The March for Science

Earth Day has been observed every April 22 since 1970, and environmentalists will seek to make the most of the occasion on Saturday.

Public interest has been on the wane, however, as we noted a year ago. Whatever happened to Earth Day,
4/22/16. Perhaps it’s sinking in that many environmental regulations have been pushed too far already, regulators have no intention of slowing down, and the cost/benefit ratio will grow increasingly unfavorable.

Seeking to breathe new life into Earth Day, organizers are planning a new focus – the
March for Science – which will take place in Washington, DC and numerous satellite locations.

The stated rationale is that “science, scientists, and evidence-based policymaking are under attack,” so it’s time to “defend the vital role science plays in our health, safety, economies, and governments” by “advocating for evidence-based policymaking, science education, research funding, and inclusive and accessible science.”

It seems to us that the real objective is not to “stand for science,” so much as to intimidate or undermine critics who would prefer not to cripple the economy in the name of achieving an ever more pristine environment. And at the risk of sounding defensive, here’s some evidence to support our view.

A. Human nature - How does a drama, novel, or short story reel one in? Harmony and consensus may be inspiring, but conflict tends to be more interesting because the audience can identify with one side or the other and there is suspense about the outcome.

Consider the never-ending appeals for political contributions. While there are claims that a given politician or party stands for positive values, warnings about the need to “fight back” against the other side probably raise far more money.

Many people say they would like candidates and parties to talk about their own qualifications and agendas instead of “bad mouthing” opponents. Negative attacks are a time-honored tradition in politics, however, and unless carried too far they can be very effective. Why negative political ads work, Ruthann Lariscy, CNN,
1/2/12.

Negative information is more memorable than positive -- just think how clearly you remember an insult.

Finally, what motivates people to take the time and make the effort to turn out for public demonstrations? In theory, it could be to honor a positive value or activity, such as liberty or science, but most of us don’t think in such abstract terms. Setting up a political faction as “the enemy” is far more likely to generate interest.

Thus, when tea party demonstrators came to Washington, DC in 2009, bearing signs about taking their country back, etc., their aim – whether so stated or not – was to challenge the actions or ideas of a recently elected president and his political supporters. A SAFE team was there to observe. Here’s a picture that captures the spirit of what was going on.

2009-09-12-washington-tea-party-rally-053

B. A contentious hearing – On March 29, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology conducted a hearing on climate science. Supposedly intended to promote a common, science-based understanding of this subject, it simply underscored the differences between the two sides. Video (2 hours, 41 minutes)

The session began with statements from two Republican and two Democratic members, followed by statements of the four scientific witnesses (Judith Curry, John Christy, Michael Mann, and Roger Pielke) and then five minutes apiece for committee members to make statements or ask questions as they saw fit. Dr. Mann is a prominent climate alarmist, noted among other things for his “hockey stick” graph, while the other three witnesses are considered climate skeptics. See the video (34:25 to 54:13) for their respective opening statements.

There were numerous complaints that the majority had skewed the proceedings by choosing to invite three witnesses whose views were out of synch with the scientific community and only one witness (Dr. Mann) whose views were representative of the overwhelming consensus that global warming is not only real but primarily caused by human activity. Democratic members addressed their questions to Dr. Mann almost exclusively, while Republicans engaged primarily with the other three witnesses.

Witnesses on both sides spoke of efforts that had been made to silence them. Thus, Dr. Pielke has been subjected to congressional questions about his funding sources while there have been “freedom of information act” requests for Dr. Mann’s communications.

There were also complaints about personal characterizations during the hearing, e.g., Dr. Curry claimed to have been called a climate denier. Dr. Mann denied having said this in his live testimony, but conceded that he might have done so in a written statement that was part of the record.

Both sides (members and witnesses alike) claimed that the scientific method (properly understood) favored their position.

Skeptics said the so-called scientific consensus doesn’t matter because science is not a consensus-building exercise, it’s a search for truth. Furthermore, there’s a big difference between (a) concluding that the climate has been warming and human activity may have something to do with it, and (b) proving that human activity is the primary driver of the warming trend. Far more needs to be learned about the Earth’s climate system before placing any big bets on the manmade global warming theory (MMGWT).

Dr. Mann took issue with the asserted need for “proof,” arguing that science never “proves” anything in a positive sense. What science does is to test hypotheses, which if disproved are rejected and otherwise remain subject to further testing. No one has ever proved the theory of gravity, and they never will, but it’s not wise to jump out of an airplane without a parachute. And there’s no need to beware scientific consensus as scientists are constantly trying to one-up each other and errors – supposedly including some made in Dr. Christy’s research - tend to get straightened out quickly.

How much certainty should policy makers (such as members of Congress) demand before acting to combat manmade global warming? Skeptics emphasized that a great deal remains to be learned about what causes the Earth’s climate to change over time, so it’s not smart to impose burdens on the economy that may prove completely unnecessary or even counterproductive. Alarmists argued that more than enough information is available already and delays could have catastrophic consequences.

Another issue raised was funding levels for climate research, which may be cut under the new administration’s “skinny budget.” None of the witnesses said too much was being spent on climate research overall, although Dr. Curry did suggest that current funding isn’t being directed to the most productive research areas.

For all the squabbling, the hearing provided an interesting exchange of views on an important topic – but it didn’t appear to change any minds.

Skeptics (predominantly Republicans) remain convinced that the environmental bloc is trying to bulldoze them, fie on liberals who will seize any excuse to grow the government and don’t care a fig about the evidence for or against the MMGWT.

Alarmists (predominantly Democrats) perceive that scientific gadflies, supported by fossil fuel interests, are holding up the actions that must and inevitably will be taken. They insist that their views are based on science and/or real world evidence while the views of the other side are merely ideological.

In short, discourse about the MMGWT has degenerated into a political brawl. Unless and until the dynamics of the debate change, there is no reason for laypersons to meekly defer to the purported scientific consensus rather than making up their own minds. Real science must guide policy, Paul Driessen, townhall.com,
4/15/17.

All too many alarmist climate scientists have received millions in taxpayer grants over the years, relied on computer models that do not reflect real-world observations, attacked and refused to debate scientists who disagree with man-made climate cataclysm claims, refused to share their computer algorithms and raw data with reviewers outside their circle of fellow researchers – and then used their work to make or justify demands that the world eliminate the fossil fuels that provide 80 percent of our energy and are lifting billions out of nasty, brutish, life-shortening poverty and disease. 

C. Other examples – Similar differences of opinion have surfaced in other contexts, with both sides accusing the other of being anti-science. Democrats aren’t the party of science, Jonah Goldberg, townhall.com, 4/13/17.

Patrick Moynihan famously said that everyone is entitled to their own opinions but not to their own facts. Liberals want to turn that on its head and claim that their opinions are facts and anyone who disagrees isn't merely voicing a bad opinion but it somehow living in alternative reality or "denying" science. It's the secular version of claiming that God is on your side.

#There were some telling reactions when the Heartland Institute offered to provide K-12 science teachers with free copies of a book: Why scientists disagree about global warming, Craig Idso, the late Robert Carter & Fred Singer, Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, 2015.

This book provides a cogent review of various aspects of the debate over the MMGWT – no consensus, absence of a null hypothesis, flawed projections, false postulates, etc. – and is supported by scores of scientific papers and articles. (If any of you readers would like to make your own assessment, your faithful scribe has several copies on hand.)

No matter, liberals expressed shock at the very idea of allowing such information to be considered in the school system – or probably anywhere else. How Democrats urge teachers to trash book by climate scientists on global-warming dissent, Valerie Richardson, Washington Times,
4/4/17.

•“Successful high school graduates are aware and engaged global citizens with an understanding of and appreciation for scientific fact,” said [Representative Bobby Scott, Virginia Democrat, ranking member of the Education and the Workforce Committee] in a press release. “If the Heartland Institute and other climate deniers want to push a false agenda on global warming, our nation’s schools are an inappropriate place to drive that agenda.”

•“Lying to children about the world we live in to further corporate polluter profits is cruel,” said Mr. [Raul]. Grijalva of Arizona, ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee. “If climate deniers think our public schools are the right place for their propaganda, they need to be exposed in no uncertain terms,” Mr. Grijalva said. “Let’s see how much Heartland believes in this project when schools, teachers, parents, students and our fellow members of Congress tell the group and its corporate funders to end this ridiculous campaign.”

•Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, ranking member on the House Science Committee, said she was “not really surprised to see a right-wing organization sending scientifically inaccurate materials on climate change to public school teachers across the country.” Given that climate change has “emerged as a defining scientific and policy challenge facing humanity,” she said, “we must, at a minimum, ensure that our children are exposed to the best scientific resources on this issue, not these unsolicited and misleading materials from the Heartland Institute.”


#Another point is the tendency of some regulators to take actions that are purportedly based on scientific studies without disclosure of the underlying details. This violates a core principle of the scientific method - research results must be reproducible - which can only be established if the details are available for independent verification.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who heads the House Science Committee and played a prominent role in the 3/29/17 hearing, is sponsoring a bill known as the Secret Science Reform Act that would prohibit the EPA from “proposing, finalizing, or disseminating regulations or assessments based on science that is not transparent or reproducible.”

Hmm, sounds reasonable, yet the proposal has been strongly resisted. The perceived problem, reportedly, is that the EPA couldn’t do its job if the agency wasn’t able to play the “everyone knows this, so we don’t have to discuss it” card when challenged. Why global warming alarmists refuse to base policy on actual science, Benny Huang, constitution.com,
4/11/17.

Requiring the EPA and the rest of the federal government to adhere to the [five-prong] McLean test [spelled out in McClean v. Arkansas Board of Education, a 1982 federal court decision that struck down a state statute requiring that creation science be taught in public schools] would yield some interesting results. For example, would the theory of global warming be able to pass the McLean test? *** [This theory] fails the third [prong] because its data sets are closely guarded secrets and it appears to have absolutely no predictive capability. It fails the fourth because “the science is settled”—that is, it is beyond discussion. It fails the fifth because it cannot be proven wrong—everything [is deemed to prove] global warming, including cold snaps and blizzards.  

#Last December, organizers of an energy policy conference tried and failed to line up a scientific speaker who would support the MMGWT. DC field trip: Returning to rational energy policies,
12/12/16.

It was originally intended that Dr. David Legates from the University of Delaware would speak in opposition to the MMGWT after dinner, with an accompanying talk by a scientist who supports the theory. This could have resulted in a stimulating exchange of views on the topic, albeit not formally a debate, but no scientist on the other side accepted the challenge. (As a result, Dr. Legates participated in session VI and Kathleen Hartnett White of the Texas Public Policy Institute gave the after-dinner talk.)

In a lengthy diatribe about the conference loaded with distortions, half-truths and animus against conservatives, a liberal blogger offered a possible explanation: they [climate alarmists] may have decided not to “normalize the event” by participating. Fear and loathing at Koch-funded Trump “shadow transition team” event, Philip Newell, newsmedia.com, 
12/8/16.  

D. Assessment – If science is a search for truth, one might think a rational discussion of the MMGWT or other scientific issues would be easy to arrange. Everyone has the same objective, so let’s review the evidence and get on with it.

This reasoning breaks down if a theory has been politicized, however, because the real sticking points are now political, e.g., who will benefit from government action and who will have to pay for it.

That the MMGWT has been politicized seems apparent given how well opinions about this theory correlate with partisan affiliation. The same probably goes for other scientific or pseudo-scientific theories as well, although this is the most clear-cut example of the politicization of science that comes to mind.

Having a March for Science may sound noble, but the idea only gained traction as a means of identifying individuals/groups to march against. Claiming conservatives are anti-science while liberals are pro-science, or vice versa, seems about as sensible as Johnathan Swift’s satirical account of a population divided between “big-endians” (who crack their eggs at the big end) and “little-endians” (who do the opposite). From Gulliver’s Travels,
enotes.com.

Political motivation of the Earth Day celebration has become increasingly apparent as the preparations progress. Bill Nye, the white guy; Political activists start to take over March for Science, Valerie Richardson, Washington Times,
4/10/17.

Furious debate about race, gender and “privilege” – obvious targeting of the Trump administration – support of a top Democratic Party donor (Tom Steyer via NextGen Climate) – partnering with groups that hold anti-scientific views, e.g., the Union of Concerned Scientists (which opposes genetically modified foods and nuclear power) – lack of interest in areas where scientific policies need to be improved – etc.

Participants in the March for Science/Earth Day events will have every right to express their opinions, but there doesn’t seem to be much basis for claims that science is under assault from the right.

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