Science Deniers, Flat Earthers and the Modern Galileo


“Ted Cruz DESTROYS Sierra Club President Over Global Warming”. So said the headline of one of the Internet spinfests making the rounds recently. Another said “Ted Cruz 1, Sierra Club 0”.  Or in the words of a blog writer for Michelle Malkin, whose problems with the real world we’ve discussed before, “Global Warming Causes Sierra Club President to Melt During Ted Cruz Questions About ‘Cooking’ Planet”.

Cruz’s own website even crows about his supposed triumph by posting links to gushing reports about the incident from the mainstream media and from right-wing propaganda outlets. (But I repeat myself.) All of which just goes to show that you can spin just about anything to your advantage if you have your skull inserted into your rectum far enough.

This take on events achieved search engine saturation — it was almost impossible to find an accurate account of the incident referred to, because the spinmeisters had piled up such a deep heap of rubbish to dig through. Unfortunately for them, they committed — as they often do — the fatal error of providing a link to a video that is supposed to buttress their cause, but in fact totally explodes it. (Compare, for example, the birthers who provided a link to a video which they claimed depicted an attorney for President Obama admitting that his birth certificate is forged.)

Suppose the spin were true. What if Cruz really had handed Sierra Club president Aaron Mair his testicles on a salver. What exactly would have been the significance? Damn little. Mair’s background is in sociology, history and political science, and he is by profession an epidemiological-spatial analyst, which is basically someone who studies the geographical distribution of disease. He does not claim to be an authority on climate science, which just might be why he accepts the research of those who are experts.

Cruz, however, is another matter. With a background in public policy, law and politics, he believes he does know more about climate science than those who study it for a living. He’s even dubbed climate science a “religion.” He knows that global warming is a hoax because it still snows in New Hampshire. No, really. In fact, he places himself in some rather elite company as a maverick scientific thinker:

Today, the global warming alarmists are the equivalent of the flat-Earthers. It used to be [that] it is accepted scientific wisdom the Earth is flat, and this heretic named Galileo was branded a denier.

Aside from the fact that he is turning reality on its ear, fancying himself a modern Galileo and casting the scientific community in the role of a backward religious establishment, there is something staggeringly stupid about that utterance, even by Cruz’s usual standards. But we’ll return to that later. First let’s look at what actually happened at that hearing.

It helps to understand how hearings work in a GOP-controlled Congress. When Planned Parenthood was the target of a smear campaign by a group circulating deceptively edited videos, Congress went after (not the perpetrators of the fraud, but) Planned Parenthood’s CEO, Cecile Richards, whom they subjected to a very nasty, one-sided, accusatory inquisition.

When terrorists attacked an American consulate in Benghazi, Republicans went after former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who coincidentally was the favored contender for the Democratic nomination for president — even though there’s really nothing to investigate, they’ve reportedly now investigated Benghazi more than they investigated 9-11, which occurred on American soil, had a much heavier toll, and actually involved an administration’s gross negligence. And many of us still remember the congressional shark orgy around Clinton’s husband over his sex life, a witch hunt mounted under the comically transparent pretext that it was somehow in the national interest.

So it shouldn’t come as a great shock that given the platform, someone like Ted Cruz would seize the opportunity to grill a Sierra Club representative in an attempt to vindicate his own ineptitude. And while Aaron Mair was not as well prepared for the vicious onslaught as were Richards or Clinton or Clinton (this one was, after all, unscheduled), he was equally firm and patient — I’m not sure that he rolled his eyes even once.

The “platform” was a hearing on government regulation. But at one point Mair observed:

That people of color and low-income communities are disproportionately impacted by pollution, and climate disruption should not be up for debate any more so than the science behind climate change itself.

Well sir, Cruz saw his opportunity, so he pounced.

I’m curious: Is the Sierra Club, is this a frequent practice to declare areas of science not up for debate, not up for consideration of what the evidence and data show?

Among other things, this is a false attribution. It isn’t the Sierra Club that declares “areas of science not up for debate”. It’s scientists themselves. As Mair repeats far too many times (but what else can you say to such Cruzian nonsense on the spot — he had a better response later), the organization stands behind the consensus of 97 percent of scientists. At one point, however, he did refer to the “preponderance of evidence”, which gave Cruz another golden opportunity, noting that as a lawyer he learned that it only took a certainty of 51 percent to establish a preponderance.

I don’t know what kind of lawyer Cruz was, but surely he is not so inept a mathematician as to confuse 51 with 97. If only one scientist says something, or only one percent of scientists say something, by all means you can take it with a grain of salt. If 51 percent of scientists say something, you can consider it a matter of legitimate debate. If 97 percent say something, you’d do well to start paying attention.

Actually, Mair was wrong. He was citing a commonly quoted figure when he said that 97 percent of scientists concur with the global warming scenario, but this figure is off. The actual percentage is more than 99.99 percent. Yet Cruz still knows better.  And he has a simple explanation for why virtually all the scientists are wrong: those scientists only say what they do because they receive “massive grants”.  The “grant” card is a standard component of the anti-sciencer’s toolkit; if all else fails, just suggest that giving scientists money hopelessly corrupts them — unless of course that money comes from a petroleum company, and then the research is above questioning.

The implication is that nearly all scientists, even the best and brightest, can be bought. If that were true, it’s hard to imagine that science would have made anywhere near the progress it has — we might well be still in the bone knives and bearskins stage.

I’m curious, Senator Cruz: would you prefer that scientific research be carried out by shoe salesmen in their basements on weekends — or by individuals wealthy enough to fund their own research? Just how big does a grant need to be to qualify as “massive”? Should it be in the neighborhood of, say, the 15 million you received from major polluters this year?

Cruz asks whether it’s true that there has been no warming trend for the past 18 years. Mair responds, simply but accurately, that no, it isn’t true. Cruz presses on, laying a trap by asking whether Mair knows what “the pause” refers to. Mair fails the test. So what? “The pause” is a statistical burp that absolutely does NOT show a cessation of global warming. Cruz believes it does. So which of them is more uninformed?

In short, it’s true that Aaron Mair wasn’t stellar in defending himself at his de facto trial; but however bad he may have looked, Ted Cruz definitely looked much worse. And it was entirely his own doing. That tends to happen whenever a pompous individual poses as more knowledgeable about a field than the collective experts in that field — unless of course the individual in question really is a Galileo.

Which brings us back to that little statement Cruz made above. Let’s look at it again. Sorry, but it’s just too good to use only once.

Today, the global warming alarmists are the equivalent of the flat-Earthers. It used to be [that] it is accepted scientific wisdom the Earth is flat, and this heretic named Galileo was branded a denier.

As you probably realize, the clash between Galileo and the church had nothing to do with the shape of the earth. It occurred because Galileo had stated the earth revolved around the sun, while church officials insisted that the earth (and they themselves) were at the center of the universe. They were dead wrong about that, but they at least knew the earth was round — as virtually everyone else did.

Today, the term flat earther is applied figuratively to a person who clings obstinately to a narrow-minded belief that is contradicted by the evidence — like, oh, certain senators from Texas. But once upon a time, many people literally believed that before modern times. people literally believed the earth was flat. Not only is Cruz buying into this myth, he is quite ignorant about a key event in the history of science and the iconic conflict involving the scientific genius whose shoes he presumes to fill.

Did we mention that this character is chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness? Did we mention that he wants to be president of the United States?


2 thoughts on “Science Deniers, Flat Earthers and the Modern Galileo

  1. Good article POP,

    It is very presumptuous and grandiose for someone like Ted Cruz to assume that he knows more about global warming and climate science than do dozens of Nobel Laureates and PhDs. And I love your way of emphasizing this fact, when you pose the question, would Senator Cruz “prefer that scientific research be carried out by shoe salesmen in their basements on weekends?” Or, “by individuals wealthy enough to fund their own research?” The rationale behind the absurd accusation that tens of thousands of scientists around the world would be willing to totally distort scientific research just to obtain a lucrative research grant, is especially absurd, and is head bangingly stupid. Good touch to ask if only those wealthy enough to fund their own research should do research, since it points to the fact that quality research often requires large amounts of money to acquire the proper equipment and area to do their research in, and also the funding to compensate academics who must give up teaching and lecture time to participate in any given research. To believe these kinds of petty motivations are behind the actions of climate scientist who desire to do global warming research, is a slap in the face of every scientist who is dedicated to the acquisition of various kinds of knowledge—knowledge which could then, make many of our daily chores and physical health issues all the more comfortable and enjoyable—is really obscene. No one can claim that any individual scientist who is not impervious to the practical need and desire to make a living, would NOT want sufficient amounts of money to back their research—even it it has to come from his/her own coffer! From what I know about their passionate desires to accumulate knowledge, I believe that most scientists would accept any intriguing form of research anyway–even If their own incomes had to somehow be instrumental in financing that research. in reality, Most scientists are more like kids in a candy shop than cleverly disguised criminals robbing a bank!

    It’s also quite frightening to know that so many key positions on congressional committees are filled by Republicans who seem to truly believe that global warming is not a problem—or at least is nothing to worry about. Do educated Congressmen and women really swallow such tripe, or do hey know very well, exactly what they are doing?

    I think I have to point out one thing though—I believe there was a time (several of them) during human history, when many people truly believed that the Earth was flat—If one didn’t know anything about how the earth rotates or revolves around the sun, it would be sort of a common sense perception that, what we see as a largely flat surface extending in all directions to the horizon, is a fundamental indication that the Earth must be flat, (which is the same limited argument behind denying global warming)—because it still snows in New Hampshire? However, during Greek civilization and others over the millenniums, many scholars and ordinary people did begin to understand that we live on the surface of a roughly spherical orbiting body. So yes, it has been known that our Earthly sphere revolves around the sun rather than, (as direct observation would seem to suggest), be typify a stationary body, which the other planets and stars all revolve around. And certainly if Galileo were alive today, he would soon begin to hurl chunks after seeing how a bunch of religious fundamentalists, wanting to control every aspect of our society, have bastardized the knowledge that took so long to gather through his use of the scientific method.

    We seem to live in a time when the strategy of social manipulators seems to be one of creating doubt about every fact, and also, doubt about the proper use of critical reasoning when examining those supposed facts.

    When it comes to multi-billion money making corporations though, do you think they might possibly be motivated to deny AGW science, while maintaining a nihilistic attitude towards any knowledge which might contradict their dogma, Whooda thunk it?—oil–money—Oil–extreme wealth for corporate CEOs—continued obscene profits–turning our backs on nature and science! That can’t be!—wouldn’t an one prefer substantive research funding, or lucrative a five figure salary. (ANYDAY)?

  2. Pingback: Silly Scalia Stories: the Obama Exception in Action | The Propaganda Professor

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