Climate Scientists Embarrassed but Thankful for People on Internet Telling Them About the Sun

In a surprise reversal of position, numerous climate scientists now say they could be all wrong about climate change, thanks to a plucky group of public skeptics who have spent numerous hours on the internet reading articles by people not associated with the climate research in any way.  For years climate researchers have failed to listen to these pleas for reason and understanding.  Much to the chagrin of the climate community, a major misstep has been brought to light, climate researchers have forgotten to take into account the sun in the now shaky theory about human-induced climate change.

The moment of truth came Dec. 9th when an article that was reporting 2016 was shaping up to be the hottest year on record when a commenter who goes by the name “drillbaby” said the warming we are seeing is caused by the sun.  We were able to track down this commenter as internet climate expert and full-time real estate agent, Derek Laskin, to ask him how this revelation came to him.  “It really was the stuff of stories the way I was inspired,” exclaimed an excited and proud Laskin, “it was a cool morning, but the sun was out, and I noticed that throughout the day things started to get warmer.  That’s when I came upon this article about climate change and global warming, where the scientists are blaming on carbon dioxide from fossil fuels, but based on my experience on how the sun seemed to be working, I decided to comment on this article to suggest that maybe we shouldn’t be looking at carbon dioxide, and that the sun is responsible for the warming.”

This comment may have been missed by the climate science community if not for a bit a random luck.  Climate researcher, Dr. Mike Hulme, received a text message from his sister who happened in the article that simply read “Holy shit, some guy commented on an article and mentioned the sun!  I’ve never heard you talk about the sun before in telling me about your work.  WTF!?”  The word spread at the speed of light in the scientific community, and while some resistance remains to this new development, the change has been visible and scientists are now contemplating a spectrum of new ideas in regards to the warming we are seeing.  We had a chance to go to King’s College in London to talk to Hulme.  “Needless to say I am shocked.,” said a shaken Hulme, ” All those years in school studying weather and climate, and nobody ever brought up this glowing orb in the sky called the sun.  I’ll admit it made the physics of climate somewhat implausible, but you know we tend to respect our teachers and believe what they tell us without every going through that process of discovery on our own.  I am just glad that we have internet commenters like drillbaby to clue us in to important things we have missed.”

When asked why some researchers are still resistant to this very pervasive idea of the sun causing warming, Hulme replied “Well I have no idea why they would prefer to remain in the dark as it were, but I guess most scientists care more about money, and it’s a tragedy really.  But I have no other explanation.  I will say that there really is a lot of confusion right now and so some scientists are reticent about changing their views yet until all the information comes out.  Currently we are still mining internet comments and finding out all sorts of things we previously did not know.  As it turns out there are many people who haven’t spent years studying atmospheric physics and research climate data who are writing some pretty in depth articles about how we got it all wrong.”  We then asked Hulme if there was anything else these internet comments were shedding important light on.  “Absolutely,” responded Hulme, “Quite a lot really, but one thing stands out.  As it turns out there are many people saying that the climate has actually changed naturally over the course of Earth’s history and there really is no need to worry.  Apparently if things change naturally any suggestion that changes may be enhanced or made more severe unnaturally is a pointless argument.  I’ve even changed my views about gun control.  People die naturally, thus homicide is irrelevant.  I’m just going to retire early and hang out with my Scottish Terrier”

Silence ensued for a few minutes as the exasperated Hulme simply shook his head in quiet contemplation.  I then asked him about the field of paleoclimatology that looks at how climate has changed in the past.  Hulme looked up at me wild-eyed and said, “Don’t you understand, it’s all been a lie? We missed the part about the sun and so you can’t trust any of our understanding about past climate either!  Honestly how can you trust us or anything we say ever again?!”

The Sun, featured here in the upper right.  The missing piece of the global warming puzzle, previously missed by scientists.
The Sun, featured here in the upper right. The missing piece of the global warming puzzle, previously missed by scientists.

We left the sobbing Hulme, but there still seemed to be some questions.  Previously computers models had demonstrated the warming could only be explained with the additional CO2 going into the atmosphere, and not by natural causes alone.  What then were those computer models even showing?  We sat down with a distraught Dr. Michael Mann at his office at Penn State University to ask him.  “We’ve all been taken aback by this sun thing, and it’s really made us look more carefully at the qualifications of the people involved in this research.  Models are really complex and most of us don’t really understand it.  As it turns out those who make these models don’t have years of experience studying computational fluid dynamics, but are rather out of work video game designers.  Apparently it’s quite common to randomize things in a video game, and this is apparently what the designers were doing – just randomly throwing in some false warming into the models.  Overall it’s pretty disappointing that we missed the sun in our models.  Right now I’m in the processing of going through my old syllabi that I have from my many years in college to make sure that there was no section called “the sun”.  If not, I think I have grounds to ask for a refund on my tuition.”

Finally, we asked Mann when the climate research community would have an official statement to make to the public they lied to all these years.  Mann, like Hulme, said there are many more internet comments to troll through, but he did say this “Right now I’d just like to say thank you to all those who persevered through perhaps 6 or 7 articles from right wing media outlets and were still able to find time to post their well-defended comments underneath articles with our nonsensical babbling which represents, to be honest, some of the shoddiest science mankind has ever seen.”

The Good News and The Bad News on Climate Change

On Friday, at my university, we were fortunate enough to have a very well know climate science researcher speak, Michael Mann.  IF the name sounds familiar it’s because he was the one that produced the famous “Hockey Stick” graph that appeared in the peer-reviewed Geophysical Research Letters journal in 1999 (I wonder how many graphs have their own Wikipedia page!).  The graph of course was much maligned by climate change deniers funded by various lobbying groups, but has since that time proven to be quite accurate and verified by other researchers.  His was also among the e-mails leaked in the scandal called “climategate” which, despite the spin of deniers from out of context e-mail excerpts, has been debunked by the scientific community.  It was a great opportunity to hear from someone who has been at the heart of promoting scientific research on climate change, while also dealing with a great deal of political controversy and pseudo-science promoters who try to claim human-induced climate change is a hoax.  Like many climate scientists he has reached a point where he no longer finds it very useful to reach out to the public with facts and figures.  Numerous research articles have concluded that now, views on climate change are governed by political ideology rather than directly arguing with the science behind human-induced climate change.  I found the talk quite illuminating since I too have reached the same conclusion that scientific evidence seems to carry little weight when having discussions with people about the issue.  I also found it illuminating to learn more about the political state of affairs in the U.S. right now, so I wanted to share some good news and bad news takeaways for those of you concerned about our Earth.

The Good News

One thing that I thought was a good take away is that if you are a person debating or discussing this topic with a friend, relative, stranger whatever, that talking about the scientific consensus is probably the most helpful thing you can do.  Obviously there are always going to be contrary people, but for many there is still a misconception that this is a split issue, and research demonstrates that a lot of minds are changed by pointing out how much consensus there really is.  For more conservatively minded people reminding them that there are more economic benefits to doing something to not doing something, and that climate change also represents a national security issue is also important.  Fortunately there is already a faction of the military addressing climate change from this perspective.

The other bit of good news is that there is a great deal of plans in place by scientists and engineers to start dealing with climate change.  Basically the scientific community is prepared, and are simply waiting for the political will to be able to spring into action.

Michael Mann also said there are a lot of Republican members of congress who are closeted climate change supporters.  They accept the scientific evidence and feel that it is important to do something about it.  Why are they in the closet, well they have learned the lesson of Bob Inglis.  He was a SC congressman who served from 2005-2011 and came out for doing something about climate change from an evangelical Christian perspective.  He said the scientists were right and as Christians we should be caring for God’s creation.  If you are a Christian this is a valid position to take and is supported by scripture.  Bob Inglis ended up losing by a landslide in the Republican primary as his opponent was support by the Koch brothers.  Michael Mann and Bob Inglis are good friends and so I believe this political inside information to be plausible and valid.  In some ways by releasing him like that, conservative America has opened up a can of worms and Mr. Inglis now promotes doing something about climate change from both a Republican and Christian viewpoint.

The Bad News

Well the bad news is also related to the good news.  It makes me concerned, not only that the massive money of the Koch Brothers and energy companies lobbying against solid science is preventing us from taking action that will help this planet, but also that we have so many Republican people in congress without the political courage to stand up to the money.  It seems if they all banded together I am not sure what the likes of the Koch Brothers could do, if all of a sudden all of those people in congress lost their next elections suddenly. It would sort of “show their hand”.  I guess it upsets me that the people we elect can be so intellectually dishonest and live with themselves.

I asked Michael Mann what the political tipping point would be to make all these Republican congress people come out the proverbial closet.  He said that it would take the Republican party to crash and burn in this next election.  Only by losing the executive branch and the senate (and possibly the house) would make them turn around and start to support more environmental concerns.  The problem is that this election is looking a lot closer than it should be.  A small margin of victory by Clinton isn’t going to cut it.

What is clear is that whatever your political stance, climate change is in your best interest and it behooves you to vote for politicians who do have the courage to fight for this planet.  Given Gary Johnson, and Trump’s stance on climate, these are really not viable options.  And most importantly make sure you vote for people in the senate and the house who accept the scientific consensus on climate change as well.

Finally I also want to help promote Michael Mann’s new book.  It gives a much more in depth discussion than my little summary here.  He also teamed up with a satirical cartoonist from the Washington Post who provides some good humor throughout the book.  The book address things like ethics, politics, the money and ideologies behind climate science deniers, logical fallacies, and of course some basics about the science.  I highly recommend it.




The book discusses tipping point in the climate system which are points which there is no quick return from and can lead to rapid disaster.

Shepherding the Earth: Fallacies That May Destroy Us All

I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts called The Hidden Brain on NPR and they were talking about the climate change situation in a great episode called Losing Alaska.  Basically they were saying that scientific arguments have little merit anymore in talking about climate change.  I would have to say that I agree.  As WhiteEarthWhite EarthAlaskaMuirGlacierDisappearingFast194120040001Asomeone who holds a Ph.D. in the Atmospheric Sciences I can most certainly say that few people that I have debated with on the subject truly understand the problem scientifically and I don’t claim to be the smartest person in the world, this is simply the truth.  My field is applied math and physics.  Not only that, the climate system is   Involves interdisciplinary knowledge as well in chemistry, oceanography and geology.  To change someone’s mind from a scientific point of view, it would take a lot of study and learning.  Now you may be saying, wait I accept man-made climate change, and it it’s pretty obvious.  Well I would argue that you don’t really understand it, but it’s easier for you to accept because it already fits in with your ideology.  And I don’t say that to be demeaning, especially I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad ideology to have.  Specifically the one in which we recognize that something is very complex and we don’t have years to study it on our own so maybe I should listen to what experts are saying.  Much like we tend to believe our doctor when they tell us we have cancer as opposed to learning the requisite knowledge we need in order to test ourselves.

Instead of a Heavenly Father, maybe a Mother Earth isn’t a bad person to start worshiping.

But more to the point it really does come down to our personal ideology whether we accept the science, because let’s face it the science is telling us some pretty harsh things.  Not only is the Earth in a lot of trouble, but we actually might be responsible for it all.  And in order to combat the problem we are causing we are going to have to give up a great deal.  Transitioning away from a fuel source we heavily depend on will require large shifts in business and industry affecting the jobs of many.  And of course such a transition cannot be made overnight, but even at a moderate pace will require a cultural change at a rate faster than many of us would have a hard time adjusting too.  That of course does not make it any less compulsory.  Interestingly this podcast made the argument that we all are capable of great sacrifices at times of war or crises, and that dealing with man-made climate change requires an approach that is used by religion rather than one that is used by science.  I find myself having a hard time disagreeing.  While I would love to live in a society where science had a much more powerful influence on changing minds ultimately it does seem that we need to change minds at an emotional level over an intellectual one (which is to me what the podcast suggested by saying a “religious approach”).

In that vein, I wanted to address some of the main arguments I see used by climate change deniers, which tend to be more ideologically based instead of arguments that attack the scientific data on the subject.  They are more dangerous to me, because they seem reasonable.  They seem irrefutable.  This is not the case.

Science had been wrong before, why should we trust scientists?

                          The Geocentric Universe

This is quite true.  Scientists have been wrong before.  In fact progress is actually built on that very premise.  But notice the word “progress”.  It always strikes me as strange that people overlook this aspect of science.  Much like we learn from our own mistakes and grow and get better as people, this is how science works as well.  So we do get things wrong, but we also get a lot of things right.  Your daily lives in this modern world are a living result of that.  From the car you drive to the device in which you are punching out your arguments.  Now you could be right that someday we will discover that we were all wrong about this, but if we do, it will not because we were willfully trying to mislead people, but rather a new discovery has allowed us to view the world in a different way thus disproving our theory.  So unless you’ve got that said discovery I can guarantee you that our assessment about the state of the climate system is based on the best available knowledge we have about how it works.  And personally I see no shame in acting in the best interest of all on this planet based on what we know of it.

Finally, just because you don’t trust science or want to focus on the things it got wrong makes it your problem, and not science’s problem.  To refute climate change science on those grounds is to commit the genetic fallacy.  Directly address the assertions being made by those advocating the position in terms of their conclusions analysis of their data.  That is really your only option.  To explain it more simply “Al Gore is a democrat, and I hate democrats.  Al Gore gives evidence for why man-made climate change is happening, but since he is a democrat, he must be wrong.”  That’s not how it works.  Sorry.

Scientists are just doing it for the money. IPCC is corrupt.  Liberal media…

This argument is the same as the genetic fallacy because it is again an attempt to discredit to the reliability of the source to simply argue away what the source has to say.  I’ll admit that in such instances I will use the same fallacious argument back, because, quite honestly two can play that game, and I can play it better.  Let’s say all of us scientists are ego driven money-grubbing bastards.  My options are renewable energy companies and liberal governments, or oil companies.  Hmmm…I wonder who has more money.  Not only that with all the other scientists clearly in the wrong camp, all that sweet oil money could be mine (as it was for Wei-Hock Soon) as there are even less people to share it with.

In terms of fame, the fallacious argument made by deniers fall even shorter.  If I had definitive proof that all the other scientists were wrong.  I would be the one who was famous.  I’d be on all the news programs, giving talks around the world on a sweet oil company payroll, and even the liberal media would have me on their shows even to abuse me while I valiantly stuck to my guns with the full conviction that I was doing my science right.  I would be the hero of deniers everywhere.

Sometimes even fallacious arguments are hardly worth the effort.

The climate has changed before when humans weren’t around.  It’s natural.

7wG9WakThis is the first part of an argument constantly used.  It’s also known in logic as a type of naturalistic fallacy.  Just because something can happen naturally, doesn’t mean it can’t happen unnaturally.  Do floods happen naturally?  Sure.  Can floods also happen because of human activities?  Absolutely.  Natural selection happens in evolution.  But you know what also happens?  “Unnatural selection”.  The fruits and vegetables we eat, the dogs and cats we have as pets, and the horses we ride are all examples of this.   The same thing can happen with or without intention.

We cannot have an impact on something as big as the Earth.

                                                       The ecosystem formerly known as rain forest.

This argument is made without any substantiation at all.  It is often also used by people who are trying not to be religious but would rather take the James Inhofe argument that God controls the climate!  Of course examples of how we have changed climate locally can be found all over through the building of structures like dams on rivers, cutting down forests and poor farming practices.  In terms of the climate change issue specifically this person does a pretty nice break down of looking at how the amount of carbon we produce can quite easily explain the increase in carbon since pre-industrial levels.  There is no reason to believe that we couldn’t have such a global impact.  In fact that argument always seems to me a way of insulting or discrediting scientists again because it’s a pretty important question to answer before we would even start putting out evidence about climate change.  I mean if the amount of carbon we produce paled in comparison to the amount of increase we’ve seen then I am not sure how the scientific consensus could be developed in the first place.  It’s like when people say, the warming is being caused by the sun, and I think to myself “Oh my…we scientists all forgot to take into account the sun.  I better make a few calls.  Can’t believe we missed that one!”.

The Earth will survive.  We’ve had major disasters before and life persists.  Whatever is going to happen is going to happen.

This is the most insidious arguments, because it’s not fallacious at all in a logical sense.  However it is apathetic and immoral.  A lot of times people will say things like…”we’re just another species.  Whatever we do is natural, and whatever happens will happens.”

Let’s say you are an emergency manager who works at a national park in a mountainous area.  The weather is starting to warm and there has been heavy rains in the mountains and typically when such rains occur, especially in combination with some ice jams in the water flash flooding occurs.  It’s not a guarantee, but likely.   A town at the foot of the mountain in which the river runs through is going to get flooded, people could easily die if they are not warned.  This is a natural event, it was going to happen whether humans are around are not do you warn them?

I think most people would answer that they would.  To me arguing that doing nothing is the only option we have because the Earth is just going to do is thing is tantamount to doing nothing in this example, and simply letting people die.  Many people who accept the fact that the climate is changing but don’t think man is responsible still must accept the consequences to this warming.  Some of the one’s we are more sure of are:

  1. Rising sea levels drowning coastal populations and increased damages and deaths from coastal hazards such as tropical storms and tsunamis
  2. Increased heat waves and droughts
  3. Increases in extreme weather events as climate patterns shift
  4. Increased severity of extreme weather events.

What’s more is that these types of things will adversely impact the most vulnerable of the worlds population.  People who are in poverty.  People who depend on subsistence farming.  When local hazards happen communities do make sacrifices, and do look for solutions, through re-zoning laws, construction improvements, and other engineering solutions to try and make the world safer and have less loss of life.  So even if man has nothing do with the problem it doesn’t mean that we don’t have a responsibility to act to come up with a solution.

One can be logically sound but be ethically and morally irresponsible.  Ignoring what experts are saying, making sweeping and unsubstantiated statements that there is nothing we can do, that it’s just nature, and the Earth will be fine is really the same as having the power to do something to save lives and not doing it.  And this is why I agree that the conversation about climate change has to shift away from science and facts and be more about compassion, about love for our fellow human beings, valuing equality so that we all have the same chance to adapt and survive the changing climate, and about taking responsibility for the home that sustains us all.  These are important values regardless of what is causing the climate to change and these are things we can address and even already have some solutions for.  Of course I know that is even overly idealistic to think that such a solution of addressing people on an emotional level might work.  Hell it’s difficult to find a religion that unanimously agrees poverty is something we should do something about. I feel pretty bleak in general about us actually doing something about climate change.  It requires people to move beyond nationalism, beyond their own religious beliefs and worldview, which tend to not be very worldly at all.  Maybe we can’t win against the forces of nature, but it sure would nice if we could overcome the forces that divide us as a species.  We can try.  Maybe in the end it really is easier to move mountains.

The Pope is a Great Guy, but…

Of course if you are in the U.S. you know that life is all a buzz because the Pope is here.  Democrats are happy, Republicans are mad, life can’t get better for us liberals right?

Now don’t get me wrong…I think this pope is miles ahead of popes in the past and I really love his positive messages about doing something about climate change, helping refugees, and taking care of the poor. But….

On the topic of climate change, there this group, let’s call them a hell of a lot of scientists across numerous scientific disciplines who have been saying we need to do something about climate change.  But if the Pope says, then we better start listening.

There are a large group of people who feel great compassion for the poor and already believe we should be helping them.  The Pope says we should help them and so now we better start listening.

There are a lot of people who think we need to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Syria better.  The Pope has made it clear we must help, so now we better start listening.

And look, I get it to a certain point, because there is a large portion of this country who only start to take things seriously when it is said by religious authority, but that doesn’t mean we should really be happy about it.

Secular humanists and those that value the scientific method as the best way to try and understand how the universe works are years ahead of the church on these kinds of issues and yet nothing can be done about it until the Pope says to do something about it?

But here is the thing, the Pope is right, but there is nothing about his religion beliefs that are germane to the issues he speaks of.  Helping the poor is a matter of acting out of our natural capacity to feel empathy, it speaks to equality, and human rights.  There is nothing divine about it.  Doing something about climate change has nothing to do with the story of Jesus Christ.  Once again it is being proactive about reducing suffering and listening to what 1000’s of scientists are saying who have spent years and years researching changes to our environment.  If there was no Pope and no God this would all still be the right thing to do, because why let people suffer?

So I’m happy that the Pope is saying all these things, but there are many among you have been saying these things all along.  Intelligent and compassionate people.  They aren’t called the Pope but maybe they are worth listening to as well. To me it’s a bit sad that we have to look to a man who says many things other have said all along, but just because he is the Pope it becomes relevant.

It is science alone that can solve the problems of hunger and poverty, of insanitation and illiteracy, of superstition and deadening custom and tradition, of vast resources running to waste, of a rich country inhabited by starving people… Who indeed could afford to ignore science today? At every turn we have to seek its aid … the future belongs to science and those who make friends with science. – Jawaharlal Nehru – 1961

Science…not Science

I read a couple of troubling articles today about some forensic techniques that were used by the FBI that were used as evidence in criminal cases and were sold by the FBI as reliable techniques, but as it turns out were not the case.  Those articles can be found here, and here.

In a horrible fit of madness I looked at some of the comments, and of course there are plenty of conspiracy people there, but what was more interesting is how many people thought that this was confirmation that scientific consensus doesn’t mean anything, or how science is unreliable, and many of these people were clearly conservatives who are climate change deniers.  It annoys me to see science and logic so misunderstood, so I thought I just write down a few thoughts.

First of all it’s important to remember that one case of science being misused is not evidence that all science can’t be trusted.

Second, this is not a case of science being misused.  The science was correct the entire time, it’s the FBI that lied about the science.  Whether it was the forensics people themselves who misrepresented the science or lead investigator in charge of the case is unclear, but it was actually objective scientific investigation that showed the corruption of the FBI.  There were actually peer-reviewed publications that demonstrated the lack of reliability of these techniques, just as there are 1000’s and 1000’s of peer-reviewed journal articles that establish the truth of human-induced climate change and this is much different than someone having the truth in a journal article, but then lying about it in terms of how that knowledge is applied.

Third, you could call what the FBI is doing bad science, but you can also see how easily that bad science was uncovered by the recent investigation.  However when it comes to climate change, even their own scientists agree about the evidence for human-induced climate change.  The party just refuses to listen.

More careful investigation of this exposure of the FBI’s techniques is  not an indictment of science, but rather something that reveals it’s value at uncovering bias.



The Moral of the Story

I was ‘talking’ with a fellow blogger who is a nurse, and as I am a meteorologist we were trying to figure out who had it worse.  Was it more annoying to deal with the “climate change deniers” or the “anti-vaxxers”.   I agreed his was more annoying, because while human induced climate changed is well-evidenced it is always going to receive a lot of political blowback in a fossil fuel dependent world and it is both a complex and new problem facing us.  Vaccinations on the other hand have worked so well and have eradicated disease so completely that people don’t remember why they even get them and instead have invented dangers to receiving them because they can no longer see the purpose.    It’s as routine as opening your mouth and saying “Ahhh”.  People don’t really question that, but it doesn’t inject anything into you and is sort of hard to get upset about, but I think when some medical advancement has been around so long and so successful we forget the reason and just see it as possibly something that isn’t necessary.

This led me to wonder if the same thing wasn’t true for how we understand morals.  One of the common things you hear from atheists is that many theists are under the impression that we do not have a moral and ethical code.  That such thing is not possible if we don’t have God and some supernatural system of punishment and reward.  I remember my mom, who is Christian, telling me at some point that our sense of right and wrong must come from God or else where would we get it from?  The general answer is easy of course, we are taught them by our parents and others.  We have authority figures that tell us what is right and what is wrong (even though you can convince a child that things that are wrong are actually write, like prejudice and intolerance).  The point is if as children we seem to get our morality from the authority figures in our life, perhaps it’s not surprising that many people, especially those who have no qualms about relying on the “rightness” of authority, that morality comes from what many consider the ultimate authority, God.  But it seems obvious to me that morality can easily be derived through scientific investigation.  Morality though has been around well before the scientific method, but humans have been around for a long enough time that we’ve been living a social experiment of morality and have simply been learning.  At one time the things we take as obvious might not have been overtly obvious, even though I think some of the big ones we could figure out rather quickly as they would not be a beneficial for survival.  Just like we stopped questioning why vaccines are important, perhaps we stopped questioning why certain immoral acts are wrong, such that people assume that it all must have come from some other plane of existence.

Some morals are certainly cross-cultural, like physical and sexual harm to other people’s children.  This one would be a pretty obvious natural (perhaps genetic) trait because our survival does depend on the survival of the next generation.  Anything that threatens that would be considered immoral.  Unfortunately in many places physically or psychologically hurting your own child is not seen as wrong.  It wasn’t so long ago here that, unless something got really severe, you were hardly considered in the wrong for disciplining your child with a belt or the back of your hand.  Some people still adopt that attitude unfortunately in North America, and it can be worse in other countries.  Regardless though we generally do go to ridiculous (and perhaps psychologically detrimental) lengths to protect children.  In general though killing is not quite viewed the same way.  Many think it’s okay to kill criminals (apparently it sometimes doesn’t even matter the crime…resisting arrest is enough), and killing in war is not only tolerated, but often cheered about.   For some time killing your wife in a crime of passion was often considered justifiable.  And many civilizations have committed genocide in our past and that has gone unpunished.   So even of the most basic commandments “thou shall not kill” isn’t clear cut, so this obvious sense of right and wrong we are supposed to get from God looks pretty muddy.  And if we are worried about some sort of eternal punishment system it’s amazing the ways we can justify killing when we need to dodge that one.

But let’s look at it from the perspective of “unlawful killing” which is why modern translations say “murder” instead of kill in the 10 commandments.  Thus we already have human law deciding what killing is lawful and unlawful.  This is not an overly divine commandment already.  We know that before civilization we roamed in smallish hunter gatherer bands.  Maybe a few hundred people at most.  This was a time before Christianity, before the 10 commandments, so let’s assume this group doesn’t know right from wrong.  Like a small town, in these small groups, you knew everyone.  Surviving in the wild is not easy and everybody had a role to play, and everybody shared and worked together.  Studies of hunter-gatherer tribes today show them to be rather egalitarian in compared with much of civilized society so let’s look at this as a group that gets along.  So we have a group of a few 100 people, and because they have no God to tell them between right and wrong they think murder might be just something that’s okay to do.  What would be the results of a few people that decided to commit a murder every once in awhile:

  1. Population decline and lack of genetic diversity – We could at the very least learn that there is a murder rate that is not healthy for the survival of the group. Through cooperation, life was made easier, but the group gets smaller, things get harder. Population can only increase so fast. So at the very least, if murder is okay, we can’t do it too often.
  2. Loss of those with specialized or exceptional skill. While daily tasks required teamwork there would have been certain people with more extraordinary skill. A tribe may also only have one person who does a particular job. Murder could reduce the chance for survival if such people are killed.
  3. Growing fear and distrust. If people are being murdered, people are less likely to cooperative. Some people will simply be scared they will be next and be more cautious and protective. Some people will be angry at the loss of their child, brother, sister, etc. This will cause others to fight back. There may be false accusations, which builds more anger and distrust.
  4. They are diminishing their own chance for survival. Once a murderer is discovered, those that committed the murders may find themselves a victim.

Now there are probably even more things that could be listed as to why murdering would not be a good idea, the least of which that we are by definition a social species for whom survival depends on our being in a group, and being able to work well in that group.  It simply isn’t in our nature to murder our own, and there is a lot of good reasons why murder would not be a good idea.  However when it comes to other groups, all bets are off.  We may be xenophobic due to bad experiences with other groups before, or simply be xenophobic because someone who we don’t know simply isn’t somebody we can implicitly trust, and thus we can justify killing others that are not part of our society.  This is why war is not against the law, but murder is.  We can do similar thought experiments with many other basic things that cause harm, like stealing, or any action that causes harm both physically and emotionally.   But even if it was not in our nature, this social experiment has been going on for some time and it seems quite reasonable to assume that even if there was not a morality inherent in us through birth, if at the very least we have a driving force to survive then many of the morals we have today would result through experience and observation and concluding how to survive better.

As a population we continue to adjust.  Different groups share moral truths just as they would share any other type of knowledge.  And so perhaps much of what we consider right and wrong is handed to us without that rediscovering process, but you can still see the impact of people doing the right thing and wrong thing today.  Because even though I think that on average humans are more moral in civilized society today than in the earlier days of civilization, we still have a ways to go.  People who are doing good and bad things are not of one particular faith or philosophy.  If you have compassion and care about how you make others feel, you will discover yourself how to behave in a way that’s more positive everyday as you grow and learn also.  It is the scientist in us that helps us become more moral.  If anything, the Bible demonstrates this more completely as the old testament has very much an eye-for-an-eye mentality, but the new testament is very much about forgiveness, redemption, and compassion.  Even God seemed to find a more moral way of dealing with enemies. Thus I don’t think it’s surprising that morality should progress in the same way that science does.


Climate Change for the Masses (Part II)

Well it would seem that a group blog idea with a weather and climate theme has fallen apart, and so I’ll have to do my blogging about it here instead.  Several months ago I began what I hoped would be a 3 part series, themed around the John Oliver’s  “Last Week Tonight” Episode on the climate change debate.  In my first blog post I wanted to try and investigate what type of people don’t accept the evidence on climate change, based on my own experience in getting into various discussions on the topic with people outside my discipline.  In this blog article I’d like to take a look at the actual media portrayal of the problem which was more the central theme of John Oliver’s segment.

If you haven’t watched the clip, John Oliver critiques the media for having one person who accepts the scientific evidence, with one person who denies it, saying that this gives an unfair representation of the scientific consensus on the issue.  Over 97% of the scientific literature from over 10,000 scientists across earth and biological sciences have concluded that human induced climate change is a fact, making it appear as though it is a split issue is quite simply dishonest.  And this absolutely true, but it is in fact even worse than that.

The 50-50 split looks even more in favor of the deniers when the media is always using the same person to represent the scientific side.  If you watch many interviews on the subject you might actually get the picture that it seems to be only one guy who thinks human-induced climate change is real while many other people don’t think it’s happening.  If you always saw the same guy “for” an issue and many other people on TV saying they are “against” it would be somewhat natural to think that the “against” side had a better argument.  Of course you’d be wrong in thinking that.  This is called the “Appeal to Popularity Fallacy” (or ad populum for you Latin Lovers).  An extremely common one used nowadays.  Of course as it turns out, it is the logic of the arguments and the strength of the evidence that makes for who has taken the correct issue on the stance.  Of course there are many biases and fallacies that we naturally gravitate towards because it is in our evolution.  Being the outcast in a group didn’t get you very far early in our evolution and the same is in a large part true today.  Although generally today, no matter how different you might be, with a large population you are likely to find a group to connect with.  But in terms of genetic history being an outcast in a group of social animals who may be relatively isolated from other populations doesn’t really give you anywhere to go, and since survival on your own is more difficult “following the herd” is part of who we are.  Of course, in this instance, there is no real punishment for accepting scientific evidence but sometimes I think our wiring doesn’t really care.

The 50-50 perception unbalances even further when you consider who Bill Nye.  Now don’t get me wrong.  As a scientist, I know he’s


a scientist, and that he has the ability to not only understand the issue, speak intelligently about it, and accept the hard work done by so many scientists to reach the conclusions they have about climate change.  But to the public there are a lot of negatives about Bill Nye that would make his credibility more suspect, especially to people who are on the fence or deniers themselves.   First of all Bill Nye is not a climate scientist.  He is not an expert in the field of climate science and as such this will weaken his credibility as an advocate.  In fact Bill Nye is most famous for his use of science concepts for educating children.  Climate change is a very adult issue that will require adults in government and voting adults to accept the scientific evidence and put forth appropriate policies to address the issue.  Bill Nye is also a celebrity and many people have negative attitudes towards celebrities who get involved in issues that are political.  In Canada, David Suzuki is a very famous scientist and naturalist, but is not very knowledgeable about the issue and so while he has tried to be advocate for climate change, he has not done very well when addressing even the most common fallacious criticisms put forth by deniers in a debate format.  He was hoping his popularity would help change the minds of people, but in fact it has likely hurt those who might be willing to listen to a well reasoned debate on the subject.  So I think Bill Nye may have similar impacts.

Now don’t get me wrong, because I am not convinced that the media is intentionally using Bill Nye for the purposes of misleading others.  For them, he is a celebrity and known and will add a few viewers whether people have grown to hate him or love him.  He is also an excellent public speaker, and he is also eager to break away from his previous persona as a scientist for children (honestly go back to getting children excited about science, I think it’s too late for congress now!).   So what is the solution to making the debate fairer?  John Oliver’s suggestion is not a bad one, but of course they are unlikely to get 100 people on the stage for a debate.   We nerdy introverted scientists simply need to become better communicators.  We need to get involved in educational outreach and scientific discourse at regional, state, and national levels.  Since there are literally 1000’s and 1000’s of people researching this field and concluding that man is impacting the climate just as we hone our research and analytical skills we must also hone our communication skills so that we aren’t just contributing through the publication of an article in a scientific journal.  And media, you could do a better job of finding actual experts to have on your programs.  You could do a better job also by being honest and saying we know this is not even close to a split issue in the scientific community and have more debates about what the best way about addressing the issue is, rather than trying to debate whether it is an issue at all.

If you are interested in learning more about climate science, learn about what the common myths are about climate change and why they are not well reasoned arguments, and be able to investigate climate change science at various levels of complexities I strongly recommend this site called Skeptical Science.