Friday, March 01, 2013

STEM the Science Deniers – Part III

Climate Change

Creationists will be delighted to learn that they were right. There is now scientific evidence that apes are not the original precursor species of mankind, as some believe. A few weeks ago, it was announced in the Journal Science that a new technology has allowed researchers to exploit extensive amounts of fossil and genetic data pertaining to evolutionary biology. In a comprehensive study of the mammalian family tree (of which humans are a member), scientists have discovered what they claim is likely to be the most common ancestor of creatures that nourish their young in utero through a placenta, as do humans.

Illustration by Carl Buell
Although some small placental mammals had evolved during the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago, the findings now assume that all but one survived the massive impact of an asteroid that led to the extinction of 75 percent of all plants and animals including the dinosaurs. That survivor, named Protungulatum donnae, is now considered humankind’s very first ancestor. Weighing less than half a pound, with a long tail, this rat size animal (see picture), hunted insects. Do you think that creationists will find it less troubling to find our first true ancestor to be an insect eater rather than an ape?––probably not.

Where the bible rules

Before we leave the subject of creationism, if you haven’t already been informed, you must learn about the episode that turned into the quintessential theater of the absurd (although unintended), one that took place last October during a speech at the Liberty Baptist Church Sportsman’s Banquet. The speaker was Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) who vilified scientists as tools of the devil. A video shows him saying, “All that stuff I was taught about evolution, and embryology, and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell, and it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.”

While this rather ultra extreme position was reported in the media, his next statement, one much more troubling, was not covered as thoroughly, and in most cases, not at all. “What I’ve come to learn is that it’s the manufacturer’s handbook, is what I call it,” he said. “It teaches us how to run our lives individually, how to run our families, how to run our churches. But it teaches us how to run all of public policy and everything in society. And that’s the reason as your congressman I hold the holy Bible as being the major directions to me of how I vote in Washington, D.C., and I’ll continue to do that.” What happened to the oath of office Mr. Broun took to protect the Constitution? Separation of church and state––what’s that?

If Broun was your congressman, wouldn’t it be comforting to know that his beliefs are identical to that of the Taliban and other fundamentalist Islamists who demand that the contents of the Koran constitutes the singular and dominating principle in governing a country. Oh yes––Broun is not only a “young earth” creationist, believing that the earth is only 9,000 years old, and was created in six days, he is actually a physician. (I have not seen it reported in other medium, but he was once sanctioned for practicing without a license.)

To further solidify his extremist position he also made this totally absurd and inaccurate, “liar, liar, pants on fire” statement: “Scientists all over this world say that the idea of human induced global climate change is one of the greatest hoaxes perpetrated out of the scientific community. It is a hoax. There is no scientific consensus.”

Deniers are in charge

Most ironically, Broun is also a high-ranking member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. What? Perhaps that’s not surprising since Lamar Smith (R-TX) who was recently appointed by John Boehner as the Chairman of that Committee, is also a climate change denier, as is the Vice Chairman and several other members. How about that? Now we have Science Deniers in charge of formulating the direction of scientific and research activity for our country.

What is most interesting but perhaps not surprising, is the close relationship of evolution deniers and climate warming deniers. Of major importance in this partnership is an organization called the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. Here is the official Cornwall description of its goals: “The Cornwall Alliance is a coalition of clergy, theologians, religious leaders, scientists, academics, and policy experts committed to bringing a balanced Biblical view of stewardship to the critical issues of environment and development.”

In mid-2012, 119 leading evangelical scientists, economists, theologians, and pastors, all Cornwall members, [few if any who have any expertise in the field of climatology] endorsed a formal comment sent to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) opposing its intent to put restrictions on carbon-dioxide emissions from electric power plants.

Cornwall’s comment to EPA states its “opposition … to the carbon-dioxide endangerment finding and regulations, past and future, predicated on it, including those limiting carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants” and urges EPA ‘not to implement and enforce but to vacate the endangerment finding and all regulations predicated on’ its controversial 2009 ruling that CO2 is a ‘dangerous pollutant’ as defined by the Clean Air Act.”

Here, as in creationism, the belief in a literal interpretation of biblical literature, attempts to trump scientific fact. It reminds me of the Groucho Marx quote, “Are you going to believe me or your own eyes?”

The National Academies

A totally opposite perspective is presented by what is probably the most highly regarded scientific organization in the county. The National Academies of Science of the United States, known collectively as the National Academies. It comprises four organizations: the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council. Its purpose is to “produce groundbreaking reports that help shape sound policies, inform public opinion, and advance the pursuit of science, engineering, and medicine.” In September 2012, its highly respected weekly publication, Procedures of the National Academies incorporated the following:

“Although preliminary estimates from published literature and expert surveys suggest striking agreement among climate scientists on the tenets of anthropogenic [caused or produced by humans] climate change (ACC), the American public expresses substantial doubt about both the anthropogenic cause and the level of scientific agreement underpinning ACC.”

To prove the fallacy of this disbelief the Academy developed “an extensive dataset of 1,372 climate researchers and their publication and citation data to show that 97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of ACC outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.” It then emphasized that, “The relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC are substantially below that of the convinced researchers.”

What the polls say

Despite what many consider the incontrovertible evidence symbolized by the findings of the National Academy, and even more convincingly by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), polls show a disappointingly low rate of Americans who believe in global warming, and until recently, a diminishing rate at that.

For example, according to Gallup, it first asked Americans to rate their concern about the greenhouse effect or global warming in 1989, and has measured it as part of the annual Gallup Environment survey every March since 2001. An average of 60% of Americans since 1989 have worried a great deal or a fair amount about global warming, but concern has fluctuated significantly over this time period. After increasing in the late 1990s and rising to a high of 72% in 2000, worry declined to a low of 51% in 2004. It picked up again in 2005, reaching 66% in 2008, before falling again in recent years––including another 52% reading in 2012.”

While the March Gallup poll is not yet available as of this writing, results published by other pollsters are now considerably higher, possibly due to the forced recognition of the problems incurred by the recent devastation created by some of the highest temperatures ever recorded, the increasing number and power of destructive storms, (think Sandy), the tenacious U.S. drought that continues to hamper American agricultural output and put water supplies and Mississippi River commerce at risk, and the reports of the ice meltings in the Antarctic.

Poll percentages for global warming alone now range in the 60’s and 70’s. However, the percentage of Americans who believe that global warming is manmade is only in the high 40’s. Incidentally, 58% of Canadians believe that global warming is manmade.

Next month’s issue will delve into some of the more fundamental details regarding climate change – however, I came across this little joke about creation that I could not resist relating. Little Johnny was puzzled as to his origin, “How did I get here Mommy?” he asked. His mother said, using a well-worn phrase, “God sent you.” “And did God send YOU too Mommy? “Yes Johnny, he did.” Did he also send DADDY and GRANDMA and GREAT-GRANDMA and GREAT-GREAT-GRANDMA? Again the answer was “Yes, Johnny, he did.” Little Johnny shook his head in disgust and disbelief. “Then you mean to tell me there has been no sex in this family for over 100 years??? No wonder everyone in this family is so cranky.