Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Weird science

Sharon Begley in Newsweek reviews the history of the global warming denial industry.

I don't have much to add to this except to note that, while I'm not a climate scientist and I have only limited ability to evaluate the arguments on my own, I still have very good reasons for deciding who to believe about this. If a basic scientific question becomes a partisan political issue, something is wrong. Denial that tobacco causes cancer was financed by the tobacco industry, the scientists who supported that denial were funded by the tobacco industry, and they did no empirical research of their own but merely produced critiques of real research done by others -- the overwhelming majority of biomedical researchers who concluded that tobacco does indeed cause cancer and heart disease long before it became public policy to discourage tobacco use. And the tobacco industry also gave vast sums to Republican politicians to promote the appearance of scientific doubt and protect the industry from regulation.

With global warming, the parallels are perfect. The few scientist deniers are funded by the fossil fuel industry. They do no empirical research, they just raise doubts about the research done by others, the vast majority of climate scientists who conclude that human activity is indeed warming the planet. And they give money to Republicans to turn this non-debate into a political issue and stop any meaningful action to limit fossil fuel consumption.

It is particularly telling that the global warming denial movement has simply shifted its premises every time its position became untenable: first they claimed the planet was not warming. When that was conclusively proved false, they claimed human activity had nothing to do with it. When that was conclusively proved false, they claimed that human induced global warming would be of trivial importance, even beneficial. I don't know what the next step will be, but the point is, you should always smell a rat when a camp of doubters remains committed to a conclusion, even as their reasons for belief keep changing.

That's why you don't need a Ph.D. in atmospheric science to know who to believe. Cui bono.

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