The science “hoax” hoax: what a puddle of santorum!

Rick Santorum has really stepped in it.

As reported in the Colorado Independent, in a campaign speech he quite casually referred to global warming as a “hoax”.  Not a “mistake”, not “something that merits further study”, but a “hoax”. 

So used to this kind of crazy talk from Rush Limbaugh and other characters with no shot at being President of the United States of America and leader of the free world, some might be inclined to dismiss it as a product of Santorum’s culture, a sloppy habit he may have picked up.  But “hoax” is a very strong word–an accusation–and I’m inclined to see it as revelatory, whether intentionally chosen or not.  And the context seems to suggest that he meant it.  To quote:

[Climate change is] “an absolute travesty of scientific research that was motivated by those who, in my opinion, saw this as an opportunity to create a panic and a crisis for government to be able to step in and even more greatly control your life.”

It’s one thing to disagree categorically with scientific opinion on global warming.  It usually involves a high degree of arrogance, an obstinate refusal to read scientific papers coupled with a belief that bad or even fallacious arguments must trump what’s in those papers, a refusal both to consider expert argument and to distinguish good argument from bad, a dismissal of scientists as slobs without even considering their work and an elevation of hyperconfident one-offs above their modest, painstakingly written journal articles.  

The research summarized in the IPCC Working Group I report and subsequent followups are dismissed out of hand, but “The second law of thermodynamics rules out the greenhouse effect entirely; vibrationally excited molecules must somehow only be able to radiate towards cold things.”, “Volcanoes Are Big and Must Emit More CO2 than puny man despite the numbers working out to the contrary”, and “In pre-anthropocene warming spells, CO2 was a feedback, not a forcing, therefore CO2 cannot be a forcing now” are treated as serious.  The best of this inversion: “A paper in a non-existent journal, with non-existent authors in non-existent departments, full of obvious nonsense scribbles composed of mathematical symbols, says observed warming is caused by benthic bacteria, therefore it must be so.”  With very little exception,  due to the intellectual dishonesty and bad conduct inherent in such a position, disagreeng with the scientific position on global warming shows a certain lack of moral fiber, but mere denialism is saintly in comparison to Santorum’s expressed beliefs.

To believe, as Santorum does, that global warming is a “hoax” is to believe that dozens, if not hundreds, of scientists, working at different institutions and in different fields, have chosen to lie about the subject.  If the evidence is a hoax, then the ostensibly independent groups putting together the various instrumental temperature records–both from satellites and from ground-based instruments–must have set out to deceive, either in collusion or somehow independently all at once.  There must have been no whistleblowers or dissenters among the many grad students, technicians, and other investigators involved.  Down even to  Roy Spencer and John Christy, they were all telling lies, as Santorum would have it, so that (for whatever reason) goverment control could be expanded over the everyday lives of ordinary folk.  Perhaps the various meteorological bureaus and NASA have fudged the raw data.  Or maybe the Hadley Center, the Goddard Institute, RSS, and the UAH group got together and decided to tell the same lie in four different ways, two each from two different types of raw data.

Perhaps this is not the case.  Perhaps the instrumental data are A-OK and the problem is in their interpretation and in our understanding of radiative and convective effects.  Perhaps relatively easily repeated estimates of solar radiation or the carbon budget were fudged by secret socialists.  Perhaps some rogue physicist bent on world government snuck a mistake into the theory of radiative transfer of energy so subtle that it would not only go undetected on paper but also only affect climatological calculations.  Perhaps in coding up General Circulation Models for numerical integration secret “alarmism” terms were inserted in some of the differential equations.  Again here, we have many competing groups in on it, with no whistleblowers among them.  But that can’t be all.  Not only must the conspiracy involve groups who are pubishing, it must involve qualified people who aren’t.  To be more specific, it must involve all of the qualified people who aren’t.  Scientists looking in on this who could spot the mistake–no, the deception–are choosing not to follow through and publish papers that would instantly establish them as leaders of the field.  Either there was a meeting attended by all scientists where this conspiracy of silence was approved unanimously, or the thousands of them, independently, desire greater government control over their lives and those of others and have all arrived at the same position.

No matter what the structure of the supposed “hoax” is, that Santorum does believe such a thing should disqualify him from consideration for the Presidency.  It makes President Obama’s youthful socialism or Ron Paul’s ideology-based gold buggery seem levelheaded by comparison.  There isn’t wide enough interest in this issue for Santorum’s conspiracy-theory beliefs to make him a joke candidate, yet, but this statement does render him even more unelectable than he was already.

Santorum’s statement may work well for him in the primary.  Both major parties–and the minor ones, too–have segments that are spiteful and ignorant, and a claim that global warming is a “hoax” will play will with the Republicans’.  But it shows that a Santorum nomination would be disastrous for his party, and given what’s at stake this time around, for the country.  In 2008 the Republican presidential ticket suffered due to a perception that Sarah Palin was an anti-intellectual ignorant rube.  It isn’t likely that outright anti-intellectualism, manifested as a conspiracy theory about the scientifc community, will fare better.