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Still Bringing the Science Crazy in NC


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So you thought the nuttiest thing we did in North Carolina this week was appoint a director of child development and early education who was against … um, early education.

What’s wrong with you: have you never heard of North Carolina before? This is the NEW North Carolina, with a new governor and bulletproof majorities in both houses of the legislature: Carolinians are calling it “The Reign of Error.” The anti-education educator quickly resigned (the anti-education stance appears to have been only the beginning of the crazy; she wondered on Twitter, for example, whether the 2011 earthquake in Japan may have been caused by ultrasonic waves from North Korea or Japan), but relax: our anti-science scientists are on the case.

Our legislators of course most famously made their bones trying to force scientists not to model sea-level rise, though they regained the spotlight only last month, appointing a leader of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) who believes that oil may be a renewable resource and that the science on global warming is unresolved.

Which brings us right back to global warming. Acting as scientific adviser to the group that led the charge against measuring sea level was one John Droz, who has an MA in solid state science and crusades against things like the belief in climate change and wind energy.

What’s that? You don’t think he has much authority? Then surely you’re part of “the con artist clan” – only one of many epithets he used about the scientific community in an hourlong presentation in front of Carolina legislators and others February 6 that threw a lot of slides around to show that … well, in a general way he asserted that environmentalists are “anti-science agenda promoters,” that environmentalism is a religion, that peer review is a racket, and that … well, more stuff like that. He never actually said “Ignorance is Strength” or “We have always been at war with Eastasia,” but you got the message.

Droz’s slide presentation was called “Science Under Assault,” and you can find a longer version at scienceunderassault.info.

At least the title was right. Sam Pearsall, ecologist and adjunct professor of geography and ecology at UNC-CH, dismissed Droz’s presentation but nonetheless found something to admire: “That was the most remarkable example of propaganda delivered as anti-propaganda I’ve ever seen,” he said.

Sue Sturgis, of the Institute for Southern Studies online magazine Facing South, does a masterful job of demonstrating the bias in Droz’s (mostly uncited) sources:

“Among the publications Droz cited to make his case were Whistleblower, the monthly magazine companion of WorldNetDaily, a website that promotes conspiracy theories about topics such as President Obama’s citizenship; Quadrant, a conservative Australian magazine that was involved in a scandal over publishing fraudulent science; and the Institute for Creation Research, a Texas outfit that rejects evolution and promotes Biblical creationism and the notion that ‘All things in the universe were created and made by God in the six literal days of the Creation Week.’”

One tiny hopeful sign was that there weren’t all that many legislators at Droz’s presentation (though Sturgis linked to an email DENR head John Skvarla’s office forwarded from Droz suggesting people attend).

It’s time for the closing jokes but honestly I’m all out of spirit. North Carolina’s current prosperity has been built on science and education, and the current political leadership has declared war on both. Today, I’m just not finding the funny.

 

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. MiddleAmericaMS 11:58 am 02/8/2013

    Why is the author & Scientific American afraid to point out that its Conservatives aka Republicans that are the problem?

    Its an incredible disservice to your readers to not just bury the headline, but to eliminate it altogether.

    Many people don’t follow politics, so have zero clue that Conservative leaders are anti-science.

    This article completely avoids the main character of the story, Republicans, a word not once mentioned in the entire article.

    Hello journalistic standards?

    :(

    Link to this
  2. 2. RSchmidt 12:54 pm 02/8/2013

    This is so disheartening. What do we do about it?

    Link to this
  3. 3. huler 1:03 pm 02/8/2013

    @RSchmidt, I truly have no idea. That’s one reason I write these pieces — in the hope that someone will have an idea that will help. @MiddleAmericaMS, try to calm down. Yes, these are conservative Republicans. Does anyone not know that? In an effort to avoid labeling I chose to focus on content rather than on affiliation or philosophy. We disagree — surely I can make a different decision than you would have without sacrificing any claim to journalistic standards. And I doubt your point: I suspect few have failed to notice that conservatives and Republicans tend to be — but are far from the only — ones who declare war on actual science. People who need to be told this will I suspect not be much help. The problem is this governor, this legislature, this group of people. That’s what I wrote about.

    Link to this
  4. 4. M Tucker 1:35 pm 02/8/2013

    “It’s time for the closing jokes but honestly I’m all out of spirit. North Carolina’s current prosperity has been built on science and education, and the current political leadership has declared war on both. Today, I’m just not finding the funny.”

    You get what you vote for. If you elect crazy you will get crazy government.

    I should have been noted in the article that “This is the NEW North Carolina, with a new [Republican] governor and bulletproof [Republican] majorities in both houses of the legislature: Carolinians are calling it “The Reign of Error.””

    The NEW Republican Party is now the party of crazy (and stupid).

    Link to this
  5. 5. Sisko 1:46 pm 02/8/2013

    I looked at most of the 155 page slide presentation and do not understand what anyone believes is wrong. Which slide does someone disagree with?

    Link to this
  6. 6. MiddleAmericaMS 3:37 pm 02/8/2013

    Reply to Author Scott Huler – @huler

    I disagree that calling things by their names is labeling. Its a political party & has a name, it’s a ridiculous argument. The article is about Republican politicians, yet that word is glaringly absent.

    That’s why it seems a like logical assumption that you must be afraid to use it. Heck, you didn’t even call them Conservatives.

    Again, these are basic journalistic standards. Its an article is about a political party (Republican) & their political philosophy (Conservative), then isn’t that key & basic information aka context that the article must include?

    And its an incredibly weak argument to say its ok leave out these key words of context based on your assumption that everyone already knows what political party your talking about.

    :(

    Link to this
  7. 7. LauraL 7:42 pm 02/8/2013

    Actually, several Democratic NC lawmakers also voted for the sea level bill. So the “it’s the Republicans” argument isn’t quite accurate.

    Link to this
  8. 8. stargene 10:25 pm 02/8/2013

    Civilizations, democratic or not, rational or
    not, have not been notably successful in hitting
    the brakes and driving in a strongly different
    direction, when faced with looming disasters.
    This is true whether the cliff they drove over
    was social, economic, or environmental.

    I strongly suspect that most of our ‘leaders’
    and many of our communities will remain stupid
    until real disaster is actually raining down
    on their heads, with literally undeniable force
    and mortality. Some of course may continue on
    in relentless stupidity, blaming others and
    probably citing their various gods as punishers
    for “everyone else’s sins” but their own
    stupidity.

    But hopefully most will finally respond to
    what can only be called Natural Consequences
    of foolish behaviors, and then begin to
    jettison cherished beliefs in favor of reasoned
    study and global action. Hopefully before we
    actually reach that cliff.

    Link to this
  9. 9. Cramer 10:35 pm 02/8/2013

    Regarding Droz’s slide presentation, Sam Pearsall said it well: “That was the most remarkable example of propaganda delivered as anti-propaganda I’ve ever seen.”

    Droz spends a lot of time describing the scientific method; and his points on the scientific method are satisfactory. However, he does not make the case that science endeavors of climatologists is garbage science. He does a lot of attacking of the media and the lay public who are not scientists. He merely builds a strawman.

    On Slide 35 Droz attempts to include a scientific study to prove his point about environmentalism being a religion. He provides the abstract of a paper written by Feler Bose which he writes: “The relationship for both models is negative and statistically significant after controlling for the relevant variables. This suggests that being a member in an environmental group is a substitute for participation in a religion.”

    Three slides later (Slide 38), Droz begins to discuss “Using Correlation to imply Causality.”

    Does Droz not realize that’s exactly what he did in slide 35. One can NOT infer from the negative relationship that “Environmentalism is a Subtitute for Religion.”

    That paper is pure scientific garbage:
    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1649225

    Link to this
  10. 10. Martin Wirth 1:48 pm 02/9/2013

    Professor Carlo M. Cipolla set forth an excellent description of this problem in his 1987 thesis, The Basic Laws of Human stupidity.

    See: http://www.ecotopia.com/webpress/stupidity/

    You cannot reach stupid people and they are dangerous. In this case, the stupid people are being driven by the bandits of the oil business. Some of you may question my assertion. Bandits, you say?

    Yes, they are bandits because they foist all risk and costs for their business on the collective known as society while keeping the profits for themselves and, in many cases, paying zero taxes.

    Scientists, in general, make the problem worse because they are striving to reach stupid people with reason. This is doomed to failure. Observe that they are easily reached by religion. Their religious leaders, of all the people in the world, know best how to manage their stupidity.

    Given that the Earth and man was created by God. Would it not be a terrible sin to turn the beautiful Earth into a scream-filled inferno and wasteland? Go forth with the theologically sound principle that to destroy and befoul this pleasant gift of God is to loose one’s soul to the everlasting infernal regions.

    Now we’re getting somewhere.

    Link to this
  11. 11. Cramer 2:40 pm 02/10/2013

    Sisko asks, “Which slide does someone disagree with?”

    In John Droz’s slide presentation, he is providing lessons on the scientific method for a nonscientific audience. The main points of this lessons are spot on. Here are two of his points: “Correlation Does NOT prove Causation!” and “Seeing the WHOLE Picture is Critical” [note: capitalization is from Droz]. These are correct. The problem is in the examples he provides. Most of his examples violate the scientific point he is making. I already pointed out one example in my previous comment about correlation and causation.

    In his example about “Seeing the WHOLE Picture” Droz does not give the whole picture. [Lesson begins on Slide 99 in his long form presentation and Slide 81 in his short form presentation -- Slide is titled, "7 - Using Selective Data to imply Actuality."]

    Droz writes, “One of the four Scientfic Process elements is to be comprehensive. Using selective data violates that.” I agree with that. However, Droz then asks the question “what do the ice core samples from Greenland tell us about how our climate today compares to the past?” Over the next several slides Droz presents GISP2 derived tempurature data. He presents the data in a way to show how people (climatologists?) misrepresent data.

    Droz’s graphs came from Anthony Watts who graphed the temperature data created by Richard Alley’s isotope analysis of GISP2 in 2000. The youngest data point is 0.0951409 (thousand years before year 2000). That corresponds to the year 1905. Anthony Watts is discussing J. Storrs Hall attempt to debunk the hockey stick data (and Watts agrees with the garbage from Hall).

    Does the GISP2 data represent the “WHOLE picture” of “our climate today?”

    First, “our climate” can only mean global climate. I doubt anyone would refer to the climate of only Greenland as “our climate” unless they lived in Greenland.

    Second, GISP2 is not global data. It’s a proxy for the temperature at one point above the Arctic Circle. Temperature anomalies need to be combined from around the globe. Antartica temperatures tends to offset Greenland temperatures.

    Third, his data is only to 1905. Is that a good representation of “our climate today.”

    The J Storrs Hall garbage science was already debunked two years ago, here:
    http://www.skepticalscience.com/crux-of-a-core1.html

    Droz’s entire slide presentation follows this same theme of dilusion and/or lies. Who is really using “some tricks to fool the trusting and unwary…?”

    Link to this
  12. 12. karenalcott 4:25 pm 02/10/2013

    I agree with Mr. Wirth, in fact orthodox Christians, like Greek and Russians and Catholics like Romans and Old Orders and even the oldest Protestants, like Anglicans and Lutherans, do believe that man has a God given duty to protect the Earth and the creatures on it and that science is the method for studying the works of God. The problem with science for Republicans is exacerbated by the fact that they are in thrall to the petrochemical lobby, but the problem for “Social Conservatives” who are now all Republicans began long ago, with evolution, geology and birth control and it was not because of Christians. It was because of a uniquely American strain of Christianity that arose in the 1800′s in the rural south. These folks have always been poorly educated in all respects, including Religion and history, even their own. Untill the advent of special conservative Christian colleges, some of their clergy were illiterate and most could never hope to aquire a degree in divinity.
    Maybe the best hope is to focus on adult litteracy and biblical history classes, for this crowd. After all it couldn’t hurt to at least prove to them, that it is an abomination in the eyes of God to have sex with any relative or marry your cousin. Then may be their grandkids would be up for a little science education.
    And yes I have met people from towns where everyone is related to some degree and everyone marrys locally. Some of them believe the SAT is a cruel goverment plot to make them feel stupid and that is normal for most kids to graduate from high school and still not be able to decipher a recipe in a cook book.

    Link to this
  13. 13. TonyTrenton 6:22 am 02/12/2013

    It is all so simple really;

    A really democratic nation, gives each member the freedom to make responsible choices within that society.

    If I am taught as a child to respect another’s freedom to make responsible choices. And you are also respectful of my freedom to make responsible choices.

    There is no conflict !!!

    The trouble is; America does not know what democracy is!

    The abstract nouns; Democracy & Freedom don’t have any meaning without an adjective to describe their function.

    Just like the public were conned into the slogan ‘Change’.

    They didn’t ask what sort of change !!!

    It is the prime responsibility of women who choose to bring other people into the world.

    That they teach their children from day one that they must be responsible for their own thoughts, feelings and actions.

    Women are responsible for all the suffering of their offspring.

    Because it was their selfish choice to get pregnant in the first place!!!

    Link to this
  14. 14. TonyTrenton 6:30 am 02/12/2013

    The world needs a definition of ‘Democracy’so that we are all on the same page.

    It is not just the freedom to vote for your leaders.

    Even so; The population of Gaza voted for a terrorist group to lead them. Therefore they are responsible for the actions of their leaders.

    There are no innocent civilians in Gaza !!!

    Link to this
  15. 15. Cramer 2:34 pm 02/12/2013

    TonyTrenton said, “There are no innocent civilians in Gaza !!!”

    That is a very disturbing statement. It is interesting that TonyTrenton also said that “America does not know what democracy is!” and “the public were conned into the slogan ‘Change’.” This would suggest that TonyTrenton believes American civilians are innocent since they are either ignorant or were conned. I am assuming TonyTrenton believes the civilians in Gaza were not conned. Does he also believe the children of Gaza are not innocent? Very sad.

    Link to this
  16. 16. huler 2:53 pm 02/12/2013

    @Cramer I believe we can comfortably dismiss the comments of someone who has tried to turn a conversation on science and fact into an irrational screed on the Middle East. Further such posts will be removed. And @LauraL, thanks for pointing out the less-than-monolithic character of votes. This is an issue about science and falsehood, not politics, though one can understand the temptation to make it so.

    Link to this
  17. 17. jonathanseer 5:24 pm 02/15/2013

    Huler you are 100% wrong about people knowing that it’s social conservative Republicans behind this.

    The simple reason is the vast majority of voters only start to pay attention to the politicians running for office about a week or so before they vote.

    The extreme conservatives KNOW this, and INHERENT in their tactics has been strong efforts to CONFUSE the recipients of their message.

    By the time the main election comes around, they have morphed into moderate sounding politicians that you’d never guess would do the things they are doing after they gain office.

    This has happened over and over, and always the reason is the same, people like you think “people know”.

    NO they don’t.

    Did not get what the Romney campaign meant when they said they’d RESET their campaign?

    They did and came close to succeeding in large part, because so many people did NOT know he was pushing a “severely conservative” agenda (his own words) one that he could not sell on its merits.

    If you are against what the NC legislature is doing, then every time you mention it you should say their party affiliation.

    If you don’t you are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

    Link to this
  18. 18. jonathanseer 5:30 pm 02/15/2013

    follow comment

    Link to this

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