I’m not a scientist, man, but I know it when I see it!

Es­ti­mated reading time is 11 min­utes.

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.


SesameStreetArrest 700

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?


GlobalTempGraph 700

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 . . .

Not a Scientist: photo of crazy chemtrails.

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)


SolarHeatGraph 700

“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.


All comments held for moderation

Notify of
Rate this article:
Please rate this article with your comment.
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments