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Science, narrative and heresy

Filed under: — gavin @ 3 November 2010

Recent blog discussions have starkly highlighted the different values and priorities for scientists, bloggers and (some parts) of the mainstream media.

For working scientists, the priority in any discussion about science should be accuracy. Methods, results, and interpretations must be clear, logically connected and replicable by others. For people who haven’t experienced a joint editing effort on a scientific paper, it might surprise them to see the strength with which seemingly minor word choices are argued over. This process is particularly stark in short format papers written for Science and Nature, (and increasingly for press releases), where every word is at a premium. For many scientists then, the first thing they look for in a colleagues more ‘popular’ offerings is whether the science is described clearly and correctly. Of course, this is often not the same as judging whether it succeeds in improving popular understanding.

Indeed, the quality of the science is almost always how a popular piece is judged by scientists, regardless of the final conclusion the author comes to. For instance, my review of Tim Flannery’s The Weather Makers was very critical, because his conception of how the science worked was poor, regardless of the fact that his conclusions are aligned to my own in many respects. The furor over the Soon and Balinuas paper in 2003, was much less about their conclusions, than about the nonsensical manner in which they had arrived at them (combined with disgust at the way it was publicised and promoted). Our multiple criticisms of Henrik Svensmark have focused far more on the spin and illogic of his claims concerning the impact of cosmic rays on climate than it is on the viability of the basic mechanism (which remains to tested).

The underlying principle is that proposed by Daniel Moynihan, that people might be entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.

The media on the other hand is mostly fascinated by the strength of the narrative. The enduring ‘heretic’ meme – the plucky iconoclastic individual whose ideas are being repressed by the establishment – is never very far below the surface in almost all high-impact scientific profiles, for instance, Freeman Dyson’s NY Times magazine piece last year. To be sure this is a powerful archetype even in how scientists see themselves (shades of Galilean hero-worship), and so it is no surprise that scientists play up to this image on a regular basis. Craig Venter is someone who very successfully does this, possibly with some justification (though YMMV). However, this image is portrayed far more widely than it is valid. Svensmark, for instance, has gone out of his way to mention that he works in a basement on a shoestring budget, having to work weekends and holidays (the horror!) to pursue his ideas. For such people any criticism is seen as the establishment reaction to the (supposedly revolutionary) consequences of their ideas. This of course would be the case for true revolutionaries, but it is a very common attitude among the merely mistaken.

It is not difficult to see the attraction in being seen as the iconoclast outside the mainstream in a scientific field that has been so polticized. There is a ready audience of misfits and partisans happy to cheer any supposed defection from the ‘consensus’, and there are journalists and editors who, in their desire to have ‘balance’, relish voices that they can juxtapose against the mainstream without dealing with crackpots. Witness the short-lived excitement a couple of years ago of the so-called ‘non-skeptic heretics‘, such as Roger Pielke Jr., championed in the New York Times. In truth, there is very little that is ‘heretical’ in any of these voices. Only someone with no experience with the way science is actually done — try going to an AGU meeting for example — would think that scientists being upfront about uncertainty and following the data where it leads is any kind of radical notion. The self-declared heretics do get criticised a lot, but not generally because of the revolutionary nature of their ideas, but rather because they often indulge in sloppy thinking or are far too quick to allege misconduct against scientists (or the IPCC) without justification, perhaps in order to bolster their outsider status. That does not go down well, but to conflate ‘mainstream’ expressions of distaste with this sort of behavior with the belief that the actual ideas of ‘heretics’ (about policy or uncertainty) are in some way special or threatening, is to confuse the box with the cereal.

There are a couple of tell-tale signs of this ‘Potemkin heresy’ that mark it out as not quite kosher. First, for the heretic who has a coherent alternative to the orthodoxy, it is very unlikely that this alternative will be in line with the thoughts of all the other outsiders. True heresy is actually very lonely. If alternatively, the ‘heresy’ consists of thinking that every idea that pops up is worthy of serious consideration, they are simply throwing away the concept of science as a filter that can actually take us closer to reality. If every idea must now and forever, be considered anew whenever someone brings it up, no progress is possible at all. Science works because it can use observations from the real world to move on from unsupported or disproven ideas. All ideas are in principle challengeable, but in practice, unless there is new information, old issues get resolved and put aside. The seriousness of a new ‘heresy’ then, can be measured in how much shrift is given to the crackpots. As Sagan said, one should always keep an open mind, but not one that is so open that your brains drop out.

The second sign that all is not well is in how well the supposed heretic understands why they are being criticised. Usually this is stated up-front by the critics – for instance, I have criticised Judy Curry for not knowing enough about what she has chosen to talk about, for not thinking clearly about the claims she has made with respect to the IPCC, and for flinging serious accusations at other scientists without just cause. Similarly, we have criticised Roger Pielke Jr. for frequently misrepresenting scientists (including me) and falsely accusing them of plagiarism, theft and totalitarianism. That both interpret these critiques as a disguised attack on their values, policies or scientific ideas would be funny if they were not so earnest. (For reference, we are just not that subtle).

Unfortunately, the narrative of the heretic is self-reinforcing. Once a scientist starts to perceive criticism as an attack on their values/ideas rather than embracing it in order to improve (or abandon) an approach, it is far more likely that they will in fact escalate the personalisation of the debate, leading to still further criticism of their conduct, which will be interpreted as a further attack on their values etc. This generally leads to increasing frustration and marginalisation, combined quite often with increasing media attention, at least temporarily. It very rarely leads to any improvement in public understanding.

The fact remains that science is hugely open to new thinking and new approaches. Indeed, it thrives on novelty. New data from new platforms, new calculations enabled by the increases in computing power and new analyses of the ever-increasing amount of observed data, each have the continual potential to challenge previously held ideas – if that can be demonstrated logically and with evidence to back it up. A recent example of a potentially dramatic new finding was the Haigh et al paper on solar forcing. If true, it would turn almost all work on solar effects on climate on its head, and they had no obvious problem publishing in Nature. This idea of knowledge sitting on a knife edge ready to flip whenever some new observation or insight arrives, is the reason why science is so exciting and fascinating. That is the reason why science deserves to be the story, and why journalists should be continuously searching for the ‘front page’ thought that will allow this story to be told to a wide audience. But all too often the real story is neglected in favour of a familiar well-worn, but inappropriate, trope.

It is clear that scientists’ obsession with clear thinking over narrative handicaps our attempts to communicate the seriousness of the climate change challenge. But since the media will continue to favor compelling narratives over substance, that is the method by which this debate will be fought.

542 Responses to “Science, narrative and heresy”

  1. 151
    tamino says:

    Re: #150 (Alex Katarsis)

    When you make statements like “we don’t know with a 90% surety that the moon is actually there when we no one is looking at it,” you reveal your ignorance.

    When you make statements like “Pardon me for having little faith in modern science’s ability to fully comprehend something as complex as Earth’s Climate,” either you’re foolish or disingenuous. If you think we can’t attribute specific effects to specific causes even for unimaginably complex systems, you’re a fool — the attribution of lung cancer to smoking contradicts you. If you realize how false such an implication is, then you’re dishonest.

    Either way, I doubt you’re interested in learning anything. More’s the pity, since you so desperately need to.

  2. 152
    Dappledwater says:

    Alex K – “Now the MWP is getting increasing hot and sticky in the Southern Hemisphere as well”

    Or not:

    Post-glacial regional climate variability along the East Antarctic coastal margin – evidence from shallow marine and coastal terrestrial records

    Verleyen 2010

    “Nearly all records show a neoglacial cooling from 2 ka BP onwards. There is no evidence along the East Antarctic coastline for an equivalent to the Northern Hemisphere Medieval Warm Period and there is only weak circumstantial evidence in a few places for a cool event crudely equivalent in time to the Northern Hemisphere’s Little Ice Age

  3. 153
    Hugh Laue says:

    #140 Alex Katarsis
    I’m interested to know on what basis you may may decide it’s safe to cross a busy road? After all, how certain are you that the car you may see coming actually exists? Or if you do believe it exists, how do you evaluate it’s trajectory to determine that there’s no risk of it hitting you? And what degree of probability do you accept as NOT LIKELY TO BE CATASTOPHIC for you?
    That is: I’m sure you don’t confuse human constructed abstract philosophical theory with practical reality when you may be strongly motivated by intentional desire to cross a road?

  4. 154

    HP 140: The incident of disease from smoking is low for consumption of less than a pack day.

    BPL: Therefore smoking is good for you.

  5. 155
    pete best says:

    Re #150, only if your nature is seemingly paranoid does RC appear this way. A website about a 3c temperature rise for a pre industrial doubling of Co2 is both scientific orthodoxy and a valid arguments. What is your counter argument I wonder Mr cosmology?

  6. 156
    Snapple says:

    Dan H writes:

    “Talk about disinformation. While the Koch brothers indisputable started and continue to fund the Cato Institute. Claiming that they are an arm of Russian propaganda is ludicrous.
    Let me see if I follow your logic. Koch funds Russian oil refineries, Koch fund Cato. Therefore Russian propaganda runs Cato. Something is missing here.”

    I will explain what is missing from what you wrote: the Russian political operative Andrei Illarionov.

    Illarionov is an adviser for Putin, Chernomyrdin (the head of the Soviet Gas Ministry and its later reincarnation as the behemoth Gazprom), and now for the Koch-funded Cato Institute. Illarionov is also the founder of the Russian IEA. It’s telling that the denialists all quoted the RIA Novosti article so quickly and never mentioned that the IEA is a denialist at the Cato. The English Novosti article is based on a Kommersant article in Russian that notes the “expert” making these allegations is Illarionov and notes he is the founder of the IEA and a “former presidential adviser.” Plus, Illarionov made his allegations in the official media right when the EPA made its finding about the danger of CO2.

    Kommersant is a Russian business magazine, not a Russian science publication.


    Thanks for the interesting link to Deltoid. From there I went to S. Mcintyre’s site, and he wrote hilariously that the IEA “may be akin to the Cato Institute.” Since IEA and the Cato have the same person writing about global warming, I guess that’s true! Doh!

    [Note: The Institute for Economic Analysis is not the Russian equivalent of the UK Met Office; the Russian Met Office may have a different view.] [Further note: maybe even akin to Cato Institute or CEI. Comments on data need to be cross-examined before relying on them.]

    Mr. McIntyre wants everyone to read the IEA site. He really promotes it.

    Russian scientists do study climate change, but it is very notable that Russian scientists aren’t quoted much in the Russian media on this topic. Especially during the Copenhagen summit.

    The American denialists don’t quote working Russian scientists, either. They quote an economist who is very tight with the rulers and the Gazprom.

    Real scientists in Russia recognize what this is. It would damage their reputations with the other scientists if they denied climate change.

    OR perhaps they can see Russia from their windows, and while they are looking the permafrost is thawing and ships can travel to China through the Arctic. Maybe the ships are not really making it to China unless they are looking, but I never took quantum Physics.
    I read one ship got to China, however.

    The Russian propaganda is quoting American and British non-scientists, too. The scientists aren’t collaborating with the disinformation. The government is reduced to putting Monckton on the Kremlin-financed Russia Today satellite TV and a guy from the Cato named Michaels.

  7. 157
    Lazar says:

    Eric Steig,

    A suggestion I made at James Annan’s blog regarding how the IPCC deals with “dissent”, and your comments on JC’s hyperbolic depiction of that process…

    Maybe you and Steig could collaborate on a post… detailing your critical comments… how professionally they were dealt with… what if any changes were made (presumably) as a result… and how satisfied you were with the outcomes…

    I think that would provide useful data on how the IPCC process works, warts ‘n’ all, to outsiders… so we’re not taken in by the hyperbole…

    [Response: This is an interesting idea, and I will consider it.–eric]

  8. 158
    Snapple says:

    In Russia people can’t just start an organization, a church, a political party, a newspaper, a TV channel, or a business. People have to have a government license–a registration.

    This is not a formality like a driver’s license. This is very arbitrary.

    You heard about the purges? All that was is that they revoked your registration, took you over, or closed you down.

    If you don’t play ball with the government, they find some fault with your registration. A big purge is when everyone has to re-register and lots of people don’t get the permission.

    The ruling party now is called United Russia. Medvedev is President, but Putin is the chairman of the party and Prime Minister.

    Medvedev is the former CEO of Gazprom. Putin is a former KGB official who decided who got the permission to export precious metals from Leningrad/Petersburg at one point.

    An official who has this job gets very rich because people who want to export pay for the permission/registration.

    Maybe under communism you wanted to have a butcher shop. You have to pay an official tens of thousands of dollars for the permission. Those people kind of owned a business because they somehow got money to buy the permission.

    Those businessmen lived in very nice homes in secluded communities even under communism, but they always have to watch out for the registration to get yanked.

    After communism, the officials started to pull the registration of public schools in pricey downtown places because they were good real estate. A lady official who was in charge of school properties in Russia resisted the de-registration, so they shot her.

    What they did to the public schools was the same thing the communists did to the churches and other organizations when they took power.

    Now these new people use the same tactics. They aren’t called communists, but they are thieves and killers just like the communists.

    Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

  9. 159
    Septic Matthew says:

    123, Secular Animist: When asked, “is this most recent unprecedented, highly destructive extreme weather event a result of anthropogenic global warming”, the RIGHT answer — the “narrative” answer — is “This is exactly the sort of event that theory predicts will result from global warming, and just as predicted we are seeing unprecedented, increasing numbers of such events all over the world, and if we keep going as we are, it’s going to get a whole lot worse.”

    I am glad that you picked up the theme that science includes narration. The best narration of the processes in world is usually a scientific narration, a result of careful investigation and debate, and the other features of science.

    That the current warming is “unprecedented”, or that the effect of clouds can not be a negative feedback, are parts of the narrative that are debated.

  10. 160
    Radge Havers says:

    Edward Greisch @ 159

    Yes, the Office of Technology Assessment being a good example of that problem. The idea seems mostly suited for local and regional governments, and is hard to implement. Event there, the devil is in the details and in strong and lengthy diplomacy with a large spectrum of stake holders.

    Much in the current (political) climate may be inimical to a similar impulse taking root at the federal level. But in a way, if I may wax gassy for a moment, adaptive management is already how things are done; only it is as a nameless, unconscious, chaotic, habitual, knee-jerk adaptation to difficulties. The trick obviously is to institutionalize and safeguard methods of filtering out the crazy–a truly thorny problem.

    Nevertheless, AM is one good example of a kind of mindset that would address the problem as described in the article Hank pointed to, is all I’m saying (as opposed to simply throwing up one’s hands and going tsk, tsk.)

    I’d be curious about other approaches. Maybe on the unforced variations thread.

  11. 161
    Didactylos says:

    Septic Matthew said: “The best narration of the processes in world is usually a scientific narration, a result of careful investigation and debate, and the other features of science.”

    And yet, despite saying this, his head did not explode from the sheer irony. Amazing.

    He also said: “That the current warming is “unprecedented”, or that the effect of clouds can not be a negative feedback, are parts of the narrative that are debated.”

    …thus immediately contradicting his earlier statement with a vague and careless characterisation of the science. Much less amazing.

    So, “Septic”: at what other period in the earth’s history did human activity increase atmospheric CO2 so much so quickly?

    And nobody claims that clouds cannot be a negative feedback. The current understanding is that they may be both negative and positive, but it seems very likely that the total effect is small, despite the large uncertainty.

    Finally, is it possible for someone to name themselves “Septic” and not be a Poe? You’re a parody of a denier. It’s not funny.

  12. 162
    Septic Matthew says:

    138, Secular Animist: Would it have been better if the warning had read “No individual case of lung cancer, heart disease or emphysema can be proved to be caused by smoking cigarettes”?

    That is an interesting question. Such a warning would probably have reduced the number of futile lawsuits against the tobacco companies. But maybe not.

    Tobacco is not the only substance ever declared by government or academic scientists to be dangerous when used as designed: alar, acrilonitrile, aspartame, saccharine, fluoridation, powerlines, cell phones, caffeine, etc. There is always a stentorian scientific voice warning of great public harm. With tobacco the warnings were accurate, with some others not so much. Merely being wrong (even repeatedly, as with Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren) doesn’t induce any sense of humility.

    Tobacco was bad, aspartame wasn’t; both have been topics of massive campaigns, and neither is relevant to the warnings of global warming.

    [Response: Your examples are a little bizzare. I’m aware of no claims in mainstream science about any of the others you list, *other* than tobacco.

    Certainly, the claims about fluoridation do not come from science, they come from the anti-science crowd, on both the ‘left’ and the ‘right’.

    I’m not saying ‘mainstream’ science is always right. But to claim that it tends towards alarmism is bizarre. If anything — including the global warming case, as many have argued — it is too conservative. As for Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren, please stick with the facts. Claims of their ‘errors’ are almost always a miscontruing of what they actually have said.–eric]

  13. 163
    Ray Ladbury says:

    I think the research you’ve done is very interesting and persuasive. However, it would be more on topic and better received over at Deepclimate. My concern is that 1)it will get lost here; and 2)it will add fuel to the fires claiming RC is political. This is not intended as a critique of you or of your information. I think it’s very important. There just might be places where it is better received.

  14. 164
    Mike Roddy says:

    Tamino, you’re absolutely right- the best defense is a good offense. And this forum is great, but with a small enough circulation to be harmless to the oil and coal companies. I’m glad we finally have a specific focus on public outreach with this topic, and let it fly, Jim and Gavin.

    Hollywood couldn’t have devised a more predatory and crazed group of villains than the fossil fuel companies. What people don’t realize is that the studio chiefs won’t go after them either, except as allegory (Avatar).

    About eight major corporations own Hollywood studios, so there are ties to oil and banking companies. The days are gone when we could see movies like The China Syndrome or Three Days of The Condor.

    That leaves the internet or maybe HBO, since not enough people read anymore. And whoever pulls this off- maybe not so much as narrative but as exciting investigative journalism- will become very wealthy. Look what Gore (too stiff and sonorous) and Michael Moore (too polemical and frumpy) accomplished.

  15. 165
    Hank Roberts says:

    > SM’s list
    Mostly from a school o’ red herring.

    It’s worthwhile to actually read about the controversies–most between people advocating precautionary delay to allow time for study, versus corporate urgency to market and see if any evidence of problems emerged.

    Uses of science in politics have changed — dramatically — over the last few decades (I cited one paper way back in the thread, I recommend it). Another good one:
    ” … the year 1990 was a crossroads in environmental and regulatory policy …. two different narratives capture the competing regulatory choices presented at that crossroads.”

  16. 166
    Marion Delgado says:

    The meta-analysis Curry is presenting, hardly original to her, is itself bad. Climate science is irrelevant, the argument is basically mathematically malformed, and equates elements of inference that aren’t equivalent.

    Read this, aimed at getting students up to speed in things they could learn in high school, and come back to the Italian flag.

    The over-arching meta-analysis is also flawed, and again, that has nothing to do with the context – climate change. It’s the sort of analysis that justifies ignoring the results of the filters to becoming an established scientific fact or theory – peer review, success or failure at replication, etc. That’s just a general argument that justifies crankery and penalizes rigor.

    That said, the Curry scandal is not in a vacuum. It’s a partisan campaign on her part, and should be recognized as such. If I did a website like ClimateAudit, but the other way, claiming that science was understating AGW under corporate pressure – the vastly more likely possibility by the way – and explaining what in my opinion was the actual case, a Dr. Curry or even an Andy Rivkin would NOT give me equal time with the IPCC, e.g. It’s really clear that there’s a huge double standard out there.

    Her nonsense about giving equal time to citizen scientists and working establishment scientists is REALLY “give equal time to right-wing critics of science and scientists. Give equal time to anti-environmentalist science denialists wherever you mention environmentalists and ecologists. Though not the reverse.”

    To which anyone who cares more about the world than about the profitability of large multinational corporations should not even give a polite nod. At the time Curry did her insanely Republican, childish, solipsistic defense of the Heritage Foundation’s attack on science, she became a partisan political figure and ceased being, in her public actions, a scientist at all. Go and re-read it. You won’t be able to get through it without cringing.

  17. 167
    Marion Delgado says:

    In the above, replace “Heritage” with “Heartland.” (though both are tobacco-funded denialist organizations).

  18. 168
    Didactylos says:

    In #162, “Septic” is confusing tabloid ravings with an imaginary “stentorian scientific voice warning of great public harm”.

    When people get their science from the tabloids, it is really no wonder they end up confused.

    It was painfully noticeable that “Septic” didn’t mention any of the genuine health concerns about certain substances: asbestos, mercury poisoning, cholesterol…. the list is long, and doesn’t need confusing with sensationalism from the penny press.

  19. 169

    Alex Katarsis

    I would suspect that the MWP produced a warming trend due to slow feedbacks such as changes in the ice albedo and seasonal shift affecting vegetation.

    I’ll wait until the scientific analysis locates the substance to the argument before assigning confidence.

    As to current warming, the divergences are reasonably attributable to the quantitative changes in land use and added GHG’s pertaining to the fast feedbacks.

    Re. your Swiss Alps concern: I don’t know why you would think that a general warming would not produce altitudinal changes though?

    Economics: Balancing Economies
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  20. 170
    Hank Roberts says:

    > That the current warming is “unprecedented”
    Since when?; rate of change, amount of change, peak, or predicted?

    > that the effect of clouds can not be a negative feedback
    some clouds at some levels increase albedo

    > are parts of the narrative
    Not the science narrative; that’s PR narrative

    > that are debated.
    There’s your problem. Debate isn’t science.

  21. 171
    John E. Pearson says:

    153 Hugh Laue saidsomething about abstract philosphy:

    Hugh L: only an idiot alarmist would do other than shut their eyes as Alex advocates. I mean imagine you are driving down a really busy freeway. The idiot alarmist looks at all the traffic and gets a little freaked. There are cars passing on the right, cars passing on the left, they’re all speeding. Some of the drivers look intoxicated. They’re changing lanes without signaling. It’s freakin’ scary. Level headed guys like Alex simply close their eyes thus rendering all those dangers nonexistent. Problem solved. You see a plane heading up the Hudson river towards the WTC? Close your eyes and stick your fingers in your ears. He advocates using the same sort level-headed intelligence to solve global warming. Pure genius.

  22. 172
    Hank Roberts says:

    Oh, SM fell for a debating trick worth noting, wherever he got his list:
    > dangerous when used as designed … acrilonitrile

    “designed” is a trick there:
    Nothing is “designed” to bioaccumulate faster than natural processes can break it down in the environment. Many things do. Greenhouse gases included.

    Another trick–evaluating one substance in isolation and declaring it safe–is part of the old narrative.
    That’s busted; one recent widely known example:
    Was that one predictable using precautionary thinking?

    It’s clear the problem is not simple. Anticipating problems does cut into marketability. Not anticipating problems doesn’t prevent them, but it often makes them someone else’s problem. Nothing goes away.

  23. 173
    Septic Matthew says:

    170, Hank Roberts: Debate isn’t science.

    Words to remember.

  24. 174
    Hank Roberts says:

    > “debate isn’t science”
    Google: about 5,640 results; lessons to be learned in many of them.

  25. 175

    #139 Alex Katarsis

    Actually I think Alex may very well have demonstrated the point that there may be cause for some alarm regarding climate shift.

    He acknowledges the WMP and the altitudinal shift.

    Although his intention is to say ‘nothing two worry about’. back-casting the energy involved gives at least a view into sensitivity if one can constrain the feedbacks to changes in energy flux pertaining to sensitivity issues.

    This, then combined with modern infrastructure gives one an idea of the amount of shift that may occur, and from that, one might extrapolate the costs of infrastructure shift. Then of course one needs to calculate supply and demand capacities of course.

    It’s also a truly excellent example of facts out of context usage contrary to ones own point. It’s not even circular reasoning though? Maybe we can call it ‘repetitive left-turn’ reasoning?

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  26. 176

    #173 Septic Matthew says:

    170, Hank Roberts: Debate isn’t science.

    Here, here. Eloquently said Hank.

  27. 177

    Walter Pearce #108: Google places ads by keyword and I deliberately use some to attract deniers to my blog. A price of this is getting Google ads inappropriate to my content. If you see an objectionable ad there, click it so they get charged :)

  28. 178
    Steve Metzler says:

    Kevin C (#104):

    There seems to be an active literature of the sociology surrounding climate science. Is now the time to look for some guest authors to put together a series on the issues? A better understanding of how different groups of non-scientist think and how they perceive climate may also give us a better perspective on how to communicate science effectively.

    I think I found your spokesperson:

    Bob Altemeyer’s – The Authoritarians

  29. 179
    Snapple says:

    According to a big law firm, the Department of Justice is going to audit entities registered as foreign agents under the FARA.

    Here is some information about that.

  30. 180
    Fred Magyar says:

    Alex Katarsis @149

    Oh well…we may yet “mathematically” unify Quantum Mechanics and Newtonian Physics. We probably just need to eliminate a couple of troublesome variables first – mostly notably Space and Time. It’s much easier to solve the equation without that pesky pair. Now feel free to shred the argument.

    Why not let 2004 Nobel Physiscs prize winner Frank Wilczek shred the argument for you…

  31. 181

    Philip Machanick (177). Recognizing it’s your blog, not mine, I disagree with the approach — you’re exposing the open-minded to some very slick denialist advertising. At best, your site sends mixed messages.

    The latest ad I saw on your site was from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, ostensibly congratulating the just-elected crop of denialist GOP senators.

    Ultimately, these sorts of campaigns are evaluated by their advertisers on specific metrics. If you find that your site is a go-to destination for denialist advertising, you should question which narratives you are actually promoting.

  32. 182
    Mike Roddy says:

    Marion Delgado,

    Good comment.

    I think you should start an “alarmist” website, showing what the science is actually saying these days with regard to reasonably likely worse case scenarios. There is one already called, but it’s a very part time hobby run by a brilliant nonscientist engineer. I’m part of a cabal of “doomers” in the Northwest- we’re actually a jolly bunch, strangely enough.

    I may be able to help introduce you to people who could make this happen. My email is

  33. 183
  34. 184

    Debate isn’t science.

    Debate is one of the many methods of science.

  35. 185
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Alex Katarsis,
    Gee, try as I might, I can’t seem to find any publications that detail your “professional application” of Quantum Mechanics. Perhaps you are publishing under another name. Or perhaps you are just an ignorant wannabe.

  36. 186
    Michael K says:

    This is controversial, and sounds somewhat alarmist, but, put simply, I think that both science and rationality are under attack by… the rivival of superstition, and a belief in something that I’ll call “witchcraft.”

    This is a significant cultural shift, the origins of which are complex, as are the myriad ways they are manifested.

    This doesn’t mean that all is lost and we’re doomed, only that it’s important, no, vital, to understand and realize, that we involved in tremendous cultural conflict, a historic conflict, about how we see the world, what the world is, and how we explain it.

    In a way, the rise of neo-superstition, is an alternative world-paradigm, an alternative cultural narrative, and though it seems absurd, when looked at rationally, one underestimates this cultural shift at one’s peril.

    Various cultural, political, social, movements, are questioning the very basis and basic tenets of the modern world and enlightenment principles, preferring the comforting alternative of “fairy stories.”

    There is, I believe, a definite trajectory which is moving away from rationality towards the irrational in popular culture, and this is a significant move.

    On the contrary, it’s all about choosing what “facts” fit one’s world view, regardless of whether they are “true” or not, Faith is what matters in the new, neo-superstitious world, not facts. Facts which may be the Devil’s work.

  37. 187
    Alex Katarsis says:

    180: Would you like a list of eminent scientists who change space and time to constants in order to further their theories for unification?

  38. 188
    Alex Katarsis says:

    185: “I’ve worked in the private sector, they expect results” Dr. Ray Stanz.

    “Dude”, are you not aware of how we apply quantum mechanics in today’s world? Hint: it’s pervasive.

  39. 189
    Alex Katarsis says:

    171: Your insinuation that I encourage that we “do nothing” is unfounded.

  40. 190

    #187 Alex Katarsis

    Hey Alex, was wondering where you went. Thank you for helping to substantiate the antithesis to your thesis :)

    It’s good to know that people like you are helping people understand how serious global warming may very well prove to be.

    Economics: Balancing Economies
    The Leading Edge: The Cuccinelli ‘Witch Hunt”

    Fee & Dividend: Learn the IssueSign the Petition
    A Climate Minute: Natural CycleGreenhouse EffectClimate Science HistoryArctic Ice Melt

  41. 191
    Marion Delgado says:

    Science does involve debate, but in nearly every case public debates have only education as their science component. If there are any economic or political stakes to such debate, controversialism has been so professionalized and commercialized that they don’t usually have even an educational function.

    Also, specialization is real. The opinion of a watching audience of non-experts is irrelevant to most real scientific controversies.

  42. 192
    Hank Roberts says:

    How the colleges train students for debate competitions:

  43. 193
    ccpo says:


    Feel free to use my very unbusy blog. Happy to give admin access. I’m pretty much immune to criticism, if someone wants to ghost write and remain anonymous. Or, I could just start blogging again.


  44. 194
    ccpo says:


    I sort of already do( did) that on my old blog. Happy to have a regular contributor or ghost writer, if the person wishes to remain anonymous. I eat denialists for lunch; am immune to criticism, so would be fun to get back to it. I mostly do this stuff on facebook now.


  45. 195
    Menth says:

    @Michael K #186

    Couldn’t have said it better myself

  46. 196

    I’m pretty sure cutting edge scientists don’t model their debate of the nuances of hypothesis, evidence, observation and theory on Liberty college debate team techniques, Hank, or even if they consider debate to be competitive.

  47. 197
    Steve R says:

    Radge (comment 4)

    “I can’t tell whether the shift to story telling over reporting in the news is more about laziness or contempt for the audience, or if it’s just a concoction foisted on the world by MBAs just out of school.”

    Reporters have always told stories. It’s not a matter of shifting to narrative over reporting facts; it’s a matter of shifting from choosing complex narratives that can get closer to connecting facts recognizable to scientists, to lazily choosing simple narratives that are easy for a low-information & low-attention public to swallow.

  48. 198
    ccpo says:,0,545056.story

    Climate scientists plan campaign against global-warming skeptics
    The American Geophysical Union plans to announce Monday that 700 researchers have agreed to speak out on the issue. The effort is a pushback against congressional conservatives who have vowed to kill regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.


    [Response: That article’s a mess unfortunately, mixing up apparently different efforts. The AGU effort is simply round 2 of something that was tried as a pilot for about 2 weeks during Copenhagen last year to answer journalists’ climate questions, and is thus not a response to the recent elections, and is separate from whatever it is that John Abraham is reportedly trying to organize (AFAIK).–Jim]

  49. 199
    Don Gisselbeck says:

    Some of the AGW deniers sound like the artists C. S. Lewis caricatured “All great artists are persecuted and ignored, I am persecuted and ignored; therefore I am a great artist.”

  50. 200
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Thank you, Alex. I’m very aware that quantum theory is useful. I’m just not aware of your having contributed jack to its utility. Perhaps you would care to enlighten us.

    Uh, you do realize that many of us here are actual scientists, and so not likely to be impressed by technogibberish.