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Reality Laughs Again at North Carolina

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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It’s not just Nate Silver.

Certainly Silver’s election math beat-down is the most noteworthy example of science delivering a dope slap to superstition, to “gut feeling,” to magical thinking: “Come on, you knuckleheads.”

But reality is striking back everywhere – in some places with a kind of fierce appropriateness that borders on comedy, or tragedy, or both. Consider North Carolina, where recent events demonstrated that the age of irony is far from over. It turns out that North Carolina – state legislature motto, “Boo Science!” – is feeling some of the most significant measured effects of climate change in the world.

Recall the North Carolina state legislators who tried to legislate away measurement of sea level rise. Finally, in the face of global ridicule, they decided not to explicitly outlaw the measurements but instead to address the crisis by pledging not to do anything at all for at least a few years. The antiscientist knucklehead behind these crusades, David Rouzer (he also pledged to do away with the Department of Energy because he was shocked to see people there reading books) ran for U.S. Congress and is currently engaged in what promises to be a long and dispiriting recount, though one can hope that his 500-or-so vote deficit holds and the man who resisted scientific evidence because “there could be a negative impact on coastal economies” will not be a member of the U.S. Congress.

Which is where the irony comes in. Because regardless of NC legislation, that whole science thing has kept going on. Which meant that on election day its own self, the Geological Society of America met – in, the universe being the trickster that it is, North Carolina. There, the usual scientific types engaged in more of that sciencey stuff, talking especially about a piece published in June in Nature Climate Change that noted that of global sea level rise hotspots, the North Carolina coast was among the world leaders. 

Due to a lot of factors – subsidence, for example – sea level rise is not uniform all over the world. Some places it accelerates, some places it even slows down. And in North Carolina it’s accelerating, which may lead to a rise of closer to five feet in a century than the three feet or so that got our legislators so exercised in the first place.

So, ha ha – while you’re telling the universe that you don’t care that for its laws of physics, it’s using those very laws of physics to drown you. Laugh now, denier.

Rouzer is at least honest – he doesn’t so much doubt the science as choose to ignore it because there’s short-term money at stake. If any of his descendants have the capacity to tread water, they probably won’t be laughing so hard.


Scott Huler About the Author: A writer who commonly explores science, culture, and the relationship between the two. Follow on Twitter @huler.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Doctor B 12:28 pm 11/10/2012

    This is really an embarrassing post Scott, and certainly not worthy of Scientific American. Yes, the NC legislators are foolish, but this post panders to denigrating us/them thinking that does nothing to move us forward. There is really no need to engage the extreme minority of anti-science, get-rich-now types. I think most Americans can see the poverty of their position without this self-satisfied ridicule you are posting. More wisdom, less yelling, please.

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  2. 2. julianpenrod 1:14 pm 11/10/2012

    This may not be printed becqause it criticizes this blogger and another, likely many other Scientific American bloggers, and Scientific American itself. How interesting that, in another blog article, “Prop 37 Loses, Scientists Cheer”, Christie Wilcox embraced the idea of not informing the public what genetically modified foods they’re eating because it can “mislead and falsely alarm consumers”, causing them to make “rash decisions”. Yet, here, Scott Huler condemns David Rouzer for having misgivings that what Huler characterizes as “scientific evidence” could have “a negative impact on coastal economies”. Again, the same old plaint, it’s wrong if those who aren’t gong to make you rich do it, but right if you do it. Increasingly, “science” is demonsrating its patent inability to do anything that isn’t self servingly craven and malingering, its utter contempt for the “rank and file” as only “beasts of burden” to be fed petrochemical waste deceitfully labeled “medicine” and charged huge amunts for it. Before championing sentiments by either of these two bloggers, it should be noted the disclaimer at the end of botyh blogs, “The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American”. In other words, Scientific American is deliberately distancing itself from what both Ms. Wilcox mand Mr. Huler contend! To the extent that Scientific American is supposed to represent truth, what sort of endorsement is that? For that matter, to the extent that Scientific American is supposed to represent truth, and truth is supposed to be the same for everyone, how much legitimacy does it give Scientific American that they publish comment that they carefully don’t endorse themselves?

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  3. 3. mike_midwest 2:03 pm 11/10/2012

    While David Rouzer deserves the criticism he gets ridicule does little to change those being ridiculed. It would more productive to focus attention on those conservatives who do take science seriously.

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  4. 4. bonetree 2:46 pm 11/10/2012

    Scott – Sure it gets frustrating to watch people deny basic science. And dangerous to watch anti-science dogmatists accumulate political power. But your tone does nothing to help. Instead you increase the ‘us vs. them’ rhetoric, making it harder for significant discourse to take place. And laughing at an entire state? Roughly half of which went for each of the two parties, a state with universities, environmentalists and – yes – scientists, and then suggesting they deserve the coming catastrophe, or, in your words:

    “So, ha ha – while you’re telling the universe that you don’t care that for its laws of physics, it’s using those very laws of physics to drown you.”

    If you’re only interested in scoring easy points against straw-man targets and smirking, maybe you should do it in a forum less likely to damage the conversation the science community desperately needs to have with an uninformed populace.

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  5. 5. huler 4:20 pm 11/10/2012

    Absolutely loving this post-post debate, though I confess to being somewhat flummoxed. The agreement among all commenters is that I should not have posted this criticism of the anti-science forces that not only affect but here in NC largely drive our political process.

    The reasons why I should not have commented vary. I’m being told, on one hand, that I am engaging an “extreme minority” of anti-science types, when the polls showed quite the opposite: as I pointed out, Rouzer came within a whisker of being elected, and the count is far from over. That doesn’t sound like an extreme minority to me. That sounds like half the population, and to me that requires engagement.

    On the other hand I’m being told that this debate must be joined, but I’m dangerously increasing “us vs. them” rhetoric when I should be either ignoring this issue (again: not going to happen) or somehow engaging in gentle debate with people who are either ignoring a crisis because they prefer to make money in the short term or truly believe that scientific evidence doesn’t count unless they happen to like it. My experience? You can’t debate those people — debate is a fundamentally scientific tool, and they’ve proven that science doesn’t interest them. You can’t ignore them, and debate doesn’t work. So harsh criticism and ridicule are the weapons I choose.

    As for climate and its ilk I am all for anything from any perspective that does — and uses — good science and pursues reality. Regarding people like Rouzer, does ridicule change those being ridiculed? Rarely. On the other hand, the piece I wrote here about the original sea level rise legislation was part of a tide of similar pieces that created international scorn that actually helped defeat the original law. So if you’re wondering whether pieces like this have effect, yes — it looks to me like they do, so I will continue writing them.

    By the way — when I wrote that first piece I was criticized by several locals for taking easy shots and lumping all North Carolinians together. Then the legislation sailed out of committee unchanged and unchallenged, and people saw that maybe I had a point. My experience is that smart, educated North Carolinians love pieces like this — they, like me, HATE what antiscience policies do to our state (and our nation and our planet) and are glad when anybody stands up against them.

    The portion of our populace that is truly uninformed rather than willfully ignorant has almost limitless resources to help them understand; they need no further help from this space. Those who choose denial, ignorance, and the pursuit of antiscience policies are almost by definition unreachable through more charitable means. But hollering like hell about what they’re doing seems to help arrange opposition. Which, you may have noticed, I’m for.

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  6. 6. bonetree 9:49 pm 11/10/2012

    “The agreement among all commenters is that I should not have posted this criticism…” If that’s what you got from my comment, I apologize for my lack of clarity. I think there cannot be too much criticism of the climate change denial movement; I think it’s funded by corporate interests and is inimical to the good of the nation and the world; I believe the environment is THE most important political issue today. I was only suggesting your tone does nothing to help. Do I ridicule people with whom I disagree? Yep. And of course I’m alarmed by the ignorance moving us toward ecological disaster, the stupidity of thinking scientists and researchers – rather than petroleum companies – are in it for the money, and I despair to find people who believe the planet is a few thousand years on the House science committee.

    I consider myself somewhat educated about environmental issues and have been paying attention since the 70s. But I still drive a car and log more miles flying than the average American. I have a washer/dryer, drink imported coffee, and in general do little to make things better. If I’m not willing to sacrifice more than I do, it’s hypocritical to blast others for their ignorance: at least they have an excuse.

    We have to have a political solution, with increased regulation, with education about the issues uninfluenced by corporate money. I’m not hopeful, but I’m sure we’re not going to get there if we remain two camps, insisting the others are the stupid ones, rather than actively engage in the conversation. Probably I’m being silly and romantic in thinking Scientific American ought to provide a forum for serious discussion rather than flame-fests. And yes, I’m aware of the climate-deniers who post their ill-informed rants here. (In fact, surprised they didn’t take your bait.)

    So I think you’re on the right side, and I’d even enjoy your snarky comments and ridicule in another forum. But if every possible forum is taken over by flaming the opponent, where can the real conversation take place? Hollering like hell may arrange the opposition, but it also strengthens the cohesion of your enemies, broadens their ranks and makes it more difficult, not less, to bridge the gap.

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  7. 7. payitfwd 11:18 pm 11/10/2012

    “I’m being told, on one hand, that I am engaging an “extreme minority” of anti-science types, when the polls showed quite the opposite: as I pointed out, Rouzer came within a whisker of being elected, and the count is far from over. That doesn’t sound like an extreme minority to me. That sounds like half the population, and to me that requires engagement.”

    EXACTLY! I found it very odd that the first reply to your blog entry claimed that you were referring to an “extreme minority”. What is scary is just how many people still believe that climate change is a hoax or will simply make the weather a little warmer.

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  8. 8. julianpenrod 12:17 am 11/11/2012

    “Science” is finding it increasingly difficult to hide its true nature.
    There was a time when “science” skated by on the common myth that it peddled. That it would answer all problems, that never made mistakes, that it was utterly and completely above reproach. A never ending flood of criminally poorly reseach “medications” and “treatments” has provided a good view of how many if not all “scientists” treasure money over even the welfare of other people. A slew of retractions and alterations and embarrassing errors has “science” changing its tune, no longer promising it will always be right and, instead, championing its supposed willingness to change its mind when it is found wrong. Curiously, though, no “scientific” paper or article includes the disclaimer that the “results” and “conclusions” reported might be found in error or superseded at a later time so they should not be taken as necessarily absolutely reliable. And now, Scott Huler advocates ridicule and mockery to convince others that “science” must be trusted.

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  9. 9. robert schmidt 2:46 am 11/11/2012

    “And now, Scott Huler advocates ridicule and mockery to convince others that “science” must be trusted.” no he advocates ridicule and mockery of idiots. You can include yourself in that group. Your paranoid delusions and complete ignorance make you just like every republican politician, a lot to say about things you know nothing about.

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  10. 10. way2ec 3:01 am 11/11/2012

    Huler, you get my vote. There reaches a point where ridicule is appropriate, and the situation in North Carolina is one of them. Julianpenrod, Huler isn’t advocating ridicule to “convince” others that science “must” be trusted. His reaction is similar to mine, enough is enough, the emperor has no clothes, nonsense is nonsense. There is no science “must” be trusted in this situation… we HAVE the science, measurements can and will be taken on rising sea levels and the rest is poppycock (from Dutch, soft dung). As to the politics involved, Huler gives credit where credit is due, Rouzer is at least honest in his attempts to “ignore” (synonymous with deny?) the measurements and their implications to the people of N. Carolina… but that doesn’t excuse him nor make him less a target for ridicule. Go ahead and ignore the facts but don’t then go on to write legislation that affects the rest of us. And woe (and ridicule) to the politicians who create their own realities out of denial, outright lies, and the idea that science (like knowledge) can be ignored.

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  11. 11. doctordawg 7:02 am 11/11/2012

    Excellent post, Mr. Huler. Willful idiots must be ridiculed. Their idiocy must not be presented as one side of a rational debate, as most the MSM seems to do.

    Even got things ridiculously wrong employing the “on the other hand” approach to every lie uttered these past ridiculous months.

    Where arrogant stupidity is concerned: no quarter.

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  12. 12. MiddleAmericaMS 8:55 am 11/11/2012

    Hey Sci Amer & author Scott Huler, why do you avoid pointing out that its the conservative politicians that are anti-science?

    At least put a frickin’ (R) next to their name.

    Why does the MSM avoid pointing out that one party has gone off the deep end?

    Many folks don’t follow politics & look to the MSM to explain these things, yet the MSM seems to avoid pointing out that the crazy is pretty clearly just the conservatives.


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  13. 13. tharriss 9:14 am 11/11/2012

    I’m with Huler on this… taking the high road simply doesn’t work with deniers… they actively take advantage of your forebearance.

    You can only have an open discussion of different points of view if both sides want an open discussion. Arguing that this well justified riducle closes the door on discussion is missing the fact that the door was already closed by the deniers. They pretend to want rational discourse when it is convenient, but when you attempt to actually engage them in it, they revert to crazy dogma, but if you then refuse the discussion (as they make it impossible) they incorrectly accuse you of the exact type of dogmatic belief that is the core of their positions. Essentially they survive by creating a lose/lose proposition for engaging them.

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  14. 14. tharriss 9:15 am 11/11/2012


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  15. 15. pw378 9:47 am 11/11/2012

    This piece is am embarrassment. Political hackery has no place in science. Science should be focused entirely on finding facts and stating them, it does not need to mock, denigrate or celebrate the failure of others. Science doesn’t need to be ‘the winner’, just accurate and factual.

    Did Georges Lemaître feel a need to spike the ball in Fred Hoyle’s face for being wrong, even after being mocked by him for decades?

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  16. 16. Boo Radley 2:06 pm 11/11/2012

    I’m in with Huler – when did it become PC to accept plain ignorance(greed)? Deniers do not want to discuss. The lose/lose is perfect analogy – ‘cept environmentally damaging issues usually have a monetary payoff for some to do. Hm, politics is always 100% involved – always. Can you say ALEC?

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  17. 17. julianpenrod 3:14 pm 11/11/2012

    So readily the backers of “science” tout the claim that “deniers” never wanted discourse or discussion, that they were never open to having their opinion changed.
    How is that not the case with “science” devotees? I mention chemtrails, they spit out only “they left the door open at theasylum again”, or “put on your tinfoil hat” or “you have to start taking your meds again.”
    Not once with “science” devotees ever, in any case, at any time, engage in genuine discourse on the subject!
    Their attitude always was only “believe what ‘science’ orders you to believe or we’ll call you names”.
    Incidentally, it should be mentioned that there is a significant lockstep coordination among “science” devotees. They used the “asylum” or “looney bin” phrase excluswively until about five years ago, as if programmed. From that time up to only a few months ago, they used “tinfoil hat” exclusively, every single last one. Now, they are turning swiftly to just talking about “taking meds”, as if the order from Thought Control High Command had changed.
    This may cause this not to be printed, but mention the presence of God and see how few have ever engaged in anything other than name calling, deliberately spelling the name of God with a lowercase “g”, or deceitfully blaming religion with all the wars in history. When I pointed out that the claims printed by “science” are all taken without requiring proof by “science” devotees, not one “science” devotee ever came forward to discuss the matter; to describe where “proof” of claims has tangibly been put literally into rank and file” hands; to explain what evidence there is that “scientists” can be trusted, that it’s not all one giant, controlled club of crooks, where you’re allowed into the published, federal “grant” and corporate “endowment” enfranchised circle only after you prove you’re a crook, too. I ask openly for evidence that “fossils” aren’t resin casts or that light really does have the same speed with respect to all observers, and “science” devotees only laugh. They never want to discuss it because they can’t! They talk a good game about deniers not wanting to discuss it, but “science” devotees always refuse to verify anything. They just order people to believe things are true if “science” says it.
    “Science” has beconme a bullying force for trying to enact thought control. The New World Order decides what it wants to harass the public with, then they tell the “scientists” to claim it’s true and the “scientists” order the people to believe them without proof.

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  18. 18. Martin Wirth 7:29 pm 11/11/2012

    Rational debate requires agreement on facts. All the rest is based on opinions and priorities. Climate change deniers are all rotten apples because they deny facts. They deny that the globe is warming despite the factual data collected from thermometers, ice cores, and other physical measurements. Failing that, they deny the cause of global warming by ignoring the known optical properties of gases in the atmosphere. What global warming deniers practice is not ignorance, it’s stupidity.

    Ridicule and mockery should be the least of their worries. A more appropriate response would be tarring, feathering, and a ride on a rail.

    Debating with deniers is a waste of time. If a conservative Republican told the MSM that a dead dog stopped barking because he had a sore throat, they would publish the statement as if it were a valid point of view. This is because MSM is one big corporate media empire run by a conservative plutocracy. Their survival depends on keeping the public stupid and compliant. Dismissing and ridiculing patent nonsense would be a step towards critical thinking, a liberating step for us but an ultimate downfall for them.

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  19. 19. way2ec 11:20 pm 11/11/2012

    @Julianpenrod, I directed a comment to you above. I did not call you names, nor did I ridicule anything you wrote. I do take issue with many of your statements, especially those that include terms like all, never, not once, etc. To quote you, “Not once with “science” devotees ever, in any case, at any time, engage in genuine discourse on the subject!” I have gone so far as to post here in SciAm my thoughts about the intersection of science, physics, metaphysics, and religion, from imagining the Big Bang as God breathing out, giving breath to creation, and if we have the Big Crunch “at the end of time”, God breathing in, another breath, another Big Bang. I have written that if God is everything, everywhere, infinite and timeless, that makes God the Universe, the Universe IS God. I have never been ridiculed, probably because it is so beyond the pale as to have zero bearing on most any topic SciAm posts, with the exception of what is conciousness, and the fact that science and religion(s) are not adversaries. I have commented on Buddhist philosophy, even going so far as to point out that OM is thought to be the “sound” of creation much as the background radiation is the “afterglow” from the Big Bang, meditation like riding the waves of the background radiation of creation, where “everything is everything”. Again probably because comments like these are statistical outliers few have bothered to even comment back, let alone ridicule me. On the other hand I HAVE “questioned” (OK, more or less ridiculed) creationists who, without even a data base, place dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden, to be wiped out AND fossilized in Noah’s flood, leaving ALL other life forms to repopulate the entire planet from the ark, using a 6,000 or 9,000 year time line. What was God “thinking” when he “evolved” Archaeopteryx, and then had it go extinct, and that NONE of this “God stuff” be included in science textbooks. I have asked climate deniers what they think 400 ppm CO2 (and rapidly rising) will mean for the future global climate, on whatever time scale they wish to comment. I have asked deniers to comment on what it means to have already burned half the planet’s oil (carbon sinks) with no plans to even slow down that consumption, let alone what burning the planet’s coal/carbon sinks will do regarding the greenhouse effect. So back at you…Thought Control Central, we have ANOTHER statistical outlier who claims to be a science devotee, goes by the code name way2ec… says it’s better than not hard enough.

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  20. 20. way2ec 1:19 am 11/12/2012

    There were those who opposed Galileo and refused to even look through a telescope, thus ignoring or denying the evidence. Copernicus had his work published after his death to avoid Church condemnation and the Church Inquisition commuted Galileo’s sentence for heresy to house arrest for the rest of his life. In 1992 Pope John Paul II began an apology and in 2000 formally apologized and cleared Galileo of any “wrong doing”. At least in the climate debates we don’t answer to the Church, nor can deniers use scripture to make their case. Using scripture to date the age of the Earth (and the Universe itself) is ridiculous and we need only go back a few hundred years to chart the rapid rise in CO2. So back to Huler, yes, ridicule is appropriate when confronting the ridiculous. It’s not like we are up against the Inquisition on this one, no jihads yet declared on “science devotees”, and this last election shows that politicians pay a price for denial, lies, and yes, ignoring science. Lastly, even if way too many Americans try to stick their heads in the sand, there is a global scientific community weighing in on this. As for rising sea levels, drowning might be too strong of a “joke” in light of losses from superstorm Sandy and catastrophic storms yet to come, but telling the deniers that they will be ridiculed when they are up to their eyeballs would be about right.

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  21. 21. jerryd 4:55 pm 11/12/2012

    Deniers are idiots and the best way to deal with them is ridicule them as it’s the only way they understand. I mean they don’t understand logic do they?

    And even more so for others to understand how stupid they are so others don’t think they are right.

    Shame is a powerful tool to be used when needed. And these in NC need it. Especially when they are putting people and their life, money, investments in harms way.

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  22. 22. Bird/tree/dinosaur/etc. geek 12:28 pm 11/15/2012

    Hilarious! Great article!

    @ the penrod: Still don’t want a “Paranoia Deluxe” tinfoil hat? It even blocks imaginary “New World Order” mind-influencing rays, or your money back!

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  23. 23. Fanandala 3:55 pm 11/16/2012

    Just looking at the map there is no reason why the NC coast should be more impacted by sea level rise than most other places on the east coast. But the article mentions subsidence, there might be also some tectonic plate movement going on, but what has that to do with the current climate change?

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