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When scientists are crackpots
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Recently a friend posted a video on Facebook he asserted would demolish the Godless theory of evolution. On it, a fellow sitting in a pickup and wearing a backward baseball cap smugly explained Darwinian evolution contradicts the Second Law of Thermodynamics, a fundamental principle of physics.
Never mind that the fellow's science was as backward as his baseball cap. The Second Law states almost the opposite of his description. Indeed, if it said what creationists claim, not only evolution, but life itself would be impossible.
But what struck me as equally significant was the implied attitude toward scientists. Because if what the fellow claimed was even halfway right, it could only mean that every physics professor in every university in the world was part of a vast conspiracy of silence against God.
And why would they do that? I suppose for the same reason that climate scientists worldwide all but unanimously warn that increased levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are contributing to a potentially catastrophic warming of the planet.
No less an authority than Sarah Palin characterized them as employing "doomsday scare tactics pushed by an environmental priesthood that capitalizes on the public's worry and makes them feel that owning an SUV is a sin against the planet."
Individual scientists are certainly as prone to temptation as anybody else. However, a single instance of serious fraud -- misrepresenting experiments, faking data -- is fatal to a career. The higher the profile, the more dramatic the fall.
The director of Penn State's climatology program, Michael Mann drew the ire of climate change deniers as the inventor of the "hockey stick graph." First published in Nature, it combined so-called "proxy records" -- tree ring studies, ice core and corals -- of temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere over the past 1,000 years with contemporary thermometer records.
It showed the climate trending irregularly cooler until the Industrial Revolution, when temperatures trended sharply upward -- the blade of the metaphorical hockey stick. Since then, numerous studies based on different data have drawn the same conclusion: Earth's climate is warming rapidly, with potentially catastrophic consequences.
Mann's not a shy fellow. His book "The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars" constitutes not only a lucid explanation of his own work, but a vigorous defense of climate science against industry-funded denialists. In a recent pleading filed in the D.C. Court of Appeals, the National Review argues that this makes him a public figure and fair game for abuse.
Welcome to Washington, professor.
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons can be reached at eugenelyons2@yahoo.com.