Wednesday, March 31, 2004

At the Center of the Storm Over Bush And Science
Junk Science or Junk Logic?

There was an article in NYT by James Glanz, on March 30, 2004, entitled At the Center of the Storm Over Bush And Science.  The article did not bring much new to the issue, but it did include some information about Dr. John H. Marburger III, President Bush's science adviser.  This included some content from an interview with Dr. Marburger.  I posted a comment in the NYT Forum: Join a Discussion on Science in the News

Commentary on James Glanz's At the Center of the Storm Over Bush And Science, published: March 30, 2004:

Mr. Glanz brings a fresh perspective to the topic of the allegations of the Bush administration systematically suppressing, distorting, and misusing science. The background on Dr. Marburger is particularly interesting. For a collection of opinions on this, as well as a more detailed history, see:



as well as

One person replied:

norbertzangox - 11:14 AM ET March 31, 2004 (#4592 of 4594)

I read most of the text on the first of your links. What I found was standard issue liberal paranoia about anyone who works for an organization that actually produces anything. The article described the attempt of the CDC to replace good Democrats with "Individuals with known industry connections." That phraseology portrays persons who work for an industry as horned devils without exactly saying so, by using the description "known connections", which we normally reserve for descriptions of relationships that persons may have with the Mafia or drug dealers.

It is a well-worn and tiring technique for laying adverse impressions between the lines. Its usual purpose is to create negative feelings when the author lacks sufficient data to create a sound case for his poor opinion of the person he is describing.

About the claim that the article makes, ". . . EPA administrator for air and radiation, blocked studies of bipartisan clean air proposals because they would undercut support for President Bush's weaker Clear Skies initiative.", I ask, how does the claimant (Senator Edwards, whom we all know to be an impartial observer of the present administration) know that the bipartisan clean air proposal would undercut President Bush's plan if no one has doe the analysis? Why don't those who are so convinced that their plan is better do an analysis? Let them lay it out there so we all can assess it.

For believing that the rest of the issues constitute misinformation, it is necessary to believe that carbon dioxide is causing climate change and that the existing levels of pollutants in the air are harming health. There are perfectly logical and scientific reasons to dispute both contentions.

Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. Anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide are not the cause of climate change. The sun is the more likely culprit, if culprit is even a proper adjective. All indications and observations from history and the present are that warmth is better than cold. Ice ages are murderous. The medieval warm period was a period of prosperity, good health and beneficial social change.

EPA health effects studies greatly overestimate the toxicity and danger of existing concentrations of air pollutants. Air pollution is not causing health problems in this country. In China perhaps, but not in the US.

I believe that the essay at http://www.greeningearthsociety.org/wca/2004/wca_ [...], presents a more insightful and interesting analysis of the ongoing debate about science and junk science. You might want to give it a look.

Mr. Norbertzangox is correct.  The sun is the major factor in climate change.  If there were no sun, the climate would remain stable for a really, really, long time.  He is correct also, that the article portrayed those who work in lead-related industry as horned devils.  Yes, this is an expression ("known connections") normally reserved for Mafia or drug dealers.  However, the point of the article was not to impugn the persons who were appointed to the CDC's committee on lead toxicity.  The point was to impugn the Bush administration. 

As it happens, I am familiar with the Greening Earth Society's web site.  The commentary on climate change includes the following:

Junk Science

In a city swept by major maelstroms, a smaller but not insignificant one swirling through our Nation's Capital concerns a purported Republican effort to employ something called “sound science” to loosen environmental regulations. What keeps this one spinning is pressure by Democrats to purportedly strengthen regulations using what they too deem to be “sound science.”

Sound science is science its proponents find to be agreeable. What they find scientifically disagreeable is labeled “junk science.” Sad to say, whenever you hear someone using the term “sound science” you'll hear a lot of the first word and not see very much of the second.

Let's begin with a reality check. Science isn't the Simon Pure beast your grammar school teacher made it out to be. It's not even a particularly logical enterprise. Further complicating matters, today's sound science can become tomorrow's junk science. This is because scientists tend to work within what the great historian of science, Thomas Kuhn, called “paradigms” or overall belief systems. Kuhn first advanced this concept in a number of academic papers in the 1950s, and more comprehensively in his oft-quoted Structure of Scientific Revolutions, a book first published in 1962 and still a top seller on the topic.

A Band of Rebels

Kuhn notes that most scientists spend their lives working to shore up the reigning world-view and that those who disagree with it are by definition much fewer in number. The outsiders tend to find inconsistencies within the current paradigm. As a consequence, they tend be unpopular among their peers and are derided. But often they are more logical and (dadgummit) they frequently turn out to be right. The few eventually overwhelm the mass, but it happens against impressive resistance.

This model very neatly fits the evolution of climate change and global warming.[...]

This is a peculiar argument.  Yes, Thomas Kuhn did point out that major shifts in scientific thinking start out with a small number of dissenters.  But the argument appears to be that, since the the scientists who disagree with the theory --  that anthropogenic CO2 is implicated as a cause of climate change -- are in the minority, they are likely to be correct. 

This obviously is not a logically supportable conclusion.  Another problem with the whole pro-CO2  argument is this: while it is difficult to prove, conclusively, that anthropogenic CO2 is the cause of global warming, that is not really the point.  The point is this: can reducing the output anthropogenic CO2 of reduce the impact of climate change?  This really is a separate issue.  Regardless of what caused what in the past, what we need to know is: what can change things for the better, in the future?