How I got here…

On July 4th, at 3 in the morning, I was awake in bed with Twitter and Wired’s live stream of the Higgs boson press conference open on my laptop. While I was up doing this, the thought crossed my mind: “What events lead me to this point?”. I’ve touched on how I’ve arrived at geology in the past, and I’ve talked a bit about why I wanted to get into science, but I don’t think I ever described my life before that decision and informed how I got there.

When I graduated high school in 2006 (I feel old typing that), I was making my disposable income doing freelance art and graphic design for bands and record labls and had every intention to get a degree in graphic design from a fancy art school while pumping out art on the side. Not being able to convince my parents to co-sign on the idea of spending $45k for a 3 year education, I instead went to a local community college to get an associates degree while trying to get my own art and design company/brand off the ground (My eventual client sheet would be a mile long and include a lot of national touring bands and labels such as (excuse my bragging, but it’s fun to reflect) Victory Records, Mediaskare Records, Eulogy Records, Hellfish Family, Between The Buried and Me, Evergreen Terrace, Foundation, This Is Hell, The Effort, Beneath The Sky, Ambush! and a myriad of small local bands that never did anything that anyone cared about.

The interesting thing about being involved in the design and production side of music, is that you start to learn a lot of the ins and outs about how independent labels work and who you need to talk to and what you need to do to get things moving. I was so close, so many times to pulling the trigger on starting my own record label (and it’s something I wouldn’t mind trying my hand at later in life, still) and buying a screen printing setup to start printing mine and other people’s work for sale (I actually started down this path with another person and I backed out, so sorry to them if they’re reading this for whatever reason). Fortunately for myself, I wasn’t doing booming business, and between working part-time, going to school and doing freelance on the side, I started to investigate other live paths.

I couldn’t tell you exactly when, but at some point during this time, I subscribed to a podcast called The Skeptics Guide to the Universe, a podcast about science, skepticism and critical thinking. Those were things that I was sorely lacking at this point in my life. I subscribed because I heard it was a cool science podcast and I was eager to listen to cool science shit. What I got instead was something that really, and actually changed my life. Critical thinking is not something I was exposed to much growing up, and this podcast was dismantling things I thought to be true, or never thought to question before on a consistent basis every week; UFO’s, ghosts, etc . and then blowing my mind by producing mountains of evidence against things that I never would’ve suspected to be untrue; chiropractic, homeopathy, acupuncture, and a million other types of ‘alt-med’ crap. On top of that they also had the cool science shit that I wanted initially.

Throughout that presentation of critical thinking and skepticism came the loud booming recommendation of Carl Sagan’s book ‘The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark‘. In my humble opinion, I think that everyone, not just people that are interested in science, should read this book. It’s one of the most important things to have ever happened to me, and I feel like if everyone read this book and took it’s message to heart, the world would be a much better place. This book is skepticism and critical thinking at it’s most accessible, and uses examples that remain relevant to provide a case for why it’s so important. The reason that I think the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe changed my life was that it introduced me to this book.

After that, I became incredibly interested in investigating and critically analyzing subjects. This period of my life involved me writing many long-winded passionate responses to climate change denial on various internet forums and lead to the reading binge that lead me to ‘The Weather Makers’, further fueling my interest in climate change, and finally geology.

It’s weird to look back at things like that. It’s kind of neat actually.

Argument from authority

It was really nice out today, and my windshield made it so I didn’t even have to dirty up the image digitally. Look at that.

I’m not sure how big a splash it made, but last week and op-ed appeared in the Wall Street Journal titled “Sixteen Concerned Scientists: No Need to Panic About Global Warming“.

People who are in denial of global warming love when they can round up some scientists that side with them. Making the assumption that all scientist are created equal, they think that it makes their argument stronger. In fact, it probably does make them look more sane in the eyes of the public. The general public, however, isn’t really equipped to understand if a scientist is credible in a field, or if they have any distinction of note.

It is an appeal or argument from authority. Which is, to quote Wikipedia (so you don’t have to click to see about the same amount of words)…

The appeal to authority may take several forms. As a statistical syllogism, it will have the following basic structure:[1]

Most of what authority a has to say on subject matter S is correct.
a says p about S.
Therefore, p is correct.

The strength of this argument depends upon two factors:[1][2]

  1. The authority is a legitimate expert on the subject.
  2. A consensus exists among legitimate experts on the matter under discussion.

The key part here is the second part.

The strength of this argument depends upon two factors:[1][2]

  1. The authority is a legitimate expert on the subject.
  2. A consensus exists among legitimate experts on the matter under discussion.

For their appeal to authority to have weight, their authoroties must fit those criteria. So, do they? I don’t know. I don’t have the time or resources to check these people out. Forunately, Skeptical Science (great resource for climate change science and arguments) does, and has done so.

So what do they got to say?

The signatories of this newest letter are also worth noting for their lack of noteworthiness.  Although the climate denialist blogs have labeled them “luminaries” and “prominent scientists“, the list is actually quite underwhelming.  In fact, it only includes four scientists who have actually published climate research in peer-reviewed journals, and only two who have published climate research in the past three decades.  Nearly half of the list (at least 7 of 16) have received fossil fuel industry funding, and the list also includes an economist, a physician, a chemist, an aerospace engineer, and an astronaut/politician.

That knocks out number 1 under the “strength of this argument” section. Number 2  is easily shot out of the cannon as well.

The consensus on climate change is overwhelming. Let’s just stay on Skeptical Science, as that allows me to be lazy. Here’s a link to their page on the scientific consensus, and here’s what they have for us.

…a consensus in science is different from a political one. There is no vote. Scientists just give up arguing because the sheer weight of consistent evidence is too compelling, the tide too strong to swim against any longer. Scientists change their minds on the basis of the evidence, and a consensus emerges over time. Not only do scientists stop arguing, they also start relying on each other’s work. All science depends on that which precedes it, and when one scientist builds on the work of another, he acknowledges the work of others through citations. The work that forms the foundation of climate change science is cited with great frequency by many other scientists, demonstrating that the theory is widely accepted – and relied upon.

In the scientific field of climate studies – which is informed by many different disciplines – the consensus is demonstrated by the number of scientists who have stopped arguing about what is causing climate change – and that’s nearly all of them. A survey of all peer-reviewed abstracts on the subject ‘global climate change’ published between 1993 and 2003 shows thatnot a single paper rejected the consensus position that global warming is man caused. 75% of the papers agreed with the consensus position while 25% made no comment either way, focusing on methods or paleoclimate analysis (Oreskes 2004).

So strike point 2 off that list. 16 people vs. everyone else.

Those in denial should stop wasting their energy on this crap and instead put their energies towards helping us understand the mechanics of climate change and broadening our base of knowledge. There IS a lot of unknown there, but to refute the amount of evidence for anthropogenic climate change would require an equally massive body of evidence, and right now that doesn’t exist, and people have been looking for it for a LONG time.

I got a physics lab to type up. PEACE.