When politics control the ‘facts’ | VailDaily.com

When politics control the ‘facts’

Alan Braunholtz

“An Inconvenient Truth,” the documentary featuring clips of Al Gore’s powerful climate change presentation and brief moments of his travels as he gives his talk around the world, is surprising not so much for the facts and data as for the insights into the man himself. The facts and data are well known and, as he shows, unassailable. The only option available to the skeptics is willful ignorance and misrepresentation. Future generations will view our current leaders’ embrace of ignorance as criminally negligent. Gore has a bunch of amusing quotes from Mark Twain and other cutting masters of the spoken and written word that illustrate the humor of stupidity quite well.The astonishing part of the film is how different Al Gore is from the public perception the media and Republican Party created for him. The film is worth watching for this alone. He comes across as a warm, thoughtful, funny and very human person. He grew up on a mixed farm, growing beef and tobacco and has faced his share of personal tragedies. His sister died from lung cancer, her death a catalyst for the family to face the hypocrisy of profiting from tobacco. As the film says, it’s hard to see the truth when you profit from avoiding it. Tragedies have a way of opening the eyes.His young son almost died in a car accident, which refocused his priorities. His years as a public servant and continuing campaign to educate enough of us to get some traction on climate change come from a desire to look after and protect his own and future children.Unfortunately, most of this country’s media is more interested in profits and market share than actually providing complete information on complex issues. They’ve reneged on the deal that gave them our airwaves for the public service of providing real news. They reduce nuanced issues to nonsensical simple choices, people to stereotypes, and replace expensive investigative reporting with fluff.One fact that stands out in “An Inconvenient Truth” is a random survey of 10 percent of all peer-reviewed scientific articles on climate change over the past 10 years. Peer review means that before publication other independent scientists – experts in that field – review the article to see if what it says is backed by the data and observations. If the author’s experiments are badly designed or results are misinterpreted, these experts will see it, and it won’t be published. Guess the number of peer-reviewed articles in this survey that disputed climate change? Zero.The opponents of the idea of climate change don’t have a scientific leg to stand on, but that doesn’t matter as our media is so lazy that instead of researching the evidence at hand it merely finds two opposing viewpoints and hopefully a nasty exchange to raise ratings and calls it balanced reporting. It’s a parody of balanced reporting. No mention that 99.9 percent of accredited experts hold one view and that the 0.1 percent is held by someone talking in a field he has little expertise in and often with a paid agenda.Fifty-three percent of articles in the popular press over the same 10-year period were critical of climate change. Zero to 53 percent is a big difference and shows how much the media has failed us and is being manipulated by those with the money and incentive to do so. The climate-change skeptics are pulling pages out of the tobacco companies’ “Cigarettes can cause cancer? Are you sure?” playbook. Create a fog of doubt to avoid facing an inconvenient truth.Scientists are motivated to discover the truth as much as possible. That’s where respect, fame and fortune are for scientists. If a scientist could disprove climate change, he’d be famous. If one could disprove evolution, he’d win the Nobel Prize. The problem is they can’t, as the evidence overwhelmingly supports both.It’s not a matter of opinion. Mere matters of opinion are for unanswerable debates over who is the best painter, writer, singer, etc. For most subjects, two contradictory opinions can’t both be correct, so the right to have an opinion reflects nothing on the validity of that opinion. Validity depends on the opinion being supported by the evidence. In the epistemic sense, only then are you entitled to your opinion. Do you have the right to an incorrect opinion? Mistaken opinions are often dangerous. If I mistakenly believe I’ve turned the power off before changing an electric socket, I’d be more than happy if Gayle corrected my incorrect opinion that I’d turned the power off.Opinions are only as good as the facts that support them. If you’re interested in the truth, sacred opinions shouldn’t get in the way. Unfortunately in the U.S., politics looks to be taking over science, so the opinions control the facts and not the other way around. The PR machine with the best sound bite doesn’t worry too much about the facts.Another film worth watching [hopefully here in September] is “A Flock of Dodos”, another amusing documentary. This one’s about the manufactured controversy re the teaching of evolution versus so-called intelligent design in our school system. Humor exposes the core of issues in ways no tedious debate can. Good comedians also open our eyes.Either way, go and see “An Inconvenient Truth” with as much an open mind as possible and give Al Gore’s arguments a chance to affect your opinions. There’s also a Web site at http://www.climte crisis.net that’s worth checking out, and look for “A Flock of Dodos” in September.Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a weekly column for the Daily. Vail, Colorado

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