Climate denial and the Industry of FUD

I’ve had this link to Climate Crocks on my tabs for forever, intending to blog about it as soon as possible. Today I was listening to Minnesota Atheists Talk Radio, on AM 950 KTNF, and Stephanie Zvan was interviewing Greg Laden about the climate denialists who’ve been trying to sue him into the ground for talking about the settled science that is whether or not the climate is changing for the worse, and whether or not humans are responsible. During one of the intro/outros Stephanie mentioned how similar the astroturf seems to the progenitor of the corporate-interest-sponsored organized disinformation campaign that was the Big Tobacco industry in the 90s, and I remembered this tab immediately.

This talk documents the origins of the US’s “Tea Party”, built by corporations to prey on the anti-liberal sentiments of the far-right segments of the already-far-right Republican party, calving off a chunk of them to be a populist movement against corporate regulation.


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The Problem with Pseudonymity

I really want to get a post out at some point in the near future discussing the heavy parallels between the online atheist/skeptic communities’ current misogyny imbroglio, and the nearly identical one happening presently in the online video game community. There’s a lot to chew on though, and my writing time (and energy) has been severely limited lately by a bad combination of work and life interfering heavily with blogospherics. That might be a while in the making.

Others, however, are striking blows for the side of the angels in both communities, including this excellent post calling on men to “man up” and stop the misogyny in our communities — because without male participation in the initiative to end male-on-female harassment, we ain’t going to get very far.

However, for all its good, there are a number of very problematic aspects to this post. Notwithstanding the buying into the “boy”/”man” dichotomy, rigid gender roles for men, etc., the author of this piece, Ernest W. Adams, makes an absolutely monumental error that needs addressing. One that exposes that he has engaged the same sort of magical thinking Google engaged in when building their no-pseudonymity policy on Google+. This error is that attaching your real name (or a real-sounding name) to your account will somehow provide a prophylactic effect against online harassment and cyber-bullying — preventing it from happening in the first place.

This is categorically not the case.
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RCimT: Climate round-up

Apropos of the topic of discussion for today’s radio show, here’s a roundup of some links related to climate change, plus some other related sciencey bits that I otherwise just wanted to get out of my tabs. Enjoy!

Here’s how climate change was subsumed into the “culture war”. Good overview of how we got to the point where science and anti-science polarized along political lines, and how it’ll backfire on the pro-money and anti-science crowd.

Knowing that bots and hired trolls have all but filled the discourse on other matters, Googling for related topics and astroturfing dissent as though they were legitimately grass-roots, it’s no surprise that climate denialists are employing these same tactics to muddy the discourse.

Some new study came out claiming some ridiculous things about the science proving anthropogenic global warming, and the media is touting this study as “blowing a hole” in the science, calling those people that understand and accept the evidence “alarmists” in the process. Phil Plait rips ‘em a new one over this mendacity, and in the process, Learns to Stop Worrying and Love the Ad Hominem in the process. Though I’d argue that since he’s also showing why they’re wrong, what he’s doing is simply including a personal attack in the conclusion. You’ll want to click pretty much every one of the links in his post, as the actual debunking mostly happens off-blog.

Like at RealClimate, for example. If you don’t want to go through the links above, at least check that one out.

John Abraham, one of the participants in the Atheists Talk radio show today, had another radio spot recently about climate change that you should check out.

The Koch Brothers, apparently movers-and-shakers in the conservative world, are making a concerted effort to stamp out a wind power generation project in New Jersey. And, of course, disguising it as a grassroots movement.

Mike Haubrich, host of the Atheists Talk show, has a good piece on “Hide the Decline”, those unfortunate terms of trade in the “Climategate” emails. Those emails led to a million false allegations against climate scientists and climate science as a whole due to a simple misunderstanding and a willful ignorance of the truth, even after having it explained a million and one (for good measure) times.

And now that the raw data from the “Climategate” study has been released, and STILL they can’t find any actual wrongdoing or manipulation in the scientists’ processes, I’m sure that’ll evaporate finally! Right?

If we could find some way to keep space debris from smashing it to bits, I’m now convinced space solar is the best path out of this era of fossil fuels and into the next, of renewable resources. Building the arrays and keeping them safe from space junk would be expensive, but no more expensive than, say, three ongoing wars, or the Bush-era tax cuts.

Enjoy the radio show! I’ll be listening live myself, if I can get the stupid feed to work properly this time around. Last time the streaming was glitchy as hell. Here’s to hoping it’s sorted now.

The statistics on deaths related to nuclear power generation are wrong.

Or at the very least, extraordinarily misleading.

There’s a really good reason I call Stephanie Zvan “Our Lady of Perpetual Win”. Pretty much every time the woman sits at her keyboard, she writes something great, and usually in a much more timely and topical fashion than I ever manage. (When’s the last time I wrote about breaking news like Libya’s invasion, or the nuclear crisis in Japan, while it was happening? Yeah, exactly.)

At the risk of sounding like I’m merely her fan club, you really should check out her latest post, where she tackles the repeated comments in blogs and forums everywhere anyone talks about nuclear power in a less than flattering light. Her best posts are about eviscerating the astroturfing nonsense, and this one is no exception.

I’m still already tired of people telling me how safe–safe, I tell you!–the nuclear power industry is. Some of that is people reacting to any complaint about the industry or the passing along of the scanty news coming out of Japan as though someone were saying the sky is falling, and putting out fatal doses of radiation in the meantime.

Some of it, however, is the reliance of a particular type of information telling me that nuclear energy is as safe as it gets. For example, I’ve been referred to this set of numbers frequently:

Deaths per TWh for all energy sources

Coal – world average: 161 (26% of world energy, 50% of electricity)
Coal – China: 278
Coal – USA: 15
Oil: 36 (36% of world energy)
Natural Gas: 4 (21% of world energy)
Biofuel/Biomass: 12
Peat: 12
Solar (rooftop): 0.44 (less than 0.1% of world energy)
Wind: 0.15 (less than 1% of world energy)
Hydro: 0.10 (Europe death rate, 2.2% of world energy)
Hydro – world including Banqiao: 1.4 (about 2500 TWh/yr and 171,000 Banqiao dead)
Nuclear: 0.04 (5.9% of world energy)

There are quite a few things that bother me about these numbers.

Me too but I’m not nearly as insightful as Stephanie! Suffice it to say, the dogmatically pro-nuke commenters really need to learn how to read statistics, and make sure they’re all measuring the same damn thing, before they spout off the way they do.

Climate conspiracy

I’ve been putting off working on this, but it’s been humming in the back of my mind for a while now, not the least reason being that everyone in the blogosphere seems to be talking about it.

The core of the issue at hand is climate change, and the ground that denialists have been gaining over the past 18 months. And the problem I have is, people are far too willing to suggest that every scientist in every country in the world that agrees that anthropogenic climate change is in the process of attempting to perpetrate the greatest conspiracy hoax ever, and has somehow been able to keep hundreds of thousands of people who are “in on it” quiet about the fact that it’s all a hoax, and all this supposedly for “money”.

And yet, there’s far more money in preventing humankind from moving off of petroleum while the oil companies have 99% of the Earths’ oil reserves under their control presently, and have tapped hardly any of it at all. So, conspirators at the top of the oil heap spread anti-science, and those with vested interests in defeating science (e.g., conservatives and religious leaders), as well as those that stand to make a lot of money off the perpetuation of current technology, become the “true believers” of the denialist movement and fight tooth and nail against the general scientific consensus that exists. And many, maybe most, of these people honestly believe that it is more likely that scientists are just trying to destroy the gravy train they’re riding on, than that scientists are presenting the facts in an unbiased manner and it just so happens to threaten said gravy train.
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News flash: FDA was right on Zicam

If you were over at Greg Laden’s blog sometime around June, you might have seen an otherwise innocuous post about the FDA and warning labels on acetaminophen explode into astroturf-central in relatively short order. The people doing the astroturfing had a vested interest, it turns out, in discrediting the FDA: they were working for Swanson Vitamins, and were trying to muddy the waters about the very oversight body that was working to recall one of their cash cows, Zicam. For those of you that don’t know, Zicam is primarily a nasal gel with a lot of zinc, marketed as a “homeopathic” cure for the common cold. There’s some evidence that zinc taken orally might have some effect in shortening colds, but nothing showing that it helps if administered nasally.

Not only is there no evidence that intra-nasal zinc application doesn’t HELP, there’s actually a lot of evidence that it HURTS. And by hurts, I mean it can cause people anosmia — the total inability to smell. Permanently.

The talented Scicurious explains:

You can see here the treatments, and on the left side what they were staining for. In all the cells, they found Adenylyl cyclase 3, beta-tubulin (a protein specific for neurons, and since MOE ARE neurons, you’d look for that), and olfactory market protein. You’re looking for the green stains in all of these. And again, only with Zicam was there a big reduction in detection of these proteins.

This isn’t happy, because this means the cells are just insensitive. It implies that they’re dead.

I hope all those astroturfers feel a terrible pang of guilt that they were arguing for the elimination of the oversight body that generally works against the pharmaceutical companies that bring to market such horrid products. Real people trusted your advice, fuckwits. And real people were, and continue to be, hurt, when you peddle your unscientific “medicine” and fight for looser protections for the public.

Read more here.

Random Health Care Reform Crap in my Tabs

Here’s another rundown of the random crap that’s started to accumulate in my Firefox tabs, to do with the American health care war being waged presently between people who want people to have access to health care, and people who want to continue denying access to health care in order to make a profit.

Lou Dobbs took a tour of other countries’ Single Payer systems and was shocked to discover they were neither crap nor socialism. (Then he went on a rant about illegal immigrants, I bet.)

Mike Haubrich has two great essays up at TUIB, one about the propensity to defend “free market” health care at the cost of even people’s lives, and the very real burden on the economy that private and employer-based insurance entails. As always, Mike is impassioned, eloquent, and absolutely correct.

Thom Hartman has an idea: let all Americans buy into Medicare. Since Medicare works, why not just expand it, instead of a whole new system? Though I’m of the belief that this reform would not go far enough to remedy the health-care-for-profit setup that the free market has saddled you with, one must not let the perfect become the enemy of the good. It would be a start, and certainly a hell of a lot less government-expanding. The only problem would be the refrain of “where will you get the money?”

To which I answer, try actually taxing people on more than their first $90,000 dollars in the social security tax cap. Yes, the rich pay higher taxes already, but guess what? They only pay that higher tax on the first tiny sliver of their multimillion dollar incomes! Plus, the capital gains tax was lowered from 20% for the higher tax brackets down to 15% in 2003, and look what happened to the economy. Lower income significantly, AND increase spending by a trillion dollars on a needless war? Gee, let’s ask Paulson or some other Bush crony what they think might happen! The Teabaggers who complain about this idea would see absolutely no increase in their own taxation rates, as they are by no stretch of the imagination rich enough to qualify for these higher taxes. This smacks of “eat the rich”, but honestly, how many millions do you need? Can’t you spare a bit of your walking-around, pocket-change, latte-money as part of your social contract with the country that provided you the opportunity to GET rich?

Greg Laden’s noticed a trend, at the same time: the deathers, the birthers, the teabaggers and the people who conflate Obama with Hitler are incredibly endemically racist, and are using their favorite conspiracies to cover up this fact about themselves. People who sidestep the issue of race are no better, as they are tacitly allowing the retardery to perpetuate.

Retardery like this woman comparing access to health care with Naziism, earnestly, at a town hall meeting with Barney Frank. And Frank dismantles her, then without missing a beat handles the rest of the crowd with aplomb. What a guy. Greg also covered this, with a shorter clip of the video.

And the astroturf has finally gotten so blatant that even Fox News is forced to report on it. And critically, at that! Wonders never cease.

Finally, in an attempt to tie together all the astroturf campaigns, the birthers/deathers/teabaggers/etc., Buzzflash explains how much of The South really feels about the resolution of the civil war — in their hearts, the South never really conceded, so the racists have driven their beliefs underground using coded messages. John Edwards was right — there are two Americas.

Again, I say, homeopathy is pants

As I’d posted recently, Zicam cold remedies (e.g. nasal gels) contains zinc gluconate, commonly used as an orally administered supplement.. Zinc is really bad to stick up your nose, as it could kill your sense of smell permanently. It might not technically be homeopathy according to homeopaths themselves, however it got by FDA approval by claiming to be homeopathy, and therefore falling under the jurisdiction of a really old law stating that homeopathy gets a bye-in into the public sphere. This law got passed mostly because the lawyers understood that, as homeopathy is almost identical to water, it has no real negative effect on humans aside from distracting people from science-based medicine. In other words, the law was passed to protect those idiots that run around trying to sell pure distilled water that may have once touched an atom of something chemically active — a law specifically designed to protect snake-oil salesmen, to the detriment of the public at large. Zicam took advantage of this already horrid law in creating a drug that obviously does not fall under its intent.

Despite the huge smackdown Matrixx (the maker of Zicam) received at the hands of the FDA for intentionally bypassing their approval process, astroturfers from Swansons Vitamins came out in full force to FUD up comments at Greg Laden’s and Stephanie Zvan’s blogs. Their main goal appears to be to claim that the FDA’s potential cracking down on acetaminophen proves that the FDA is ineffective and therefore should be eliminated, ushering in a new era of free-for-all “free market” quackery. They claim to be merely employees who want to defend their favorite faux-medicine products, but when they’re obviously protecting their cash cows, it’s pretty blatant how ridiculous they come off.

Want to see what homeopathy really is? I mean, in its purest, most-diluted (you read that right) form, not the zinc-filled nasal gel Matrixx and Swansons Vitamins are peddling. Luckily for you, Phil Plait just posted this great video which should demonstrate exactly just how stupid it all is.

Yeah, I’ll stick to science, thanks. If I’m sick, and anyone tries to mess with crystals or chakras or horoscopes or tiny amounts chemicals that “produce the same symptoms” as the ones I have but are then infinitely diluted in purified water, and I’m somehow incapacitated and can’t beat the person about the head and neck myself, please, on my behalf, tell them to shut the fuck up and give me something that science has proven actually does something.

Tonight’s ReformedYankee’s birthday party. Jodi and I intend to go over there and have a few drinks, but if I catch him trying to distill our drinks to make them “stronger”, I might have to punch him. I know you read this blog pretty regularly, so consider this a warning in advance, pal.