For a Good Time on the Intertubes — Today!

It’s that time of the month again — the third (usually) Wednesday, when I do my Virtually Speaking Science gig.

This afternoon at 6 p.m. eastern time I’ll be talking again to Naomi Oreskes, historian of science and co-author of Merchants of Doubt,an account of how a small(ish) cadre of cold-war scientists became hired guns for Big Tobacco and the anti-climate change brigade.

Naomi and I spoke in 2011 about the threats posed by the spread of “scientistic” argument — the use of a science-like language, couched in the rhetoric of disinterested skepticism, to obscure critical knowledge for public audiences.

Well, flash forward a year and a half, and we come to an America in which we have experienced years of devastating drought, superstorm Sandy, this week’s tornado, and the breaching of the 400 ppm atmospheric carbon threshold, and it’s time to talk again about the cost of denialism and the misuse of perceived authority by our still-thriving doubt peddlars.


The tornado provides a great touchstone in fact — as Naomi and I have been emailing back and forth on the question.  What’s happening is that there is a growing body of increasingly firm research on the impact of climate change on all kinds of circumstances.  Changing and possibly deepening patterns of drought are pretty clearly on the table.  A boost in the number of severe hurricanes too.  Significant ice melt and sea level rise too. But what will happen to tornado patterns as climate change proceeds is still unclear.  So what to make of that lacuna?

Here’s my take (not to put any words in Naomi’s mouth):  If you are a rational person, you say we need more research on that particular concern, but the broad pattern is clear:  human-driven climate change is in progress and it is causing a host of changes that directly conflict with the way we’ve rely on our built environment and on all the things we do (grow cereals in the midwest, e.g.) needed to keep our societies going.  And we’ll get back to you on the twisters, asking you to bear this thought in mind:  if you are a betting person, how much do you want to wager on the possibility that increasing the amount of heat trapped in the lower atmosphere won’t kick up some extra nasty storms?

We won’t confine ourselves to climate and the weather, by the way.  Merchants of Doubt has given me a frame for looking at a lot of news, and I see the same desire to conceal useful knowledge the doubtists serve in the somewhat different technique of simply blocking research that might be used to produce inconvenient truths.  See, e.g. the NRA – led ban on research on gun violence and the  the recent Republican proposal to forbid the US Census from doing anything but a decennial count, thus eliminating, among other things, our ability to measure unemployment.

So come on down.  Listen live or later here.  Y’all can head over to the Exploratorium’s Second Life stage as well if you do that virtual world thing.

Image:  Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, c. 1596.

23 replies
  1. 1
    the Conster says:

    I prefer the Rembrandt, and just can’t imagine someone sitting in their living room looking at it every day. Supposedly it’s Rembrandt looking directly at the viewer in which case I understand really really wanting it, but jeebus, it needs to be returned to the museum.

    Also, I’ve learned that the flavor chemists that made cigarettes so appealing have largely taken up shop in the food conglomerates, turning Americans into fat smokers, assuring that most of us will die sooner than later, after being impoverished by the medical/pharmaceutical/insurance/assisted living industrial complex. Heckuva job, guys.

  2. 2
    Ed Drone says:

    C’mon, now! You know the Government is controlling the weather, so they can pass those anti-business laws by blaming the reckless greed and short-sightedness of the average businessman. Now, we admit the reckless greed and short-sightedness — it’s taken for granted, but it’s the God-given right of business (and price-is-the-only-controlling-factor consumers) to be greedy and short-sighted.

    I mean, if God wanted us to protect the environment, He’d have made us smart enough to figure out how we’re screwing up His creation, and do something about it. After all, His commandments are absolutely kept, up to the letter and spirit of the Law, aren’t they? Why all the complaining from the 97% of scientists that the warnings God’s been giving us for all these years are being ignored (and actually rebuffed and repressed)? Don’t these people read their bibles?

    /end snark


  3. 3
  4. 4
    Redshift says:

    And we’ll get back to you on the twisters, asking you to bear this thought in mind: if you are a betting person, how much do you want to wager on the possibility that increasing the amount of heat trapped in the lower atmosphere won’t kick up some extra nasty storms?

    Two of the things I find most maddening about people who buy into the “the science is uncertain” argument:

    1. Even if it were true in the sense they mean, uncertain means it could be better or it could be worse. And (because the IPCC process only includes research with a very high confidence level) every time the predictions have been refined and the science is improved, the worse predictions have turned out to be right.

    2. The (ostensible) reason for not acting on the not-completely-certain climate forecasts is the economic costs. So they’re taking economic forecasts for decades in the future as gospel, but climate forecasts are “uncertain” and “unreliable.”


  5. 5
    Redshift says:

    @Ed Drone:

    Why all the complaining from the 97% of scientists that the warnings God’s been giving us for all these years are being ignored (and actually rebuffed and repressed)? Don’t these people read their bibles?

    “I sent two boats and a helicopter…”

  6. 6
    The Moar You Know says:

    Ignorance is bliss. And more than that, it’s a hell of an opportunity to make a bunch of money off the rubes.

  7. 7

    Wonder if you saw this related article, from Jon Lovett:

    One of the greatest threats we face is, simply put, bullshit. We are drowning it. We are drowning in partisan rhetoric that is just true enough not to be a lie; in industry-sponsored research; in social media’s imitation of human connection; in legalese and corporate double-speak. It infects every facet of public life, corrupting our discourse, wrecking our trust in major institutions, lowering our standards for the truth, making it harder to achieve anything.

  8. 8
    Ted & Hellen says:

    What’s great though is how Obama has been focused like a laser on global warming ever since he took office, absolutely fearless in promoting green energy and educating the public about the reality of climate change based on hard science.

    It’s been incredibly inspiring to watch his administration make the case for the need to take action beginning in 2008. I mean, just look at all the great strides the U.S. has made in ending its fossil fuel addiction…wait. What?

  9. 9
    piratedan says:

    @Ted & Hellen: the only way that we would see anything promoting green energy, or any of the other laundry list items on Obama’s agenda getting passed is if it was coupled with a banishment of corporate taxes, a restoration of the Bush Tax cuts, making all Abortion illegal, a declaration of war against North Korea and Iran and Syria, and articles of impeachment for himself after he repeals Obamacare.

  10. 10
    NickT says:

    I know that not everyone is a big fan of MOOCs, but this one from Coursera looks pretty good so far:

    Climate Literacy: Navigating Climate Change Conversations

    It’s completely free to sign up and take it and they have a pretty impressive set of readings as well as the video lectures.

  11. 11
    NotMax says:

    Normally don’t go out of the way to recommend new titles for reading, but going to do so this once.

    Evil Men by James Dawes. Info

    “Fascinating, original, and moving… We probably won’t solve the problem of evil by thinking about it. But we certainly won’t solve it by not thinking about it—and that is a good reason to read this remarkable book.”
     —Douglas Kerr, The South China Morning Post

  12. 12
    belieber says:

    To all the annoying bloggers here who do nothing but react to GOP propaganda and obsess about teh gay marriage. How about posting about something else for a change.

  13. 13
    srv says:

    You know, the onus is on you to prove that dumping billions and billions of tons into the atmosphere could cause problems. We should not assume doing any of these things could be causation for the climate change we used to deny but now accept and is probably God’s fault.

    And Peter Thiel and Freakonomics say that even if we were at fault, there is no way we could get the world to cooperate on mitigating our bad, so instead we must give trillions of dollars to corporations on world-wide atmospheric geo-engineering projects that have no evidence of being workable.

    See, we’re very scientific about all this.

  14. 14
    NickT says:


    Perhaps you should ask for your BJ membership fee back?

  15. 15
    Trollhattan says:


    Somebody (don’t recall at the moment) took the time to calculate the temperature whiplash that would occur if we began a geo-engineered sunlight blocking effort while continuing business as usual on the carbon front, then stopped the remediation effort for any reason. The outcome was soberingly bad.

    Which all presupposes it’s at all possible to reflect enough energy to make a difference, which I quite doubt.

  16. 16
    Keith says:

    Anyone catch today’s news that Darrell Issa is saying that because Lehrner spoke at her appearance before Congress, it amounts to a waiver of her 5th Amendment rights? Kind of funny how the 2nd Amendment is ironclad and universal, but the 1st and 5th…not so. Would be curious to hear the GOP’s position on the Ten Commandments. “They must be displayed, but adultery is OK if your wife doesn’t fawn over you nightly. Stealing is only wrong if you steal from someone at or above your station in life…”

  17. 17
    Trollhattan says:


    Darrell Issa opining on constitutional law is like my dog being on a dissertation panel for particle physics. (Except my dog hasn’t broken any laws of physics, to my knowledge.)

  18. 18
    Villago Delenda Est says:


    Frankly, I’d trust your dog’s judgement on most things a long time before I gave Issa the time of day.

  19. 19
    Villago Delenda Est says:


    There must be a fire somewhere you can go die in.

    Same applies to Timmeh, I might add.

  20. 20
    les says:

    Get a room. Or your own blog. Or, ya know, just fuck off.

  21. 21
    Yatsuno says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: Durfs still gotta Durf. And stuff.

  22. 22
    Ted & Hellen says:


    Perhaps you’re right….but what matters is that he has been fighting tooth and nail for the right thing since the day he took office. Relentlessly pushing for a Manhattan Project level climate change strategy all the way.

    It’s been really awesome.

  23. 23
    NickT says:

    @Ted & Hellen:

    And you’ve been a total climate warrior, no doubt, as evidenced by your blog.. oh, but you don’t have one… or your newsletter.. oh, but you don’t have one.. or your lucid, well-evidenced argument… oh, but you don’t have one. I see a pattern here.

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