As a counter to the GOP’s inquisition of climate scientists, let us remember that in the last year or so, UC Berkeley physicist Richard Muller re-examined all the temperature data from the NOAA, East Anglia Hadley Climate Research Unit, and the Goddard Institute of Space Science sources. Even though Muller started out as a skeptic of the temperature data, and he was funded by the Koch brothers and other oil company sources, he carefully checked and re-checked the research himself. When the GOP leaders called him to testify before the House Science and Technology Committee last spring, they were expecting him to discredit the temperature data showed real change. Instead, Muller shocked his GOP sponsors by demonstrating his scientific integrity and telling truth to power: the temperature increase was real, and the scientists who had demonstrated climate was changing were right.9
This is the essence of the scientific method at its best. There may be biases in our perceptions, and we may want to find data that fits our preconceptions about the world, but if science is done properly, we get a real answer, often one we did not expect. That’s the true test of when science is giving us a reality check: when it tells us something we do not want to hear, but is inescapable if one follows the scientific method and analyzes the data honestly.
Thomas Henry Huxley said it best over 150 years ago: “Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing.”--Donald Prothero, Professor of Geology, Occidental College and Cal-Tech
This month's edition of E-Skeptic has a great article by Dr. Prothero about the interseces of faith, politics and science, and based on his discussion I'm kind of convinced that we have a fascinating problem -- when the three collide, bet against whichever has the greatest value and truth. In the article, Denialist Demagogues and the Threat to Science, Prothero makes the point repeatedly, that there are whores amongst us who will sell out as well as dupes and those unwilling to accept science and the scientific method. Rick Perry has famously commented that four semesters of biochemistry made a pilot out of him; thing is, even that "misunderestimates" his level of ignorance. It's not that the man is stupid -- he is willfully ignorant. This seems to be par for the course for the right this cycle, and probably should be on the minds of most of us. When confronted by facts, theories, hyposthesis, evidence that they do not disagree, they proclaim along with the choirs of angels and saints that it's a mystery and the Lord will provide. Since I know more than a few conservative atheists,for whom this seems disingenuous they proclaim a conspiracy which then, on examination, turns out to be a combination of right wing PR combined with whoreish behavior by a few and eye on the prize hypocrisy by others combined with a degree of malign, self-serving calculation.
Professor Prothero cites Paul Krugman on what the current reality is and where the stakes lie. It is worth considering..."But the odds are that one of these years the world’s greatest nation will find itself ruled by a party that is aggressively anti-science, indeed anti-knowledge. And, in a time of severe challenges — environmental, economic, and more — that’s a terrifying prospect."
Now, I am a middle-aged white, anti-theist man without children who doesn't have severe upper respiratory symptoms. I don't expect to live long enough to really suffer from client change. The only dog I have in this fight is that nurtured by my being a member of society and having a sense of ethical responsibility to my neighbors and to those who will come after me. For people who know better to blur the lines on this issue, and so many others, proves that not all self-interest is enlightened and that greed and ignorance can trump science and good will...if we let it. Now, Jefferson felt that the need for a free press to ensure an informed electorate and thus gain a reasonable chance to get the best results from a democratically elected college was critical. The press today is not free -- it costs a lot of money and as a result, since the cost of production outweighs by far the profit from the sales of copies and on-line subscriptions, whether it's Gannett, McClatchey, Murdoch or the Schulzbergers have to be concerned about not pissing off their alien overlords, the people who buy the advertising. Since the press includes TV, radio and blogs it gets even more complicated. Rachel Maddow, for example, had a mutually respectful and and rational conversation with two of McCain's key staffers, Steve Schmidt and Nicole Wallace about a controversial topic -- the Palinator. However, the Maddow show is a rare exception. (Frankly, I'm amazed that people like Huntsman,Wallace and Schmidt are still Republicans. It's like people in Italy being tied to Soccer teams from birth...) People yell at each other, and only those able to outscream the other can be heard. You can decide who is actually speaking what they think based on some sort of objective reality as opposed to fantasy, greed or calculation by how quizzical and bemused their expression and the calmer their response, until they get frustrated and then either get funny or furious. Or both...If you can continue to not be overwhelmed by these bozos, you can be heard, but it can be hard. It seems to me at times that despite the best efforts of informed journalists, principled academics and commentators, and excellent thinkers who strive to be heard, our fate depends on the Till Eulenspeigel's amongst us. That's probably not the worst defender, but when satire is all that stands between the polity and the deranged, insane and barbaric things can get dicey quickly.
It would be nice if it was just hard science. It's not. Economics, foreign policy, and so on -- doesn't matter. A rational person's response to this really can only be "Are you fucking insane or are you fucking kidding me!" Or both...doesn't matter. Budgets are not just about spending, they're about what we plan to do with our country, not our money. Or your money...what do you have to pay to be part of the country after we figure out what it needs to be is a totally different question. Either money for the rich or schools, culture, infrastructure, national defense, keeping promises -- you know, all those things that the Founders expected would happen as the union became more perfect. Instead, we have Rand Paul coming out in favor of letting pipelines explode; he's already come out in favor of lets methane do it's things and kill coal miners. Boehner and Kantor et al are starting to bear a striking resemblance to Ozimandias prior to the statuary phase of that Republican leaders's career. If I hear another right wing clown say that we need to reduce taxes and cut spending to reduce the deficit and not leave our children a mountain of debt, I think we take them on a tour of places where nobody bothered to do the right thing because it was politically expedient or violated their totalitarian faith -- in Marx, or Hitler, or Caesar. We can leave your children -- remember, I'm in this for the laughs -- a reasonable debt and a functioning commonwealth, or we can leave them...Zimbabwe.
Oddly, let's let Percy Bysshe Shelley have the last word.
I met a traveller from an antique land Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand, Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed. And on the pedestal these words appear: `My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!' Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, The lone and level sands stretch far away".