Sunday, 5 April 2015

Crank Magnetism and Climate Change Denialism

Scratch a YEC, and odds are you'll find that he's also a climate change denialist. There's also a good chance he will believe vaccines cause autism, endorses homeopathy and naturopathy, and is a germ theory denialist. The phenomenon is called crank magnetism, and describes the not uncommon phenomenon where believers in one crank idea will also believe in many other fringe ideas. Given the multiple cognitive biases present in YECs that blind them to the flaws in YEC, it is hardly surprising that they will likewise fall for climate change denialism, another fringe view rejected by the overwhelming majority of qualified, competent scientists.

YECs are notorious for citing scientific research as evidence for their fringe views which in reality provides zero support for their position. The creationist abuse of Mary Schweitzer's discovery of soft tissue in dinosaur bones as I pointed out in the previous post is a classic example of this YEC habit of misrepresenting scientific research. The same habit of distorting research can be seen with climate denialists. An excellent example of this can be seen in the distortion of research by climate scientist Bjorn Stevens. At MediaMatters blog, Denise Robbins notes:

A recent study provided new estimates for the rate at which aerosols -- tiny particles of matter suspended in the atmosphere - deflect the sun's rays, measuring what is known as aerosol "radiative forcing." The study from Germany's Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, which analyzed data from 1850 to 1950, found that the level of radiative forcing from aerosols is "less negative" than commonly believed, suggesting that aerosols do not cool the atmosphere as much as previously thought. 
According to right-wing media, the study represents a "death blow to global warming hysteria." The reasoning behind the claim, which originated in a Cato Institute blog post, is that climate models rely on aerosols to offset much of the projected greenhouse gas effect from carbon dioxide. So if aerosols offset less warming than commonly believed, Cato claims "the amount of greenhouse gas-induced warming must also be less" and "we should expect less warming from future greenhouse gas emissions than climate models are projecting." The Cato blog post was picked up by the Daily Caller, American Thinker, Alex Jones' Infowars, Investors' Business Daily, and Rush Limbaugh. Daily Caller even claimed that the recent study directly disputes the scientific findings of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, writing: "Basically, the IPCC says aerosols deflect a lot of warming -- the opposite of the Max Planck study's finding."
The reality is that Stevens' study provides no such support for denialist claims. In a letter responding to these claims, Stevens notes:
However others have used my findings to suggest that Earth’s surface temperatures are rather insensitive to the concentration of atmospheric CO2. I do not believe that my work supports these suggestions, or inferences.
He continues by pointing out that a
warming of only 2C from a doubling of CO2 poses considerable risks for society. Many scientists (myself included) believe that a warming of more than 2C from a doubling of the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide is consistent with both my new study and our best understanding. 
and concludes:
So contrary to some reports that have appeared in the media, anthropogenic climate change is not called into question by my study. I continue to believe that warming of Earth’s surface temperatures from rising concentrations of greenhouse gases carries risks that society must take seriously, even if we are lucky and (as my work seems to suggest) the most catastrophic warming scenarios are a bit less likely. 
When the scientist to whose work you appeal directly contradicts your denialist assertions, it is safe to conclude that your critical thinking skills and knowledge of the subject on which you are pontificating is non-existent. More to the point, it means your opinion on the subject can be safely ignored.

As I mentioned at the start, YECs often tend to espouse other fringe ideas and maintain a mindset which predisposes them to believing in conspiracy theories. The cognitive biases needed to maintain such a state of mind is also a surrogate marker for poor critical thinking skills and a considerable lack of knowledge on the subject. That alone means that whenever you run across a Christian who is into climate denialism and YEC, you are dealing with someone whose views on both subjects are likely to be poorly researched, confused, and simply not worth taking seriously.