“Smokey Joe” Barton’s long history of antiscience propaganda

Remember how Joe Barton apologized to British Petroleum for the government’s mild reproach and slap on the wrist after their oil spill destroyed the Gulf of Mexico and created a dead zone that will last for decades? Turns out he was one of the bigger names involved in the disinformation campaign waged by the tobacco industry.

Those of us who weren’t old enough or politically aware enough might not have known this fact about Barton, or might have let that information slip into the memory hole; we might otherwise think that this antiscience campaign waged by the oil industry against climate scientists is a unique phenomenon. Spreading this information about Barton’s and others’ tactics is therefore vital.

Normally, ad hominem is a fallacy. However, establishing a pattern of behaviour and modifying one’s treatment of or trust in another person based on such patterns of behaviour is entirely reasonable and rational. Seeing this man (and others, like Boehner) repeat the same tactics that worked so well in forestalling public acceptance of the truth behind tobacco’s deleterious health effects, used in a fight with vast and far-reaching consequences about the deleterious effects we as a species are having on our environment, is rather galling, but definitely useful information. It means we are forearmed against these tactics and can counter them. It means we are aware in advance of the fact that the people with their hands on the levers of political power in this country are not principled actors, and that they are more than willing to lie about reality for a quick buck to everyone else’s detriment.

Elsewhere, another community handles similar events differently.

It’s no surprise the science blogging community, even the “mainstream media” parts of it like Scientific American, intersects heavily with the community of atheists and freethinkers that make up the skeptical and atheist communities. Not all the members of the science blogging community, though, have any inclination toward being part of the atheist/skeptical communities. In fact, a surprising number of people who are out as atheists couldn’t give half a damn about these secular online communities, what with our acrimony, our pockets of outright hatred and our various unevidenced delusions. A large number of them have given up on our communities over the very same fights that FtB features heavily in — fights in which vocal minorities claim that we, the people who try to hold others’ feet to fires for believing in and for saying and for doing objectively harmful and antisocial things to one another, are the ones who are truly evil, with their cries of “witch hunts” and “political correctness” and “fascism” and their cries that they’re defending “free speech”, as though they even knew what the term meant.

The result of this divergence in community makeup is palpable this past week.
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The costs of action vs the costs of inaction on global warming

By our inability to prevent a global 2+°C warming, by virtue of there being very nearly 400 parts per million CO2 despite our scientists’ constant warnings to do whatever it takes to reduce that number to at least 350, we’re going to cost ourselves a hell of a lot of money. Both in the short term and in the long term.

Firstly, the Arctic is thawing. Within the Arctic is a time-bomb of methane gas that’s gonna cost us almost as much as the global economy.

“The global impact of a warming Arctic is an economic time-bomb,” said Gail Whiteman, an author of the report and professor of sustainability, management and climate change at the Rotterdam School of Management, part of Erasmus University.

“In the absence of climate-change mitigation measures, the model calculates that it would increase mean global climate impacts by $60 trillion,” said Chris Hope, a reader in policy modeling at the Cambridge Judge Business School, part of the University of Cambridge.

That approaches the value of the global economy, which was around $70 trillion last year.

The methane bomb is a one time event though, as it has a significantly different impact life span of 20-ish years, compared to CO2‘s 5 years in the atmosphere til it gets either taken up by biological processes or the ocean. The problem with CO2 is that while any individual molecule stays in the atmosphere for a few years, it also might return to the atmosphere after a stint in the ocean or in the trees. The individual molecules stick around for thousands of years compared to methane’s 20-ish, and we’re pumping out twice as much CO2 as the planet can apparently sink per year.

Plus, the repercussions of more CO2 in the oceans is acidification, which kills coral and marine life and could destroy the entire fishing industry and any culture that relies on it for food.

Global warming doesn’t just mean it’ll get warm and stay warm — it means there’s more energy in the system, so you have wilder weather swings. You’ll therefore see superstorms in all weather: tornadoes and hurricanes, blizzards and thunderstorms, floods and droughts. The more energy, the bigger and more frequent the energetic releases. And we all know how much damage each of those events can do, money-wise.

All of this, compared to the costs of finding a less carbon-heavy way of feeding ourselves, finding a less carbon-heavy way of powering our electrical gadgets and climate control systems and personal conveyance, and industry. It’s possible to beat this issue without all of us turning into cave-dwelling survival nuts, but we need to fix a lot of processes that are well and truly entrenched — and as far as I can tell, they’re only entrenched at this point because certain people are still making money off the carbon economy. A carbon economy the American government subsidizes heavily by giving huge kickbacks to the oil industry. How much is THAT costing us? How much would carbon really cost if not for the invisible hand of the marketplace sticking a heavy thumb on those scales?

When some climate denialist says it’s too expensive to do anything about CO2 emissions — show them these costs. The cost argument evaporates when you take into account how much inaction will cost.

CONvergence: Science and Religion: Friends or Foes? panel audio

Here’s the panel audio from the last panel I got to attend this year, at 12:30am on Sunday. This has had the benefit of the most amount of experience with Audacity, where I even got to go into individual questioners’ audio from the audience and re-amplify them (though this might expose a bad habit by one of our mic’d panelists of talking over audience members — don’t increase your volume for those parts). This is much more listenable than my first attempt this year. I’ll almost have the whole process figured out by the time next year rolls around!

Panelists were Dan Fincke, PZ Myers, Bridget Landry, Heina Dadabhoy and Debbie Goddard.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

cvg2013-skepchickcon-sciencevsreligion.mp3

CONvergence – Worldbusters!

This one is the second made using the built-in sound app on my phone, and thus it’s also a crappy 8kHz, though I’ve passed it through a few filters to try to get it to a listenable state. It’s a little quiet, but I’ve managed to take out a good deal of noise and level the sounds somewhat. I may yet go back and do the same to the EvoPsych panel.

This panel was fun, though not nearly as popular or populated as the penis panel. In this one we took audience suggestions about specific sci-fi / fantasy tropes and disproved them, with heavy emphasis on the biology behind most of these alien biology scenarios. Sadly, no questions about tech that I could have fielded. Oh well!

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cvg2013-skepchickcon-worldbusters

Panelists were Jason Thibeault, Siouxsie Wiles, PZ Myers and Laura Okagaki.

CONvergence – Penises of the Animal Kingdom panel audio

Sadly, this loses a lot without the visual aids, so I’ll have to make a point of embedding a few images that I still have on my laptop from what was emailed to me. This is Desiree Schell, Bug Girl, PZ Myers, Emily Fincke, and Sharon Stiteler. The audience was completely packed to the point of overflowing, and I had to pinch-hit doing the A/V after a last-second realization that there was nobody to run it, and no way to get the pics and videos onto the projector. My netbook came in handy!

I also managed to get a better recording app that isn’t limited to the default built-in sound recorder’s 8kHz, so this one’s recorded at 22kHz, and should be much easier to understand than my last. I’m pretty sure there’s also a video of the panel somewhere, but I’m not sure if it’s up anyplace just yet.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

cvg2013-skepchickcon-penisesoftheanimalkingdom.mp3

Panelists at the Penises of the Animal Kingdom

Panelists at the Penises of the Animal Kingdom

Desiree reacting to something ridiculous PZ said. Probably about being the penis-haver.

Desiree reacting to something ridiculous PZ said. Probably about being the penis-haver.

An absolutely gigantic whale penis.

An absolutely gigantic whale penis.

CONvergence – Evolutionary Psychology panel audio

Okay, this is not the greatest recording in the world. As it turns out, a Google Nexus 4 appears to only be able to record at 8000Hz mono. If I’m going to keep doing this, I’ll have to invest in a better sound recorder. Or maybe use my old iPhone, because that’s literally the only thing the iPhone has that my Nexus has not been able to duplicate or improve upon.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

(download mp3)

Panel, left to right: Amanda Marcotte, Greg Laden, Stephanie Zvan, PZ Myers, Indre Viskontas

Panel, left to right: Amanda Marcotte, Greg Laden, Stephanie Zvan, PZ Myers, Indre Viskontas. Photo by Anne Sauer of Mad Art Lab.


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News from down under: the TRUE skeptical women side with the guys!

Something funny happened in my and Stephanie’s trackbacks today. On Adelaide Atheists’ Meetup group, one of their male members wrote up a post asking women to endorse the Skeptic Women petition. The thread was titled, “I wish to promote the statement below issued by a group of women atheists/(true) skeptics and ask women to consider supporting their position.”

Let’s ignore the “no true skeptic” for a brief moment here, and the fact that the two women replying both strongly disagreed — and that the poster and two other guys argued with them, explaining to them why they’re wrong.

Stop laughing.
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Strawprivilege

How many times ’round this particular bush must we beat? The latest spate of intentional misunderstandings about what privilege is and is not has spurred me finally to post my thoughts on this matter, though to be quite honest I’ve made a false start at this particular post about a dozen times now.

Privilege as a term used in social justice circles is fairly well understood. In fact, it strays not one whit from the dictionary definition, regardless of which dictionary you use:

noun

  • a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people

– Oxford English Dictionary

Definition of PRIVILEGE

: a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor : prerogative; especially : such a right or immunity attached specifically to a position or an office

- Merriam-Webster (presently 19th most popular word on online lookups!)

And even law dictionaries, referring to specific legal privileges, scan in plain english:

A particular and peculiar benefit or advantage enjoyed by a person, company, or class, beyond the common advantages of other citizens. An exceptional or extraordinary power or exemption. A right, power, franchise, or immunity held by a person or class, against or beyond the course of the law.

- Black’s Law Dictionary

The concept is a solid one in sociological circles, describing existing behaviour. There are books of essays by sociologists, books by sociologists exploring how privilege interacts with viewpoint, and books of theory by sociologists who are cited often in religious discussion — it’s not exactly fringe science, and it’s certainly better supported and better explored than the present state of evolutionary psychology. It involves no just-so stories, it describes reality as observed by impartial observers, and provides an explanatory framework for how these power imbalances aggregate and perpetuate themselves without any necessarily immoral behaviour by any individuals. It is a powerful framework and it is well evidenced by thousands of years of recorded history aggregated across all our cultures.

The objections to the use of the word “privilege” are once again coming from the same quarter of our community that regularly forestalls progress (and, honestly, even discussion) with regard to social justice causes. Once again, a “leader” of our respective movements has spoken up against the terrible feminists who are “silencing dissent” with our horrible bullying tactics like “blocking people on Twitter” or “disagreeing with them on their own blogs” or “asking them to kindly stop actively talking for just long enough to hear someone else’s perspective”. This leader, and the people rising up to support and defend said leader’s words, fight tooth and nail against these feminists. By attempting to poison the well for this concept, by attempting to sap away our ability to use the concept to describe reality as it exists, they are attacking by extension everyone who happens to think that women are in a disadvantaged position in our society as a whole, and therefore by extension every woman, whether they recognize or do not recognize same.

Some of this leader’s defenders are motivated reasoners; some have a skeptical blind spot when it comes to the possibility that our communities could reflect the same background levels of misogyny and bigotry. Some are Men’s Rights Activists, who run around attacking feminists under the guise of working for the same men’s disadvantages which feminism also addresses by undermining patriarchy (while, naturally, largely ignoring men’s disadvantages altogether). Still others are onlookers, fence-sitters, people who don’t care to attempt to sort out the competing claims, people who’d really rather we return to the very serious work of being rude only to Ray Comfort and Sylvia Browne.

You’ll note I haven’t stated exactly whom I’m talking about yet. There’s a reason for that.
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