Daily Archives: March 27, 2013

Climate Change Denialism

There are two very important posts out there that I’d like to make you aware of related to climate change denialism. Here’s the teasers, please click through and read them. If you like them, tweet them!

First, from The Scientist, an opinion piece by Michael Mann, author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines:

Life as a Target: Attacks on my work aimed at undermining climate change science have turned me into a public figure. I have come to embrace that role.

As a climate scientist, I have seen my integrity perniciously attacked. Politicians have demanded I be fired from my job because of my work demonstrating the reality and threat of human-caused climate change. I’ve been subjected to congressional investigations by congressman in the pay of the fossil fuel industry and was the target of what The Washington Post referred to as a “witch hunt” by Virginia’s reactionary Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. I have even received a number of anonymous death threats. My plight is dramatic, but unfortunately, it is not unique; climate scientists are regularly the subject of such attacks. This cynicism is part of a destructive public-relations campaign being waged by fossil fuel companies, front groups, and individuals aligned with them in an effort to discredit the science linking the burning of fossil fuels with potentially dangerous climate change…..

CLICK HERE to read the entire post.

The next item is related to a recent screw up by a commenter at Christian Science Monitor who accidentally took science denier Anthony Watt’s interview at Oilprice.com seriously (we discussed this here). This is a new interview at Oilprice.com with my friend and colleague Professor John Abraham:

Real Pragmatism for Real Climate Change: Interview with Dr. John Abraham

At a time when extreme weather incidents are causing billions in damages, businesses, governments and the public need the right information to make the right decisions. The bad news is that nature of superstorms like Hurricane Sandy has a human fingerprint. The good news is that if man is harming the climate, man can also do something about it….

CLICK HERE to read the entire interview. Anthony Watts has responded on his blog but if I put a link to it he will discover that I’ve written about him and instruct his winged monkeys to fill my comment section with hate.

Hunters, Anglers, and Climate Change: Win a free shotgun!

This comes form Peter Sinclair’s blog:

The Conservation Hawks is a new group dedicated to harnessing the power of sportsmen to address climate change. Stop. Before you give in to anger, or to the “conservation fatigue” that can fall upon us like a giant wet carpet whenever climate change is mentioned, consider this: If you can convince Conservation Hawks chairman Todd Tanner that he’s wasting his time, that he does not have to worry about climate change, he will present to you his most prized possession: A Beretta Silver Pigeon 12 gauge over/under…

Go to Peter’s blog and get your gun!

Meanwhile, here is Climate Denial Crock of the Week’s latest video:

More posts on climate change are here.

Discarding the terms “Hypothesis”, “Theory”, and “Law”

Rhett Allain at Dot Physics has proposed that we stop using the terms “Hypothesis”, “Theory”, and “Law” because people so abysmally misunderstand them. He proposes replacing them all with the term “model”.

Take out all three of these “science” words from introductory texts. They do more harm than good. The problem is that people have firm beliefs that they mean something other than what they are supposed to mean. I don’t think we can save these words.

We do have a word to replace them. Are you ready? It’s the model – or you can call it the scientific model if you prefer.

I’m not sure if the fact that people widely misunderstand these terms is the right justification for giving up on them. Also, a “model” is a thing that is not a hypothesis (for example) so replacing key terms that are at the center of scientific activity with another term that means something else may not be the best idea.

Having said that I agree that there are problems with these terms. Also, “law” (and Rhett forgot “rule” …. a term attached to a lot of models after several initial “laws” were worked out, possibly more often in biology related fields) may well be problematic.

One problem with “model” (and there is quite a bit of writing on this term) is that it has a number of distinct meanings that are in common use in science. It can be a law-ish thing that we use to work out physics problems, it can be a complex set of supposed interactions that we use to structure a climate simulation, or it can be a mouse (as in “model organism”).

Some of the problems Rhett brings up would be partly or largely addressed if we added the other terms that in some cases he’s already mentioned in his post. A hypothesis may well be an educated guess, but a “formal hypothesis” is a thing with a null hypothesis and test conditions, and a “testable hypothesis” is formal hypothesis that is not stupid. A “scientific theory” is a real live scientific theory while a “theory” is a thing we generally don’t believe to be true (“My cousin Nate said he’d be here on time for once … in theory….”)

Underlying much of this difficulty is the way things are taught in high school. Again and again I find HS science teachers trying to get these terms across to students as though they were well fixed, simply defined, exhaustive and exclusive fully understood agreed on descriptions of how science works, applied in the same way across all scientific areas. The formal definition of “hypothesis” and the way it is often used in textbook science would require that all the historical or observational sciences are not real science, because experiments are not set up to test hypotheses. So particle physics can be real science but not astronomy.

If, instead, the terms were taught in their historical context and the nuances brought out more, perhaps at the expense of learning some fact-based material the students may not need too much anyway, they would be better understood. In fact, newer science standards and newer textbooks and other teaching materials tend to do this more and more these days.

In short, a key desire for basic education in science (the stuff we want every citizen to be exposed to) is to develop critical thinking skills. So, starting with a critical, contextualized, nuanced look at the terms would good. As rule. In theory. Well, that’s my hypothesis, anyway.