Monday, July 19, 2010

The 'Them-Ain't-Facts' Gang Slogs On

A half-century ago, in a small midwestern city, opposition to fluoridation of the water supply coalesced around a tall, loud, prosperous building contractor who invoked all the standard bogeymen of that time.  Communism.  Especially communism. This was a commie plot to brainwash our youth with dangerous chemicals.

At a succession of community meetings, local health officials produced scientists, doctors and dental authorities to testify to the benefits and safety of fluoridation.  The contractor's lackeys, posted in the four corners of the meeting hall, tried to shout them down.  When that didn't work the contractor -- citing his own "scientific training" (two years studying civil engineering) -- would stand up and thunder, over and over, "Them ain't facts.  Give us facts!"

And the local paper, for which the contractor was an important source of ad revenue, would report the next day that "the so-called science of the pro-fluoridation movement faced another strong challenge last night at . . . ."

Even so, the fluoridation referendum passed.

Not much has changed since those days.

Social initiatives to improve the lives of all the people -- which inevitably mean spending tax dollars --  meet the same kind of uninformed, loud, bullying opposition.

The belligerents at the town hall meetings on health care -- some of them toting guns --  were clones of the midwestern contractor shouting, "Them ain't facts.  Give us facts!"

So, too, are the climate change deniers, who have recruited their own science prostitutes, pseudo-scientists and skeptics-for-hire to bolster their cause.  Their qualifications and credentials are about as substantial as that contractor's two years studying civil engineering. But these people are persistent. 

With Ruport Murdoch's fiction-factory leading the charge, and the rest of the media sheep falling in step, hundreds of purloined e-mails exchanged among climate scientists became the "climategate scandal."  Never mind that, considered in their entirety and in context,  they were utterly innocuous,  Never mind that hacking them was a criminal invasion of privacy.  "Climategate" filled the air waves and newspaper columns and made jazzy magazine covers.

Three separate independent panels of expert scientists examined the stolen e-mails.  One by one they absolved the climate scientists of wrongdoing.  Most of the media that trumpeted "climategate" ignored the exoneration of the accused.

But now, the Murdoch disinformation empire has responded in classic "them ain't facts" style.

A Wall Street Journal editorial today asserts that a climate science report about a potential 40% decline in the Amazon rainforest has "no scientific basis."  Its expert witness?  Roger Pielke Jr. of the University of Colorado, long ago discredited as a skeptic-for-hire  "all of whose writings have built nothing more than a house of cards …"


"A widely cited claim that Himalayan glaciers would all but disappear by 2035 was debunked," the same Journal editorial asserted.

In fact, new photographic evidence demonstrates that glaciers on Mount Everest are rapidly shrinking.

The glaciers were photographed in 1921 by George Mallory, the British mountaineer who died trying to be the first man to summit Everest.  Under commission of the Asia Society, the mountaineer David Brashears, who has summited Everest several times, retraced the steps of Mallory and a professional photographer, Maj. Edward Wheeler, 80 years ago, photographing the glaciers from exactly the same perspective as the British explorers.

A scientist who studied the pictures said, "“They reveal a startling truth: the ice of the Himalayas is disappearing. There has been an alarming loss in ice mass.”

The pictures are on display in New York, just a few blocks from the headquarters of Murdoch's Wall Street Journal.

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