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How to spot “alternative scientists”.

Filed under: — rasmus @ 12 August 2020

Recently, a so-called “white coat summit” gave me a sense of dejavu. It was held by a group that calls itself ‘America’s Frontline Doctors’ (AFD) that consisted of about a dozen people wearing white coats to the effect of achieving an appearance of being experts on medical matters.

 

The AFD apparently wanted to address a “massive disinformation campaign” (what irony) and counter the medical advice from real health experts. This move has a similar counterpart in climate science, where some individuals also have claimed to be experts and dismissed well-established scientific facts, eg. that emissions of CO2 from the use of fossil fuels results in global warming.

 

Climate science is not the only discipline where we see confusion sown by a small number of “renegades”. A few white-coated scholars have disputed the well-established danger of tobacco. We see similar attitudes among the “Intelligent Design” community and the so-called “anti-vaxxers”.

 

Statistically speaking, we should not be surprised by a few contrarians who have an exceptional opinion within a large scientific community. It is to be expected from a statistical point of view where there is a range of opinions, so there should be little reason to make a big deal out it.

 

On the other hand, there are some fascinating stories to be told. Sometimes there are individuals who can be described as “crackpots” and “quakesalvers” (e.g. a scholar believing in dowsing rods among the climate renegades and some within the AFD who talk about demons). Hollywood has even realized that some scientists may be mad, which has given us the familiar term “mad scientist”. But all “renegades” may of course not necessarily be mad.

 

Nevertheless, according to Snopes, the background of the individuals of the AFD is rather colourful. And there is nothing in the background provided about them that gave me any confidence in their judgement. On the contrary.

 

A sign that should trigger a big warning is that Snopes found it difficult to see who the AFD really are or where their conclusions really come from. The transparency is lacking and their story is murky. Especially so if the results have not been published through renowned peer-reviewed scientific journals. This is something we have seen time and again with climate change contrarians.

 

Any claim would be more convincing if colleagues independently are able to replicate the work and get the same results (without finding anything wrong with the process). This would require transparency and openness.

 

Another sign that should make you skeptical is if the claims have a dogmatic character. The AFD address is all dogma. This is also typical among the science deniers.

 

It’s also typical that the extreme fringes cannot falsify the established science and therefore move on to conspiracy theories. In the case of AFD, it is the alleged “massive disinformation campaign”.

 

Should we take such fringe views seriously? This type of “infodemics” seems to become a growing problem as described in a feature article in Physics World July 2020: ‘Fighting flat-Earth Theory’. The term “infodemic” reflects the fact that false information is just as contagious as an epidemic. Imposters dressed in white coats peddling false information can cause harm if people take them seriously.

 

The damage caused by erroneous information and conspiracy theories is discussed in the HBO documentary ‘After truth’, and the wildest claims can spread like a rampant disease as shown in that film.

We have witnessed how misinformation and lack of trust of true medical sciences have caused bad situations in some countries, while in others (eg. New Zealand, Canada, and some Nordic countries) the pandemic has been kept under control because the general public in general has followed the scientific health advice.

 

There is a common denominator when it comes to the AFD, anti-vaxxers, flat-earthers, “intelligent design”, chem-trail evangelists and those dismissing climate science. I think it may be useful to join forces within the broader scientific community to help the general public understand the real issues. This effort should also be on more general terms. People have a right to reliable and truthful information. Everybody should understand that anyone who spreads bullshit or lies also shows you a great deal of disrespect. The same goes for platforms spreading disinformation.

 

So what can we do to make people understand how science works and enhance the general science literacy? Is it better to teach people how to spot these “alternative scientists” (the term is inspired by “alternative facts”), conspiracy theories, and falsehoods, if we show a range of examples from different disciplines? We can probably learn from each others. There seems to be a lesson to be learned from the pandemic.

249 Responses to “How to spot “alternative scientists”.”

  1. 1
    Mack says:

    So the “crackpots” are the ones who don’t believe that a trace gas wafts around in the air above the ocean waves, and by means of “back radiation” ( a term not found in any physics books) warms the water beneath it more than it is otherwise by the sun ?
    The “crackpots” are the ones who don’t believe that the ATMOSPHERE raises the Global Average temperature by some 33 deg…. from a FROZEN BALL Earth of -18 deg. C to what we have in reality of + 15 deg C?
    The “crackpots” are the ones who don’t think that the ATMOSPHERE doesn’t keep the oceans in liquid state?….. they are looney enough to think that the Sun melts ice?
    Very interesting.

    [Response:There is a definition here. Look at the link provided in the parenthesis. I think the cases are far more colourful than those you mention. -rasmus]

  2. 2
    Silvia Leahu-Aluas says:

    Thank you for the post. The fact that is necessary in 2020 in America is very worrisome, but based in reality.

    One request I constantly pose to the scientists I work/collaborate with is to explain all the time to everybody, in particular to primary school students and elected officials, what is the scientific method. I believe that by understanding how we, humans, build our knowledge about reality it will be easier to make everybody scientifically literate and capable of discerning charlatanism/paid “Merchants of Doubt”/sheer lunacy from truth as discovered/verified/applied by and through science.

    Social media is obviously catastrophic, media in general is at fault for amplifying the anti-science streak that has been a part of American life for ever. How can we change that? I don’t know.

  3. 3
    Thomas Fuller says:

    Painting with a bit of a broad brush, are we?

    Sown, not sawed.

  4. 4
    mike says:

    https://www.pnas.org/content/117/32/18902?collection&fbclid=IwAR3fM9kM7Jf8fYddR4LDUrBe8Yf5Ce7WtBn0vulkuoA_NPZNFK2cHVXf2Uo

    You get flat earthers, crackpots and mackpots. They come out of the woodwork, somehow

  5. 5
    Russell says:

    The distinguishing feature of the neocontrarians is their capacity to entertain many bad ideas at the same time

    https://vvattsupwiththat.blogspot.com/2020/07/schellenberger-sequel-will-connect-dots.html

  6. 6
    Susan Anderson says:

    @Mack, pretty nasty way of misrepresenting the truth. You don’t deserve the patience and tolerance you received in the reply. Surely “Climate Science from Climate Scientists” should alert you that the people here know whereof they speak, and are accustomed to snarky exaggerations while they fine tune.

    This might be a useful corrective to the assumption that qualified scientists don’t know about teh sun melting ice etc.

    Gavin Schmidt: The emergent patterns of climate change
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JrJJxn-gCdo

    “The rising average temperature of Earth’s climate system, called global warming, is driving changes in rainfall patterns, extreme weather, arrival of seasons, and more. Collectively, global warming and its effects are known as climate change. While there have been prehistoric periods of global warming, observed changes since the mid-20th century have been unprecedented in rate and scale.”
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming

  7. 7
    Susan Anderson says:

    A funny story about dowsing, from my childhood (father, physicist Philip Anderson, and myself are both able to dowse, while my mother and the co-experimenter’s wife, not related by blood, couldn’t). Bear in mind that I, though well informed about science, mostly from the outside, am an amateur, and that none of us at the time had any explanation for this phenomenon. But this was not faking it by shoving the thingie that comes with an Ouija board.

    A fellow physicist came over and rigged up an apparatus on our lawn to measure current, I think. He, his wife, my father, I, and my mother all walked with a forked stick, and there was a definite signal from me, my father, and (I think, I may have wife/husband backwards) his colleague got a signal, but my mother and his wife did not.

    We also thought that it was more likely to work for shallow rather than deep water.

    Dowsing is still used professionally, I believe, for oil rigs and such.

    There are no answers here, only questions. But in this context, I couldn’t resist sharing this.

    However, it is hard to show patience with the silly insistence that people without any experience or training in the deep skepticism that skilled scientists take for granted, can insist that expertise and skill are not worth heeding. We live with computers, electric light, plumbing, etc. etc., all driven by scientific expertise. I don’t think they’d like to live in a world designed by people who think if they insist and blame they can make reality go away.

  8. 8

    Coincidentally, John Cook published a new “Critical Thinking about COVID” video today about just this topic, namely “How fake experts are used to mislead”: https://youtu.be/2efpci_N2s8

    From the description in the OP, John seems to have actual footage of the AFD-group in there.

  9. 9

    IMO, America has a serious “epistemological crisis” on our hands; collectively, we have largely abandoned any real concern for truth. I think that is not true a the *individual* level; that is, I suspect a majority, perhaps a fairly substantial one, at bottom believe that there is such a thing as objective truth, even if there may be disagreement on what that is in all cases, or recognition that discerning the truth can be very difficult.

    But our institutions have come not to reflect this. The result is on display with the Covid epidemic. Far too many Americans just will not think about it honestly and consistently, setting aside whatever ideological bias they might have. And the parallels with climate denial certainly exist.

    1) Avoidance of real acknowledgement of the reality/utility of projections. This is most evident in the persistent comparison of the mortality of Covid to date with the lifetime mortality of past disease outbreaks. True, projecting eventual Covid mortality correctly is going to be basically a matter of luck (though the amount of luck involved is inversely proportional to the skill of the projector). We don’t even have a good idea when the pandemic will end. Yet the single worst “projection” we could possibly make is that the pandemic will come to a screeching halt tomorrow, with no further deaths whatever–and that is the implicit projection being made by all too many who have attempted to place Covid mortality “in context.”

    IMO, it’s highly reminiscent of a lot of discussion about such things as sea level rise.

    2) “Gee whiz” numerology without context. How many exercises have we seen in which someone put forth this model of risk?

    [Number of cases*/US population] x [mortality/case] = [a number that seems really small, called “chance of dying of Covid”]

    *Typically this number is several weeks or months out of date.

    Firstly, of course, it fails on point #1 by failing to consider future probabilites–even though “chance of Covid” is supposed to apply to the future.

    But secondly, like arguments based on the ‘logic’ of such as Mack above, it’s pure hand-waving. Sure, the number may ‘seem’ small–but compared to what, exactly? Driving is one of the riskiest things we do, but last year in the US “an estimated 38,800 people lost their lives to car crashes…” As of writing and per Worldometers, in the US 168,390 people have died so far from the virus. That’s ~4.43 times higher than the automotive death toll last year.

    And lest I sin in the same manner I just complained about, let’s make a conservative projection for the whole year. I’ll assume that the mean death rate per day for the rest of 2020 is going to be 70% of the current rate (which I’ll define as the most recent week’s daily mean), or roughly 740 deaths/day. As of writing, that makes 143 x 740 = 105,820 additional deaths, for 274,210, making Covid ~7.22 times more deadly than 2019 auto crashes.

    To be sure, we accept the risk of auto travel all the time. But that hasn’t stopped legislation, technological innovation, and personal behavioral change from addressing its perils, either; much time and enormous amounts of money have been devoted to it, in fact. So would we make a fuss if that risk were abruptly raised by a factor of 7? I think precedent would suggest not just ‘yes’ but ‘hell, yes!’

    All of which is probably a gross over-development of this point. But the putative 0.00013% chance of dying of Covid (or whatever the number presented) is no more meaningful by itself than the much-touted and abused “0.04% of the atmosphere” meme.

    3) I think this discussion by no means exhausts the significant parallels, but in order not to weary the reader I’ll only mention straight-up refusal to accept the data, as follows in this paraphrased dialog about Covid:

    Me: You’ve got to admit that the US having ~25% of the world’s cases and ~4% of the world’s population is a pretty spectacular fail!

    Denialist buddy: The only thing those numbers show is that we have 25% of the world’s positive *tests.*

    Need I go on? I suspect most of us here have lived something like this dialog many times over.

  10. 10
    Ray Ladbury says:

    I think that ultimately the problem comes down to the fact that science is an expert-friendly discipline. The product of the scientific method is not a bunch of facts, but rather understanding of the subject matter–and the facts, discoveries and developments have to be interpreted within that understanding.

    A scientist knows this, so if he reads a study or hears a talk that makes novel claims that are difficult to understand withing the context of the subject matter, the scientist’s reaction is skepticism and curiosity whether they can replicate or otherwise validate the new information, and if validated, then to interpret it withing the framework of the discipline.

    To the layman, or for that matter, the reporter, the more novel the result, the more “newsworthy” it is. The only “context” is likely to be one’s political or world view, and that is unlikely to provide a foundation sufficient for skeptical review of the new info.

    The thing is that science isn’t going to change. It works. It yields more reliable understanding of the physical world–and if properly applied, our mental and social worlds as well–than any other human endeavor. It will always be expert friendly–it is inherent to the method.

    The most we can really hope for is to train laymen–especially reporters–to look at science the way a scientist does. They need to understand that there is a framework in which results must be interpreted. They need to understand that all results are suspect, and that they only ever become less suspect when we understand them in the context of the framework. Until that happens, the “science” can change–either subtly or not.

    People need to understand the roles of peer review, scientific consensus and ultimately consilience in terms of validating results. And they need to understand that it takes more than a lab coat to make one a scientific authority.

    Above all, people need to understand that science is utterly oblivious of their political philosophy. The science is what it is.

  11. 11
    Billy Pilgrim says:

    (The “crackpots” are the ones who don’t think that the ATMOSPHERE doesn’t keep the oceans in liquid state?)

    What?

  12. 12
    nigelj says:

    Podcast debunking Americas Frontline Doctors: “#75 America’s Frontline Doctors Debunked with Eric Geyer”

    https://www.woodstockvitamins.com/blogs/learn/america-s-frontline-doctors-debunked

    Its insightful and gets right down to the personalities and biochemistry, and is intriguing because Eric is a naturopath of some sort, and is debunking what he sees as the fringe end of his ‘profession’ so people promoting crank cures for covid 19. (Naturopaths mostly all look a bit fringe to me, but Eric comes across as professional). I was just curious to find out about these doctors.

    The serious stuff starts 10 minutes in, and the last 10 minutes or so has some good suggestions on how to communicate with conspiracy theorists and other crazies, and just ordinary people afraid of vaccines, in persuasive but non confrontational ways.

  13. 13

    Yes, like this amateur who may have discovered a new exoplanet recently

    https://www.techtimes.com/articles/251706/20200810/did-nasa-just-discover-a-new-planet-courtesy-of-this-oklahoma-astronomer.htm

    Prof. Raymond Pierrehumbert explains why astronomers and astrophysicists are more accepting of amateur involvement

    https://youtu.be/XdtTapL9fLg

  14. 14
    Mack says:

    Rasmus
    “I think the cases are far more colourful than those you mention”

    Well, I’ve got one here for you, Rasmus, and he certainly is colourful, he wears very colourful waistcoats, earrings, etc… He’s the number one climate scientist in NZ…. the “go to” person by the NZ media. Heads all climate science meetings… is the chief scientist on the NZ Climate Change Commission.
    The case for him being a crackpot is that second case I said….ie he believes in the -18 deg C ,frozen Earth, insanity. He said so himself on twitter here…
    https://thestandard.org.nz/is-there-a-middle-ground-on-climate-change/#comment-1615594
    Where do you fit in with that, Rasmus?

  15. 15
    rasmus says:

    I don’t see your point. The greenhouse effect is a well-established and well-understood physical phenomenon present both at Earth and other planets. See Benestad, R.E. (2016) A mental picture of the greenhouse effect: A pedagogic explanation Theoretical and Applied Climatology. May 2017, Volume 128, Issue 3–4, pp 679–688, DOI: 10.1007/s00704-016-1732-y. -rasmus

  16. 16
    Oxyaena says:

    “On the other hand, there are some fascinating stories to be told. Sometimes there are individuals who can be described as ‘crackpots’ and ‘quakesalvers’ (e.g. a scholar believing in dowsing rods among the climate renegades and some within the AFD who talk about demons). Hollywood has even realized that some scientists may be mad, which has given us the familiar term ‘mad scientist’. But all ‘renegades’ may of course not necessarily be mad.”

    RationalWiki dubs this phenomenon “crank magnetism,” which is a fitting descriptor imo. If you tend to hold to one crank idea, you probably also hold to multiple crank ideas. It’s positively magnetic, hence the name.

  17. 17
    zebra says:

    #6 Susan Anderson,

    I’ve never been a big critic of wikipedia but this one is in dire need of correction:

    “The rising average temperature of Earth’s climate system, called global warming, is driving changes in…”

    No. The average temperature is not “driving” anything. Average temperature is an effect, not a cause.

    And we wonder why fake scientists can gain credibility? It isn’t just this example; in communicating with the public, real scientists tend to adopt the role of journalist or public relations agent, rather than maintaining the discipline of language they would use in a classroom.

    To me, it comes off as a kind of condescension (and maybe a bit of laziness).

  18. 18

    M 1: So the “crackpots” are the ones who don’t believe that a trace gas wafts around in the air above the ocean waves, and by means of “back radiation” ( a term not found in any physics books) warms the water beneath it more than it is otherwise by the sun ?
    The “crackpots” are the ones who don’t believe that the ATMOSPHERE raises the Global Average temperature by some 33 deg…. from a FROZEN BALL Earth of -18 deg. C to what we have in reality of + 15 deg C?
    The “crackpots” are the ones who don’t think that the ATMOSPHERE doesn’t keep the oceans in liquid state?….. they are looney enough to think that the Sun melts ice?

    BPL: In a word: Yes. Absolutely.

  19. 19

    S A 7,

    If you can reproduce dowsing in a double-blind experiment published in a peer-reviewed science journal, I will take it seriously.

  20. 20
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Rasmus,
    The point Mack is making is that he is a dumbass. Why bother with someone to is so stupid and so sure he is right? Borehole the bastard

  21. 21
    jgnfld says:

    @mack

    I wonder if mack can inform us why the average temp averaged over the year and over the entire Moon’s surface is so different from the Earth’s? Are the differences attributable to the Sun in any way? (Hint for mack, but for no one knowledgeable: No…the Sun shines on both equally hard.)

    Mods: Why aren’t greenhouse effect deniers placed in the borehole?

  22. 22
    Radge Havers says:

    rasmus’s question to the audience:

    “So what can we do to make people understand how science works and enhance the general science literacy? Is it better to teach people how to spot these “alternative scientists” (the term is inspired by “alternative facts”), conspiracy theories, and falsehoods, if we show a range of examples from different disciplines? We can probably learn from each others. There seems to be a lesson to be learned from the pandemic.”

    @4
    Propaganda seems to be an evolving discipline. It’s a tool of war and evidently it’s getting pretty good at shutting down people’s brains. To extend the infodemic analogy, it’s bioweapons. Is there a CDC for toxic meme spills and bombs?

    @9
    Definitely an epistemological crisis, imo.

    @10
    +1 for metaliteracy.

    …..

    I’d like to see a site on a level with Skeptical Science that addresses all of the above (from a meta perspective).

  23. 23
    Mal Adapted says:

    Mack:

    So the “crackpots” are the ones who don’t believe that a trace gas wafts around in the air above the ocean waves, and by means of “back radiation” ( a term not found in any physics books) warms the water beneath it more than it is otherwise by the sun ?

    Apparently, “back radiation a term not found in any physics book” is another ludicrous undead AGW-denier meme, despite being both irrelevant and false.

    The pseudo-skeptical Mack first appeared on RC six years ago. He’s visited a few more times to JAQ off, always evincing disbelief that the anthropogenic transfer of petatonnes of fossil carbon to the atmosphere in 300 years could be causing global warming. In 2016, he asked Stefan:

    You must be hellishly hot at night Sefan. According to your Trenberth Energy Budget diagram..you’re only getting a solar radiation of 161w/sq.m. giving you that suntan, melting the tar on the roads,etc… but you’ve also got 324w/sq.m. ,belting down from the ATMOSPHERE 24/7. !!!?

    Stefan’s inline response:

    [Response: Perhaps you forgot that those numbers are global annual mean numbers, including night time? With that average sun, you’d hardly get a tan let alone melt tar. -stefan]

    In 2017, Gavin responded thusly to the very same question from Mack:

    [Response: Try to think about this a little. Go on, we’ll wait. – gavin]

    I’m afraid we’ll wait forever, as Mack seems to have done all the thinking he’s going to, and is determined not to rethink any of it. OTOH, his exaggerated “skepticism” seems almost parodic. Maybe he’s an expert poe?

  24. 24
    Mal Adapted says:

    Radge Havers:

    @10
    +1 for metaliteracy.

    +1 for using the term. I’ve long admired J. Nielsen-Gammon’s invited talk at AGU 2012 and his subsequent blog post, on Scientific Meta-Literacy. My abortive two years in a biology doctoral program left me fully literate in nothing, before I found an easier way to make a living; I do, however, claim an ensuing measure of scientific meta-literacy. I wish I knew how to instill it more widely in voters. I certainly don’t advocate doctoral-level training for everyone!

  25. 25
    Al Bundy says:

    “Statistically speaking, we should not be surprised by a few contrarians who have an exceptional opinion within a large scientific community. It is to be expected from a”

    The problem is that most human minds don’t stack probabilities accurately. Of the universe of mostly-lemmings, a few independent thinkers arise, call it X%. (Countering your mad scientist slur).

    And of the universe of above-claimed independent thinkers, is the percentage of folks who aren’t annoying (and generally loud) anchors higher than X?

    Diamond mines and STEM breakthroughs.

    1% of 1% is a way small number, but the analogy made the number change its tune.

  26. 26
    Carbomontanus says:

    Benestad

    How to change peoples minds….

    I have worked a lot on that.

    My Father once told that if you pull the pig by its tail, it goes forward. And if you pull it by the ears, it goes backwards.

    That was surprising and contra- intuitive when I first heard it, but later I have come to think that such are swines! And that it may apply furter to humans.

    Thus, if you are aware of it, you may pull the insightful way and get them to where you want to have them. Both pigs and a lot of humans will be very satisfied with themselves that way and stay convinced that they are all right.

    Every now and then, I have to change peoples minds and convince people, and I have found further methods than just treating them like pigs or push and pull them to where I want to have them.

    Some animals are quite easy. Well domesticated kits and dogs for instance. There you just wait till they come. They are obviously selected for thousands of years to like humans, and they are curious by nature, allthough quite sceptical sometimes, but just sit down and give them time.

    Pushing is often quite unpolite, thus see and respect their obvious “aura” or private sphere. That rules also for many wild animals, who actually react very similar, only that domesticated animals have had their distance of flight or attack, their private sphere and safety zone or “aura”, thained down to near zero.

    And then one can show a good example. I often find that I actually cannot convince people, but if I am clever, I can tell and do things that rather works slowly and efficiently. Tell them that “You do not have to believe this…”, and just tell and show them what you think and why. If you do that the polite and clever way, they come to the same thought or opinion the next day or next week or next year, and believe for definite that it is their own invention and idea, after they have also dreamt of it..

    Among the climate surrealists, I often say or write that “this is how the fools and the trolls are thinking” and never tell them who the fools and the trolls are.

    And believe it or not, they often think it over and change their mind a bit after a while.

    Another formula is to discuss the blind believers and the climate- churchers, and never betray who those are.

  27. 27
    Windchasers says:

    @1

    Hey, I’m coming from a different field here — I got my PhD in materials science — and I’ll add that the greenhouse gas effect is not really seen as controversial in other physical science fields. The effect is just a little bit of thermodynamics and radiative physics, something that’s common to a lot of our different fields and is generally pretty easily understood.

    So, I just wanted to chime in to say that by-and-large, the rest of the physical science community also understands and agrees with the greenhouse gas effect.

  28. 28
    Steven Emmerson says:

    Mack@1,14, You sound like a troll. Do you speak Russian?

  29. 29
    Al Bundy says:

    So you’re a triangle twigger, eh, Susan? I’d say you were all wet but that would prove your point.

    Biology has randomly figured out how to do what the enabled individual has no clue why they can do what they do.
    It’s like riding a bicycle. Surely less than 1% of regular riders know how to make a turn.

  30. 30
    Al Bundy says:

    RadgeH: @4
    Propaganda seems to be an evolving discipline. It’s a tool of war and evidently it’s getting pretty good at shutting down people’s brains

    AB: Yep. And the world has changed. It used to be that the average person could know and understand at least the framework on which a system is hung.
    Now it is BY DEFINITION ad hom and arguing about expertise. WAY less than 10% of the population has the skills, time, aptitude, education, and interest to do more than, “This side feels Truthy to me”.
    So, given that money is involved, which brings the clash of political views – GOPpers feeling that freedom mostly applies to money and actual humans think corporations and money are structures and tools, not living, breathing humans whose rights scale with wealth.

    Before we will do diddly, disastrous physical manifestations must first play out, which will bring tears and, “We didn’t know”.

    When choosing leaders to follow, seeking the thrill that pissing off libtards’ brings, the hallmark of Tamino’s “Proud to be Stupid” club, could bring down the current biosphere.

    “You’re too smart to be following twits” might have an effect.

    How much does it cost to set a broken nose?

  31. 31
    Al Bundy says:

    Kevin: , in the US 168,390 people have died so far from the virus. That’s ~4.43 times higher than the automotive death toll last year.

    AB: You miss the point. “Gramma, who had one foot in the grave and was getting to be a burden, died of COVID and left me some coin” is not in the same universe as, “my friend got t-boned by a semi”.

  32. 32
    Al Bundy says:

    SusanA: part of American life for ever. How can we change that? I don’t know

    AB: The first step is easy: a blue wave. And I’ve been thinking about this for a very long time (this isn’t my first rodeo).

  33. 33
    Al Bundy says:

    I’ve thought about it and I like what I see in Biden. He has no asperations: a one-termer who seeks to usher in the next generation’s leaders.
    A befitting task for a vice president. He’s a great VP.
    And he’s a listener. Trump has all the answers instantly, resulting in lots of shadenfraude for non-USAians.
    Biden will seek folks like RC’s moderators.

    Seriously, we’ve had too many egotistical leaders. The USA needs a humble follower who can recognise expertise. That’s Biden.

  34. 34
    Susan Anderson says:

    Zebra @~17
    Good point. I missed that, even though I critiqued someone else on that very issue elsewhere yesterday. While temperature and greenhouse gas accumulation do march in apparent parallel, the driver is the greenhouse effect. Thanks.

    BPL @~19
    Did you read what I wrote? I was a teenager (now 72) and it was two physicists from Bell Labs (do look up PW Anderson if you don’t already know) who were curious and decided to see if they could rig an objective experiment. They were highly skeptical. None of us were interested enough to pursue it. I still think it’s amusing, but only as an anecdote. The use of dowsing in oil drilling is an established fact, but may be based on superstition enhanced by instinct and experience. This was not meant to be advocating for it, only sharing what I thought was an amusing story.

    https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17532-why-dowsing-makes-perfect-sense/

    “The physicist Richard Feynman once said that science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. What he didn’t say was just how much fun fooling yourself can be.”

  35. 35
    Susan Anderson says:

    Good writeup – The Facts Just Aren’t Getting Through
    The electorate is split into separate information bubbles. But unconventional messengers, appeals to patriotism, and even jokes can reach voters who don’t want to listen.
    https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/08/how-beat-populists-when-facts-dont-matter/615082/

    This is one of the reasons I use quotes from the Gospels to point out that Christians should follow Jesus, rather than telling them religion is bunk.

  36. 36
    Ann F Kah says:

    @Susan Anderson #7
    Surely if your father was a physicist, you could have asked him HOW such an effect could work, and as a physicist, surely he was interested in knowing the mechanism. Unless either of you has managed to stumble on something that overturns the known laws of physics, might I suggest that (1) someone is telling tall tales, (2) it was a lucky guess, and/or (3) you are falling victim to confirmation bias, counting the hits and ignoring the misses.

  37. 37
    nigelj says:

    “How to spot “alternative scientists”’: Maybe its the swivelling eyes MAR mentions from time to time. In my experience the local scientific cranks do seem to have several things in common: Big egos, dogmatism, a whole series of strange beliefs, and a preference for small government. Rarely seen an exception to the rule.

  38. 38
    nigelj says:

    As good an explanation as any for dowsing / water divining. It shows how people can fool themselves. I bet theres a correlation between climate denialists and belief water divining is “a real thing”.

    https://www.sciencefocus.com/science/is-there-any-scientific-evidence-for-dowsing/

    “Is there any scientific evidence for dowsing?”

    “There is but it doesn’t reveal supernatural powers. Dowsing uses tools that amplify small movements (nothing more than unconscious ideomotor movements like with a ouija board)……”

    The interesting bit: “There is some evidence that dowsers can find water or oil when more traditional methods have failed, which seems miraculous. But experiments show that this works only when the dowser has some unconscious knowledge of where the target is. For example, they might be using clues from vegetation, geography or temperature. They might not realise what they’re doing, and so believe in the supernatural power of the rods. Experiments have been done that eliminate these possibilities, by running water through one of 10 pipes laid underground, or moving the position of water pipes. Under such controlled conditions dowsers do not succeed.”

  39. 39
    Mack says:

    @ 21 jgnfld
    Because the Earth’s surface temp is an atmospheric temp, measured in Stevenson screens about 5ft off the ground. The Moon’s temperature is taken right at the surface.

  40. 40
    Mack says:

    @ 23 Mal Adapted
    Aahahahaha….you’re mal adapted alright. Mal adapted to any form of thought process on your own behalf. My comment to Stephan didn’t get through to Stephan and it’s unlikely to penetrate your mal adapted head.
    Perhaps I should have added in the description of Trenberth’s Earth Energy budget diagrams as “looney”….. maybe that would have generated some form of synaptic connection…
    So I’ll insert the word “looney” here, in that statement to Stephan,

    “You must be hellishly hot at night Stephan. According to your (add..looney) Trenberth Earth Energy diagram- you’re only getting a solar radiation of 161 w/sq.m giving you that suntan, melting the tar on roads etc… but you’ve also got 324w/sq.m. belting down from the atmosphere 24/7 !!!?”

    Here’s a link which is different to my previous one.. which was just bounced by the gang here.. this one might get through… no?
    https://www.climateconversation.org.nz/2020/04/climate-rebuttals-to-crack-the-activist-grip-on-our-mind/#comment-1567848

  41. 41
    Daryl Marshman says:

    Just a brief comment, seems to me that many of today’s politicians rather like and benefit from ignorance in science so to change that is going to be extremely difficult. Here in Australia even the universities are under attack.

  42. 42
    BJ Chippindale says:

    This problem with facts started in the 1980’s as we lost the “Fairness Doctrine” under Reagan and were never able to get a useful replacement. News media became “profit centers” and the truth took second place to the number of eyeballs a well spun story could command. That gave us the rise of people who provided “entertainment” shows that pretended to give us news.. e.g. Rush Limbaugh. It also gave us that pejorative “what are you, some kind of Boy Scout” question directed at people who put honesty and truth ahead of convenience or profit.

    To get it back now is I think, beyond us. The rot is too pervasive. We are not able to talk about “the same facts” because we do not share facts. We have facts and alternative facts (spun out by alternative scientists). The truth has few champions because it commands no significant audience – and because it has become bleak in its prognostications but not catastrophic enough to attract the catastrophists. Reality has a liberal bias?

    Maybe, but it is significantly more pessimistic on the one side and optimistic on the other, than anything that actually “sells” news.

    The truth should not be “for sale” (academic journals are included in this). It has to be freely available and it has to not NEED advertising revenue to be told.

    This problem boils down to a societal failure to fund truth as being important. For a Democracy to flourish the dissemination of truth has to be shared AND funded so that everyone has it available, everyone can be equally informed and we can argue about policies rather than facts. Jefferson reminded us that “if a nation expects to be ignorant & free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was & never will be.” http://tjrs.monticello.org/letter/327

    I am coming to the conclusion that almost all failures of our social systems and our civilization are really economic failures. The problems seem to be so fundamental that they have to reside in some unquestioned assumption we make about economics and money. It is not the Engineers or the Scientists who have this wrong. It turns out to be the mainstream economists.

    It will not be easily fixed. Money after all, is now “protected free speech”.

  43. 43
    BojanD says:

    Typo “a statistical point of view w(h)ere there”

  44. 44
    Al Bundy says:

    Nigelj: seem to have several things in common: Big egos, dogmatism, a whole series of strange beliefs, and a preference for small government. Rarely seen an exception to the rule

    AB: Good list. I’d add “got crappy grades”. Amazing how ‘C’ students think they’re qualified to be President.

    Only in the USA are they actually overqualified

  45. 45
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Rasmus,
    Mack is a troll. I know him well from Rabett Run. He is impervious to facts, logic or even common courtesy. He contributes nothing and sucks the oxygen from the conversation. He is a wonderful example of why we should ignore cranks.

    Responding to their arguments beyond citing an easily available reference that refutes their bullshit is worse than a waste of time. It perpetuates the illusion that there is anything worth responding to.

  46. 46
    Al Bundy says:

    AnnFK: Surely if your father was a physicist, you could have asked him HOW such an effect could work, and as a physicist, surely he was

    AB: You misread. Susan’s story spoke of exactly what you suggest. That the results of the experiment were anecdotal and not useful was to be expected. It was “looking for ghosts with sciency stuff”, after all.
    As good scientists, they played with a subject, pondered possibilities, and decided that it wasn’t worth dousing deeper into the wacky mystery.

    “Probably doesn’t function as advertised. We have some way tenuous hypotheses about it but nothing that merits a scientist’s attention beyond what “I’m having fun” gives.

    Once they finished “recess” they surely went back in to “class”.

    You must think scientists are stodgy and non-childish. I’ve got a two word refutation:

    Einstein’s bicycle.

  47. 47
    zebra says:

    #24 Mal Adapted,

    Mal, I looked at your reference and I was not super-impressed; I think the problem is, as I suggested at #17, communicating the science itself, rather than the socio-economic structure of the practice of science.

    I wasn’t quite sure exactly what Nielsen-Gammon was trying to say with respect to teaching labs, but I had the experience (long ago) of designing a re-form Intro Physics lab approach. What it taught me, in limited application, was that even really bad students can grasp fundamental concepts, when carefully presented.

    So I have this crazy idea that you can communicate science to “the (unbiased) public”. But that requires treating them with some respect, which means expecting them to work at it as well, and being as disciplined in language as you would be in a professional setting.

    And in the case of trolls posting here, that would mean getting them to agree on fundamentals before responding to them.

  48. 48
    Guest (O.) says:

    @Mack, #39: And what’s the temp. on the earth directly measured on the surface?

  49. 49

    Hi Rasmus,

    Should we take such fringe views seriously?

    – Yes, because these views spread like a ‘virus’, which can become epidemic or a pandemic of disinformation.

    So what can we do to make people understand how science works and enhance the general science literacy?

    – Well, funding better communications would help, but most are focused on funding those that will sing to the choir as opposed to those that can reach into the world of those that are prone to believe disinformation.

    BTW I still have multiple OSS Climate Com. projects that could help get the job done. If you know anyone that would like to see stronger progress, please have them contact me.

    I am working on addressing disinformation as well in a new project called Centrist News & Perspectives.

    Along the lines of what you are saying you might want to check out the following links:

    Disinformation in ‘Trusted Sources’
    https://centristnews.com/trusted-sources/

    Disinformation in Economics
    https://centristnews.com/trump-vs-shiller-lets-get-ready-to-rumbleeee/

    Disinformation about the virus
    https://centristnews.com/the-trump-virus-infecting-the-world/

    Disinformation from Russia in the 2016 election
    https://centristnews.com/trump-the-kremlin-connection/

    Disinformation in Wx reporting
    https://centristnews.com/sharpiegate/

    Now this piece is a bit longer. It goes into context, relevance and scope.
    https://centristnews.com/cnp_news-early_march_2019/

    Inside this piece I did a bit on General Hayden and how ‘intelligence’ works.
    I also, like you, began using the word ‘bullshit’.

    Let’s face it, it is an apt term in the common vernacular and pretty much everyone knows what it means.

    If anyone wants to know more about ‘bullshit’, read The Sophist by Plato. He nailed it.

    Note: there is also a segment in this piece about absolute verses the intelligence view on ‘probability of truth’. As Gen. Haden says, If it looks, walks, talks like a duck… It’s probably a duck. But to combat this, one needs expertise in countering meme based propaganda. And there are not enough people that do that well.

  50. 50
    Guest (O.) says:

    @Ray Ladbury, #45:
    For Rabett Run’s article “Good Intentions”, you could add this link:
    https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strahlungsaustausch

    It’s in german language, but it has some math inside, which I think is ‘international’ and might be clear enough (with image explaining the main thought).