It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Thursday, April 10, 2008

More Fun with Dot Earth

Now there's this item:
Talk about a civics lesson: A high school senior has raised questions about political bias in a popular textbook on U.S. government, and legal scholars and top scientists say the teen’s criticism is well founded. They say “American Government,” by conservatives James Wilson and John DiIulio, presents a skewed view of topics from global warming to separation of church and state. The publisher now says it will review the book, as will the College Board, which oversees college-level advanced-placement courses used in high schools.
Here's my reply, which essentially and churlishly blames Andrew himself for the whole mess:
I think the authors of the textbook have been honestly misled, as have many of the commenters here. It's not necessary to accuse them of bias; they're just wrong, and probably wrong with the best of intentions.

It is not difficult to run into people who are deeply confused about this issue; there's no reason to expect writers of civics textbooks to be an exception.

The textbook should be updated in due course; meanwhile teachers should be encouraged to discuss the matter with their classes.

The comments this time around are particularly hard to take, though.

Number 26, accusing scientists of making a distinction between "good" and "bad" CO2 shows intelligence sadly uninformed by understanding. Nature produces and consumes CO2 in equal amounts. This is not a coincidence but a result of equilibration. Adding dramatically to CO2 production without changing CO2 consumption drives nature to a vastly different balance.

This is the sort of fact that should be well understood by any high school graduate. I don't fault the writer here but the press. The concept isn't hard to understand, but most people are very far from grasping it.

The immediately preceding posting, #25, is even more painful to behold, as it absconds with Moynihan's pithy and crucial observation and uses it in the service of misinformation.

To see where the facts of the matter lie, it does not suffice to read about them in financial and political publications. One should examine where the leading contemporary scientific bodies of the day stand.

www.logicalscience.com/consensus/consensus.htm

Those who wish for this to be perceived as something less than virtual unanimity among competent parties are doing a far better job than they ought to be able to manage. It is the abdication of responsibility by the press that allows the conspiracy to misinform the public to persist.

I agree that talk of Lysenkoism is relevant.

People interested in the corruption of science should take some care to notice on what side of this debate the powers that fund the science find themselves. I wonder which side #15 perceives as the Lysenkoists and which as the representatives of science.

You are not entitled to your own facts, even if you buy them wholesale from the manufacturer. Politics is the clash of opinion, and science is the progress of facts. Facts are not matters of opinion, and the failure of the society to make the judgment effectively is not due to the triumph of dogma over science within science, but its triumph elsewhere.

It is the responsibility of the press to sort this out. I eagerly await the Times or a comparable outlet finding the nerve to expose the sources of the misinformation that so tragically pervades this very conversation.

That the confusion extends to a civics textbook is
neither surprising nor, with all due respect to young Matthew's courage, especially important. This is not primarily a failure of science or of education. It is a failure of journalism, and thence of reason, and thence of democracy.

There's plenty of muck out there. Dr. Oreskes has even been so kind as to provide you with a rake. It's perfectly obvious that somebody is lying in this situation. It is a gross failure of journalistic responsibility that so many people (especially in English-speaking countries) are so confused about who that is.

Andrew, though I appreciate your efforts as much better than nothing, it isn't enough for you to scratch your head about these problems as a spectator.

Journalism is a key player in the future of the world. You are in a position to do something about it. You speak about following the money in Mr. Gore's new initiative. How about at least equal time in following the money on the side of the organized forces of confusion, derision, ignorance, hostility and misdirection on the other side?
Update: Here's a report on DeSmog about a study that corroborates the role of journalism in the pervasiveness of confusion in America.

9 comments:

Anna Haynes said...

Well said, Mr. Tobis.

> "I eagerly await the Times or a comparable outlet finding the nerve to expose the sources of the misinformation that so tragically pervades this very conversation."

How about if we band together and ask those at the Times, and publish the answer? They do have an ombudsman - this would seem to be prime ombudsman material, if others at the paper decline to explain it.

> "There's plenty of muck out there. Dr. Oreskes has even been so kind as to provide you with a rake. ..."

(I added the link)

Anonymous said...

Mr Tobis, it's a shame and it's sad that the debate over taking action on climate change and global warming has morphed in most Western, English-speaking countries -- (read: Christian countries where a rightwing/leftwing, Christian triumphalism vs. atheist humanitarianism polarity has evolved) -- into all this name-calling and "we are right and you are wrong" meme. The denialists are the same people who are Christian triumphalists who have been brainwashed by their religious programming to believe that only Christians will be "saved" and all other people are condemned to Hell. Only in America. And now these denialists use their closed-minded religious beliefs to fill out their climate change agendas. So in a very sad way it has become a political issue, a Christian/agnostic issue, a conservative/liberal issue. So sad.

The end that awaits us all is not any Christian heaven (or Islamic paradise or Old Testament myth) but rather -- if we do not fight global warming with all that we can muster, both intellectually and scientifically -- a very sad demise to the human species on this planet.

This young student should be commended for having the courage to speak up. Instead, he is vilified by the rightwing. Look everyone, the future is not rightwing or leftwing, conservative or liberal, despite what Jonah Goldberg believes. The future is all of us, together, fighting this thing called climate change. Let's stay on message.

When the world ends, it won't be any Judeo-Christian (or Islamic) picnic. But try telling that to a denialist. He will deny it. Natural-born denialists.

Sign me: ''Climate Blogger No. 749'' among ten thousands others....

Michael Tobis said...

Hey y'all. Call me Michael.

Or if you don't like me, call me Dr. Tobis.

Please don't call me Mr. Tobis though.

I worked at not being a Mister and I'm stickin' to my guns here. If I can't be a Doctor on my own dang blog where can I be?

Anna Haynes said...

Doc - if you want to see something disturbing*, search the NYTimes "articles since 1981" for "Naomi Oreskes".
* or rather, not see anything reassuring


> I worked at not being a Mister

sorry. guess I've been around civilians too long.

Anonymous said...

I think you're being far too generous to the textbook authors. Given their affiliations with AEI, I won't dismiss this as a simple 'mistake'.

Michael Tobis said...

While, as an unabashed liberal, I disagree with people affiliated with AEI on many matters of opinion, I don't think they are precluded thereby from writing textbooks or being honestly confused by climate change propagandists.

You know, there might even be things that most liberals genuinely believe that aren't so. Does that mean that we shouldn't write textbooks?

If only infallible people write textbooks, we probably won't have enough of them.

Anna said...

> "or being honestly confused by climate change propagandists"

How would an observer infer that a textbook author was honestly vs. dishonestly confused? What experiment(s) would enable a scientist to distinguish between them?

> "Here's a report on DeSmog about a study that corroborates the role of journalism in the pervasiveness of confusion in America."

FYI re this report, searching the NYTimes "articles since 1981" for Boykoff climate yields exactly one hit, and that from an opinion columnist. Is news of journalistic shortcomings not fit to print?

Michael Tobis said...

I like to give folks the benefit of the doubt.

We know somebody is lying, but I don't think it's my job to figure out who that is. I think that job should, in the natural order of things, fall to journalists. Which is the point.

tidal said...

The Energy Bulletin had a link to a Bill Moyers speech earlier this month: Journalists As Truth-Tellers. Not about climate science, per se, but relevant. Excerpts:

"The job of trying to tell the truth about people whose job it is to hide the truth is almost as complicated and difficult as trying to hide it in the first place. We journalists are of course obliged to cover the news, but our deeper mission is to uncover the news that powerful people would prefer to keep hidden....

"... I still wish we had a professional Hippocratic Oath of our own that might stir us in the night when we stray from our mission. And yes, I believe journalism has a mission...

"... Walter Lippman (wrote) "The present crisis of Western democracy is a crisis of journalism. Everywhere men and women are conscious that somehow they must deal with questions more intricate than any that church or school had prepared them to understand. Increasingly, they know that they cannot understand them if the facts are not quickly and steadily available. All the sharpest critics of democracy have alleged is true if there is no steady supply of trustworthy and relevant news. Incompetence and aimlessness, corruption and disloyalty, panic and ultimate disaster must come to any people denied an assured access to the facts."...

"... when young people ask me, "Should I go into journalism today?"... I remind them of how often investigative reporting has played a crucial role in making the crooked straight. I remind them how news bureaus abroad are a form of national security that can tell us what our government won't. I remind them that as America grows more diverse, it's essential to have reporters, editors, producers and writers who reflect these new rising voices and concerns. And I remind them that facts can still drive the argument and tug us in the direction of greater equality and a more democratic society. Journalism still matters.

"But I also tell them there is something more important than journalism, and that is the truth... And if you can't get to the truth through journalism, there are other ways to go..."


He also makes reference to Fred Friendly and Edward R. Murrow. "Good Night and Good Luck"!