"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Quote Gallery

Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors. - Jonas Salk

Why do people write books in the first place? They want to render the highest kind of justice to the visible universe, by bringing to light the truth, manifold and one, underlying its every aspect. This particular kind of torch-carrying, however, is an incurable disease, and one of its symptoms is an attempt to improve the world. But men and women of the pen rarely succeed at this, because they are not men and women of action. Still, they feel-- quite mistakenly--that all you have to do is show men of action the truth, and they will understand and know that the men of the pen are their allies. But the men of action, to act at all, have to ignore this manifold truth. To silence it with their own, singular, one- and-only begotten truth. Simplified truth.

-Josef Škvorecký in _The Engineer of Human Souls_ (h/t "Greenfyre")

"System change is now inevitable. Either because we do something about it, or because we will be hit by climate change. ...

"We need to develop economic models that are fit for purpose. The current economic frameworks, the ones that dominate our governments, these frameworks... the current economic frameworks, the neoclassical, the market frameworks, can deal with small changes. It can tell you the difference, if a sock company puts up the price of socks, what the demand for socks will be. It cannot tell you about the sorts of system level changes we are talking about here. We would not use an understanding of laminar flow in fluid dynamics to understand turbulent flow. So why is it we are using marginal economics, small incremental change economics, to understand system level changes?"


"It is the unhappy fate of the scientist today that he must play the role of Cassandra in the body politic, sending his fellow men to bed with nightmares in the hope to be heard in time."

 - Arthur von Hippel, in "The Molecular Designing of Materials" from 1962

"It is now highly feasible to take care of everybody on Earth at a higher standard of living than any have ever known. It no longer has to be you or me. Selfishness is unnecessary. War is obsolete. It is a matter of converting our high technology from WEAPONRY to LIVINGRY."
- Buckminster Fuller (h/t Suzy Waldman)


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

You gotta argue with me if you wanna argue with me, not the dumbest nearby trope.
- Preston Austin

Projecting a persuasive image of a desirable and practical future is extremely important to high morale, to dynamism, to consensus, and in general to help the wheels of society turn smoothly.

- Herman Kahn


Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product - if we judge the United States of America by that - that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman's rifle and Speck's knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.

- Robert Kennedy (1968)

They pay pseudo scientists to pretend to be scientists to put out the message: 'This climate thing, it's nonsense. Man-made CO2 doesn't trap heat. It may be volcanoes.' Bullshit! 'It may be sun spots.' Bullshit! 'It's not getting warmer.' Bullshit!

... When you go and talk to any audience about climate, you hear them washing back at you the same crap over and over and over again... There's no longer a shared reality on an issue like climate even though the very existence of our civilization is threatened. People have no idea! It's no longer acceptable in mixed company, meaning bipartisan company, to use the goddamn word climate. They have polluted it to the point where we cannot possibly come to an agreement on it.

Far from being "tattered," Mike Mann's reputation has been hardened in the fires of hell.

Patrick Michaels' essay is like trying to prove why the sun goes around the Earth. Or why gravity doesn't work. Or how the U.S. faked the moon landing. It doesn't matter what his arguments are: his initial premise is wrong.

- Peter Gleick

Even writing an article like this one carries risks; opponents of the president will excerpt the criticism and strip it of context.

But in this case, the President has reality on his side. The scientific consensus is far stronger today than at any time in the past. Here is the truth: The Earth is round; Saddam Hussein did not attack us on 9/11; Elvis is dead; Obama was born in the United States; and the climate crisis is real. It is time to act.

- Al Gore

We are plagued by grumpy nostalgists -- mystics on both wings who preach hostility to science & technology and yearn for the past. Our only route is forward. The answer to the problems generated by science is... more science. Open science, innovative, reciprocally critical & transparent, searching for positive sum games, able to detect potential errors. Ways to lift 7 billion out of poverty while saving a planet.
- David Brin on Facebook

As somebody who's observed the weather and predicted it day after day for three decades, something changed in the middle part of the last decade. Several things were representative of the kind of stuff that I had not seen before in my career: 2003, the European heat wave; the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season; and the stunning loss of... decrease of Arctic sea ice in the summer of 2007; and ever since then, this kind of crazy weather does seem to be the new norm.

- Stu Ostrow, senior meteorologist at The Weather Channel

"There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'" - Isaac Asimov

You can see why the absurd old farts who inhabit most lit departments hate science fiction. SF considers it possible that the eternal “verities” and relentless stupidities praised by Henry James might someday be obsolete! If we make kids who are better than us (our goal, duh?) then their Startrekkian heirs will still have problems. Why insist that our descendants have to fret over the same ones? Can’t they assume the solutions we find, take them for granted, and move on to new, interesting issues of their own?

Isn’t that what we did?

- David Brin speaks against "iron laws" of human behavior

“Newspapers are unable, seemingly, to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilisation.“

- George Bernard Shaw

For years now, large numbers of prominent scientists have been warning, with increasing urgency, that if we continue with business as usual, the results will be very bad, perhaps catastrophic. They could be wrong. But if you’re going to assert that they are in fact wrong, you have a moral responsibility to approach the topic with high seriousness and an open mind. After all, if the scientists are right, you’ll be doing a great deal of damage.

But what we had, instead of high seriousness, was a farce: a supposedly crucial hearing stacked with people who had no business being there and instant ostracism for a climate skeptic who was actually willing to change his mind in the face of evidence.

Paul Krugman

"So, let us not be blind to our differences--but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal."

—John F. Kennedy (via William Cronon)

Another world is inevitable. The future is unwritten. Good luck to you.

- Bruce Sterling


Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to a bill that overturns the scientific finding that pollution is harming our people and our planet. However, I won’t physically rise, because I’m worried that Republicans will overturn the law of gravity, sending us floating about the room.
- US Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA)

"We need to do something now, seriously, to adapt to climate change, because the only certainty we have is that it will get worse. We’re not negotiating about this getting better. We are negotiating how bad it is, how much worse it will be, and how are we are going to moderate this dynamic. The only certainty we have is that it will get worse."

- Herman Chavez, Minister of the Environment, El Salvador, quoted on Al Jazeera

Right now we're trying the free market solution -- have commodity prices double every year or so, with spikes that triple or quadruple the costs, have the global economy shrink while the financial resources are concentrated in a small power base, rinse and repeat.

It's certainly one mechanism to reduce overall emissions.

- Brad Johnson (private communication, quoted with permission)

Here’s a thought: maybe Madison, Wis., isn’t Cairo after all. Maybe it’s Baghdad — specifically, Baghdad in 2003, when the Bush administration put Iraq under the rule of officials chosen for loyalty and political reliability rather than experience and competence. ... Naomi Klein’s best-selling book “The Shock Doctrine,” ... argued ... a broader pattern. From Chile in the 1970s onward, she suggested, right-wing ideologues have exploited crises to push through an agenda that has nothing to do with resolving those crises, and everything to do with imposing their vision of a harsher, more unequal, less democratic society. What’s happening in Wisconsin is, instead, a power grab — an attempt to exploit the fiscal crisis to destroy the last major counterweight to the political power of corporations and the wealthy. And the power grab goes beyond union-busting. The bill in question is 144 pages long, and there are some extraordinary things hidden deep inside.

- Paul Krugman

Not all of the bullies are in schoolyards these days – quite a few have graduated to the executive suites of Corporate America. Take Charles and David Koch, two multi-billionaire brothers whose life of privilege and bloated sense of entitlement have turned them into such spoiled brats that they can't even take a joke. Last December, the Kochs' oil operations became the object of a spoof by a merry band of tricksters called Youth for Climate Truth. Not only is Koch Industries a notorious polluter and spewer of global warming gasses, but the brothers have recently been exposed as longtime secret funders of various right-wing front groups trying to debunk the very existence of climate change. The young folks made fun of this by issuing a fake news release on what appeared to be Koch Industries letterhead. It said, in essence, that the Kochsters had seen the light on global warming and henceforth would be strong environmental advocates. A pretty harmless joke. The grumpy billionaires, however, not only failed to laugh, but they quickly resorted to bullying. They've unleashed a snarling pack of lawyers to demand that the identities of those who produced the parody be given to the Kochs so they can sue them for damages. What damages? The lawsuit says the brothers want reimbursement for "costs associated with spending time and money to respond to inquiries about the fake release." Good grief – Charles and David are two of the 10 richest people in America, and they're whining about a ten dollar phone bill! What the Kochs really are trying to do, of course, is to bully their critics – make fun of us, they're saying, and we'll bury you in legal bills. By the way, these billionaire bullies have also financed front groups that attack public interest lawyers, Why? Because, say the the Kochs, These lawyers file "frivolous" lawsuits!

- Jim Hightower

By refusing to acknowledge the existence of many stands on any issue, by refusing to assign Truth-values to any, by looking down at anyone who holds any opinion that is not their own, the mainstream press fosters the atmosphere of a bipolar world in which enmity rules, and the wagons need to be circled – the atmosphere that is so conducive to formation and defense of echo-chambers and yet so devoid of airing of any alternatives.

- Bora

A protest was held today that was bigger than anything that the Tea Party has ever done, but you wouldn’t know it if you were watching TV. There is something seriously wrong with a news gathering and reporting apparatus that devotes more live coverage to the protests in Egypt than protests in Wisconsin. Egypt was a big story, but the a fight for the very survival of the middle class should not be ignored.

- Jason Easley

"If we've learned any lessons during the past few decades, perhaps the most important is that preservation of our environment is not a partisan challenge; it’s common sense. Our physical health, our social happiness, and our economic well-being will be sustained only by all of us working in partnership as thoughtful, effective stewards of our natural resources."

- Ronald Reagan (p 10)

If your objective is to *restore public trust in climate science*, your best bet would be to go after those things which damage public trust in climate science the most: pseudo-scientific misinformation and smears about CO2 and the greenhouse effect, etc.

You can try and make climate science and scientists more perfect all you want, but if you ignore the pseudo-scientific agenda you are missing the biggest contributor.

- "Cthulhu" at Curry's

Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions.

- Thomas Jefferson, via Iris Vander Pluym at Pharyngula...

In my thirty years as a meteorologist, I’ve never seen global weather patterns as strange as those we had in 2010. The stunning extremes we witnessed gives me concern that our climate is showing the early signs of instability. Natural variability probably did play a significant role in the wild weather of 2010, and 2011 will likely not be nearly as extreme. However, I suspect that crazy weather years like 2010 will become the norm a decade from now, as the climate continues to adjust to the steady build-up of heat-trapping gases we are pumping into the air. Forty years from now, the crazy weather of 2010 will seem pretty tame. We’ve bequeathed to our children a future with a radically changed climate that will regularly bring unprecedented weather events–many of them extremely destructive–to every corner of the globe. This year’s wild ride was just the beginning.
- Jeff Masters, quoted by Joe Romm...

The future does feature some brand-new stuff that was technically impossible before, but, more importantly, the future has a different take on matters that are already here. There's a change of emphasis. The future is like another culture, another country. We have to come to terms with the future's language.

- Bruce Stirling

[It's a] silly notion that any government would want there to be a problem as tough to deal with as AGW. Nobody can get anywhere on suitable policy response in the U.S. If the leadership knew the problem was fake but wanted to keep people worried about a fake problem, what actual good would that do them?

Power? How exactly does creating a fake problem that you then utterly fail to address give you power?

- Jim Prall (private communication)

Boris might very well be right about the torturer’s fallacy (“tell me
what I want so I will stop”): the inquiry shall never end, however
free the data and the code will become. Why stop exactly: it’s a show,
it must go on, the audience is listening; so mesmerizing are the
inquiries about scientists that it becomes almost impossible to
believe they’re scientific inquiries anymore; the characters become
antagonists in a saga where some of them get slowly but surely
assassinated, live, in front of the public eye, from the comfort of
its computer screen. A neverending audit, figuratively speaking:
stories told to unravel daily braid after daily braid, framing minds
and people, renewing the interest, the curiosity, the anger, the

- Willard

I use what I call my bathroom metaphor. If two people live in an apartment, and there are two bathrooms, then both have what I call freedom of the bathroom, go to the bathroom any time you want, and stay as long as you want to for whatever you need. And this to my way is ideal. And everyone believes in the freedom of the bathroom. It should be right there in the Constitution. But if you have 20 people in the apartment and two bathrooms, no matter how much every person believes in freedom of the bathroom, there is no such thing. You have to set up, you have to set up times for each person, you have to bang at the door, aren't you through yet, and so on. And in the same way, democracy cannot survive overpopulation. Human dignity cannot survive it. Convenience and decency cannot survive it. As you put more and more people onto the world, the value of life not only declines, but it disappears. It doesn't matter if someone dies."

- Isaac Asimov

"The growth of the Global Environment Change section is what caused me to come to the AGU this year. It has been rather disappointing though, as it seems to contain little climate science and much squealing of the now sadly deranged prophets of doom. In contrast, at sessions on communication that cover areas of geoscience apart from climate, there is such sweet innocence."

- Julia Hargreaves

"Climatologists, like other scientists, tend to be a stolid group. We are not given to theatrical rantings about falling skies. Most of us are far more comfortable in our laboratories or gathering data in the field than we are giving interviews to journalists or speaking before Congressional committees. Why then are climatologists speaking out about the dangers of global warming? The answer is that virtually all of us are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization."
- Dr. Lonnie Thompson via Joe Romm

Climate change "won't be stopped, but its effects can be made less bad". It's no longer an alarmist rhetoric between salvation or getting burned in hell... Whatever we do, "none of this will make climate change all right. It remains the craziest experiment mankind has ever conducted. Maybe in the long run it will be brought under control. For the foreseeable future, though, the mercury will continue to rise, and the human race must live with the problem as best it can." I highlighted "craziest experiment", because this illustrates a really interesting attitude towards climate change and what to do about it. In my understanding it says that the whole world has turned into a laboratory now, and all of us are part of this experiment.

- Werner Krauss

- Werner Krauss

“The abstractions of science are too readily assimilable to the abstractions of industry and commerce, which see everything as interchangeable with or replaceable by something else. There is a kind of egalitarianism which holds that any two things equal in price are equal in value, and that nothing is better than anything that may profitably or fashionably replace it. Forest = field = parking lot; if the price of alteration is right, then there is no point in quibbling over differences. One place is as good as another, one use is as good as another, one life is as good as another — if the price is right. Thus political sentimentality metamorphoses into commercial indifference or aggression. This is the industrial doctrine of the interchangeability of parts, and we apply it to places, to creatures, and to our fellow humans as if it were the law of the world, using all the while a sort of middling language, imitated from the sciences, that cannot speak of heaven or earth, but only of concepts. This is a rhetoric of nowhere, which forbids a passionate interest in, let alone a love of, anything in particular.”
- Wendell Berry, from Life Is a Miracle
via More than 95 Theses

I have always been a little puzzled as to why exactly Lomborg is such a big hit among the denialati. After all, has he not said that the IPCC reports are “the gold standard in climate change science” and “undoubtedly one of the chief concerns facing the world today” and “a challenge humanity must confront”? Also his remedies comprise additional taxation and massive government-knows-best research funding. So how does he win the approval of those who believe the science is a massive hoax and that small government, lower taxes and invisible hands will be able to solve everything? ...

I think the embrace of Lomborg by “skeptics” is clear evidence that their position is not an alternative, coherent worldview, rooted in rigorous and objective scientific criticism. Rather, it is a heart-felt need to see the worrying AGW diagnosis–and the consequent need for painful treatment–dispatched by any means possible. Denial, in other words.

Andy S commenting at SheWonk

If a black Republican president had come in, helped turn around the banking and auto industries (at a small profit!), insured millions through the private sector while cutting Medicare, overseen a sharp decline in illegal immigration, ramped up the war in Afghanistan, reinstituted pay-as-you go in the Congress, set up a debt commission to offer hard choices for future debt reduction, and seen private sector job growth outstrip the public sector's in a slow but dogged recovery, somehow I don't think that Republican would be regarded as a socialist.

we are both skipping the sanity rally. I'm against restoring sanity. My comparative advantage at dealing with insanity is too great. I want to continue to extract rents from it, please.

Isabel Archer

In response to the question "Which policy options do you support?" 42 percent of the respondents chose the answer "keeping science out of the political process."

Say what?
Keep science out of the political process? Science? I thought it was supposed to be the other way around; that the goal was the keep politics out of science. ... What is the point of civilization in the first place if we don't use our hard-won understanding of how the universe works to influence our decisions on how to organize ourselves?

- Andrew Leonard

No GOP leader of consequence is able to make and sustain the argument that climate change is occurring as the scientists say it is. That’s remarkable! Imagine the world’s major powers sitting down in the early 20th century to negotiate a treaty on the law of the sea, only to have one of America’s major political parties vow to defeat any settlement, on the grounds that the world is in fact flat.
- Ryan Avent

In the end, this is about transparency and truth, concepts that are far more important than neutrality or objectivity. After all, the word for people who are neutral about truth is ‘liars’. It shouldn’t be ‘journalists’.

- Ed Yong

Consider what the Limbaugh/Morano crowd is saying about climate: not only that that the world's scientists and scientific institutions are systematically wrong, but that they are purposefully perpetrating a deception. Virtually all the world's governments, scientific academies, and media are either in on it or duped by it. The only ones who have pierced the veil and seen the truth are American movement conservatives, the ones who found death panels in the healthcare bill.

It's a species of theater, repeated so often people have become inured, but if you take it seriously it's an extraordinary charge. For one thing, if it's true that the world's scientists are capable of deception and collusion on this scale, a lot more than climate change is in doubt. These same institutions have told us what we know about health and disease, species and ecosystems, energy and biochemistry. If they are corrupt, we have to consider whether any of the knowledge they've generated is trustworthy. We could be operating our medical facilities, economies, and technologies on faulty theories. We might not know anything! Here we are hip-deep in postmodernism and it came from the right, not the left academics they hate.

- David Roberts

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization,
it expects what never was and never will be.
- Thomas Jefferson

And so it falls to the scientists, on top of all their other responsibilities, to do the scaring of the people out of their wits, a job for which they are woefully ill-trained and unsuited.

- Paul Baer, personal communication

To mix metaphors; putting the cart (adaptation) before the horse(mitigation), is like digging yourself into a hole and adapting to the hole instead of stopping digging.
-frflyer, in comments here

I mean, it’s 2010..., the past decade has been the hottest on record, all around the world ice is melting, there are droughts, and fires and floods and crops have failed and record temps are killing people and McIntyre is still honking on about MBH98 and the fraking Bristlecones!
SheWonk, The Policy Lass

It is within our technical and economic means to modify our energy and transportation systems and land-use practices to largely eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from our economies by mid-century. It is thought that the cost of doing this — perhaps 2% of the worldwide economic production — would be small, yet at present it has proven difficult for societies to decide to undertake this conversion.

- Dr. Ken Caldeira via Hank via Collide-A-Scape

Ignorance of the laws of nature is no excuse.

Paul Erlich quoted by Steve Schneider on Johnny Carson's show in 1977.

The problem is that the noise serves various people's purposes. It's not that the noise is accidental. When it comes to climate, a lot of the noise is deliberate because if there's an increase of noise you don't hear the signal, and if you don't hear the signal you can't do anything about it. Increasing the level of noise is a deliberate political tactic. It's been used by all segments of the political spectrum for different problems. With the climate issue in the US, it is used by a particular segment of the political community in [a] way that is personally distressing. How do you deal with that? That is a question, which I am still asking myself.
Gavin Schmidt h/t PE

"We're insulting our global environment at a faster rate than we're understanding it. And the best we can do, in all honesty, is say: look out, there's a chance of potentially irreversible change at the global scale, based on the benefits of the use of energy. And it's very tough for us to know whether those benefits of energy today are worth the potential risks of environmental change for our children."

Stephen Schneider ca. 1979

I wonder whether the paperback edition of SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance will still claim that recently the globe has been cooling...

Brad deLong

Journalism thinks it is the referee for all our games, but journalism is wrong. Journalism is the ball.


"The system of scholastic disputations encouraged in the Universities of the middle ages had unfortunately trained men to habits of indefinite argumentation, and they often preferred absurd and extravagant propositions, because greater skill was required to maintain them; the end and object of such intellectual combats being victory and not truth.

"No theory could be too farfetched or fantastical not to attract some followers, provided it fell in with popular notions..."

- Charles Lyell in "Principles of Geology" (1830)

The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at or repair.

- Douglas Adams via Ezra Klein

“I think you see a change, and I think the change reflects the frustration that scientists feel. The recent letter to Science was a good example of this: that scientists are realizing that they need to speak up. But you know that letter [published in Science] is an interesting case in point, because 255 members of the National Academy of Sciences signed a letter protesting the recent attacks on science and pointing out that there's a kind of McCarthyite quality to some of what's been going on. Character assassination. Accusations without evidence. Accusing scientists of criminal activity when what they're actually doing is science.
Peter Gleick ... (the first author of that letter) told me that they in fact tried to get that letter published as an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times and the Washington Post, both of whom turned it down. ... That too is a pattern we show in the book... Often these accusations that are made against science appear in mainstream media ... but when scientists try to defend themselves, often they find it very difficult to get their response published in mainstream media ... and so they end up defending themselves in the pages of scientific journals.
The net result of that is an extremely un-level playing field.”
- Naomi Oreskes, interviewed by Chris Mooney

“This world is a strange madhouse. Currently, every coachman and every waiter is debating whether relativity theory is correct. Belief in this matter depends on political party affiliation.”

- Albert Einstein (1920) h/t Daily Dish; see also this piece by Joss Garman.

[a Utah state representative] seems to think that the science has “already been politicized” because some people have used it to support political agendas. So does this mean that policy makers should never use scientific arguments to support their agendas? ... if science indicates there is a “big problem,” people who favor enacting some particular type of political solution can legitimately point to the science to support their views. If there’s no problem, there’s no need for a solution, after all. Does the fact that there is a problem mean that any given political solution is a good idea? Of course not. However, that doesn’t justify people who do not favor such political solutions in denying that there is a problem.
- Barry Bickmore

History has not forgotten Galileo's condemnation by Urban VIII but it has all but completely forgotten Urban VIII. In his time, the pope was a man of great earthly power. In fact, for twenty years of his papacy he was actively engaged as a principal force in the Thirty Years War, which like most wars was ideologically driven, unnecessary, and exceedingly destructive to all sides. ... The pope's effect on his enemies was enormous. Galileo, with no legions of his own, had but a negligible effect on the pope. But his effect on history cannot be exaggerated. He is therefore a model not of cowardly capitulation, but of the distinctive encounter between belief and wonder. The encounter, however, is not one of opposition. He did not defeat Urban and his formidable ecclesia. He did something far more significant: he exposed their willful ignorance.

- James P. Carse in "The Religious Case Against Belief" 2008 (Penguin Books)

I think your idea of dispensing with the economic substitutions, and speaking directly of things of true human value, puts the task at hand into focus. If a group of people started talking about "Security, comfort, purpose, and community for all; supplied at a sustainable rate of use of natural resources", and refused to humor distracting chatter about historical economic intermediary concepts, real work could be accomplished.

-Manuel "Moe" G., summarizing what I have been trying to say better than I have ever managed.

The focus on Professor Jones and CRU has been largely misplaced. On the accusations relating to Professor Jones’s refusal to share raw data and computer codes, we consider that his actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community. ... In addition, insofar as we have been able to consider accusations of dishonesty—for example, Professor Jones’s alleged attempt to “hide the decline”—we consider that there is no case to answer.

- British House of Commons Science and Technology Committee

The knowledge that the media itself is constantly making mistakes on the most basic of climate science issues means journalists need to start going to primary sources for every science-related fact they are reporting. Otherwise media coverage will become permanently indistinguishable from the children’s game of Telephone.

Joe Romm

Some people have suggested that scientists need to wise up, and learn how to present themselves better on the public stage. ... This is naive and irresponsible. It completely ignores the nature of the current wave of attacks on scientists, and what motivates them. No scientist can be an effective communicator in a world where those with vested interests will do everything they can to destroy his or her reputation. The scientific community doesn’t have the resources to defend itself in this situation, and quite frankly it shouldn’t have to. What we really need is for newspaper editors, politicians, and business leaders to start acting responsibly, make the effort to understand what the science is saying, make the effort to understand what really driving these swiftboat-style attacks on scientists, and then shift the discourse from endless dissection of scientists’ emails onto useful, substantive discussions of the policy choices we’re faced with.

-- Steve Easterbrook

"I was ... labeled as an advocate because I ... measured something.
The decline in big fish.... The dark side has labeled information as advocacy, and it's your job as citizens to understand that."

-- Jeremy Jackson h/t Hank

Recently, a news crew from a television station in Denver came to speak with Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder.

“They were interested in the role of El Niño in the cold weather we’ve been experiencing,” Trenberth said during a presentation today at NCAR to the CEJ’s environmental journalism fellows.
So far, so good. But then after the interview was over, the reporter said that his superiors back at the station wanted to know “who was going to do the other side.”

- via Tom Yulsman

The media's obsession with daily polls and who's in and who's out and the cage match aspects of politics, has also unsurprisingly made it impossible (in a time of shrinking news department resources) to cover what should be covered. When was the last time you saw an in-depth thoughtful analysis of what's going on in the Office of Management and Budget or how funds were actually being spent or where the waste is in defense appropriations or what was actually working for students in schools? How about, say, a follow-up on how U.S. aid efforts were working in Haiti or the Middle East? Want a good example of the importance of the mundane stories? Chile just suffered an earthquake 500 times more fierce than that felt in Haiti. But the devastation in Chile, however epic in scale, has cost a fraction of a fraction as many lives because Chile put into place some fairly basic building codes. Who talks about building codes on the nightly news? No one. How could they possibly hold up in comparison to the political dogfighting that makes it look like Michael Vick is the Commissioner of American Politics?

- David Rothkopf

"Imagine a gigantic, colossal banquet. Hundreds of millions of people come to eat. They eat and drink to their hearts' content, eating food that is better and more abundant than at the finest tables in ancient Athens, or Rome or even in the palaces of medieval Europe. Then one day a man arrives wearing a white dinner jacket."

Not surprisingly the diners are in shock. Some begin to deny that this is their bill. Others deny that there even is a bill. Still others deny that they partook of the meal. One diner suggests the man is not really a waiter, but is only trying to get attention for himself or to raise money for his own projects. Finally the group concludes that if they simply ignore the waiter, he will go away.

This is where we stand today on the question of global warming. For the past 150 years, industrial civilization has been dining on the energy stored in fossil fuels and the bill has now come due. Yet we have sat around the dinner table denying that it is our bill, and doubting the credibility of the man who delivered it.

The great economist John Maynard Keynes famously summarized all of economic theory in a single phrase: "there is no such thing as a free lunch." And he was right. We have experienced prosperity unmatched in human history. We have feasted to our hearts' content. But the lunch was not free.

So it is not surprising that many of us are in denial. After all we didn't know that it was a banquet -- and we didn't know that there would be a bill. But now we do know. The bill includes acid rain, and the ozone hole and the damaged produced by DDT. These are the environmental costs of living the way citizens of wealthy developed nations have lived since the industrial revolution. Now we either have to pay the price, change the way we do business, or both.

No wonder the merchants of doubt have been successful. They've permitted us to think we could ignore the waiter, while we haggled about the bill. The failure of the United States to act on global warming as well as the long delays between when the science was settled and when we acted on tobacco, acid rain and the ozone hole are prima facie empirical evidence that doubt-mongering works."

Naomi Oreskes in her Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming

public figures are punished for actually knowing what they’re talking about.

It goes like this: Person A says “Black is white” — perhaps out of ignorance, although more often out of a deliberate effort to obfuscate. Person B says, “No, black isn’t white — here are the facts.”

And Person B is considered to have lost the exchange — you see, he came across as arrogant and condescending.

I had, I have to admit, hoped that the nation’s experience with George W. Bush — who got within hanging-chad distance of the White House precisely because Al Gore was punished for actually knowing stuff — would have cured our discourse of this malady. But no. Why not?

Chait professes himself puzzled by the right’s intellectual insecurity. Me, not so much. Here’s how I see it: in our current political culture, the background noise is overwhelmingly one of conservative platitudes. People who have strong feelings about politics but are intellectually incurious tend to pick up those platitudes, and repeat them in the belief that this makes them sound smart. (Ezra Klein once described Dick Armey thus: “He’s like a stupid person’s idea of what a thoughtful person sounds like.”)

Inevitably, then, such people react with rage when they’re shown up on their facts or basic logic — it’s an attack on their sense of self-worth.

The truly sad thing, though, is the way much news reporting goes along with the condescension meme. That’s Waldmann’s point. You really, really might have expected that the Bush experience would give reporters pause — that they might at least ask themselves, “Isn’t it my job to ask whether a politician is right, as opposed to how he comes across?”

- Paul Krugman

All 15 of the warmest years on record have come in the two decades that have passed since 1989. In the meantime, the Earth’s major natural systems have all shown undeniable signs of rapid flux: melting Arctic and glacial ice, rapidly acidifying seawater, and so on.

Somehow, though, the onslaught against the science of climate change has never been stronger, and its effects, at least in the U.S., never more obvious: fewer Americans believe humans are warming the planet. ...
the immense pile of evidence now proving the science of global warming beyond any reasonable doubt is in some ways a great boon for those who would like, for a variety of reasons, to deny that the biggest problem we’ve ever faced is actually a problem at all. Three thousand pages (the length of the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)? That pretty much guarantees you’ll get something wrong.

- Bill McKibben

I guess we need to grin and bear it, again, and again, week after week, month after month, until the media figures out that there's a reality to report on as well.

- Jeff Kargel

My own interference with this great question, while sanctioned by many eminent names, has been also an object of varied and ingenious attack. On this point I will only say that when angry feeling escapes from behind the intellect, where it may be useful as an urging force, and places itself athwart the intellect, it is liable to produce all manner of delusions. Thus my censors, for the most part, have levelled their remarks against positions which were never assumed, and against claims which were never made.

John Tyndall (h/t Patrick Roche, not to be confused with Patrick Roache)

The New York Times has errors literally every single day, and sometimes they are significant errors. But news media don't act as if the NYT is totally unreliable and built on a hoax.

-Brad Johnson

The scientist is... disposed to regard his opponent as an honorable enemy. This attitude is necessary for his effectiveness as a scientist, but tends to make him the dupe of unprincipled people in war and politics.

-Norbert Wiener

Without slack in the system, emergencies snowball.

-Mark Ramm

A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.

-Aldo Leopold

Last month, at a vulnerable nations forum in Malé, [Maldives' President] Nasheed complained every country going to Copenhagen was seeking to keep their own emissions as high as possible. “This is the logic of the madhouse, a recipe for collective suicide,” he said. “We don’t want a global suicide pact. We want a global survival pact.”

-Frank McDonald in the Irish Times

“Evidently due to this e-mail conspiracy, Arctic sea ice is at historically low levels, Australia is on fire,
the northern United Kingdom is underwater, and the world’s glaciers are disappearing.”

- Brad Johnson

"I think geoengineering can and should be discussed but not based on stupidity and misinformation."

- a comment on "Superfreakonomics"

Every scientific theory either rises to the level of consensus or else it is abandoned. Every single one. Consensus implicates a consilience of evidence and a preponderance of evidence for the best explanation. Consensus is how science works, and it is the difference between truth as we know it and poorly supported speculation we don't.

- anonymous ("ali baba") Via Ill-considered

“Political reality must be grounded in physical reality or it's completely useless.”

Hans Joachim "John" Schellnhuber

The right target for both mugging little old ladies and carbon dioxide emissions is zero.

Ken Caldeira

“Stop blaming the scientists and stop blaming the press. Blame the lies and the lying liars who tell them.”


“They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent. …Owing to past neglect, in the face of the plainest warnings, we have entered upon a period of danger. The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedience of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences. ... We cannot avoid this period, we are in it now.”

Winston Churchill via Paul Gilding with a h/t to Lou Grinzo

We are as gods and have to get good at it.

Stewart Brand

The useful question to ask about a scientific claim is not "Has this been proven?" but "Is the evidence sufficient to yield a probability that justifies action in this case?" In other words, given the risks, is this enough to go on.

Greg Craven

"Any jackass can kick down a barn but it takes a good carpenter to build one."

Lyndon Johnson

"I do not consider a liberal necessarily to be a leftist. A liberal to me is one who--and it suits some of the dictionary definitions--is unbeholden to any specific belief or party or group or person, but makes up his or her mind on the basis of the facts and the presentation of those facts at the time. That defines what I am. I have never voted a party line. I vote on the individual and the issues."

Walter Cronkite, RIP

It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true.”

- Barack Obama

All the technical problems have been solved, but it cannot be done.”

- Hans Joachim Schellnhuber

My understanding of economics is quite complete, thank you.
- some guy on the internet

“The largest corporate carbon polluters in America, 14 years ago, asked their own people to conduct a review of all of this science. And their own people told them, "What the international scientific community is saying is correct, there is no legitimate basis for denying it." Then, these large polluters committed a massive fraud far larger than Bernie Madoff's fraud. They are the Bernie Madoffs of global warming. They ordered the of the censoring and removal of the scientific review that they themselves conducted, and like Bernie Madoff, they lied to the people who trusted them in order to make money.”

- Al Gore, testimony to US Congress

““Increasing personal evidence of global warming and its potentially devastating consequences can be counted on to be an extremely effective teacher and motivator. Unfortunately, such lessons may arrive too late for corrective action.””

- Elke Weber, Columbia U prof of business and of psychology

“The clearest message from the financial crisis is that our current model of economic success is fundamentally flawed. For the advanced economies of the western world, prosperity without growth is no longer a utopian dream. It is a financial and ecological necessity.>

- UK Sustainable Development Commission Report (h/t Econospeak)

“A grown-up body politic will acknowledge its children, and let them play with their credit ratings and their hedge funds and their cap pistols, in a well-supervised back yard so that the adults can get down to what adults are meant to get down to; the pleasurable socializing of their resources and the passionate coupling of their best ideas.

- Garret Keizer, in Harper's Magazine, April 2009

“Much of the media is wedded to the ‘we report, you decide’ mentality, in which the role of the journalist is to serve as a mouthpiece for their interviewees. There is little critical analysis, no arbitration as to the actual validity of arguments ... But this of course favors the arguments of the ridiculous, who are lent extra legitimacy by being placed in the same category as parties with actual credibility.

- Joel from Inwood in a comment at Climate Progress

“We’re big. We’re really big. So far, humans have changed carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by an amount equal to what nature was capable of doing over at least the last million years.
“Big climate change is a done deal,”

- James White, Director, Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado at Boulder, quoted by Tom Yulsman (see link)

"To borrow a distinction that Greg Bear was making at length at Boskone, the problem is not that traditional media don't deliver enough information. The problem is that they don't deliver enough knowledge. ...

They're providing tons of information, but it's useless information about stupid stuff. "

- Chad Orzel

The target audience of denialism is the lay audience, not scientists. It's made up to look like science, but it's PR.

- David Archer

"Every time the media misreports science, it chips away at the credibility of both enterprises."

- Simon Baron-Cohen

Probably the weakest reason for mistrusting us climate scientists is the idea that we are in it for the money. When I was a starving grad student, I told a dignified lady from rural Mississippi that I was doing climate modeling. She was briefly taken aback. After a beat, she gathered her wits and politely replied "Oh, that must be... lucrative".

"Somebody has to do something, and it's just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us."

- Jerry Garcia

I don't believe in reporting anymore. All I can think about when I hear a reporter is "who bought this and who are they trying to sell it to?"

- James McMurtry

"...the publication of research papers is the true test of a modern scientist." No, no, no!!!!! This is wrong in so many ways! So Ivory Tower thinking that leads to all other science careers being dubbed "alternative careers" and looked down upon - a nasty, vile way of thinking.

- Bora Zivkovic

"It is crucial to the public's
intellectual health to know when science really is science"

- Amanda Gefter (h/t DOK)

Dr. Tobis,

I just came across a showing of an old (1968) pseudo-science-y Hammer Film horror movie, "5 Million Years to Earth" and a couple lines reminded me of the quotes you run at the top of your website's (OIIFTG) front page. On the chance that you've never heard of this one, here's Andrew Keir as Professor Quartermass, talking to James Donald, as Doctor Roney, about why insect-like Martians might have visted Earth five million years ago:

"Roney, if we found that our Earth was doomed, say, by climatic changes, what would we do about it?"

"Nothing. Just go on squabbling, as usual."

"Yes, but if we weren't men?"

- a reader

Most men, it seems to me, do not care for Nature and would sell their share in all her beauty, as long as they may live, for a stated sum — many for a glass of rum. Thank God, men cannot as yet fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth! - Henry David Thoreau (h/t Florifulgurator)


DirkD said...

That's an excellent selection of quotes. May I suggest adding this gem from Tom Fuller?

"I actually don't believe men of honour publish correspondence without permission. Nor do I believe men of honour would select portions of the email that don't correspond to the entire message."

VicDiesel said...

Those are some of the quotes you used, right? I liked the "we're no better than cyano bacteria" one. Please include.

Steve Bloom said...

Thanks, Michael, this is an excellent service to your readers.

Anonymous said...

This remains one of my favourite posts of yours. I read it over every few months anyway, but I'm glad you posted it here again. My favourite quote is definitely "I was labeled as an advocate because I measured something."

I just got Windows 7, which has sticky notes, so I sticky-noted a bunch of these quotes to my desktop. It was very exciting.

Dan Satterfield said...

Exc. MT. I would add the Upton Sinclair quote- likely paraphrasing here:
"It's almost impossible to convince someone of anything, if their pay check depends on it not being true."

Mal Adapted said...

Erm - "Nill" McKibben?

Michael Tobis said...

Unintentional. Fixed.

Anonymous said...

Is this all of them?

I seem to remember reading another Aldo Leopold quote here, for instance: "One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds."

Michael Tobis said...

Yeah, I'm not a robot.

I may have missed one or two after I started collecting them, and I'm pretty sure there's some from before I realized they would form a collection.


Mal Adapted said...
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Mal Adapted said...

"One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds."

Yeah, I noticed that one missing too. The full quote, from Round River, continues:

"Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise."

It's what we're up against.

Padraig Tomas said...

Bruce Sterling made this comment back in January in the discusion of his "2010 State of the World" post at the Well.

"People used to think that if scientists said we had a problem, we had
a problem, and even though attacks against researchers who touched
nerves were not unknown (ask Nobel Laureate Sherrie Rowlands about what
happened when he connected flourocarbons and the ozone hole) the
debate remained about science.

Now, we have total illiterates shouting at the top of their lungs on
media that science is a hoax and a conspiracy, and it's working. Where
the hell do we go from here?"

Obviously Bruce is not the only one asking the question. As to the answer I would like to be able to say that where we are going couldn't possibly be anything like hell, but I am not very good at telling lies.


Unknown said...

I do not expect you to include this in your collection, but I include in my collection this quote from Andrew Revkin (2008).

"Climate change is not the story of our time. Climate change is a subset of the story of our time, which is that we are coming of age on a finite planet and only just now recognizing that it is finite."

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