‘Science isn’t settled’ is an old trick


Psychologists have known for years that people respond to scientific or technical evidence in ways that justify their pre-existing beliefs. Studies show the rejection of evidence contradicting strong beliefs happens in milliseconds and usually beneath our conscious awareness.

We’ve seen some local examples of what psychologists call “motivated reasoning” when it comes to the abundant evidence that our climate is changing.

Jim Robles seems to have convinced himself there’s a contradiction between two recent articles in The New York Times. In January, the newspaper reported 2012 was the hottest year recorded in U.S. history, according to weather reports going back to 1895.

In March, The Times reported a new analysis of global temperature history, analyzing microscopic ocean creatures, shows current temperatures are the hottest in 4,000 years.

It’s hard to believe Mr. Robles even read the articles in question.

One article says clearly scientists “doubt that such a striking new (U.S.) record would have been set without the backdrop of global warming caused by the human release of greenhouse gases. And they warned that 2012 was probably a foretaste of things to come, as continuing warming makes heat extremes more likely.”

But that’s the power of our unconscious evidence filtering.

There’s another form of grasping at straws to maintain existing beliefs, persistent claims that “the science isn’t settled.” This tactic was pioneered by the tobacco industry, which hired a formerly reputable head of the National Academy of Sciences to direct $45 million in “research” on the health effects of tobacco.

That worked so well in maintaining cigarette sales for a couple of decades it became the tool of choice for any industry or group wanting to prevent or delay regulations that might crimp its profit margins.

Does lead in gasoline end up in children’s bloodstream? Do CFCs in refrigerants damage the ozone layer? Does sulfur dioxide from coal-burning power plants cause acid rain? Sorry, the science just isn’t settled yet. Check back later.

Anyone interested in learning more about how “the science isn’t settled” has been used repeatedly as a corporate-profit smoke screen should read “Merchants of Doubt” by Naomi Oreskes.

For a quick introduction to the real science of climate change, read “A World Without Ice,” by a University of Michigan geophysicist with decades of field experience in Antarctica. Both are available at the Walla Walla Public Library.

Bart Preecs

Walla Walla



Iopine says...

Maybe one would like to check out: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/11/sci...

It seems a lot of folks are standing in a rut and not allowing other viewpoints to expound except to agree with there ideology. Letters are a good starting point to expand your knowledge on Mother Nature.

Posted 14 June 2013, 8:53 a.m. Suggest removal

blue_streak says...

It is an interesting article, thanks for the reference. Did you read far enough down to note this:

"Now, here is a crucial piece of background: It turns out we had an earlier plateau in global warming, from roughly the 1950s to the 1970s, and scientists do not fully understand that one either. A lot of evidence suggests that sunlight-blocking pollution from dirty factories may have played a role, as did natural variability in ocean circulation. The pollution was ultimately reduced by stronger clean-air laws in the West."
"What happened when the mid-20th-century lull came to an end? You guessed it: an extremely rapid warming of the planet."

It's always a good idea to read beyond the headline.

Posted 15 June 2013, 5:36 p.m. Suggest removal

Iopine says...

Wow - I did happen to read the entire article and also comprehended that stated "may" have played a role. It would help when one does read the article to leave in the context and not insinuate your own. Thank you.

Posted 16 June 2013, 1:30 p.m. Suggest removal

stvsngltn says...

After reading Bart's letter I'm left wondering what the psychologists call those who base their knowledge about anthropogenic "climate change" on newspapers .... or even one book? Not “motivated reasoning”, I'm sure. The use of the phrase "the science isn't settled" is completely legitimate when catastrophic climate change alarmists are constantly saying that it IS settled ... that "deniers" are all wrong and should shut up. The VERY obvious conclusion if one does the proper and necessary research is that the science is FAR from settled and the onus should be on the "warmists" to PROVE their case .... before they totally destroy our economy (and harming people all over the world) in a frivolous effort to fight a nonexistant problem.

Posted 16 June 2013, 10:26 p.m. Suggest removal

downhillracer says...

"Destroy our economy".. "frivolous effort".. "non-existant problem".

Just exactly what the Oil Companies want you to shill. Decades upon decades of actual, fact-based research indicates quite the opposite.

Posted 17 June 2013, 9:57 a.m. Suggest removal

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