Monday, April 14, 2008

More "Expelled," plus some global climate change

I hate to beat a dead horse here. Who am I kidding? It's what I live for.

Anyway, after making my post on Ben Stein's Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed yesterday, I spent a little bit of time checking out the link I read various articles and reviews of the film, and I even checked out some online debates that were posted to various blogs and online forums.

Apparently, this crap is even worse than I expected. Many of the reviewers pointed out the fact that the show really doesn't even bother spending time giving the most basic definitions of evolution (you know, gradual changes over time gives way to new species) or intelligent design. That's probably a good idea, because evolution deniers tend to prefer knocking down strawmen to actually addressing the real issues. What's far more egregious about this movie is that it has Ben Stein visiting a holocaust memorial while drawing links between Darwin's theory and Nazism and Imperialism. I find the very notion to be offensive to the extreme. I'm sorry, but Darwin's theory and Hitler's idealogy have nothing to do with one another. Besides, it's not like Jews were treated with the utmost respect before Darwin came along. How can anybody swallow this shit?

Of course, if you check out the online debates, you keep hearing the same old arguments from the creationist/ID side. They point out that evolution is "just a theory." (So is gravity! Scientists don't mean the same thing when they say "theory" as you do!) They say that scientists are increasingly abandoning Darwin's ideas. (They aren't.) They even talk about the beginnings of life and the origins of the solar system. (Evolution has nothing to do with either.) Same old, same old.

Why use these styles of argument? Obviously, because they work. Why do they work though? Mainly it's because people are poorly informed on the real issue, so these things sound like good arguments to them. Most people aren't going to take the time to get informed, so we're going to keep hearing these same arguments again and again.

This brings me to global warming, or to be more accurate, global climate change. I haven't spent as much time reading about this as I have about evolution. Honestly, that stands to reason, as I always enjoyed my Biology classes whereas my Chemistry/Physical Science classes seemed like a bit of a chore. I did see Al Gore's movie though, and I've read some critiques of it and the notion that humans are affecting the climate in general.

I don't feel as confident with this one as I do with the whole evolution thing, but it seems to me that this might be a similar type of argument as the one about Intelligent Design. It seems like there are people who are doing honest science and then there are those who have an agenda. Oh, and the honest ones are saying that human activity is taking its toll.

I say this because I know for a fact that many of the critics use the same tactics as the ID proponents. In other words, they capitalize on the fact that most people are fairly ignorant about science and then create arguments that sound good to anybody who doesn't know what they're talking about. However, whenever I research these arguments further, I find out that they're bunk.

Allow me to be specific. One thing that the critics like to point out is that the Earth has always had highs and lows throughout its history. That's correct, but the facts show that we are warming at a rate much higher than ever seen before, and this corresponds with the amount of pollution that we're pumping into the air.

Another one is the whole thing about how supposedly the scientists were wrong before because there was a hysteria about "global cooling" in the '70s. I even had a student bring forth an article from that time when he did his speech saying that global warming was bunk. That sounded pretty convincing to me. That is, until I found out that article was pretty much all there was to the "hysteria." Not only that, but it wasn't even something from a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Recently, somebody pointed out that the hottest years in the past century were in the 1930s. Yet again, my skepticism grew. However, when I asked one of the science teachers at my school about that, he was well aware of it and explained how that when we're looking at "global climate change" (a more accurate phrase than "global warming," he told me) we're looking at overall patterns that go back over a thousand years. Apparently, the data is out there in the form of tree rings and even monastic records.

This seems to be the pattern. I hear something that gets me skeptical, then I get my answers pretty readily. Seems to me that those who are adamant about denying the human impact on climate change are satisfied with those arguments and just leave it at that. Not only that, but there are also a bunch of other tired arguments that they keep repeating. Often, it seems like all they can do is attack Al Gore. Who gives a crap about Al Gore? He made a movie about it. He didn't make up the idea!

Shoot, I remember reading about this in Carl Sagan's book, Billions and Billions. That came out more than ten years ago. It's been some time, but he was able to explain the process in some detail that even a layperson could understand.

Another thing is that this seems to be another thing where the vast majority of scientists are saying one thing, but there are a few dissident voices out there (oftentimes with ties to oil companies) who are saying something else. One thing I know about science is that scientists publish their work in peer-reviewed journals. In other words, scientists are practically eager to point out the flaws in the work of their peers! It's what makes the scientific process so amazing - there are no sacred cows, and if you're going to assert something, then dammit, you're going to have your colleagues letting you know if you screwed it up!

I'm 99% certain that the Intelligent Design proponents are in the wrong. (I think it's bad to ever be 100% certain of anything - only crazy people and religious fundamentalists are 100% certain of anything.) How about the critics of global warming? I'm about 85% certain that they're full of crap.

Maybe you might know some arguments that I haven't heard. I'm willing to hear them, but realize that I'm going to follow up on them.


Dan said...

I just learned yesterday about this new Ben Stein movie. Boy, are they starting to really push it. I spent yesterday working from home with the TV on -- with the Science channel on most of the day. Seems like every commercial break had an ad for this. Even though I know that it will probably be a huge steaming pile, I am still very curious. I will probably see the movie anyway...

As far as global warming. Yes, I hear the same type of arguments as you do from people. Have heard the one about how "the warming and cooling is just a natural process that the Earth goes through" -- completely ignoring the data that shows it is now getting much hotter than any previous peak going back thousands of years. I even had someone try to convince me that 2007 was one of the coldest years on record (WTF?). A simple Google will confirm from many reputable sources that it is exactly the opposite. Turned out that his source was some right-wing talk radio.
I also cannot stand whenever I see those like Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity criticize Gore for flying around the world in his jet or for having a mansion that uses a lot of energy. We need a leader to keep spreading this message to everyone. Um, travelling by jet is really the only option now for quick worldwide travel. And, I hardly think that the pollution from his plane is contributing a whole lot to the problem anyway.
And, Gore did exactly what he was proposing in his movie (at the end) by reducing his mansion's carbon footprint as much as possible. I read that he had a bunch of green upgrades installed such as solar panels to reduce power consumption, thereby reducing his carbon footprint. But, I guess those critical of him figure he should be riding a bike and living in a teepee -- otherwise he has no right to complain. Typical attitude of right wingers...

Lance Christian Johnson said...

Right wingers are fond of attacking the person rather than the argument that they're making. Either that, or they like to make up an argument that nobody's even saying so they can easily knock that down.

You're a more tolerant man that I am if you see that movie. Honestly, I like to think that I'm open minded, but I doubt that anybody would begrudge me if I skipped a movie that criticized the theory of gravity.

Like I said, if you see it, let me know if it actually has something new to say. I'll let you be the guinea pig.