Source of ‘data’ often determines conclusions

In a recent edition of the Daily Reporter, Martha Vail wrote of her heartfelt opposition to the federal government’s Clean Power Plan. Vail is no doubt sincere in her beliefs, and I am certain she believes just as certainly that she is correct, as I believe her to be in error.

Today, scientific knowledge faces an organized and often angry opposition. Doubters of science arm themselves with their own sources of information and their own interpretation of data. The scientific method is a logical but time-consuming process, for which we can decide if what we choose to believe has a basis in the laws of nature or not. This method does not come easy, since it requires both a great deal of work, and the results may challenge us to believe something we are not comfortable accepting.

It has been shown by studies that even when we accept the results of scientific studies we subconsciously cling to our old intuitions. Most of us, me included, are vulnerable to confirmation bias — the tendency to look for and see only evidence supporting what we already believe.

This may be true of some scientists as well, but we must keep in mind that scientists submit their studies to peer review before publishing their findings. When the subject matter is of importance, other scientists attempt to re-create those same studies for validation.

That peer review process is but one reason why the climate change deniers’ claims of a vast scientific hoax designed to attack the free market and industrial society is such a ludicrous charge. The very idea that hundreds, if not thousands, of scientists are collaborating in a massive hoax is laughable.

Ask yourself: Why would scientists want to attack our economy? They are neither economists nor political scientists. Such is not their area of interest. Ask yourself why would they want to attack our modern industrial society. The scientific community does not seek a return to the dark ages.

What is clear is that science doubters tend to get their information from organizations funded in large part by the fossil fuel industry. Such is the case with the Vail column. Prager University, the source for her CO2 claims, was founded by a conservative radio talk show host, and its largest donors are Dan and Farris Wilks, who earned their billions from the fossil fuel industry. The Wilks brothers fund a number of far-right causes.

University founder Dennis Prager said on the Glenn Beck program that the only things the left hates are “carbon emissions and the people who hate evil.” He blamed California’s drought on that state’s “worship of nature,” and he declared that the recent backlash against the spate of campus rape is a “gargantuan lie to get votes” promoted by the “feminist left.” I leave it to the reader to determine if this sounds like a reliable source for information.

In fairness, not all Prager videos are biased. But according to its video on CO2, it is stated that for most of the history of life on earth, CO2 has been at higher levels than today. I don’t disagree. But I would remind you that for most of the history of life on earth, man was not present. Might I suggest a correlation exists there?

The U.S. Department of Energy cites a government study that says 84 percent of the U.S. greenhouse gases emitted by human activity derive from CO2 and that it has been a minimum of 800,000 years since the CO2 level was as high as it is today.

Vail opined that since the National Institute of Health does not know asthma’s causes, any claim by the Clean Power Act to save lives is wrong. That requires a huge leap in logic.

She also stated that coal burns 80 percent cleaner today than 25 years ago. The closest I could come to such a source was the National Mining Association’s assertions that power plants today emit 90 percent fewer pollutants now than 25 years ago. It, however, excluded CO2 from its list of pollutants. Coal remains the dirtiest of fossil fuels, despite considerable efforts to clean it. It still produces 39 percent of global CO2 emissions. Since each pound of coal produces 2.5 pounds of CO2, successfully capturing it would then require burying 30 million barrels of CO2 daily. That is 1½ times the volume of crude oil the country consumes daily.

Though my sources come from scientific studies, many will refuse to believe them because the information is not acceptable to what they want to be true.

The most intriguing question is, why so much denial of science today? That’s a subject for later.

Michael Adkins is the former chair of the Hancock County Democratic Party. He lives in Greenfield.