Unmasking Pseudo-Scientific Reporting

Background to this post

A clever American reporter asked Greta Thunberg, “Why should we believe all this stuff that science is telling us?”

There was a pause. The poor kid was gob-smacked. It was the first time I have ever seen her with no answer. Her response? “Well…it’s…it’s science!” As if that meant something.

But the interviewer had a point. How do we know “science” is telling the truth?

Once I started looking, it wasn’t hard to find places where it definitely wasn’t. How can you tell whether you’re being scammed by a nut job? Here are some tricks to apply, and the results they produce.

 “CO2 is good for plants! Global warming is a lie!” True or False?

This article was posted in “Natural News” (Banner line: “Defending Health, Life, and Liberty.”)

Well, there’s your first clue. When you put “Defending” and “Liberty” in your title, we know where’ you’re coming from. We move on to the article with a skeptical viewpoint, and this is what we read.

“If carbon dioxide is so bad for the planet, why do greenhouse growers buy CO2 generators to double plant growth?” The obvious answer is that CO2 is good for plants. Sounds logical, right? This makes the “carbon footprint” thing a hoax, right?

Bad Logic

False.The hook for this theory is that the basic fact is true. CO2 is good for plants. But this has nothing, and I repeat, NOTHING to do with CO2’s function as a greenhouse gas. Carbon dioxide in the air at ground level feeds plants; it’s a chemical reaction. Carbon dioxide in the upper atmosphere allows sunlight in but traps heat from radiating out in a thermal reaction. There’s no connection between the two.

All sorts of things are good in one place and harmful in another. A turnip is a nutritious vegetable, but that doesn’t mean a 5-kilogram turnip falling five floors on your head is good for you. Doctors used to prescribe menthol cigarettes to asthma patients because menthol is good for asthma.

Now the Tough Stuff

That was a pretty easy call. The next one got a lot of traffic on the right-wing sections of Facebook last week, and you can see why.

“Global Warming is A blatant LIE & This video scientifically Proves it.”  (Not my capitals; there’s your first clue.)

A scientist named Dr. Don Easterbrook was interviewed for 90 minutes by the Senate Energy, Environment & Telecommunications Committee.  Pretty official, right? If the Senate takes him seriously, that gives him a lot of clout. How do we figure if his science is credible?

When you read something like this, the first thing you do is Google the speaker. If you find he is overly famous for his theories on one side or the other, you have to be more careful. Are the attacks on his credibility politically motivated? If he’s an apologist for your side, you have to be very critical that you’re not just hearing what you want to believe.

Claims by Dr. Easterbrook, True or False?

  1. “I have been working with physicists, atmospheric physicists, mineralogists, oceanographers, astrophysicists, and other scientists.” Probably true. This sounds pretty impressive, but working how? On what projects? He was a university prof; maybe he was on the faculty tenure committee with them. Do any of them agree with his assertions? He doesn’t say.
  2. “I am not supported by big oil.” Could be true, but the Heartland Institute, where he is a regular speaker, is funded by the fossil fuel industry.
  3. “Global warming ended in 1998.” Not proven. Nobody else’s data bears this out. His “data” is a blurred chart, almost unreadable, showing one brief downturn caused by who knows what combination of effects. Yet triumphant cries of  “Proof! Proof!” echoed through the right-wing media.

    What Does This Prove?

  4. “Sea level rises 7 inches per century.” In the last century, this was true. But between 1995 and 2015, it rose at a rate of 12” per century. It isn’t the amount, it’s the fact that it rose almost twice as much in 10 years as it did in the previous 100. Scary.
  5. “CO2 is too rare to cause global warming.” False. Rarity means nothing. 400 parts per million of chlorine gas in the air will kill you. Effect is what counts.
  6. “Oceans are not acid.” True, but off the point. The ocean is balanced at a pH OF 8.2, which is solidly basic. It’s the change towards acidity that is worrisome. The whole ecology of the world is based upon balances, and any upset of those balances is cause for concern.
  7. “Antarctic ice sheet is not melting at all: it’s growing. To get any ice to melt, you would need to raise the average daily temperature from -58 to +32.” This is a completely false manipulation of statistics; the average includes winter temperatures of – 100, while warm temperatures in the 50’s occur in summer. I only takes a few of the warmest days to cause thawing. Antarctica gets very little actual precipitation, (about 12 cm a year) so the renewal of the snow pack is very slow. The 25,000 sq. km of the ice shelf lost since 1950 due to warming of surrounding waters is a more relevant fact.

Listen Closely

“That is fact.”

“This is well-documented.”

“You’ll see I’m right.”

Sayin’ so don’t make it true, and scientists with no axe to grind don’t use terms like this.

The Sludge Analogy about Interpreting Data

He likens data interpretation to looking at readings from a series of glasses of water. Many of the sources show clean, clear water. Some sources show muddy sludge. Most data managers mix them all together, and get a semi-clear smudgy picture of the average.

His assertion that he only takes data from the clear glasses is a direct admission that he only takes the “pure data,” in other words, data that agrees with his theories, and ignores the “sludge” which disagrees with him.

How Does He Reconcile the Gaps?

If you bother to listen to the end, the bottom line of Dr. Easterbrook’s argument is that his “true” data shows no global warming. However, NASA and the rest of the scientific community are involved in a conspiracy to suppress the truth and are feeding us skewed data.

As Easterbrook constantly says, “Go ahead, make up your own mind. You’ll see I’m right.”

Put into Perspective

If you want a more scientific argument, look at this article; only 3% of the articles in peer-reviewed journals deny human effect on global climate change, and those are found to be scientifically flawed.

The Bottom Line

Yes, Greta, science is science. But we do have to look at the findings of scientists closely, to be sure their use of scientific method is up to scratch.

 

1 comment for “Unmasking Pseudo-Scientific Reporting

  1. Joann Merkel
    October 8, 2019 at 7:04 am

    Well Gordon we are stupid if we deny that our climate is warming. The problem I have with the more outspoken climate change folk is they don’t supply any reasonable way of “fixing “ the problem. We have over 8 billion people on earth and how do we all work together to fix it. Innovation and thinking outside the box is probably our best bet or spreading our population out over other planets that we might find that will support life. As I have said before we have travelled to many places talked to many people and if we don’t raise the education system in many, many countries we are doomed to fail. An educated, innovative population is what we need. I like to think that maybe one of my 9 grandchildren can help make a difference

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