Republicans and the corporate attack on science

Last month the American Association for the Advancement of Science, or AAAS, the premier science organization in the U.S. and publisher of Science magazine, held its annual conference, this year in Vancouver. Over 8,000 scientists attended what has become the largest organization of scientists in the world.

This annual meeting, however, was unusual. Robin McKie, writing in Britain's The Guardian newspaper, reported that the outgoing president of the AAAS, Nina Fedoroff, broke with the usual tradition of shying away from political controversy that is customary for high ranking scientific spokespersons.

Dr. Fedoroff told her colleagues that she was "scared to death" at the continuing attacks on science throughout the West and in the United States. Dr. Fedoroff said, "We are sliding back into a dark era and there is little we can do about it. I am profoundly depressed at just how difficult it has become merely to get a realistic conversation started on issues such as climate change or genetically modified organisms."

Fedoroff and other scientists are positively amazed at the hostility towards scientific methods and scientific proposals put forth to solve many of the problems facing the world today. Not only do powerful corporations and the (mostly) Republican politicians they control brush aside scientific evidence regarding climate change, endangered species, health issues, food safety, and so on whenever this evidence conflicts with the profit motive, but they also have begun to personally attack individual scientists and scientific institutions, trying to damage their reputations or to have them defunded.

Fedoroff understands that President Obama, at least, is not against science. "The trouble is," she says, "that he still hasn't been able to do anything to help. He is continually blocked by Congress, and that only adds to our worries and sense of desperation. If the current president is for us, but still cannot do anything to help us, then what will happen if a Republican gets into the White House this year?" Actually that would not happen until Jan. 15th of next year - but the point is well made. Fedoroff has learned a lot, it seems, since she was appointed to high scientific office by George W. Bush and then served as science advisor to Condoleezza Rice in the State Department.

Even though the overwhelming scientific consensus is that manmade atmospheric pollution with greenhouse gases is causing the earth to warm up and that this is leading us down the road to a world wide catastrophe, all of the leading Republican contenders, egged on by lobbyists and corporate funding - especially from industries producing, or dependent on, oil, gas, coal and other pollutants - deny the scientific evidence. Rick Santorum goes so far as to call global warming a "hoax."

Naomi Oreskes, a professor at University of California - San Diego, who attended the meeting, remarked, "Those of us who grew up in the sixties, when we put men on the moon, now have to watch as every Republican candidate for this year's presidential election denies the science behind climate change and evolution. That is a staggering state of affairs and it is very worrying."

Professor Oreskes added, "Our present crisis over the rise of anti-science has been coming for a long time and we should have seen it coming. It has taken the scientific community a long time to realize what it is up against. In the past, it thought the problem was just a matter of education. All its practitioners had to do was make an effort to reach out and talk to teachers, the public and business leaders. Then these people would see the issues and understand the need for action. But now they are beginning to realize what they are really up against: massive organized attempts to undermine scientific data by people for whom the data represents a threat to their status quo. Given the power of these people, scientists will have their work cut out dealing with them."

But what does this say about our educational system in the U.S.? The fact so many people have been through the public school system and are so scientifically illiterate that their ignorance of evolution and the science behind climate change can form the basis for a major political party (and still have plenty of people left over) should tell us that a major reform of the educational system is in order - not only of the curriculum but of the qualifications of teachers as well. This reform should involve the unions, elected officials, parents, students and teachers - it cannot be made from above by the imposition of privatization, ill conceived standardized tests, mass school closings, or firings and layoffs of school workers for lack of finances.

A real educational reform would solve the problem brought up by Francesca Grifo of the Union of Concerned Scientists, since an educated population would not be open to the corrupting influences she discusses. She is attacking the Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates of unlimited corporate contributions to candidates for elected office (the Citizens United ruling).

"That has opened the gates for corporations," Grifo said, "often those associated with coal and oil industries, to flood the market with adverts that support right-wing politicians and which attack government bodies that impose environmental regulations that these companies don't like. The science that supports these regulations is attacked as well. That has made a terrible difference over the past year and it is now bringing matters to a head. People may believe that political interference in science went extinct when George W. Bush left office, but the reality is that the pressure to politicize science is still with us."

Now that the scales have fallen from the eyes of the scientific community we can only hope that scientists will become more active in the fight to preserve democracy and join with the rest of the progressive America in the struggle to prevent the takeover of the U.S. government by the ultra-right and anti-scientific Republicans.

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  • All prominent scientists should be taking a stance on this topic. Not only science, but the scientific method, critical thinking, intellectual curiosity, independent thinking, an educated and thoughtful media and an educated public are not only at risk, they are about to perish. Greed, money and inside power-plays should never corrupt a democracy and that is what is happening. End result? A dead earth created by a thousand cuts.

    Posted by Forest, 03/02/2012 1:18am (3 years ago)

  • It is Oreskes who is anti the scientific method- she always simpy asserts some IPCC manufactured consensus as being the incontrovertible truth without ever discussing the actual data which shows that the world has been in a cooling phase since about 2003 and that this cooling is likely to contiue for 2 or 3 decades.
    There is currently a difference in approach to climate science between the sceptical Baconian - empirical appraoch solidly based on data and the Platonic IPCC approach - based on theoretical assumptions built into climate models.The question arises from the recent Muller - BEST furore -What is the best metric for a global measure of and for discussion of global warming or cooling. For some years I have suggested in various web comments and on my blog that the Hadley Sea Surface Temperature data is the best metric for the following reasons . (Anyone can check this data for themselves - Google Hadley Cru -- scroll down to SST GL and check the annual numbers.)
    1. Oceans cover about 70% of the surface.
    2. Because of the thermal inertia of water – short term noise is smoothed out.
    3. All the questions re UHI, changes in land use local topographic effects etc are simply sidestepped.
    4. Perhaps most importantly – what we really need to measure is the enthalpy of the system – the land measurements do not capture this aspect because the relative humidity at the time of temperature measurement is ignored. In water the temperature changes are a good measure of relative enthalpy changes.
    5. It is very clear that the most direct means to short term and decadal length predictions is through the study of the interactions of the atmospheric sytems ,ocean currents and temperature regimes – PDO ,ENSO. SOI AMO AO etc etc. and the SST is a major measure of these systems.Certainly the SST data has its own problems but these are much less than those of the land data.

    What does the SST data show? The 5 year moving SST temperature average shows that the warming trend peaked in 2003 and a simple regression analysis shows an eight year global SST cooling trend since then .The data shows warming from 1900 - 1940 ,cooling from 1940 to about 1975 and warming from 1975 – 2003. CO2 levels rose monotonically during this entire period.There has been no net warming since 1997 - 15 years with CO2 up 7.9% and no net warming. Anthropogenic CO2 has some effect but our knowledge of the natural drivers is still so poor that we cannot accurately estimate what the anthropogenic CO2 contribution is. Since 2003 CO2 has risen further and yet the global temperature trend is negative. This is obviously a short term on which to base predictions but all statistical analyses of particular time series must be interpreted in conjunction with other ongoing events and in the context of declining solar magnetic field strength and activity – to the extent of a possible Dalton or Maunder minimum and the negative phase of the Pacific Decadal a global 20 – 30 year cooling spell is more likely than a warming trend.

    It is clear that the IPCC models , on which AL Gore based his entire anti CO2 scare campaign ,have been wrongly framed. and their predictions have failed completely.This paradigm was never well founded ,but ,in recent years, the entire basis for the Climate and Temperature trends and predictions of dangerous warming in the 2007 IPCC Ar4 Summary for Policy Makers has been destroyed. First - this Summary is inconsistent with the AR4 WG1 Science section. It should be noted that the Summary was published before the WG1 report and the editors of the Summary , incredibly ,asked the authors of the Science report to make their reports conform to the Summary rather than the other way around. When this was not done the Science section was simply ignored..
    I give one egregious example - there are many others.Most of the predicted disasters are based on climate models.Even the Modelers themselves say that they do not make predictions . The models produce projections or scenarios which are no more accurate than the assumptions,algorithms and data , often of poor quality,which were put into them. In reality they are no more than expensive drafting tools to produce power point slides to illustrate the ideas and prejudices of their creators. The IPCC science section AR4 WG1 section 8.6.4 deals with the reliability of the climate models .This IPCC science section on models itself concludes:

    "Moreover it is not yet clear which tests are critical for constraining the future projections,consequently a set of model metrics that might be used to narrow the range of plausible climate change feedbacks and climate sensitivity has yet to be developed"

    What could be clearer. The IPCC itself says that we don't even know what metrics to put into the models to test their reliability.- i.e. we don't know what future temperatures will be and we can't yet calculate the climate sensitivity to anthropogenic CO2.This also begs a further question of what mere assumptions went into the "plausible" models to be tested anyway. Nevertheless this statement was ignored by the editors who produced the Summary. Here predictions of disaster were illegitimately given "with high confidence." in complete contradiction to several sections of the WG1 science section where uncertainties and error bars were discussed.

    A key part of the AGW paradigm is that recent warming is unprecedented and can only be explained by anthropogenic CO2. This is the basic message of the iconic "hockey stick " However hundreds of published papers show that the Medieval warming period and the Roman climatic optimum were warmer than the present. The infamous "hide the decline " quote from the Climategate Emails is so important. not so much because of its effect on one graph but because it shows that the entire basis if dendrothermometry is highly suspect. A complete referenced discussion of the issues involved can be found in "The Hockey Stick Illusion - Climategate and the Corruption of science " by AW Montford.

    Temperature reconstructions based on tree ring proxies are a total waste of time and money and cannot be relied on.
    There is no evident empirical correlation between CO2 levels and temperature, In all cases CO2 changes follow temperature changes not vice versa.It has always been clear that the sun is the main climate driver. One new paper " Empirical Evidence for a Celestial origin of the Climate Oscillations and its implications "by Scafetta from Duke University casts new light on this. http://www.fel.duke.edu/~scafetta/pdf/scafetta-JSTP2.pdf Humidity, and natural CO2 levels are solar feedback effects not prime drivers. Recent experiments at CERN have shown the possible powerful influence of cosmic rays on clouds and climate.
    Solar Cycle 24 will peak in a year or two thus masking the cooling to some extent, but from 2014 on, the cooling trend will become so obvious that the IPCC will be unable to continue ignoring the real world - even now Hansen and Trenberth are desperately seeking ad hoc fixes to locate the missing heat.
    Oreskes needs to look at the data for herself and awaken from her delusions re the evil oil companies etc.

    Posted by normanpage@comcast.net, 03/02/2012 12:20am (3 years ago)

  • If the Republicans attack the pseudo "Economics Science and Scientists," so much the better! But your article is, in general, well expressed and appropriate.

    We wish to congratulate, encourage and support all fellow humans contributing to the success of the necessary Transformation of Planet Earth, including but by no means limited to the work of the essential global OCCUPY and 99% movements.

    Our primary suggestion for this necessary endeavor is the serious consideration and thoughtful adoption of some form of Socioeconomic Democracy as a peaceful, just and democratic resolution of the myriad problems confronting humanity caused by the maldistribution of wealth intra- and internationally.

    Most certainly, numerous other fundamental changes are required, with some encompassing the many problems created by contemporary "money" and "banking" definitions and arrangements. The implementation of Socioeconomic Democracy will significantly help facilitate these and other necessary transformations.

    Socioeconomic Democracy is a theoretically consistent and practically implementable socioeconomic system wherein there exist both some form and amount of locally appropriate Universally Guaranteed Personal Income and some form and amount of locally appropriate Maximum Allowable Personal Wealth, with both the lower bound on personal material poverty and the upper bound on personal material wealth set and adjusted democratically by all participants of a democratic society.

    As has been demonstrated elsewhere, Socioeconomic Democracy can eliminate or significantly reduce a multitude of serious-to-deadly, but utterly unnecessary, intimately intertwined societal problems including (but by no means limited to) those familiar ones associated with: automation, computerization and robotization; budget deficits and national debts; bureaucracy; maltreatment of children; crime and punishment; development, sustainable or otherwise; ecology, environment, resources and pollution; education; the elderly; farcical "free-market" fantasies; the feminine majority; inflation; international conflict; intranational conflict; involuntary employment; involuntary unemployment; labor strife and strikes; sick medical and health care; military metamorphosis; natural disasters; pay justice; planned obsolescence; political participation; poverty; racism; sexism; so-called "offshoring" of both jobs and personal/corporate profits; unconscionable Empires; unconscious politicians; untamed technologies; and the General Welfare.

    A few, of many, relevant links:

    "A Democratic Socioeconomic Platform, in search of a Democratic Political Party"
    http://www.centersds.com/dsep.html

    Socioeconomic Democracy: An Advanced Socioeconomic System (Praeger Studies on the 21st Century, 2002)
    http://www.centersds.com/thebook.htm

    "Bibliography of Socioeconomic Democracy"
    http://www.centersds.com/biblio.htm

    "Socioeconomic Democracy: A Nonkilling, Life-Affirming and Enhancing Psycho-Politico-Socio-Economic System"
    http://www.pelicanweb.org/solisustv06n10page2robleygeorge.html

    "Socioeconomic Democracy" forthcoming in International Journal of Science, February, 2012.
    http://issuu.com/ijosc.net/docs/ijosc-february_2012_issue

    We welcome and encourage feedback to this outreach, and look forward to working with all those interested in further peaceful development and implementation of these and other necessary changes aimed at the betterment of all humanity and the total planet.

    Robley E. George
    Director, Center for the Study of Democratic Societies
    http://www.CenterSDS.com
    Coordinador, Nonkilling Economics and Business Research Committee
    http://www.nonkilling.org/node/7

    Posted by Robley E. George, 03/01/2012 3:11pm (3 years ago)

  • Oops-- the president will be sworn in on Jan. 20 [not 15] in 2013. et

    Posted by Thomas Riggins, 03/01/2012 2:39pm (3 years ago)

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