Friday, December 11, 2015

The Case Against Us And How We Argue

Ted Cruz was on NPR this morning. I’ve gotta say, he's one of the most evasive politicians I've heard in a long while. He kept referring vaguely to "satellite data," and saying that globe has not warmed in the past seventeen years, without ever explaining what data he was actually referencing. By the time the interview had concluded, I knew that Ted Cruz's parents were some sort of computer scientists. I knew that his dad was a teenage immigrant. I knew that he believed the climate change issue to be nothing more than a vehicle for big government to snatch control of the private sector. But in an interview to discuss climate change, I had no idea where Cruz was getting his data regarding climate change.

This is what comes up when you Google,
"Ted Cruz's Stupid Face"
So I went looking. And, from what I can find, it seems like Mr. Cruz is intentionally cherry-picking data. And he’s not even being particularly clever about it. [Btw: If anyone can point me to contrary information, I would be grateful because I couldn’t find any].

For those who don’t want to read the linked article, 1998 was an extraordinarily warm year due to a large global El-Nino-Southern Oscillation event—basically a strange fluke which caused the global temperature to drastically spike way more than it otherwise would have.

Cruz starts his calculations from 1998. So when he says, “the globe hasn’t warmed in 17 years,” he starts from a bogus, biased position and ignoring data from any previous decade.

This would be like if I started calculating my GPA in my sophomore year so that my F in freshman year algebra wouldn’t count.

How is he getting away with this?
It’s because he has a pretty compelling point about the way climate change is discussed. Cruz points out that anyone who doesn’t ascribe to the consensus opinion about climate change is labeled as a climate change “denier.” He correctly identifies this as religious language. If you don’t believe in climate change, you’re a heretic. But, as he pointed out, that’s not how the scientific method works. People should be constantly challenging and testing the established scientific consensus.

And in a perverse way, Mr. Cruz is absolutely right. The way we discuss climate change--which is the same way we discuss most any political topic-- is in terms of religious zealotry. Whether its climate change, abortion, the death penalty, race-relations, terrorism, or anything else. We discuss these things in terms of beliefs and feelings, not facts and data.

Mr. Cruz understands that it doesn’t really matter what the facts are, because most people aren’t going to go looking for them anyway. Most people haven’t read any scientific studies on climate change. Most people haven’t gone searching for articles disputing climate change. Most people hear something on the news, or from a friend, or from a superior, or someone else they trust and then take it on faith.

That’s entirely understandable. There’s too much crap going on. I don’t have time to read every goddamn study about climate change. I don’t want to. Don’t make me.

But here’s the problem. Once we take something on faith, we begin to dig in our heels, and we refuse to change our point of view, even when presented with contrary facts and data.

 In a way, this kind of obstinacy makes sense. If we are willing to form our opinions without determining the facts, why would learning more facts ever change that opinion?

Why did I go on this rant? I guess just to say that, being a secular or skeptical person means that you have to entertain the notion that you’re mistaken. You have to be willing to look at facts honestly and recognize when those facts don’t match up to what you want to hear. And then you have to be like, “damn bro, my bad” and adjust accordingly without letting your ego get deflated.

Because if you don’t, people like Ted Cruz are going to come along. They’re going to feed you nothing but half-truths and rhetoric. They won’t provide credible sources, and they won’t ask you to do your own research. They’re just going to ask that you take their word for it—that you believe in them.

Which is terrifying to me

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