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March against madness - denial has pushed scientists out to the streets

Posted on 25 April 2017 by dana1981

This past weekend, hundreds of thousands of people in the US and around the world marched in support of science. Next weekend, the People’s Climate Marchwill follow.

Redglass Pictures and StarTalk Radio created a short film in which the brilliant scientist and communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson – though not specifically talking about the science marches – perfectly articulated the motivations behind them.


For example, last weekend’s March for Science was largely a pushback against the creeping science denial among today’s political leaders, about which Dr. Tyson said:

But in this, the 21st Century, when it comes time to make decisions about science, it seems to me people have lost the ability to judge what is true and what is not; what is reliable and what is not reliable; what should you believe, what should you not believe. And, when you have people who don’t know much about science standing in denial of it, and rising to power, that is a recipe for the complete dismantling of our informed democracy.

The climate march is in response to so many of our political leaders using science denial to obstruct the important debate about policy solutions:

So once you understand that humans are warming the planet, you can then have a political conversation about that … [policy solutions] have political answers. And every minute one is in denial, you are delaying the political solution that should have been established years ago.

Mythbuster Adam Savage was interviewed on MSNBC about why he decided to speak at and participate in the March for Science in San Francisco:

we live in a time where people are passing legislation like in North Carolina to not pay attention to science when making legislation about coastal water levels rising. That is absolutely ludicrous and anti-human. We need to make, as you just said, policies based on the best evidence we have available to us, and that’s why I’m marching.

The marches have drawn some attention. PBS NewsHour – the only American network news program to consistently report on climate change – did a story featuring our own Geoffrey Supran:


The underlying problem is that it’s been decades since we’ve known enough about the threats posed by human-caused climate change to mitigate those risks. It should be a no-brainer: we have one planet with one climate that we depend upon entirely for our survival. We are in the process of fundamentally changing its atmosphere by dumping 35 billion tons of carbon dioxide into it every year. Our only reasonable option is to curb that carbon pollution as quickly as possible before we destabilize the Earth’s climate.

We seemed to finally be moving in the right direction with the Paris agreement, and now the American government is reneging on its pledges and doing everything in its power to increase carbon pollution. Members of the House Science Committee, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the President of the United States deny basic scientific findings made decades ago. The President proposed a budget that would slash funding for scientific research, he’s failed to appoint people to key scientific posts in his administration, and Republicans in the House of Representatives passed two bills to stifle science at the EPA.

It’s madness. We are risking the future of our society on the slim chance that a 3% fringe minority of climate scientists is right and 97% are wrong. It’s like playing Russian roulette, but with far worse odds. At least with Russian roulette there’s a 5-in-6 chance (83%) you’ll be fine. That’s a far sight better than the 3-in-100 (3%) gamble our leaders are taking on climate change. Worse yet, even the 3% don’t deny that humans are altering Earth’s climate, which is an inherently risky proposition.

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Comments 1 to 13:

  1. Well said. The loss of belief in science is tragic, and astounding, and dismissing the views 97% of climate scientists that agree we are altering the climate, and going with a small minority of sceptics of 3%, is irrational, and ammounts to an insane sort of selfish gamble, and is dumping our stupidity on future generations. We have just one planet, and it needs to ne managed well or things will go very wrong. Most importantly, it's a completely senseless gamble, given renewable energy is now cost competitive, or close enough to be genuinely viable.

    (Polls actually show a variance from 90% - 97% who think we are altering the climate, but I think its immaterial whether its 90% or 97%. It's a big majority, and no poll has ever found climate scientists with a radically different outcome. I suspect sceptics have conducted such polls, but they have not delivered the results they wanted, so never got published)

    Yes some will argue that the majority are not always right, but given the sceptics are in a distinct minority, their work has to be carefully scrutinised, and the duty is on them to have a pretty convincing argument, including not just some big problem with mainstream climate science theory, but a viable alternative reason for global warming that explains not just the rate of warming, but also other associated atmospheric changes. They have consistently failed to do this imho.

    Climate denialists and sceptics also seem to consistently come with a lot of ideological baggage, that to me undermines their credibility.

    I remain open minded, but we have completely run out of time to theorise, because if we don't act now, serious climate change will be totally locked in for millenia.

    I take some degree of issue with the claim that people have "suddenly lost the ability to judge what is right or not," in other words suddenly become irrational. I think many people have always stuggled to evaluate science, because we have failed to teach enough about the scientific method itself, along with skills of logical thinking, identifying shallow rhetorical tricks and so on. Given climate change is a big issue with big implications, it has exposed this lack of skill.

    However some things have changed as well. In the past I think people have accepted science on trust, and have been respectful of elites, during the 1800's and authoritarian post WW2 period, up until the 1960s, and had no particluar reason to question things like quantum physics, that doesn't require them to change lifestyles. This subservience to authority was however oppressive in various facets of life, especially socially.

    Things are now different as culture is more liberal and less authoritarian on the whole, so people question things more. This is basically very healthy, but has gone totally out of control with some people, with a total lack of respect for elites, for various reasons. People have simply lost faith in elites, possibly for partisan political reasons, frustration that things dont always work smoothly, etc. This has led to Trump gaining unfortunate traction.

    But I think it's also exposed that many people lack the rational thinking skills to discern when the elite or politicians are genuinely wrong or genuinely right, or to spot flaws in denialist claims, which might be scientic flaws or simple logical absurdities.

    Of course we cannot expect people to accept every pronouncement of the elite at face value. Alternative views are healthy. Scepticism has its place and can be healthy, if it's rationally based.

    But alternative facts are a nonsense. Conspiracy thinking is insane. These things are dead ends.

    Without basic, fundamental faith in mainstream institutions and mainstream science, and the scientific method, and rational evidence based thinking, we are lost and things will end badly. We loose unity of human purpose and belief. It will become a war zone on every level, with human groups divided, and it could literally come to civil war.

    There's no viable alternative to mainstream science, rational thinking, evidence collated or collected by good public institutions, and private institutions that have integrity and reputation, and some form of authority that is tasked with collecting such evidence.

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  2. Recommended supplemental reading:

    Networks Covering March For Science Provided Platform For Climate Deniers by Kevin Kalhoefer, Media Matters for America, Apr 24, 2017

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  3. I don't agree with the 97 to 3 odds, and I think that using that argument gives too much credit to the 3 percent. Climate science is basic chemistry and physics. There is no doubt that our release of CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels is warming our planet, melting glaciers, and fueling both storms and droughts. I don't understand the motivations of the 3% of doubters who claim to be climate scientists, but whatever their motivations, they're just plain wrong.

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  4. We can not use language of physics and chemistry to solve climate change. Laws of physics and chemistry produce waves which trap heat and make objects appear real. We need new laws to dissolve solid objects into light in our eyes and new words to experience our changing senses.

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  5. Horrid, the denial, the disbelief.

    Last Sunday the Gospel lesson was John 20:19-31, the “Doubting Thomas” story. It has some relevance. Taking the story literally, one guy of the twelve did not believe, because he didn’t see it. He could not take the word of his fellow disciples, with whom he had spent years. So, 1/12 or ≈8% on the skeptic side. He did not take the word of the two women who went to the tomb, nor of the guy who made the tomb available. So, 1/15 or ≈7%. The ≈3% disbelievers are worse then Thomas, who did not deny the evidence. These “scientists” stuck their hands in the data equivalents of the nail-holes, etc, and they still do not believe (or so they claim).

    About the only tentative conclusion I can find from the above paragraph is that pointing out more nail-hole and piercèd-side data will not convince those who will themselves into disbelief.

    So what is to be done? I am perplexed. About the only idea I have is that the answer might lie in learning what makes so many people reject the consensus of those with intimate knowledge of the truth.

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  6. Dcrickett @5, the bible shows how these denialist issues have a pretty long history! Although I'm an athiest, I can see sense in the verses you quote.

    I don't think you will remove all doubters. I saw a book a couple of years ago disputing literally all the fundamentals of Einsteins theories of relativity. I would have thought that was settled science, and the writer was a degree qualified engineer. But you can convince most doubters.

    I think you have a range of sceptical views: Some people are contrarians by nature in my experience, some have genuine doubts, perhaps some have vested interests or ideological axes to grind, which leads them to deny the science. There's a  range of things.

    Regardless of motivations, it appears most people are prepared to change their views on various issues, if you look at history of other controversies, although it can take some time. We will never get everyone to accept climate science, but I think you can get most people to. It just takes explaining the science issues, as websites like this do. You also have to deal with worries about costs of renewable energy etc.

    To some extent it's like swing voters or moderates in politics. Those are the people we need to target over climate, the moderates, and they are largely convinced by rational argument,  (slowly sometimes). There will be a small group that remain very stubborn, but my instincts tell me its a small group.

    Pew Research has done polls showing about 70 - 80% of people already accept the science in many countries and want action. More in some countries. So quite good progress has already been made. We tend to hear about the doubters in America, who get a lot of publicity, and think this is overwhelming or typical globally, when it isn't.

    Don't get me wrong, the doubters really annoy me, but I think it's easy to let them get us down too much.

    And a strong consensus like this of 70 - 80% would often lead to action by politicians on many issues. Its often enough to trigger having a referendum etc, and would certainly be enough to pass a referendum.

    But unfortunately politicians do not always do what the majority want, because of their personal views, or pressure from lobby groups and people who fund their election campaigns. We see this clearly in America when you look at poll numbers.

    But the larger the public consensus accepting climate science, and wanting action, the harder it is likely to be for politicians to ignore, which is why websites like this are valuable.

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  7. Dcricket @5 

    "So what is to be done? I am perplexed. About the only idea I have is that the answer might lie in learning what makes so many people reject the consensus of those with intimate knowledge of the truth."

    You may want to take a look at our MOOC "Denial101x - Making sense of climate science denial" as it has answers to your question. The current run is already in its final weeks but you can still register to check it out. All the videos from the MOOC are also available on YouTube and the list to them is here.

    Hope this helps!

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  8. A related comprehensive perspective was just published:

    NYtime OpEd "America, From Exceptionalism to Nihilism" by Pankaj Mishra

    It mentions the damage done by the irresponsible actions of some among the elite (but the item just refers to the elite as if the whole group deserves to be smeared, proof of how damaging the actions of a few can be, how willing some people are to make any excuse to resist having to accept input or understanding that they dislike).

    The OpEd also mention of a loss or disapperance of ethics. This is key. The internationally developed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) present a well developed basis for 'justified ethics'. The ethical basis for their development has been the basis for many previous similar presentations of developed better understanding.

    In spite of that clear example of what needs to be done, what is ethically required, the SDGs lack broad popular support. The lack of popularity of such a good ethical purpose, to genuinely help to raise awareness and better understanding with the objective of improving the future for all of humanity, is the root of the problem.

    Climate scientists have continued to do their part, as have the many diverse NGO and Charity groups striving to help achieve the SDGs, each facing the uphill battle of the damage done by those who care less (are care and consideration free pursuers of what they think would make them happier). The ones among the Elite who are failing humanity are typically the less ethical wealthy undeserving Winners.

    Distinguishing the most-worthy, trust-worthy, among the Elite from less ethical Undeserving Winners will be difficult. Many people are unfortunately very easily impressed. The thinking of the Marque de Sade “It is infinitely better to take the side of the wicked who prosper than of the righteous who fail”, will never produce a Good Result.

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  9. OPOF @8, I found the article in your link interesting and worthwhile, and it's conclusion about a possible descent into nihilism rings true, but the material in the middle is a bit confused.

    I think this issue is more about cycles.  America, and various other countries went through a period of "laissez faire" (extreme capitalism) in the 1800s and up until the 1930s when it all collapsed due to inherent problems with the economic model. Thats definitely not to say capitalism is bad, simply that some issues became exposed.

    Then America and most western countries went through a  "mixed economy" phase combining capitalism and some socialist ideas from the 1930s up until the 1980s. This period had some merit, but in turn collapsed, or stagnated for certain reasons. It was also the end of a long wave economic and investment cycle, (a type of Kondratief wave) cycle, but thats another matter that would complicate the discussion.

    Then in the 1980's we had the counter reaction, and entered the era of neoliberalism and "greed is good" which was an attempt to revert to laissez faire capitalism. This ideology promotes extreme individualism, free markets, open immigration,  globalisation, privatisation, deregulation, etc. This ideology has some merit in parts, but become too extreme and is the source of numerous recent problems, and it sacrifices the environment. It has generated poverty issues for some groups of people. But elements of neoliberalism like free trade and globalisation have had positive effects for many people, so its not a simple issue

    The counter reaction to some elements of this globalist, neoliberal ideology has been exemplified with Donald Trump, except that he has kept some elements of the ideology such as deregulation, and ther worst forms of deregulation, for example regarding the weakining of environmental standards. But essentially Trump is trying to revert to a nationalist, more isolationist agenda, and almost a version of crony capitalism. I'm not enthused.

    We need to get back to a simpler, more commonsense philosophy as Scandinavia has, of a robust capitalism and moderately free markets, but with a human touch, including appropriate restraints and controls where appropriate, (especially over environmental impacts) in other words a refined, improved version of the mixed economy ideas of the 1950s. This will enable humanity to tap the benefits of free markets and private ownership, without killing the environment or causing instability or poverty. (Imho).

    Putting it another way, entrepreneurship and private enterprise is good, but "greed is not good", and a completely uncontrolled business sector is destructive to the public good.

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  10. @9 nigelj,

    AHA. You mean like this? Teddy Roosevelt

    Free markets for Main Street USA, Small family run business, and even mid level business, but strict regulation against mega-corporation, trusts, and Plutocrats. As well as strong environmental and public safety regulation. Instead of a wall, we build a canal which is profitable and benefits all the Nations in the hemisphere.

    That's a whole different kind of populism, and not even slightly socialist/communist either.

    Yes I would say we know what to do, and even how to do it, seeing as how it was done once already.

    The question is how do we make it stick? Doesn't take long for gains like that to reverse themselves.

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  11. Red Baron @10

    Yes, I mean exactly as Teddy Roosevelt was saying. I agree its silly to call that socialist, and such labels are just unhelpful anway. Of course there's more to it, but you have mentioned some important things.

    In fact  I knew very little about TR. I live in NZ, so your comments were an eye opener for me.

    I think Jospeh Stiglitz has similar views. He is not anti corporations, but just a realist that power can become excessive, and some boundaries are perfectly healthy.

    I don't know how you make it stick. That's a hard question. I would say the two main political parties in my country are slowly moving towards those values by public pressure, but dragged kicking, and screaming, and not fully there yet by a long way. But there does seem to be a consensus now on at least some elements, that has stuck pretty well. Its a case of improving and broadening that consensus. It's complex.

    A lot of it has to be about improving public understanding somehow. I don't have any time right now to think much about it, but will sleep on it.

    A lot of the problem is lobby groups and campaign financing dependent on corporate groups, and I dont know how you change that one.

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  12. nigelj,

    To be clear, I consider the presentation in the SDGs of the changes of direction of development to be like the thoughts in the time of Roosevelt, but a far more comprehensive developed understanding.

    Any aspect/system "Label" of what humans can achieve the SDGs through would be good, regardless of any legacy of bad impressions created by unethical people Winning by getting away with things in the aspect/system "Label".

    Less ethical people who can get away with behaving less acceptably than others would be willing to get a competitive advantage in any game/system.

    The potential good results (net-positive game results) of something like globalization achieving the SDGs needs to be presented as the counterpoint to the horrible things that people have been able to get away with. Bad things happen when too many people have a lack of awareness or better understanding, whether it is due to successful secrecy, deliberate misleading marketing, or a willful ignorance due to temptations like greed or xenophobia (racism, tribalism, nationalism). Less ethical players can and do ruin anything and everything as they pursue winning by playing in ways that can be understood to be net-negative sum game play (and they do not care because all they care about is personally perceiving themselves to be "The Winner").

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  13. OPOF @12, I'm in full agreement about the need for sustainable development goals. I just thought the link was a bit confused, or incomplete on the the forces driving the historical issues and leadership issues they discussed. It was on the right track, but confused.

    I think as per my comments above, if you look at history, western society has jumped from one extreme economic or environmental ideology to another over long term time frames, and sometimes "thrown the baby out with the bathwater" in other words we are looking for simplistic answers when none exist. We abandoned capitalism too much, in the 1930's, rather than just modifying some elements, and then went on to abandon the "mixed"economy of the 1960s, not realising some elements of it were very good. "Neoliberalism" has some problems that must be fixed, but we are at risk of throwing out the good elements like free trade.

    This is why I admire Scandinavia to some extent, they combine a range of ideas, rather than getting bogged down with labels like capitalism or communism. Theodore Roosevelt seems to have a similar mindset to some extent. I guess this is pragmatism, and even Trump is a pragmatist, but he is making some very poor choices especially regarding the environment (arctic drilling)

    Getting back to sustainable development goals, this can embrace a whole range of environmental and economic concerns. Its a no brainer for me, just so obviously needed at a point in human history when its obvious we are having some pretty huge impacts. This is why I despise economic or political ideologies ending with "ism" because we always have to keep open minds and deal effectively with new problems, and fixed ideologies can make that very hard. That's not to say we can work without guiding principles, and government is not the answer to everything either, but it is the answer to certain things and this is where we need better agreement across countries on what this is, and what things should be regulated by governments, and what shouldn't. I'm pretty clear in my mind, and Theodore Roosevelt was.

    Regarding marketing and winners. It's interesting because competition has obviously had a positive side, but tends to go wrong if there are no boundaries. It's a case of improving awareness that boundaries are healthy, and not communism or some other "ism". 

    In fact competition goes most wrong where there is no competition, and you have corporate entities that are monopolies, that effectively become bullies. Again if we have any sense we should put some controls in place, Make no mistake they will keep on producing the goods but their behaviour will be better. History shows this.

    It is the big corporations and especially the monopolistic,  corporations driving the anti environmental policies. Theres plenty of evidence of this starting with the Koch Brothers. They have huge power.

    Where companies are smaller and many are in competition, this is quite effective at forcing them to also behave well enough. Its larger monopolies that can become a real problem.

    The less ethical players simply take all this to another level. By legitimising "greed is good" in the 1980s, along with massive financial deregulation, we opened the floodgates to excusing unethical behaviour, that is detrimental to the public good. We saw a perfect example of all this in the 2008 financial crash.

    Marketing is a tough issue because it has a good and bad side. It's the price we pay for freedom of speech and a free society. We accept people are entitled to sell their ideas and products, and this is healthy, however the price we pay is all kinds of lies and rorts, and brainwashing. Immediately anyone says  we need "controls" over advertising, or some quality standards for free speech, the corporate lobby cry socialism or big government.

    Yet while I deplore ideologies like communism, there is nothing wrong with rules of conduct if we want a stable, prosperous society that balances production of goods with honesty of marketing, and a sustainable environment etc. Even our rights to free speech, which I strongly support, come with some unspoken responsibilities, such as a need to avoid verbal abuse and bullying or inciting violence.

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