that agrees with your existing conclusion.

Beauty, wonder, justice, love... Or hate, disgust and anger. Things that drive us, have great meaning for us. Trying to apply logic to them will take you to some odd places.
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:54 AM on October 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


And then I actually read your comment, three blind mice, and never mind my above misunderstanding. No wonder your words seemed so very resonant. I wish I had not posted before understanding, and I'm sorry about that.
posted by deep thought sunstar at 1:07 AM on October 9, 2010


ArkhanJG, I wasn't ever suggesting that logic should replace everything else as the sole tool by which humans should live. I went through that phase just as you did, and clearly that's not how humans operate.

But you can't enforce climate-change-based legislation based upon "beauty, wonder, justice, [and] love." You cannot, in fact, enforce any kind of rules based on those things. They are far too subjective to even begin to motivate the hugely disparate range of people, thoughts, emotions, and priorities that exist in this country. So what does that leave us with?
posted by deep thought sunstar at 1:21 AM on October 9, 2010


And then I actually read your comment, three blind mice, and never mind my above misunderstanding. No wonder your words seemed so very resonant. I wish I had not posted before understanding, and I'm sorry about that.

No worries and thank you for sending me an Mefi-mail.
posted by three blind mice at 2:02 AM on October 9, 2010


Well, when the climate 'skeptics' can put forward a workable theory which explains the observed phenomenon of warming global temperature and ocean acidification, I'll take them seriously. Picking holes, claiming doubt, and advising that we do nothing until we understand everything is not a substitute for actual research. It's the same thing as the intelligent design people - they haven't got a substitute theory that accounts for all the observed changes in species over time, and until they do, no-one's giving up on evolutionary theory.

The second page of the Speigel article shows how results the skeptics don't like are attacked. Their publishing record is ridiculously pititful, and not taken seriously by any scientist who isn't in the pay of fossil fuel companies. So instead of trying to do better science, they're trying to sway people who don't understand it, like politicians and the people who comment on news websites.
posted by harriet vane at 2:45 AM on October 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Science and Pseudoscience of Global Warming - a great link; especially, scroll down to where he talks about engineers and other "practical" types and the common errors they make about this topic.
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 6:43 AM on October 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


the spreading doubt = bad tactic is sloppy thinking. there are countless situations in the past where people have taken the position that there is uncertainty and that we should wait until taking action. sometimes these people were right. sometimes these people were wrong.
posted by drscroogemcduck at 7:00 AM on October 9, 2010


What I find interesting (or insane, if you will) is that there appears to be a population of people who are convinced that the whole concept of AGW has been conclusively disproven, and they can't understand why this issue still comes up. They say things like, "It's like Climategate never happened!" and believe that the mainstream press is lying to them because there's still talk about the IPCC and so on.

If you try to talk to them, they claim that "You obviously haven't read the literature, and you're just parroting the AGW Believer talking points back to us!" Which I find bizarre - there is room for healthy skepticism on both sides, but we seem to be moving farther away from actual dialog.

I guess my point is that a few years ago I never would have believed that it was possible for Exxon and the Koch brothers to buy a constituency for climate change denial.
posted by sneebler at 7:05 AM on October 9, 2010


there are countless situations in the past where people have taken the position that there is uncertainty and that we should wait until taking action

But lying about how much uncertainty there is, as the so-called skeptics do, is fraud. We know that some gases absorb infrared radiation. We know that that process creates a warmer atmosphere than one where it's not happening, known colloquially as the greenhouse effect. We know that humans are currently creating vast quantities of carbon dioxide, which is one of the greenhouse gases.

So what these denialists should be trying to prove is why they reckon 200 years of climate science somehow doesn't apply anymore - not climate change research, just the basic mechanisms of how atmospheres work. For the skeptics to be right, many of the known (and proved a million times over) facts of physics and chemistry would have to be wrong.

Until they can present any evidence of huge errors in physics and chemistry, it doesn't really matter if the sea level rise is 50m or 700m, or if a specific hurricane is caused by global warming or would have happened anyway. They're wrong about the way our planet's climate works, and they do not have the right to lie about it. People who care about the truth will continue to call them out on this bullshit, and rightly so.
posted by harriet vane at 2:16 AM on October 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think a point that gets overlooked in a lot of these articles is not that Singer et al are dodgy salespeople, repeating the same tactics etc.

This much we know.

The point is that Singer et al are right - environmentalism of the scale needed to curb climate change probably will involve a political move leftwards and curbs on personal and economic freedom. They're not selling dodgy science as such. They're selling the fear of what the good science means and offering an alternative.

This is why 40% of Americans - and less but still significant numbers of British, Germans etc - don't believe the climate change science. Not believing means business as usual - drive your SUV, eat your thick rib steak, fly off on your holiday, turn the air conditioner on the moment the mercury starts going up.

Believing is the first step to a communal response to climate change. It's going to be painful in the short term - at least until the next miracle power generation technology appears - and it's a human instinct to shy away from pain.

And these ostriches are problematic, but arguably no less problematic than some celeb telling me I need to cut my carbon footprint while he travels first class, keeps two houses etc etc - the do as I say but not as I do crowd for whom cuts and sacrifice are something the little people do.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:22 AM on October 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


deep thought sunstar: "
It just marks the second time in 24 hours (well, 28) that I've seen the very logical, data-cruncher-type thinkers among us caricatured as destructive and not fully "human." When did logic go out of fashion?
"

Oh, god, I didn't mean all logical people (I count myself among them) are like that. I'm only referring to people who thing *everything* can be solved by logic, or something. There's definitely some pathology present. I'm only describing the mental soup certain pathological individuals happen to occupy.
posted by notsnot at 1:10 PM on October 10, 2010


I don't think those people exist in any great numbers, and certainly not to the extent that antirationalists like to claim in order to smear people who think making shit up isn't good epistemology.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:25 PM on October 10, 2010


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