RCimT: Climate round-up

Apropos of the topic of discussion for today’s radio show, here’s a roundup of some links related to climate change, plus some other related sciencey bits that I otherwise just wanted to get out of my tabs. Enjoy!

Here’s how climate change was subsumed into the “culture war”. Good overview of how we got to the point where science and anti-science polarized along political lines, and how it’ll backfire on the pro-money and anti-science crowd.

Knowing that bots and hired trolls have all but filled the discourse on other matters, Googling for related topics and astroturfing dissent as though they were legitimately grass-roots, it’s no surprise that climate denialists are employing these same tactics to muddy the discourse.

Some new study came out claiming some ridiculous things about the science proving anthropogenic global warming, and the media is touting this study as “blowing a hole” in the science, calling those people that understand and accept the evidence “alarmists” in the process. Phil Plait rips ’em a new one over this mendacity, and in the process, Learns to Stop Worrying and Love the Ad Hominem in the process. Though I’d argue that since he’s also showing why they’re wrong, what he’s doing is simply including a personal attack in the conclusion. You’ll want to click pretty much every one of the links in his post, as the actual debunking mostly happens off-blog.

Like at RealClimate, for example. If you don’t want to go through the links above, at least check that one out.

John Abraham, one of the participants in the Atheists Talk radio show today, had another radio spot recently about climate change that you should check out.

The Koch Brothers, apparently movers-and-shakers in the conservative world, are making a concerted effort to stamp out a wind power generation project in New Jersey. And, of course, disguising it as a grassroots movement.

Mike Haubrich, host of the Atheists Talk show, has a good piece on “Hide the Decline”, those unfortunate terms of trade in the “Climategate” emails. Those emails led to a million false allegations against climate scientists and climate science as a whole due to a simple misunderstanding and a willful ignorance of the truth, even after having it explained a million and one (for good measure) times.

And now that the raw data from the “Climategate” study has been released, and STILL they can’t find any actual wrongdoing or manipulation in the scientists’ processes, I’m sure that’ll evaporate finally! Right?

If we could find some way to keep space debris from smashing it to bits, I’m now convinced space solar is the best path out of this era of fossil fuels and into the next, of renewable resources. Building the arrays and keeping them safe from space junk would be expensive, but no more expensive than, say, three ongoing wars, or the Bush-era tax cuts.

Enjoy the radio show! I’ll be listening live myself, if I can get the stupid feed to work properly this time around. Last time the streaming was glitchy as hell. Here’s to hoping it’s sorted now.

RCimT: Climate round-up

How do you truly “lead”, in a community so loosely organized and full of in-fighting?

Stephanie Zvan lives up to her nickname once again, this time by putting together an excellent and thorough discussion on leadership in context of the big ol’ privilege blowup (AKA, this month’s Great Rift In The Community (TM)). This is important stuff, if you want to understand exactly where people have gone wrong in arguing many of the points they’ve argued, and where people are completely misunderstanding their own leadership roles. There are many lessons we should learn from the events surrounding Elevatorgate, and Stephanie does a fantastic job of cataloguing them.

Debbie [Goddard, of CFI – ed] and I spoke about skeptical leadership, and it was a particularly interesting time to do so. Rebecca’s post on naming names in her talk at the CFI leadership conference had just come out. This was a conference that Debbie had organized and run. Also, earlier this year, I had expressed some criticism of CFI Michigan’s leadership for their promotion of an evolutionary psychology speaker and their reactions to my post and Bug Girl’s dissecting the speaker’s research.

Debbie and I had a good talk, and I’ve been meaning ever since to write up a few thoughts on leadership. Note that these are my thoughts, not Debbie’s, although I’m comfortable saying that Debbie and I agree on a few things:

  • Leadership is largely a set of skills that can be taught.
  • Due to the nature of skepticism and atheism, leaders in these movements may emerge from the ranks based on skills other than leadership. That’s natural and expected.
  • Skepticism and atheism, as broad movements, need to find a way to reliably instill these skills in their leaders to create stronger movements.
  • We need to provide support for leaders independent of the groups that they’re leading. That is to say both that pooling talent and knowledge is more effective and that it isn’t healthy for an activist organization’s leader to receive all their social support from within the organization.
  • We’re only in the beginning stages of treating leadership skills as important, but we’re already making good strides.
  • Moving this quickly, as with any kind of change, is going to produce some pain.

Now, speaking only for me, I think there are some lessons on leadership to take home from the events of the past few months. I will also be naming names here, but I should note that my intent is to provide concrete examples and to draw something good out of painful events, not to shame anyone. None of what I’m about to say is or should be transparently obvious to everyone. These are things we need to learn.

Emphasis mine. If any of this was self-evident, there’d have been no blowup.

Go read the rest of this post, post-haste.

Yes, that was an imperative. I’m being leader-y, see?

How do you truly “lead”, in a community so loosely organized and full of in-fighting?

Sagan never said this about climate change, which BTW is STILL HAPPENING.

When science says something potentially damaging to your bottom line, and all the evidence points to the inevitable conclusion that yes, that potentially damaging thing is real and really damaging both to your bottom line and to the fate of human civilization, what’s your first reaction? Naturally, lie like crazy for half a century until your lies pick up enough steam to dupe enough people that you can get away with all sorts of lies, big and small, to protect said bottom line. Yes, at the expense of human civilization. I mean, it’s perfectly okay, since climate change won’t kill everyone until long (or possibly shortly) after you’ve enjoyed the lap of luxury through your declining years!

This is exactly what the Big Lie that scientists “predicted an ice age in the 1970s” was. And given the scope of that big lie, it’s honestly no surprise that the good folks at the Washington Examiner borrowed Sagan’s authority to suggest that this big lie was in fact the truth. And by “borrow” I mean “defecate on”.

While I can’t prove a negative, I would be very skeptical of it unless they’ve got some period documentation. Sagan was at any rate one of the first to worry about global warming. He was a principal architect of the current understanding of Venus, showing that the carbon dioxide in its atmosphere caused it to be much hotter than astronomers of the time had imagined. In my Sagan biography I write (p. 45):

“One day in Berkeley, Carl told Ronald Blum (he had moved west, too) that he was worried about the carbon dioxide in the air. The burning of fuel was creating more carbon dioxide. This would increase the earth’s greenhouse effect and warm the globe with disastrous consequences. At the time, that was an incredible if not crazy thing to say. It could not have been later than 1963.”

This was based on an interview with Ronald Blum, a college friend.

Science historian Spencer Weart also said he had never heard the claim that Sagan called for increased CO2 emissions:

No, I never heard that Carl Sagan, or indeed anyone in the 1970s, endorsed the idea of producing CO2 to forestall an ice age. It’s true that the idea of using CO2 in this way was circulated already early in the 20th century, but anything along those lines would have been speculation about a distant future–few expected a real ice age would come except over the course of centuries or, more likely, millennia.

Not only does the Washington Examiner op-ed revise 1970s history, it also takes liberties with more recent news. The op-ed, titled “Ice age threat should freeze EPA global warming regs,” says astrophysicists recently predicted that because of low sunspot activity, “we may be heading into the next ice age.”

But the scientists who conducted that solar research had a different take: “We are NOT predicting a mini-ice age. We are predicting the behavior of the solar cycle. In my opinion, it is a huge leap from that to an abrupt global cooling, since the connections between solar activity and climate are still very poorly understood.”

Media Matters has more.

There was never a prediction of a global ice age. There were a few non-scientific magazines like Time that got science wrong (as though that doesn’t happen to this very day!), but there was most certainly not any consensus amongst any scientists that we were heading into an ice age, nor would Carl Sagan suggest releasing CO2 to combat a problem that the best science of the day said we weren’t experiencing. That anthropogenic global warming is happening has pretty much been shown to be true since 1956. This is a damnable lie, and anyone in the media willing to lie to further their cause should be fired immediately.

I know, awful naive of me. But then, what do I know? I’m just a “Self appointed web based blogger of nonsense, tosser!”. Which I think means I appointed myself to blog, as well as masturbate to nonsensical pictures.

Mike Haubrich and Greg Laden are going to talk to Kevin Zelnio and John Abraham this Sunday on Minneapolis’ Atheists Talk Radio (that’s right, the radio show I was on once! Good memory, faithful reader!) about climate change. If you’d like, ask them some questions ahead of time.

Sagan never said this about climate change, which BTW is STILL HAPPENING.

Bill Nye: “Science is true”

“The big thing for us… on my side of this thing… is that science is true.”

(Hat tip Media Matters)

I have no idea what Jon Scott thought he was asking when he said “it’s not like we were up there burning fossil fuels.” Volcanoes don’t have anything to do with climate change. They might CAUSE climate change, but they aren’t CAUSED BY climate change.

The volcanoes on the moon are a surprising find, but not exactly stunning, considering we know of volcanoes on the near side of the moon and we’ve known for quite some time that in its distant past, the moon did have considerable volcanic activity. These new volcanoes just mean that it was a hotspot about 200 million years longer than we’d known previously. We used to think it was volcanically active up til a billion years ago; now we’ve revised that number to about 800 million years ago.


Bill Nye: “Science is true”


Had to pull a work overnight, but both things that needed doing took almost no time at all to complete. So, since I was already all jacked up on all sorts of coffee, rather than going to bed immediately, I went and redesigned my website. I’m now using the Fluid Blue theme, edited to use my original logo in the title and a dynamic menu, which I may not ever actually use… though I really should put together an About Me, New here?, and My Favorite Posts page. I also brought back the large category icons, mostly because the icon for Privilege made no sense whatsoever in the tiny version. It’s a band from a Cuban cigar, for what it’s worth.

Additionally, I enabled more descriptive permalinks, though every old link of the ?p=#### will still direct to the proper post. Hopefully this will give me a bit better search engine stats. And I cleaned up the side bar so there are fewer widgets — left the “important” ones, meaning the ones that provide me with information I like to see on a regular basis.

Whaddaya think? (Silence means you think it’s the most amazing thing ever.)


The Problem with Privilege: some correct assertions, with caveats

I really want to get on with other things. Seriously, I do. Which is why I want to cede a bit of ground — or at least it might seem that way to the casual observer, given all the things I’m about to agree to. It would pay dividends in furthering the conversation if you do your best not to skim before replying.

There are a number of arguments in this whole privilege debacle surrounding the so-called Elevatorgate (a timeline, for you newbies) that, while not actually rebutting the issues in question, are in themselves valid and correct. Here’s a few of them, and why they don’t address the problem at hand.
Continue reading “The Problem with Privilege: some correct assertions, with caveats”

The Problem with Privilege: some correct assertions, with caveats

The Problem with Privilege (or: cheap shots, epithets and baseless accusations for everyone!)

This may be the last thing I have to say on the topic for a while, as I’m rapidly approaching my own STFU Station having already blogged far too much on this topic. But the imbroglio continues, and so must I. For a little while, anyway.

From blacklava.net. Buy one today! (If you're privileged.)

One of the major problems stemming directly from Rebecca Watson’s Elevatorgate (a.k.a. Rebeccapocalypse) has been the rapid descent into ad hominem attacks and the use of epithets solely intended to push people out of the discussion. This is, of course, no fault of Rebecca Watson’s. Nor is it Richard Dawkins’, who came down rather harshly on Rebecca’s complaint in claiming that she was complaining about “zero bad” as compared to, say, genital mutilation. (To which point I can’t help but think, complaining about creationists slipping their nonsense into science textbooks is zero bad as compared to religious genocide, so who’s to complain about that? But that’s an aside.)

The epithets have flown from both sides, fast and thick. People like ERV in calling Watson’s public rebuke of Stef McGraw “bad form” were called “gender traitors” by the likes of Skeptifem, with whom I’ve disagreed in the past — especially during one of those many “Greg Laden is misogynist!” blowups via Isis and her crew. ERV went on to refer to Rebecca as “Twatson” thereafter, as is her particular idiom — something I like about her is that she always swings for the fences, even when I disagree.

Meanwhile, Greg Laden has been supportive of Rebecca Watson, along with PZ Myers and other big names in the atheist/skeptic community, for daring to name names — an aspect I completely agree with, given that Stef McGraw was in a public leadership position and blogged her dissent on her organization’s blog in an official capacity. I can see not giving Stef a heads-up being slightly douchey, but anything beyond that — that Stef was a “mere student” who got “shanghai’d” — is pure hyperbole and well outside demonstrable truth (a.k.a., “a lie”). Greg has posted a piece about men crossing the road or waiting for the next elevator by default so as to avoid freaking out some poor woman who might have had a bad experience in the past, and has been accused of “[t]reating women like helpless, infantile victims” and also called misandrist for his trouble. Because apparently you can be both misogynist and misandrist while trying to actually constructively suggest ways to fix a problem.

And then there’s the billion and one instances of “bitch”, “cunt”, “liar”, or “sexist pig and traitor to feminism” that Rebecca herself has received. Or the accusations that she or her supporters are “man-hating feminazis”. Or that Rebecca totes woulda boned Elevator Guy if he was an alpha male instead of a dweeb. But we shan’t go into those, because by bias seeping into this post, you’ll likely miss my point.

That point being, a lot of people have their hackles raised by this issue of privilege in the greater atheist/skeptic/scientific communities. And make no mistake, there is an issue — the fact that there is an issue is very likely what’s causing so many people to dig in their heels. It is pervasive, and it is subtle, and it is not specifically misogyny so much as merely entrenched privilege. But people really dislike it when you point out that privilege actually exists as a sociological construct, just because its existence is disputed. Nobody mentions that it’s mostly disputed in the punditocracy by people like Phyllis Schafly or Ann Coulter, mind you, but it’s disputed as surely as Rush Limbaugh is responsible for the “feminazi” meme.

Some people have written some exceptionally eloquent calls to action on how to fix the pervasive privilege problem, and believe it or not, they do not involve quotas, nor do they involve shunning or even castrating men! There’s nothing misandrist in asking men to shoulder some of the burden in rape avoidance and in helping keep women who were once attacked from having a traumatic flashback every time they see someone walking toward them rapidly. There’s nothing misandrist in pointing out that the vast majority of rapes happen by men, of women. There’s nothing misandrist about suggesting that men are capable of better behaviour than this.

And there are a few words that don’t count as epithets at all, like “potential rapist” (in the context of a woman not knowing whether she’ll be attacked), or “privileged” (in the context of someone not having the experience to understand where someone else is coming from). They might hurt your feelings to be called them, but though they are descriptive, they do not actually reflect on your character, only your situation. And the psychic trauma you experience in being called those things is nothing compared to a rape survivor’s on the other side of that equation.

There’s likewise nothing misogynist in pointing out that most of these rapes happen by men that the women know. And there’s nothing misogynist in saying that because women experience fear where men are far less likely to in seeing someone more physically imposing than them, that they should be protected in general by some simple actions that keep them from experiencing the very real psychic trauma of a flashback experience. Yes, that’s saying that women are generally physically less imposing than men. It’s also saying that women are generally less physically able to fight off an attacker. It’s also acknowledging that, as with bear attacks, women are enculturated to simply allow an attack to occur so they don’t turn a “mere” traumatic rape into a brutal murder. It’s also acknowledging that there is a power disparity in every social interaction and that the greater the power disparity, the more uncomfortable the person on the short side of that disparity will feel when facing a situation that starts out innocently but could rapidly escalate to the worst possible scenario.

Acknowledging that men are often on the large side of this power disparity is not misandry, nor is it misogyny. It’s a fact, and a sad one. For all the tips for women to avoid rape (e.g.: “Avoid entry into elevators when they are occupied by a stranger. Stand by the control panel so you can sound the alarm button if necessary.”), the tips men should follow to keep from raping someone are far more likely to be effective.

And all the epithets — the ACTUAL epithets, not the perceived ones like “privileged” — that are flying back and forth are well beneath us. But, of course, we skeptics are a passionate bunch, and some of us even enjoy being dicks; myself included. I just would have thought we’d save some of the big guns for those threats to our society that we banded together to fight in the first place. And I was really hoping that we’d band together to combat another threat to our society rooted in a very similar sort of privilege to the ones that brought us together.

The Problem with Privilege (or: cheap shots, epithets and baseless accusations for everyone!)

The Problem with Privilege: Manifesto for Change

Jennifer Ouellette writes about the chilling effect of privilege prejudices on diversity in the skeptical/atheist movement, and I couldn’t agree more.

When I spoke two years ago at TAM7, I was flooded afterwards with friend requests on Facebook from the skeptical community. It was initially kind of gratifying, and I pretty much accepted them all, provided they weren’t using obvious pseudonyms. Most of my interactions on Facebook have been positive, but there have been a dozen or so instances over the last two years where a man has become obnoxious, offensive, overbearing, overly flirtatious, or just plain creepy about personal boundaries, forcing me to defriend him. With one exception, they were all from the skeptic/atheist community. I now rarely accept Facebook friend requests from skeptic/atheist men. No, it isn’t “fair.” But even though 98% of them are probably very nice guys, I just don’t have the time to comb through each profile, trying to ferret out clues as to who is most likely to tweak out on me unexpectedly.

So believe me when I tell you that the skeptic/atheist community has a serious problem when it comes to creating a welcoming environment for women. The APS lists causes of concern in an academic department that are indicative of a chilly climate. Guess what tops the list? “Denial that such issues do matter to people.” And further down the list: “Derogatory comments about female faculty to reduce their ability to bring about change. Branding faculty as ‘difficult’ or ‘troublemaker.’”


It doesn’t have to be this way; as Sandler discovered, this is changeable behavior. That’s why I’m offering a Manifesto for Change, and I challenge those in the skeptic/atheist community to implement its principles.

Read on for what one can do to fix this situation. Yes, especially if you’re a man.

Tangentially, here’s another interesting development in the ongoing saga: Richard Dawkins’ foundation’s pledge to sponsor child daycare at all future The Amazing Meetings. This materially supports women’s participation in the skeptical movement. And people who consider Rebecca Watson’s complaints against Elevator Guy to be unfounded, like ERV, are crowing about how this proves Rebecca’s wrong and Dawkins is awesomesauce.

Except this is putting far more stock into what people are SAYING that Rebecca’s saying about the whole situation, than what she actually said.

Get it?

If not, read my previous posts about privilege.

My only comment on this is that Dawkins did the right thing. I would, however, still like him to actually comment on the whole everyone-ganging-up-on-him thing now that a number of people have attempted to explain exactly what the problem is with him telling Rebecca that her complaint is about “zero bad”, and they even assented to his requirement to not use the word “fuck” in said explanation.

The Problem with Privilege: Manifesto for Change