INITIALLY, this post was built entirely on Tim McDonnell’s article on Representative Lamar Smith—who chairs the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology and who is not a scientist—and his manipulations of the funding procedures of the National Science Foundation. Then, oh so serendipitously, today’s Grist newsletter arrived with a relevant article that I had to include and make this a considerably longer piece than originally envisioned.
Many of us in the non-‘conservative’ category believe there to be several ongoing cultural wars being waged simultaneously against our society by our society’s old-guard/rightwing elements. 1
The most common perhaps being the declared ‘war on drugs’ but the ones that affect far more citizens are the undeclared ‘war on drug-related culture,’ the ‘war on women,’ and this one here, the ‘war on science.’ 2
A recent example of the latter is discussed in an article titled “Now Congressional Republicans Are Digging Through Scientists’ Grant Proposals” by Tim McDonnell for Mother Jones (October 17, 2014). Here is my adapted excerpt (go read the original for the whole story):
“The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency with an annual budget of about $7,000,000,000 (billion), which it doles out to fund about a quarter of all federally supported science research. Proposals have to survive a rigorous review process that includes close scrutiny by a panel of top scientists in the relevant field.
Over the last 18 months, Representative Lamar Smith (Rep*blican-Texas) has launched an aggressive campaign against what he sees as misguided money management at NSF that fritters funds away on frivolous research. His staffers are … looking for projects to highlight as evidence that NSF is wasting money on research that isn’t in the ‘national interest.’
You know, totally frivolous questions that have nothing to do with the national interest on things like rising sea levels, epic releases of methane, US military engagement in the Arctic, new areas for offshore oil drilling, and 35,000 stranded walruses. The Large Hadron Collider probably isn’t ever going to do much for the US economy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not in the national interest for us to understand the basic physics of the universe.…”
To which I say, “Why the f*ck not?!?”
They’ve gone after Sesame Street and National Public Radio (NPR), the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), National Park Service (NPS), the Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) … so why not the NSF?
Perish forbid that they allow scientists to continue to prove their theories correct—which they have done repeatedly—while actually addressing some of the pressing concerns of the country and the planet. 3
But apparently the well-used comeback “I’m not a scientist”5 does not mean they don’t know what’s best for scientists.
Comments and I’m confused
I enjoy the comments sections that follow articles such as the above. The most current comment for Mr. McDonnell’s piece is by Aquarian_Dreamer, who sums up Representative Smith’s behavior with, “Ah, yes, what a wonderful waste of taxpayer dollars the Republicans are providing.”
My favorite comments are always the ringers: those people who declare that they are “liberals” or “progressives” but aren’t. They make statements that they believe are typical arguments from those groups, but end up saying things that no liberal or progressive would dream of saying. Here is an example from Zosha123 (and I have numbered the statements for ease in addressing them afterward):
“(1) I will never vote Republican. (2) But I can no longer support the climate blame blunder that is making neocons out of all of us. 97% of scientists all agree it just COULD BE a crisis and not one climate scientist has ever said they can’t (sic) be 100% certain because the ‘scientific method’ prevents them from telling the world that their ‘threat to the planet’ is proven.
(3) Only ‘believers’ are giving scientists this excuse. It’s a bold-faced lie so prove me wrong. (4) As a progressive, I am sickened how we so eagerly condemn our children and the planet with our exaggeration of CO2 crisis just as an excuse to hate neocons. Our children do not deserve to be a part of this Reefer Madness of climate blame.”
Here are my responses (and I did not do any correcting of the entry above, so any boners are Zosha’s):
(1) This is an unnecessary statement from a librull and often simply not so. It is usually a declaration that alerts us that the commenter is about to say something that only a Rep*blican would say. Had this been me, I might have said, “I have been an unequivocal progressive since I was in high school when I realized that ‘they’ were lying to me about Vietnam, taxation, marijuana, LSD, minimum wage, social security, sex, and the chances of the Phillies winning the World Series in my life-time.” (Oops! They got that last one right. It’s so easy to forget …) 4
(2) Zosha seems to think he understands the scientific process but somehow does not: since new data is always a possibility, no scientist ever argues that anything is 100% certain—that’s the opposite of science and the domain of religion. In science, one reaches a point of critical mass where the current data regarding so-and-so is so overwhelming that you can safely state so-and-so is so. As almost all scientists involved in climatology and related fields have done. (And I assume that Zosha meant to write “can be 100% certain” but I’m not certain.)
(3) Um, who are the “believers” and what are we supposed to prove “wrong” here? As Pop so accurately states during the finale of the movie Moonstruck.
(4) Zosha might have displayed a sense of irony and challenged us with “I’m a progressive—prove me wrong!”
But the ice caps are melting
Another favorite type of comment occurs when someone states a ‘fact’ that they believe proves their argument, but apparently never bothered to research before making the statement. Here is one from Buzzman1 from the same comments section no numbers this time):
“The facts are an erupting volcano emits more greenhouse gases in a day than all human activity does in a year. The fact is the sun has the most effect on our atmospheric conditions than anything else. Fact is the earth hasn’t warmed in 18 years.
Fact is Gore said 20 years ago that by now the polar ice caps would be gone and they are not and that NYC and other east coast cities would be under three feet of water and they are not. Your science is false.”
Yeah yeah yeah, Mr. Gore was incorrect in his timeline, but the ice caps are melting—along with Greenland’s ice sheet and the planet’s glaciers and permafrost and every other version of water in its solid-state!
Rising sea levels will not be inundating the east coast of the United States in the near future, but “a 0.8-meter (2.6 feet) sea-level rise is plausible [but a] two-meter (6.5 feet) is only possible under extreme conditions” during the next century.
As for there being no warming of the Earth, check out this graph from the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (below.
As you can see, the average temperature of out planet from 1880-1980 was between 56.5 and 57 degrees Fahrenheit. For the twenty year of 1980-1999, the average was between 57 and 57.5 degrees. For the first ten years of the 21st century, it has been approximately 58 degrees.
Raising the mean temperature of the planet more than one degree in less than a hundred years is a hell of an accomplishment! So where is the Buzzman1 getting his figures?
Science just doesn’t back it up
Finally, the BIG one: Buzzmani’s ‘fact’ that a single erupting volcano “emits more greenhouse gases in a day than all human activity does in a year.” Sounds impressive, nyet?
“This argument that human-caused carbon emissions are merely a drop in the bucket compared to greenhouse gases generated by volcanoes has been making its way around the rumor mill for years. And while it may sound plausible, the science just doesn’t back it up.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the world’s volcanoes, both on land and undersea, generate about 200,000,000 (million) tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually. Our automotive and industrial activities cause some 24,000,000,000 (billion) tons of CO2 emissions every year worldwide.
Despite the arguments to the contrary, the facts speak for themselves: Greenhouse gas emissions from volcanoes comprise less than one percent of those generated by today’s human endeavors.” (AboutNews)
All of these facts are readily available and easily found on the miraculous source that is the Internet. All you have to do is two things: first, you must want to know the truth.
Second, you must take the time to do the research. The latter is easy—most of Buzzman’s ‘facts’ could have been researched in a matter of minutes. That is, anyone can do it! A apparently the former is nigh on impossible for some people …
The existence of the “chemtrails phenomenon” is yet another instance of something certainly man-made that every one of us HAS seen in the past few decades that none of us EVER saw when we were children. Suggest that they may in fact be the result of something less than a less than noble government endeavor and you will be lumped in with “paranoid conspiracy theorists.”
The sun is heating other planets
For those of you who have been subjected to the science fiction that the other planets in our solar system are also warming without man’s assistance and therefore pointing to the Sun as the dominating influence in determining climate throughout the solar system, pure balderdash:
“This argument is part of a greater one that other planets are warming. If this is happening throughout the solar system, clearly it must be the sun causing the rise in temperatures—including here on Earth.
It is curious that the theory depends so much on sparse information – what we know about the climates on other planets and their history – yet its proponents resolutely ignore the most compelling evidence against the notion. Over the last fifty years, the sun’s output has decreased slightly: it is radiating less heat.
We can measure the various activities of the sun pretty accurately from here on Earth, or from orbit above it, so it is hard to ignore the discrepancy between the facts and the skeptical argument that the sun is causing the rise in temperatures.” (Skeptical Science)
“Over the last fifty years, the sun’s output has decreased slightly: it is radiating less heat. We can measure the various activities of the sun pretty accurately from here on Earth, or from orbit above it, so it is hard to ignore the discrepancy between the facts and the skeptical argument that the sun is causing the rise in temperatures.” (Skeptical Science)
I’m not a scientist, but …
Now for the serendipitous Grist newsletter mentioned in the first paragraph above: it contained an article titled “How to get Republicans to stop using the ‘I’m not scientist dodge” by Ben Adler (October 21, 2014), from which I have adapted the following:
“In 2012, when Senator Marco Rubio (Rep*blican-Florida) was asked by GQ magazine how old the Earth is, he demurred, ‘I’m not a scientist, man.’ You don’t need to be a scientist to know the Earth is roughly 4.54 billion years old, any more than you need to be a scientist to know the Earth is round or it revolves around the sun. All you need to know is what scientists have determined, which Rubio, who sits on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, should know.
What Rubio feared, of course, was alienating the religious extremists in his party, who believe the Earth is only 6,000 to 10,000 years old. As Juliet Lapidos of The New York Times observed, ‘Mr. Rubio surely knows that 58% of Rep*blicans believe in creationism. Mr. Rubio probably figured that these same Rep*blicans have no truck with geologists. But if his response was more proof of cunning than idiocy, it was still ludicrous.’
Luckily for Rubio, GQ did not also ask whether he thinks the Earth is round.
Even though the ‘I’m-not-a-scientist’ dodge went over poorly at the time, other Rep*blicans have been recently imitating it when asked about climate change. The ones who have done so—Florida Governor Rick Scott, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan—are currently running in general elections.
The more moderate general electorate requires them to simultaneously feign deference to science for the benefit of independents, while not admitting climate change is happening, so as not to alienate their base.
Writing in The Atlantic, David Graham does a good job of explaining why it is ridiculous for politicians to take the not-a-scientist dodge: ‘McConnell isn’t an economist, either, but he has strong views about the economy; nor is he a health-provider, but he has ideas about health-care provision.’ ”
Penultimately, does anyone think that Representative Smith would have been a happy camper as a member of the Roman Catholic Inquisition overseeing Galileo’s case?
1 I place the word in single quote marks to allow the reader to infer that I may be using the word in a manner not obvious on its surface, and out of respect for what the word should mean but doesn’t politically.
2 While I am all for a war on hard drugs—black market and prescribed—I wish that someone would coin a phrase to separate the insane war on ‘head’ drugs. Perhaps those of us on THIS side should start differentiating the two by writing or saying “the war on drugs” for the addictive, destructive stuff (smack, speed, coke, barbiturates, etc.) and the “war on high” (pot, shrooms, acid, and related consciousness-altering substances).
3 For this article, the “theys” are those Rep*blicans and ‘blue dog’ Democrats apparently cut from the same cloth and who are collectively the bogeyman to ALL progressives. (I’d call them collectively “the anti-Christ” but it’s so passé—and besides, Johnny Rotten has laid claim to being “an” anti-Christ so I will allow him the statement as a part of his legacy.)
4 I am about as left-of-center as they come and I have voted for Republicans (please note the lack of the denigrating asterisk in the middle of the word) in five different states since 1972.