More Fun with Dot Earth

Now there’s this item:

Talk about a civics lesson: A high school senior has raised questions about political bias in a popular textbook on U.S. government, and legal scholars and top scientists say the teen’s criticism is well founded. They say “American Government,” by conservatives James Wilson and John DiIulio, presents a skewed view of topics from global warming to separation of church and state. The publisher now says it will review the book, as will the College Board, which oversees college-level advanced-placement courses used in high schools.

Here’s my reply, which essentially and churlishly blames Andrew himself for the whole mess:

I think the authors of the textbook have been honestly misled, as have many of the commenters here. It’s not necessary to accuse them of bias; they’re just wrong, and probably wrong with the best of intentions.

It is not difficult to run into people who are deeply confused about this issue; there’s no reason to expect writers of civics textbooks to be an exception.

The textbook should be updated in due course; meanwhile teachers should be encouraged to discuss the matter with their classes.

The comments this time around are particularly hard to take, though.

Number 26, accusing scientists of making a distinction between “good” and “bad” CO2 shows intelligence sadly uninformed by understanding. Nature produces and consumes CO2 in equal amounts. This is not a coincidence but a result of equilibration. Adding dramatically to CO2 production without changing CO2 consumption drives nature to a vastly different balance.

This is the sort of fact that should be well understood by any high school graduate. I don’t fault the writer here but the press. The concept isn’t hard to understand, but most people are very far from grasping it.

The immediately preceding posting, #25, is even more painful to behold, as it absconds with Moynihan’s pithy and crucial observation and uses it in the service of misinformation.

To see where the facts of the matter lie, it does not suffice to read about them in financial and political publications. One should examine where the leading contemporary scientific bodies of the day stand.

Those who wish for this to be perceived as something less than virtual unanimity among competent parties are doing a far better job than they ought to be able to manage. It is the abdication of responsibility by the press that allows the conspiracy to misinform the public to persist.

I agree that talk of Lysenkoism is relevant.

People interested in the corruption of science should take some care to notice on what side of this debate the powers that fund the science find themselves. I wonder which side #15 perceives as the Lysenkoists and which as the representatives of science.

You are not entitled to your own facts, even if you buy them wholesale from the manufacturer. Politics is the clash of opinion, and science is the progress of facts. Facts are not matters of opinion, and the failure of the society to make the judgment effectively is not due to the triumph of dogma over science within science, but its triumph elsewhere.

It is the responsibility of the press to sort this out. I eagerly await the Times or a comparable outlet finding the nerve to expose the sources of the misinformation that so tragically pervades this very conversation.

That the confusion extends to a civics textbook is
neither surprising nor, with all due respect to young Matthew’s courage, especially important. This is not primarily a failure of science or of education. It is a failure of journalism, and thence of reason, and thence of democracy.

There’s plenty of muck out there. Dr. Oreskes has even been so kind as to provide you with a rake. It’s perfectly obvious that somebody is lying in this situation. It is a gross failure of journalistic responsibility that so many people (especially in English-speaking countries) are so confused about who that is.

Andrew, though I appreciate your efforts as much better than nothing, it isn’t enough for you to scratch your head about these problems as a spectator.

Journalism is a key player in the future of the world. You are in a position to do something about it. You speak about following the money in Mr. Gore’s new initiative. How about at least equal time in following the money on the side of the organized forces of confusion, derision, ignorance, hostility and misdirection on the other side?

Update: Here’s a report on DeSmog about a study that corroborates the role of journalism in the pervasiveness of confusion in America.

Geoengineering again

A really excellent article on geoengineering appears on Andrew Revkin’s Dot Earth in which In It reader RM Reiss has already commented briefly but cleverly. Revkin also points to related NYTimes articles by Cornelia Dean and William Broad.

I’ve been hard on journalists in general and Revkin in particular of late, so let me take this opportunity to emphasize that not all journalism is off base and the NYTimes in particular is usually very helpful, at least in this regard. (I think their architecture criticism verges on criminally insane, for instance, but that’s another matter…)

Dean quotes David Keith of the University of Calgary:

One way or another, Dr. Keith said, in 200 years the earth will be “an artifact,” a product of human design.

I don’t know if I agree with that. The world will never be an artifact, but we are already well into the anthropocene where we are by far the dominant surface process. Or as I’ve said recently, we’ve already taken the wheel, so we’d damned well better learn to drive.

The YouTube video featured on the Dot Earth article concludes something like “ultimately it comes down to the wisdom of our politicians. I’d best not say anything more about that.” But something else Keith says really bears thinking about:

And who should decide what action should be taken or when?

“I have no idea,” Dr. Keith replied. But just as international organizations were formed to regulate the use of radio frequencies, organize air traffic control, track space debris and deal with other problems, it might be possible to create an international organization to deal with these questions, he said.

“We are backing our way into global governance, very slowly,” he said.

That won’t go over big in Texas either… But the world is less like a frontier and more like a boat every day. I’ve never heard of a boat with two hundred captains.