LA Times Stands Up for Reason

Climate Change Is a HoaxI learned from The Young Turks this evening that the Los Angeles Times will no longer be publishing letters from climate change deniers. My already high opinion of that paper just went up even further. Let me explain this from my perspective. My PhD is more or less in global warming. That is what all the physics and chemistry that we did went to understanding. So even though I no longer do the work, I understand it really well. What’s more, when I did work in the field, I was highly skeptical. I tend to be a believer in the Gaia hypothesis and it seemed very strange to me that the earth’s climate system could be so easily disrupted.

But that’s a whole different kind of skeptic than we find today. For one thing, the science wasn’t nearly as nailed down 20 years ago. We were looking for additions to the science, not holes in it. In particular, we were looking for negative feedback loops. Today, even the most serious skeptics are little more than charlatans. Those who even pretend to be doing science cherry pick data to make their cases. In other words, they aren’t doing anything like science. Science does not work this way: get an idea; ignore all data that contradicts idea; idea is right!

The problem is so much worse with lay people. They constantly mention things I’ve never even heard. “Oh, such and such, has proven that ice core temperature records are wrong!” Oh really? And how exactly is that? Well, they never know. It’s just the latest thing they’ve heard on Fox News or hate oriented radio (HOR). So it requires me to go actually look for whatever they are talking about. In the vast majority of cases it is from The Heartland Institute. Now that in itself is interesting. As late as 1994, Heartland was pushing the idea that secondhand smoke had no negative health consequences. Today, they are one of the biggest purveyors of quack climate science. Just like with cigarettes, there will never be any convincing them because they don’t do science. They are in the propaganda profession. Eventually, they will drop global warming denial just like they eventually dropped the cigarette-cancer link denial.

But regardless where the “research” comes from, most of the time it doesn’t even say what I’ve been told. A great example of this is tree ring temperature records. There was a lot of commotion about the fact that two independent records didn’t match where they overlapped. Tree rings are not a great source of temperature records. You don’t get absolute temperatures; you just get relative temperatures. So it isn’t surprising that two different investigators would have an offset between their data. Does this mean the data are useless? Not at all. It just means the two sets have to be reconciled and then they work just fine if you want to look at temperature trends. What scientists studying global warming want to do is look at temperature trends. Regardless, when there is an actual data set it is either (1) an outlier of many different sets that show something else entirely or (2) misinterpreted by the “scientist” (most likely willfully misinterpreted).

So the Los Angeles Times is right to refuse to print letters from these lay people. It isn’t just that they are wrong. None of these people think about this stuff. If a Los Angeles Times reader is writing in, all they will be doing is repeating something they heard Rush Limbaugh say the day before. It has been many years since people on that side of this issue have seriously thought about it. Anyway, if you want to read climate change denial, you can just buy the Washington Post and read George Will.

Afterword

Here is The Young Turks segment:

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

2 thoughts on “LA Times Stands Up for Reason

  1. I wrote a thing the other day, simply for my own amusement, that I’ll have to change, now. It was about lab partners.

    Remember lab partners? From school? I hated it whenever our physics or chem classes divided us into lab partners. Inevitably, I’d be partnered with the jocks and homecoming queens who hadn’t paid a whit of attention to the teacher, and didn’t have any idea what the lab experiment was about. So I’d do it all myself and tell them to just sign their names in the appropriate spots to get an "A."

    Just now, reading your justifiably angry post, I thought about lab partnerships from the other perspective. What if you’re an abused kid from a shitty home who has nothing else upon which to base their self-worth than their looks, or ability to throw a football? What if the way your science teacher glosses over important fundamentals doesn’t square with how you can learn things?

    How, then, would you feel about a creepy little kid (me) who didn’t try to educate you, didn’t try to empathize with why you were what you were, who just said "fuck it, you morons, I’ll do the lab, sign here and get an A."

    I’d never thought about that before just now.

    Of course, some things are never justifiable. Jocks abusing nerds is not acceptable. Acclaimed scientists in other fields lending their reputations to oil companies trying to discredit the work of climatologists is beyond repugnant. Those bastards should be put in the public stocks and incessantly pelted with moldering vegetables.

    Still . . .

    I remember, years ago, walking from my bus stop to work. Spanish language music was in the air. As I got closer and closer to its source, I saw pieces of paper drifting around.

    The culprit was a teenager, boom box by his side, systematically ripping each page from his mathematics textbook and tossing them away. That’s not the sort of a dramatic gesture you make if you think learning is for nerds. You do that if you tried your hardest, and got a shitty score on your SATs.

    It’s not that kid’s fault. Anyone who doesn’t have tragic brain damage can learn math, if it’s taught the right way. That kid was not taught the right way. He was angry and frustrated at how his hopes for his future were screwed. Can you or I blame him for being pissed off at teachers/experts/scientists?

    In high school, in my last year there, I took advanced calculus. The teacher was deliriously proud of her own method of solving differential equations, which was different from the textbook’s. I thought her method was stupid and circuitous, so on tests I refused to use either hers or the the textbooks and came up with my own. (I couldn’t solve even the simplest algebraic equation now if my life depended on it, but I imagine you get what I’m talking about.)

    That rancid asshat of a teacher actually held up my diploma; made me do sessions at her home, proving how completely I understood her idiotic method. I still have nightmares where I’m an adult, with lovers and friends and career, all of which are threatened by my old calculus teacher saying "you haven’t graduated yet." I thought finishing my BA (yes, I have no masters or PhD, accordingly, I am a nitwit) would end those nightmares. Boy, was I wrong.

    In short (hah) try and took at things from the point of view of the lab partner, the kid who really wants to learn but was taught very badly. I never have, but I should.

    A few years ago, I was camping out in the middle of high-desert Oregon nowhere with a very old friend, and I brought up the topic of climate-change denial. I just didn’t get it. "Because scientists say it," my friend said, "and people hate scientists because they make money and stupid people don’t make money."

    "What about me?", I asked. "I don’t make money. Does that make me stupid?"

    "Well," my friend said, "some people are cowards or whatever."

    I don’t know why I include this exchange. Maybe because me and my old friend used to laugh about the different ways we could solve our calculus teacher’s test questions better than her dumb method could. And that brings me back to being confounded by climate-change deniers.

    We shouldn’t "hate on" people who just distrust science. They aren’t dumb; they’ve been taught by bad teachers. Plus, six zillion messages tell them every day that if they aren’t rich, there’s something wrong with them, and the demagogues who claim to speak for the average Joe condescendingly pretend not to condescend.

    Rant over . . .

  2. @JMF – Traditionally, Americans have been far more pro-science than, say, Europeans. I don’t know what the numbers look like now, but I suspect it is the same. Even the climate change deniers believe in science. They just carve out that exception and whatever other ones they need, like evolution. This isn’t about science I think. Most people trust scientists. It is just that they’ve been told that this or that group are not real scientists. Note that lay climate change deniers rarely talk about scientists at all; they talk about Al Gore and all the money he’s made.

    You’re right about mathematics education. It is terrible. The biggest problem so far as I can tell is not teachers like yours, however. The problem I had a number of times in grammar school was teachers who didn’t understand math and were (I think) afraid of it.

    I’ve seen advanced teachers try to systematize equation solving. I appreciate the attempt, but I think it is a bad approach. With differential equations, that is hopeless. You can learn techniques for particular kinds of equations but mostly it is just pure intuition. (And most have no solution at all!) I think the best thing any math teacher can do is imitate Doug Henning. Communicate your enthusiasm for the subject. The biggest problem is that people just don’t care. If you care about something, you will get good at it.

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