Monday, October 28, 2013

LA Times stands up for reason

By Frank Moraes

I learned from The Young Turks this evening that theLos 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.

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)


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