I don't think anyone has captured the zeitgeist as well as an exasperated Governor Chris Christie did at a recent press conference: "I'm tired of dealing with the crazies!" (Go to 3:20 minutes in video.)

He wasn't talking about the crazies in the Republican lineup who don't "believe" in evolution, who deny the "reality" of global warming. But his point was correct: Ignorance is behind a lot of the rhetoric we're hearing these days--about air pollution, about the EPA, about the climate crisis. Christie's line echoed through my mind as I heard Rick Perry's brash lies at a news conference on questions about climate change--which from here on out I will refer to as the climate crisis.

The crazies seem to be on everyone's minds:  Jon Huntsman came to life with a "Call me crazy" tweet--kudos to the snappy social media whiz kid who surely made that happen: "To be clear, I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy."

Plenty of people are calling Huntsman crazy--for alienating the Republican base. But I don't trust polls showing that more than half of all Republicans don't believe in global warming. Polls are so easily manipulated in the way questions are framed. I'll bet that there are lots of Republicans--and Independents, like me--who want a leader who states rational, science-based truths in a straightforward, let's-get-out-of-this-mess (and create new jobs doing it!) manner.

I'm tired of dealing with the crazies, too. But this has all got me thinking. Why do we even give the crazies the time of day? Is it that people no longer trust scientists? What has happened to the respect we used to accord them? Why are we cynical about scientists--some people think the scientists are in it for money--as Perry put it, scientists have manipulated data for money (which, if you know any scientists, is obviously not the case. The oil and coal barons, that's another story.)

So I did some informal research among friends: What's the National Academy of Science? What's the connection betwee astronauts and climate scientists? I have to say, we all, myself included, did a pretty pathetic job answering. That's when it hit me. Why would people trust groups they barely know--especially in this age of advertising saturation, when we rely on companies because of their branding?

(Come to think of it, if the owner and president of WalMart said The climate crisis is real, let's fix it, people would sit up and notice. He does talk about how important sustainability is--and what the company is doing to be more energy efficient is healthy for the bottom line, too. I digress...still, how about America's business leadership standing up and saying, Enough with the crazies?)

Scientists stopped talking to regular people like me a long time ago. Don't try to learn too much about the Academy from its website, which is dismal. Excellence in communicating to non-scientists--not their strength. Even their wiki page could use sprucing up.

The National Academy's Act of Incorporation was signed in 1863--by President Abraham Lincoln. There are over 2,000 members of the Academy; over the course of history nearly 200 members of the Academy have been Nobel Prize winners. Election to membership is one of the highest honors a scientist can be accorded.

Clearly, their members aren't in the very rich, deep pockets of the coal and oil industry. If they were, they wouldn't have joined with the science academies of the G8 nations, and Brazil, China and India, in 2005, to say that scientific understanding of climate change had become sufficiently clear to justify nations taking prompt action--every American should have sat up and noticed. That's pretty powerful stuff.

Now what about NASA? NASA was my introduction to science, as a child--that, and my (very Republican) doctor father. I was desperate to be an astronaut when I was a kid. Unfortunately, with my lousy eyesight, I couldn't even become an airline hostess. When NASA scientists tell us we are already suffering from climate change, I trust them. (They get high marks for their website, too.)

Somehow, the message doesn't get across strongly enough. The reasons may be varied and complicated. But the largest reason is simple--and especially nefarious. The coal and oil industries are finding--and funding--the crazies to lie to Americans. They're deliberately confusing otherwise reasonable people. They're sowing distrust of scientists. They're buying off politicians exactly the same way the tobacco industry lied, cheated and bribed its way between our lips for so many years, even as people were dying of lung cancer. (The cigarette companies are still fighting attempts to educate people--especially kids--about the harm smoking does.)

Scientists tend to be the sorts who have been taking a beating by schoolyard bullies their entire lives. So in one, childishly surreal, way, this kind of aggressive assault on the credibility of our most serious scientists feels familiar. But it also leaves scientists reeling in disbelief, and retreating, because after all, as adults, we are expected to have outgrown schoolyard bullying tactics. It is hard to know how to out-shout fanatic bullies. The people least equipped, temperamentally,  to confront science deniers are...scientists. 

But that doesn't mean they have to take it anymore.

If creative geeks can do it for fashion, they can do it for science. We need a fabulously patriotic group of Man Men and Women to dream up an ad campaign to tell Americans how cool our scientists are. (Because after all, part of being patriotic is being proud of American eminence among scientists in the world! Remember the moon shot? So, in fact, Perry is being terribly unpatriotic by demeaning scientists' work. But I digress again...)

A campaign to show how creative and smart scientists are. How compassionate they are--how many lives their work has saved. How visionary they are--venturing where others fear to tread, and sticking by the truth no matter how they are pilloried--an ancient tradition among scientists dating back beyond Copernicus, no?

Most people believe their doctors when they tell them they have a disease they can't even see. They trust their doctors to fix it. But doctors have TV shows that prove to Americans, season after season, how hip and clever they are. (Not that I'm proposing The Geek Squad--though I have to confess that one of my first boyfriends was a physics geek--the best kind--and  one of the coolest people I ever met, so actually, a show called the Geek Squad could easily get traction.)

The scientific community could go in for rebranding. In the meantime, those of us who understand that science isn't something requiring a religious leap of faith, something that doesn't rest its findings on a belief system, and doesn't do research via a deity, should do our best to deal with the crazies, until we get a political leader who isn't afraid to call 'em like he sees 'em: Cow Patties.


karenleslie said...

cow patties. excellent! you know, i don't think any ad campaign, no matter the content, is actually going to change the viewpoints of people who take people like gov. perry seriously. scientists have manipulated data for money? talk about crazy. i was waiting for the room to erupt with laughter.

karenleslie said...

the HBO documentary "Hot Coffee" says it all about how things really work.

The Architect said...

May I respectfully suggest that you read Thomas Kuhn's "Structure of Scientific Revolutions" before being so sure that science does not require a belief system?

William said...

Brilliant post, Dominique.

Thank you for standing up for science as an 'independent' (aka 'no party affiliate').

Tomorrow I will be riding my bike from the Upper East Side (whre i live) down to the Farmers Market at Union Square on closed streets as part of Mayor Bloomberg's (independent - no party affiliate) initiative to make this a more bike friendly city.

Mike Bloomberg (no party affiliate) is a champion of bike lanes (400 miles since he took office) and pedestrian plazas and big business and gay rights and gun control and science and big business (yes, I mentioned big business twice).

Can we just keep him Mayor for life???? - unless, of course, he runs for president

Judith Ross said...

Hi Dominique,

Your point about science needing a PR Campaign is a good one.

We recently watched Dr. Neil de Grasse Tyson on Real Time with Bill Maher (who, by the way, always includes opposing sides on his panel of guests). Dr. Tyson is an astrophysicist, who made many, many excellent points while on the show. He made a lot of sense and was easy to understand. For those who haven't heard of him, here is a link to his Web site http://www.haydenplanetarium.org/tyson/

Dominique said...

The Architect: You're correct. I didn't make my point too elegantly. I think I've fixed that--let me know.

Dominique said...

KarenLeslie--I don't think an ad campaign will convince the crazies. But we have to start talking to the rest of us--people who are either confused, intimidated by the subject, uncertain what to believe, put off by all the contradiction and vitriol. We've lost our communal trust of science, and scientists--and somehow, culturally, we ahve to get that back.
Judith, many thanks for that link. I'll watch.
Mayor Bloomberg has been so strong on coal, and on its effect on human health, particularly the health of babies. To say nothing of what he's done with tobacco--literally accomplishing the impossible, getting New Yorkers to stop smoking!

The Architect said...

Better, but still problematic. What is "science" anyway - as opposed to the views and opinions of "scientists"?

The history of "science" is a long and uninterrupted parade of wrong ideas and falsified concepts, all of them fervently advanced and professed by herds of "scientists."

What made modern science -- that is, science in the late XVIIIth and XIXth centuries -- so powerful, enabling the translation of theoretical ideas through engineering into technological marvels -- was the acceptance by scientists of their own limitations, and their explicit admission that the "science" is never settled.

Those who propound currently fashionable ideas as settled science do not show thereby their faith in science, but (to paraphrase Hobbes)in men only.

I think that if you uncover the unstated assumptions of more than a few proponents of the idea that global warming is an imminent threat to everything that is good, you will find that their views rest more on a belief system that is after all not grounded in empirical results.

Barbara said...

Dominique I can see you've kept a lot pent up for a while. I love how you're letting it all out and making perfect sense.
Keep it up!

Dominique said...

Sorry, Architect, but there is broad, deep, consensus among the entire world's scientists that we have entered a period of human-caused global warming. This is based on, and borne out by, empirical evidence.

The Architect said...

Just as there was a broad, deep scientific consensus in favor of Ptolemaic astronomy . . . just as there was a broad, deep scientific consensus (in the Soviet Union, at least) in favor of Lysenkoism . . . just as there was a broad, deep scientific consensus supporting so many false ideas.

In order to believe that industrial civilization should be dismantled to prevent "global warming," you have to demonstrate:

1) That there is such as thing as a "world climate" in some meaningful way;

2) That average temperatures all over the world are actually increasing beyond what is expected from the inherent and usual variability of the world's climates;

3) That if such greater-than-usual warming is happening, it is caused by human activity, specifically the introduction of miniscule quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere;

4) That the process could be reversed by some other human activities.

None of those assertions has been proven. In contrast, I assert the following propositions:

1) There are no accurate temperature records for most of the earth's surface for any meaningful period of observation. Actual temperature measurements for some areas of the world accessible to meterological instrumentation (weather stations) exist for less than 100 years. Most of those temperature recording stations are in temperate latitudes and located near local sources of man-made heat pollution, and therefore may not accurately reflect actual temperatures in the vast regions of the earth that are unpopulated.

2) "Temperature records" for any period prior to the XIXth century are extrapolations from other sorts of data, such as tree rings, and have never been validated against actual temperature records.

3) There is historical evidence suggesting that temperatures, at least in Europe, have fluctuated wildly over the centuries, with the neolithic Ice Age followed by very warm temperatures in Roman and Medieval times, and subsequent drastic cooling during the "little ice age" in the XVIth to XIXth centuries. The current period appears to be warmer than the little ice age, but there is nothing to suggest that it is any warmer now than it was during the medieval warm period.

4) There is no evidence that tiny fluctuations of the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere cause any changes in temperatures recorded on the ground. That's just a speculative correlation. To the contrary, there is considerable evidence that warmer temperatures lead to increasing carbon dioxide concentrations.

5) Warmer periods in recorded history are invariably better times in which to live than the colder periods.

6) The global warming hysteria is motivated not by science, but by a deep-seated belief system which is hostile to industrial development and human freedom. That belief system latches on to any excuse it can find to advance a luddite cause of poverty, ignorance, and tyranny.

Maureen Sullivan Stemberg, Interiors said...

I strongly feel ....The above names mention for a possible GOP that will be running for President.
At this point it does not make a difference what
they feel about "Global Warming?" What makes a difference is that I fear they are truly crazy!!

Yes, Jon Huntsman did jump out this week with his very brave *tweet* ..."Call me crazy." I do think he is way above the others...Hence, why our President sent him to China for the last two years!! Obama,
knew how bright he is and he could be a real contender for him. With that said ...I would still feel that Jon Huntsman, may have to retreat and start behaving like the rest of the crazies?!! I, pray not.

I am so very worried about any of them running our country. I, urge everyone to speak to friends, family, and strangers about using our most precious gift wisely in this next election. The gift to vote...Let's all be informed, intelligent and most of all help others to use our gift to elect what we truly believe is or will be best THE best person... for our country, our people and global warming!!

I am standing right next to you on this DominiQue.
I, truly thank you for posting this thought provoking piece.

Anonymous said...

The Architect's points are interesting. To weigh in on man-made or not man-made warming is beyond my knowledge level, but Dominique I am with you 100% in all matters concerning pollution, solid, liquid, and gaseous. I am old enough to remember a time when we took our (glass) Coke bottles back to the grocery store for re-use at the bottling plants - before we became such a throw-away culture. I wonder if recycling [some of] our plastic is enough . . .

Dominique said...

Architect: please go to Joe Romm's Climate Progress for answers to all your points. Your science is not correct. Just because scientists are reporting increased temperatures, an acidified ocean, and rapidly melting glaciers--way beyond the "usual variability" of the world's climates--doesn't mean they are against "industrial development and human freedom."

Quite the opposite. We have to stop polluting our atmosphere--wean off fossil fuels, develop cleaner renewables--so that everyone can continue the good fight against poverty, ignorance, and tyranny.

Do you ever stop to think: What if I'm wrong?

The Architect said...

Do you?

Doug Hein said...

Good post. I think that part of what happens regarding the climate crisis is how the Right messages to working class people in both parties about science, government and other social issues. Science equals Big Government in that it's telling people how to live and what to think, so it can't be trusted. People seem to have some kind of knee-jerk response when this nerve is touched. The awful truth is that the policitians who lie about the science don't care one bit about the welfare of the working class. In most cases, they're protecting their own (considerable) financial interests.

maryellen said...

Clearly Doug Hein cuts through the clutter!!

Judith Ross said...

He certainly does. Right on Doug!

The Architect said...

1) The "working class" in the United States has very little to complain about, compared to the "working class" in any country where socialism was actually put into practice.

2) Dismantling the industrial economy of the West in order to stave off the imaginary catastrophes conjured by luddites who hate everything about the only society in which they could possibly thrive, would lead to the impoverishment of the "working class," rather than its apotheosis.

Dominique said...

Yes, I do think, what if I'm wrong about climate change. All the time. And if I--and millions of others--are, then what's been done? We have cleaner fuel, thriftier ways.

If deniers are wrong? They driven our children off the edge of a cliff, because the future of more intense droughts, floods, heat, rising oceans, and much more, is horrific. We've already started seeing the effects.

There's too much at stake to be wasting time arguing with scientists whose entire careers are spent researching and understanding the climate crisis. Just like I don't argue with the doctor who tells me I have cancer, even though I can't see it, and I can't feel it, or diagnose it. I trust his learned judgement. And act. Fast.

The Architect said...

With all due respect, I don't think you take seriously enough the consequences of the actions these "doctors" are telling you take, if their doomsday scenarios are invalid.

Even by their own accounts, completely dismantling the industrial economy of the West (and now, the "developing" world) would barely affect what they predict to be global temperatures.

The social costs, once the economies of the world shut down, in poverty, real misery, starvation, and war will be enormous. Measured in the tens of millions of needless deaths and the unimaginable suffering that will accompany them.

And this the world's people should undergo because of over-hyped and deliberately fudged mathematical models.

Heaven forbid.