My Turn: Disregarding research done by climate scientists is not justifiable


  • “Doubting research is part of the scientific review process but disregarding the aggregate research by the majority of climate scientists is not justifiable,” Ceacy Henderson. Contributed Photo

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Last night I had dinner with a friend and he mentioned pond inversions. He described how a pond inversion kills fish. I had to look this up because I couldn’t understand the principle.

In such an inversion, water flips so that the poorly oxygenated water at the bottom will be suddenly forced upward by large volumes of rain that then forces the warm oxygenated water at the surface down to the pond’s bottom. The fish that live in the upper strata of the pond suddenly find there isn’t enough oxygen and they suffocate. Hard to imagine why the fish can’t just follow the oxygenated water downward, but I guess it has something to do with temperature. And why doesn’t the water mix into a medium temperature of moderately oxygenated water? Isn’t that the way it always goes; one thought leads to a question, to another question, and off we go.

What I love about things like this is that it inevitably brings me back to the chemistry of life. So much of what we simply do not notice around us is the manifestation of the remarkable. But we generally go along with our everyday lives thinking about grocery lists or weekend plans without so much as a nod to the physical world with its active chemistry and intricate biology. Which is really too bad. The world is far more exciting, perplexing, and intriguing than most people know. It is the ultimate reality show.

But unless you are a chemist or a biologist, often you do need someone to help you understand. The vast amount of information and astounding insights that science offers isn’t learned overnight. Science is built upon the research of those who came before. It is an accumulative process that requires discourse, collaboration and the willingness to challenge what may seem obvious, but is unproven. It requires rigor, discipline, and most importantly, peer-review. The scientific method has been crucial to our successes in understanding everything from the origins of the universe to the mechanics of genetic manipulation. But now science is being discredited in ways that seem unfathomable.

Of all the ways in which politicians have undermined our culture, the controverting of science is one of the most damaging. “Next week we’re going to have a hearing on our favorite subject of climate change and also on the scientific method, which has been repeatedly ignored by the so-called self-professed climate scientists,” Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), the chairman of the science committee in the House of Representatives, said on March 26 at the meeting of the Heartland Institute.

Those “self-professed climate scientists” represent 97 percent of the world’s climate scientists, including James Hansen of NASA and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Doubting research is part of the scientific review process but disregarding the aggregate research by the majority of climate scientists is not justifiable.

Science is about asking legitimate questions and challenging the findings by others. It is one of the best tools humans have to verify facts. Critique and peer review are intended to be safeguards. Trying to discredit 97 percent of the world’s climatologists and use of the House Science Committee as a tool to advance a political agenda is a misuse of power. Scientists are having to get out into the streets to protest the debunking of scientific findings because influential politicians and other vested corporate interests are doing their utmost to discredit its validity. The same people who want to deny climate science, for example, would hardly disregard the very same scientific process that has brought them the miracles of modern medicine. The willful disregard for any science that does not agree with a specific social perspective or financial investment is indicative of the manipulation of the public’s perception of reality.

Ever heard of the term “blue lies?” It is a psychologist’s term. It refers to falsehoods told on behalf of a group to strengthen the bonds among its members. In highly polarized circumstances, such as our current political landscape, blue lies function to discredit the “other” side. A recent article in the online journal of Scientific American discusses the use of “blue lies” by Trump as a strategy to disseminate falsehoods without incurring the indignation of his supporters. Trump’s slashing of funding for scientific research and for data collection is an ominous sign, despite repeated statements by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis that climate change is not only real but an imminent concern for U.S. security. Facts can be inconvenient challenges to unsubstantiated claims, and Trump’s track record with the truth is very disturbing.

This strategy of calling into question legitimate science is a very serious breach of public trust and a dangerous shell game. Americans deserve better, and the rest of the world does too. Lack of truth is like lack of oxygen; it suffocates us.

Ceacy Henderson lives in Colrain.