Friday, March 06, 2009

The vanishing brain of Myron

In a rather nasty and degenerative book review in a poncy new right-wing outlet, Myron Ebell screws readers with his opinionated ramble on the subject of James Lovelock's latest Gaia book, as well as of another book that is Lovelock's biography.

Myron cherry-picks what he considers as far-sighted wisdom (any criticism of Greens) from the extreme naiveté of the man (fear of the US private health system), and mixes it with his usual catalogue of misrepresentations. Indeed, Myron's concludes his piece with the story:
[In the biography, the author recounts] Lovelock's coronary problems that almost killed him because he didn't want to have surgery in the United States in 1972 on the grounds that it would cost too much. After a decade of misdiagnoses and delay, during which he might have had a fatal heart attack at any time, the National Health Service finally operated in 1982. The bypass was "a complete success".

Unfortunately, a catheter had not been sterilised properly due to a labour dispute that was taken out on patients by working to rule. The result has been continual urinary tract infections, at least 40 operations, and "pain and misery that persists to the present day". The [biography] cheerily reports that Lovelock "holds no ill will towards the hospital or the National Health Service. If anything, his experiences over the next 25 years reinforced his belief in a free medical service available to all."
Great. So we're supposed to privatize the health service because socialized medicine is strike-prone and full of workers who don't care if you get infected, apparently. While these allegations are probably unfounded, we do know that the insurance companies who control the American health care system absolutely do not care if you die.

Here's another example of Myron having problems with the subject of his writings:
It is with Lovelock's enthusiasm for nuclear power that his fundamental disagreement with and antipathy for the Green movement becomes most apparent. The Greens have turned people against nuclear power with "a concatenation of lies". Ironically, Lovelock acknowledges that he played a small but essential role in creating modern environmentalism. His invention of the electron capture detector in 1957 provided Rachel Carson with evidence that industrial toxins were present in everything, including human tissue. Lovelock points out that everyone knows that the dose makes the poison. Minute traces of chemicals pose no threat to human beings, nor do the low levels of radiation found in nuclear waste. The most potent carcinogen, Lovelock observes, is oxygen.
Really? Atom for atom, I thought the most potent carcinogen was the radio-active metal Plutonium. But it's normal for Myron not to know the difference between toxic waste and food. I'm not sure what Rachel Carson has to do with this, but the CEI has had a thing about her ever since they decided to start spreading malicious lies about the effectiveness of the pesticide DDT which mosquitoes become wholly resistant to in about a year.

In reality, the electron capture detector was famous for measuring the pervasiveness of low levels of CFCs throughout all of the atmosphere and, in so doing, was an essential tool for discovering the cause of the ozone hole.

But the indisputable story of a life-threatening mad-made chemical process in the atmosphere and how disaster was mostly avoided by timely action is not something Myron is ever going to want to talk about. Instead, he's going to bang on about how tasty nuclear waste is for breakfast.

It's not just Lovelock who is in favour of nuclear power, a whole raft of environmentalists have recently come out for it as well. It would be a mistake to interpret this as them "changing their minds" over the desirability of nuclear power, so much as the threat of global warming being so awful as to make a nuclear meltdown happening in a couple of cities across the world a preferable option.

Myron writes:
The current scientific consensus on global warming, as represented by the assessment reports of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is far off the mark, according to Lovelock. Consensus has no legitimate role in science. It's rather a way of resolving political differences than pursuing truth. Moreover, this specific consensus is based on agreeing that computer models can predict what global temperatures will be in 50 or 100 years, which Lovelock argues is preposterous. Instead of models, science must be based on observations and measurements.

What do observations and measurements tell us about the global climate? Lovelock says that the evidence is unambiguous: the rate of warming is much faster than predicted by the computer model forecasts of steady, gradual warming. The almost certain result is that the self-regulating feedbacks that maintain the climate in its current rather cool state will collapse and the climate will change suddenly to a much hotter state.
Well, who'd have thought: models and predictions that have been encouraged to assume the most conservative measures and interpretations end up under-estimating the effect. That's because they define a lower bound of how bad things are going to be.

But when Myron sees this error value, he feels he can decide which way the error goes:
I agree with Lovelock on consensus, the computer models and on the primacy of observation. But he seems unaware of the wide array of observational evidence that does not support his position. For example, he quotes one study that sea levels are now rising at a rate much faster than the models predict. That study is not supported by the scientific literature or by the satellite measurements of sea levels that have recently become available.
I am unable to find what Myron is talking about. If he does have a non-fictitious citation, perhaps he needs to add it to the Satellite sea level measurement section which begins:
Sea level rise estimates from satellite altimetry are 3.1 ± 0.4 mm/yr for 1993-2003 (Leuliette et al. (2004)). This exceeds those from tide gauges. It is unclear whether this represents an increase over the last decades; variability; true differences between satellites and tide gauges; or problems with satellite calibration.
Then finally we get the usual rehash that carbon dioxide is good for you, because...
Even on the small chance that he is right that we face a much hotter world, there have been similar climate eras in Earth's history that were times of lush vegetation and a flourishing of the biosphere rather than widespread droughts and deserts. That's not necessarily due to temperature: plants need carbon dioxide to photosynthesise and higher carbon dioxide levels cause nearly all classes of plants to grow more vigorously and to withstand adversity better, as hundreds of agricultural experiments have demonstrated.
Would that be agricultural experiments like these ones, which find exactly the opposite effect, or is he making stuff up again?

All in all, this article sheds a lot of light on the "unashamedly highbrow" and "properly edited"[1] quality of this Standpoint magazine, which is about what you would expect for a right-wing leaning publication.

After all, if the facts don't agree with the politics, then the facts have to be ignored.


Blogger Bhuvan Chand said...

nice article. I have also a blog on climate change.

10:51 PM, March 06, 2009 Permanent link to this entry  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You sound intelligent enough to know better. What could your motive possibly be?

2:07 PM, April 14, 2009 Permanent link to this entry  
Blogger goatchurch said...

For what?

4:08 PM, April 14, 2009 Permanent link to this entry  

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