Tag Archives: Stossel

NASA and Global Warming: Respect The Method Or Don’t Do The Science

Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)
Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)

I don’t often weigh in on the global warming debate as I’m not a climatologist. I have made it clear however, that I believe in maintaining proper scientific skepticism in life.

First and foremost, I wish to say that I believe climatologists on both sides of the aisle have done good science. Mankind certainly produces a lot of CO2 which will no doubt have an effect on the environment, and these effects are worth investigating.

That being said, I wish to consider a few points.

Earth is rather large. Every organism living on this planet, along with objects in our solar system, are all variables that affect our climate. Accounting for all of them is nearly impossible.

The Blue Marble
The Blue Marble

Therefore, not accounting for all of them while making claims about how they will react to increased CO2 production, will always be educated guesswork.

Also, when climatologists make predictive models, as near as I can tell, they often make these models while assuming all other variables will either remain constant, or will not counteract the change, but instead merely succumb to it.

For example, imagine one were to observe two birds in their back yard; they look every day for a month, but on average, they always see about two birds. Now imagine this person throws a bag of bird seed in their back yard each day. Considering no other variable, one would assume the result would be an ever-growing pile of bird seed in their yard. In reality, their bird population of two would elevate to fifty or more birds, which wouldn’t result in a pile of bird seed as predicted, but a pile of bird poop instead.

With Earth being an ecosystem, as we animals (yes, humans are animals) produce more CO2, I’ve yet to hear anyone rule out that the plant kingdom, which would thrive in a CO2 rich environment, would not simply grow in numbers, evolve plants which consume more CO2, and/or spawn a new mechanism for filtering or consuming CO2 that we haven’t even imagined; in doing so, counteracting the increased greenhouse gasses produced by the increasing animal population. Just as the deer population, if left unchecked, will die of disease and famine, nature always seems to randomly, and quite unpredictably at times, find a way to maintain balance through evolution.

I’m not making this case mind you; again, I’m not a climatologist—please no hate mail. But one thing I do know is that predictive climate models have often been wrong. Eschewing climate science would be a terrible mistake, but let’s continue to compare actual results with predicted ones; leaving politics out of it for now, until we can accurately predict the effects, and effectively devise mechanisms to deal with the issues that we determine nature cannot naturally resolve for us.

There’s a saying I once heard that in science, most great discoveries are not followed with an exclamation of “Eureka, I’ve found it!” but instead, a far less exciting, “Hmm, that’s odd.”

Viagra was supposed to be a heart medication; it failed miserably. But oddly enough, it turns out Viagra can pitch a tent like a scout troop leader. Microwave ovens came about after Percy Spencer’s chocolate bar melted when placed near a magnetron and he wondered why. Post-it notes were a failed attempt at making a strong adhesive, which it clearly wasn’t. Instead of scrapping a million dollar project, 3M made lemonade out of lemons.

The list of happy accidents like these goes on forever. Science isn’t just about resolving a given issue, it’s also about investigating random discoveries that were often diversions along the way.

Sometimes however, good intentions can go seriously wrong. For instance, I took a tour of Mammoth Cave in Kentucky; I highly recommend it. In Mammoth Cave, as with all caves, the temperature and the humidity are basically constants. Mammoth Cave is a cool and damp ≈54°F 24/7/365. In 1839, Dr. John Croghan, a sufferer of tuberculosis, observed that the cave’s cold and damp air made him feel refreshed and well.

Tuberculosis hut, Main Cave, Mammoth Cave, Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky, KY, USA
Tuberculosis hut, Main Cave, Mammoth Cave, Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky, KY, USA

He bought the cave and opened up a tuberculosis clinic inside it. Today, we know that warm and dry air is best for people suffering from TB, but Dr. Croghan found out the hard way that cold and damp air is bad for it—all 15 patients died. Dr. Croghan didn’t follow the scientific method, he proceeded based on anecdotal evidence and a hunch. Such science, when lives are at stake, while often informative by virtue of observed results, is dangerous and irresponsible.

Let’s look at the scientific method in a nutshell.

  • A person has a question that needs answered.
  • This person then runs tests and collects evidence.
  • Based on the evidence, a hypothesis is formed in an attempt to explain the question.
  • A person then tries to disprove their hypothesis, a process known as falsification. The purpose? If you have a valid hypothesis, it should be true under any tests one subjects it to.
  • If the hypothesis passes these tests, one then publishes it for peer review. They explain their method for coming to such conclusions, their methodology at attempting falsification, and then allow others to review it, debate it, attempt to falsify it, and/or attempt to replicate it with total consistency.
  • Once the hypothesis has passed all these steps, only then does it become accepted wisdom, or even accepted natural law, such as Isaac’s laws of motion.


Recently, NASA’s Gavin Schmidt went on FNC’s Stossel and made brilliant points about the research NASA has done on climate change . He laid out the testing they’ve done, explained how they eliminated other variables, and thus concluded that mankind is increasing the CO2 in the air, and that this ever-increasing CO2 production will cause detrimental climate change. Hearing him speak alone, you could be easily convinced he had done his homework and was spot on in his hypotheses. From there however, it all went wrong.

Dr. Gavin Schmidt
Dr. Gavin Schmidt

Good science, by definition, allows for more than one opinion, otherwise you merely have the will of one man—which is the basis of cult. ~ Quote from The Master (a movie loosely based on Scientology)

Gavin Schmidt refused to sit next to Dr. Roy Spencer, a climate change scientist himself, with proper credentials, who happens to be skeptical of the climate doomsday scenarios often portrayed by others. In doing so, violating the process of peer review and meaningful discussion. His reason? He said he wasn’t interested in being part of a political debate.

Dr. Roy Spencer
Dr. Roy Spencer

The discussion however was not about politics, it was about the science of climate change. If Gavin Schmidt is unwilling to have his science debated, he has zero business doing scientific research at all, especially on the taxpayer’s dime.

If his science is correct, there should be no fear in defending against a skeptic. Every objection the skeptic might raise should be easily explained and dismissed if Gavin has done a thorough job and come to proper conclusions. If he cannot overcome a skeptic’s objections, then guess what? That means it isn’t settled science and his work is incomplete or even possibly false.

Convincing people the Earth is round and that the sun doesn’t revolve around it took time. But barring the most ignorant of idiots, we all agree that these statements are true now.

Al Gore
Al Gore

Those purporting climate change need to stop sensationalizing like Al Gore, debate educated climate skeptics intelligently, and stop acting like we’re all idiots for not buying what they’re selling.

As for the politics of all this? I believe we should not bankrupt the nation based on phenomena that is still not fully understood, and legislators must recuse themselves from the debate until it is. Because much like me, they aren’t climatologists either.

Sources:

http://www.hsl.virginia.edu/historical/reflections/tuberculosis/cave.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_tuberculosis

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-it_notes

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Percy_Spencer

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sildenafil

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Drug Legalization is the Yin, don’t forget the Yang

Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)
Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)

Recently on Stossel, Ann Coulter made an argument that was factually accurate, yet fundamentally wrong if she wishes to fight for liberty, where she is in essence proposing to treat the symptom, not the cause.

She argued that drugs should be illegal because of our welfare state. Meaning that because a drug user destroys themself, they usually end up in a hospital with conditions arising from drug use. Rarely can they afford to pay for treatment since many are unemployed and/or broke from their habit; so as a result, their expenses are often at the expense of others. Therefore; by her logic, these drug users are violating our right to property (money) by burdening us with the costs born from their habit.

Ann Coulter
Ann Coulter

The reason this argument upsets me is that she’s going after the users who are only hurting themselves instead of going after the government for compelling hospitals to help them.

In 1986, Congress passed the Emergency Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) as part of COBRA. It prohibits a hospital from turning away a patient in need of emergency care, regardless of their ability to pay.

But hospitals, like any other business, should have the right to choose whether to help someone based on their own criteria. Make it easier for a hospital to garnish accounts, property, and wages if the patient agrees to it, or allow them to let nature take its course if the patients refuse.

If a hospital wants to have a free clinic supported by charitable donations, they should be lauded for doing so. Many already do this. But if you opt to kill yourself, or engage in behavior that may get you killed, that’s your right. It’s none of the government’s business, and certainly not the responsibility of hospitals and taxpayers to take that right from you.

When I make this argument, people accuse me of sociopath wanting others to die. But like any other strawman argument and ad hominem attack, that’s not what I said—it’s a diversionary argument. I don’t want people to die, and would vehemently fight to save a family member from their attempts at hari-kari, but I’m not OK with being pilfered of my earnings to keep the entirety of the American populace alive, especially those in danger due to their own lack of personal responsibility or desire to die.

As I said in my previous article,  illogical arguments that destroy your rights, in a free country, the starting point must be that everything is legal. From there, one must make a case as to why something should be made illegal by showing that it infringes on the rights of another. So making laws that protect someone from their own self-destructive behavior is fundamentally wrong.

As long as the government compels hospitals to provide care to people, regardless of whether or not they can pay, then arguing that such activity should remain illegal under that paradigm is fair. The problem with this tactic is that I can make the same argument for taking away alcohol, cigarettes, Cheetos, red meat, or Bloomy’s big soda ban.

So while Ann’s argument makes sense, it only makes sense if we just roll over and take the assault on liberty that is EMTALA. I’ve never gotten the impression Ann Coulter is afraid to say what she thinks, so ignoring this lends me to believe that she’s either given up fighting for liberty in favor of taking the path of least resistance, she’s ignorant, or there’s something else at play; which I’ll get to in a moment.

Another common argument is that it is illegal because it cannot be easily taxed. If I apply some basic skepticism, I have to look at this is a false argument too. First, while I think politicians are not always honest, I don’t believe they’re evil. I can’t rationally imagine they sit in a room and say, “We can’t let people do something they love unless we figure out a way to tax it.” I think one has to be mighty jaded and cynical to believe that’s happening. I can’t prove it doesn’t, but I’m not buying it until someone shows me evidence it does. Politicians are people, just like you and I; let’s not make them out to be satan’s minions.

Just a dude growin' some bud
Just a dude growin’ some bud

Although marijuana is significantly easier to grow than tobacco in the U.S., the fact remains it can be done, and prior to corporations with assembly lines, it was done. Yet, companies assemble cigarettes and people buy them because it’s easier than doing it themselves. The government overtaxes them like it’s part of their religion, which I believe it actually may be, but people don’t seem to care enough to resort to making their own. I have a friend who buys raw tobacco and makes them because he’s poor and it’s cheap, so it is done on occasion, but most simply can’t be bothered.

So where do I believe the problem truly resides? Ignorance and religious conditioning. The ignorance part is seen every time someone makes the improper statistical argument that marijuana is a gateway drug (Also explained in illogical arguments that destroy your rights). People believe marijuana is capable of doing a myriad of things that science has proven it can’t or generally won’t do.

As for the religious component; we’ve been conditioned to believe using mind-altering substances is a morally wrong thing to do, regardless of the fact it isn’t harming anyone else. Even alcohol, which is legal now by virtue of the disaster of prohibition, is still restricted on Sundays and after certain hours of the evening in most states; this is solely because of religious values. Don’t believe me? Remind me again, what is special about Sunday?

While I don’t necessarily believe politicians are consciously outlawing such things based on religious views, I believe that religious conditioning is causing them to subconsciously make decisions they feel are morally just, based on what they’ve been taught, not what science might have proven to the contrary. Much like a bad detective may look for evidence that a husband is his wife’s murderer based on statistics and pre-conceived notions instead of following the evidence without bias.

The 1st Amendment
The 1st Amendment

While we have a clear first amendment that prohibits laws establishing or prohibiting religion, we seem to be far too tolerant with laws that are based on religious principles instead of the protection of one’s rights.

Since this is a fine line, lawmakers make diversionary arguments to deflect away from the fact their legislation violates the spirit of the 1st amendment such as one like Ann Coulter’s argument. It’s easier to attack the drug user’s rights than to fight Washington. Since they’ve been conditioned by their religion to believe that these people are behaving immorally, taking that right away from them is inherently good in their eyes.

Because Americans are a caring and moral people, we’re quick to pass laws to prevent them from killing themselves or being declined a life-saving service they cannot pay for—liberty for the doctor or taxpayer be damned. But when us libertarians argue to let people use, we also have to be OK with letting those people die. If you cannot reconcile that, then you must side with Ann Coulter on this issue.

Note about the author: I have never used, nor have much interest in using marijuana. I care about liberty, not getting high.