As the war of words and policy on climate change rages on, magazines that cover general science are a common battleground. New Scientist, based in the United Kingdom, is one such publication, providing a perspective on science and society that differs from the United States.
An article entitled “Seeing Reason” was the cover story in the Dec. 3-9 issue of the magazine. The piece covered how human brains skew facts and how the brain might be corrected to think properly. As I suspected from this left-leaning journal, the article zeroed in on the populace’s reluctance to accept the “settled fact” of human-induced climate change.
After beginning with examples of the general public’s convoluted thinking displayed in the electoral victories of President-elect Trump and Brexit, the piece moved on to “truthiness.” “In recent years, psychologists and political scientists have been revealing the shocking extent to which we’re all susceptible to truthiness, and how that leads to [polarized] views on factual questions from the safety of vaccines to human-caused climate change,” writes the author, Dan Jones.
The slant of the article comes from a perspective provided by psychologists. It seems “motivated reasoning” drives people to reject the “unambiguous” science of climate change, which “"is happening and human activity is driving it. Yet despite this, and the risks it poses to our descendants, many people still deny it is happening.”
Of course, “The major driver, especially in the US, is political ideology.”
However, one Yale University researcher found that, “in contrast to liberals, among conservatives it is the most scientifically literate who are least likely to accept climate change.”
Putting aside the fact that no one denies that climate changes, should we wonder why the most scientifically literate conservatives are least likely to accept manmade disastrous climate change? Could it be that those of us who have a more intimate knowledge of scientific research and practice are better able to sort out fact from fiction and form our own conclusions?
According to the article, no, not at all. Rather:
“This apparent paradox [of scientifically literate conservatives being least likely to accept climate change conclusions] comes down to motivated reasoning: the better you are at handling scientific information, the better you’ll be at confirming your own bias and writing off inconvenient truths. In the case of climate-change deniers, studies suggest that motivation is often endorsement of free-market ideology, which fuels objections to the government regulation of business that is required to tackle climate change.”
The conclusion of the studies is quite arguable. And, of course, motivation with respect to ideology and politics doesn’t happen with leftist thinkers on the unambiguously settled science of climate change.
Is it possible that the hallowed, echo-chambered halls of academia are subject to their own biases, blinkered by leftist ideology and politics, and subject to elitist arrogance? Is that why there are so many studies that brand, as something akin to mentally deplorable, populist riffraff who don’t reason like academics?
The article goes on to reveal the discovery of a personality trait that mitigates motivated reasoning. That trait is “scientific curiosity,” a characteristic found in “people who seek out and consume scientific information for personal pleasure.” Thankfully for resolute academics, unlike scientific literacy, “scientific curiosity is linked to greater acceptance of human-caused climate change, regardless of political orientation.”
Could it be that those who are merely curious without an intimate comprehension of science and scientific practice are more easily influenced by “settled” scientific assertions and more inclined to demonstrate their understanding of science by going with the “consensus” views?
The article ends with a lament of the “dark money in politics” that supports “climate-denial groups,” as if there is no dark money supporting leftist politics and its subsequent science.
By Dr. Roy Spencer
You might expect that my background in climate research would mean my suggestions to a Trump Administration would be all climate-related. And there’s no question that climate would be a primary focus, especially neutering the Endangerment Finding by the EPA which, if left unchecked, will weaken our economy and destroy jobs, with no measurable benefit to the climate system.
But there’s a bigger problem in U.S. government funded research of which the climate issue is just one example. It involves bias in the way that government agencies fund science.
Government funds science to support pre-determined policy outcomes
So, you thought government-funded science is objective?
Oh, that’s adorable.
Since politicians are ultimately in charge of deciding how much money agencies receive to dole out to the research community, it is inevitable that politics and desired outcomes influence the science the public pays for.
Using climate as an example, around thirty years ago various agencies started issuing requests for proposals (RFPs) for scientists to research the ways in which humans are affecting climate. Climate research up until that time was mostly looking into natural climate fluctuations, since the ocean-atmosphere is a coupled nonlinear dynamical system, capable of producing climate change without any external forcing whatsoever.
Giddy from the regulatory success to limit the production of ozone-destroying chemicals in the atmosphere with the 1973 Montreal Protocol, the government turned its sights on carbon dioxide and global warming.
While ozone was a relatively minor issue with minor regulatory impact, CO2 is the Big Kahuna. Everything humans do requires energy, and for decades to come that energy will mostly come from fossil fuels, the burning of which produces CO2.
The National Academies, which are supposed to provide independent advice to the nation on new directions in science, were asked by the government to tell the government to study human causes of climate change. (See how that works?)
Research RFPs were worded in such a way that researchers could blame virtually any change they saw on humans, not Mother Nature. And as I like to say, if you offer scientists billions of dollars to find something...they will do their best to find it. As a result, every change researchers saw in nature was suddenly mankind’s fault.
The problem with attribution in global warming research is that any source of warming will look about the same, whether human-caused or nature-caused. The land will warm faster than the ocean. The high northern latitudes will warm the most. Winters will warm somewhat more than summers. The warming will be somewhat greater at 10 km altitude than at the surface. It doesn’t matter what caused the warming. So, it’s easy for the experts to say the warming is “consistent with” human causation, without mentioning it could also be “consistent with” natural causation.
The result of this pernicious, incestuous relationship between government and the research community is biased findings by researchers tasked to find that which they were paid to find. The problem has been studied at the Cato Institute by Pat Michaels, among others; Judith Curry has provided a good summary of some of the related issues.
The problem is bigger than climate research
The overarching goal of every regulatory agency is to write regulations. That’s their reason for existence.
It’s not to strengthen the economy. Or protect jobs. It’s to regulate.
As a result, the EPA continues the push to make the environment cleaner and cleaner, no matter the cost to society.
How does the EPA justify, on scientific grounds, the effort to push our pollution levels to near-zero?
It comes from the widespread assumption that, if we know huge amounts of some substance is a danger, then even tiny amounts must be be a danger as well.
This is how the government can use, say, extreme radiation exposure which is lethal, and extrapolate that to the claim that thousands of people die every year from even low levels of radiation exposure.
The only problem is that it is probably not true; it is the result of bad statistical analysis. The assumption that any amount of a potentially dangerous substance is also dangerous is the so-called linear no-threshold issue, which undergirds much of our over-regulated society.
In fact, decades of research by people like Ed Calabrese has suggested that exposure to low levels of things which are considered toxic in large amounts actually strength the human body and make it more resilient — even exposure to radiation. You let your children get sick because it will strengthen their immune systems later in life. If you protected them from all illnesses, it could prove fatal later in life. Read about the Russian family Lost in the Taiga for 40 years, and how their eventual exposure to others led to their deaths due to disease.
The situation in climate change is somewhat similar. It is assumed that any climate change is bad, as if climate never changed before, or as if there is some preferred climate state that keeps all forms of life in perpetual peace and harmony.
But, if anything, some small amount of warming is probably beneficial to most forms of life on Earth, including humans. The belief that all human influence on the environment is bad is not scientific, but religious, and is held by most researchers in the Earth sciences.
In my experience, it is unavoidable that scientists’ culture, worldview, and even religion, impact the way they interpret data. But let that bias be balanced by other points of view. Since CO2 is necessary for life on Earth, an unbiased scientist would be taking that into account before pontificating on the supposed dangers of CO2 emissions. That level of balance is seldom seen in today’s research community. If you don’t toe the line, getting research results that support desired government policy outcomes, you won’t get funded.
Over-regulation kills people
You might ask, what’s wrong with making our environment ever-cleaner? Making our food ever-safer? Making our radiation exposure ever-lower?
The answer is that it is expensive. And as any economist will tell you (except maybe Paul Krugman), the money we spend on such efforts is not available to address more pressing problems.
Since poverty is arguably the most lethal of killers, I believe we have a moral obligation to critically examine any regulations which have the potential of making poverty worse.
And that’s what is wrong with the Precautionary Principle, a popular concept in environmental circles, which states that we should avoid technologies which carry potential risk for harm.
The trouble is that you also add risk when you prevent society from technological benefits, based upon your risk-adverse worldview of its potential side effects. Costs always have to be weighed against benefits. Thats the way everyone lives their lives, every day.
Are you going to stop feeding your children because they might choke on food and die? Are you going to stop driving your car because there are 40,000 automobile deaths per year?
Oh, you don’t drive? Well, are you going to stop crossing the street? That’s also a dangerous activity.
Every decision humans make involve cost-vs-benefit tradeoffs. We do it consciously and subconsciously.
Conclusions & Recommendations
In my opinion, we are an over-regulated society. Over-regulation not only destroys prosperity and jobs, it ends up killing people. And political pressures in government to perform scientific research that favors biased policy outcomes is part of the problem.
Science is being misused, prostituted if you wish.
Yes, we need regulations to help keep our air, water, and food reasonably clean. But government agencies must be required to take into account the costs and risks their regulations impose upon society.
Just as too much pollution can kill people, so too can too much regulation of pollution.
I don’t believe that cutting off funding for research into human causes of climate change is the answer. Instead, require that a portion of existing climate funding be put into investigating natural causes of climate change, too. Maybe call it a Red Team approach. This then removes the bias in the existing way such research programs are worded and funded.
I’ve found that the public is very supportive of the idea that climate changes naturally, and until we determine how much of the change we’ve seen is natural, we cannot say how much is human-caused.
While any efforts to reduce the regulatory burden will be met with claims that the new administration is out to kill your children, I would counter these objections with, “No, expensive regulations will kill our children, due to the increased poverty and societal decay they will cause. 22,000 children die each day in the world due to poverty; in contrast, we aren’t even sure if anyone has ever died due to human-caused global warming.”
Using a simple analogy, you can make your house 90% clean and safe relatively easily, but if you have to pay to make it 100% clean and safe (an impossible goal), you will no longer be able to afford food or health care. Is that what we want for our children?
The same is true of our government’s misguided efforts to reduce human pollution to near-zero.
See Willis Eschenbach’s excellent post on The DOE vs. Ugly Reality oN WUWT here.
Over at the Washington Post, Chris Mooney and the usual suspects are seriously alarmed by a memo sent out by the Transition Team at the Department of Energy. They describe it in breathless terms in an article entitled “Trump transition team for Energy Department seeks names of employees involved in climate meetings“. The finest part was this quote from Michael Halpern:
Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science and Democracy, called the memo’s demand that Energy officials identify specific employees “alarming.”
“If the Trump administration is already singling out scientists for doing their jobs, the scientific community is right to be worried about what his administration will do in office. What’s next? Trump administration officials holding up lists of ‘known climatologists’ and urging the public to go after them?”
Oh ... you mean like say the Attorneys General of a bunch of states holding up their lists of known “:denier” organizations and tacitly urging the public to go after them? You mean like government officials of a variety of stripes ranting about how “deniers” should be brought to trial or otherwise penalized? You mean like having sites like DeSmogBlog making ugly insinuations and false statements about every known opponent of the climate party line? You mean like Roger Pielke being hounded out of his job by the climate mob?
Mr. Halpern, we have put up with just that treatment you describe for years now. Let me suggest that you take your inchoate fears and do something useful with them - you can think fearfully about how you have treated your scientific opponents for the last decade, and you can hope and pray that they are like me, and they don’t demand the exact same pound of flesh from you.
Bureaucratic overreach at EPA has been out of control for eight years.
Now there’s a new sheriff coming to town.
Donald Trump has nominated Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt for the tough job of reigning in EPA as its new administrator and shifting its focus away from Green dogma back to its core mission of ensuring a clean, safe environment.
As Coral Davenport of the NYT reported:
As Oklahoma’s top law enforcement official, Mr. Pruitt has fought environmental regulations - particularly the climate change rules. Although Mr. Obama’s rules were not completed until 2015, Mr. Pruitt was one of a handful of attorneys general, along with Greg Abbott of Texas, who began planning as early as 2014 for a coordinated legal effort to fight them. That resulted in a 28-state lawsuit against the administration’s rules. A decision on the case is pending in a federal court, but it is widely expected to advance to the Supreme Court.
Predictably, Green campaigners are having a hissy fit.
Pruitt at the helm “is going to be a disaster,” said Earthjustice vice president Lisa Garcia.
“The selection of Attorney General Pruitt, who has consistently questioned climate science and actively fought EPA’s ability to reduce emissions, raises deeply troubling questions,” fretted Sam Adams of the World Resources Institute.
Obama advisor Dan Pfeiffer even went so far as to tweet that Pruitt represents “an existential threat to the planet.”
Of course, he’s no such thing.
Scott Pruitt’s principled stands as Oklahoma’s Attorney General against such follies as Obama’s misnamed “Clean Power Plan” and his reasoned skepticism of climate alarmism indicate he knows the difference between radical Green ideology and genuine environmentalism.
Marc Morano explanation at CFACT’s Climate Depot made the Drudge Report:
“President-Elect Trump’s appointment of Scott Pruitt is a breath of fresh air. No longer do we have to suffer under President Obama’s ridiculous EPA ‘climate’ regulations. It is also refreshing that a Republican President is not throwing the EPA over to the green activists and the media by appointing a weak administrator.”
“Trump’s pick of Pruitt finally means that a Republican President is standing up the green establishment! Historically, EPA chiefs have been among the most pro-regulatory members of past Republican presidents from Nixon through Ford, Reagan and both Bushes. Trump has broken the cycle!”
Keeping the environment clean is vital. Economy-wrecking regulations and wealth redistribution are counter-productive to that goal.
The sheer panic and harsh criticism emanating from the Left, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, only validates he must be “saying and doing all the right things.”
See the industry view on the prospects of regaining control of our energy here.
We could not agree more. I worked on my doctorate at NYU with an Air resources Doctoral Traineeship grant. We were all environmentalists in the original sense of the word. We had serious pollution of air and water issues. We knew if we would ever get to the point where combustion no longer emitted particulates in large numbers, nitrous oxides, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and other effluents and only emitted what we all knew were the harmless gases like water vapor and carbon dioxide, we would have cleaned up out air. See former EPA chief Economist and Science Analyst Alan Carlin’s take on CO2 here. Also controlling the dumping of harmful chemical into our water systems would bring them back to life (example Lake Erie once called dead is back). But the EPA staring with a good purpose went astray starting in the Nixon administration and culminating in extreme overreaching regulatory levels under Obama. We have been well under EPS imposed standards for particulates and ozone for years. Pushing extreme unnecessary regulations strangle all industry ($1 trillion) and the cost trickles down to all of us. We look forward to the EPA and Trump eliminating the overreaching regulations. We can have a clean environment and low energy costs that lowers the costs of all goods and services and puts more money in our pockets to spend on the things we need for our families.
Ironically the same environmental fanatics pushing extreme regulatory control of our energy and transportation industries, fight any attempts to build power plants in the third world where many live in the dark without refrigeration and forced to cook over wood or even dung fired fires, condemned to die early from respiratory and other diseases because as SOS Joh Kerry told them, to give them power would just increase the AGW problem. Left unsaid was the other concern of the ECO fringe that we already have an overpopulation problem and giving the poor energy (as we see in India and China now) will just exacerbate it.
Enlarged See how the small particulate concentrations nationally have been cut in half and are well well national standards.
See their real motivation here.
See what Dr. Patrick Moore, a co-founder of Greenpeace says about why he left the radicalized movement.