Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Shonky scepticism

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  • merc,

    and clutch with our thoughts that primitive tail which flares behind the peacock of the heavens,—the comet.

    Well, I think we should...

    Since Dec 2006 • 2468 posts Report Reply

  • merc,

    Homer is an authority,

    In another episode, the zoologist Stephen Jay Gould is asked to debunk a purported angel fossil. Homer's religious next-door neighbour is outraged. "Science is like a blabbermouth who ruins a movie by telling how it ends," he says. "I say there are some things we don't want to know! Important things!" And the residents rush off to demolish the town's scientific institutions. The angel, however, turns out to be a hoax, planted in a scheme to advertise the opening of a new shopping mall.

    http://physicsweb.org/articles/world/14/1/2

    Since Dec 2006 • 2468 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Cox,

    And I got told off in ENGL 320 just for calling Deconstruction 'intellectual wanking'. I still bear a deep, primal loathing for Post-modernism, even though it once got me laid.

    Same! Although the story is quite boring. Although I guess if you told it in a fragmented, multi-narrative with unreliable narrators then it might be more interesting :/

    And you'll be pleased to know Post-Modernism is out. It's all Post-Post-Modernism now.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 310 posts Report Reply

  • Hadyn Green,

    Climate change is a politcial issue in that we may vote depending on which party believes the same scientific hypothesis as us or decides on the same course of action as us. But that is a political debate not a scientific one (with due respect to Bart and his excellent description of what scientific debate actually is).

    So with no grounding in science how does one decide which party is correct? That's why we rely on the media. I've noticed TV3 started touting one of their reports as DOCTOR Lillian Ng (sp). What is she a doctor of? Not stats that's for sure.

    I think then perhaps it is better to ask the politicians who they believe, then check those references as well as you can to make your decision and, where possible, don't use the media.

    ps. I know this'll sound pissy but it's H a d y n (I just had to correct someone who was spelling it wrong for two months)

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2079 posts Report Reply

  • merc,

    Dr. Brash was always an interesting authority.

    Since Dec 2006 • 2468 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    Same! Although the story is quite boring. Although I guess if you told it in a fragmented, multi-narrative with unreliable narrators then it might be more interesting :/

    That's quite eerie. You're not really some guy called Mike who says things like 'I have the body of a Greek god, you know' are you?

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4286 posts Report Reply

  • Robyn Gallagher,

    I've noticed TV3 started touting one of their reports as DOCTOR Lillian Ng (sp). What is she a doctor of?

    Dr Ng is a GP, and currently practises. Auckland University's alumni website says she has a Bachelor of Human Biology, a Master of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery, Diploma in Paediatrics and a Certificate of Public Health.

    Raglan • Since Nov 2006 • 1823 posts Report Reply

  • andin,

    http://inthegreen.typepad.com/blog/2007/03/deconstructing_.html


    OK serious swindle debunking here with many links to sciencey stuff

    raglan • Since Mar 2007 • 1149 posts Report Reply

  • Lyndon Hood,

    And I got told off in ENGL 320 just for calling Deconstruction 'intellectual wanking'. I still bear a deep, primal loathing for Post-modernism, even though it once got me laid.

    The way my sister-in-law tells her tertairy history - I'm not sure what the subject was - the students ended up all like "but this is all nonsense", and the staff were like "Yeah! Isn't it cool?"

    I also have the impression that high pomo is all very 80s/90s. But I'm sure enough has been retained to annoy generations to come.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1091 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Sorry Hadyn! I should have checked you name.

    As for figuring out who to trust. You know the 7 degrees of separation thing... well it also applies to experts. My guess is you are no more than 3 or 4 people away from someone who really does know the specilaist field for any subject.

    If you want written sources, the scientific journals for any field are mostly available online free 6-12 months after print and while most of you are going "argh no I could possibly understand a scientific journal" most times there are reviews that often have mostly readible introductions that will give you most of what you want to know.

    In plant biology and medicine I use Pubmed at the NCBI. It takes a bit of practice refining searches and clicking on the related links but usually I can find some good info on things way outside my field like Autism genetics of which I only read the dozen lines or so :).

    I'm not sure about other fields but google scholar is surprisingly useful.

    Be careful of choosing real journals as opposed to magazines, check dates (some info gets out of date fast) and look at the citations, those are articles that refer to an article. An article that is cited a lot is often more useful

    You don't have to understand every word and you don't have to read the whole paper to get an idea of the current scientific thinking in a field.

    But honestly talking to scientists is much better than reading their writing.

    cheers
    Bart
    Apologies again

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3115 posts Report Reply

  • Hadyn Green,

    Cheers Robyn, I don't know why but I always figured Dr Ng was a GP but I've still seen her report dodgy stats which worries me.

    Cheers Bart, it's no biggie just something it's good to nip in the bud early :)

    Past 4 on a Friday, time to knock off!

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2079 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    hadyn:

    Sorry, I munged your name too - iz nut that God at the speling an poof-weeding. :) And I should be because getting someone's name right is a small but significant courtesy.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11621 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    That's quite eerie. You're not really some guy called Mike who says things like 'I have the body of a Greek god, you know' are you?

    He used that line and got lucky?

    Man, I'm totally off track.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6145 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    You don't have to understand every word and you don't have to read the whole paper to get an idea of the current scientific thinking in a field.

    I did basically what you've outlined at the time of the great GE stoush, spent hours in the evenings reading original research, or at least reputable reporting, and I did find that I was able to absorb a good deal of it. I think there's methodological stuff you can resign yourself to not understanding so long as you can decipher conslusions.

    The experience did also bring home to me the way certain factoids circulate like bad pennies, even after they've been rebutted. I got pretty tired of reading about those damn butterflies dying.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 17977 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    That's quite eerie. You're not really some guy called Mike who says things like 'I have the body of a Greek god, you know' are you?

    He used that line and got lucky?

    Man, I'm totally off track.

    Nah, it nearly lost him the whole deal. He was saved by, well, pretty much having the body of a Greek god. And not Hephaestus either.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4286 posts Report Reply

  • James Green,

    I've been rather underwelmed by Lillian Ng's reporting as well. I think much as medical schools are attempting to educate their students to be able to think more critically about research, a good honours student in a science discipline would probably whomp them hands down. The reality is that teaching in medical schools is primarily clinical, and it revolves around simply memorising lots of stuff. It's really easy to talk about teaching critical evaluation and the ability to integrate multiple sources to come to a reasoned conclusion, but it's still bloody hard work. (I guess I don't mean any disrespect, it's just not what the course is about)

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 667 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    NY Times story on Gore sceptics, as trumpeted by Drudge:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/13/science/13gore.html

    Media Matters response:

    http://mediamatters.org/items/200703150012

    Quite the minefield, this business of working out to whom to pay heed. Disqualifying everyone in the pay of a think-tank seems draconian, but it might clarify things.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 17977 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    I think both Drudge and Mediamatters need to sit down and have a few Marlborough chardonnays.

    Reading the NYTs article it doesn't strike me as being either a slam dunk for the skeptics or a hatchet job on Gore. It's more a look at opinions surrounding Gore's global warming campaign. It's just reporting opinion.

    I haven't read what Drudge has to say but Mediamatters takes great offence at this from NYT:

    He pointed to hurricanes, an icon for Mr. Gore, who highlights the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and cites research suggesting that global warming will cause both storm frequency and deadliness to rise. Yet this past Atlantic season produced fewer hurricanes than forecasters predicted (five versus nine), and none that hit the United States.

    Gosh, criticism of Gore both foul and treacherous. But in order to maintain their outrage they conveniently forget to quote the very next paragraph:

    “We need to be more careful in describing the hurricane story than he is,” Dr. Hansen said of Mr. Gore. “On the other hand,” Dr. Hansen said, “he has the bottom line right: most storms, at least those driven by the latent heat of vaporization, will tend to be stronger, or have the potential to be stronger, in a warmer climate.”

    That doesn't exactly sound like some sinister oil-industry-inspired attack on Gore.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    I haven't read what Drudge has to say but Mediamatters takes great offence at this from NYT:

    He pointed to hurricanes, an icon for Mr. Gore, who highlights the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and cites research suggesting that global warming will cause both storm frequency and deadliness to rise. Yet this past Atlantic season produced fewer hurricanes than forecasters predicted (five versus nine), and none that hit the United States.

    With good reason. It's a fundamental misunderstanding of 6th form-level Stats, not to mention a basic logical fallacy.

    If the history of humanity is a drive to Hamilton, carbon emissions is the skid that is sending us into a brick wall. On that scale, we're about 30 metres away from the brick wall, still doing 100kph, and debating whether or not to take our foot off the gas. Metaphorically speaking, of course. Actual numbers may not be exact.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • 81stcolumn,

    About science, facts and knowledge.


    i) The scientist and the science cannot be separated. Polanyi’s still influential work points out that the scientists are informed by tacit knowledge which determines the scientific questions they ask, the methods they use and the way in which data is presented.

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

    My point is that there is probably no such thing as objective science or pure unbiased facts as a result.

    ii) Causality is difficult, hard and maybe impossible to prove -

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Hume
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bertrand_Russell

    Which is why many settled for falsification.

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

    However even this approach suffers because of the methods involved with falsification. Hence we should note that sceptics are often dealt the better hand in science and to some extent law. The sceptics mantra should read - If you don’t like the facts start to pick at how they are created; failing that start on semantics and agreed truths.

    iii) The theories we choose to apply and make use of are as much determined by mood of the time and history as they are by the basic business of scientific falsification.

    Philosophy of Science in the Twentieth Century: Four Central Themes (Paperback) by Donald Gillies and work by TS Kuhn (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Samuel_Kuhn) still offer useful thoughts on this issue.

    The point here is that we shouldn’t be surprised if public policy is slow to change-scientific consensus is also really slow to arise.

    iv) In some ways saying that you can understand research without having a grasp of stats and methodology is a bit like suggesting you should just kick the tyres before buying a car. Yep you can do it, but don’t be surprised if what you get is unreliable.

    Conclusion:

    Nope there is no easy way to grasp this debate or evaluate the evidence within it. But usual rules apply; multiple sources, cross reference, check authority and agenda. Please be patient and persist with science and scientists it is tough turning squiggles and graphs into yes/no, good/bad right/wrong, and sometimes common language isn't good enough.



    P.S. I just wish students would study………..

    Nawthshaw • Since Nov 2006 • 699 posts Report Reply

  • Grant Dexter,

    Here is the result of the Global Warming campaign on the youth of today. It's destroying their dreams and hope of a future:

    The Story

    Taipei, Taiwan • Since Mar 2007 • 256 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Curtis,

    'Lets get nasty' doesnt really work Richard.

    Is Tim Ball claiming to be a 'Professor Emeritus' or is the TV show saying it. CH4 promotional material seems to be the culprit

    Richard Littlemore tries the same nonsense as you in his Desmog blog
    "In a September 26, 2006 letter to the Royal Society, Dr. Tim Ball, the leading signatory, identifies himself as "Professor of Climatology, University of Winnipeg."
    http://www.desmogblog.com/tim-ball-finding-new-ways-to-fudge-his-credentials#comment-46211

    The Text of the actual letter is here
    http://www.nhinsider.com/nhigb/2006/9/29/george-c-marshall-institute-letter-to-congress.html
    The first two signatories are here

    Sincerely,
    Dr. Tim Ball
    Retired Professor of Geography (1971 -1996)
    University of Winnipeg

    Dr. William Gray
    Director, Tropical Meteorology Project
    Professor Emeritus of Atmospheric Science
    Colorado State University


    Surprise Tim says hes a retired Geography Professor but is followed by a Professor Emeritus of Atmospheric Science

    Lets not forget what Tim Ball actually said on the Program

    Q: What is the main weakness in the reasoning of Global Warming promoters?

    A; That all predictions of future warming are based on computer models that don't work. They can't forecast one year from now so how would they be able to forecast 100 years from now? In addition, all forecasts made by the models to date have been wrong. The other major weakness the assumption that an increase in CO2 from human activity will result in warming. The evidence shows that CO2 does not correlate with temperature change. Even more damaging is that the 420,000 year ice core record shows the complete opposite with temperature changing before CO2 not as hypothesized. The models all assume a doubling of CO2 will occur. They are all programmed to have temperature increase if CO2 increases and they are unable to include feedback mechanisms. For example, an increase in temperature will result in an increase in evaporation that will cause an increase in cloud that will block the sun and cause cooling.

    Remember current CO2 levels are historically low.

    "Average global temperatures in the Early Carboniferous Period were hot- approximately 20° C (68° F). However, cooling during the Middle Carboniferous reduced average global temperatures to about 12° C (54° F). As shown on the chart below, this is comparable to the average global temperature on Earth today!

    Similarly, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the Early Carboniferous Period were approximately 1500 ppm (parts per million), but by the Middle Carboniferous had declined to about 350 ppm -- comparable to average CO2 concentrations today!

    Earth's atmosphere today contains about 380 ppm CO2 (0.038%). Compared to former geologic times, our present atmosphere, like the Late Carboniferous atmosphere, is CO2- impoverished! In the last 600 million years of Earth's history only the Carboniferous Period and our present age, the Quaternary Period, have witnessed CO2 levels less than 400 ppm."

    Check out the chart.

    Global Temperature and Atmospheric CO2 over Geologic Time

    http://www.clearlight.com/~mhieb/WVFossils/Pa... \

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 183 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Cox,

    That's quite eerie. You're not really some guy called Mike who says things like 'I have the body of a Greek god, you know' are you?

    Nope. Not Mike unfortunately. As for the body:

    Apollo = not so much.

    Pan(after a few nights of drinking) = definite maybe.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 310 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    Steve,

    Your "Plant Fossils of West Virgininia" site also contains sentences like this:

    Today, at 380 ppm our atmosphere is CO2-impoverished, although environmentalists, certain political groups, and the news media would have us believe otherwise. - Monte Heib

    http://www.clearlight.com/~mhieb/WVFossils/Carboniferous_climate.html

    And who is Monte Heib? Former chief engineer for the West Virginia Office of Miner’s Safety. That's COAL mining.

    So, forgive me if I'm not convinced by his "science".

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    I should have made clear that the whole site appears to be a front for coal industry interests.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

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