“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” — Carl Sagan
I often watch a show called Myth Busters on TV. This is the show where the hosts and their accomplices rig up various tests to see if certain myths can be confirmed or not.
The myths often involve speeding bullets or speeding cars, so impacts captured on high speed strobe photography are one of the appeals of the show.
One of the hosts (Adam Savage) is a nerdy looking fellow with the type of horn rimmed glasses that I remember kids having back in the 1960’s and 70’s.
Not surprisingly (given his myth-busting background), he speaks at the same conferences as another popular B.S. detector known as the Amazing (James) Randi, who for many years has offered $1 million to anyone who could demonstrate proof of paranormal phenomena (eg, ESP, UFO’s, and other things that go bump in the night) under controlled conditions.
I should admit that I’ve always been a bit skeptical of this type of skepticism, since I’ve generally adhered to J.B.S. Haldane’s suspicion that “…the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”
However, while browsing through the immense magazine rack at our local big-box book store recently, I came across a couple of “scientific skepticism” magazines (both featuring a conference with Adam Savage and James Randi).
One magazine was titled Skeptical Inquirer, and the other was titled, quite simply, Skeptic. And both of them had lead articles on climate change skepticism.
Any guesses as to what magazines devoted to skepticism think about climate change?
Well, that’s what I thought, too…until I started to leaf through them. Perhaps the best way to explain the general attitude would be to give the title of one of the articles: Climate Skeptics vs. Climate Deniers.
The author (David Brin), who has a PhD in space physics from the University of California, notes that skeptics ask a lot of questions, whereas deniers think that they already know the answers. And he also notes that some deniers get paid by Arab sheiks, Russian oil oligarchs or Exxon, entities that have a vested interest in us not thinking critically about what we spew into the air.
For example, a single Saudi prince owns 7 per cent of Fox News, the home of such famous deniers as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh (and other Saudi princes own additional, smaller shares).
As for the other side of the coin, Brin tries to work through the potential conflicts of interest that might affect a university researcher studying climate change.
He notes that scientific paradigms (like the notion of CO2 warming the atmosphere in a dangerous way) have sometimes been overturned in history, and all it requires is that some young scientist is capable of seeing a significant hole in the existing research.
He/she then goes public with it …and usually gets a Nobel Prize for doing so.
That is how these things have happened in the past. But so far, there has been nothing that has even come close to overturning the massive scientific edifice upon which the climate change paradigm has stood since Joseph Fourier first studied it in 1824.
The deniers would say that this is due to corruption. But Brin puts it succinctly: “How does a Denier imagine that all the Young Guns [ie, junior scientists] are either cowed by authority figures or perverted by greed for measly five figure grants? Perhaps because that is how things work in the Denier’s own field? It is a natural human mistake to assume that others are like yourself.”
And that was only a tiny aspect of Brin’s lengthy article. And Brin’s article was only one of several on the climate change topic in the two magazines.
Was I impressed? Well, to paraphrase Victor Kiam and Lee Iacocca, I was so impressed that I bought a subscription.
So whether you want the straight goods on homeopathy or Bigfoot or climate change, these magazines doggedly search out whether the “extraordinary evidence” exists or not.
Carl Sagan would be proud.
Evan Bedford is a local environmentalist. Direct comments, questions and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit the Energy and Ecology website at www.evanbedford.com.