Two recent gems from New Scientist magazine…
First up, Climate Change Sceptics Criticise Polar Bear Science, a story about some bad scientists, funded by bad money, who have apparently published some bad science in what is presumably a bad science journal, for bad reasons.
As the poster child for the climate change generation polar bears have come to symbolise the need to tackle climate change. But their popularity has attracted the attention of global warming sceptics funded by the oil industry, who have started to attack polar bear science.
Willie Soon’s paper, which appears in the journal Ecological Complexity, questions ‘whether polar bear populations really are declining and if sea ice, on which the animals hunt, will actually disappear as quickly as climate models predict.’ But that’s all New Scientist has to say about the science.
Soon, who receives funding for this and other work from Exxon-Mobil, has been attacking climate change science for several years. Three of the six other authors also have links to the oil industry.
The social construction of science doesn’t get much attention from the science press – or anyone else – these days. Science won the Science Wars. Scientific findings flourish or fail by the cold, objective, rational method of hypothesis testing, peer review and replication. And that’s all there is to it. Except, of course, when the science in question is funded by the oil industry. Because oil money, or just the faintest whiff of it, trumps the scientific method every time.
Ultimately, carping on about Exxon-funded scientists only serves to undermine the worth of all that hypothesis testing, peer review and replication. Because if dirty money overrides them, what else does? Is it any wonder that science doesn’t get the respect the scientific establishment thinks it deserves? Science is having its own Science Wars all by itself – with not a sociologist to be seen.
Even more absurd is Say No to Global Guzzling – How the Obesity Epidemic is Aggravating Global Warming by Ian Roberts of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who appears to be offering an epidemiological perspective on global warming.
We tend to think of obesity only as a public-health problem, but many of its causes overlap with those of global warming. Car dependence and labour-saving devices have cut the energy people expend as they go about their lives, at the same time increasing the amount of fossil fuel they burn. It’s no coincidence that obesity is most prevalent in the US, where per capita carbon emissions exceed those of any other major nation, and it is becoming clear that obese people are having a direct impact on the climate.
Roberts speciously reasons that obese people, who (allegedly) consume 40% more calories than non obese people, (allegedly) use their cars more because they are too fat to move properly, and (allegedly) eat the kind of things which are more CO2 intensive, contribute disproportionately to global warming than their thin counterparts.
Roberts’s argument is not scientific, but a narrow, shallow, and hollow critique of capitalist society:
The social stigma attached to obesity is one of the few forces slowing the epidemic – even though obesity is not a personal failing but a problem of society. We live in an environment that serves primarily the financial interests of the corporations that sell food, cars, and petroleum.
This serving of ‘financial interest’ traps people in vicious cycles of low-self esteem and comfort eating, diminished mobility/health and car use – all to the detriment of the environment.
And as the number of obese people increases, a kind of positive feedback kicks in. Obese people in the US are already throwing their political weight around.
Roberts then asks us to panic about the possibility of the political voice of fat Americans being used to demand, elevators, escalators, and other forms of labour-saving mechanisation, which in turn worsens the cycle of increasing fuel use, carbon emissions, and the world’s waistlines.
When all that the best clinical minds can offer is the political idea that people’s desire for food and labour-saving devices (ie, higher standards of living) are expressions of a kind of false consciousness, small wonder that people complain about ‘health fascism’. Roberts has such contempt for the public that he assumes to know their political and material interests better than they do, and pretends that it is ‘capitalism wot makes ’em do it’… that people are too fat headed to know what to eat.
It must be lean times at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, because this poverty-stricken argument is so bloated, it needs four bandwagons to wheel it onto the pages of the New Scientist: obesity, global warming, anti-Americanism and anti-capitalism. All that’s missing is a photo of a polar bear perched on a dwindling ice floe.