Essex column: Denying something doesn’t make it untrue
We live in an increasingly anti-intellectual age in which, for an increasing number of people, including our president, if you don’t like something, you simply deny it.
Fake news, fake science.
Maybe the eclipse last week was just sort of a cloudy day.
“… how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable?” *
If you don’t like the message of Post Independent columnist Dr. Greg Feinsinger — “People on a lifelong plant-based, whole (unprocessed), low fat and oil diet don’t get atherosclerosis and therefore don’t have heart attacks or strokes” — then you might respond on Facebook: “Oh my gosh, I cannot handle his health advice. Air and water are probably bad for us too.”
If you don’t want to accept that carbon emissions trap greenhouse gases and heat our atmosphere, warming the planet and increasing the frequency of severe storms, you can say things like, “I’m not a scientist,” or, “Sure, the climate is changing. The climate has always had fluctuations. What about the ice ages?”
I was reminded of Feinsinger’s critics and climate change deniers in reading about eclipses in advance of Monday’s big event. Our knowledge of precisely when the eclipse would be at its maximum and how great the occlusion would be in a particular place was based on science that once was mysterious and theoretical.
By the time such predictions had been refined, the New York Times noted, it was a solar eclipse that proved “Albert Einstein’s new and controversial theory of relativity, [which] predicted that gravity would cause light to bend. It sounded crazy, but a solar eclipse in 1919 provided the opportunity to test it as starlight passed near the blotted-out sun. Einstein’s theory was proved, turning him into a celebrity overnight.”
Though not directly related to Einstein’s work, not long after that, the world was changed for good when the United States proved the theory that splitting an atom would release unprecedented energy and power.
“… if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” *
In the time of Copernicus and Galileo, scientists put forth their theories at peril of being branded heretics for such ideas as a heliocentric universe.
By last century, though, scientists were largely venerated. Even if proof of some of their theories brought destruction, they also cured disease and enabled space flight and its attendant benefits.
In the past 40 years or so, though, with billions of dollars on the line and big industry threatened, we’ve seen the rise of well-funded, professional denial, documented in the book “Merchants of Doubt” and today abetted by the awesome power of the internet to parse evidence into distortion and amplify it in a digital echo chamber.
“The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power.” *
We deny science at our peril and at great cost, not just out of our pocketbook but to our curiosity and the advancement of humanity.
The eclipse did happen Monday, just as scientific understanding that evolved over centuries told us it would.
Smoking does cause cancer, just as science showed, even though big tobacco sought to undercut those findings for decades.
People who eat a plant-based, whole-foods diet don’t get heart attacks or strokes, just as science shows, despite Big Food’s success in addicting us from childhood to convenient, low-priced, sugary, processed poison.
Earth is warming and ample evidence does exist that burning fossil fuels is the greatest contributor to this.
This shouldn’t be controversial. Tides that routinely flood Miami Beach streets, rising numbers of extremely hot days and increasingly frequent severe storms might be evidence enough.
In 1995, scientists forecast that “a warmer world is likely to experience an increase in the frequency of heavy precipitation events, associated with a more intense hydrological cycle and the increased water-holding capacity of a warmer atmosphere.”
This has come to pass. Just one example from the 2014 National Climate Assessment:
“Between 1895 and 2011, temperatures in the Northeast increased by almost 2˚F (0.16˚F per decade), and precipitation increased by approximately 5 inches, or more than 10 percent (0.4 inches per decade). Coastal flooding has increased due to a rise in sea level of approximately 1 foot since 1900.”
Some Post Independent letter writers like to cite a NASA study showing record Antarctic ice as evidence that Earth really is not warming. They haven’t bothered to read as far as the second sentence of the report summary: “The upward trend in the Antarctic, however, is only about a third of the magnitude of the rapid loss of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean.”
It is true that climate scientists cannot yet predict the consequences of warming with the precision of an eclipse. As surely as the Arctic permafrost is softening, though, the eclipse last week was real and two plus two does still equal four.
* The quotes are from George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984,” written in 1949, in which a totalitarian government constantly watches an oppressed populace and rewrites history to conform to its views.
Randy Essex is editor and publisher of the Post Independent.