Category Archives: Science

Political fires: climate debate shifting in Australia, not to Abbott’s liking

Historians have long appreciated the weather can have a profound impact on the course of events.

A spring drought on eve of the French Revolution pushed up food prices, and was the final spark that pushed a hungry populace to revolt. Two bitterly cold winters destroyed the imperial ambitions of both Napoleon and Hitler in Russia. In the thirteenth century a “divine wind” saved the Japanese from Mongol invasion.

The weather can be both capricious and unpredictable, especially when it wrecks havoc upon the ambitious plans of generals and politicians. The weather can rob would-be emperors of certain victories.

Given humanity has now loaded the dice for more extreme weather events by continuing to alter the planet’s atmosphere and climate, it is virtually certain increasing political disruption will follow extreme weather events with greater frequency.

This is the lesson both the Abbott government and Australian population are now learning.

The Abbott government was elected on the promise of dismantling the price on carbon introduced by the previous Labor government. Helped by a vicious anti-Labor and anti-science campaign by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, they cruised into office promising a government of grownups.

But then New South Wales burned, changing the political landscape.

Very quickly Abbott and News Corp lost control of the climate change narrative. Desperate to disavow any links between the extraordinary fires and climate change, Abbott and his Environment Minister Greg Hunt fumbled badly in trying to control the message. According to both these men the fires could not, would not and should not be linked to the science.

To their frustration the public refused to listen and made the obvious connections.

Abbott simply dismissed the connection, and came across as stubborn and intractable. Day-by-day, Abbott is looking increasingly uncertain and strangely timid in office. His infamous bovver boy and mischief-making style is proving ill-suited for the role of Prime Minister. When he can’t attack, he freezes like a deer in headlights.  

Greg Hunt became an international laughing-stock with his now infamous “I looked it up on Wikipedia” comments.

Thanks to the fires, everyone is talking about climate change.

We need to appreciate the profound shift taking place in the Australian climate debate, and how the NSW fires are contributing to this.

Bare in mind these fires follow the flooding and Tasmanian fires of late 2012 and early 2013. These fires follow the battering New York took during Hurricane Sandy. These fires follow Cyclone Yasi. These fires follow the holocaust that killed almost 200 Victorians during Black Saturday in 2009.

A pattern is emerging, and people are noticing the climate regime has shifted. This fact is intuitively understood and accepted by the public who are often the victims of such events. Watching your home burn, your town flooded or choking on the acrid smoke of the fires that have drifted into the heart of Sydney will put to rest most people’s lingering scepticism.

For this reason both Abbott and Hunt are furiously stating they accept the science. Abbott may think climate change is “crap”, but it is now unacceptable for the PM to state this belief in public.

Those fighting the sceptic movement can take heart that climate change denial in Australia is a spent political force, consigned to the margins and conspiracy theory enthusiasts. 

However the events of this week are also a harbinger of the shape fires and political disruption to come.

In discussing the politics of climate change in Australia we’ve focused almost solely on the policies (or lack thereof) of the major parties and the Greens.

We’ve spent an inordinate amount of time dissecting and critiquing the role of the media. We’ve also convinced ourselves the future of the carbon price is dependent on the makeup of the Senate and the voting behaviors of the micro-parties.

Partisans on both sides of the debate have assumed the debate was about careful messaging, well-considered opinion pieces in the major dailies and peppering the media with sound bites.

But no one has talked about the weather and it’s potential to disrupt and reshape Australian politics.

Generals and conquerors in the past have learnt through bitter defeat the climate can wipe out entire armies, fleets and political ambitions. We’ve forgotten these lessons from history.

However the fires of NSW has taught us history is back with a fiery vengeance.

History is roaring back into life in the shape of a firestorm, laying waste to vast tracts of the bush, rural communities and the ambitions of the Prime Minister.

Those who forget the impact of extreme weather events on politics are doomed to fall prey to its unpredictable nature.

Just ask the Prime Minister.

What keeps scientists up at night: must see video from the Climate Institute that gives scientists a voice

Very much worth watching, this great video from The Climate Institute:

Description:

“On 27 September 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) releases the Fifth Assessment Report of its working group on the science of climate change. Thousands of scientists from the world’s leading research bodies, including the CSIRO, together with thousands more expert reviewers, contribute to the assessment of climate science by the IPCC. The reports of the IPCC set the context in which international climate negotiations take place, national climate policy is developed, and many firms make long-term investments.

Ahead of the report’s release we interviewed 20 climate scientists from the University of New South Wales, University of Melbourne, Monash University and CSIRO to find out how we can close the gap between the science and public opinion.”

Great work CI, and wonderful to hear the voices of scientists not distorted by a hostile media.

Please socialise this via your networks, the more people who see this the better.

Leaked IPCC report confirms scientists have “95% confidence” we’re changing the climate

95sure

From the Jakarta Globe:

Climate scientists are surer than ever that human activity is causing global warming, according to leaked drafts of a major UN report, but they are finding it harder than expected to predict the impact in specific regions in coming decades.

The uncertainty is frustrating for government planners: the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the main guide for states weighing multibillion-dollar shifts to renewable energy from fossil fuels, for coastal regions considering extra sea defenses or crop breeders developing heat-resistant strains.

Drafts seen by Reuters of the study by the UN panel of experts, due to be published next month, say it is at least 95 percent likely that human activities – chiefly the burning of fossil fuels – are the main cause of warming since the 1950s.

That is up from at least 90 percent in the last report in 2007, 66 percent in 2001, and just over 50 in 1995, steadily squeezing out the arguments by a small minority of scientists that natural variations in the climate might be to blame.

That shifts the debate onto the extent of temperature rises and the likely impacts, from manageable to catastrophic.

Governments have agreed to work out an international deal by the end of 2015 to rein in rising emissions.

More details to come.

Not that it is a surprise to many of us.

California feels the heat: new report notes impact of climate change “significant and growing”

2008 Fires: California has seen an increasing incidence of wildfires

Climate change is not a problem for the distant future, or an issue that can be left to future generations to fix. The impacts are real and being felt today.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

California is feeling the effects of climate change far and wide, as heat-trapping greenhouse gases reduce spring runoff from the Sierra Nevada, make the waters of Monterey Bay more acidic and shorten winter chill periods required to grow fruit and nuts in the Central Valley, a new report says. 

Though past studies have offered grim projections of a warming planet, the report released Thursday by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment took an inventory of three dozen shifts that are already happening. 

“The nature of these changes is that they’re occurring gradually, but the impacts are significant and growing,” said Sam Delson, a spokesman for the health hazard assessment office, a branch of the California Environmental Protection Agency. 

Among the effects detailed in the report: The number of acres burned by wildfires in California has been increasing since 1950, with the three worst fire seasons occurring in the last decade. Sea surface temperatures at La Jolla have risen by about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit over the last century, twice as much as the global average. Glaciers in the Sierra Nevada are shrinking, and water in lakes, including Lake Tahoe and Mono Lake, has warmed over the last few decades. 

The changes associated with global warming can be irregular. Sea level rise in California, for instance, has bucked the global pattern and leveled off over the last two decades, the report notes. 

But the overall trend is overwhelming, scientists say.

Welcome to the new normal.

Image source: No Caption Needed

Desperately seeking paradigm shifts: sceptics looking for new ways to attack consensus

Lu_paper

Paradigm shift, really?

Anti-science movements evolve: new sceptic lines of attack

The recent paper by John Cook et.al. clearly showing 97% consensus among scientists that the globe has warmed in response to human activities over the last 150 years seems to have rattled large parts of the sceptic movement.

And while they have been bitterly complaining about the paper, their criticisms have failed to spill over into the mainstream media. Their counter arguments remain firmly lodged within the alternative knowledge sphere they have constructed for themselves.

Failing to gain any real traction in undermining the Cook paper, their tactics are now shifting.

The new line of attack is to undermine the idea that a scientific consensus is stable. Drawing on popular notions of the lone scientific genius (aka The Galileo Gambit) and the history of science, they are beginning to stress the instability of scientific consensus.

How effective that is remains to be seen. It may not be enough to dissuade the public from their growing appreciation a scientific consensus exists, but they’re going to give it a good try.

The hullabaloo over Lu

This may explain why of late sceptics and papers such as The Australian have latched onto the deeply flawed paper by Qin Bin Lu claiming CFCs are to blame for global warming, not CO2. Their strategy is simple:

  • Claim the Lu paper has overturned the 97% consensus
  • Suggest that even if the Lu paper has not overturned the 97% consensus, then consensus can be changed at a moments notice
  • Therefore it would be foolish to act on climate change given these scientific uncertainties.

Whether they continue to champion Lu’s paper or not is besides the point. The tactic is designed to achieve two outcomes. Firstly, continue to undermine the public’s understanding a consensus exists. Secondly, undermine the idea of a stable and enduring consensus on any issue.

This in fact may be even more dangerous than previous lines of attack if one considers the implications of such thinking.

If the public understands there is consensus, they’re more ready to accept the science

While the public has mistakenly thought a debate between scientists has existed this is starting to change. That their attitudes can shift matters.

A study published last year in Nature Climate Change demonstrated that if informed a scientific consensus exists, the average member of the public is more likely to accept the science of climate change:

Although most experts agree that CO2 emissions are causing anthropogenic global warming (AGW), public concern has been declining. One reason for this decline is the ‘manufacture of doubt’ by political and vested interests, which often challenge the existence of the scientific consensus. The role of perceived consensus in shaping public opinion is therefore of considerable interest: in particular, it is unknown whether consensus determines people’s beliefs causally. It is also unclear whether perception of consensus can override people’s ‘worldviews’, which are known to foster rejection of AGW. Study 1 shows that acceptance of several scientific propositions—from HIV/AIDS to AGW—is captured by a common factor that is correlated with another factor that captures perceived scientific consensus. Study 2 reveals a causal role of perceived consensus by showing that acceptance of AGW increases when consensus is highlighted. Consensus information also neutralizes the effect of worldview.

Such acceptance cuts across the left-right political spectrum. For obvious reasons, the very idea of a consensus is considered anathema to the sceptics.

But if the average person can be primed to accept the science in response to understanding a consensus exists, what lines of attack can we expect from the sceptics?

Enter Lu and the idea of consensus being inherently unstable.

The would-be paradigm shifter: Lu at Waterloo

For those unfamiliar with this weeks drama in climate science, Qing Bin Lu at the University of Waterloo (NZ) claims to have overturned the scientific consensus on global warming.

It is CFCs, not CO2 to blame. As noted, this theory has long been discredited.

Lu’s paper has been championed by The Australian, other sections of the conservative press and politicians as evidence the scientific paradigm on global warming has been “overturned”.

His claims have been examined and dismissed numerous times, yet Lu persists promoting his discredited theory [for good commentary see Eli Rabett here and here].

I suspect it’s revival and championing by sceptics has something do with the success of the Cook et.al paper and shifting public attitudes. 

Luntz Mark II: desperate attempts to keep the debate going

For those with long memories or an appreciation of the history of the climate debate, maintaining public confusion was one of the central strategies suggested in the notorious Frank Luntz memo.

Luntz, a Republican operative during the Bush years suggested Republican politicians push the idea the scientific debate remained open. In 2002 Frank Luntz instructed Republican politicians to question the scientific consensus:

Luntz

Thus, if the public comes to understand there is a 97% consensus, their views on global warming and the policy options available to them will change. Right? We crack what is the hardest nut in the debate. 

But the merchants of doubt have a new product. With the Lu paper they are attacking the idea of a stable scientific consensus. They are tweaking their long running strategy of claiming scientific issues (not merely the consensus) remains open

It is Luntz Mark II.

Consensus: a stable ground for policy formation, or not?

The climate debate in the public sphere is not about the science: it is about policy formation.

Policies designed to mitigate climate change have been effectively stalled for decades in large parts of the world at the global level.

The sceptic position, unlike that of the IPCC or scientists is not policy neutral. In fact, sceptics and their backers are specific on policy: keep taxes on industry low, constrain or dilute environmental regulations and ensure markets remain “free”.

But if the public, and by extension politicians, accept the consensus then movement within the policy arena shifts from inaction to action.

So what are the sceptics doing in response to this perceived shift in opinion?

Shifting the debate from being about the percentages of scientists accepting a theory to that of a consensus position being insufficiently stable to form the basis of policy formulation. 

It is well-known scientific uncertainty is a problem within the policy making sphere. One just has to look at how delayed the social response and regulation over the risks of tobacco smoking significantly lagged the scientific consensus.

Thus the sceptics are re-formulating their line of attack to influence both public perception and the policy sphere with this new wedge strategy.

Lone-genius-scientific-paradigm-busting-superstar: re-framing the question of scientific uncertainty and consensus 

Rather than suggesting the scientists are at odds over the science, they’ve taken it a step further. They are now re-framing the question of how stable a scientific consensus can ever be

It is the Galileo Gambit, the idea that all it takes is one individual (or one paper) to radically transform our understanding of the world.

Lu is this weeks would-be climate sceptic Galileo. Next week, next month it will be some other obscure scientist with an equally improbable hypothesis.

They’re looking for someone – anyone – to shift the scientific paradigm. Because if the paradigm “shifts’ (or has the possibility of shifting) then climate change is “not real”. Then the sceptics can continue to argue the debate is not over.

This new line of attack needs to be given consideration.

Anti-science movements don’t fade away they evolve: the long debate has barely begun

The_cow_pock

The vaccine debate is 200 years old

I appreciate not everyone will find the following prognosis cheery, but I think there is some validity to it.

Anti-science movements never truly fade away, their popularity ebbs and flows. Their arguments and tactics evolve and adapt.

They are long-lasting, multi-generational movements that sometimes fade into obscurity (as far as official keepers of knowledge are concerned) and re-emerge in periods of crisis.

Take vaccination as but one example.

The above cartoon by James Gillray from 1802 captures the fear that inoculation against cowpox would lead to cow like appendages sprouting from a person’s body. Indeed, it was produced for the anti-vaccination movement of the day.

Two centuries later, despite the obvious benefits and success of mass vaccination, serious doubt has crept into the public’s consciousness. We are now seeing a resurgence of diseases such as measles and whooping-cough once thought under control. As fewer people vaccinate their children, herd immunity decreases and we’re faced with resurgent pathogens. Children die.

Let us consider another example.

The Creationist movement of the 1920s started out with a very primitive set of arguments against evolution derived from criticisms stemming from the mid-to-late 19th century opposition to Darwin. The Scopes Monkey trial of the 1920s saw them suffer a setback.

The movement was dormant for several decades, as it faded into the background, a tenant of a variety of Evangelical churches in the United States. But slowly in the 1950s it began to re-emerge. In the 1970s advocates renamed Creationism “Creation Science” and gained success in promoting it as an alternative theory to the Evolutionary consensus.

Suffering a number of setbacks in a series of court tussles, creationists again reformulated the basic tenants of creationism and labelled it Intelligent Design.

The climate sceptic movement is no different. They will adapt and reformulate their lines of attack.

This broad trend needs to be given consideration.

 

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Debunking the myths of the anti-Fluoridation movement: spread the word

Tim over at New Anthropocene has put together a list of the more common myths pushed by the anti-fluoridation movement.

Like me, Tim is a keen advocate for good science. If you don’t know his blog, check it out. He has been doing some remarkable work on the anti-fluoridation movement in Australia.

It is a terrific resource that needs to be shared more widely. It is stunning just how familiar all these arguments are.

From creationists, to climate sceptics and those that doubt the effectiveness of the MMR vaccine, there is a common thread linking them – the use of cherry picked facts, anecdotal evidence and confusion over basic science.

This one is my favorite as it is very familiar: Anecdotal evidence is UNSUBSTANTIATED evidence against fluoridated water

Typically the individual states that they (or someone who they know) experienced some symptoms when they were exposed to fluoride and were able to test this but eliminating fluoride exposure to “prove” the case. 

Merilyn Haines, President of the Queenslanders for Safe Water, Food and Air inc. provides anecdotal evidence to support her claims regarding fluoridation of drinking water with the case of her sister moving to Townsville. Her claim hinges on a complete disregard for potential co-founders that could arise from the 800 km move to a different city and the fact that her sister had clearly been exposed to fluoride over her entire life through toothpaste and foods without experiencing symptoms. 

Anecdotal evidence is the crux of the claims for many positions, such as anti-vaccination, whereby the MMR vaccine is supposed to cause autism, anti-wind farm, whereby exposure to wind farms has supposedly caused everything from irritability and low libido, to herpes, cataracts and accelerated aging! 

With fluoridated drinking water, Lamberg et al (1997) looked at the symptoms people stated they experienced due to exposure while they were exposed to fluoridated water and after fluoridation stopped (with the subjects unaware of this). The rates of symptoms did not significantly change until after the expected end of fluoridation, not with the actual event itself, leading the researchers to conclude that the supposed symptoms were psychologically based and not related to actual exposure to fluoridated water. 

Anecdotal evidence for this reason is not sufficient and when others rely on it as evidence, the alarm bells should ring.

 

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Shock! Prediction about global warming made in 1999 stunningly accurate

1999 prediction black line; actual temperatures red line; yellow diamonds individual years

In a paper just published  Nature Geoscience titled Test of a decadal climate forecast (doi:10.1038/ngeo1788) forecasts made in a climate models form 1999 have been  accurate within a “few hundreds of a degree”.

As the Guardian reports:

The paper, published on Wednesday in the journal Nature Geoscience, explores the performance of a climate forecast based on data up to 1996 by comparing it with the actual temperatures observed since. The results show that scientists accurately predicted the warming experienced in the past decade, relative to the decade to 1996, to within a few hundredths of a degree. 

The forecast, published in 1999 by Myles Allen and colleagues at Oxford University, was one of the first to combine complex computer simulations of the climate system with adjustments based on historical observations to produce both a most likely global mean warming and a range of uncertainty. It predicted that the decade ending in December 2012 would be a quarter of degree warmer than the decade ending in August 1996 – and this proved almost precisely correct. 

The study is the first of its kind because reviewing a climate forecast meaningfully requires at least 15 years of observations to compare against. Assessments based on shorter periods are prone to being misleading due to natural short-term variability in the climate.

So, scientists created a complex computer simulation in 1999; it has proven to be stunningly accurate.

I can’t wait to see how the denial machine will spin that one.

Video: Everything was on fire, everywhere: heat, bush-fires and climate change down under

Yes, the very first WtD video

For some time I’ve been considering making short videos exploring climate change, scepticism and related environment issues. This is the first in the proposed series (I hinted these would be coming in a December post).

The above video explores the link between the Australia’s extraordinary summer of heatwaves and fire. What we are experiencing is what the science predicted.

Most of all I wanted to tell a story: of what it means to be an Australian at this point in history, knowing a little something about the science of climate change and seeing scientific predictions play out. It’s about watching the land burn while the planet warms. 

Comments welcome. 

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The era of vocal science denial: Big Bang denial and the search for truth (reprint)

A terrific article by Michael J. Brown from Monash University on the persistence of “big bang denial”. It makes an interesting comparison climate change denial, demonstrating that an individuals and values and beliefs can lead them to reject accepted science.

Ever since Edwin Hubble discovered the universe was expanding – and thus implying the universe had a beginning – there have been those who have challenged the evidence. This article originally appeared on The Conversation. Enjoy!

By Michael J. I. Brown, Monash University

We are living in an era of science denial. An era when well-established facts are disputed, fake experts are interviewed by the media and blog posts trump science papers.

It’s an era of vaccine denial, evolution denial, and of course, climate change denial.

I’d also add Big Bang denial to that list. Sure, it might be more esoteric than climate change denial, but it’s attracting increasing amounts of attention, thanks to the efforts of people such as US congressman Paul Broun, who declared late last year:

All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell.

In living memory, the most vocal opposition to the Big Bang has gone from the realms of legitimate scientific debate to that of science denial.

The 100-inch (2.5 m) Hooker telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory that Edwin Hubble used to measure galaxy distances and a value for the rate of expansion of the universe. Wikimedia Commons

But how did this come to pass? What are the origins of Big Bang denial? And does it provides clues about the future of science denial generally?

Early debates

Today the Big Bang paradigm is supported by a plethora of observations:

  • the expansion of the universe measured with variable stars, supernovae and the distribution of galaxies
  • the faint microwave afterglow of the Big Bang fireball
  • the abundances of the light elements (such as hydrogen and helium), forged in the hot and dense furnace of the early universe
  • the young galaxies seen in the distant universe.

Even a tiny bit of the static seen on an analogue TV is from the afterglow of the Big Bang.

But in the 1940s there was far less to go on.

Einstein’s general theory of relativity was largely untested. Edwin Hubble had measured the expansion of the universe, but was grossly in error. Using Hubble’s data and the Big Bang theory, it seemed like the sun was older than the universe. And the original Big Bang paper was conceptually brilliant but technically flawed.

In this environment, other theories seemed equally plausible. Perhaps the universe was in a “steady state”, where new matter was created as the universe expanded. This seemed reasonable given the limited data available. Crucially, most theories made robust predictions about what astronomers might have observed in the coming decades.

Eureka! An image of the cosmic microwave background from WMAP. WMAP Science Team, NASA.

Breakthrough

In 1964 there was a Eureka moment. By accident, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson discovered the microwave afterglow of the Big Bang. This afterglow simply hadn’t been predicted by other theories.

Edwin Hubble’s protege, Allan Sandage, improved measurements of the expanding universe, showing it was far older than Edwin Hubble supposed. And so the Big Bang theory was no longer conflicting with the age of the sun.

Most astronomers were increasingly convinced by the Big Bang theory, but a core of opposition remained.

Steady state theories were tweaked rather than abandoned. In the process some abandoned Ockham’s Razor, the idea that the simplest hypothesis that explains the data is the best. Often the tweaks were contrived, such as “iron whiskers” being spread across the universe by exploding stars.

Typically the tweaks came into conflict with data soon after their inception. For example, we can observe very distant galaxies and quasars at microwave wavelengths, but this would be impossible in a universe full of “iron whiskers”.

Some claimed the Big Bang theory could not explain “anomalies”, such as groups of quasars and galaxies that should have been at different distances. But the statistics were so poor that these “anomalies” could be explained via random alignments of nearby galaxies with distant quasars and gravitational lensing.

Extraordinary claims about the supposed failings of the Big Bang theory weren’t being backed by extraordinary evidence.

Repetition

Today, there is a wealth of data that is explained with the Big Bang paradigm. Astronomers and physicists still propose many new theories (e.g. quintessence), but most include an expanding universe with a Big Bang at its beginning.

The original Big Bang opponents are dead or old, but some persevere. Unfortunately, they often just repeat flawed theories and analyses from earlier decades, often ignoring well-established facts and newer research.

Astronomers have surveyed millions of galaxies and quasars, but many Big Bang opponents continue to focus on small samples with poor statistics. This is similar to the way vaccine opponents often rely on small studies and anecdotal evidence rather than large epidemiological studies which show the benefits of vaccines.

The inability of many Big Bang opponents to update their analyses and let go of disproved ideas now serves as a cautionary tale to younger scientists.

The distribution of galaxies in observations and simulations is remarkably similar, despite what Big Bang opponents claim. The Virgo Consortium

Denial

But now, a new generation of Big Bang opponents has risen. Often they have an amateur’s knowledge of astrophysics and strong ideological motivations, even if they have a background in science. They want the universe to conform with their preconceived ideas.

As a consequence, science denial can come from those at both extremes of the ideological spectrum. Young Earth creationists oppose the Big Bang because it makes the universe billions of years old. Even some atheists oppose the Big Bang because it has a creation event.

Big Bang opponents often ignore well-established evidence, and as a consequence they are publishing less and less in peer-reviewed science journals. Often the most vocal opposition to the Big Bang appears online in fringe journals and websites, where it can avoid astronomers’ difficult facts and criticism. This is also true of those opposing anthropogenic climate change, who publish just a tiny fraction of all peer-reviewed papers on climate.

The amateur Big Bang opponents make amateur’s mistakes and straw-man arguments are common. There are claims, for instance, that the distribution of quasar and galaxy distances isn’t explained by the Big Bang paradigm.

However, Big Bang opponents have not compared observations with predictions from theory and simulations, so these claims are baseless. When astronomers compare observations with simulations, there is no discrepancy between the data and the Big Bang paradigm.

Astronomers point out these mistakes time and time again. However, many Big Bang opponents reframe the criticism as scientists defending orthodoxy, rather than acknowledging the errors made.

According to the Big Bang model, the universe expanded from an extremely dense and hot state and continues to expand today. The image above is an artist’s concept illustrating the expansion of a portion of a flat universe.

Australian physicist (and Big Bang opponent) John Hartnett has stated:

The standard model is assumed to be correct and when evidence questioning that conclusion is found … a special effort was immediately made to show how it could still be explained in the standard model.

“Special effort” is an unjustified and strange choice of phrase. What matters is the fact that observations and theory simply agree.

Perception

The public perception of the Big Bang debate has changed with its protagonists. When opposition to the Big Bang is discussed, it is framed in terms of ideology rather than scientific debate.

US presidential hopeful Marco Rubio recently sidestepped a question in an interview with GQ about the age of the Earth, perhaps in an effort to court young Earth creationists. The resulting controversy focused on politics and theology, and the science was rarely questioned. Eventually Rubio clarified his answer, stating that the Earth is at least 4.5 billion years old.

Perhaps this is the end result of science denial – the media and public largely stop debating the science. Decades ago the smoking debate in the media was focused on the validity of the science. The science is no longer disputed in the media, and the debate has moved on to the politics of individual choices versus public health.

So what does the current state of Big Bang denial mean for the future? There are interesting parallels with the climate debate.

The tiny minority of climate scientists who are vocal critics of anthropogenic climate change are mostly over 50. Younger climate change deniers are often amateurs, bloggers and ideologues. The number of scientists questioning anthropogenic climate change is going to decrease in the coming decades.

Perhaps this is the good news about science denial. While science denial can influence public debates, this influence wanes without the backing of scientists. As elderly scientists fade from view and aren’t replaced by credible alternatives, the public debate will stop questioning the science.

To quote German Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Planck:

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

Or, to paraphrase ever so slightly: “Science advances one funeral at a time.”

Michael J. I. Brown receives research funding from the ARC and Monash University.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

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High Confidence: survey of 13,000 science papers finds only 24 that reject climate change

Sometimes a picture (or graph) can say it all:

pie-chart-climate_png_492x0_q85_crop-smart

A survey of scientific literature conducted by James Lawrence Powell of or 13,000 papers on global warming found that ony 24 (0.17%) rejected the connection between carbon emissions and global warming.

Powell reviewed papers published between January 1991 and November 2012 – a twenty-one year period.

It’s not a question of the debate being over – there never was a debate.

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