The Mean Girls of Global Warming
Someone sent me a clip from John Oliver—a nebbishy British version of Jon Stewart—arguing that global warming skeptics don't deserve a hearing because 97% of scientists supposedly back the claims of catastrophic man-made global warming.
This video actually demonstrates that lefties like Oliver and Stewart don't deserve a hearing, at least not on any topic remotely related to science. And the way Oliver dramatized his point turns out to be very revealing about what actually drives the global warming hysteria.
To begin with, the 97% claim is bogus. It's based on surveying the abstracts (preliminary summaries) of scientific papers related to the climate, and it has multiple problems. Some articles by skeptics are simply left out of the survey, a nice way of keeping down their count. Some papers mention global warming in their abstracts but do nothing to prove it in the actual paper itself, whereas other papers might actually undermine the case for global warming without explicitly saying so in the abstract. It's almost as if you get more grant money by trying to tie your research to global warming, no matter how tenuously, but you risk losing it if you come out as a skeptic.
But the biggest problem with this statistic is that it just doesn't matter. Before Copernicus and Galileo, there was a pretty strong consensus among scientific authorities that the Earth was at the center of the solar system. Up to the 1950s, the theory of plate tectonics, which is now the foundation of geology, was still widely considered a crackpot notion championed by a few lonely dissenters. The history of science is a long history of the consensus being proven wrong.
The point is that consensus by itself proves nothing, and acting as if it is crucially important is evidence that you don't understand what the whole endeavor of science is about.
But Oliver doesn't stop there. He dramatizes the supposed consensus with a setup in which one meek fellow admits, rather modestly, that he doesn't think the science is conclusive about global warming. Then he is surrounded by 97 people in lab coats—because scientists always wear lab coats, don't you know—who proceed to drown him out by shouting at him.
This is the method of a bully or—perhaps more relevant—a collectivist. The attitude is: I will use the sheer bulk of the numbers of my gang to overwhelm you and shout you down.
Which is to say that this reveals little about global warming, but an awful lot about the left's ignorance, indifference, and contempt toward science.
What's really driving this whole "consensus" claim, if not science? The John Oliver video came to me by way of an item in the leftist Daily Kos newsletter, which gives us our answer.
The author repeatedly exults in his confidence that "John Oliver's mockery will 'dissuade' media organizations from portraying [a] false balance" between global warming believers and skeptics. He then goes on at length about the power of "open mockery and derision," the idea that "just by watching a video like this and hearing an entire audience derisive[ly] ridicule climate-denialism," skeptics will be induced to go along with the consensus. He fantasizes about the day when "every one you talk to will laugh [about] the old days when 'those' science deniers used to be so silly."
You know what this is? This is high school. It's not your high school science class, but the high school of cliques, snubbing, ostracism, and mockery as an all-powerful weapon.
Now we can fully understand the contemporary phenomenon of the satirical fake news show—Jon Stewart, John Oliver, and the rest—and why it's so popular on the left. These shows are created by and for people who never really graduated from high school, the ones who wanted to be part of the clique and to ostracize those who didn't fit in. These guys weren't the kind of bullies who beat you up outside the girls' locker room. (John Oliver looks more like the type who was beaten up.) Instead, they're the kind who rose in the clique through mockery and humiliation directed at their rivals.
Think of them as the "mean girls" of global warming.
But notice that they're not using mockery directly as a weapon against the skeptics. Remember back to high school, if you can. If you didn't really care about being in the clique, they were pretty much irrelevant to you. It was only those who really wanted to fit in and be popular who got caught up in all of the manufactured drama. The mean girls are always meanest to each other.
So the real target on which our mean girls of global warming train the power of their mockery is not the general public, nor is it the ideological right. Their target is the mainstream media.
The Daily Kos piece led me back to an article in the leftist British newspaper The Guardian, which describes the John Oliver clip as "the best climate debate you'll ever see," i.e., no debate at all. It goes on to give an exact description of how the global warming crowd intends to win the debate by shutting it down.
A recent paper published in the journal Earth's Future by Maibach, Myers, and Leiserowitz discussed the importance of public awareness of the expert consensus on human-caused global warming.
"Those who do not understand the scientific consensus about human-caused climate change are, in turn, less likely to believe that climate change is happening, human-caused, will have serious consequences, and is solvable (i.e., can be mitigated through concerted action).... [A]s members of the general public come to understand the consensus, they more likely come to the conclusion that human-caused climate change is happening and harmful."
The "consensus gap," as we call it, is one of the key roadblocks preventing us from taking serious action to mitigate the risk associated with human-caused climate change. False balance in media coverage of climate change, giving the fringe contrarian view disproportionate coverage, is one of the main causes of the consensus gap.
So their goal is to win the debate by bullying CNN and the BBC into dropping all coverage of anyone who dissents from the consensus. In effect, their strategy is to tell mainstream reporters that they can't let themselves be seen talking with those really un-cool kids who don't believe in global warming, because if they do, they won't be allowed to eat their lunch at the cool kids' table.
It should go without saying that this is what you do when you are losing the debate on the merits. The efforts of the warmthers these days have a lot to do with peer pressure, conformity enforced by mockery, and manipulation of the media. But this doesn't have a lot to do with science.
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