It's Warm on the Grassy Knoll

Global-warming denialism as a conspiracy theory

One possible reason that global-warming denialism is more prevalent in the U.S. than elsewhere is that more Americans than Europeans are Biblical literalists. That involves believing that all biologists and paleontologists are either massively incompetent or deliberately trying to mislead the public about the central facts of their disciplines. [The alternative theory, held by some, is that the entire fossil record is a trick by Satan, intended to deceive those whose faith isn’t firm.] I haven’t seen any data on the overlap between global-warming denialism and creationism, but thinking about Sarah Palin and her fans you’d have to guess at a strong correlation between the two beliefs.

Global-warming denialism is a special case, of course: the policy implications of the facts about climate change threaten some very large economic interests and some dearly-held political beliefs. So global-warming-denialist brochures are printed on glossy paper. Other than that, though, it’s fairly standard-grade fringe pseudoscience, not much different from the folks who write endless papers full of gibberish proving that Einstein was wrong.

And yet the Washington Post continues to make op-ed space available for flat-earth climatology.

I think that you should take any science you read on the op-ed page with a huge grain of salt. But why is that? Why are the people writing and publishing these things thinking that they are opinion in the first place? One of the effects of scientific inquiry is to remove opinion from the analysis, and leave something that is objectively true. If you really think that there are multiple ways of interpreting the data, then you need to take a closer look at at the data you have, and possibly get more data. But in a lot of these cases, while more data is usually good, it isn’t what is required — the “alternative” interpretations don’t stand up to scrutiny. But this is the op-ed page, and making it up doesn’t seem to carry any penalty with it. On the contrary, one can lie to a large audience and then source amnesia takes over; nobody remembers that it was a lie or came from a disreputable source — all they remember is the claim. Which is a very different situation from scientific publishing, where publishing lies usually kills (or severely impedes) your career.

I'm Shocked. Shocked! That TV isn't Real.

CSI lies and suspicious science over at Cocktail Party Physics

Forensic science has come a long way since Sherlock Holmes bragged that he could identify 140 types of tobacco from their ash. And far be it from me to diss one of my favorite shows on the TV I don’t own, the original CSI, which is loaded with fantastic sciency goodness, even if it is a little unrealistic. CSI? Unrealistic? Hate to break it to you kids, but, yeah. At the very least, the speed with which our intrepid heroes get their results would make any cop, ADA, or defense attorney double over in laughter, when they’re not crying.

Time-compression is the sin here, and it’s not new nor confined to CSI. I can go back to some of the favorite shows of my youth, like Adam-12, where all of the boring inaction of real-life policework has been culled. And newer shows, like NUMB3RS, display time compression as well. And the shows know this

A related sleight of hand is time compression: Charlie solves huge problems in short order. On CSI, tests come back in hours; in real life, they would take weeks. “We get bagged on a lot for that,” says CSI executive producer Naren Shankar, possibly the only writer in television with a Ph.D. in applied physics. (Shankar´s first Hollywood job was as a science researcher for Star Trek: The Next Generation.)

Time compression, to me, is a forgivable sin. I am willing to concede the trimming of the dead-time so that the show can be wrapped up in an hour. The streamlining of the false-positives fall into that category, too, for me, though I wonder if they couldn’t be worked into the story lines. (It’s quite possible they have and I’m just not remembering)

The act that bothers me more is the magic TV shows often do with image enhancement. Some low-resolution, blurry image is analyzed, and that tiny section off in the corner is blown up and magically transformed into a high-resolution crystal-clear image, revealing crucial detail (often the face of the killer, or the license plate of their car). Sorry, but if all you have is 640 x 480 from some crappy security camera, it’s not going to get better than that. Once you get down to one pixel, you can’t subdivide it.