My Turn: Don’t believe the hype — believe the science |

My Turn: Don’t believe the hype — believe the science

Derek Larson

Thanks to Nick DeFiori for including a SOURCE in his submission: "Don't believe the hype about global warming." We can't have a responsible discourse on the subject if we don't cite our sources and take ownership of where we get our information.

I share some of Mr. Defiori's weariness of Al Gore's grandstanding and greenwashing. But DeFiori washes us too far the other way. I went to his source, and here is what I found:

"Science or Science Fiction?" is not a peer-reviewed science publication as DeFiori says. It is an industry opinion piece dressed up to look like science. Its main funder is APEGA, which appears to be a Canadian conglomerate of oil and mineral explorers (or it might just be a think tank front with a fancy website).

The internet is awash in these pseudo scientific attempts to weaken public support of sound scientific consensus. Contrary to what DeFiori says, the causes of climate change are very well understood; there is near universal consensus that carbon dioxide is the primary driver of warming and that human activity has changed CO2 concentration and earth's climate system. (See: "Vostok Ice Core Data").

The debate is on the scale of the effects, how quickly they will manifest, and the degree to which all this may be considered a "crisis." Even Richard Lindzen of MIT, one of the world's most qualified skeptics, agrees on the basic cause and effect.

DeFiori parrots the denier mantra that scientific consensus in the 1970s said we would be facing an Ice Age. This is a complete distortion of the facts. There was no consensus at the time, since very few were studying the issue compared with today.

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A few researchers were wrong in their conclusions, and their mistake was illuminated by the scientific method. Here is what actually happened: Dr. S.I. Rasool and colleagues at Columbia University sought to explain an observed, short-term drop in earth temperatures in the midst of an overall warming trend.

They measured increased particulate matter in the atmosphere and concluded that the earth might face more cooling because the particles were reflecting sun energy. They did not predict a new Ice Age.

Then, passage of the clean air act removed enough particulate matter that the overall warming trend abruptly resumed. Even though their conclusion was off, they still contributed to understandings of atmospheric science, and the interaction of heat trapping gases with heat reflecting particulates is still on the forefront of climate change research today.

But do an internet search on this story, and the first thing you'll find is a bogus, Photoshopped cover of Time Magazine, titled: "How to Survive the Coming Ice Age." This cover never appeared in print, but that doesn't stop people from using it to undermine science.

Another popular "divide and conquer" mantra out there is the flat Earth argument: "If scientific consensus once told us the earth was flat, why should we trust the consensus today?" This mindless talking point ignores actual history; this preposterous idea came before the age of modern science and was enforced by rulers and church leaders, not by anyone practicing the scientific method. This same nonsense is also used to attack evolution.

DeFiori calls on readers to "do your own research." That sounds like a great idea, but here is the problem with it: When we do "our own" internet research, we gravitate toward what we what to hear, toward anything that confirms our own culturally influenced world view. The scientific method is the only thing we have to steer us away from this human tendency.

Let me apply the climate change denier logic to another realm of study and you will see how absurd this situation is:

"There is a ton we don't know about the makeup of matter and sub-atomic particles. Billions have been spent to study this, and a lot of researchers have been wrong or pursued dead-ends at great cost. So why listen to any of them? There are just too many unknowns. Those Manhattan Project physicists were just playing up the threat of Hilter developing a nuclear bomb so they could keep their research grants coming in. It's all about money. Don't listen to their hype! Do your own research and you will come to the right conclusions about quarks, muons and string theory all by yourself."

Instead of trying to undermine the science we don't want to hear, let's focus on learning to discern the difference between real and junk science. Ask for sources and follow them up. Try it even when you see or hear something that confirms your world view, not just when your beliefs are challenged.

Derek Larson is a Truckee resident and a professor of biology at Sierra College.

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