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Book review: The Inquisition of Climate Science

Posted on 8 October 2011 by John Cook

The Inquisition of Climate ScienceDuring the sixteenth century, the Catholic Church persecuted Galileo for espousing the view that the Sun, not the Earth, lies at the centre of the solar system.  In modern times, climate scientists are being subjected to a similar inquisition, waged by those who deny the science.  The persecution of climate scientists and of science itself is thoroughly documented in a new book, The Inquisition of Climate Science, by former Reed College president and National Science Board member James Powell.

Climate scientists, like Galileo, turn to empirical evidence and the scientific method as the basis of our understanding of how the world works.  In contrast, climate "skeptics", conservative think tanks, ideologues and the fossil fuel industry now play the role of the "establishment", waging a war on science. Powell's book documents the industry of denial and their many prongs of attack on climate science:

  • A small group of scientists who regularly appear at conferences, media interviews, in book lists and on think tank advisory lists.
  • The fossil fuel industry, who have poured millions of dollars into PR campaigns to confuse the public. Over 8 years, the most profitable company in history, Exxon Mobil, gave $16 million to think tanks that deny global warming science. Fossil fuel companies also give millions of dollars to politicians such as Joe Barton and James Inhofe, who vehemently oppose climate action.
  • Prominent non-scientists such as the conservative columnist George Will, the late science-fiction author Michael Crichton and Christopher Monckton (trained in journalism and the classics).
  • Conservative think tanks, adopting lofty names like "Africa Fighting Malaria" while arguing against climate action. These think tanks receive millions of dollars from fossil fuel companies like Exxon Mobil.
  • Prominent public figures such as Sarah Palin who characterise climate science as "snake oil science" while Senator James Inhofe describes global warming as the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people". Inhofe and Virginian attorney general Ken Cuccinelli have attempted to take climate scientists to trial.
  • Even the mainstream media have unwittingly contributed to the chorus by granting the same few climate misinformers an equal voice with the overwhelming scientific consensus.

However, Powell points out one distinction between the Roman Inquisition and the modern day Climate Inquisition.  At least the Roman inquisitors had an alternative theory - Ptolemy's 2nd Century theory of Earth-centered astronomy.  The Climate Inquisition have no alternative theory that can explain the many lines of evidence that point to human caused global warming

The persecution of Galileo is highly instructive in putting today's climate controversy in proper context. The Inquisition Of Climate Science, available in hard cover and as an e-book that can be read on Kindle, iPad and computer, is a must-read for anyone who wishes to understand the full scope of the denial industry and their modern day persecution of climate science.

Note: SkS have also reviewed James Powell's books 2084: An Oral History of the Great Warming and Rough Winds: Extreme Weather and Climate Change.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 60:

  1. It's also true that the advantage of the Copernican over the Ptolemaic theory was by no means as overwhelming as is commonly depicted: The difference in complexity was rather slight, as both used epicycles, etc.

    So I agree with the point that the Inquisition had a better case on Galileo than the "skeptics" have on climate scientists.
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  2. Maybe. But the pope didn't get annoyed with Galileo over the technical merits of his science - which was largely accepted by the church astronomers - but because he defied his theological authority.
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  3. Galileo also made the tactical error of lampooning the views of the pope, through his character Simplicio: not a good move.

    (For somebody who was pretty smart, Galileo could be pretty stupid.)
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  4. "The desire to disbelieve deepens as the scale of the threat grows," concludes economist-ethicist Clive Hamilton.

    He and others who track what they call "denialism" find that its nature is changing in America, last redoubt of climate naysayers. It has taken on a more partisan, ideological tone. Polls find a widening Republican-Democratic gap on climate. Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry even accuses climate scientists of lying for money. Global warming looms as a debatable question in yet another U.S. election campaign.

    Source: “The American 'allergy' to global warming: Why?,” AP, Sep 26, 2011

    To access this in-depth and timely article, click here.
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  5. Suggested reading:

    “Stamp out anti-science in US politics,” Op-ed by Paul Nurse, New Scientist, Sep 14, 2011

    To access this thought provoking essay, click here.
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  6. How long ago was it that skeptics were
    Gallileo? Too many inquisitions, too little science.
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  7. Hey, that small group includes a bunch of people who are not scientists. How about sorting them into different categories in the liked page?
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    Moderator Response: fixed link
  8. The assumption in John Cook's piece is that climate scientists can do no wrong and all fault lies with the skeptics. Hence the Galileo analogy.

    In such polemics the thoughtful skeptic gets labelled and pilloried with the likes of ignorant populist creations like Sarah Palin and Rick Perry.

    Big business can always make money out of any regulatory regime - in fact the various ETS and Carbon Credit schemes are a potential playground for the spivs who brought us the GFC to trade in a whole new world of derivatives. Business is only interested in getting there first.

    The case for AGW would be stronger if the proponents were more receptive to telling the public about the range of uncertainties and deficiencies of knowledge which accompany the science.
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    Response:

    [DB] "thoughtful skeptic gets labelled and pilloried with the likes of ignorant populist creations like Sarah Palin and Rick Perry"

    The "thoughtful skeptic" seems to be a truly rare creature then.  If you have actual examples of such happening by any here please give a link to them.

    Unsubstantiated allegations of impropriety struck out.  You must of missed those many thousands of instances of uncertainties being detailed in every chapter & verse of the various iterations of the IPCC.

    For example, in the IPCC AR4, WG1, the words, "uncertain," "uncertainty" or "uncertainties" occur 1,372 times.

  9. I don't think the point is being always right or wrong. Indeed, even Galileo has been wrong several times.
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  10. Agreed Riccardo.
    Critical mass... Actually business usually want two things. A combination of stable regulatory environment and an equal playing field. Within those parameters most businesses are happy. Many businesses actively campaign for legislation and regulation, including legislation on CO2 emissions. Why is this? Well most want to do business and aren't interested in political ideology.
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  11. The crux of the problem?

    ‘There's no excuse for the sort of half-fictions and outright lies that too often make up the climate-change-denial machine, but it's human psychology — as much as politics — that's preventing us from dealing with one of the greatest threats the species faces. The most powerful denial machine of all may be the one inside our heads.”

    Source: “Who's Bankrolling the Climate-Change Deniers?” Time, Oct 4, 2011

    To access this insightful article, click here.
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  12. critical mass:

    Climate scientists' errors are usually handled within the context of peer-reviewed journals, as are indeed all other research scientists.

    Perhaps you could name a few thoughtful skeptics whom you feel are unfairly pilloried? Such claims, when devoid of content, are usually given an unflattering description.

    Also, if you read through the many articles on this site, as well as other excellent resources such as RealClimate, you will find that there is an enormous consilience of empirically-derived evidence demonstrating the existence, magnitude, and seriousness of global warming.

    Uncertainties remain in some details, yes, but as a species we now have more than enough information on the phenomenon to insist that action be undertaken.
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    Moderator Response:

    unclosed tag fixed

    (DB) Thanks for indirectly teaching me a new word: tergiversate.

  13. Critical Mass @8, anyone who has read any of the IPCC reports know that its comments are all hedged about with explicit acknowledgments of uncertainties and lack of knowledge, where ever appropriate. Despite this, we are repeatedly told that the reason the case for AGW is not being accepted is because of lack of acknowledgement of uncertainties. Bullshit! The reason the case for AGW is not being accepted is because a denialist propaganda machine is trying to spread doubt and lies as fast as they can. You have obviously decided to enlist yourself in that role - but next time you try spreading such blatant falsehood, bear in mind that a high proportion of commentors here have actually read the various IPCC assessment reports and know that what you are saying is blatantly false.

    No doubt this comment will fall foul of the comments policy, but sometimes (-snip-) are so blatant they need to be called for what they are!
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    Response:

    [DB] Inflammatory snipped.

  14. And it's damned if you do, and damned if you don't. Deniers also magnify any statement (including IPPC statements) about uncertainty into "we don't really know anything about anything".

    The honest question of how much certainty do you need is subject to constantly moving goalposts.

    My thought has been the following for I blush to say over 30 years- NOW while we have an infrastructure and fossil fuels and the ability to execute large scale, global scale capital projects is when we should be taking steps. Waiting till after peak oil, till when we are pressed against it is a recipe for magnified disaster.
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  15. "damned if you do, and damned if you don't."

    Exactly. The dishonesty of the science's critics is blatant and manifests through all sorts of devious ways. Look at Mann and the "non statistically significant warming" journalistic trap. An endless stream of this junk flows through the so-called skeptic outlets.

    Seriously, they even had to create a pseudo-journal devoted to giving an appearance of serious to "papers" so miserable they could never make it in the real litterature, unless they use underhanded ways that have been exposed recently on this site.

    And no matter how extreme or ludicrous, as in Monckton's tilted graphs or Beck's idiotic nonsense, there is a large crowd of people so eager to believe that they will swallow the all thing, hook, line and sinker.
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  16. Are Europeans inherently more intelligent than Americans?

    “The Eurobarometer poll suggests that the majority of the public in the European Union consider global warming to be one of the world's most serious problems, with one-fifth saying it is the single most serious problem. Overall, respondents said climate change was the second most serious issue facing the world, after poverty.”

    Source: “Europeans fear climate change more than financial turmoil, poll shows” Guardian (UK), Oct 7, 2011

    To access this important article, click here.
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  17. 'Thoughtful skepticism' might have been defensible in the 90s.
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  18. As I read of anti-science tactics, I can't decide whether our species is mostly stupid or just immoral.

    The denialist strategy has always been to block any constraints to carbon commerce. To increase guilt-free fossil fuel consumption, their tactic has been to plant doubt and denial -- hence prolong debate and confusion.

    Then the momentum and sloth of any generation takes over: "It cannot possibly be MY USE of carbon that causes the problem" which soon becomes "Well it is too late for me to change now"

    Carbon energy capitalism is based on short term decisions.
    The battle for a long-term, rational public policy is lost, and the marketplace has conquered the high carbon consumer... but the future will reveal this to be an un-intentional Pyrrhic victory.
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  19. John: I don't see it mentioned much, probably because it's a pretty dark observation, but the current incidence rate of poverty in the world may well be what saves everyone from the more extreme effects of climate change in the future.
    There's an extraordinary little PC game (developed with the aid of various environmental bodies) called 'Fate of the World'. If you reduce poverty too quickly, baseload energy demand skyrockets and you get a catastrophic GFC. I can't decide whether to laugh or cry at the poverty/AGW relationship.
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  20. John Hartz #17
    I know you're being provocative, it's not about being intelligent. You americans have a different cultural and political background than us europeans. You tend to be kind of allergic to any Government intervention. As anything, there are two sides of the coin and now you really need to "break on through to the other side". As someone (Joe Romm?) recently said, Rick Perry is the best competitive advantage europeans have. If you do not change something you'll be left behind.
    Let me conclude with europeans' other side of the coin: "Only one in five said they took personal responsibility, with more people saying it was the responsibility of national governments, EU authorities and businesses."
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  21. Inquisitions are done by the people in power, not by the underdogs. I think you have it backwards.
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  22. 21, tblakeslee,

    Oh, you mean like... Cuccinelli on Mann? Or the Interior Department's Office of the Inspector General and Monnett? Or all of the various inquiries on Jones and the UEA CRU?

    You mean inquisitions like those, by the people in power (i.e. the wealthy, monied and connected interests) against scientists simply because they didn't like the conclusions the science reached?

    Yes, your point is well made. Thank you.
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  23. Bravo Sphaerica!
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  24. tblakeslee, who is in power? Clearly, in the U.S., climate scientists (for that matter, scientists in most disciplines) are not in a position of power, where "power" means the ongoing management of action and belief. Wide-reaching mass media entities enjoy relatively massive power. How many people in the world have the time, training, energy, resources, and/or motivation to undertake a robust understanding of climate science? And how many of those who do enjoy those conditions approach the science with an already-formed thesis (based on someone else's rhetoric)?

    You, tblakeslee, have demonstrated an unwillingness (not total, thank goodness) to tell anyone why you think CO2 is not a major contributor to warming. Why? What was it in the formation of your opinion that put you in the position you're in right now regarding climate science? What led you to reject the dominant theory? It couldn't have been your own analysis of the research, because you could then bring forth well-reasoned and well-supported arguments against the foundational research of the theory of AGW. Some portion of your opinion must have been provided for you. It's nothing to be ashamed of; that's the situation in which 99% of the population finds themselves. I should have said, though, that it's nothing to be ashamed of unless one has failed to look critically at the source of the opinion. That is another variable to consider, another reason to stay away from absolutes.
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  25. Riccardo:

    "You americans have a different cultural and political background than us europeans. You tend to be kind of allergic to any Government intervention."

    Not true when our country's entire history is considered. Back in the 30s, when much of Europe was embracing fascism, the US was largely embracing a kind of socialism from above in the form of FDR's New Deal. Only about 1/3 of the program he and his allies in Congress passed into law survived the day's conservative Supreme Court, but that 1/3 transformed government's role in our society (to the better, IMO).

    Imagine if the other 2/3 of his program had become law ... the US would've had national health care in the 1930s. The Right has, ever since, been trying to roll back the clock to the days of Hoover, before FDR, and they've succeeded to a large degree.

    There have been many other instances of government intervention - the US was extremely aggressive 40 years ago in passing clear air and water legislation, an endangered species act, banned DDT, NEPA, the NFMA, and a bunch of other stuff you've never heard of that amounted to a vast intervention on how natural resource extraction is done in this country. Despite all our bitching, our environmental laws have historically bee nmuch stronger here than in most of, if not all of, Europe.

    The pendulum has swung against us in the national political arena, but poll after poll shows strong support for environmental protection and conservation.

    Here's a curve ball for you: consider that one of the reasons the disinformation campaign has been so highly funded and orchestrated in the US compared to Europe, with such aggressive efforts to smear and discourage scientists, is because public support for accepting science on environmental and conservation issues has always been quite strong here. And the laws that have been adopted as a result have historically been very strong (check out the Endangered Species Act, passed 40 years ago, which led to virtually the end of the harvesting of old growth forests in Oregon in the 1990s, a result supported by about 70% of oregonians today, up from about 50% during the midst of the legal battle).

    They've had to undermine the public's confidence in the science in order to get a large proportion of the public to ignore the science and its implications, and therefore provide political cover for the scuttling of any efforts to take action.
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  26. critical mass @ 8... You know, about a year ago I went through and did a brain numbing search of how many times the words "uncertain," "uncertainty" and "uncertainties" occurred in the IPCC AR4. If memory serves me right it was about 3 times per page of the Working Group 1 report.
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  27. Good review John, and interesting comments from others.

    When we are talking about parallels to Inquisition vs Galileo, it's worth mentioning that some deniers are trying to portray it backwards, suggesting that "they are like Galileo persecuted by those 97% of consensus".

    I'm talking about Astralia's Galileo movement. IMO, it's one of the biggest misnomers attempted by deniers to confuse public opinion. It has been rebutted by sks here. Just look at the timeline in the middle of article to find out when the climate scientists started to formulate current consensus about AGW (1860-1960) and when the opposition to climate science started (late 1980s, and so called "Galileo movement" itself in 2000s) to figure out who is the inquisitor in case of climate change debate today. It's woth pointing out this "Galileo" misnomer widely so that public opinion is less confused.
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  28. People without intellectual integrity themselves cannot understand intellectual integrity in others. If they let their judgment in a scientific matter be dictated by political or religious prefferences then they believe others must do the same. You see this in the accusations denialists and creationists make against scientists.
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  29. RPauli
    "As I read of anti-science tactics, I can't decide whether our species is mostly stupid or just immoral"

    My take is that most of it is a sort of 'stupid' rather than immoral. Not in the literal sense of unintelligent, but a multitude of psychological blindnesses.

    Whether your world-view, your sense of meaning and meaningfullness, your notions of whether cause-and-effect progresses from philosophical and value considerations first or considerations of the physics of the world around you first.

    Remember George the Younger and Faith Based Realities. To that psychology, the physical world is 'required' to fit into other 'value' based perspectives. In the simplest terms, the world MUST be a place where the physical conforms to my psychological imperatives. It must be because the alternative is psychologically appaling.

    These aren't immoral people (mostly). My sense of what immorality is requires an awareness of the immoral act/view but a willingness to engage in it anyway.

    They are our fellow human beings who are bringing a sense of decency and integrity to this question in accord with how their minds work. Its just that their pattern of psychological behaviour is out of synch with the reality of how the physical world works. Someone with this psychology could/would see a disagreement between them and your or my view as a disagreement on values or ideology, rather than a disagreement on physics.

    Fundamentally this is a psychological make-up that puts value systems ahead of physics. It is profoundly a values driven mode of thought. And with values so overwhelmingly important in their perception of reality, that reality IS values, they struggle to allow physical science type reasoning to have pre-eminence over this. If it was just my mindset vs theirs, it would be a moot point. Each to their own.

    But there is one person's viewpoint that trumps everyone elses. To anthropomorphise a bit, Mother Natures view over-rules everyone else. You might have a values based psychology. Fine, but if you fail to work within her physics based thinking, then She will do bad shit unto you.

    But this other psychological makeup doesn't get this, is hostile to that form of thinking because it is deeply antithetical to THEIR mode of perception, and will resist action based on this, right up to the point where Mother Nature kicks them in the 'family jewels' At which point they may not understand why this has happened to them and may even look for scapegoats to explain it. Because the alternative is the need to confront the basic fact that life cannot be judged as a values driven reality but rather a physics driven reality. And this is a profound psychological trauma. Few people can handle this. We who may have a more physics derived identity are the lucky ones.

    Unless of course those with a values derived identity hold sway, in which case our physics derived identity is deeply challenged. And unfortunately we know that Mother Nature is waiting in the wings to over-rule everyone else. We no the 'Umpire' is on our side. But we also know that if the other psychological mode holds sway, the Umpires Ruling wil hurt all of us.

    So the key challenge. To get the 'values derived' people to grasp the idea that their perception of the world is disconnected from reality. And we will pay a terrible price because of it. But from their psychological stand-point, abandoning their values based perspective looks like just as profound a price. They see an abandonment of their psychological reference point as a spiritual death. We see a failure to abandon it as a spiritual AND physical death.

    How to bridge the psychological divide is the key question. Getting both sides to recognise the divide is the key point.
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  30. dhogaza
    you're right but that's one side of the coin, you americans tend to unite and show a very strong will when you feel threatened. Environmental protection fits because it's a kind of threat to your country, not because it's a value by itself, the right thing to do anyway. The New Deal was put in place because you needed to bring the country out of the worst recession ever; health care at the time was economically profitable, again not a value by itself.
    And that may be ok, that's what made your country great. In contrast, look at what i said in my previous comment about we europeans. While you feel personally involved and committed, we tend to delegate, one thing that greatly limits our actions.

    But the other side of the coin is that when it comes to global problems, when you have to share the responsibility and the burden of its solution, you seem to loose the directions. You try to find where your interest lies but the problem is so big and complicated that it's not at all easy to spot it. In this situation, instead of being open to the outside world, you close the door. This is your weakness, your Achilles' heel.

    There's one thing i don't understand. The direction the world is taking is pretty clear today and your best interest should be to get involved, help determine the best way to go and lead. But for some reason the door is still closed.

    These are my two cents, not the results of an accurate sociological analisys but the impressions of an informed european citizen who happened to live in the US for a short while.
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  31. Glenn Tamblyn,

    I agree with most of what you say. I would think of some of it in a slightly different way. I think the people who you described as values centered are making the mistake of dealing with the universe the same way that they deal with people. Or perhaps it might be better to say that they want to deal with the universe in a way that allows them them to interact with people in their preferred manner.

    Dealing with people is a matter of values after all. And it is just as much a mistake to bring the mindset of physics into personal interactions.

    What you describe as values centered people refuse to see that physics puts constraints on the degree to which thay can act on their values. And some people find the idea of the universe forcing them to only partially act on their values to be horrible. They rebel against the idea that compromise on moral issues is obligatory.
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  32. The American public in general, and conservatives in particular, are constantly bombarded by a stream of propaganda about both the validity of the science of climate change and the integrity of climate scientists

    A case in point is “The phony ‘consensus’ on climate change”, an editorial by the Daily Herald of Utah Valley posted on Oct 9, 2011. This editorial is a veritable Gish Gallop of climate denial memes.

    Because similar statements have recently been popping up all over the place on conservative media outlets, it is safe to conclude that one of the conservative think tanks generated and distributed a shell statement far and wide.

    As my fellow SkS author, Neal J King is wont to say, “We’re in a propaganda war!”
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  33. Riccardo ...

    "you're right but that's one side of the coin, you americans tend to unite and show a very strong will when you feel threatened. Environmental protection fits because it's a kind of threat to your country, not because it's a value by itself..."

    No, that's not at all true. The Wilderness Act of 1964, for instance, explicitly states that the reason for the existence of the Act is that Wilderness has intrinsic value of its own. The Endangered Species Act was similarly value-based ... the National Forest Management Act expresses similar values in requiring that the range of native species on National Forest lands be preserved despite the fact that it was known at the time that this would prevent the Forest Service from converting all of our national forests into heavily managed tree farms (a stated goal of the service).
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  34. Riccardo:

    "There's one thing i don't understand. The direction the world is taking is pretty clear today and your best interest should be to get involved, help determine the best way to go and lead. But for some reason the door is still closed."

    I think our physical isolation from asia and europe plays a large role. We have an emerging economy to the south, and an english speaking nation to the north that's not nearly as different from the US as they'd like to believe.

    Where I live, in Portland Oregon, most of the people I know have traveled quite extensively (as have I) and have a much more global outlook than the average american. But the vast majority of americans haven't had that experience and tend to be very provincial. Heck, many people from the mid west have never visited the coasts (except perhaps to go to disneyland or yosemite or ...) and vice-versa.

    Also isolationism has a long history here, in part due to the fact that back in the days when we welcomed immigrants, large numbers of people came here and explicitly turned their backs on Europe (such as my German great grandparents who arrived here in the very late 1800s).

    Think about it ... our involvement in world affairs has grown through our participation in a couple of world wars, and the resulting notion of being the world's policeman. That's a pretty narrow vision of how to participate in the global community ...
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  35. dhogaza
    I may easily accept that my superficial thoughts are wrong. It's a complex sociological issue that I do not easily grasp and I thank you for sharing your thoughts. I'll sure think more about it.

    Assuming you're right, we're left with nothing in our hands. If it's true that denialism grows thanks to the contrast between values and reality, we still have to find which values are at stake. The succesfull anti-science campaigns in the US must have touched a nerve of the americans. Similar campaigns in Europe are unthinkable, they would be laughable. Here you more likely see greenwashing campaign to fool consumers, steer politics to more profitable "green" or "health" choices, etc., because no one would accept that, say, CO2 or some other pollutant or tobacco smoke is not an issue.
    In a few words, if anti-science PR campaigns are successful in USA but not in Europe it's because (significant part of) the public is ready to accept them. Where's the difference between us? What different values brought us so far apart?
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  36. Because in the US we believe deeply that one person's opinion is as good as another's. And it's all opinion you know. The resentment of there being people who actually know more or are smarter runs deep and kicks up a contrarian stubborness. Smart kids are teased and bullied in schools while athletes are admired. It makes a great racket...if you can hide your smarts under a folksy "great guy to drink beer with" attitude, you can swindle people out of their skins. We have a cultural blindspot about interdepence and celebrate the illusion of the lone pioneer, the nuclear family.

    I think a lot of it goes back to the Protestant notion of everyone being able to read the Bible for themselves...which turned into "you can read each verse for it's own message without reference to the rest of the chapter, historical context", which is the antithesis of scholarship.

    These were not the views of the founding fathers, but rather the self-justifications of the South that lost the Civil War, and has been fighting back with this kind of ideology ever since.

    that's my rough edged take on it
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  37. Riccardo:

    "I may easily accept that my superficial thoughts are wrong. It's a complex sociological issue that I do not easily grasp and I thank you for sharing your thoughts. I'll sure think more about it."

    It's complex, that's for sure. Have you heard of "American Exceptionalism"? This notion, particularly strong among US conservatives but really a part of the culture we grow up in, is another part of the puzzle (wikipedia has a piece on it). Again, people in my social circle, who have for the most part traveled extensively and in many cases have worked in countries other than the US, tend not to buy it. But it's a kind of default belief a great many Americans are raised with (hey, if we're not exceptional, then we can't be the world's policeman, eh? :) ) and carry to the grave.
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  38. Dave123 makes some excellent comments, Riccardo.

    "Smart kids are teased and bullied in schools while athletes are admired."

    Bullied endlessly, that was me. It's a good thing my family didn't own guns and that I largely bought into pacifism early in life.

    Dave123, good stuff regarding the influence of protestantism, and the rest. I'd add that the US has historically been anti-elitist ... the rise of the common man, the American Dream, etc. What's weird to me is the willingness of the working class in this country to cede wealth to the wealthy, in essence giving up much of what was won in the 1920s, 1930s, through world war II by the union movement.
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  39. Galileo's opponents included astronomers, too. His Dialogue on the Two World Systems included a character named Simplico who was a composite of two of his detractors. Some people told the Pope that he was the target of Galileo's ridicule.

    In those days, Galileo's theory was difficult to prove.

    He famously said: The Bible teaches man how to go to Heaven, not how the heavens go.

    I think what happened to Galileo was very sad but also very complicated.

    Recently the Pope had a two-way dialogue with the astronauts. The whole idea of the need for dialogue with scientists was stressed. If you know the Vatican, they were alluding to Galileo's dialogue.

    The Jesuit who runs the Vatican's observatory is a very interesting guy.

    On May 14, 2008, Jesuit Father Jose Gabriel Funes, director of the Vatican Observatory and a member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences gave a really remarkable interview to the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano (LOR). You might want to translate it with Google.

    Funes said:

    “I believe that the [Vatican] Observatory has this mission: to be on the frontier between the world of science and the world of faith, to give testimony that it is possible to believe in God and be good scientists.”

    “[I]t is necessary [for the Church to dialogue with men of science.] Faith and science are not irreconcilable…Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI [have said]: faith and reason are the two wings which elevate the human spirit. There is no contradiction between what we know through faith and what we learn through science. There may be tensions or conflicts, but we should not be afraid. The Church must not fear science and its discoveries. As was the case with Galileo.”

    http://www.vatican.va/news_services/or/or_quo/interviste/2008/112q08a1.html

    The Church is telling people to listen to the scientists. That's the point of the conversation with the astronauts.
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  40. Dhogaza, unionism is itself a complex historical development. But unions had their teeth pulled when globalization started in earnest. Manufacturing jobs in the US have dropped to around 12% of all jobs. Service, sales, and the middle class (managerial class) make up a large majority (65-70% as I recall) of jobs in the US. Productive labor has been moved overseas or replaced with machines. There has been a recent service union movement (SEIU), and the leftovers of the big unions of the past have been increasingly returning to their radical roots. Yet these unions no longer represent a major segment of the labor market, and they no longer carry the cultural power they did in their dying days of the 1970s. The OWS movement is less indicative of a return to strong unionism and a popular front than the audible gasp of a middle class that sees the writing on the Wall.

    I agree with Dave123 about Protestantism being one of the historical conditions that developed the current culture. Capitalism is another, because it atomizes society, encouraging competition between individuals for basic goods and services. Capitalism also encourages commodity relations, where things in the world are thought of more in terms of their exchange value than their use value. Under such a condition, the history of objects disappears. The narratives that tie us together under a common set of values are broken apart and re-presented to us as a series of products. Capital also isolates the culturally powerful minority that is the middle class from the ultimate origin of its power in the working classes. When the middle class represents the working class in novels, TV shows, movies, news programs, and other narratives, it must do so according to the central contradiction of its class (the middle class is privileged by property owners in exchange for maintaining the conditions that reproduce the existing structure of economic power). The cultural representation of the working class, then, inevitably sympathizes with workers but refuses to empower them. When the middle class became dominant in terms of cultural representation (perhaps the late 1930s but certainly by the 1950s and the young adulthood of mass media power), the working class in the US was set for the fall.

    Finally, the roots of US individualism shouldn't be considered without looking deep. The US pedigree, before the massive migrations of the late 19th century, can be traced back through some of the most aggressive, on the move, shoot first cultures of the last 2000 years. American exceptionalism is the result of dozens of generations of people fighting to create conditions that would render them exceptional or at the very least completely independent/self-reliant/kings of their domains.

    All of this is shorthand, though. History is far more overwhelming than science.

    One more note on athletics. Athletic power is largely apolitical (except in the way it is produced) and simple to understand. It also fits well with the Protestant work ethic and the needs of the current economic mode. Scientific power is altogether different. Every move of science re-shapes what we know, and knowing things forces the development of responsibility. Science places a heavy burden on the traditional narratives of the world, and the burden grows rapidly. Science is not simply threatening in the way it forces metaphysical change; it's threatening in the overwhelming rapidity of the change. No wonder people cheer simple games of violence and then go physically and mentally abuse critical thinkers. That was me, too, dhogaza. I dropped out of high school to avoid it. If it weren't for Biology Honors, I suspect high school would have been a total loss.
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  41. Dave123 @36
    Your first paragraph could apply just as accurately to Australia. The difference is in the second and third paragraphs.

    A British colony populated by british convicts (including many Irish catholics)and non-british (initially mainly German) settlers didn't end up showing a lot of respect of deference to political authority (or religious authority for that matter). Thus, a similar culture of self reliance to the USA but with a different origin.

    Add the political import of ideology, especially on the right, from the USA and you end up with considerable similarlties with regard to resistance to science.
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  42. Stevo,

    There is an anti-elitism streak in Australia and you can see it in the denialists here. But it does manifest itself differently. Denialists here tend to strike a larikin pose, especially the journalists. (For Yanks and Poms that roughly translates as smartarse.) They can't get away with as much in the way of moralizing because people here react with scorn to anything that looks like a claim of moral superiority.

    I don't think there is as much in the way of pretensions of self-reliance here. After all what is mateship but an ethos of mutual support? Granted, this a non hierarchical idea of mutual support.

    Denialists here try to make a joke of the whole matter. This makes them hard to pin down. But it also makes it hard for them to whip up huge levels of indignation.
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  43. Oh, there are threats of violence from some denialists but I think they are rarer even in proportion to the population. And if they were carried out I think they would be the end of the denialist movement here. I fear they might not be in America. Americans would have a better on this than me.
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  44. Lloyd Flack

    "What you describe as values centered people refuse to see that physics puts constraints on the degree to which thay can act on their values"

    Lloyd, you just nailed it. A fundamental disconnect in their mode of thinking, where values actually over-rule physics because of the psychological need to live a values-centric life (which isn't an issue) and that thus the Universe must be a place that reflects those values back at them - which is poppycock.

    So how do we engage the values-centric in debate? Not on what their values are but on the idea that values trump physics. How do we get non-physical thinkers to recognise that physical thinking trumps everything else?
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  45. However, Powell points out one distinction between the Roman Inquisition and the modern day Climate Inquisition. At least the Roman inquisitors had an alternative theory - Ptolemy's 2nd Century theory of Earth-centered astronomy. The Climate Inquisition have no alternative theory that can explain the many lines of evidence that point to human caused global warming.

    I am not sure why you say "at least". You seem to assume that it is better to have a theory, no matter how wrong, than to have no theory at all. This is a bit like arguing that doctors in the middle ages who attributed disease to bad humours should not have been criticised for their rubbish views because there was no better explanation available at the time.
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  46. The misinformers link is a bit cluttered. I think it would be a good idea to distinguish between people with climate science credentials (e.g. Lindzen and Spencer), scientists in related fields, and out and out ideologues who rely on the former groups for ammunition (Ron Paul, Christopher Monckton, Anthony Watts etc.) Producers and consumers, so to say.

    Sourcewatch does a good job on these people, but hardly presents it in a way that's useful for convincing people.

    It would also be useful if the more honest misinformers, those who have objections to the consensus that can actually be articulated scientifically get such views presented briefly there, ideally in a way they wouldn't object to (e.g. "Pielke Sr. believes the radiative forcing from methane is far higher than is generally accepted").
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  47. If anyone is searching for a 'thoughtful skeptic' there is a very interesting and civil discussion going on at Real Climate under the thread title "Global Warming and Ocean Heat Content" in which Dr Roger Pielke Snr is engaged with several participants who are questioning Gavin Schmidt rather effectively.
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  48. For those who want another look into the minds of US conservatives, you might check out the NYTimes review of Corey Robin's The Reactionary Mind here. Keep in mind that the reviewer is thoroughly middle-class liberal (Barnard College political scientist). Robin's reply to the review is here. The response is, for me, more enlightening than the review, but both speak to what has been said on this stream and others at SkS.

    critical mass, I'm not sure what you mean by "effectively." Could you characterize the exchange for us (on the appropriate thread)?
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  49. critical mass, I'd say a critical reading of that thread, in particular gavin's inline responses to RPSr, mostly demonstrate that RPSr doesn't really know what he's talking about when he blows smoke about heat transport in the ocean.

    But that's for over there, not over here, where it's OT.
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  50. DSL:

    "All of this is shorthand, though. History is far more overwhelming than science."

    Oh, yes, after all it's the combined experience of billions of people over thousands of years ...

    I've just been tossing out some ideas for Riccardo to think about given some of his notions about the American people, and it's great to see others like you and dave123 add your thoughts.

    I wouldn't lay the weakening of unions entirely on globalization, not here in the US. Remember that anti-union Reagan had a lot of support among union rank and file workers. Reagan's conservative positions on social issues apparently resonated among such workers even though any rational evaluation would make it clear that voting for Reagan was voting against the economic self-interest of union workers.

    Globalization over the last couple of decades certainly had an overwhelmingly important role in weakening unions, though. Not only globalization, the rise of the "right to work" movement has allowed Boeing to retaliate against its unionized workforce in Washington by building a new 787 factory to be populated with lower-paid, non-union workers in the SE ...
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