Learning from the “Fat Hypothesis” and the Intersection of Science and Politics

Image credit: The Guardian

Image credit: The Guardian

by James A. Bacon

Ian Leslie has written a long piece for The Guardian, a left-wing English newspaper that to the best of my knowledge is not funded by the Koch Brothers. He chronicles how the medical hypothesis blaming fat and cholesterol for heart disease became ensconced as scientific orthodoxy in the United States and Great Britain in the 1970s. He shows how that orthodoxy was suborned by government, how it was used with the best of intentions to alter the dietary habits of the two nations, and how it created the obesity epidemic that has shortened the lives of millions. Nearly fifty years later, that orthodoxy is being overthrown as  blame for heart disease increasingly shifts to processed sugar.

At a time when some in Washington, D.C., cite a “consensus” regarding climate change and call for the federal prosecution of climate change “deniers,” the article is worth quoting at some length, for it shows how badly science in the hands of politicians can go off the rails. Leslie does not himself note a parallel between the debates over fat and climate change, but such a comparison is inevitable. Perhaps the article will instill some humility among those tempted to revamp large sectors of the economy based on the latest scientific fashion. At the very least, it should discourage people from snuffing out dissenting scientific voices with threats of criminal prosecution.

In 1980, after long consultation with some of America’s most senior nutrition scientists, the US government issued its first Dietary Guidelines. The guidelines shaped the diets of hundreds of millions of people. Doctors base their advice on them, food companies develop products to comply with them. Their influence extends beyond the US. In 1983, the UK government issued advice that closely followed the American example.

If, as seems increasingly likely, the nutritional advice on which we have relied for 40 years was profoundly flawed, this is not a mistake that can be laid at the door of corporate ogres. Nor can it be passed off as innocuous scientific error. … Instead that this is something the scientists did to themselves – and, consequently, to us.

Ancel Keys was the prime force behind the “fat” hypothesis explaining the increasing rate of heart disease. He posited that excess saturated fats in the diet from red meat, cheese, butter, and eggs raises cholesterol, which congeals on the inside of coronary arteries. The build-up of cholesterol causes the arteries harden, narrow and ultimately staunch the flow of blood until the heart seizes up.

Throughout the 1960s, Keys accumulated institutional power. He secured places for himself and his allies on the boards of the most influential bodies in American healthcare, including the American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health. From these strongholds, they directed funds to like-minded researchers, and issued authoritative advice to the nation. “People should know the facts,” Keys told Time magazine. “Then if they want to eat themselves to death, let them.”

Keys’ so-called Seven Countries study, published in in 1970,  gathered data on the diets, lifestyles and health of 12,770 middle-aged men, in Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, Finland, Netherlands, Japan and the United States.

The Seven Countries study [became] canonical, and the fat hypothesis was enshrined in official advice. The congressional committee responsible for the original Dietary Guidelines was chaired by Senator George McGovern. It took most of its evidence from America’s nutritional elite: men from a handful of prestigious universities, most of whom knew or worked with each other, all of whom agreed that fat was the problem – an assumption that McGovern and his fellow senators never seriously questioned.

From Congress flowed a series of measures that pushed the food processing industry to reduce the fat content of food by substituting salt and sugar. Obesity rates soared. The politicians’ mistake was a failure to recognize that scientists are people, too, and they are not exempt from the flaws of lesser mortals.

… A scientist is part of what the Polish philosopher of science Ludwik Fleck called a “thought collective”: a group of people exchanging ideas in a mutually comprehensible idiom. The group, suggested Fleck, inevitably develops a mind of its own, as the individuals in it converge on a way of communicating, thinking and feeling. …

Scientific inquiry [is] prone to the eternal rules of human social life: deference to the charismatic, herding towards majority opinion, punishment for deviance, and intense discomfort with admitting to error. Of course, such tendencies are precisely what the scientific method was invented to correct for, and over the long run, it does a good job of it. In the long run, however, we’re all dead, quite possibly sooner than we would be if we hadn’t been following a diet based on poor advice.

In the past decade, a new generation of scientists and journalists have begun to question the fat hypothesis. The Internet has helped break the control of senior scientists over scientific orthodoxy.

In September last year [Nina Teicholz] wrote an article for the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal), which makes the case for the inadequacy of the scientific advice that underpins the Dietary Guidelines. The response of the nutrition establishment was ferocious: 173 scientists – some of whom were on the advisory panel, and many of whose work had been critiqued in Teicholz’s book – signed a letter to the BMJ, demanding it retract the piece.

Publishing a rejoinder to an article is one thing; requesting its erasure is another, conventionally reserved for cases involving fraudulent data. As a consultant oncologist for the NHS, Santhanam Sundar, pointed out in a response to the letter on the BMJ website: “Scientific discussion helps to advance science. Calls for retraction, particularly from those in eminent positions, are unscientific and frankly disturbing.”

By opening the gates of publishing to all, the internet has flattened hierarchies everywhere they exist. We no longer live in a world in which elites of accredited experts are able to dominate conversations about complex or contested matters. Politicians cannot rely on the aura of office to persuade, newspapers struggle to assert the superior integrity of their stories. It is not clear that this change is, overall, a boon for the public realm. But in areas where experts have a track record of getting it wrong, it is hard to see how it could be worse. If ever there was a case that an information democracy, even a very messy one, is preferable to an information oligarchy, then the history of nutrition advice is it.

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23 responses to “Learning from the “Fat Hypothesis” and the Intersection of Science and Politics

  1. Whoa, Mr. Bacon, you’ve gone a bit overboard, I submit, with the comparison of dietary policy to climate change.

    Most of us who argue that we must begin addressing climate change HOPE and pray that our fears are wrong. We greatly wish that the issues which scientist after scientist keeps reporting in peer-reviewed after peer-reviewed journal will not happen if humans fail to address the spewing of greenhouse gases. I, for one, would love to find out that “sun spots” or some other phenomena, including bad data, are behind the consistent reports that every year the Earth is warmer than it was the year before; that species extinction is at a historical level; that coral reefs are collapsing; that Arctic and Antarctic ice shelves are retreating; that…

    What we are concerned about is that our nation continues to bet that a massive amount of data and the best research of, what, 97 percent of scientists is, indeed, wrong. Yes, it might be and, yes, we hope it is.

    But WHY is our nation — which to this day is only seeking to change light bulbs to fluorescent even though lighting is less than five percent of any household’s energy usage — betting on this longest of long shots?

    Why bet on the long shot in arguably the most important race of all time? How is that “conservative? How is that “rational?”

    Perhaps the data was wrong on dietary issues all those years ago, but your connection of that possibility (because it’s not proven by one paper!) to the possibility — nee, extreme probability — that our failure to control our greenhouse emissions might greatly affect human life, and all other life, on this planet can only “help” climate deniers continue to hinder any actions which might save the planet.

    As a reporter, certainly you know the famous Damon Runyon quote: “The race does not always go to the fastest, or the contest to the strongest…but that’s the way to bet.”

    In data terms, helping climate deniers continue to obstruct efforts at solutions is the equivalent of betting the planet — and all life — on the 98-pound weakling.

    • Salz, all I’m asking for is a little humility. We’re now witnessing the collapse of “settled science” that had something close to a “97% consensus” of scientists behind it. Pay attention to how that 97% figure was achieved — by stacking supporters in all the right organizations, dominating the federal scientific funding, ignoring contradictory evidence, and denigrating and ostracizing skeptics… exactly the same pattern we can see repeated in the realm of climate science.

      I’m NOT saying that just because the fat hypothesis appears to be wrong that the catastrophic human-changed climate change hypothesis is necessarily wrong as well. That would be illogical. I’m just asking for some awareness of the frailty of human nature and some among those who are crying out for *criminal convictions* of those who espouse different viewpoints.

      • Again, I “humbly” hope that the data about climate change is wrong. I “humbly” pray that a decade or two from now each of those 97 percent of climate scientists reverse their present concerns. And I will joyously bow down to all of ya’ll who kept fighting that consensus IF the deniers and denier enablers are proven right in two decades. I’ll give — presuming I’m still alive and fiscally able — $1,000 to the charity of your choice if my, and others’ fears, are proven to be hysterical or … you chose the word.

        What I’m concerned about: “Why are we betting on the longest long shot in the most important race in human history?”

        I’ve not heard that anyone is calling for “criminal convictions,” but if they are, I disagree with them. They, however, have the right to be wrong, as do the deniers. One of my favorite documentaries is “A Flock of Dodoes” in which a biologist sets out to discover why “intelligent design” was (it’s from the early 2000s) gaining ground. Of course, Mr. Bacon, the biologist totally believes in evolution but when one walks out of the film one wonders who the dodoes are, the intelligent designers or the documentarian’s fellow biologists. The biologists are so arrogant and so self-assured that the intelligent designers are idiots that one realizes — belatedly of course — why so many reject scientific opinion today. And one can see why intelligent design is/was gaining amongst the general population.

        Yes, scientists; yes, policy mavens; yes, some politicians; yes, opinion writers; yes, professional “thinkers” (like bloggers) are human and, yes, they/we often do a bad job of communicating. Often fail to sound humble; often try to squeeze too much information into two little space; often try to provide an elevator pitch for what is an extremely complex subject.

        BUT why, when we’re talking about the potential loss of all life on the planet, are we allowing the 3 percent of the people who have deep insight — who also get “stacked” by powers-that-be with money and oil/coal reserves — to control our future? Again, how is that “rational?” How is that “conservative?” How is that “good business?” How is that the “greatest semblance of truth” as someone, I think, Bob Woodward, called the goal of good journalism?

        • “Why, when we’re talking about the potential loss of all life on the planet…

          Salz, do you think that the so-called “97%” agree with the proposition that global warming might potentially end all life on the planet?

          That’s the problem I have with the whole idea of a “97%” consensus. People use the terms “climate change” and “global warming” for a nested set of propositions that range from “how much have temperatures increased over the past century” to “how unprecedented is this increase” to “the rate of increase will accelerate over the next century” to “the effects of global warming will almost universally calamitous” to “the best way to respond to climate change is to re-engineer the global energy economy in order to reduce CO2 emissions.” I can promise you that “97%” of all climate scientists not accept every one of those propositions.

          Bjorn Lundberg recently wrote an op-ed in the SWJ demonstrating how far more people die from cold than die from heat and argued that global warming would actually *reduce* the number of temperature-related deaths. Others have argued that increased CO2 in the atmosphere will make many species of plants more resistant to heat and drought — and have demonstrated through satellite photos that, contrary to all predictions, the earth has gotten greener (literally greener) as CO2 composition in the atmosphere has increased. But none of this gets much play, and the “consensus” (or the politicians and journalists who interpret the consensus and present it to the public) acts as if these phenomenon do not exist. All we hear is how disastrous climate change will be.

          But rather than have a rational discussion, some global warming activists (like Jagadish Shukla at GMU, of whom I have written) want to prosecute corporate “deniers” like Exxon with criminal RICO statutes. As long as this totalitarian instinct infects the climate change movement, I will mistrust anything that emanates from these people because they are driven by ideology not science.

  2. there is no “collapse” of settled science. what blather!

    the “fat’ hypothesis is not only not wrong – it’s right but it’s not the whole story – sugar is part of it also .

    science is a continuum – an evolving body of knowledge – two steps forward, one step back.

    anyone who ever thought that science was an inviolate truth from on high the first time a hypothesis was published is not playing with a full deck of cards anyhow.

    and anyone who thinks that fat has no impact on diet and now it’s all sugar – is missing a few more cards.

    the only folks who now think the 97% are wrong – are those who still can’t add. Virtually none of the 97% are convinced – only the conspiracy folk.

    it’s not “humility” Jim – .. it’s ignorance.. in the internet age – a willful ignorance of those who would be anti-govt and anti-science conspiracy affectionatoes – they’ve now found a herd of others to associate with… as well as lots of “published” idiocy to “believe” to appeal to their biases.

    • Thank you Larry for your comments about the nature of science.

      I would like to challenge JB’s statement that people “want to prosecute corporate “deniers” like Exxon. In fact Exxon’s scientists told their corporate leaders in the 1980’s about the coming global effects of continuing to burn fossil fuels. The company took that information and deliberately set out to raise doubt about their own scientist’s conclusions in order to keep going with business as usual. They were not deniers. The company emails show that, like the tobacco companies, they set out on a campaign of deliberate disinformation for corporate gain.

      Here is a quote from the NYT article re the case. “The history at Exxon Mobil appears to differ, in that the company published extensive research over decades that largely lined up with mainstream climatology. Thus, any potential fraud prosecution might depend on exactly how big a role company executives can be shown to have played in directing campaigns of climate denial, usually by libertarian-leaning political groups.”

      Rather than calling them ‘deniers’, I would say Exxon and the industry execs that joined with them, were simply wielding their substantial political power and that is what I took away from the Fat article when I read it on the Guardian’s email. The “fat” article showed another kind of power … the power of intellectual elites who don’t want to see their work
      supplanted by new analysis. It is about the power to control.

      That all said … maybe the internet will lessen the power of corporations and elites to control change as suggested.

      • CleanAir&Water, I have not studied the Exxon-lying-about-global-warming controversy closely. I have read summaries of the charges, and I have read Exxon’s insistence that journalists cherry-picked publicly available documents and took them out of context. At this point in time, I have to remain agnostic.

        Here’s what disturbs me about those who want to prosecute the company for fraud under the RICO statute…. Let’s assume for purposes of argument that Exxon executives did cynically deny “global warming” (an oversimplified phrase to describe a complex set of issues) in contravention of what its own scientists were saying. Is it now against the law to lie in matters of policy and public policy? If so, do we prosecute everyone who lies, or do we prosecute selectively? More to the point, do we merely prosecute our political enemies?

        If lying in matters of politics and policy were a criminal offense, then a whole cast of characters from Donald Trump to Bill and Hillary Clinton should be in jail right now. I suppose you could include George W. for “lying” about Iraq, LBJ for really, truly lying about Vietnam, and Richard Nixon for lying about too many things to count. Conservatives would argue that liberals lie all the time, and liberals would argue that conservatives lie all the time.

        Political victors who appoint U.S attorneys general and state prosecutors could start systematically prosecuting their political enemies. That sounds like fun — throw those lying scumbags in jail!! (As long as we’re doing the prosecuting, not getting prosecuted.) Is that really the way we should go?

        • JB … “Is it now against the law to lie in matters of policy and public policy? If so, do we prosecute everyone who lies, or do we prosecute selectively? More to the point, do we merely prosecute our political enemies?”

          You must know that that is NOT what I was saying or what the suit against Exxon is about … Here is a piece from the WashPost …
          “A spokesman for Exxon Mobil confirmed that the company had received a subpoena from the office of the attorney general of New York, Eric Schneiderman, related to the subject of climate change and was “assessing” its response.”
          “The investigation focuses on whether Exxon Mobil intentionally clouded public debate about science and hid from investors the risks that climate change could pose to its business according to a person familiar with the matter.”
          “Schneiderman has broad leeway to take on such a sweeping target under both consumer protection laws and New York’s Martin Act, a securities law that protects investors.”

          In addition to the emails and evidence that the API and others set out to create doubt about the science of climate change, their stated objective, there is the question of how Exxon responded to the request by investors worth $70Billion who requested all the fossil industries evaluate and publish any risk caused to their investments by continuing to burn fossil fuel. Exxon so far has not specified any risk and has published that conclusion in their annual reports.

          Reading what some have to say about climate science I would have to say that the API succeeded with their deception.

  3. Great stuff Jimbo! Salz and Larry, A little research will quickly reveal that the vaunted 97% consensus concerning “climate change” is a manufactured number, formed by cherry picking studies and excluding large blocks of published research. And there are serious efforts afoot to criminalize climate skepticism. Here is an article that calls out the cabal of AGs who are climbing on the bandwagon to burn the “Deniers” on the stake, or prosecute them under RICO, or something. Sorry that the most available link comes courtesy of USA TODAY, but it’s handy and the author know whereof he speaks. http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2016/04/11/attorney-generals-conspire-free-speech-schneiderman-harris-exxon-cei-column/82878218/
    The real problem is the manufactured hysteria focusing on one variable in a complex, non-linear, chaotic system such as the earth’s climate. Every extra raindrop, every dead fish, fallen tree, lost wolf or wandering bear is now traced directly to “OMG CLIMATE CHANGE” and all other possible causes, including randomness, are brushed aside or “renormalized.” That’s the “availability heuristic” at work. The “zero risk” bias then leads us to think that if we just stop emitting CO2, the world will be a forest full of chirping birdies and Bambi and Thumper will be BFFs with Ballou and Timon and Pumbaa for eternity. When these two strong cognitive biases reinforce one another, you can bet that bad policies appealing to fuzzy thinking eco-zealots won’t be far behind. For the record, I believe that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and has caused some warming the century. I also believe there are dozens of good reasons to ween ourselves off of fossil fuels. Unlike many in the green chorus, however, I believe that modern nuclear power offers the most sustainable, ecologically nonthreatening and efficient means of powering future economy. Lots of science and engineering backs this conclusion, but most of the “save the earth at all costs” crowd will have none of it because they associate nuclear power with a few accidents in which very few lives were lost due to technology which has long since been surpassed. In other words, if people are really concerned about “climate change” and really do believe in science, they have to at least look at nuclear.don’t take my word for it, check out what James Hansen, the godfather of climate change has to say. Spoiler alert, he agrees with me on the nukes.

  4. The global warming debate in America is not about the globe and it’s not about warming and it’s not about science. It’s about the progressive side’s “racial” hatred of the American oil and gas industry. The globe could cool tomorrow and we would still have the exact same bitter energy feud in America.

  5. Agreed, it is not about the globe and not about warming and not about science, but I’m not sure it is just animus toward fossil fuels. I think it also is about political control and not a little bit of greed.

    But I also agree that Bacon is stretching a point because based on the new understanding of the best diet for weight loss, nobody is recommending that everybody go out and eat a daily cheeseburger and whole milkshake. Too much fat still makes you….fat. This is an adjustment, not a reversal. Now we know its mainly about carbs.

    And based on a re-evaluation of “climate science” and less hysterical predictions there will still be plenty of justification for retiring coal, integrating renewables in a way that works, reinvesting in nuclear and reducing other industrial processes which are adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Living in Southern California in the sixties has left a lasting fanaticism for clean air…

    • Bacon is stretching a point because based on the new understanding of the best diet for weight loss, nobody is recommending that everybody go out and eat a daily cheeseburger and whole milkshake. Too much fat still makes you….fat.

      Steve! What point am I stretching? I didn’t say that consuming too many fat calories will not make you fat. I said that consuming fat won’t give you heart disease! BIG difference.

      As for energy policy, I do agree with you. There are sound environmental reasons having nothing to do with climate change for retiring coal. Coal production and combustion should incorporate the many *known* environmental costs (of which coal ash disposal is just the latest).

  6. Speaking of “nested conclusions”, here is a good summary of how the generally acknowledged physical effects of CO2 are translated into a global crisis that (to quote Senator Blutarski) “…absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part!”
    https://fee.org/articles/earth-day-22-ways-to-think-about-the-climate-change-debate/

  7. Apologies – I mis-attributed the quote to Bluto – it was Otter.

  8. This is great post and commentary.

    Sorry salz, on this one I could not disagree more with your views, and agree generally with those herein expressing contrary views.

    One of the best testaments against the Global Warming Industry of the Al Gore variety is one I came across quite by accident in the book “Britain Begins.” By Barry Cunliffe, a highly regarded Oxford professor of European archaeology, the book’s subject is the history of the ancient peopling of the British Isles.

    This is a fascinating story. It tells how wave up wave of human ancestors came across land bridges periodically exposed by retreating ice ages, only to be rendered extinct yet again by the onslaught of cold and ice.

    Thus human ancestors living in British Isles can be traced back in the archaeologic record some 700,0000 years. Indeed the DNA of modern British citizens contain very substantial, indeed surprisingly large amounts, of DNA from prehistoric inhabitants. But astonishingly no DNA in modern British inhabitants can be found from peoples who inhabited Britain earlier than 10,000 years ago. The reason is simple. Ice Ages by the dozens came in rapid succession (in terms of geologic time) before 10,000 years years ago. They came in stunning succession for over 700,000 years killing all humanoids on the British Isles time after time. Each time the ice melted, it exposed land bridges allowing yet another group of people to cross over the land bridge ( left by the retreating ice) into a yet again vacant uninhabited Britain, new peoples who arrived from Europe only to be wiped out by the next sheet of ice, sometimes only a few thousand years after the retreat of the last ice sheet.

    In short nobody ever died of heat. Everyone died with startling regularity from cold and ice, the sure killer of peoples the world over.

    I recommend Sir Barry Cunliffe’s wonderful book BRITAIN BEGINS. And his others was well. They include: The Ancient Celts (19970, Facing the Ocean (2001), The Druids, A very short introduction (2010), all published by Oxford University Press, plus Between the Oceans (2006).

    • As Jim suggests, the Global Warming Industry of the Al Gore variety tells us much more about how humans interact in Groups to corrupt science than it tells us about the findings of legitimate science. Thus the Global Warming industry twists, morphs and consolidates independent thought from scientific inquiry into political ideology arising from coercion, power politics, and the human need to belong to the group.

      We have discussed this plague of group dynamics many times on this website. How it infects and corrupts our politics (political parties, for example), our law (the constituent groups within Supreme Court, for example), our non profit groups (public employees unions, institutions of higher learning and charitable foundations, and Boards of Corporations, for example). Indeed wherever and whenever people gather together for common cause and group think then you can be sure that irrational actions are not far behind.

  9. there is no “hysteria”. Scientists – around the world – have given their view and consensus – and not one word of it is OMG…. or hysteria in general.. It’s actually pretty dry dialogue.

    much of that is coming from the conspiracy theory folks and torch and pitchfork crowd and some left green wackos.

    but most serious scientists are somber about it and with good reason.

    we simply do not know with a high degree of certainty a guaranteed outcome – no more than any scientist can tell you with a great degree of certainty what will happen to you if you smoke two packs of cigarettes a day.

    And there are even today -people who will tell you – and it is the truth – that there is no real “proof” that cigarette smoking causes cancer.

    For that matter – they can’t tell you if breathing what comes out of smokestacks burning coal or pipes dumping kepone will do to you personally – with any high degree of predictability.

    but how many of you “skeptics” really believe that science has actually “lied” to you about cigarettes or dioxin or DDT or mercury?

    this is what I mean about the term willful ignorance.

    there are some folks who will go right on smoking two packs a day and continue to claim that the science is bogus, that scientists lie and that it’s a conspiracy to unfairly target cigarette manufacturers …

    then we have reality.

    the vast majority of scientists who are saying there are troubling signs of changes in the climate – are telling the truth. No, they’re not squealing OMG and no the vast majority are not trying to “criminalize” the skeptics – any more than scientists who believe cigarette smoking will cause cancer do that in case anyone has bothered to notice.

    anyone who would be willing to gamble the earth over the idea that they need absolute proof of the damage is about as ignorant as those who say they need absolute proof that cigarettes cause cancer and that the govt is wrong about the required warnings on the packs of cigarettes.

    we don’t know with 100% certainty – and never will – no more than someone who gets lung cancer and still claims it was never the cigarettes.

  10. Tim Spector’s “Diet Myth” questions (and likely improves) almost all the popular “knowledge” about why we are obese, especially confirming: “the case for the inadequacy of the scientific advice that underpins the Dietary Guidelines”. If Nina Teicholz was vilified, god help Spector. Probably good for his safety and career that he lives in Britain. This single read shot out from under me much of 30+ years of reading about diet. Sure sugar, fat and salt or implicated, but not exactly the WHY as we have been told, and not exactly the FAT as we have been told, either. Not even the exercise, either. He (finally) explains why so many of us either do not make a dent at all, or when we do we so soon fall back.

  11. whether we are talking about the “harm” in lead or mercury or gamma rays or ozone holes or el nino or nitrogen and phosphorous in the Chesapeake Bay or Fecal coliform in drinking water – none of this is obvious or apparent to us – and all of it is basically what scientists tell us it is.

    I’m just not understanding why – when scientists tell us kepone or dioxin will harm us and we believe it that in other cases – we think they are lying.

    When a hurricane tracks up the Atlantic Coast – there are a dozen or more “models” and almost never do any of them predict the exact track – but I never hear folks say that these models are not reliable and the scientists are using them to lie to us about the track of the hurricanes.

    Ditto when tsunamis and tornadoes are predicted. Almost never are the predictions dead on 100% accurate but I never hear folks say that the scientists are hysterical and saying OMG and are just liars…

    so where does this come from?

    in virtually all other areas – we seem to accept the “science” – even as we know it’s not exact, even flawed – we still think it is legitimate – except when it comes to climate.

    so why?

  12. Thank you, Larry, for the perfect analogies of “smoking” and “hurricane prediction.” The overwhelming data is that climate change is happening and is manmade, but we, as a nation, are stuck pretending there is no overwhelming data while the chance to address this massive issue passes us by.

    Not being a smoker — though dating and indeed marrying one a long time ago — I could never go into bars when I was young because the fumes caused me to cry. Today, if I was 21, since smoking is regulated I might spend a lot more time and, hence, money and health in them so I often think tobacco did me a good deed all those years ago.

    Generally speaking, however, the worst negatives of tobacco are visited on those who choose to use tobacco and the negatives in eating badly are mostly visited on those who choose to eat badly. I’m with the Jim Bacons here. But climate change is visited on all of us, regardless of how much carbon we individually emite. Small island nations, and Florida, might just disappear, along with all their property, income, and of course people. (There was a story just recently that someone is now predicting the submergence of Jamestown.)

    Again, I pray all these scientists’ predictions are incorrect. But even if they are, as even Mr. Bacon notes, there are many other, very good reasons, for doing the kinds of things to address climate change which most scientists recommend. (I don’t understand why he wants to quibble about the 97 percent. OF COURSE there is no internal consensus about the specifics he references. It’s the larger picture that 97 percent of scientists agree on and indeed most humans on the planet agree on.)

    From my interest, transportation: Few know that the externality costs — sans climate change — of driving a single mile range from 29 cents to 54 cents (economic research over two decades) depending, of course, upon how those externalities are calculated ,estimated and specifically which externalities are included. (the actual vehicle being driven makes little difference). Few know that JUST paying the externality costs in 2006 of our driving for defense of oil routes and lost industrial output should add $10.06 per gallon in gasoline tax (Milton Couplos analysis). Few recognize, as the Atlantic published, literally today that “The Massachusetts Institute of Technology calculates that 53,000 Americans die prematurely every year from vehicle pollution, losing 10 years of life on average compared to their lifespans in the absence of tailpipe emissions.”

    Yeah, all this info could be wrong too. And Mr. Bacon might cling to that possibility, as he apparently does with climate change, but he can’t (Can you, Jim??? Can you, Read???) deny the overall picture. Our driving has effects that we — individually — are not paying for and are, instead, dumping on the rest of society.

    Though my wife (who used to call me a Republican) now calls me a Libertarian, IF burying my head in the sand over trivial differences in scientific consensus is required to be a Libertarian, then she’s wrong. I’m not one of those either — though I have voted that way in the past.

    • Salz, You may be right, climate change may be a disaster barreling down on us. I’m not one of those who view climate change *science* as a fraud. But I think a lot of the economic analysis regarding (a) the impact of climate change and (b) how best to address it is ideologically driven and fraudulent.

      Really, how can you take seriously an economic impact analysis that refuses to acknowledge that warm weather reduces temperature-related deaths and that higher CO2 levels in the atmosphere makes many plants more heat and drought resistant? The latter point is based on a vast body of science yet is routinely ignored. When was the last time NSF funded a research report on the benefits to plant growth of a high-carbon atmosphere? Could such funding ever receive support in today’s political climate? And what does that tell you?

      My beef is not with the climate scientists (well, I have a beef with a few), who for the most part are honestly seeking the truth, as it is with the politicians, journalists and non-scientists who assume the mantle of “settled science” to legitimize their ideologically based remedies.

  13. Yep, one of my favorite books, Jim, was Bernard Goldberg’s “Bias.”

    We, all of us, me too, are human and we make the constant mistakes, especially the “silo-thinking” mistakes, that all humans make. Journalists are no better here than others with the exception that we are supposed to try and find “the greatest semblance of truth.” We are obligated towards “objectivity” and “fair play” — if we are indeed journalists and not our half-baked cousins, called “bloggers.”

    But while bloggng has exploded, honest fact collecting has all but disappeared.

    I don’t know where the term “settled science” came from but, from my too tiny bit of knowledge of the scientific method, there really isn’t any such thing in the actual world of science. In fact, it gets ridiculous trying to edit scientific papers (which I do sometimes) because scientists almost never put anything definitively. Sometimes the “literature review” will include 10+ citations for some kind of innocuous statement like, “it appears that under particular circumstances, when conditions imply…”

    When writers do that in the “real world,” people quit reading.

    So your bitch, I suggest, might be with “we, the people” who don’t want to hear complex truths and will easily follow “leaders” who promise to “Make America Great Again” without any support at all that the “leader” even has a rudimentary grasp of the problem, much less any ideas for solving it.

    And I blame…myself. As a journalism prof/communications prof I spend a lot of years teaching students to simplify complex subjects to draw in readers/viewers. Today, i’m aware that we, as a nation, desperately need to address complexity and that our failure to has lead us into ever deeper problems. After 20 years of “reality TV,” the people seemingly are incapable of knowing what reality is.

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