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Settled Science: Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Krauthammer

Mon ,24/02/2014

What do George Will, Cal Thomas, and Charles Krauthammer have in common? They all claim to be conservative, but it is not clear what they wish to conserve. It is certainly not the environment or people’s health. They are all against environmental regulations, scientific evidence that contradicts their ideology, and the Affordable Care Act. They do seem to have a keen interest in conserving money for corporations. Mr. Krauthammer’s recent article , The Myth of ”Settled Science”,  certainly illustrates that point . Though he claims he is not a denier, he follows the recent denier’s tactics of casting doubt on the conclusions of science that could lead to actions which might cost fossil fuel companies and insurance companies money.

 

Mr. Krauthammer tries to make his points by assigning beliefs to scientists that they do not hold. Scientists will not agree, as Mr. Krauthammer claims, that all the issues pertaining to a scientific theory are settled, nor that their predictions 50 years into the future are absolutely correct. Predicting the future is difficult, but does he expect Ouija boards and crystal balls to be a better source of predictions than the scientific models based upon an understanding of the factors and variables that affect climate? Scientific hypotheses are accepted at the 95% confidence level, data is reported with an estimate of its precision, and scientific theories are modified when new evidence emerges. Who then, is claiming science is settled? Scientists do consider empirical evidence that is reproducible and supported by many independent investigations as facts that are settled enough to take action. He criticizes Pres. Obama for saying that “climate change is a fact”, but it is, in fact, a fact supported by empirical evidence from many independent investigations and one requiring action.  The theory of gravity, for instance, is not and may never be settled, however, the effect of gravity is considered to be a fact by engineers who design airplanes, buildings, and bridges. If we had waited for the theories of science to be completely “settled” before we acted, then all of our advances in science, technology, engineering, and medicine would never have been possible.

 

Mr. Krauthammer offers as evidence that science is “not settled” a list of things that are all questionable. He says that hurricane Sandy was not a hurricane, though those who live along the East Coast of the United   States would probably disagree. He offers up the opinion of a physicist who has not worked in climate science in 40 years. He claims that models are wrong because John Christy, who is miffed that empirical evidence disproved his models, says so. He says that that there has been no global warming in 15 years, but he ignores that while the warming of the atmosphere has slowed, the oceans have been warming faster. He claims that there is no link between climate change and severe weather events when scientists, and even insurance company Munich Re’s data , show that climate change has increased the  probability of severe weather and the associated costs. He is probably unaware of Dr. Jennifer Francis’s research, which shows the disappearance of the Arctic ice has slowed the jetstream, increasing the probability of severe weather in the Northern Hemisphere. He claims that scientists are whores and those who believe them are sinners, a rather harsh claim from someone who receives money to write op-ed articles full of misinformation but favorable to corporations and insurance companies. He even claims that it is not a settled fact that mammograms are useful for reducing breast cancer. Say what?

 

You might wonder about that last one, but it illustrates Mr. Krauthammer thinking. He points to a 25 year long study in Canada which found that mammograms did not reduce deaths from breast cancer. You would think that since Mr. Krauthammer has a degree in medicine, that he would have noticed right away the problems with the study. The technology for detecting breast cancer by mammograms has improved remarkably over the time of the study making older data questionable. Also, both the experimental group and the control group included women who already had lumps in their breast, while mammograms are most useful for detecting cancer before lumps appear. And, measuring death rates is not an appropriate way to evaluate how effective mammograms are for early detection and treatment of cancer – which may be life-saving.

 

Mr. Krauthammer has a degree in medicine and took an oath that he would do no harm, but the way he presented this may harm many women if it keeps them from having a mammogram. He wished to use this as an example of science not being settled, but it is an even better example of him using one study to cast doubt on a larger body of research that shows that regular mammograms save lives. So why did he bring this up? The Affordable Care Act requires that insurance cover mammograms and Mr. Krauthammer objects to them being, as he said, “ free, even yet”. There are about 48 million mammograms performed each year in the United States, so the cost to the insurance companies amounts to about $10 billion. Could it be that insurance companies are pushing this study as a way of reducing their costs in providing mammograms and Mr. Krauthammer is helping them? For “free, even yet”?

 

So what is it that Mr. Krauthammer and his fellow conservatives wish to conserve? They apparently wish to conserve the status quo for the benefit of those who make money from it, but they are not very interested in conserving the environment or people’s lives. Demanding absolute truth before acting is just a stalling tactic promoted by those who do not wish to be regulated or who are profiting from the status quo.  There is clear and convincing evidence that the climate is changing in response to man’s activities, and that is clearly the consensus opinion among scientists. Every major scientific organization in the world has adopted a statement agreeing with the consensus opinion and saying that immediate action is needed to mitigate the effects of climate change.

 

Even though Mr. Krauthammer is delivering a denier’s message, he says that “ the term ‘denier’ — an echo of Holocaust denial, contemptibly suggesting the malevolent rejection of an established historical truth.” Apparently, rejection of historical evidence is malevolent but rejecting scientific evidence is not. Finally, I wish to point out that Mr. Krauthammer has a degree in psychiatric medicine and should be formally addressed as Dr. Krauthammer. However, Dr. Jekyll had a another manifestation, Mr. Hyde, and it is apparently Mr. Krauthammer who wrote this article demeaning women’s health issues and climate science.

 

Note added on 02/28/2014:  Forecast the Facts has fact checked  and cited the evidence that the claims about climate science in Mr. Krauthammer’s article are false.

https://s3.amazonaws.com/s3.forecastthefacts.org/images/Debunking_Krauthammer.pdf

(c) 2014 J.C. Moore