Posted by: reformedmusings | January 2, 2009

Aliens, global warming, religion, and science

It has often been said by saner voices that, for many, environmentalism has risen to the level of religion. Authors write misleading books, articles, and blog posts, cherry picking their data points and substituting emotional imagery for facts. Because socialism has a long, unbroken history of failure, eco-socialists need to resort to trickery to bring down the great capitalist nations of the west. They use the tactics so ably exposed by George Orwell in Animal Farm and 1984.

I could go on, but providentially, I found a more eloquent spokesman. I just watched the excellent 1971 version of Andromeda Strain again, based on the first book I ever read by Michael Crichton. This prompted a voyage of discovery about the making of the movie (Google is your friend), during which I found an Canadian article written about Crichton’s legacy, called Scare Tactics. Then I found his official website here, which holds his lectures and papers. It is a gold mine!

Michael Crichton did extensive research on the topics for his books and TV shows. He delved into technical, procedural, and tactical details. While writing great fiction, he kept it honest. His love for science was obvious in both his writings and his speeches. He spoke out against the hijacking of science by people with political agendas, deep pockets, and media savvy. In his speech Aliens Cause Global Warming, he lambastes the purveyors of fear tactics and lies in the service of political causes.

In his Aliens talk, Crichton connects the pseudo-science in SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence), the nuclear winter myth, the second-hand smoke myth, and the current global warming religion. Interestingly, he slams the use of mathematical models as a substitute for data, essentially asking the same questions that I did in this post but without the technical details. His eloquent words cut to the heart of the matter:

This fascination with computer models is something I understand very well. Richard Feynmann called it a disease. I fear he is right.

Moreover, Crichton provides a more detailed history of where the doomsayers have always been wrong. You’ll see some of the same names in most of the fear-mongering, especially Paul Ehrlich. He has been at the forefront of most of the major environmental lies of the 20th century. Here is a short list of his predictions as quoted in Wikipedia, with citations:

“In ten years all important animal life in the sea will be extinct. Large areas of coastline will have to be evacuated because of the stench of dead fish.” Paul Ehrlich, Earth Day 1970

“Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make, … The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years.” Paul Ehrlich in an interview with Peter Collier in the April 1970 of the magazine Mademoiselle.

“By…[1975] some experts feel that food shortages will have escalated the present level of world hunger and starvation into famines of unbelievable proportions. Other experts, more optimistic, think the ultimate food-population collision will not occur until the decade of the 1980s.” Paul Ehrlich in special Earth Day (1970) issue of the magazine Ramparts.

“The battle to feed humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergo famines . . . hundreds of millions of people (including Americans) are going to starve to death.” (Population Bomb 1968)

“Smog disasters” in 1973 might kill 200,000 people in New York and Los Angeles. (1969)

“I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.” (1969)

“Before 1985, mankind will enter a genuine age of scarcity . . . in which the accessible supplies of many key minerals will be facing depletion.” (1976)

“By 1985 enough millions will have died to reduce the earth’s population to some acceptable level, like 1.5 billion people.” (1969)

“By 1980 the United States would see its life expectancy drop to 42 because of pesticides, and by 1999 its population would drop to 22.6 million.” (1969)

Crichton cites even more. How many of all those came true? Let me help: none. Yet we believe in anthropological global warming? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me 20+ times, shame on y’all, eh?

In another talk, Crichton highlighted Environmentalism As Religion. While I don’t agree 100% with the talk, he makes an outstanding case against environmentalism as it manifests itself today. He lays out the challenge:

We must daily decide whether the threats we face are real, whether the solutions we are offered will do any good, whether the problems we’re told exist are in fact real problems, or non-problems. Every one of us has a sense of the world, and we all know that this sense is in part given to us by what other people and society tell us; in part generated by our emotional state, which we project outward; and in part by our genuine perceptions of reality. In short, our struggle to determine what is true is the struggle to decide which of our perceptions are genuine, and which are false because they are handed down, or sold to us, or generated by our own hopes and fears.

Along this line, there was an excellent article in Newsweek some years ago about risk perception. They quizzed a large number of ordinary citizens and also a good number of professional risk management specialists with the same list of about 100 risks in life. The end result was that the top items average citizen was 180 degrees out. It’s been a long time since I read the article, but I remember that a nuclear powerplant accident in the top 3 of the average Joe’s list, with smoking and lack of seat belt use well down their list. The expert’s correctly put smoking and lack of seat belt use at the top and nuke accidents at the bottom of their list. After all, more people have died in the back of Ted Kennedy’s car than in the only nuclear power plant incident in the US (Three Mile Island in 1979).

Here, Michael Crichton brings in the DDT argument which I used in my previous post. He said:

So I can tell you some facts. I know you haven’t read any of what I am about to tell you in the newspaper, because newspapers literally don’t report them. I can tell you that DDT is not a carcinogen and did not cause birds to die and should never have been banned. I can tell you that the people who banned it knew that it wasn’t carcinogenic and banned it anyway. I can tell you that the DDT ban has caused the deaths of tens of millions of poor people, mostly children, whose deaths are directly attributable to a callous, technologically advanced western society that promoted the new cause of environmentalism by pushing a fantasy about a pesticide, and thus irrevocably harmed the third world. Banning DDT is one of the most disgraceful episodes in the twentieth century history of America. We knew better, and we did it anyway, and we let people around the world die and didn’t give a damn.

These are exactly the points that I made, although I filled in some of the tragic results directly from African sources. As Crichton pointed our, selective reporting colors conclusions. What about the scientific assertions? Steven Milloy talked about those in an excellent 2006 article in FrontPage Magazine, DDT, The Bald Eagle Lie. An excerpt:

The USFWS examined every bald eagle found dead in the U.S. between 1961-1977 (266 birds) and reported no adverse effects caused by DDT or its residues.

One of the most notorious DDT “factoids” is that it thinned bird egg shells. But a 1970 study published in Pesticides Monitoring Journal reported that DDT residues in bird egg shells were not correlated with thinning. Numerous other feeding studies on caged birds indicate that DDT isn’t associated with egg shell thinning.

So, why were eco-socialists so hot to ban DDT, which the EPA did in 1972? Milloy quotes one of the early, leading figures in the movement:

Charles Wurster, a senior scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund – the activist group that led the charge against DDT – told the Seattle Times (Oct. 5, 1969) that, “If the environmentalists win on DDT, they will achieve a level of authority they have never had before. In a sense, much more is at stake than DDT.”

Banning DDT wasn’t about birds. It was about power.

And also with global cooling, global warming, and the rest. The facts don’t matter, only the quest for power and influence. (On global warming, Investors Business Daily has an excellent series of editorials on their site. Don’t miss them.)

Underlying the current argument for AGW is the idea of consensus. The politicos has been especially big on that concept, using it to squash dissent. But Crichton debunks consensus as a totally unscientific concept:

I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had.

Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics.

He goes on to list a number of past consensuses amongst scientists that later proved to be dead wrong. The list is much longer than Crichton provides, going back centuries. Lots of people saying something doesn’t make it true, nor does saying it louder. Scientific truth, in the end, is measured by how well it works – how well it reflects a verifiable reality – not by how many people believe and support it.

The bottom line for Crichton was that science should be informing and improving society through independent investigation, not terrorizing the masses in support of political agendas. He offers some solid suggestions in both of the talks I cited here. They are well worth reading and implementing. If real science were being done according to Crichton’s suggested guidelines, (which, BTW, is how I was taught that science should be done) baseless fear would be replaced with working, useful knowledge.

Another fear that Crichton expresses is that by manipulating science for political ends, science itself will become disreputable and irrelevant. It’s like the boy who cried wolf. Sooner or later, folks will stop listening altogether. The number of sycophants will drop dramatically. It’s only because we don’t teach real science or logic in public schools that the charade has been able to continue for so long. I believe the day is coming sooner than later, and in some respects has already arrived.

By the classic definition of the scientific method (observation, repeatable experiments, formulating and verifying hypotheses), there’s very little being done in the environmental or atmospheric areas (amongst others). Manipulating computer models to back up a preconceived opinion isn’t science. It’s just a game for the intellectually dishonest and lazy to gain grant money from politicians and other benefactors with agendas. Rather than killing the poor in the third world as sacrifices to eco-socialist agendas in the west, we should be using real science to save and improve their lives. The world deserves better.

UPDATE: Here’s a link to another clear thinker: The Absurd Report

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