Friday, January 09, 2015

Science Deniers - Understanding the Denialist Rhetoric

In reading Merchants of Doubt and watching the so-called debate put forward by the climate change science deniers, you start to wonder what motivates these people.  I've had some discussions with a few of them, and they are absolutely fierce in their insistence that:
  • a) there is no climate change, or 
  • b) if there is climate change, it's nothing new - the climate has been changing for centuries, or 
  • c) climate change will be good for us and the economy, or 
  • d) human activity can't be the cause of it.
Now, of course, you might wonder which one of these is most important in their minds, but it doesn't seem to matter.  Any of them.  All of them.  Depends on the situation.  Naomi Klein examines this in some detail in the first chapter of her book, This Changes Everything

As Klein points out (p 46), climate change deniers most often are conservative, white males, who tend to have higher than average incomes.  They are also very confident of their views, no matter how wrong they are shown to be.  The underlying reason is that this group of people have occupied positions of privilege, power and wealth in our current economic system.  Dealing with climate change would probably challenge their status and the status of the industrial complex that they are part of.

There is complete dismissal of anything the IPCC has to say, because it's "government", part of the discredited UN.  There is strident antipathy to more government and more regulation, both of which will be needed to effectively deal with climate change.  If you think the free market will do it, you're probably very wrong.  The unregulated, free market is completely why we are in the situation we're in today.

Other articles have examined why, in the face of all the evidence, so many people simply do not believe that climate change is happening or some variation of that.  One article that examines this can be found here.

And this is one article that explains how science deniers like to argue using false equivalency.

There are also scholarly articles and studies about this.  Examples: here, here and here.

Free Market Fundamentalism is another ideology that underpins much of the climate change denial position.  The extended Cold War in the USA fostered a strident anti-Communist mindset.  Some of the individuals who have been (and still are) active in the climate denial business were employed in the weapon developments that were part of the American defense system.  When the Cold War ended, environmentalism was targeted as the new great threat.  We've seen it in statements from Canadian politicians: "environmental extremists".  Green on the outside, red on the inside.  In their view, any movement to address the ozone hole, global warming, the effects of tobacco smoke, acid rain, would require government regulation to deal with free market failure, and regulation was what these people hated most.  Regulation was seen as the "slippery slope to Socialism, a form of creeping Communism".  The only way to keep our "freedoms" is to believe that free markets are the only way to run our economies.  It's been called "free market fundamentalism", the uninhibited pursuit of self-interest.  It's an article of faith.

Some people are ardent believers in something called Cornucopianism.  This is a belief that technology can solve all of society's problems.  Technological innovation can indeed develop many solutions to the problems of society, to do more with fewer resources.  Cornucopians, however, firmly believe that this will always be true.  Keep the markets free and everything will sort itself out.  Optimism is the order of the day.  Environmentalists are fussbudgets, "...Rachel Carson was wrong about DDT, global warming isn't a problem and our forests are doing fine."

One thing does seem true - we are wasting our time discussing climate change with such people.  They will NOT change their minds.  It's not a lack of knowledge or facts.  They have the same facts as the rest of us do.  They just choose not to believe them, or they are blinded by a deep fear that doing something about climate change will affect their position.

What is more useful is to become better acquainted with the facts and possible solutions and then convince others who are more amenable to being convinced by the facts.  As the numbers of these people grow, governments will have to take action.  Some governments already are and more will follow.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

The Warming Continues

The Japan Meterological Agency has announced that 2014 was the warmest year on record.  This will likely be followed by NOAA and NASA.  

This is what the long-term trend looks like:

The Anti-Anti-Vax - Part 4 - Herd Immunity

Online discussions lately have touched on "herd immunity".  Interestingly, some of the vaccination-skeptical individuals are skeptical about this too, even though their freedom from certain diseases, even while remaining unvaccinated themselves, has much to do with the concept.

Although there are several slightly different ways of defining this term, the basic concept revolves around this: in a given population, if enough individuals are vaccinated and, assuming they are therefore pretty much immune from a particular disease, everyone in the population will be protected, even if not all are vaccinated.

The proportion of vaccinated, immune individuals needed to achieve this depends on several factors.  A "Rough Guide to Herd Immunity" presents a brief explanation of the concept.  

If you want a shorter, less technical explanation with some diagrams, WikiPedia provides a useful few paragraphs.

If you want an explanation that includes a short video clip, here is one from Vaccines Today.

Finally, although many in the anti-vaccine community are very suspicious of government and public health vaccine programs, here is one page that explains the concept of herd immunity again.

The lessons from history are clear.  Vaccines work.  The more people vaccinated, the better.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Rand Formula

Perhaps 30 or 40 years ago I read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.  I can't recall either of them making much of an impression and I certainly did not fixate on the most singular part of those novels - Ayn Rand's philosophical system which she called "Objectivism".  How could I have missed that?  Meh.... philosophical systems... advocates and apologists for greed and selfishness....

Ayn Rand.  Hard to say how many North Americans know of or care about the person behind this name.  She was born in 1905 in Russia, moving to the United States in 1926.  She was an author, known for The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.  Aside from that, she is also known for the philosophical system called Objectivism.  Anyone wanting to know more can easily learn more, but I suspect most people won't really care.

A few American politicians seem to have swallowed Rand's philosophy completely as a justification for their view of the world.  It seems as though they represent some of the more regressive factions in American society and politics, but that's just my opinion....

I've felt, either correctly or not, that Rand's philosophy, and Rand herself, espouse a self-centered, selfish, viewpoint.  What I can't understand  is why Ayn Rand is still a thing.  I'm not the only one apparently.

If Ayn Rand ever sent Christmas cards, they might have looked like this.  I've had one local Randian (is that what we call her acolytes?) agree that those cards reflect her philosophy perfectly.  Wonderful.

Some have wondered if Rand's philosophy has contributed to some of the "uncharitable" attitudes that we hear about from time to time.  Or, to put it more succinctly, turned us into a greedy, selfish, nation.  Well, that's the USA...surely couldn't be Canada....

One opinion about her philosophy's effect in America can be found here.  You want to see what Randian philosophy looks like when put into practice?  Look no further than the state of Tennessee.  Close to the bottom in anything one could call socially progressive and near the top when it comes to child poverty.  Charming statistics.

I've had a few exchanges with one of Rand's local supporters.  He's claimed that the only (sorry - that should read "ONLY") reason anyone does anything is as a result of selfish self-interest.  Altruism does not exist.  Really?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Canada's Radical Makeover

Party of One - Stephen Harper and Canada's Radical Makeover 

by Michael Harris

My in-house library aficionado brought this home for me to read the other day and I've been almost unable to put it down.  There are a number of reviews of this book available on-line.  One from the The Star and one from the Globe & Mail.  To quote one of the comments that followed: "Everyone who can vote should read this book".

Having now done my civic duty by reading this book, I can offer the following comments:

Electoral Politics - The Unfair Elections Act

Some Canadians may remember the "robocalls" issue.  During the 2011 election, Elections Canada received complaints from a thousand or two voters about calls directing them to the wrong polling station.  Other calls were nuisance calls (usually made in the middle of the night) intended to turn voters against the Liberal (or other) candidate.

There was an investigation and one person, Michael Sona, has been found guilty, although it was clear that at least some other people must have been involved.

In response, the Harper government introduced the "Fair Elections Act" - Bill C-23.  Once it appeared, it quickly became known as the Unfair Elections Act, whose main champion was Pierre Pollivere.  The proposed legislation would actually reduce the authority of the chief electoral officer, would reduce Election Canada's investigative powers, would allow the incumbents in each riding to select the poll workers, thereby increasing the opportunity for skulduggery.  Although some changes were made to the bill, it has been passed into law and will affect the running of the 2015 election.

Defense Procurement - The F-35 Saga and the Big Lie

By the time 2012 rolled around, the Harper government had been misleading Parliament and Canadians for almost 6 years about the new jet fighter program.  The government was still insisting that the entire program would only cost $15 billion.

Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer (hired by the Harper government under the Accountability Act in 2008), claimed the real price tag was closer to $29 billion.  The Harper government proceeded to badmouth Page as an incompetent busybody.  Kevin Page describes himself as a "nerdy guy who doesn't like wasting money".

Meanwhile, the government continued to insist that the F-35 was the only option available for the military.  As 2012 progressed, the Auditor General weighed in, pointing out that the DND's numbers had been kept secret, that critical information had not been made available to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, that there had not been a proper bidding process for the new fighter.  The bad news just continued to get worse.  One of the defense ministers, Peter MacKay, perhaps one of the most incompetent ministers ever in this post, continued to promote the project, even posing in plywood models of the fighter.  Indeed, in the 2011 election, Harper accused any opponents of the project of being unpatriotic deadbeats.  At this point, the plane hadn't even been flight-tested, and there were problems.  Many of them.

Two Canadian companies that will benefit from the project have ties to Harper.  It also came to light that the Harper cabinet had signed off on the $25 billion cost but had kept that secret, claiming that the cost was only $14 billion.  A more recent estimate of the total cost is closer to $70 billion.

The whole case has been one of number-fudging.  So much for sound fiscal management.

Personal Advisers, the Senate Scandal and other Misadventures

Senators Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin... all appointed by Harper and all in trouble, one for assault, the others for expense claim fraud.  

Nigel Wright - appointed as Harper's Chief of Staff.  Reputed to be a brilliant addition to the wheels of government, or at least to the Conservative Government, but forced to leave his position after it became public that he gave a $90,000 gift to Mike Duffy so that his improper expense claims could be re-paid.

As one reporter who broke the story put it, how the Harper government had reacted to the expose of cash payments, shady deals and possibly illegal acts coming from the PMO... "Basically, it's been one lie after another".

Resource Development, Canada's First Nations and the Environment

Throughout the whole "energy debate" the tactics of the Harper government have been to say things they have no intention of carrying out (ie: regulating the energy sector), misrepresent the issue in various ways (ie: claim that any regulations would kill the economy; make claims about hundreds of thousands of jobs when a fraction of those would be more realistic), embarrass the country with infantile demands and aggressive saber-rattling (one former Conservative PM has observed that Canada has adopted an "almost adolescent tone" in dealing with other countries), demonizing any who disagree and, in the process, ignoring treaty obligations to consult and negotiate with First Nations about resource development.

Under The Bus

A number of Harper minions have managed to get themselves into trouble.  The usual tactic of the Harper PMO is to deny there is any problem, reiterate their support for the person in question, demonize anyone who continues to raise questions and then, if things are still going down the toilet and the facts can't be misrepresented any longer, throw the person at the center of the conflict under the bus.  Some examples:

Michael Sona - the only person charged and found guilty of mis-deeds related to the 2011 election Robocall travesty.  It was quite clear that other people must have been involved, but only one person was cut loose and allowed to take the fall for the Party and the Leader.

Mike Duffy - appointed by Harper, initially defended by Harper and the PMO when Senate financial irregularities starting appearing.  Abandoned and cut loose by the Senate and the Party when defending him eventually became untenable.

Support Our Troops (Unless it Actually Costs Money)

More than any Canadian government in recent times, the Harper government has seemed almost anxious to send our armed forced into battle.  As a former Canadian ambassador put it: "The neo-conservative idea of foreign policy is about flexing military muscle.... It is a reversal of our history.  Now we are a country with baggage.  We have become outliers.  We are seen as more American than the Americans, more Israeli than Likud...."

The Conservatives have repeatedly promoted the "Support Our Troops" campaign.  As a member of the Official Opposition, Harper had wanted to send Canada to war in Iraq, just one example of Harper's belief in a military solution to issues that he didn't well understand.

Support for Canada's military veterans, on the other hand, has received less enthusiastic support.  Cases of PTSD, suicides, medical issues, pensions....all have been ignored in the interests of balancing the budget by 2015.  Never mind that millions have been spent promoting the War of 1812 ($28 million).

Party of One contains a damming indictment of the Harper Government's treatment of the veterans who served Canada, seeming intended to frustrate any possible course of justice for these men and women in the hopes that they would either go away or die.  As the author put it, a classic case of "Delay, Deny and Die".

Harper's war on science, facts and the people who have worked to inform, is well documented in this book.  Harper vs Canada's (supposedly independent) nuclear regulator; Harper vs Statistics Canada (spreading false stories about StatsCan's chief statistician in the push to ditch the long-form census); Harper vs scientific research; Harper vs the environment.  Not everything is covered in the book: Harper vs Canadian Public Broadcasting; Harper vs the Supreme Court and Madame Justice McLachlin, but there is hardly a Canadian institution that Harper has not set out to discredit, dismantle or destroy.

I will make no secret of my intense dislike of Stephen Harper and the fascist thugs that masquerade as his government.  He has waged a war on reason, science, facts and history.  Despite cuddly photo ops with pandas, he represents possibly the greatest danger to Canadian democracy of any politician in Canadian history.  My dislike is obviously shared.  You can read the opinions of others here and here.

There are a number of sites on the Internet with lists of why Harper and his government ought to be relegated to the dustbins of infamous history.  One such is here.

One comment critical of Harper was slagged by a Harper supporter as being uninformed and "not understanding" him or his actions.  One reply to that attack went like this:

"Your remarks suggest that because people strongly disagree with you (or Harper), it is because they have made no effort to understand him or his actions. There are a lot of Canadians who really do understand him, what he is saying and what he is doing and what his "allies" are saying and doing. We understand the economics of neoliberalism, the goals of TE, the loss of sovereignty over our policy, the austerity that hurts only less wealthy people, the social sciences, the social services, the riding manipulations, the robocalls, the attempts to undermine the singularity of the country, the attempt to return Canada to colonial status under U.K. or U.S. (or both), the geopolitics, the lies, the secrecy, the hidden agendas, etc. We understand."

[Update1] - Michael Harris, the author of Party of One, appears in this 25 minute video clip.  Watch the video and read the book.  Decide if this is the Canada you want.

[Update2] - An article from the Globe & Mail which, although pointing out many negative aspects to the Harper regime, padded the beginning and end with sort of nice stuff, recognizing that most readers skip the middle bits.  Nice bit of media manipulation.

[Update3] - Veterans are angry even though Conservative MPs seems to thing things are rosy.

[Update4] - And then there have been the science book burnings a la 1930s Germany

[Update5] - And the push to turn Canada into a petro state.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

More Climate Change Denial Claptrap

A few days ago, a post appeared on the Kaslo Community Web FB page.  One of the irregular posters on that page had found what he obviously considered the coup de grace in the on-going battle between science and anti-science.  It was a movie trailer for The Global Warming War.  It claims that it is "... not motivated by politics, money or emotionalism".  It also claims that climate change "hasn't been proven scientifically".  I imagine most people will watch it without any analysis or background checks.  Let's see who and what is involved in this expose.

First, just remind yourself that nobody involved in real science every uses the phrase "proven scientifically".  Evidence may build up and persuade based on the sheer volume of that evidence, but the term "proven" is pretty much never used.

The people involved in this video include:

Marc Morano - works for a "think-tank" in Washington DC that receives lots of funding from Big Oil.  Just because he can get on a camera and state that human-caused climate change is "bullshit", doesn't make it so.  Like most climate change science deniers, he presents no evidence to support his position.

Dr H. Sterling Burnett - a philosopher who works for the National Center for Policy Analysis, a "free market" think tank funded by billionaires including the Koch Brothers.  Burnett has been quoted as saying the Gulf Coast disaster was "more hype than reality".  He's also quoted by the Heartland Institute as a climate expert.  He's not.

 Dr Tim Ball - identified in the video as a "climatology professor".  He's actually a geographer.  He is also a "scientific advisor" to the Exxon-funded "Friends of Science".  As an aside, the University of Winnipeg doesn't seem to have a climatology department.

Dr Paul Driessen - associated with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow.  Among many other climate change science denial activities, he has spoken at the Heartland Institute's ICCC7, which received over $67 million from ExxonMobile, the Koch Brothers and the Scaife Family Foundations.

Dr John Theon - is listed as an "expert" by the Heartland Institute.  He is retired from NASA.

Dr Mark Alliegro - a cell biologist that the Heartland Institute lists as an expert.  He claims that there has been no increase in severe weather.  Interestingly, the insurance industry sees it differently.  Stories about that here and here.

Dr James Wanliss - actually does research into Physics and Space Weather.  His position as a climate change denier seems to be rooted in Christian fundamentalism as evidenced in the following: "it is possible to have a balanced Biblical view of stewardship and conservation to the critical issues of environment and development."

Dennis Avery - is an agricultural economist.  His position can be best described with this quote from him: "Why did most of our moderate modern warming take place before 1940 (with 1934 being the warmest year) and why haven't we had any warming over the last nine years? Could it possibly be the moderate natural 1,500-year cycle revealed in the ice cores and seabed sediments?".  He seems to have missed the warm years in the past few decades.  His biography describes him as "supporter of biotechnology, pesticides, irradiation, factory farming and free trade. He also considers himself an expert on “agriculture, environment, world hunger issues, biotechnology and pesticides, trade, and water issues.  Most warming "before 1940"?  Where has he been?

Then there is FOX News with the story that "It's the Sun's Rays".  Fox News, the mouthpiece of American Conservatism, the Republican Party.  Faux News has a history of inaccurate and misleading coverage of many things, including climate change.  Google lists many sources that have studied this inaccuracy.  More here and here.  It would be safe and fair to say that FOX News has no credibility on anything.

The Cosmic Ray Theory of climate change and Dr Henrik Svensmark.  This could be an interesting explanation, but it appears that it's dead.

John Coleman - the founder of The Weather Channel.  His degree, 50 years ago, was in journalism.  That said, he did spend a few decades in the "weather business".  He is credited with claiming that climate change is a hoax.  Snopes considers the veracity of that here.  Although this item is superficially "true" in the sense that the words quoted above were indeed written by John Coleman, the statement that they "refute" global warming (i.e., prove it to be false) is something of an exaggeration. As Coleman's critics have noted, he does not hold a degree in climatology or any related discipline, nor has he studied or conducted any research in that field; he merely parrots arguments advanced by others. Moreover, much of his criticism of climate change deals with impugning the motives of those engaged in that discipline rather than refuting the science behind their work.

Once again, just because someone wants to claim climate change isn't happening doesn't mean they have "refuted" climate change.  They need evidence.  

Dr David Deming - He is another climate change denier affiliated with the National Center for Policy Analysis, funded by the Koch Brothers, among others. One quote of his: "The largest mistake would be to start to move away from petroleum, a proven and economic energy source, to more speculative and expensive sources…The world will eventually leave the age of oil, but there is no geologic reason for this to happen until near the end of the 21st century."

Lawrence Solomon - a journalist who describes himself as "one of Canada's leading environmentalists".  He has an interesting mix of affiliations, one being as the Executive director of Energy Probe, a fossil fuel lobbyist group.

To summarize:  no politics, no money?  I don't think so.  Massive funding from the Big Oil lobby and many associated foundations.  Politics?  Well, it sure isn't science that they're espousing.  This is typical of climate change science deniers.  They spend all their time pointing fingers, jumping up and down, accompanied with lots of arm waving, but they DO NOT present any evidence that climate change isn't happening or that we're not the main cause.  What is true is that there's no science in what they're claiming.

If anyone wants the real story, there is a good article in Science or Not? which lays out the extent of our current knowledge on climate change and the role of humans in it.