A heartening pro-science article? Not really.

About half a dozen readers have called my attention to an op-ed piece in Wednesday’s New York Times by Adam Frank, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester:  “Welcome to the age of denial.”  Several readers also noted that it was a breath of fresh scientific air in the fetid doldrums of summer, decrying the loss of respect for science in America and offering solutions.

But after reading it, I was disappointed, for although Frank’s piece is pro-science, it’s merely another op-ed calling our attention to the pervasiveness of creationism and climate-change denialism, decrying the decline of science in the U.S. in an unconvincing way, and failing to propose another solution beyond “get more kids interested in science.”

To be sure, any pro-science piece is good in the Times, which has shown a recent and distressing habit of publishing pieces that osculate the rump of faith. But in the end it contributes little more than saying, “Yay for us!”

Frank begins by arguing that when he went to school in the eighties, and when his professors went to school earlier, things we different: Americans had respect for science. But, he says, American society has changed: it’s become less accepting of scientific facts and more enamored of anti-scientific views. His examples are the supposed rise of creationism and the undoubted rise of climate-change denialism and opposition to vaccination.

This is not a world the scientists I trained with would recognize. Many of them served on the Manhattan Project. Afterward, they helped create the technologies that drove America’s postwar prosperity. In that era of the mid-20th century, politicians were expected to support science financially but otherwise leave it alone.

. . .Today, however, it is politically effective, and socially acceptable, to deny scientific fact. Narrowly defined, “creationism” was a minor current in American thinking for much of the 20th century. But in the years since I was a student, a well-funded effort has skillfully rebranded that ideology as “creation science” and pushed it into classrooms across the country. Though transparently unscientific, denying evolution has become a litmus test for some conservative politicians, even at the highest levels.

Meanwhile, climate deniers, taking pages from the creationists’ PR playbook, have manufactured doubt about fundamental issues in climate science that were decided scientifically decades ago. And anti-vaccine campaigners brandish a few long-discredited studies to make unproven claims about links between autism and vaccination.

Climate change wasn’t even on the radar in the eighties, except perhaps to the most prescient. As for anti-vaccination, well, I can’t remember whether, back in the Fifties, there was opposition to polio (or other vaccines), but I’ll grant you that there wasn’t.  But creationism has held steady since Frank was in school, at least insofar as Americans accepted it and denied evolution. I’m pretty sure that creationism is no more entrenched in American classrooms now than it was when I grew up. As far as public acceptance of evolution goes, it’s slightly higher than it was in the early Eighties.

But is America really less scientifically inclined than in the past?  I don’t accept Frank’s data on creationism, whose rejection, by the way, derives almost entirely from religion—something that Frank conveniently ignores. Denial of global warming is an economic (and partially religious) issue rather than a flat-out rejection of science, which is just an excuse. And anti-vaccination sometimes reflects not an antiscientific attitude but a campaign driven by those who don’t want to accept that autism is either genetically or developmentally innate or (wrongly) caused by bad parenting. We all know that trying to teach people the facts about climate change and vaccination doesn’t work very well, because the advocates of those wrongheaded views are simply impervious to fact.  Vaccination and climate denialism are, in that respect, akin to religions.

I don’t see a decline in American science, or in public acceptance of science, except in one area: funding. In the halcyon days when Frank’s professors were young, and later, when he was a student, the government had tons of money to fund science.  Grants were much easier to get than they are now, when the funding rate of an organization like the National Science Foundation is only 7-10%.  But that diminution of funding reflects not a disrespect for science, but the tightening of everyone’s belts in tough economic times.  I am sure than when things improve economically, science funding will rise.

Nevertheless, other nations are catching up to us, and we hear dire warning that the U.S. is falling behind in science.  But should we really worry about that? The U.S. remains the gold standard for scientific research, but other countries are closing the gap.  So what? Many of those countries send their students to the U.S. and Canada for training, and we’re simply exporting our expertise. A rising tide lifts all boats, and it’s good, I think, that other countries are catching up to us. The argument that “our country is falling behind” smacks to me of chauvinism, especially when it reflects a rise in other nations rather than a decline in our own.

So I’m not sure I agree with Frank’s assessment that our culture is now “less engaged with science and technology as intellectual pursuits than at any point I can remember.” There are tons of popular science books on the shelves these days, and although Carl Sagan and Steve Gould are no longer with us, we have Richard Dawkins, Brian Greene, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Dan Dennett, Steve Pinker, Lee Smolin, E. O. Wilson, Jared Diamond, and many others, as well as tons of nature shows on television. We are literally awash in popular science, as a visit to any bookstore can confirm.

So what is Frank’s solution to this problem? It’s lame. He argues that students “must become fierce champions of science in the marketplace of ideas.” And this:

The enthusiasm and generous spirit that Mr. Sagan used to advocate for science now must inspire all of us. There are science Twitter feeds and blogs to run, citywide science festivals and high school science fairs that need input. For the civic-minded nonscientists there are school board curriculum meetings and long-term climate response plans that cry out for the participation of informed citizens. And for every parent and grandparent there is the opportunity to make a few more trips to the science museum with your children.

Yes, yes, those activities could marginally increase interest in science among the public. But why do we have to be inspired by Sagan when there are others equally compelling? Just read some of Dawkins’s evolution books, and nobody is more enthusiastic about selling astronomy and cosmology than Neil deGrasse Tyson. Still, the failure of parents to take their kids to science museums is not the major problem.  That is close to the failed solution proposed by Mooney and Kirshenbaum, who in Unscientific America suggested that those interested in science should become journalists and science p.r. people instead of working scientists. That is, we should train more cheerleaders for science.  Nobody took that argument seriously.

Now maybe this is just me, but I think that we’re if we really want to boost public respect for U. S. science, and the amount of science being done, we should do two things:

1. Weaken America’s hold on religion, which is largely responsible for climate-change denialism and completely responsible for creationism.  These movements are brushfires that will re-ignite so long as faith is there to fuel them. We’re in a war not for science, but against superstition, which enables nonscientific views.

2. Fund science more generously.  That not only increases the product (new knowledge), but feeds back into public education, for the best science educators are those practicing scientists who are enthusiastic and knowledgeable about their craft, and want to sell it to others. Those are the people with the means and the credibility.

Don’t get me wrong: I think that Frank’s article is, on the whole, a good thing. It’s just not an excellent thing, for it neither pinpoints the cause of the problem nor offers credible solutions. What we need are more secular players in the game, not more cheerleaders on the sidelines.

To the readers: Do you agree with Frank that there’s a problem? If so, what is it? And what solutions do you propose?


  1. Posted August 23, 2013 at 5:19 am | Permalink


    • jesperbothpedersen1
      Posted August 23, 2013 at 7:13 am | Permalink


  2. Alex Shuffell
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 5:20 am | Permalink

    Getting kids interested in science is easy, we have dinosaurs, space travel, super novas and black holes, and the huge epic of life on earth to talk about. Getting adults interested is the challenge and maybe more worthwhile, they have time to watch a few hours of TV a day, but their documentaries have been replaced with reality TV and they have no patience to read a book that wont become a movie.

    • Chris
      Posted August 23, 2013 at 6:33 am | Permalink

      Very true. Am glad to have grown up in the UK with people like The Attenborough on the TV, but also with popular science broadcasting of the 70s and 80s like Tomorrow’s World, Horizon & etc. As a child of that era space flight was also a massive influence. I mean, what’s cooler than that?

      If anything, studying science at school put me off the practical side of it!

      • Alex Shuffell
        Posted August 23, 2013 at 6:49 am | Permalink

        Same here, it’s bored teachers (including parents) that cause a lot of damage to children’s curiosity. I had David Attenborough as a child too, he is a hero of mine. But he couldn’t answer any questions, teachers and parents didn’t really bother, they had their own jobs to do and I should be focusing on getting a job like them too.

        • JBlilie
          Posted August 23, 2013 at 7:39 am | Permalink

          I make a point of answering my (9-year-old) son’s questions as directly and fully as I can. I always take his questions about the world, science, etc. seriously and address them. Then I ask him, “does that make sense?”

          He has a pretty amazing knowledge of the world already. We’ve been doing this since he could talk.

          I never leave things out or dumb it down, though I do try to simplify my analogies and so on so he can understand it or ideas to things he already knows.

          And sometimes I say, “this is really complex stuff and I don’t really know the answer; but here’s my understanding of it …” or even, “I don’t know, let’s look it up …”

          • Swulf
            Posted August 23, 2013 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

            Good work! =D

    • Posted August 23, 2013 at 7:59 am | Permalink

      Why shouldn’t outreach focus on getting adults excited about “dinosaurs, space travel, super novas and black holes, and the huge epic of life on earth”? I know I am!

      Maybe (weak hypothesis) one of the problems is that a lot of these things have popularised as things for kids (dinosaur toys, &c.) that they’re not seen as respectable for an adult.

      I know some of my colleagues consider me odd (I could just stop there!) for being surrounded by Papo, Schleich, Collecta … dinosaur models in my office.


      • Alex Shuffell
        Posted August 23, 2013 at 9:13 am | Permalink

        The same thing happens to me when I’m working (but not at college). I was once lost staring at a blank sheet of paper, the receptionist asked me what’s wrong. I said “I can’t figure out why I can’t see through the paper but I can see through the window.” I was told to stop thinking so much. Trying to talk about dinosaurs and space I just get sympathetic looks like I’m a child, which I am when i’m thinking of science, but most people have no interest.

  3. ethologist
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 5:24 am | Permalink

    I agree that Frank’s piece is uninspiring, but what is REALLY discouraging is the large number of really bone-headed anti-science rants among the comments. I found this astonishing, but perhaps I underestimate the readership of the “newspaper of record.” Or perhaps conservative, anti-science trolls are making it their business to pounce on any article advocating for science.

  4. Posted August 23, 2013 at 5:31 am | Permalink

    Climate change denial is for a great deal the effort of certain established economic interests. Unfortunately these interest groups has the financial means to influence US politics and to manipulate the US public.

    • Cliff Melick
      Posted August 23, 2013 at 6:00 am | Permalink

      I have to agree. Climate change denialism is primarily fueled by economic, rather than religious, interests.

      • Notagod
        Posted August 23, 2013 at 8:34 am | Permalink

        The greed of capitalism provides the motivation but, the lack of conscientious objection that is prevalent in the mid and older generations in the United States is supported and partially driven by their over indulgence in christianity and other superstitions.

        One of my neighbors is an older couple that are environmentally conscious they even have a solar oven that they use regularly. However, when confronted with events that could be a result of the public’s dis-concern their response is that the end times are upon us, jeebus is a com’in. They are trying within their own life but they won’t act to change the governmental policies that are supporting the problems. They don’t want to be personally responsible for the destruction but they also want their jeebus to come, and to them the destruction is part of their doGs plan.

  5. gbjames
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 5:37 am | Permalink


  6. John K.
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 5:39 am | Permalink

    Fund education with more taxes! I want 20 people clamoring for every public teaching position because it pays so well, not just the few who are willing to incur a massive debt in order to get started. We have a perfect road map in Finland, we just have to admit that what we are doing is not working and follow the proven example.

    If people understand how science works instead of just having to take the experts word on it, I can’t help but think the ship could right itself. The way things have been progressing in the last few decades is downright embarrassing for the US.

    • Posted August 23, 2013 at 8:04 am | Permalink

      “We have a perfect road map in Finland…”

      Hear, hear. I wish the UK was going in this direction rather than “investing” in “free schools” with even less government oversight (and where the BHA, NSS and others are having to fight a rear-guard action to stop creationism being taught in science classes).


    • Gary W
      Posted August 23, 2013 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      Fund education with more taxes! I want 20 people clamoring for every public teaching position because it pays so well, not just the few who are willing to incur a massive debt in order to get started.

      U.S. spending per student on K12 education is already among the highest in the world. Making teacher salaries competitive with salaries in the private sector would require even higher spending on education. And increased government spending on science would tend to make teaching even less attractive than it already is.

      • pulseteresa
        Posted August 23, 2013 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

        U.S. spending per student on K12 education is already among the highest in the world.

        If this is true then most of the money must go towards administration because it certainly doesn’t does go to the teachers. The amount of money that teachers in the US get paid is shameful.

        • Posted August 24, 2013 at 12:57 am | Permalink

          Yes, the US is ranked fifth, with $12,550 per year per secondary student in 2010. The average teacher salary is £45,226 in 2010 (compared against a national average in 2011 of $54,450). Average class size is 13.0.

          Finland ranks much lower, spending only $8,947. Even with its heavy investment in teaching quality &c., its average teacher’s salary is just $37,455 (but the national average is lower: $36,676). Average class size is 14.1.

          Comparing the US with a near neighbour: Canada’s average teacher’s salary is $54,978, nearly $10k higher than the US, and even higher than its national average ($42,253), while its spending per year per student is only $8,997, more than $3k less than the US (although class sizes are higher: 20.7.).


          • Latverian Diplomat
            Posted August 24, 2013 at 5:42 am | Permalink

            That average class size for the US seems very low.

            Here’s another measurement:


            I don’t know what the explanation for the 13 artifact is (special ed classes, too much weight given to rural districts, counting staff as teachers?) but typical US class sizes are higher than that and rising, thanks to cherry picked research like this:


          • Gary W
            Posted August 24, 2013 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

            Given the high level of spending per student in the U.S. compared to other countries, and the relatively high salaries for teachers in the U.S., it seems unlikely that lack of money is a major cause of poor K12 educational performance in the U.S. Although it would be interesting to look at distributional measures.

            If the U.S. is doing poorly compared to other countries, I suspect that has more to do with cultural and organizational differences than with spending differences.

  7. Posted August 23, 2013 at 6:12 am | Permalink

    Firstly, my ‘Murcan’ chums, be sceptical about polls. In the USA, ‘polling’ is a political and commercial activity, and the supposed’ information’ gained is used rather as a drunk uses a lamppost, for support rather than illumination! I would rather trust American Pastor’s websites that chart a rapid fall in church-going, rather that Pew. And, further, ‘Murcans’ when questioned, tend to emphasise their traditionalism, and their rugged individuality, rather than their real indifference to religion. Claiming to be religious is like claiming that you intend to be good in the future. Among the young, ‘happy-clappy’ religion is the inevitable next stage after abandoning heavy drug use.
    Secondly, and this is controversial, — it seems to me that scientists have trusted the Social Sciences too much. You have assumed that the Social Sciences work upon scientific principles, which they do not! They are cults, pure and simple. They are, like religion, ‘solution-ideologies’, bringing bogus explanations for human behaviour, just as astrology once did. People who have a very warped understanding of human belief and behaviour, become Social Scientists! You should have already suspected that after reading the work of Tanya Lurhmann. And the Social Sciences are held in place by a collection of ‘social mechanisms’, which I have charted over the years. Enjoy science; it f*cking works! The rest is fluff.
    Thirdly, try to stand outside of religion, and to dismiss it as ‘that enjoyable superstition’, and ‘that warm and sociable church experience based upon ancient beliefs’. All too often, atheists betray their (our) cause by using religious language to explain our lack of religious belief. Religion is wrong because it is based upon a collection of ludicrous and improbable characters and incidents, based upon magic, a deluded preacher, (God, why hast thou abandoned me?’), a talking snake, reincarnation, and trickster healers. For all of human history, that great majority have lived lives based upon a collection of truly horrendous versions of reality. Move along; nothing to see there.

    • Notagod
      Posted August 23, 2013 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      Well yes, like “lack of religious belief” as if religious belief is wanted or needed.

  8. Hempenstein
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    Tangential to opposition to the polio vaccine in the fifties, do the oxymoronic Christian Scientists still eschew insulin if they’re (especially Type I) diabetic? My mother, as a teenager in SW Minnesota in the mid-1920s, had a friend across the street, Molly, who was (presumably Type I) diabetic. Molly started getting insulin injections, and started to improve. Unfortunately for Molly, her parents were CS’s, who decided that this was something anti-Godly. As a result, Molly died. I never heard that her parents were hauled before a judge, either.

    I guess with kids they can’t get away with that now, but do adult CS’s with Type II diabetes refuse insulin when they get to that stage?

    Do/did CS’s eschew vaccinations?

    • JBlilie
      Posted August 23, 2013 at 8:00 am | Permalink

      They do normally get hauled into court these days for stuff like this. Nowadays, with most of these people home-schooling, it’s harder to catch them before it’s too late.

      Recent examples are a death in Oregon and in Minnesota a refusal of cancer treatment. (Daniel Hauser is now doing fine, after his chemo.)

  9. Posted August 23, 2013 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    The phrase “tea party patriots” needs to be dismantled from the North American lexicon.

  10. Diana MacPherson
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    The organized rise of religion is a symptom of a much greater problem (at least to me) which is lack of education. If people are educated in critical thinking and facts (yes facts, there is still a place for learning those just not in isolation) they tend to believe pseudo science and fall for ideas advocated by charismatic figures, because they can’t separate the bs rhetoric from the truth.

    The religious symptom is of course the most pernicious because it takes hold of people in a deep way, overtly stifles any critical thinking skills they may have then evilly passes that on to the next generation.

    Solving this at the root cause level involves making education accessible and of highest quality possible, especially at the elementary and high school levels (which means lifting people out of poverty and making sure that pseudo science and other crap is not taught).

    Lastly, it could be that my personal experiences over the last week or so are tainting my answer but as a society we really don’t harness the brain power of all our citizens. Besides leaving behind those who can’t afford education, we are pretty effective at discouraging and pushing out women that enter into STEM jobs. I know how to solve this – don’t promote testosterone fuelled behaviour and go so far as to discourage it. I’m pretty much on my way out after being in high tech for over 15 years because of the glass ceiling and many women realize it just isn’t worth it anymore.

    • Posted August 23, 2013 at 7:12 am | Permalink


      The circle of inertia/vested agendas/addiction-to-power is vicious. Until that circle is broken, critical thinking will be mostly missing in action.

    • Lianne Byram
      Posted August 23, 2013 at 7:13 am | Permalink

      Very sorry to hear that damned glass ceiling hasn’t been dismantled here yet. I hope you find something you enjoy that is suitable to your obvious intelligence and competence.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 23, 2013 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for your encouragement. I hope I figure something out.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 23, 2013 at 7:48 am | Permalink

      Oops “If people are educated in critical thinking and facts” should be “If people are not educated in critical thinking and facts”

    • Posted August 23, 2013 at 8:03 am | Permalink

      Yes. Science education must begin as soon as children start school. Very little science is taught in elementary schools in the U.S., nor has that changed in my lifetime (or that of my parents, or theirs). Geography and map reading are similarly neglected. Drop the 1980s “technology in the classroom” mantra; a computer in the classroom doesn’t automatically make kids smarter, especially if it’s spewing nonstop Nike ads. Use what works, whether it’s Google Earth or a blackboard.

      Museums, science TV, books, summer camp…yes, those are good ways to encourage a child’s interests. My middle class childhood (with atheist parents) had all of them, plus the best teacher of all: several patches of woodland that I could walk to and explore at will. But what about the kids whose parents are poor/uneducated/religious/indifferent? That’s a lot of children (maybe most of them). The only place they’re going to learn science (or find any academic support or encouragement) is in school.

      With early-and-often exposure to rational thought, young people will be less susceptible to religion and pseudoscience even if they’re taught at home. And when those kids grow up and vote, maybe we can reverse the 30-year downward spiral of state and federal education funding.

      Keep the schools secular and remove “faith” from its pedestal as a virtue and coping strategy.

      Require a one-semester course in probability and (non-calculus based) statistics for all high school students. This will give them a better understanding of how scientific data is processed and interpreted, and teach them how the media and woo-mongers use graphs, charts, polls, and statistics to manipulate the ignorant.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 23, 2013 at 9:34 am | Permalink

        Yes to the stats thing….I learned abstract geometry! Really? Stats is way more relevant to daily life!

    • JBlilie
      Posted August 23, 2013 at 8:04 am | Permalink

      There are very, very many facts that must be learned about the world. It’s not just critical thinking (though that is crucial too.)

      Learning facts in isolation makes them harder to remember, so associating them to known patterns, etc. is best, of course.

      The critical thinking part is key to not being taken in by the hucksters. There is an entire industry in the US, self-help books and programs, that thrives on the credulity of the general public. P.T. Barnum would have invested …

    • Posted August 23, 2013 at 8:10 am | Permalink

      Become an analyst? (Disclaimer: Other analyst firms have job opportunities (0.9).) 😉


  11. Sam
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    Do you agree with Frank that there’s a problem?If so, what is it? Yes, I do agree, there is still so much magical thinking and poor reasoning in the world, it’s detrimental to our advancement as a species.

    And what solutions do you propose?

    I propose education, but also discouraging religion in the public domain. Going from the situation in my country, I’d suggest to remove funding for special-interest schools (i.e. ones with a religious basis, not ones for people with special needs). Removal of any laws that give special treatment to religions and their followers, and finally, a staunch position on the separation of church and state.
    “Religions are like penises, it’s fine to have one, but don’t wave it around in public, and don’t try to cram it down the throats of children.”

    • Larry Gay
      Posted August 23, 2013 at 11:43 am | Permalink

      Sam, that’s absolutely brilliant, (“Religion is like penises . . .”) Is that your own formulation? How do we get it to go viral?

  12. Posted August 23, 2013 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    I disagree that the reduction in science funding does not reflect a diminution in respect for science. It most assuredly does. First of all, the assumption that government needs belt-tightening needs to be examined, carefully considered, rejected, and then mercilessly mocked. It’s false. I don’t know what is the ideal level for science funding which would maximize the public benefit relative to cost, but I know that it’s much higher than what we’re currently spending, and I know that Congress could implement that level of funding tomorrow if it wanted to. (Figure of speech – I realize Congress is both on vacation and, on top of that, completely dysfunctional.)

    Even if we accept the Washington consensus on the need for belt-tightening (not because it’s correct, but because it’s the consensus), that still doesn’t let government off the hook for neglecting science. All budgets reflect priorities. If science funding is getting cut while oil subsidies are not, that tells you something important about what Congress thinks about science.

  13. Pete Grimes
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    OK so here’s the thing, how come you guys are allowed to be skeptics, but if I’m worried about the quality of the information delivered to the public on AGM, suddenly I’m an evil “denier” instead of a nice cuddly “skeptic”?

    And frankly, the linking of “climate deniers” arguments to “creationist” arguments is just the same tactics as I’d expect from religious zealots linking atheists with Auschwitz.

    As a lay person [i.e. not a science professional] I’ve kinda developed a few rules of thumb to assess scientific information.

    1) I’m a fairly bright guy [I think] if someone says to me “this is what is happening, but how I know is too complicated to explain even in general terms” they probably don’t really understand it themselves.

    So take the increased CO2 = Higher Temperature argument. When I did physics [a long long time ago] I was taught that if A increases with B then that could mean
    i] Increases in A drive an increase in B
    ii] Increases in B drive an increase in A
    iii] Increases in a third factor C drives an increase in both A and B

    So I read some “definitive”climate theory books and the answer, of course, “it’s too complicated for me to understand”

    2) After a lifetime in business anytime I see a “hockey stick” forecast, after having seen thousands of them, usually associated with sales forecasts, it goes straight in the bin

    3) I think scientific results should be universally applicable. This means that if you show me the famous “rising sawtooth” graph of global temperature, and someone points to the last sawtooth on the graph and says “see that, that is man’s affect that is” then you are going to have to forgive me if, when I point to the other sawtooth peaks and say “so what caused that one, before man was contributing to atmospheric pollution?” I expect a better answer than “that’s not important right now”

    4) If scientists get caught frigging their data [University of East Anglia, anyone] then they should really expect to have everything else they say taken with a pinch of salt. It’s a bit like the Pope saying “OK, we were wrong about all this Limbo stuff, but we are ready to get back to being infallible first thing tomorrow”

    You see, I’m not really a denier, I am as happy to countenance AGW as I am natural GW, as I was to accept the theories of Global Cooling and the oncoming Ice-age in the Seventies

    However I think “climate science” is now so politicised, and scientist are so fixed on securing funding on the basis of the oncoming global apocalypse, I’d really like to get back to an informed public debate on the topic, and not to be told “I better believe what is being said, purely on face value, or we’re all going to die”. by people who clearly have an axe to grind

    Until then, I shall remain skeptical.

    If you guys want to just point and yell “climate denier!!!!” like something out of the final scene of invasion of the bodysnatchers, well, thats kind of up to you.

    All I can tell you is that I get the same frissance from that as I do from being told by a Christian that I am inevitably going to Hell by not accepting the fact that Jesus is my personal saviour, and I need to get with the program.

    That little tingle you get on the back of your neck when you feel a skeptical position is well justified when your opponents are reduced to name-calling

    • JBlilie
      Posted August 23, 2013 at 8:17 am | Permalink

      A couple of points:

      1. The scientific community really is in full consensus on AGW.

      2. I don’t understnd quantum physics. Any attempt to change that is doomed to failure. However, that is not a reason to reject the scientific consensus on quantum mechanics (which, again, like all science, is a closer approximation to reality than previous theories).

      3. Hockey stick: Well … if your sales force received a new product from R&D and manufacturing that revolutionized the market, you might expect a hockey stick graph. See: Discovery, exploitation, and acceleration of use of fossil fuels. And forest clearing.

      4. No one is saying they can explain every perturbation in the data (the key evidence may be lost forever, perhaps). They are saying that the current perturbation lines up amazingly well with the curve of fossil fuel burning and its CO2 generation (and the other facts line up as well). See point number 1.

      • JBlilie
        Posted August 23, 2013 at 8:18 am | Permalink

        “A couple of points” … along with the fourth book in the trilogy …

      • Pete Grimes
        Posted August 23, 2013 at 9:14 am | Permalink

        1. You don’t really want a list of the trendy stuff on which the scientific community have had a “full consensus” on but got totally wrong do you?

        2. I don’t understand quantum mechanics either. However, when I’m talking to someone who does, I’m generally bright enough to get the “on a basic level, it kinda works like this” answer to basic questions. If someone says “you can’t really understand, even at a basic level” then my sotto voce reply is always “well I guess that makes two of us”

        3. If a hockey stick graph comes from actually data then yes, there are a set of rare conditions where changes can be exponential. If we are talking forecasts however, especially when they support whichever case the author is trying to make, then a little skepticism is, I think, a requirement.

        Hey, I’ve just had an idea! Let’s compare the 1991 forecasts with actual performance. We have over 20 years of results to compare against the forecasts, don’t we?

        What do you mean “that’s not a fair test”?

        We must be looking at different graphs. The one I saw was a define sawtooth, not “minor perturbations” [what an excellent way to disregard inconvenient data though!]

        My question, simply put, is;

        “If you have a sequence of historical rises, at about the same delta and duration as the last one, and say the last one is definitely down to AGW, then don’t you think it also requires an explanation for the previous instances where industrial man could not have been responsible [because he wasn’t actually around at the time]

        After all, you no doubt consider the argument against intelligent design where one states “If God designed animals to be of benefit to man, how do you explain the mosquito” to be a good one.

        Seems a little churlish to deny me a variant 🙂

        • Posted August 23, 2013 at 9:24 am | Permalink

          1. Yes please, do give a list of how many times a scientific “full consensus” was wrong. It won’t be that long. (Though note that “not fully right” is not the same as “wrong”.)

          2. I don’t think that “you can’t really understand, even at a basic level” is a fair paraphrase of what climate scientists are saying. Can you give actual quotes?

          3. Yes the “hockey stick” does come from actual data.

          4. Yes please, do go ahead and compare 1991 forecasts with actual data. Then you might have some substance in your criticisms.

          5. Regarding your “question, simply put”, you’ll have to point us at an actual graph, not just say “the one I saw”, since I suspect you are not reporting the graph or interpretations of it accurately.

          • Gary W
            Posted August 23, 2013 at 10:07 am | Permalink

            4. Yes please, do go ahead and compare 1991 forecasts with actual data. Then you might have some substance in your criticisms.

            The forecasts from NASA climate scientist James Hansen provide a good illustration of why predictions of warming should be viewed with considerable skepticism.

            In 1988, Hansen presented three scenarios for global warming, A, B and C, starting in 1984. Scenario A was his high-warming projection, B was in the middle, and C was the low-warming projection. Hansen claimed that Scenario B was the most plausible projection. Actual warming for the 28-year period from 1984 through 2012 has been at or below Hansen’s low-warming Scenario C. Hansen’s “most plausible” scenario drastically exaggerated the actual warming trend.

            • Posted August 23, 2013 at 10:30 am | Permalink

              It’s not true that Scenario B “drastically exaggerated the actual warming trend”. It would be fairer to say that it was somewhat wrong, but within sensible uncertainties given knowledge then. One can also say that the general idea of his prediction has been borne out, what he got somewhat wrong was the climate sensitivity (degree of warming for a given change in CO2). See http://www.skepticalscience.com/Hansen-1988-prediction-basic.htm

            • Gary W
              Posted August 23, 2013 at 10:35 am | Permalink

              It’s not true that Scenario B “drastically exaggerated the actual warming trend”.

              Yes, it is true.

              Hansen Scenario B temperature anomaly: 0.29 ºC/decade
              Observed temperature anomaly: 0.18 ºC/decade

              Hansen’s projection exaggerates the 28-year trend by more than 60%. The observed temperature increase diverged from Hansen’s “most plausible” projection almost immediately, and the gap has been growing ever since.

              • Posted August 23, 2013 at 11:26 am | Permalink

                “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.” — attributed to Nils Bohr.

                Once can say that if he correctly predicted that there would be a warming trend, but got the size of the effect wrong by 60%, then he was doing pretty well. Indeed this shows that the AGW hypothesis has predictive power: a warming trend was predicted and then seen. The discrepancy is not enough to cast doubt on AGW, only on the magnitude of it.

              • Posted August 23, 2013 at 11:48 am | Permalink

                Markus M. Ronner.


              • Gary W
                Posted August 23, 2013 at 11:56 am | Permalink

                Once can say that if he correctly predicted that there would be a warming trend, but got the size of the effect wrong by 60%, then he was doing pretty well.

                No, one can say that a prediction that exaggerates warming by 60% is a bad prediction. As I said, it illustrates why predictions of warming should be viewed with considerable skepticism.

              • Posted August 23, 2013 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

                We may have to agree to differ on what was a reasonable degree of uncertainty 25 years ago.

                If you give a prediction in terms of lower, mid and upper range predictions (and presumably giving three scenarios is an acknowledgement of your uncertainty), then the fact that Prediction C is pretty much spot on 25 years later is surely not that bad.

              • Gary W
                Posted August 23, 2013 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

                The failure of Hansen’s “most plausible” projection of warming over the past three decades illustrates why it would be foolish to attach much confidence to projections of warming for coming decades. Such projections depend crucially on variables with very high levels of uncertainty: future rate of population growth, future rate of economic growth, future rate of technological advancement, and so on. Even if we knew exactly how much additional CO2 the world will emit between, say, now and 2050, we would still have no clear idea how much or how fast it would raise temperatures, or what its effects would be on the environment. Given these enormous uncertainties, expensive policies to drastically reduce emissions in the near future are not justified.

      • Gary W
        Posted August 23, 2013 at 9:55 am | Permalink

        1. The scientific community really is in full consensus on AGW.

        There is a scientific consensus that AGW is real. There is no scientific consensus that AGW is the only significant cause of climate change. There is no consensus on climate sensitivity (how much the temperature will rise for a given increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration). There is no consensus on how much the planet will warm, or how fast. There is no consensus on important questions relating to the physical effects of climate change, such as its effect on sea level and agricultural productivity.

        • Lars
          Posted August 23, 2013 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

          Very sweeping statements and evidently made with a great deal of confidence. I’ve only seen evidence for the first. References for the rest would give you a lot more credibility.

          • Gary W
            Posted August 24, 2013 at 12:32 am | Permalink

            Very sweeping statements and evidently made with a great deal of confidence. I’ve only seen evidence for the first. References for the rest would give you a lot more credibility.

            I suggest you read the IPCC AR4 report. Estimates of likely temperature increase during the 21st century, for example, range from 1.1 degrees celsius to 6.4 degrees. It depends on the rate of population growth, economic growth, shift to low-carbon sources of energy, climate sensitivity, and other highly uncertain variables. If you have any interest at all in climate science, I’m surprised you’re not aware of this.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 23, 2013 at 10:02 am | Permalink

        Good points, esp about consensus.
        I remember looking at data that was absolutely irrefutable. I think it was published in New Scientist and this tool s this tool seems to present the same data.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 23, 2013 at 8:34 am | Permalink

      Skeptic organizations have generally, globally and independently decided that skepticism needs to be based on the science at hand. Else it fails as people will abandon erroneous ‘skepticism’.

      Hence you can be skeptic about climate science, but you can’t be “a skeptic”. You can only be a fool. (Since you go against the experts and their well tested knowledge.)

    • rr
      Posted August 23, 2013 at 8:36 am | Permalink

      Pete Grimes, it really is simple: carbon atoms in the atmosphere get hit by infrared photons. More carbon atoms means more hits, which means more energy trapped in the atmosphere instead of going out into space.

      • Posted August 23, 2013 at 8:53 am | Permalink

        Except that it’s the molecular bond that absorbs the infrared light, so it’s molecules not atoms.

      • Pete Grimes
        Posted August 23, 2013 at 9:19 am | Permalink

        More sunlight = more plant life = more biomass = more metabolic activity = more C02 as a by-product

        That’s pretty simple too!

        And it has the advantage of explaining why, in times of a “warm planet” there is still the correlation between temperature and C02 density, when there was no industrial activity to fuel the CO2 increase you claim triggered it

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted August 24, 2013 at 12:21 am | Permalink

      1) If you’re a fairly bright guy, you’re capable of reading (for example) the Wikipedia article on the Greenhouse Effect, and clicking and reading on the links if you don’t understand a term or a claim. Don’t pretend it’s too complicated for you to understand. (But of course it might be, in which case you may not be as bright as you think.)

      2) The ‘hockey stick’ graph is mainly concerned with interpreting historical (and prehistoric) temperature data to produce a global annual average, a separate issue from projection into the future. Throwing it in the bin without appreciating that fact is… not helpful. The sharp rise in temperature in recent times is a measurement, not a forecast.

      3) Which ‘rising sawtooth’ are you talking about? The best example of this kind of graph, in a climate context, shows the highly precise daily measurements of CO2 concentration from Mauna Loa, which was striking enough to be in my school science textbooks in the mid-1970s and has steepened significantly since then. Look up ‘Keeling curve’. There are daily and annual cycles, but no decreases from one year to the next since the measurements started in 1958.
      Or there’s this sawtooth curve (not rising consistently, but with sharp rises and slow falls at various time scales) of CO2 levels over a few hundred thousand years (measured from ice cores), showing that current levels are well outside the range of variation associated with the Pleistocene ice ages. Is it unreasonable to expect that temperature may go outside that range too?
      If anyone told you “that’s not important right now”, possibly they considered it was not their job to educate you about orbital mechanics. Or you may have misunderstood what they meant by ‘now’. Milanković cycles explain the timing and magnitude of Pleistocene climate variation to high precision on a scale of thousands of years, but they’re actually not important RIGHT NOW (decades to centuries timescale).

      4) University of East Anglia… I suppose you think that you understand exactly what “hide the decline” means, in context? If you think it was a big deal, and proof of scientific misconduct, then I know you have been lied to and believed the liars. You are not a skeptic, you’re a dupe. If that’s name-calling, too bad.

  14. MAUCH
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    I don’t think a full frontal attack directed squarely at religion is really the answer? When the religion of the devout are challenged all they simply do is shut their brains off and go into their ridiculous denialism. A better tack would be to give students a rigorous education into the fact that the natural world can only be understood through sceptical inquiry and the evaluation of true scientific evidence. With this proper understanding most will eventually be able to see the folly in adhering to a tenet that demands belief without evidence.

    • gbjames
      Posted August 23, 2013 at 7:25 am | Permalink

      False choice. Those are not mutually exclusive. Direct attacks donor preclude rigorous education. These approaches supplement each other.

  15. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    Since the 1970s, we have seen an attack on science by the literary left via post-modernism, and then an appropriation of some of their paradigms by some of the rheteoric of the religious right. That has resulted in more sweeping and broad attacks on Western science!!

    From the 1970s, I recall attacks by the fundamentalists !*specifically*! on evolutionary biology, but more recently I have heard attacks from Americans on !*science in general*! which strikes me as a new thing. One example is the rant by former Saturday Night Live actor Norm MacDonald posted here at WEIT some weeks ago.

    A similar sentiment that there is a rise in anti-science in the American government was posted in Bad Astronomy last May here http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2013/05/01/attacks_on_science_government_antiscience_on_the_rise.html
    Heck, he points out there have been attacks on science in the Wall Street Journal. I don’t recall that happening in the 60s or 70s!!

    Others have also noted that now we have attacks on science motivated by the !*business community*! as well as by creationists and by post-modernist academics!!! The recent book “Merchants of Doubt” is as the Guardian puts it
    “an investigation into the links between corporate business interests and campaigns in the US aimed at blocking the introduction of environmental and medical measures such as bans on smoking and the use of DDT, laws to limit acid rain, legislation to end the depletion of ozone in the atmosphere and attempts to curb carbon dioxide emissions.” (quoted from http://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/feb/19/science-scepticism-usdomesticpolicy

    So today there are attacks on science from within academia (Ophelia Benson is a good combatant against this), the business community, AND creationist activists like Ken Ham. I’m not concerned so much about the percentages of Americans as the influence these folks wield on public policy!!! Frank in the New York Times didn’t say this, but it’s the multiple fronts of the attack that is alarming!

    Perhaps part of the solution would be to emphasize the aesthetically appealing aspects of science, including the encouragement of quality science-fiction writing such as Asimov, etc. This has the advantage of encouraging non-scientists to become allies of science. Here’s an interesting article on biology-inspired art that serves as an example

    • JBlilie
      Posted August 23, 2013 at 8:21 am | Permalink

      Asimov — good choice!

    • L Delaney
      Posted August 23, 2013 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      Please keep in mind that the WSJ is now a Murdoch publication.

  16. krzysztof1
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    JC:”About half a dozen readers have called my attention to an op-ed piece in Wednesday’s New York Times by Adam Frank”

    What is your preferred way to receive suggestions from readers?

    • Posted August 23, 2013 at 8:16 am | Permalink

      Carrier sqrlz.


      • krzysztof1
        Posted August 23, 2013 at 8:30 am | Permalink

        Sorry, I’m not up on the latest. What does this mean?

      • krzysztof1
        Posted August 23, 2013 at 8:34 am | Permalink

        Has it got something to do with twitter?

        • Posted August 23, 2013 at 8:45 am | Permalink

          Did you click on the link?


          • krzysztof1
            Posted August 23, 2013 at 8:55 am | Permalink

            Ah, OK. Thanks!

            • Posted August 23, 2013 at 9:26 am | Permalink


              I was just being facetious re the sqrlz that frequent Jerry’s windowsills. See several earlier posts.


              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted August 23, 2013 at 9:49 am | Permalink

                I speak formic. I thought I was going to have to translate! 🙂

  17. sam
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    On Fri, 23 Aug 2013 12:06:11 +0000 Why Evoluti

  18. Timothy Hughbanks
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    Anti-scientific attitudes are not new in American society. What has changed since the high-water mark for science (the ’60s and ’70s, I think) is that a major political party has decided to go all-in with the anti=intellectuals. I think the main reason for that is that their economic “ideas” are so diametrically opposed to the interests of 90% of the public that the only way they can garner a populist crowd to campaign and vote for them is to pander to their prejudices and resentments – and scientists these days are producing data that hits a goodly number of them in the pocketbooks. So if tearing down the reputation of science is what it takes to keep business going as usual, then stoking (funding) prejudice and anti-intellectualism is just what they’ll do.

    Pete Grimes: The science supporting AGW is very solid and in no way comparable to the scientific cases for the “theories of Global Cooling and the oncoming Ice-age in the Seventies” – ideas which NEVER had wide support and NEVER dominated the (much less mature) field of climate science even in the ’70s. The fact that you repeat this disinformation, i.e., that such ideas were ever particularly influential, is just so much evidence that you are indeed a “denier” – it’s a myth that has been debunked many times merely surveying the literature of the period.

    • JBlilie
      Posted August 23, 2013 at 8:23 am | Permalink

      Well said on the GOP. I think that is the main thing. Lsiten to some of the GOP dopes who have gotten into the US Senate and House and have run for POTUS. Sheesh, it’s really embarrassing.

      • Gary W
        Posted August 23, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

        Well said on the GOP.

        Anti-intellectualism is a feature of both political parties. There is plenty of woo among Democrats.

        • Filippo
          Posted August 23, 2013 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

          Just curious – how old do you say the Earth and universe are, and what is the basis for your answer?

          • Gary W
            Posted August 23, 2013 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

            The Earth is estimated to be about 4.5 billion years old and the universe about 14 billion years old. These estimates come from science.

            Just curious – do you believe that vaccination causes autism?

            • Filippo
              Posted August 24, 2013 at 5:12 am | Permalink


              • Gary W
                Posted August 24, 2013 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

                Terrific. So I don’t believe in creationist woo, and you don’t believe in anti-vaxxer woo. Glad we got that straight.

                To repeat my original point, which you ignored: Anti-intellectualism is a feature of both political parties. There is plenty of woo among Democrats.

    • Pete Grimes
      Posted August 23, 2013 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      Actually, I was around in the 70’s and Global Cooling did have a certain traction then, despite what you might choose to believe now. I did indeed “survey the literature of the period”, and I actually read it as it was produced. Of course it’s all a little inconvenient now, and it was all published in poorly regarded science rags like Scientific American and Nature, both of which I actually subscribed to in the 70’s [and beyond]

      If, as you say, the “science supporting AGW is very solid” [though I’m not 100% sure I know what that means], then why, despite actively searching, do the answers to the two fairly simple [I would have thought]questions that I asked continue to evade me?

      Perhaps I’ve not been looking in the right places? If that is so, then perhaps, since you think it is “very solid” you could point me in the right direction?

      I also think you are on very shaky ground when you point to the reason for the obvious fallacy of AGM skepticism is because big business is for it, and therefore it must be wrong. That is just the same wish thinking the religious adopt.

      Back “in the day” as it were, scientists would have descended,as a pack, to tear to pieces any of their colleagues caught frigging data to sure up their conclusions. The reaction to the UEA? “It doesn’t really matter”, “It wasn’t key data”, etc.. And if you didn’t smell a rat there, how about the epic “we will not release the base data because people will only misinterpret it and use it to contradict our findings”

      When the hell did that become part of the scientific process?

      I think the two “sides” now have such vested interests that the “truth” is now hostage to the desired outcome on both sides of the argument.

      I expect that from big business but science, and those scientific principles that I have come to admire and respect over the last 50 years of adult life……. well I guess I was just hoping they would hold to a higher standard

      • Posted August 23, 2013 at 8:56 am | Permalink

        The UEA did not “frig” data or do anything wrong. (Though there are always some decisions involved in how you present data in a plot.)

      • Posted August 23, 2013 at 8:59 am | Permalink

        … then why, despite actively searching, do the answers to the two fairly simple [I would have thought]questions that I asked continue to evade me?

        Can you clarify what your two questions are, and I’m sure someone will answer them.

        • Pete Grimes
          Posted August 23, 2013 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

          1) If general it there exists a correlation between 2 factors, in this case Atmospheric CO2 and Average Global Temperature then there are [at least] 3 ways that correlation can work.

          Increases in CO2 levels cause temperatures to rise
          Increases in temperature cause CO2 Levels to rise
          Increases in an as yet unidentified third factor cause both CO2 and Temperature to rise.

          In all of the literature I have read, the first model is always assumed. Where the two other models are considered, it always seems to me that the reason for their dismissal is “too complicated for me to understand”.

          I don’t think that is good enough. It sounds a little too much like the Pope saying “trust me, I know what God wants because he speaks to me, you know”

          I’m a relatively bright guy, I’d like a crack at understanding it

          2) My understanding [and I will try to look out one of the “Understanding Climate Change” references that gave me that understanding is that, over a long period, the temperature history of the earth has been periods of sustained warming to a peak, followed by a period of cooling to a temperature just above the start of the last cycle, at which point the warming starts again and off we go. This is what I referred to as the “rising sawtooth” graph in the posts above.

          There is, of course, some evidence to support these “cycles”. Animals in southern Europe adapted for arctic conditions in the stone age, the Romans growing vines in Northern Britain, the Thames Ice Fairs etc.

          Now it seems to me that, if you are going to point to the last of these sawtooth patterns and say “man caused that” then what you actually need is an explanation as to why the cause was a different one for that “sawtooth”, and why it isn’t exactly the same cause as all of the other “sawtooths” for which industrial man cannot be responsible.

          But mainly, I guess, my point is this [and yes I’m going to sneak an extra question in 🙂 ]

          3) In debates between “Evolutionists” and “IDers” and “Creationists” one of the many [and to my mind the best] arguments used is;

          “ID is not a scientific theory, because it is not falsifiable. Evolution has rabbit fossils in the Pre-Cambrian, Relativity has particles moving faster than the speed of light, but ID contains nothing refutable”

          The IDers, of course, say its “not that sort of theory”, and we all walk away smiling to ourselves

          In fact it is such a good argument, lets try it now.

          What evidence would cause scientists who support AGW to abandon their theory?

          Because if the answer is “it’s not that kind of theory” then doesn’t that put the AGW mob, and not the “deniers” in the cheap seats with the creationists?

          • Posted August 24, 2013 at 1:43 am | Permalink

            1) Yes, there are mechanisms both ways: increased CO2 leading to increased temperature, and increased temperature leading to increased CO2. Both of these are important for understanding Earth’s temperature; the second mechanism has indeed played a role over Earth’s history.

            2) Again, you need to be more specific about which graphs you’re asking about. Your first paragraph of (2) gives the impression of talking about temperature changes of hundreds of millions of years; your next paragraph then talks about timescales of only hundreds or thousands of years.

            To answer your question about the causes of different “sawtooth” features I really do need to know what you’re referring to! Different features in different graphs over different timescales have different causes.

            3) Evidence that would get me to abandon AGW ideas include: (1) if I walked into a greenhouse in the garden and it was never any hotter than the outside temperature; (2) If Venus and Earth were found to be no hotter in temperature than expected for a a blackbody at their distance from the Sun.

            Of course those are not the only things, and AGW is really a whole package of interlocking ideas, rather than one simple idea, so the pattern of evidence is what is important.

          • John Scanlon, FCD
            Posted August 24, 2013 at 2:45 am | Permalink

            PG: “…over a long period, the temperature history of the earth has been periods of sustained warming to a peak, followed by a period of cooling to a temperature just above the start of the last cycle, at which point the warming starts again and off we go. This is what I referred to as the “rising sawtooth” graph in the posts above.”

            Please specify what you mean by “a long period”, to order of magnitude. Global average temperature and CO2 levels have varied considerably over the Phanerozoic (the last 600-odd million years), but the relevant context for AGW is the current warm phase of the glacial-interglacial cycles of the Pleistocene-Holocene, of which there’ve been about 17 in the last 2 million years. The individual ‘teeth’ on the Pleistocene saw-blade have a sharp onset (temperature and CO2 rise steeply and fall more slowly) and there is no trend for successive maxima or minima to be higher or lower far as I know, so “rising sawtooth” does not accurately describe it.

      • Timothy Hughbanks
        Posted August 23, 2013 at 9:49 am | Permalink

        …two fairly simple [I would have thought]questions…

        Like Coel, I think that if the questions are simple, then they should have been simple to state – I can’t quite see what they are.

        Perhaps I’ve not been looking in the right places? If that is so, then perhaps, since you think it is “very solid” you could point me in the right direction?

        Start Here or href=”http://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php”>here

        I also think you are on very shaky ground when you point to the reason for the obvious fallacy of AGM skepticism is because big business is for it, and therefore it must be wrong.

        No, what I said was that the reason anti-scientific attitudes surrounding global warming persist is that big-business-funded propaganda is being disseminated in order to perpetuate the myth that there isn’t solid science supporting AGW theory and that there is no scientific consensus that has formed as a consequence of that scientific research. The reason the “skepticism” is wrong is that the data shows there is no reasonable basis for it.

        As for your insistence that ““theories of Global Cooling and the oncoming Ice-age in the Seventies” were influential, I stand by my statements. The fact that there were competing hypotheses, occasionally appearing in notable publications at that time doesn’t refute my point in the least. Those competing hypotheses did not generally hold sway – comprehensive surveys of the literature show that. In any case, a lot of science done since then have pushed those hypotheses out of contention in the judgement of the overwhelmingly majority of investigators in climate science and related disciplines.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 23, 2013 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      Global cooling of the 70s…wait…. I hear something!

      *kwan kwan

      …what is it?

      *kwan kwan

      Oh it’s le canard! Yes that 1970s global warning is a canard. There wasn’t scientific consensus on it as you can see in this article

      *French ducks say “coin coin” but phonetically that sounds like “kwan kwan” which I have to say is closer to how a duck really sounds.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 23, 2013 at 10:09 am | Permalink

        Global cooling – not warning….oops I wasn’t specific.

      • Posted August 23, 2013 at 10:38 am | Permalink

        OT: And French pigs say “cron, cron”, which is why the backup admin account on my iMac “Piggy”.


        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted August 23, 2013 at 11:01 am | Permalink

          LOL I actually made a meme about how cron is mispelled so it really isn’t about a time activity (that would be chron for chronos) but about eating children (because that’s what Cronus did)

    • Richard Olson
      Posted August 23, 2013 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

      Conservatives seized on “liberal” media and “liberal” public education policy as two primary reasons why they failed to gain a House majority for 4 decades after FDR, for a “perception” of failure in Vietnam — some of this bunch still thinks US military force could have conquered that country, to do then zeus-knows-what with it in the aftermath; and they include the Vietnam experience as part of the reason for failure of the Soviet empire, when that had little if anything to do with USSR collapse that is accountable to 3 primary factors: a) expansionist overreach in a post-empire world; b) sh!thouse governance practices, particularly economically; c) military adventurism in where-empires-go-to-die Afghanistan with zero-budget flexibility, too boot (see point b).

      The GOP started to whine incessantly about unfair press coverage, and instead of pointing out that facts and critical analysis of same do not support that claim, Democrats began an accomodationist policy. At the same time, conservatives began buying media outlets and courting the rising numbers of Americans identifying as Christian evangelicals. The national media began to shift toward non-confrontational “let the public decide who is right” he said-he said “reporting” about the same time 30 million evangelicals voted for Reagan mainly because of where the GOP stood on abortion.

      During the Reagan presidency Democrats caved on media Fairness Doctrine policy. The Right moved in with a nascent but well-funded and organized propaganda machine, still with us today, that is proudly anti-intellectual and does all it can to undermine critical thinking or anything remotely related to objectivity.

      I remember a Bill Moyers episode where guest Richard Viguerrie (sp mistake, I’m sure) proudly recounted his journey to take control of the message from that moment he was outraged by Uncle Walter’s closing remark one CBS News evening, when he identified US failure in Vietnam (prior to 1975), to the establishment in the mid-80’s by Viguerrie & Co of the radio network that hosts the Rush-blob and all the rest of that crew, later joined by Murdoch Enterprises.

      Since then the leadership of the national Dem party, including the current and previous Dem president’s and Gore, is little more than Republican Lite. And now that the Tea Party yahoos control the GOP, that party has little chance of avoiding going over the edge of the Sanity Cliff right along with them.

      Unfortunately, sane Dem’s coud well be carried over, too, right along with this ignorant herd, due to their pussy leadership. As somebody whom I can’t recall wrote over a decade ago, when a Tea Party was but a cherished dream in a Koch brother’s libertarian Bircher fantasy: the Republicans are headed for the cliff at 100 mph. The Democrats are only doing about 60.

      P.S. That East Anglia e-mail kerfluffle is debunked long ago, unless head is inserted where facts can’t go. It is fiction long since proven as fact-based as Fast and Furious, the IRs-targets-conservatives canard from earlier this summer, the Libyan industry “scandal” that goes nowhere, death panels, WMD’s in Iraq …

  19. Posted August 23, 2013 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    On climate change:
    Geologists were discussing, researching, and teaching about the impending “global warming” when I was a student in the mid-1980s, and this research/funding trend continues. Anyone who wanted to document and quantify this trend could search old American Geophysical Union and Geological Society of America abstracts.

    Denial was and is political rather than scientific, although there is plenty of terrible, politically-motivated “science” published on both sides.

    “Climate change” has replaced “global warming” since it’s more ambiguous. Now even those who are politically aligned on the denialist side can use the climate argument when it suits them, usually to deflect attention from other types of destructive human activity that they are trying to protect or excuse.

  20. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    Adam Frank appears as a tedious accommodationist blogger on NPR(here on Pinker and ‘scientism’).

    And as accommodationists need to do in order to impart any importance to their belief in belief he is crying wolf over and over. I want to see statistics over superstition and anti-science movements to accept there is a something more than the null hypothesis. Which, if we believe Paul, is a decreasing frequency of the first.

    I group the denialisms differently though.

    – Climate denial is, as noted, an economical issue and has inherited its strategy vertically from the tobacco industry cancer denial as the insertion of ‘plausible denial’. E.g. any uncertainty is (non-scientifically) pounded on.

    It has been as successful as tobacco denial, having industry funding and a global impact.

    – Creationism is more of a social (religious) issue, and groups well with anti-vaxxers. They too tries the tobacco strategy, but for lack of industry funding they have a much more stratified impact. Note that Templeton et al, and the global churches, instead support accommodationism.

    These movements are mostly successful in societies where religiosity is high and education is low.

    – I don’t have a good solution for climate denialism. But if the tobacco history is a pointer, it will die as the facts will over a few decades become too obvious.

    [Incidentally the leaked IPCC -14 material suggests that climate science has joined physics in having a 3 sigma theory test, due to the signal-to-noise increase.]

    – For the anti-sciences, I would suggest what the post does.

    I expect that the social anti-sciences will become less powerful over time. But with a much larger time constant than what will happen with climate denialism.

  21. ladyatheist
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Found a book from 1966 that might answer the question of why we’re messed up in the 2010s:


    • Filippo
      Posted August 23, 2013 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      And also of course Susan Jacoby’s worthy followup, “The Age of American Unreason.”

  22. Tim
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    “Climate change wasn’t even on the radar in the eighties, except perhaps to the most prescient”

    Anthropogenic climate change (back then the mantra was Global cooling) was featured in standard high school textbooks in the 70s.

  23. Jim Thomerson
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Global warming would be a the cause, climate change the effect. I don’t understand why this relationship is not obvious to all.

  24. Thanny
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Global warming was on the radar before radar was even invented. The 1890’s is when someone noticed that increasing or decreasing carbon dioxide would raise or lower global temperatures.

    Something more like modern concerns began in the 1950’s. Congressional hearings involving global warming happened in the 1970’s (which is when Al Gore became interested).

    By the 1980’s, research into global warming was well established, and on every climatologists radar.

    Public awareness was fairly low, of course, but not absent.

  25. Ken Pidcock
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    As for anti-vaccination, well, I can’t remember whether, back in the Fifties, there was opposition to polio (or other vaccines), but I’ll grant you that there wasn’t.

    Anti-vaccination advocacy goes all the way back to Jenner. Paul Offit’s Deadly Choices provides a good history.

    By the way, among popular science writers, I would rank Carl Zimmer high on your list.

  26. godsbuster
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    Sadly Mr. Frank you fail to notice your own monumental state of denial. Notice how you manage to not mention religion at all as a culprit let alone the main culprit.

    Over 90% of leading scientists polled at the NAS, the nation’s leading smarty pants club, reject the god hypothesis and thus religion. They had to be polled anonymously. When are they and you going to become vocally public? What good is your insight if you don’t have the courage to stand behind it?

    We all know what the problem is Mr. Frank, but if you expect to make any headway against it the next step is to indicate the causes. You fail to do that because you do not have the courage of your convictions. You seem unable to overcome the absurdly misplaced “respect” for religion your culture has inoculated you with.

  27. Jim Thomerson
    Posted August 24, 2013 at 12:47 pm | Permalink


    This is a copy of Arrhenius 1986 paper on atmospheric CO2 and its possible effects on climate.

  28. Jim Thomerson
    Posted August 24, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    I mean 1896. sorry.

    Arrhenius also speculated on panspermia, the idea that life originated somewhere and spread throughout the universe.

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