Just a quick comment about a “dispute” that has blown up in the blogosphere about two “papers” about global warming. One real paper is from a scientist, although a physicist rather than climatologist and the other screed is from a TV weather man with no credentials, not even an undergraduate degree in anything. Of course they contradict each other, in another made-up “teach the controversy” so loved by the right.
Now Richard Muller’s paper is real and from a real scientist. It confirms what many other papers have already demonstrated. And even then the paper only covers 2% of the world’s data. This paper is noteworthy solely because its author is a former denialist funded by the Koch’s who was supposed to come up with a whitewash for the carbon special interests. Instead of “proving” what they want Muller actually did some work on some data with real computer models and came to the same conclusions as the climatologists – yes, there is global climate change and we’re causing itg. While other real climate scientists are somewhat critical of Muller’s work at least it’s fact-based and suitable for publication (is in reviews now).
On the other side, the non-scientist, Anthony Watt, (funded by the Kochs’ Heartland Institute, I decline to post a url to WUWT blog not wanting to spread more trash) whose major contribution is an argumentative denialist blog quickly whips up a poorly written response “paper” pushing an already discredited theory. Even if what it claimed (purely in press releases as it’s not really clear what the paper asserts) were true the dispute would certainly not suddenly upset all the established science on global warming, so we should see it for what it is, a propaganda piece in the same vein as the excrement that comes out of Discovery Institute on “Intelligent Design”, yet another piece of propaganda masquerading as science. So the only purpose of this paper is to create the illusion of “controversy”, a favor tactic of the anti-science special interests crowd.
Science will grind its way through the competing claims and the Muller paper will probably get published and the Watt paper will be forgotten, except in the minds of the denialists who don’t even understand that “peer review” means review by real scientists and experts, not PR firms for the carbon lobby. So in the end this will be much ado about nothing.
But the reason I write about it is my continuing look at social media, which I have to stretch a bit to include opinion blogs. In these days of anti-science where made-up facts prevail in junk news, like FauxNews, the critical reasoning capability of the right wing mob clearly shows how education has failed in this country. Blogs are simply not substitutes for peer-reviewed journals, esp. when one of the bloggers (Watt) also revealed none of the normal material that make reviews possible. So rather than dismissing Watt as just the PR flack for the Kochs that he is, there is this apparent “debate”. But it is a debate that can only survive in the fact-free world of blogging, not in the fact-based world of science. And it shows how little the denialist horde actually know about science.
So in considering social media as possibly having adverse effects thus far most of my line of questioning has followed Dr. Dennis‘ concern from the POV of impact of social media on psychological development, esp. of the young. But this pseudo-science debate also shows perhaps an even more pernicious consequences of social media and that is the debasing of truth and reason in our debates. When anyone can publish and the scientifically illiterate can choose sides based on their political orientation nothing is accomplished by this “debate.”
I am constantly amazed and impressed by science as perhaps the only field that ever seems to reach a substantiated conclusion. Debate can be fierce and heated and persist for a long time in science, but in the end facts, acquired by yet more careful work, can not be denied and prevail. The belief-based mentality is critical that science sometimes changes its mind and thus can’t be trusted, but this is precisely why it can be trusted, because new facts, new analysis, and more debate can create revisions that then stand. Belief, whether religious or political, never changes since it can not be substantiated and forever lies in the realm of opinion. Anyone claiming the semblance of science needs to first learn what “falsifiable” means, but also transparency and clarity in their publications. Blogs have no peer review and thus can be any kind of litter.
Now Dr. Dennis has raised this same issue as to psychological impacts of social media, in her repeated call for real research that acquire real data that can stand the peer review and requirement for repeatability of results. There are commenters on social media who are undoubtedly quite knowledge and have respectable views, but without research these are still just opinions. We may political actions on pure opinions and not facts, but we can’t base public policy, when research is an option, on opinion. Social media may have adverse effects, as I believe this debate demonstrates, but any policy to regulate it must be based on facts.
Now given we do have a First Amendment there is no policy option to tell Anthony Watt and his groupies to shut up. They have a right to their soapbox. But they don’t have a right to inflate their opinion under the mantle of science. Now I certainly also don’t want some government-run “truth squads” to go slap labels of fact or fiction on blogs, but our intelligent discourse about social media and learning how to live with it and incorporate it properly (not just as a fad) into our lives is something we can do.
I have no doubt the anti-science attitude paid for by special interests will both continue and grow, but at least both sides get to do their shouting in blogs, while resolution of the facts can take place through the only process humanity has developed for acquiring truth about our world, science.