I’ve been putting off working on this, but it’s been humming in the back of my mind for a while now, not the least reason being that everyone in the blogosphere seems to be talking about it.
The core of the issue at hand is climate change, and the ground that denialists have been gaining over the past 18 months. And the problem I have is, people are far too willing to suggest that every scientist in every country in the world that agrees that anthropogenic climate change is in the process of attempting to perpetrate the greatest conspiracy hoax ever, and has somehow been able to keep hundreds of thousands of people who are “in on it” quiet about the fact that it’s all a hoax, and all this supposedly for “money”.
And yet, there’s far more money in preventing humankind from moving off of petroleum while the oil companies have 99% of the Earths’ oil reserves under their control presently, and have tapped hardly any of it at all. So, conspirators at the top of the oil heap spread anti-science, and those with vested interests in defeating science (e.g., conservatives and religious leaders), as well as those that stand to make a lot of money off the perpetuation of current technology, become the “true believers” of the denialist movement and fight tooth and nail against the general scientific consensus that exists. And many, maybe most, of these people honestly believe that it is more likely that scientists are just trying to destroy the gravy train they’re riding on, than that scientists are presenting the facts in an unbiased manner and it just so happens to threaten said gravy train.
To be perfectly clear, I am using the term “denialist” as opposed to “skeptic” because skepticism is absolutely a good thing, and wholly justified. However, skeptics are swayed by science and evidence once said evidence is obtained — they do not pick a desired outcome and let selection bias do the rest of the cherry-picking work from there. When someone refuses to look at thousands upon thousands of papers based on publicly available data and well-founded and accepted scientific methods, and well-understood principles, choosing only those select few PhDs that disagree with the general consensus, that is not skepticism — that is cherry-picking, and is a hallmark of denialism.
When the CRU hack was perpetrated and thirteen years of e-mails were stolen, one single scandal was exposed involving a few scientists obfuscating their work in some attempt to put up roadblocks for the denialists that were using FOIA requests as harassment methods — which, don’t get me wrong, is the crux of the immorality. You need to respond to all FOIA requests whether spurious or used to eat resources as a denial-of-service attack or not. These scientists were immoral in doing so, no matter how spurious the requests were themselves.
Some code and a single e-mail were both drastically misinterpreted by the media as meaning scientists were cooking data (when in actuality they were attempting to compensate for the margin of error produced by using a proxy for temperature rather than the temperature itself). Denialists seized upon this revelation and went on the astroturf attack, Googling for anyone talking about it and flooding their comment threads with excoriation and accusations of “spin” and “cover-up”. Never mind that this one scandal, exposing one small group of scientists doing something unethical, was a tiny sliver of a fraction of the science on the topic, and never mind that other e-mails further on in the thread, BY OTHER SCIENTISTS, took these people to task for their lack of ethics. And never mind, while we’re at it, that the code in question with the “hide the decline” quote-mine, actually had said artificial-data-fudging commented out. That means, to laymen, the code was NOT BEING USED. As in, while they were massaging the data into something usable (which is scientifically valid), they temporarily used an artificial means of fixing an issue with the proxy data while they were doing so, and when they could, they reverted the code back to more sound methods.
And anyway, the data IS available, so others could verify their work. Being a denialist means never doing any work though — simply screaming at the top of your lungs to drown out the legitimate work at the merest hint of something untoward done by anyone on the other side of an argument. The truth of the matter is, scientists are human beings, and while you can call some science into question because of their immorality, you can’t deny ALL of science just because one person (or a small group of them) was immoral. Well… maybe you can. But that would be as stupidly uncritical and wrong as claiming there’s a vast conspiracy of scientists, all determined to, in unison, perpetrate fraud on the whole of humanity to sell a few books. Especially not when the climate books on the top-ten are mostly all climate denialism. Books like The Deniers. Or Red Hot Lies. Or Cool It. Or Global Warming False Alarm.
If this whole denialist movement seems familiar to you, there’s a good reason. It’s nearly identical to the anti-scientific disinformation campaign Phillip Morris undertook when cigarettes were discovered to cause cancer. And before you say it, yes, it’s a real campaign, and companies like ExxonMobil are deeply involved, as proven by leaked internal memos.
Despite the verifiable collusion between the industries that stand to lose out from switching off of fossil fuels as an energy source, one tiny scandal, wherein scientists did things that were derided by other scientists and said things that were easily misinterpreted as implying a massive scam, is inflated to the point where the sturm und drang far outpaces and out-volumes the side of the argument that STILL has all the science on their side. Meanwhile, our governments are blocking legitimate and merited action, scamming the people whose countries are going to be hit hardest by climate change, because they have the most to lose if they make any changes at all. It’s all economy (by which I mean, the economy of really cheap energy derived from fossil fuels) over sustainability (by which I mean, really cheap energy derived from geothermal, solar and wind power, which would only be really cheap if it got the kind of government backing that coal and oil does now). And honestly, it’s economy over humanity. Why change energy sources, when the people in power are making a bundle off the current ones? So what if some poor people in other countries die as a result! We can just deny the science and, when they die as a result of climate change, say “well, the science wasn’t adequate!” or “you scientists didn’t scream loudly enough!”
The worst part about this is, 99% of the denialists and all of the PROPER skeptics that remain unconvinced of AGW, suggest that the measures to be taken to reduce CO2 and the effects of burning fossil fuels, are all good ideas for the progress of science and sustainability. Yes, climatology is a confusing field and a very imprecise science, one that relies far too heavily on models that are potentially flawed. But when every flaw thus far in the models we’ve made show that we’ve been entirely too CONSERVATIVE in estimating the damage of global warming, and nobody is dissenting against getting off fossil fuels and pursuing future technology, why the living fuck is anyone screaming fraud about scientists “selling books” when oil barons selling oil are profiting at exponentially higher rates?
The fact that skeptics like James Randi do not “march in lockstep” and are skeptical by default is a good thing. He is a leader of the skeptics community, and it is his job to provide the example of “doubt the premise until the evidence is seen”. However, through the entire blog post he wrote on the topic, he explains that he is not one to believe in “scientific consensus” just because people say so, and that he did not look at much of the evidence himself. That some folks shouted him down for believing uncritically in the flawed “Petition Project” is a travesty, when all he said was that he suspected the project was valid. He obviously hadn’t seen the debunking of the project, and he has been in contact with other skeptics in the community and has said he needs to think about the subject more. He has every opportunity to educate himself and make an educated assessment as to whether there are billions of points of made-up data by hundreds of thousands of scientists to the end of selling some books and driving everyone toward technologies that by every rights we’re heading toward anyway, or if the people with a vested interest in keeping us all addicted to fossil fuels are loath to give up their gravy train and are obfuscating and using FUD tactics to keep that train on track just a little while longer. And I have faith that he will eventually look at the evidence and make a more educated decision. That doesn’t mean I want him to march in lockstep with everyone in the pro-science camp, just that I strongly suspect his admissions that he has a poor understanding of the science is the case, and that once he sees the evidence, he’ll see there’s precious little conspiracy there to begin with.
The point is, the evidence speaks for itself. Greenhouse gases are well understood for the past 150 years, some greenhouse gases are good because they keep warmth in, too much is bad because runaway greenhouse gases caused Venus to be what it is now, and CO2 is a greenhouse gas. And CO2 is demonstrably increasing far beyond the usual boom/bust cycle. The sun has been in a trough of sunspot activity for the past several years, and yet the planet is still warming despite claims that the warming is due to the sun. Denialists do not have any alternate explanations for the warming, some of them claiming it’s not warming at all, many (if not most) saying that it IS increasing but that AGW isn’t the cause, a scant few even saying “so what if AGW is true, warming will be GOOD for us!”. There is no unified alternative explanation for the evidence that has been obtained via numerous channels, both with proxy measurements of temperature (like those in the CRU hack case), and with DIRECT measurements of temperature, which are unimpeachable and largely ignored.
Watch some Thunderf00t for how off the wall the whole damn anti-AGW crusade has become over this hack. And weep with me for a humanity that refuses to do the right thing in pursuing future technology even when, whether AGW is true or not, the right thing is STILL the right thing.