Science & Self-Identity

English: The smallpox vaccine diluent in a syr...

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The assuming an authority of dictating to others, and a forwardness to prescribe to their opinions, is a constant concomitant of this bias and corruption of our judgments. For how almost can it be otherwise, but that he should be ready to impose on another’s belief, who has already imposed on his own? Who can reasonably expect arguments and conviction from him in dealing with others, whose understanding is not accustomed to them in his dealing with himself? Who does violence to his own faculties, tyrannizes over his own mind, and usurps the prerogative that belongs to truth alone, which is to command assent by only its own authority, i.e. by and in proportion to that evidence which it carries with it.

-John Locke

As a philosophy professor who focuses on the practical value of philosophical thinking, one of my main objectives is to train students to be effective critical thinkers. While true critical thinking has been, ironically, threatened by the fact that it has become something of a fad, I stick with a very straightforward and practical view of the subject. As I see it, critical thinking is the rational process of determining whether a claim should be accepted as true, rejected or false or subject to the suspension of judgment. Roughly put, a critical thinker operates on the principle that the belief in a claim should be proportional to the evidence for it, rather than in proportion to our interests or feelings. In this I follow John Locke’s view: “Whatsoever credit or authority we give to any proposition more than it receives from the principles and proofs it supports itself upon, is owing to our inclinations that way, and is so far a derogation from the love of truth as such: which, as it can receive no evidence from our passions or interests, so it should receive no tincture from them.” Unfortunately, people often fail to follow this principle and do so in matters of considerable importance, such as climate change and vaccinations. To be specific, people reject proofs and evidence in favor of interests and passions.

Despite the fact that the scientific evidence for climate change is overwhelming, there are still people who deny climate change. These people are typically conservatives—although there is nothing about conservatism itself that requires denying climate change.

While rejecting the scientific evidence for climate change can be regarded as irrational, it is easy enough to attribute a rational motive behind this view. After all, there are people who have an economic interest in denying climate change or, at least, preventing action from being taken that they regard as contrary to their interests (such as implementing the cap and trade system on carbon originally proposed by conservative thinkers). This interest would provide a motive to lie (that is, make claims that one knows are not true) as well as a psychological impetus to sincerely hold to a false belief. As such, I can easily make sense of climate change denial in the face of overwhelming evidence: big money is on the line. However, the denial less rational for the majority of climate change deniers—after all, they are not owners of companies in the fossil fuel business. However, they could still be motivated by a financial stake—after all, addressing climate change could cost them more in terms of their energy bills. Of course, not addressing climate change could cost them much more.

In any case, I get climate denial in that I have a sensible narrative as to why people reject the science on the basis of interest. However, I have been rather more confused by people who deny the science regarding vaccines.

While vaccines are not entirely risk free, the scientific evidence is overwhelming that they are safe and very effective. Scientists have a good understanding of how they work and there is extensive empirical evidence of their positive impact—specifically the massive reduction in cases of diseases such as polio and measles. Oddly enough, there is significant number of Americans who willfully deny the science of vaccination. What is most unusual is that these people tend to be college educated. They are also predominantly political liberals, thus showing that science denial is bi-partisan. It is fascinating, but also horrifying, to see someone walk through the process of denial—as shown in a segment on the Daily Show. This process is rather complete: evidence is rejected, experts are dismissed and so on—it is as if the person’s mind switched into a Bizzaro version of critical thinking (“kritikal tincing” perhaps). This is in marked contrast with the process of rational disagreement in which the methodology of critical thinking is used in defense of an opposing viewpoint. Being a philosopher, I value rational disagreement and I am careful to give opposing views their due. However, the use of fallacious methods and outright rejection of rational methods of reasoning is not acceptable.

As noted above, climate change denial makes a degree of sense—behind the denial is a clear economic interest. However, vaccine science denial seems to lack that motive. While I could be wrong about this, there does not seem to be any economic interest that would benefit from this denial—except, perhaps, the doctors and hospitals that will be treating the outbreaks of preventable diseases. However, doctors and hospitals obviously encourage vaccination. As such, an alternative explanation is needed.

Recent research does provide some insight into the matter and this research is consistent with Locke’s view that people are influenced by both interests and passions. In this case, the motivating passion seems to be a person’s commitment to her concept of self. The idea is that when a person’s self-concept or self-identity is threatened by facts, the person will reject the facts in favor of her self-identity.  In the case of the vaccine science deniers, the belief that vaccines are harmful has somehow become part of their self-identity. Or so goes the theory as to why these deniers reject the evidence.

To be effective, this rejection must be more than simply asserting the facts are wrong. After all, the person is aiming to deceive herself to maintain her self-identity. As such, the person must create an entire narrative which makes their rejection seem sensible and believable to them. A denier must, as Pascal said in regards to his famous wager, make himself believe his denial. In the case of matters of science, a person needs to reject not just the claims made by scientists but also the method by which the scientists support the claims. Roughly put, the narrative of denial must be a complete story that protects itself from criticism. This is, obviously enough, different from a person who denies a claim on the basis of evidence—since there is rational support for the denial, there is no need to create a justifying narrative.

This, I would say, is one of the major dangers of this sort of denial—not the denial of established facts, but the explicit rejection of the methodology that is used to assess facts. While people often excel at compartmentalization, this strategy runs the risk of corrupting the person’s thinking across the board.

As noted above, as a philosopher one of my main tasks is to train people to think critically and rationally. While I would like to believe that everyone can be taught to be an effective and rational thinker, I know that people are far more swayed by rhetoric and (ironically) fallacious reasoning then they are swayed by good logic. As such, there might be little hope that people can be “cured” of their rejection of science and reasoning. Aristotle took this view—while noting that some can be convinced by “arguments and fine ideals” most people cannot. He advocated the use of coercive habituation to get people to behave properly and this could (and has) been employed to correct incorrect beliefs. However, such a method is agnostic in regards to the truth—people can be coerced into accepting the false as well as the true.

Interestingly enough, a study by Brendan Nyhan shows that reason and persuasion both fail when employed in attempts to change false beliefs that are critical to a person’s self-identity. In the case of Nyhan’s study, there were various attempts to change the beliefs of vaccine science deniers using reason (facts and science) and also various methods of rhetoric/persuasions (appeals to emotions and anecdotes). Since reason and persuasion are the two main ways to convince people, this is certainly a problem.

The study and other research did indicate an avenue that might work. Assuming that it is the threat to a person’s self-concept that triggers the rejection mechanism, the solution is to approach a person in a way that does not trigger this response. To use an analogy, it is like trying to conduct a transplant without triggering the body’s immune system to reject the transplanted organ.

One obvious problem is that once a person has taken a false belief as part of his self-concept, it is rather difficult to get him to regard any attempt to change his mind as anything other than a threat. Addressing this might require changing the person’s self-concept or finding a specific strategy for addressing that belief that is somehow not seen as a threat. Once that is done, the second stage—that of actually addressing the false belief, can begin.

 

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30 Comments.

  1. Mr. Labossiere,
    It is precisely that I am a critical thinker, not that I am conservative that I do not believe in MAN-MADE global warming. I have studied this THEORY for years and I am sorry but carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. Nor is a significant enough percentage of the atmospheric gasses to cause global warming. Carbon dioxide is essential for life on the planet and the more of it we have the better off we are. I am criticizing you for not doing your homework, for not learning enough to make an intelligent decision. After all, we keep getting more co2 in the atmosphere but have had 17 years of global cooling, how do you account for this? I suggest you read the following: Bjorn Lomborg, The Skeptical Environmentalist, Ian Murray, The Really Inconvenient Truth, Alex Berezow, Science Left Behind.
    Science is never settled. Mankind is not changing the climate with co2 and even if he were would you destroy every economy of the world to reduce temperatures by a fraction of a degree? The proof is there for you to find.

  2. Mr Michael;

    Would you please let us know your degree and credentials? Have you conducted any study to prove your points?
    If you evidence is so strong why >95% of renown scientists, members of the national academy of science of nearly all the countries in the world, disagree with you? Why the US army and security council disagree with you?

    By the way do you believe in vaccines? Do you believe in the scientific method as the best tool to find what is true?

  3. The first sentence of your opening quote from Locke provides comfort to those who are so threatened by the claim of authority (and by awareness of their own inability to distinguish “real” scientific expertise from the advocacy of those who claim to have science behind them despite having no real idea of the science involved). It is much easier (and maybe also more “empowering”) to distrust and deny all “experts” than to do the hard work of thinking for oneself through their evidence and arguments.

    With regard to the vaccines issue, I think a possible motive is provided by the real fact that, in a largely vaccinated population, the risk of vaccination to an individual may well be greater than that of catching the disease if unvaccinated. But to acknowledge this selfish motive is threatening to the desired self-image as a pro-social person, so it becomes attractive to find some other explanation for the resistance.

  4. Some interesting details here:- http://environment.yale.edu/climate-communication/article/Climate-Beliefs-April-2013

    I am not a meteorologist and only have scant knowledge of weather systems. Having lived most of my life in UK what I can say is, that the weather I experienced as a child and as a youth and growing man has changed noticeably in this country. As a much younger person the summers were often a dreary affair with rain at the most inconvenient times, a keen tennis player, I was always frustrated by matches which were rained off on a regular basis. In those days I don’t think we had extremes of climate as we do now whilst I complained about rain stopping tennis it was a rarity to have large areas of the country flooded on a fairly regular basis as is the case now the same goes for other tempestuous meteorological phenomena.
    I’m puzzled why people deny climate change, as I said I am no expert in the matter but my own observations of world climate suggest very strongly that there is a change.
    The effects of climate change in the Arctic include rising temperatures, loss of sea ice, and melting of the Greenland ice sheet. Potential release of methane from the Arctic region, especially through the thawing of permafrost and methane clathrates, is also a concern. Because of the amplified response of the Arctic to global warming, it is often seen as a leading indicator of climate change. c.f. Wiki.
    If one wishes to get oneself in the limelight adopting a spurious viewpoint can be very effective and I’m led to wonder to what extent this phenomenon is active in producing those who deny climate change. The same might also be said of vaccination those who quietly go and get it done and survive get no publicity whereas those who kick up a fuss for what reason or another often find the headlines. Accounting for human behaviour is so often a puzzling task.

  5. Mike LaBossiere,

    “Despite the fact that the scientific evidence for climate change is overwhelming, there are still people who deny climate change.”

    No. You have been convinced the scientific evidence for climate change is overwhelming. (I’m going to make an assumption here) But you have not sat down, and examined the precise mechanisms underlying the claim. You do not know whether the scientific evidence is overwhelming, underwhelming, or just plain whelming.

    Your only evidence is the statements of authority figures. A common argument Muslims have for the existence of God, is the existence of the Koran alone. Why do they believe that? Because some authority figure transmitted the claim. The truth of the claim is based the authority of the person making the claim and nothing else.

    With any scientific claim, regardless of who is making it, unless you personally and competently investigate the science, your belief or disbelief is an act of faith, in the religious sense.

    People vary in how they rationalise authority. They may simply accept the authority has received their wisdom from an infallible divine source – they may believe them for no other reason than they always have believed them. Or, this is the structure clever people never assume anyone might have; a person may believe that an authority dictates reality purely through their authority. They think scientists get together and decide scientific facts – they chose what is true and what is not – and if for whatever reason they change their minds the scientific facts would change too. It sounds so idiotic that you would only imagine a tiny minority of idiots holding this belief. But this is precisely the kind of idiocy you had in Germany in the 1930s. Einstein is the big daddy of modern physics, he also happened to be ethnically Jewish. The NAZIS put pressure on German scientists to remove the “Jew science” from their curriculum, and replace it with something more Germanic.

    “These people are typically conservatives—although there is nothing about conservatism itself that requires denying climate change.”

    There are conservatives and then there are “conservatives”. George H Bush is considered to be part of the NWO plot.

    What do the “conservatives” believe. When LaHaye and Jenkins created the Left Behind series, they just took widely held paranoid beliefs and structured them into a narrative. The belief that ‘climate change’ is a plot to create a one world government. The books and films sell well, because they make tens of millions of psychotics momentarily comforted in having their paranoid delusions confirmed. Is it healthy for society, to drive mad people even madder – it is not.

    Why is the TV series, The Walking Dead, Christian?…or “Christian”? Zombies are always a metaphor, for some group or thing attacking another group; who, luckily for easy analysis, are less metaphoric; the rural middle-class. Whose lifestyle and modes of consumption are “Christian” in themselves. The zombies are urban people – the soulless walkers flowing from the cities in herds, coming to destroy the rural way of life.

    There are Christian pastors going on Youtube, and making the same claims re climate change, as the plot line of Left Behind.

    The fluoride in the tap water people. If you want to see how crazy they are ask them what brand of toothpaste they use. They invariable use a brand, that contains enough fluoride by their science to wipe out a small town.

  6. We have a complex relationship with CO2, similar to that which we have with fire. It is both useful and dangerous. Obviously, plants need it (though they do not need us) and it plays an important role in keeping earth out of another ice age. But, excessive CO2, like an out of control fire, seems to be bad for us in terms of its environmental impact. Naturally, earth will go along just fine be it freezing or roasting–what matters to us is what impact climate has on our well being.

    Science certainly seems to settle things. For example, it settled the question of whether the earth revolves around the sun or the sun revolves around the earth.

  7. Alan Cooper,

    Good point. Once enough people are vaccinated, a person could try to be a free rider (or have his/her kids be free riders) on the “herd immunity” and avoid the slight risk of being vaccinated. Of course, the free rider would need to hope that s/he does not get exposed to anyone outside the immunized herd who is carrying the disease s/he could have been immunized against. So, the free rider would need to stay in the immunized community and avoid anyone that might be a carrier. So, no trips and no interaction with anyone who is not displaying her vaccination papers. :)

  8. Yes, it is true that I have been convinced that it is overwhelming. I keep up with some of the literature in the field (having taught basic stats, causal reasoning and such I can muddle through the data) and have colleagues who are, in fact, experts in the relevant fields. So, I can talk to them. I also have an education in basic science and can sort through the causal mechanisms and link them up with the empirical evidence in a limited way.

    So, I have been convinced about climate change in the same way I have been convinced that the earth revolves around the sun, that bacteria and viruses can cause disease, and that splitting the atom can create power (or destruction). It is not blind faith or mere authority. And, even it was based just on an argument from authority, the scientists have rather more claim to expertise when talking about climate change than religious leaders have when claiming that God exists. Also, thanks to years doing metaphysics, I can assess the God stuff as well.

    Having read plenty of skepticism and conspiracy theories, I can easily construct epistemic scenarios and webs of conspiracy in which all this is a deceit by an evil demon or evil scientists. But, the most plausible account is that my colleagues in the sciences are not lying to my face about climate change, publishing articles full of lies, and so on. So, the belief seems rational.

  9. The Storm character in Tim Minchin’s beat poem of the same name is perhaps typical of a part of the liberal demographic that may well be educated, in the humanities but with little understanding of science and its methods. They employ critical thinking and scepticism, and their liberal credentials serve them well in supporting the those pseudo sciences and conservative interests that cry out that they are being unfairly treated by the science community that criticises their crank ideas or conservative economic interests. Being ill equiiped understand how to evaluate and attribute the weight of reason and evidence they are more persuaded by the bleating of the those that cry out the loudest.

  10. Try telling the polar bears that there is no climate change which is harmful. I have already stated that during my life I am aware that there is a substantial climate change. That said I still live quite comfortably do what I want, eat what I want, and I suppose I rarely give consideration to climate change because my standard of living is not yet effected; so far as I know. That said I’m sensible enough to understand that certain physical processes in respect of the environment are changing and that the human race is to a significant extent responsible for this. I am asking how bad does it have to get before there is a general consensus that we are in trouble. If I look at my bank balance on a monthly basis and see that it is not as healthy as it was do I think myself it will right itself in due course, the financial world is like that. Surely not, I take steps to ascertain the cause of the problem and what I might have to do to stop it worsening.
    It has been stated elsewhere in this blog that those who conduct research and understanding concerning the meteorology of this planet may be viewed with the same suspicion that we might have in respect of those who teach and disseminate certain religious principles, which find their origin in a book written in ancient times. This is surely a most unfair comparison. Certainly I think the motto of the Royal Society, Nullius Verba (take nobody’s word for it) is good advice and wherever possible one should make one’s own enquiries before reaching a solution, if any. However it seems common sense to me to take notice of those who purport to understand a lot more than I do, on climate change. All science is tentative and subject to revision in the light of new knowledge, so the possibility does exist that currently what is forecast will not happen, but surely this is a similar situation to ignoring the state of my bank account which seems to be in trouble. The only worry so far as I can see is that those ‘in the know’ have got it wrong and will make the situation worse. In that connection it seems that we have no alternative other than to just wait and see and do what seems best.

  11. Dennis Sceviour

    It is true that the habitat of polar bears is shrinking. The polar ice caps have receded. One reason for the meltdown of the polar caps is the depletion of ozone:

    http://www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/lookingatearth/ozone_record.html

    The depletion of ozone has been attributed to the now grounded Concorde SST:

    http://www.ciesin.org/docs/003-006/003-006.html

    However, philosophy should limit the discussion of scientific causality. In this blog, everything from moose mites to the Syrian crisis has been blamed on climate change. While some may feel moose mites are overwhelming evidence, the overwhelming feeling derives from passion, not logic. That would be the point of Locke’s view that people are influenced by both interests and passions, but it is not clear where self-identity comes into play.

    It is becoming more difficult to believe anything found on the internet. Mostly, the internet has become a platform for people to complain and exaggerate. Google Scholar can help to refine the research information found, but even that is filled with the same complaints but use longer words for description.

    Philosophy needs to offer a simplified and consistent definition of climate change to help communication between the many different levels of expertise looking at the question of climate change – from specialized meteorologists to student political programmers.

  12. Dennis,

    I see the internet as being better than what came before it where only scientists inside their remote disciplines had access to the science they were making claims about, and all sorts of cranks, politicians and theists that could gain access to expensive media of paper news, books and TV had a pretty free reign at persuading and manipulating a public that were far more ignorant than they are now.

    Perhaps when you perceive ignorance and misinformation on the internet it was always there in all the places around the world that promote it, it just didn’t get aired and noticed.

    But at least now there is plenty of good stuff that promotes critical thinking, this site being one of them. And yes, this site too may get things wrong, as we all do. Critical thinking doesn’t guarantee correctness but only provides the tools to make steps in the right direction.

    This blog alone, and in fact the prolific Mike LaBoissier in particular, has raised issues that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to think about at all at one time, simply because of the shear effort required to go out there and find it in books and journals (ignoring the costs of doing that).

    It’s still hard work; but I’m aware of and informed about so many more social, political, science, philosophical that I could possibly have been otherwise.

    So, filtering out the crap, while also trying to understand the science behind issues like climate change, may indeed lead me down some blind alleys now and again, but it’s s small price to pay for such a corrective system as the internet. In the 80′s I could by a book or two, read a few favourite journalists in print, and maybe write the odd letter to an editor, without it seeing the light of day, and I could of been convinced of some completely crackpot ideas. But a short time on the internet spouting my opinions on what I see to be the state of affairs now and I’m at the very least challenged by some ideas I still find more wrong than mine but which are still informative, and at best I’m smartly corrected by so many smart people.

    I wouldn’t go back. Even if it turned out that climate change was the price we had to pay to make ourselves aware of tragedies like these https://twitter.com/walkfree, It would be a price worth paying.

    “However, philosophy should limit the discussion of scientific causality.”

    Yes it should, so that’s worth encouraging.

    “It is becoming more difficult to believe anything found on the internet.”

    No. I little common sense, critical thinking, and further investigation is usually enough to correct many errors. But friends need help. As much as Facebook is ridiculed as one of the sources of bullshit it’s also an opportunity to correct misconceptions your that you didn’t know your friends and family suffered from. Only last night I was posting the 9/11 computer simulations that disabuse the deniers that claim in a video that “a plane’s wings can’t cut through steel like a knife through butter”.

    “Mostly, the internet has become a platform for people to complain and exaggerate.

    There’s plenty to complain about. I’ve had great interaction with the British Geriatric Societies blog which posts stuff from working doctors that have helped me deal with specific problems in my mother’s treatment in local hospitals.

    The exaggerations can be dealt with. Small price to pay. In WWII my then 14/15 year old mother saw a German plane shot down, and because of the propaganda really expected some literal monster to step out, and was shocked to see a youthful good looking boy barely old enough to fly. Today internet access allows us to see the cock-ups our governments are making.

    Philosophy can’t offer a simple definition of climate change that’s any better than those provided by science, and any attempt would lead to simplifications that would be trivially refuted. Philosophical conceptual simplification of science is in danger of making such sweeping generalisations that they become meaningless or even harmful, and more harmful than a few misjudged opinions that can be corrected.

    The answer is more internet not less: freedom of information that so far has to be ripped out of governments by Wikileaks, Snowden, Chelsea/Bradley manning; better access to research trials, as in http://www.alltrials.net/; open access to online academic journals.

    Again, “Mostly, the internet has become a platform for people to complain…”

    Ironic in a complaint, on the internet.

  13. Dennis Sceviour

    Ron Murphy,
    Your response to the claim that philosophy should limit the discussion of scientific causality is surprising. “Yes it should, so that’s worth encouraging.” Perhaps I am wrong here. Philosophy is the study of the arguments between science and ethics. Therefore, philosophy should spend more time analyzing scientific arguments.

    Best wishes for your mothers medical problems.

  14. Dennis,

    It’s surprising to me too. I completely misread your words there.

    Had you said, “However, philosophy should limit the discussion TO scientific causality”, and had I been more specific, my response would be:

    Yes it should so limit the discussion, when covering science topics for which it is making scientific points; so that’s worth encouraging.

    But just to be complete, I also expect that when philosophy is discussing speculative metaphysics it should be clear that this is what it is doing and should not pass it off as supported fact or obvious, or innate indisputable truth.

  15. Dennis, The internet is at least as reliable as getting information from ‘News of the World’, FoxTV, and conversations with random cab drivers and fellow travellers on the bus.

    But any source of information needs to be checked, and the internet is no exception. Indeed, some blog commenters do even go so far as to try to make claims of blatant nonsense look credible by following them with links to “sources” which might be assumed to be supportive but if actually read turn out to be nothing of the sort. Thanks for those examples.

  16. Mike LaBossiere,

    “Having read plenty of skepticism and conspiracy theories, I can easily construct epistemic scenarios and webs of conspiracy in which all this is a deceit by an evil demon or evil scientists.”

    The details of conspiracy theories are not that interesting in themselves. But what they reveal is the anxieties of their believers and creators – it also reveals they have personified their internal anxieties, and have projected them into the external world. Fluoride in the tap water, is the Jews poisoning the well. The narratives of the psychotic are always contemporised. Human sin bringing about environmental catastrophes – Noah and his flood, Hurricane Katrina as punishment for gay marriage and Mardi Gras.

    For most people those narratives are too ridiculous to believe, so they believe less ridiculous ones. But if they’re convinced that 97% of their group are in complete agreement that a sorcerer greater than Solomon died and was resurrected three days later, then they’ll be quite comfortable accepting the same as fact – a 97% consensus cannot be wrong, can it. They can then turn their energies to persecuting and expelling the 3% who are non-believers – the group’s misfits.

    If a group has a narcissistic self-identity, they will attack any individual who inadvertently or advertently undermines this image. These attacks solidify the group – members are traumatised by witnessing what happens to those who believe the wrong things, so they believe the right things; doubts cause anxiety – experienced as existential threat; they’re pushed ever further out of consciousness.

    There’s a cartoon circulating the web. Jesus knocking on a door and saying “Let me in..so I may save you”, and the voice answering “What do I need to be saved from?”, Jesus replies “from what I’m going to do to you, if you don’t open this door”. If you don’t believe in Jesus you’re going to burn in hell. You’re not sure hell exists either, but it sounds like an awful place, and to apply the precautionary principle, you may as well believe in Jesus, it can’t hurt….as much as hell. You believe. (it’s notable that hell is more credible because it’s anxiety inducing.)

    Socialisation is not simply observing the social rules of the group, it’s voluntarily, and crucially voluntarily, accepting the beliefs of the group – “I believe in Jesus, because my father will throw me out of the house if I don’t”, is worse than blasphemy itself – it can only be “I believe in Jesus, with all may heart”. “Think for yourself”, is not an invitation to independent thought, it’s an injunction think exactly the same as everyone in the group, but to do so voluntarily. The same, “just be yourself”, is an injunction to conform, but conform voluntarily.

    Advertisers use our anxieties to sell us their products. They play on our fears and reinforce our delusions. A glass of New York tap water gives us a feeling of unease; has it really been through hundreds of other people before, what kind of chemicals have they put in it, do the mob really run the water treatment plant. It’s had the evil hand of man on it. The advertisers babbling spring, glistening and sparkling in the sunlight seems so pure, so natural; natural mineral water – but what are those minerals; lead, arsenic, uranium, even mineral fluoride, not to mention microbes and carcinogenic hydrocarbons. It’s full of poisons that will slowly kill you. Which is why Dansani, and River Rock, always use tap water. Instinctively, I still believe the spring water is purer, but rationally I know my instincts (anxieties) are incorrect.

    Letting go of a belief, that has its’ basis in anxiety, and even traumatic consequences for abandoning it, is difficult to say the least. Anger, Denial, Bargaining, Depression, then Acceptance, the of possibility social expulsion, even death in the case of some countries. In the case of scientists (and this does happen) career ending embarrassment.

    “Yes, it is true that I have been convinced that it is overwhelming. I keep up with some of the literature in the field (having taught basic stats, causal reasoning and such I can muddle through the data) and have colleagues who are, in fact, experts in the relevant fields. So, I can talk to them. I also have an education in basic science and can sort through the causal mechanisms and link them up with the empirical evidence in a limited way. ”

    Okay, this is wonderful. You have an inquiring and independent mind, and you’re willing to investigate scientific matters to the best of your ability; you’re going to be like one of those old time philosophers. You have experts within easy reach – and not only that; there is equipment with easy reach too, allowing you to get some first hand experience of the science.

    In your college there are spectrometers. It’s not a very fancy piece of scientific equipment; it has rotating bits and a table for slides and prisms. It’s for teaching spectral analysis to physics and chemistry students.

    Every chemical has a unique spectra – that it emits and absorbs specific frequencies of light at. This was well known in the 19th century, but the mechanism was not understood. One experiment you can do with a spectrometer is take a light bulb, or even use a candle, to shine light through a gas sample, and a prism. When you rotate the telescope you will see lines of missing light at specific points. Where has the light gone. It has been absorbed, but where did it go. In the 19th century, no one was sure – it was assumed it turned into heat. But, in the 20th century, with the arrival of Einstein, quantum physics, the photon, the electron, etc, it was discovered that the light is absorbed by electrons on the atoms, and then released – but it’s not released at the same angle, so it appears to have vanished. The important point is the light is not turned in heat through the absorption and emission process.

    That statement is more than cast iron. Confirm it with any expert in physics or even chemistry. Do the experiment yourself. 20th century physics, modern physics, quantum physics, absolutely depend on it being true. It’s undebunkable without completely re-writing all the physics of the last hundred years.

    Now, to the 19th century; a time of waxed moustaches, steam power, And, Svante Arrhenius. Svante theorized, that carbon dioxide’s spectral absorption was the mechanism by which the earth’s atmosphere stayed warm. Of course he was wrong. But so was everyone else at the time. It was a horse drawn, and candle lit world, there weren’t even light bulbs. In fact Planck discovers his constant while working on light bulbs, and Einstein discovers the photon following Planck’s work, all after Arrhenius.

    Every apocalyptic paper claiming CO2 as responsible for global warming, cites Arhenius (check it yourself). The climate modellers use an equation based on Arhenius, not modern physics. Because modern physics just does not support the theory.

    How did people like Kruass, Tyson, and others; including myself, come to believe something they should have instantly recognised to be wrong. We were taken in by some evangelical doom monger – convinced by a scary story, well told. It took years for my belief to change. With Krauss and Tyson, I think what happened is they accepted the story instantly, became evangelicals themselves – then any doubts were fiercely repressed. Not because they were part of a conspiracy, but because it’s the kind of error an undergraduate who had no real understanding of the subject would make. They would look like idiots. That would be a major crisis for their self-identities, their public identities, and they’re careers, book sales and TV shows. Which is a pity because these guys are very clever.

    “But, the most plausible account is that my colleagues in the sciences are not lying to my face about climate change, publishing articles full of lies, and so on. So, the belief seems rational.”

    I believed carbon dioxide caused man made global warming for years, I wasn’t lying then. Now I don’t, and I’m not lying now. My beliefs are much less ridged, through the experience than they were before. So, if presented with the appropriate evidence, changing my mind back again would not be difficult. But, it really would mean tearing up the modern physics books.

    I’m nearly certain now, that if I personally had a lot at stake, I could deceive myself into believing anything. But since Beelzebub over at Big Oil writes me a fat cheque for every soul I win, I don’t have to worry about much.

  17. “Every chemical has a unique spectra – that it emits and absorbs specific frequencies of light at. This was well known in the 19th century, but the mechanism was not understood. One experiment you can do with a spectrometer is take a light bulb, or even use a candle, to shine light through a gas sample, and a prism. When you rotate the telescope you will see lines of missing light at specific points. Where has the light gone. It has been absorbed, but where did it go. In the 19th century, no one was sure – it was assumed it turned into heat. But, in the 20th century, with the arrival of Einstein, quantum physics, the photon, the electron, etc, it was discovered that the light is absorbed by electrons on the atoms, and then released – but it’s not released at the same angle, so it appears to have vanished. The important point is the light is not turned in heat through the absorption and emission process.
    That statement is more than cast iron. Confirm it with any expert in physics or even chemistry. Do the experiment yourself. 20th century physics, modern physics, quantum physics, absolutely depend on it being true. It’s undebunkable without completely re-writing all the physics of the last hundred years.
    Now, to the 19th century; a time of waxed moustaches, steam power, And, Svante Arrhenius. Svante theorized, that carbon dioxide’s spectral absorption was the mechanism by which the earth’s atmosphere stayed warm. Of course he was wrong. But so was everyone else at the time. It was a horse drawn, and candle lit world, there weren’t even light bulbs. In fact Planck discovers his constant while working on light bulbs, and Einstein discovers the photon following Planck’s work, all after Arrhenius.
    Every apocalyptic paper claiming CO2 as responsible for global warming, cites Arhenius (check it yourself). The climate modellers use an equation based on Arhenius, not modern physics. Because modern physics just does not support the theory.”

    JMRC,
    Isn’t the nature of the greenhouse effect that certain gases like CO2 or methane absorb the radiation that earths emits and emits it back to the earth warming the earth?
    i.e The sun sends radiation that the earth absorbs and reflects to the sun but the CO2 prevents this process by reflecting it back to earth. I might be wrong but that is my understanding.
    In that case your explanation does not apply at all and the greenhouse effect does not violate the laws of modern physics.
    Second, we are still applying Newton’s equations are we not? They have been conceived at the same time period that Arrhenius equations. Within certain limits Newton laws are damm good, you can predict planetary movement with great accuracy, and their are indispensable to plan space travel. Age is not a criteria for scientific discoveries, theories or laws but their ability to explain and predict phenomena.
    Unfortunately for me, every time that someone disagrees with climate change and explains its case, they consistently provide flawed explanations, so flawed that I can see them. I am a scientists but not in climate change that is why I consider my opinion at the same level on this topic as everyone else. Not doing so would be like to read a neurosurgery book, and attempt to operate on a patient. That is blatantly crazy in my opinion, and that is what I see a lot of people doing with climate change unfortunately

  18. JMRC, Your question about how absorption of radiation can lead to heating is a good one if coming from a student in an undergraduate quantum mechanics course. The answer is that the relaxation from an excited state can be either by re-radiation OR by transfer to kinetic energy during a collision (this kind of multi-particle interaction is normally not analysed in detail in a first course in QM so you may not have seen it yet).The scenario you describe though is not quite what happens with IR absorption by CO2. In that case the absorption does not correspond to an electronic excitation but rather to a rotational or vibrational excitation of the molecule (for which it may be easier to see at an intuitive level how that mechanical energy can be passed to another molecule by collision).

  19. Alan Cooper,

    Svante Arrhenius didn’t even have the benefit of undergraduate QM when he formulated his CO2 theory. It was 1896. They knew a little about electricity, but the electron had not been discovered yet. They had the periodic table but much of it was still a mystery – no understanding of the nucleus or how it might have been synthesised – no great understanding of the variation in the properties of chemicals. So much was just not known, or incorrectly understood at the time. With all that in mind, did Arrhenius have much basis for his assumptions.

    His theory was disregarded, only for it to be resurrected later on, in the 20th century.

    John M,

    I’m not getting into a science discussion. And the scientific points you have made are incorrect, but I believe this confusion is a by-product of CO2 warming evangelism – your attempts to think about the subject have clouded your scientific knowledge. The climate scientists do not have access to physics or chemistry no one else has. They have Arrhenius. They have spectrography, but they chose to interpret the spectrographs in the way they chose. They prefer 19th century science over the 20th.

    It’s chemitrails for people who believe they’re too clever to be convinced of the veracity of a claim by their anxieties.

  20. JMRC,

    Certainly I can not discuss science with someone that does not have a scientific mind. My scientific points are not incorrect and my scientific knowledge is very clear. Your response is very typical of any climate change denier that is confronted, never able to provide a response, very similar to deniers of vaccines and evolution.

  21. JMRC, Yes, Arrhenius had as much basis for his assumptions as rocket scientists who rely on Newtonian mechanics to fly to the moon. Just as the planetary orbits predicted by Newton continue to be good approximations to those predicted by General Relativity, so also the thermodynamic principles used by Arrhenius remain valid with just minor variations(except at very low temperatures and/or extreme densities)when classical statistical mechanics is replaced by the quantum version. He didn’t understand the details of how matter interacts with radiation but made assumptions which may actually have contradicted classical theory (which predicted instabilities that we know don’t really happen) and which were eventually justified by quantum mechanics.

    Anyone with a degree in Physics should be able to at least read and understand an explanation of why the basic mechanism still applies (and to see that for it not to lead to warming would depend on the existence of special negative feedback processes that we have no good reason to expect really exist).

    Arrhenius’ calculation of Fourier’s “greenhouse” effect was first made with a view to explaining ice age cycles, but other factors were soon believed to be more significant for that purpose. He did estimate that there should be an anthropogenic global warming effect but noted that at the then current rate of emission it would take a few thousand years to generate the atmospheric CO2 level doubling which he estimated would eventually lead to about a 2 degree increase in average surface temperature, so no one got too excited about that risk at the time. (But since then our population has grown by a factor of about 10 and the average per capita energy consumption has done likewise so what were then millennia are now decades.)

    Serious AGW deniers (and yes, there are some) usually object not to the possibility but rather to the level of certainty claimed by those who think that it is happening. And they base their objections not on denying the (now) well-understood physics of the basic Arrhenius calculation, but rather on arguing that the effect might be suppressed by other secondary effects (most of which may also be understood in terms of classical physics) – or just on questioning whether the statistical analysis of temperature observations has been made totally convincing. I am pretty well convinced that it *is* happening, but getting back to the point of Mike’s original post, I find the level of certainty expressed by some on the left (“the science is settled” being crowed by people who wouldn’t know science if it bit them in the face) almost as disturbing as the willingness of right wingers to assign greater credibility to to whomever seems to say what they want to hear than to the collective majority opinions of most of the world’s major scientific societies.

    P.S. Although the electron was not observed experimentally until 1897 (yes, after Arrhenius, but only by one year) it had been predicted as early as 1874 and was named in 1891.

  22. Alan Cooper,

    Arrhenius’ assumption was not a close classical approximation of quantum phenomenon. He was completely incorrect. He got his alpha constant for his forcings equation from passing light through samples of CO2, and then measuring its’ temperature change. It’s not even close to what people even at the time were doing in spectral analysis.

    The IPCC have bet the farm on Arrhenuis’ Forcings equation. If you examine the equation yourself, you will see C02 is interpreted itself as a heat source, that grows hotter exponentially with concentration. I imagine they may be using this crude equation even more crudely, and increasing their global temperature by the same factor they get from CO2 concentration in Arrenhius’s equation. Add CO2 the temperature goes up, take it away; it falls. I haven’t played around much with the formula but if tiredness is not playing tricks on me, I think you could get temperatures hot enough to melt lead or more, just by increasing the CO2. And I believe Mars would be boiling hot too.

    If you accept Arrenhius in the first place, then you really start going down rabbit holes. Which is why virtually all of the bunking and debunking is incorrect. And in that you’ll have people who are sincere, and people who are insincere (but may believe they’re serving some greater cause by their dishonesty – helping the cause along.) Then you have some incredibly bad people, who are insincere for very bad reasons.

    The politics of environmentalism is very interesting. The CEO of Exxon, Rex Tillerson, is now suing to stop fracking in his own back yard, due to environmental concerns. It’s not that he’s had a Damascene conversion, and seen the light and the error of his ways. His company are fracking wherever they can, and telling everyone it’s safe. If they were allowed, these guys; essentially rich people, would keep their environments pristine, and dump all kinds of lethal toxic wastes where the poor live. This already goes on in the world. They may say they don’t believe in Climate Change, the odds are they do, but believe their wealth will protect them.

    But the rich have had other concerns, where they have deployed conservation of the environment as an excuse, where their true motivations had nothing to with saving the planet. Limits to growth. Essentially an argument against economic equality; that if the poor can consume more the environment cannot sustain them. Rex Tillerson’s suit is against the construction of a water tower, required for fracking in his back yard – but if not that, some rare bird would be discovered living in a nearby cornfield.

    The left generally do have a genuine concern for the environment. The supporters of the left generally do not have Rex Tillerson’s money. They do not want to find themselves sweltering in some CEO’s toxic waste dump. But if you take the instance of the British left, they simultaneously bemoan the decline of the British coal industry, while they wage war on CO2.

    There’s also the pure psychosis of believing a malevolent power is trying to poison the environment. The extreme right would not be able to stomach getting behind the CO2 claim, as it seems the property of the left. So instead they attack the claim, but fluoride in the tap water they’ve turned into a deadly toxin, and the government is spreading chemitrails through aircraft. (their attacks on Climate Change are the most extreme and barmy – even going as far as to claim photons do not exist.)

    Then there is another group that are even more confused. They automatically assume anyone who is seemingly pro-environment is good and correct, and they believe everything; fluoride, CO2, vaccines, etc. Someone with no scientific knowledge, just with the use of a graphics package can make an extraordinary claim and within minutes, millions of people have been “informed” via the internet. Pharmacists, who should be trustworthy, pack their shelves with alternative remedies, even homeopathy.

  23. ” and they believe everything; fluoride, CO2, vaccines, etc.”

    JMRC,
    Do you believe in vaccines? Are they a hoax too? Do they create autism? They were invented before the 19th century so they must be bad.

  24. “Add CO2 the temperature goes up, take it away; it falls. I haven’t played around much with the formula but if tiredness is not playing tricks on me, I think you could get temperatures hot enough to melt lead or more, just by increasing the CO2. And I believe Mars would be boiling hot too.”
    JMRC,

    Perhaps you should investigate Venus. They say it has a run off greenhouse effect, but it must be conspiracy…….

  25. John M,

    “Perhaps you should investigate Venus. They say it has a run off greenhouse effect, but it must be conspiracy…….”

    Over 95% of the atmosphere of Mars is carbon dioxide. Only 0.04% of Earth’s atmosphere is CO2. The average temperature on Earth is 16 Celsius, average Martian temperature; MINUS 55 Celsius..That’s very very cold.

    Do you think there’s a Martian conspiracy to stop runaway Martian warming. Are the little green men running around flapping their little green arms in an effort to keep the place cool.

    Aw yes…Venus…The fiery hell that awaits us if we fail to repent.

    Krauss has given a talk recently; on how science has displaced religion and philosophy. But in certain instances, it’s the neurotic basis of religion that has displaced science.

  26. “Krauss has given a talk recently; on how science has displaced religion and philosophy. But in certain instances, it’s the neurotic basis of religion that has displaced science.

    JMRC
    Really, I think you still need to review Venus and your “sane” ideas about science validity across history and time.
    You have very good rethoric and poor scientific understanding. You forgot to tell me about vaccines, please educate me.

  27. Just some observations

    “The current atmosphere of Venus is about 96% CO2 at 90 times the density of Earth’s (93 million miles from the sun) atmosphere which is about 100 times the density of Mars’ atmosphere. Venus (67 million miles from the sun) has an average temperature of 855 F, while Mercury’s (36 million miles from the sun with virtually no atmosphere) temperature ranges from -300 F to 870 F. Venus is hotter than Mercury in spite of being almost twice the distance from the sun which should make Venus (if it had no atmosphere) about 200 F cooler than Mercury.

    The current thin atmosphere of Mars (142 million miles from the sun) contains 95% CO2 with less than 1% of the atmospheric pressure of Earth. The temperature range is from a high of 98 F to a low of -190 F. This sparse compaction of the greenhouse gas CO2 by Mars’ weak gravitational force is only enough to raise the surface temperature by 9 F.”

    Apparently there are other factors to consider in your calculations. Have you considered to leave science to actual scientists?

  28. John, I’m not going down the rabbit hole with you. It’s tempting, but I know that when we get to the end of any one rabbit hole, there will just be another rabbit hole.

    Just before I go, I’ll say. In Arrhenius’ forcings equation, there’s no reference to either gravity, atmospheric volume, surface area or distance from the sun. The rabbit holes always lead away from the equation, to Venus, Mars, or Mercury, or wherever.

  29. JMRC, you give some good examples of how there are people of all political persuasions who just pick and choose the science or “science” which supports their objectives, but you have been misinformed(in several ways) about Arrhenius and the CO2 “greenhouse” effect. Quantum statistical mechanics predicts basically the same effect as classical thermodynamics which is a *logarithmic* dependence of temperature increase on absolute CO2 concentration (NOT relative concentration so your comment re Mars is out of place). In the absence of poorly understood secondary feedback effects (such as albedo changing due to changes in cloud cover when the temperature changes) both predict that a doubling of CO2 concentration should lead to a few degrees of surface temperature increase. Note that this logarithmic dependence is the OPPOSITE of exponential, and so far as I know no-one has ever suggested that atmospheric CO2 is a “heat source”. I don’t know who told you that nonsense about Arrhenius predicting an exponential effect but you can easily check that they were wrong.

    In general when a “consensus of experts” is challenged by a vocal minority it may not be obvious who is right, so it is very helpful if one party slips into making statements that can easily be checked and found false.

  30. Alan;

    Thank you very much for your comments. It is refreshing to recognize a balanced scientific opinion based on actual facts and understanding. I have been a scientists for more then 20 years in another field, Biology, Biochemistry specially cancer biology and therapeutics. I have gone through many of these challenges to majority by a minority; to my memory as examples: Does tobacco cause cancer? Do vaccines cause autism? Is evolution correct? And many examples around the value of medications for many diseases. Through all these processes I have learnt to trust the scientific system; the truth always emerge with time. But I have also developed very little patience with anyone who belittles, puts down or discredits science as a whole. There is a clear separation between sciences and other disciplines, like religion, politics and philosophy. I consider fair to discuss problems that affect us all coming from these perspectives. But it is completely unacceptable to attack a discipline like science that has fairly gained its reputation and contributed so much to humanity without truly understanding the discipline. And it is even worse to attack it on scientific basis without doing your homework correctly, and being accurate in your statements.
    Not need to say, I deeply believe in science and those beliefs are not in conflict with my interest in philosophy and my political positions. I consider them completely independent and there is always a clear demarcation line.
    Thank you again for your comments and if you can point me to reliable scientists that dissent with climate change I would be very grateful to you.

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