I've dug deeply into two controversies that had previously been on my radar but not that important to me. The first is global climate change. Along with many people, I've viewed the debate for many years with little active interest. I've read some articles, both for and against, over the years, but I hadn't been aware of precisely how polarised (sic) the argument had become. And the reason it has become polarised is simple to me - some people don't want to understand the science.
My ignorance was no excuse for not following the science. Same as it is for the deniers. Luckily, my years of examining the evolution denial non-debate meant that I had at least some of the tools necessary to dissect the denier arguments from whichever area of science they came. The same tricks are used again and again and again.
Evidence is cherry picked. Quotations are used out of context or misinterpreted. The position of scientists is caricatured or purely misstated. Conspiracies are propounded. It's smoke and mirrors, sleight of hand, and it doesn't stand up because, as I think I have said often enough, the scientists who really know what they are talking about, because they have been immersed in it for years, know that science has to fit into the bigger picture of everything else we know.
And that it an important point. Evolution deniers often tell us that evolution contradicts the second law of thermodynamics, without understanding the key point is the one about a closed system in which the total energy remains the same. It isn't difficult to understand but apparently it is easy to misuse. The laws of thermodynamics are fundamental to understanding science. It is clear that climate change deniers often ignore the laws of thermodynamics. What does happen to the extra energy the Sun gives us everyday? Since we know that carbon dioxide and other gases have an effect on the incoming and outgoing energy, it would be odd to expect that these gases would either have no effect or one effect in the atmosphere contrary to the effect that can be demonstrated in the laboratory.
I came to the global climate change debate because I felt I didn't know enough to correct the claims I was seeing more and more frequently. I still don't, and will freely admit it, but then I don't really have to because there are those much more able to correct the wonky science used by the deniers. For that I direct you to HotWhopper and AndThenTheresPhysics amongst others. Try my blog roll or those you find on that pair of sites.
So I have contented myself with answering some of the more philosophical points. There are some real issues I have with the way deniers misrepresent science and one of them, you might have noticed, is the fake science = religion claim that is used further down the false argument line to say that science therefore is faith and I don't need to believe it because of that. Nope. Science stands or falls purely on the quality and validity of the evidence. I see people over at WUWT who support the consensus science view being asked for their evidence. I think the best line to give it merely to state the same evidence as that given by the deniers to support their view, except that I see the wider picture of how this fits into what we truly know.
The other area I have dived into this year has been more personal. Alternative medicine. I subscribe to Minchin's Law.
Minchin’s Law posits that there is no alternative medicine that provably works, because any alternative medicine which provably works, is by definition no longer alternative.I have begun over the last week, and can't quite seem to bring myself to finish, a post about something called access bars. The premise behind this quackery seems simple - to put distance between a fool and his/her money. For a sum of money you can have someone gently touch areas of your head that correspond to some form of spurious energy bands that seem to levitate around your skull in some way. I know you won't believe me so here is a link. And here is a lovely graphic:
phrenology to me but it gets more and more exciting. A cursory examination of the labels will give you the life affirming idea that this is made up (a biological reason to have a money band is beyond me) and indeed it is. But it gets better, because you can pay someone to massage these points in your absence (read through this page but do go all the way to the bottom to see I am not lying). I mean, what could be better. You give your money away, you don't have to go to see the woo merchant and both of you feel a lot better. Them because they haven't actually had to do anything and you because... Well, actually you will only think you feel a lot better if you believe in it in the first place.
I've been doing an experiment. I have been mentally massaging the important access bar points of a number of celebrities over the last week or so. I have kept the information from them so far because it is a blind test. In a few weeks, I think I will contact them to ask if they are feeling better for my service and would they like to pay for it. I wonder what the responses will be?
My deep despair at alternative medicine is rooted in the way that many alternative practitioners are keen to have your money. They may keenly believe in what they do, but they sure do make you pay for it. The link I gave above has a price list. £40 for a full access bars session. £100 for three distance sessions. How would I know that the practitioner has done anything? Is there a Skype link or webcam I could see? Perhaps the ASA should hear of this.
Alternative medicine preys on hope. The hope that there is another way. The hope that there is something now that conventional medicine has run out of ideas. I've been there. I've seen that hopelessness but there are ways to deal with it.
It is chilling to be given bad news. Back in June everything seemed to be going swimmingly for my dad. Yes, he had the axe hanging over his head, so to speak, as at any time we could expect his Non-Hodgkin's or his brain tumours to kick off and cause havoc. What we were not expecting was a new diagnosis of yet another form of cancer. That was bad enough, but the prognosis froze my bone marrow. The oncologist said he did not expect to see my dad in a year's time. He was right but it wasn't something you want to hear.
There was effectively no treatment available that would make my dad better. To his credit, he didn't decide to throw away good money seeking an illusion. He could have, for example, afforded some of Burzynski's discredited antineoplastons. Or visited another quack or two. Instead, he accepted his fate with a dignity that others could match. It's not what he would have wanted but it was the hand that fate dealt him.
I've written before about my dad. I was privileged because he gave me an outlook on life that was trusting but not gullible. He encouraged me to question, to seek answers, to find out what I could. I know many of us can be thoroughly boring about how good our dad's are or were. At his funeral, everyone said what a kind and lovely man my dad was.
Thank you, dad. I miss you.