Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Judith Curry needs living space!

There's a whole series of these posters. They're pretty great.

I kid, she didn't reference that awful rhetorical precedent, but pretty darn close:

With regards to K-12 education, there is no particular reason to teach ‘climate change’ in the K-12 curriculum.  Climate change is a topic that is more suitable high school ‘science and society’ courses.  In such courses, teaching the controversy would seem to be of paramount importance.
"Teaching the controversy" being of course the rallying cry of the Creationists' drive to forbid the teaching of evolution. What a tradition for a professor of atmospheric science to allude to!

Somebody missed the sarcasm here.
I was interested in how far this particular meme had spread, so here you go:

"Teaching the controversy" "evolution": 38,700,000 hits
"Teach the controversy" & "evolution": 229,000 hits.
"Teaching the controversy" "global warming": 42,900 hits.
"Teach the controversy" & "global warming": 62,000 hits.
"Teaching the controversy" "climate change": 32,700 hits. 
"Teach the controversy" & "climate change": 62,100 hits.

I found some hits for other examples of science denial -- "moon landing" and "vaccines" as well as "Holocaust" -- but they seem to be primarily by people criticizing the denial by comparing their arguments to the anti-evolution malarkey. Only the climate denial crowd, as far as I can tell, is seriously trying to adopt this anti-evolution meme as their own.

As a tactic, this seems . . . not inspired. The denial of evolution, as an analogy for the denial of anthropogenic climate change, is perhaps a little too close for comfort in ways that are not flattering to Curry et al:

Denial of Evolution vs Denial of Global Warming

1. Flies in the face of a massive amount of scientific evidence. Check. Check.
2. Utterly rejected by the vast majority of scientists. Check. Check.
3. Driven by the discomfort of a particular ideology with the implications of the science. Check. Check.
4. In lieu of a compelling alternative hypothesis, portrays the uncertainties and persistent unknowns that attend all science as huge, gaping flaws that falsify the science. Check. Check.
5. Unable to come to terms with the vast body of mutually supporting evidence from multiple fields, employ a fallacy of synecdoche: whatever point, major or minor, that they are critiquing at the moment, is treated as the cornerstone of the theory without which the whole corrupt edifice comes tumbling down. Check. Check.

I could go on, pointing out their mutual love for unreliable online lists of supposedly supportive supposed scientists (see here and here) and their common dependence on short memories and highly mobile goalposts. But you get the point. This is not a flattering comparison for either side.

The reason it is not flattering is really simple: this is a method. It is not spontaneous. It is a battle-tested set of strategies and tactics for attacking science and scientists and confusing the public. For it to work, it can't look like a method; it's supposed to be just a purer, better execution of the scientific method. That lie is hard to sell over and over again, especially when the people who pioneered these tactics have long been outed as an arm of the Christian right.

There's a reason magicians don't do the same trick for the same audience over and over again; there's a reason those Nigerian bankers always include a soonish deadline. Time for the mark to think and reflect is deadly to a con artist, who relies on distraction. Distance and perspective are the enemy of the demagogue, who relies on the emotional engagement of the audience. For all these people, showing their tactics to be at work in another cause, showing the same tired arguments and rhetorical fallacies deployed against another compelling scientific theory, is a terrible, terrible move.

Judith Curry is a scientist. She believes in the theory of evolution. There must be a part of her that understands what advocating "teaching the controversy" implies about the position she's taken and the people she's allied herself with. Is this a cry for help?


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