Archive for the ‘Science’ Category
A few weeks back, my column over at Precipitate, Everything we know is stardust, focused on that very fact. In it, I said:
The curse laid on the first human by God in the Garden of Eden, it turns out, is perfectly accurate: what are we humans but the dust that makes up the entire universe? We are made of the history of everything that has ever or will ever be. We are stardust of the billions of years old supernovae of the universe. Which is a beautiful idea, one that is capable of providing relief from the tumult of the day to day. Amazingly, it just happens to be accurate.
Today I saw this video, and I thought, I will say never say anything better than Neil DeGrasse Tyson.
I care immensely about climate change, and as such, am always interested in hearing why people are willing to disregard it. The science is not up for debate. As far as TRC is concerned, there are only a few reasons anyone would say “Climate change is not real”:
- You are a scientist who works on climate issues and have seen evidence that leads you to conclude the scientific consensus is incorrect,
- You are ignorant of, not interested in, or benefit from ignoring the science and the consensus among climate scientists, which is about as strong as scientific consensus can get, or
- You are not paying attention or are paying attention to the wrong things.
Well, it turns out that the 3rd reason makes a pretty big impact. If I were to create a list of things that SHOULD NOT influence opinions on the science of climate change, I would put how Republicans in the national government vote on issues related to climate and environment right at the top of the list. If there is anything that can not change reality, it would a vote by a politician. But I would be wrong. How the GOP votes is a strong determing factor in how Americans view climate change.
The researchers behind the study created a “Climate Change Threat Index” to gauge how the public views the impact of climate change over a nine-year period, and they conclude that GOP votes on environmental legislation have a particularly outsized effect. “In an extremely partisan environment, Republican votes against environmental bills legitimate public opinion opposed to action on climate change,” the authors write. “When the Republicans increase voting support for environmental bills, it reduces partisanship and increases public support for actions to address climate change.”
Next time you think that congress doesn’t impact Americans, remember, when an anti-environmental Republican mood takes over Washington, we jeopardize the very health of our planet.
Does it get better than this picture? That’s President Obama, amazed by science.
It’s good to see that childlike wonder on the face of the US President, psyched about just how awesome Joey Hudy’s marshmallow gun is. Refreshing.
from Huffington Post, AFP/Getty Images.
Yesterday, Rick Santorum reaffirmed that he does not believe in the science of global warming. Well, he actually said the following:
I for one never bought the hoax. I for one understand just from science that there are one hundred factors that influence the climate. To suggest that one minor factor of which man’s contribution is a minor factor in the minor factor is the determining ingredient in the sauce that affects the entire global warming and cooling is just absurd on its face.
Clearly, he understands the science of global warming.
That Santorum does not acknowledge the accepted science of climate change should not surprise anyone. It certainly does not surprise TRC. Even though it takes a serious ability to tune out the massive weight of evidence in support of climate change, it’s a pretty common feat in today’s GOP. It should be noted, however, that Rick Santorum’s position on climate change is 100% at odds with the Catholic Church’s position on climate change. I don’t mention this because Santorum must always conform to the teachings of his church, but it does seem relevant as the candidate makes much over his Catholicism.
But, again, Santorum’s rejection of climate science is not news. Something else that he said at the same event, though, is a bit more shocking:
We were put on this Earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the Earth, to use it wisely and steward it wisely, but for our benefit not for the Earth’s benefit…We are the intelligent beings that know how to manage things and through the course of science and discovery if we can be better stewards of this environment, then we should not let the vagaries of nature destroy what we have helped create.
This kind of language gives TRC the willies. This is, essentially, a license for human behavior to take whatever shape it wants, regardless of the consequences. Santorum mentions the oft quoted dominion over the earth biblical command, which can be interpreted several ways, one of which is that we need to be good stewards to all creation. If he had mentioned the good stewardship and moved on, well, such comments wouldn’t have merited TRC’s attention. But that’s not what Santorum is presenting here. This language represents dominance and human arrogance on a level that is down right scary.
Santorum claims on the one hand that he understands science enough to know that climate change is a hoax, and on the other that the purpose of science is to benefit humans against the vagaries of nature. That is a prescription for a very bad future.
Found this over at Pharyngula. And it is interesting stuff.
The Fordham Institute has released their State of State Science Standards 2012, which grades every state’s K-12 standards for science education. The introduction highlights four problems areas creating substandard education: an undermining of evolution, a propensity to be vague, poor integration of scientific inquiry, and a lack of numbers, mathematical formulae and equations.
How did your state do?
Minnesota, unfortunately, got a C. I was a little surprised by that. But then I realized, again unfortunately, I probably shouldn’t be. MN got a 5/10, and if that’s a C, I assume this is graded on a pretty curvaceous curve.
Why did we get a C? Here’s the MN Overview:
The Minnesota science standards are like the frustrating student who does excellent work two days a week but shoddy work on the other three. When the standards are “on,” they are cogent and challenging. But too often they are marred by vague, incorrect, or grade-inappropriate material, or are missing key content entirely.
Other noteworthy inclusions on subjects of TRC’s interest on Minnesota science standards:
- Though a minor issue, the standards are occasionally marred by an inappropriate focus on local beliefs
- The high school physics standards are marred by illogical organization
- The physical science standards are barely passable
- The Minnesota earth and space science standards are reasonably comprehensive, covering the water cycle, mineral properties, fossils, and natural resources. The basic structure of the solar system is also well covered.
TRC works daily on behalf of and cares greatly about the future of this planet and its human and non-human inhabitants. As a result, TRC take seriously the dangers inherent in pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in volumes that we do. We believe the scientific community when it says: climate change is real, and we are causing it. The results stand over and over. This is our position.
But not everyone agrees. In fairness to the science of climate change, TRC feels it is worthwhile to post this editorial from the WSJ, signed by 16 scientists, arguing against the need to take drastic action on climate change.
Titled No Need to Panic on Global Warming, the op-ed is a cool and considerate argument that there is no evidence in the science that points towards a need to decarbonize our global economy. There are many problems in the argument presented here, in my opinion, but I will note that the main reasons this group of scientists do not want to take action boils down to very familiar arguments: CO2 is good for the planet, scientists are strong-armed by the alarmists into submission, and the benefits of carbon-free investment are not worth the costs.
Here’s some excerpts.
- The fact is that CO2 is not a pollutant. CO2 is a colorless and odorless gas, exhaled at high concentrations by each of us, and a key component of the biosphere’s life cycle. Plants do so much better with more CO2 that greenhouse operators often increase the CO2 concentrations by factors of three or four to get better growth. This is no surprise since plants and animals evolved when CO2 concentrations were about 10 times larger than they are today. Better plant varieties, chemical fertilizers and agricultural management contributed to the great increase in agricultural yields of the past century, but part of the increase almost certainly came from additional CO2 in the atmosphere.
- Although the number of publicly dissenting scientists is growing, many young scientists furtively say that while they also have serious doubts about the global-warming message, they are afraid to speak up for fear of not being promoted—or worse. They have good reason to worry. In 2003, Dr. Chris de Freitas, the editor of the journal Climate Research, dared to publish a peer-reviewed article with the politically incorrect (but factually correct) conclusion that the recent warming is not unusual in the context of climate changes over the past thousand years. The international warming establishment quickly mounted a determined campaign to have Dr. de Freitas removed from his editorial job and fired from his university position. Fortunately, Dr. de Freitas was able to keep his university job.
- There is no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to “decarbonize” the world’s economy. Even if one accepts the inflated climate forecasts of the IPCC, aggressive greenhouse-gas control policies are not justified economically.
- A recent study of a wide variety of policy options by Yale economist William Nordhaus showed that nearly the highest benefit-to-cost ratio is achieved for a policy that allows 50 more years of economic growth unimpeded by greenhouse gas controls. This would be especially beneficial to the less-developed parts of the world that would like to share some of the same advantages of material well-being, health and life expectancy that the fully developed parts of the world enjoy now. Many other policy responses would have a negative return on investment. And it is likely that more CO2 and the modest warming that may come with it will be an overall benefit to the planet.
If you don’t read Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones, you should. Or at least follow here on twitter. She’s very good at her job. So, that’s a plug for Ms. Sheppard.
In Mother Jones today, Sheppard hits on a favorite topic of TRC. The piece is called The Other Love Newt Spurned: Science, and it details in brief his history as a pro-science, pro-environment, pro-space travel, pro-cap-and-trade Republican. Frankly, Newt has always been a science guy. So what happened?
But that was then. Now, Gingrich is much less enthusiastic about science and the environment. And the explanation seems is fairly simple: Gingrich-the-professor likes grandiose ideas like earth-orbiting climate monitors, space honeymoons, a $40 billion investment in laptops for poor people, or bringing back the dinosaurs. But Gingrich-the-presidential hopeful is campaigning in an age where not just denying climate change but actively disdaining scientific research is the standard in the Republican Party.
Gingrich somehow still inhabits the role of Ideas Man for many in the Republican Party. But the Ideas Man is gone. All that is left is a politician running away from his past to help him run for president. Hopefully after he loses this race he will go back to adding value to the GOP by thinking big and looking forward.
Example: If I didn’t know better, this website that Sheppard highlights, and is paid for by Romney’s friends, would give a liberal like me a reason to like Gingrich. Instead, its only point is to mock the man who once challenged the status quo of his party.
How long, as a nation, are we going to fight battles over whether non-science can be taught in the science classroom? It’s tiresome. If you don’t want to “believe” science, that’s your decision and no one can take your right away to not “believe” in science. Fine.
But you still can’t decide what is science, how science works, and what it finds. The scientific process is how science operates, and what it finds is what should be taught in the classroom. Anything else is religiously or politically motivated and should not be allowed to impact education. This has long been fought over regarding evolution, and evolution continually wins out over creation/ID in the science classroom. Because one is science and one is not.
Unfortunately, this is no longer just a conversation about evolution.
Although scientific evidence increasingly shows that fossil fuel consumption has caused the climate to change rapidly, the issue has grown so politicized that skepticism of the broad scientific consensus has seeped into classrooms.
Texas and Louisiana have introduced education standards that require educators to teach climate change denial as a valid scientific position. South Dakota and Utah passed resolutions denying climate change. Tennessee and Oklahoma also have introduced legislation to give climate change skeptics a place in the classroom.
Mandating science teachers to teach opposition shows how far the denial industry can reach in this country. There’s no other reason that states would require teaching climate change DENIAL. Teaching denial to accepted scientific findings as a valid scientific stance makes a mockery of science education, decades of scientific research, the peer-review process, and reality. Denialism has no business in the classroom. Teachers do not teach denial of creationism. They teach evolution as the strongest scientific understanding of biology.
Meanwhile, in a whopping demonstration of misunderstanding how science operates, legislatures (in areas that will be least affected by climate change, by the way) are passing resolutions denying climate change. Because that is how you respond to science. Science finds something we dislike, so our state government will deny it even exists. Screw you, peer-review! Screw you professional experts!
A true triumph for intellectual honesty.
There is room for debate in science, in the public square, and in the halls of government. But when it comes to education, there is no room for putting our heads in the sand and ignoring the fundamental understanding of science to the detriment of our future.
Large swaths of the Republican Party are anti-science. I don’t think I can get around that sentiment any longer. And we’ve long since hashed this out at TRC. But today I saw a comment that just takes the cake for how far beyond the pale the GOP seems to land when it comes to fundamental, basic, scientific teaching.
It comes from, not surprisingly, Rick Santorum: “If [Jon Huntsman] wants to believe he is the descendant of a monkey then he has the right to believe that, but I disagree with him on this liberal belief.”
Read that again. Everything about it is wrong. It gets evolution wrong (it does not claim humans descended from monkeys) and it amazingly claims that evolution, the central tenet of modern biology is…A LIBERAL BELIEF. I wish it were just Santorum who pedaled such nonsense, since he is easy to cast off. But it might be a party problem.
More from today’s Telegraph:
It’s not just the candidates. Fifty-two per cent of Republican voters reject the theory of evolution, saying mankind was created in present form within the last 10,000 years; just 31 per cent think man-made climate change is happening. In Congress, Republicans fought stem cell research and the HPV vaccine. Sarah Palin, ignoramus-in-chief, mocked “fruit-fly research” as a “pet project [with] little or nothing to do with the public good,” rejecting at a stroke most advances in genetics since Gregor Mendel.
Part of the culture war strategy included attacking intellectuals: describing them as weak and spineless and effete. Academics, always liberal-inclined, responded by becoming more so: “They’re so overwhelmingly liberal now it’s kind of ridiculous, and so is the scientific community. The Democratic party is drawing the votes of people with advanced degrees, and the Republican party is not,” says Mooney. So, in turn, the Republican party reacted by becoming ever more distrustful of intellectualism, and pushing wave after wave of scientists and academics from the Right to the Left. “The more the Republican party rejects nuance and attacks knowledge, the more the people who have knowledge go the other way. It shows in statistics about liberalism among professors and scientists, and distribution of PhDs across the parties: there’s a giant knowledge and expertise gap.”
And to appeal to this anti-intellectual base, the Republican elite now have to pretend to be stupider than they are.
Computer modeling used in climate science is an easy target for the global warming deniers. And it is not hard to see why. The actual climate and its interactions with earth and all its various systems is extremely complex. Modeling those relationships in a computer, well, how can that possibly tell us much of anything? Especially when the models that exist often disagree.
That’s a good question. And one that TRC is not qualified to answer. But there are people out there who are qualified, and understanding how the evidence for global climate change comes about is important for those of us who argue that the evidence for global climate change cannot be denied.
And with that goal in mind, TRC recommends an article from Science Line: The future’s not straightforward: neither is modeling it. The piece is a conversation with Anthony Del Genio, from NASA’s Goddard Institute who currently works on the Cassini mission, and presents a clear, comprehensible look at how computer modeling of climate change (on earth and on Venus) works. It’s worth a look.
Although each new model is more sophisticated than the last, their initial results may actually look worse. Newly proposed models don’t usually agree with each other, Del Genio says, because they’re created by different groups of scientists who all have their own ideas on how to accommodate new factors. Climate change denialists use those discrepancies between the present 14 to 18 models to claim that they shouldn’t be trusted at all, but Del Genio — who doesn’t see how anyone can deny the reality of human-induced climate change based on the evidence — stresses that the disagreements over modeling are a natural part of the scientific process.
What we do know, Del Genio says, is that the Earth is warming in response to increases in greenhouse gas emissions. All the models predict higher temperatures in the future, but there is a debate about how much it will warm up and what that warming means.
No matter how sophisticated models get, the predictions will remain uncertain. Predictions always are. “We all envy Ebenezer Scrooge in a way,” Del Genio says. “He had the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. We wish we had the Ghost of Climate Yet to Come to show everyone what we think the world is going to be like if we continue along the current path…But we don’t have that.”