Wednesday, September 03, 2014

"Why Evangelicals are Fooled Into Accepting Pseudoscience'

Karl Giberson has written a fantastic article about the Discovery Institute and their unabashed promotion of pseudoscience outside of their claimed expertise.

Here is the intro:

Widespread rejection of human-induced climate change by evangelical Christians, of the sort we have seen recently from Rick Perry and others, is a bit of a puzzler. There is no obvious reason why evangelical faith commitments should motivate the faithful to reject climate science. The Bible does not claim that humans cannot affect the climate. God did not promise that the atmosphere will forever be healthy and life-sustaining. No end-time scenarios suggest that Jesus will come back before humans trash the planet.

So why have evangelicals been so ready to reject the generally accepted conclusions of the scientific community on global warming?

I want to suggest that the reason has nothing to do with climate science per se, but derives from the generally dim view that many evangelicals have of science and scientists -- views that make it hard to distinguish credible science from fake challengers.

This is why I am now so hostile to the Discovery Institute. Not because I read a bit more about Intelligent Design and made the decision that it is bunk (though it probably is), but rather because they're promoting other nonsense and this leads people to accept that other nonsense. Climate change is happening and humans are largely responsible. If they are preventing people from seeing that, they are doing something bad. Know them by their fruits.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

More on Discovery.

I previously stated - not too long ago - that I wasn't interested in getting into the difference between ID and evolution. On the one hand, as far as I knew, there wasn't anything to ID. But, I had not done any reading (I don't think I could even get through a book without severe, almost fatal, eye-rolling), I am not a philosopher, and they at least believe the earth is billions of years old and evolution is true - they just believe that intelligent design rather than natural selection (vast oversimplification) is responsible for evolution. Since my main beef is with people who refuse to admit the rather incontrovertible record that the earth is 4.5 billion years old and complex life forms came from simple life forms hundreds of millions of years ago and all the rest of the facts of common descent, I did not particularly care. Though I did find Discovery Institute's intrusions into the academy annoying. But not enough to speak against them when weighted against the rest.

However, seeing that they also support climate change denialism, I cannot ignore them. Authors working for them play off the trust their supporters have for their positions on biology in order to influence their opinions on climate change. Never mind that their own purported expertise is only evolutionary biology, if we could even grant that. One could argue that, instead of actively sowing doubt, they are "just asking questions". But the rhetorical structure is evident: reader trusts Discovery Institute about evolution, Discovery Institute believes there are holes in evolutionary theory, Discovery Institute points out similarities between popular rhetoric about evolution and climate change (note: doesn't discuss peer reviewed literature on either), and "just asks questions" about that similarity of rhetoric. What is the desired end? They are using their (perhaps completely unwarranted) credibility with respect to evolutionary biology to generate doubts about the science of climate change in their readers. Wait - but they don't have any expertise in climate science. They're analyzing popular rhetoric, not the peer-reviewed research of either. This is intellectually dishonest. They know less than nothing about climate change. Casting aspersions on the research in climate change only means that they are irresponsible movement conservatives.

Now, I'm no expert in climate change. I'm just a statistician who's read a few parts of the primary literature (especially primarily statistical papers), sat in on a few panels, talks, and seminars, and read far too much of the non-primary literature. I am definitely a non-expert and should defer to experts. However, I have a good enough sense of it all to realize that certain aspects are very certain even if some details are not certain. In short, the same result as deferring to the experts. If they're hitching their evolution horse to the climate change horse, then they lose. They are utterly wrong on the one, how much more on the other? The one article is not an isolated occurrence - they have attempted to improperly parley their "expertise" on evolution into conclusions on climate change on several occasions.

What would intellectual honesty on their part consist of? Refraining from discussing issues on which they are not experts, not attempting to parley their expertise in one subject into trust on another, referring to the peer-reviewed literature on subjects they are not experts on when discussing those subjects, and not being proponents of Intelligent Design. Well, we can leave the last off. Perhaps instead we could say that they should not let their ideological presuppositions (ie movement conservatism) dictate their stances on scientific issues outside of their purported expertise.

Does this mean I directly reject ID having carefully considered it? No, I don't. I simply think the Discovery Institute are bad actors and intellectually dishonest. I also have no reason not to assert the scientific consensus view. While I think ID is silly from what little I have heard of it, I still have never read anything by an ID proponent and frankly never intend to. Accordingly, it isn't completely honest of me to say I reject it. I don't consider it and never will. I don't make any judgment against those who do consider it or believe it. However, I would strongly urge them to tell off the Discovery Institute for being manipulative and dishonest. They would do well to distance themselves from such scientific charlatans. And, if they don't already, endorse the consensus view on climate change and work to make a difference in the world. You can inform yourself at Skeptical Science, which digests the peer-reviewed literature for you and, if you're not happy with that, provides abundant links to the literature. You can check if yourself. In fact, if you do, you may find that they're mildly more gung-ho than the literature, but that's not terribly surprising, given the difference between the best personal estimation of a scientist and what has actually popped out of that data when subjected to the most rigorous and strenuous test. What you won't find is any sympathy for anything like what the Discovery Institute implies in any of their articles about climate science. Because the Discovery Institute are dishonest charlatans, at least on this issue.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Happy Birthday, Universe!

It's the 7522nd birthday of the Universe (okay, using the New Calendar is a little odd for this, but I didn't want to wait 13 days). Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, any appearance of older age is a liberal conspiracy, rapid degradation brought about by the Fall, and flood damage. Because our faith demands easy answers, a crucifixion of the mind, and Great Faith.

The people with easy answers are either Job's comforters or strapped to a bomb.