Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change

Most people who dispute that climate change is caused by humans will be able to cite some scientist who agrees with them, saying that the planet periodically warming up is normal, or that volcanoes are responsible for the changes in our atmosphere, or whatever other claims there are. It's easy enough to find a credible source for claims like this. But all that that means is that there are a lot of people with good résumés out there who are propagating a mistaken belief. What allows me as a climate-illiterate person to make such a bold statement without fear of being proven wrong is the simple understanding that in science, individual opinions don't mean squat. So some eminent climatologist said that humans aren't responsible? Well, he may be the Einstein of climatology for all anyone should care.

Because for truly reliable information on a subject matter as extensively researched as earth's climate, what you should be looking for are statements of large and independent scientific organizations of good reputation. In the case of climate change, that would be national or international bodies of geologists, climatologists, biologists, geophysical unions, stuff like that. Once you check out what they have to say, you will find out that there really isn't much of a debate:

An increasing body of observations gives a collective picture of a warming world and other changes in the climate system [...] There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.
- Climate Change 2001: Working Group I: The Scientific Basis, IPCC, January 2001.

That is just one of the many statements of prominent organizations. Even those statements should be checked against others of equal standing: That is the level on which we determine whether there is a consensus or an actual controversy. In the case of climate change, there is an overwhelming consensus. Not a single scientific body of national or international standing has maintained a dissenting opinion. There is no controversy; just some big money trying to dispute the facts. Kinda like creationism, only without the weird rituals.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Dear Judge: That's Not How Justice Works

A priest who threatened two gay men with hellfire has just been cleared from two charges of using threatening words or behaviour. According to BBC News, his defense lawyer said he was "merely reciting a passage in the bible".

What astonishes me about this story is the complete and utter ignorance of the judge, accepting the defense that a threat of violence ceases to be a threat of violence because it is a threat of violence read from the bible.
Please note that the wording of the charge is "using threatening words or behaviour". In this situation, that is an unambiguous given. It does not matter at all who the priest said would supposedly supply the torture. Yet surprisingly, the judge seems to think it does. In an astounding act of ignorance, he somehow managed to entangle the substance of the threat with whether or not the one uttering it was actually guilty of uttering it, and defended the religious priviledge to discriminate at will.
Fact of the matter is that the priest threatened the two men with torture if they didn't change their lifestyle according to his views. Legally it is completely besides the point what book the defendant read from. There are many ways of saying "do as I say or suffer horribly". I might say "Do as I say or I'll kill you", or perhaps "...or my brother will kill you". I might even say "...or that zebra-unicorn over there will kill you". It doesn't matter whether or not the threat is credible, or even remotely believable. What matters is whether it has been pronounced openly or not, and in all of the above cases I would be found guilty (or, in the last case, insane). But for some reason truly beyond me, there seems to be an unwritten free-pass to threaten anybody I chose, as long as I make sure to substitute "God" as the source of violence.

The sad fact remains that the priest in question threatened two men with being burned by fire if they didn't change their lifestyle according to his views, in clear words. And however supernatural or figurative that fire might be, I find it incredible that an elected judge can ignore that without having his decision challanged in any way.

The priest, of course, is now now more than happy to play the persecuted victim. "Something is wrong", he says, "[when] police arrest me, a Christian preacher who cares deeply for Jesus Christ and the people of Taunton". (Emphasis added according to how I imagine his whiney voice.) As you might already have guessed, he didn't fail to add:
"Christians like me are being harassed."