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Something worth keeping an eye on…

by John Krehbiel on 18 June 2011

… but not for the obvious reason.

The Bad Astronomer, a skeptic author who started out refuting ridiculous claims about the Apollo Moon landing, has an extremely popular blog over at Discover Magazine. He recently blogged about the predicted decrease in magnetic activity in the Sun, and an associated sunspot minimum, which he had previously described here.

While this is fascinating from a scientific perspective, the even more interesting developments will be in the never-took-a-science-class popular press. The article at the Daily Mail, for instance, sounds reasonable, but the headline is right out of The Onion as far as its connection to reality is concerned.

So why will this be interesting? Because of the use to which denialists will put these goofy headlines in 10 years or so when we don’t have an ice age. We have already heard about how “scientists” predicted an ice age in the 70s which didn’t happen. Except, last time I checked, Newsweek and Time are not scientific journals. The actual scientific literature contained a few articles that predicted cooling, but not as many as predicted warming.

So my prediction is this: the fossil fuel companies and their minions at the Media Corporation will make a big deal about this, making sure there are plenty of hysterical reports in the completely inept popular press. Then, when it doesn’t happen, it will be another hallucination in their arsenal that “scientists” predicted another ice age in this decade.

-- 2011-06-18  »  John Krehbiel

Talkback x 9

  1. secret-agent-kdeb
    18 June 2011 @ 9:45 am

    Yes, well, most people get their Church History from watching alternate reality/fantasy like The DaVinci Code. . .

    I guess I would be more inclined to sympathy if there were a cadre of authenticators or something who were standing up to all of the non-peer-reviewed stuff we hear every day.

    Did you know that anyone can call themselves a nutritionist? Write a book and tell people to eat jelly beans and call yourself a nutritionist. So scientist is equally meaningless, I’m afraid. It is up to the “real” scientists to keep this stuff clear. Come out of the lab and make some noise, gentlemen.

    But arguing about it after the fact with people who have been told erroneous information is the wrong tactic – in fact it is idiotic. Standing up for peer-review prior to release and body-of-evidence needs to be happening long before the bash-the-public-for-believing-the-man-in-the-white-coat stuff.

    You guys need a Good House Keeping Seal of approval system.

  2. DSM
    18 June 2011 @ 11:11 am

    “denialists”

    You stay classy, John.

  3. admin Greg Krehbiel
    18 June 2011 @ 12:46 pm

    “Denialist” is a cuss word. Like “papist.” It’s used to give offense, or to win “hurrah” points from people who are drinking the same kool-aid. It’s the kind of thing you see on the science blogs because … well, because that’s the kind of people you get on the science blogs.

    The good news about this sun spot thing is that people who follow climate issues are going to start to get a sense of perspective. At least I hope so.

    The missing element in most of the discussions is historical perspective. The climate has changed dramatically without human influence and for reasons we still don’t understand.

    Maybe the sun spot story will get people to realize there are trends and phenomenon out there that influence climate — other than CO2 from SUVs and coal-fired plants.

  4. secret-agent-kdeb
    18 June 2011 @ 12:59 pm

    Haha, Greg, Kool-aid is a cuss word, too!

  5. John Krehbiel John Krehbiel
    18 June 2011 @ 1:16 pm

    I used to disapprove of the use of “denialist” for just that reason. But then I saw that the rhetoric of each kind of denialism is remarkably the same.

    It’s like a Mad-lib where you get to fill in the blank.

    And the climatologists are well aware of natural changes and have found them inadequate to explain observations.

    (stupid Facebook has me holding down the shift key when I want a paragraph break!)

  6. admin Greg Krehbiel
    18 June 2011 @ 1:38 pm

    “Denialism” is defined a couple of ways. I would distinguish them by “hard denialism” and “rhetorical denialism.” (Those are my terms that I just made up.)

    “Hard denialism” is “choosing to deny reality as a way to avoid an uncomfortable truth: The refusal to accept an empirically verifiable reality.” See Wikipedia.

    We’ve all known people who do this. Some people can’t face a difficult truth, so they pretend it isn’t true. They deny reality, plain and simple.

    But note that the truth that is rejected is “empirically verifiable.” It’s not a matter of opinion. It’s just plain wrong.

    “Rhetorical denialism” is a little different. It is “employment of rhetorical arguments to give the appearance of legitimate debate where there is none,” and is “an approach that has the ultimate goal of rejecting a proposition on which a scientific consensus exists.”

    See this site.

    This one gets complicated, because who’s to say there is “no legitimate debate”? If we’re dealing with empirical reality, that’s one thing. But what about legitimate minority views?

    There are people who seem bent on intentionally obscuring an issue. That seems to have been the case with the tobacco industry at various times. It might not be quite “empirically verifiable,” but there is a strong scientific consensus, and they’re using arguments to confuse and cloud issues.

    The obvious problem with “rhetorical denialism” is that it can become a way to squash legitimate minority opinions.

    For example, when I was studying geology there were scientists who doubted plate tectonics. (I went to NASA to talk with one of them.) They were in the minority, so they were definitely denying a “scientific consensus,” but they weren’t just being difficult or “denying reality.” They had another point of view and thought their theory explained the facts better.

    That brings us to “brow-beating B.S. from arrogant scientists and science bloggers denialism,” which is the typical use of this word.

    They’re happy to put up with minority views on some topics, but on certain topics — usually topics that have been politicized — they demand that the “scientific consensus” absolutely rules. No contrary positions are allowed, and people who don’t fall into line with their chosen position aren’t just mistaken, but are willfully mistaken.

    This is the behavior of the cultist. People who doubt or deny aren’t just wrong, they’re evil.

    I’ve seen this a thousand times, and I know it very very well. It’s an ugly, anti-intellectual attitude.

  7. Dave Krehbiel Dave K
    18 June 2011 @ 1:48 pm

    I’m curious, John. Is your objective to understand and to teach the truth, or are you simply trying to belittle and insult?

    If you are interested in exploring the truth, I will be happy to discuss with you the errors and over simplification in your post.

  8. secret-agent-kdeb
    18 June 2011 @ 2:56 pm

    Wow, John, and I thought this was one of your least objectionable posts!

  9. admin Greg Krehbiel
    18 June 2011 @ 5:50 pm

    Deb — John is right on this point — that the media is scientifically illiterate, and the “popular press” will use various stories to create controversy to sell papers. That’s what they do. They do it in favor of global warming in some cases, and against it in others.