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A Climate of Controversy – The Danger of Scientific Illiteracy in a Changing World West Central Florida AMS Local Chapter Hillsborough Community College.

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Presentation on theme: "A Climate of Controversy – The Danger of Scientific Illiteracy in a Changing World West Central Florida AMS Local Chapter Hillsborough Community College."— Presentation transcript:

1 A Climate of Controversy – The Danger of Scientific Illiteracy in a Changing World West Central Florida AMS Local Chapter Hillsborough Community College Presented by Prof. James Wysong, Jr.

2 Don’t Believe Everything You Think But think about everything you believe – then ask yourself why? Who is this curious fellow?

3 The Questions at Hand: Why is scientific illiteracy dangerous? Why do so many people believe in nonsense? (and reject rational ideas in the process) What is the role of professionals, including meteorologists and educators in combating this problem? Why do you believe what you do?

4 What is Science? In its simplest definition, science is a way of knowing. The word comes down to us from the Latin word scientia – meaning "to know."

5 Science and Superstition For the greatest part of human history, people lived in ignorance of the workings of the natural world that surrounded them. The world of our ancestors was often a cruel and mysterious place.

6 The Power of Science Science today offers explanations for phenomena. It makes predictions that guide us in the quest for further understanding. It is a self-correcting, ever-compounding means of gaining knowledge about the universe that we inhabit.

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8 Mistakes will happen

9 Paradigms will change

10 “All our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike – and yet it is the most precious thing we have.” Albert Einstein

11 Einstein’s words remind us that science does not have all the answers. We still have much to learn. Science shows us the way to knowing, it is, as the late Carl Sagan referred to it, “A candle in the dark".

12 Does science threaten our beliefs? What scares some people about the findings of science is the same thing that scares them about the truth in many other matters – it may differ from what we have already decided to believe. The philosopher Henre Poincare observed: “We also know how cruel the truth often is, and we wonder whether delusion is not more consoling.”

13 “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.” Dr. Richard Feynman Nobel Laureate

14 What Don’t We Like About Science? We like certainty – science often only gives us probabilities. We like simple answers, but that’s not always what we get from science. Sometimes scientific answers are counterintuitive – and we don’t like that! Yes! Humid air really is lighter!

15 An educated person is one who has learned that information almost always turns out to be at best incomplete and very often false, misleading, fictitious, mendacious - just dead wrong. Russell Baker Russell Baker

16 What is the basis of our beliefs? We seldom “choose” our religion or political ideology – we are born into it. When it comes to scientific evidence on societal risks “people endorse which position reinforces their connection to others with whom they share important commitments.” Dan Kahan in Nature (1/20/2010, 463, ) - The Psychology of the Resistance to Social Change Thinking

17 What is the basis of our beliefs? This leads to adopting “no thinking required” “positions” (on the Left and the Right) Alternatively, we “cherry pick” data to support a priori beliefs. In particular, the Internet has increased the incidence of selective exposure, (more commonly called confirmation bias or biased assimilation). 1 1 True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society by Farhad Manjoo (Wiley, 2008)

18 Wouldn’t it be nice if……? That’s what science and critical thinking are for.

19 “ He that cannot reason is a fool. He that will not is a bigot. He that dare not is a slave.” “ He that cannot reason is a fool. He that will not is a bigot. He that dare not is a slave.” Andrew Carnegie Andrew Carnegie

20 Communication or Obfuscation Doubt – the double-edged sword “Fair and Balanced” - Should we always frame things as a debate? Why? Are you listening, or waiting to talk? You might not be wrong – but are you right?

21 The intelligent man finds almost everything ridiculous, the sensible man almost nothing. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Ignorance is bliss, sensibility is comfortable, informed skepticism can be unsettling.

22 Where do people get their news? Is this also where they get their views?

23 Another brick in the wall……. Roger Waters wrote this about his views on formal education. He hated his grammar school teachers and felt they were more interested in keeping the kids quiet than teaching them to think. We don’t need no education (OH YES WE DO!)

24 The survey of 1,000 U.S. Likely Voters was conducted on October 4-5, 2010 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence Public Perceptions 59 percent 1 are convinced that global warming is happening. 39 percent 2 now believe that global warming is caused mainly by human activities 42 percent 3 believe it is caused mostly by natural changes in the environment. As compared to 2007 data from a similar survey: 1 Down from 71% in Down from 69% 3 Up from 29%

25 Public Perceptions 48 percent believe that there is consensus among the scientific community. 40 percent believe there is a lot of disagreement among scientists over whether global warming is occurring. American Opinions on Global Warming: Summary A Yale University / Gallup / ClearVision Institute Poll Principal Investigator: Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz - School of Forestry & Environmental Studies Yale University

26 Perspective on public beliefs: 42% believe in ghosts 32% believe in UFOs 26% believe in astrology 23% believe in witches 20% believe in reincarnation – that they were once another person. Harris Poll of 2,303 adults surveyed online between November 2 and 11, 2009 by Harris Interactive. “Everybody needs to believe in something….I believe I’ll have another drink” W.C. Fields

27 A thought as Halloween approaches: More Americans believe in ghosts than Anthropogenic Climate Change (can we presume that they feel the evidence is more conclusive?) Now that’s spooky!

28 AMS and NWA T.V. Meteorologists 54 percent indicated that global warming is happening. 31 percent reported that global warming is caused mostly by human activities 63 percent reported it is caused mostly by natural changes in the environment. Maibach, E., Wilson, K & Witte, J. (2010) A National Survey of Television Meteorologists about Climate Change: Preliminary Findings. George Mason University. Fairfax, VA: Center for Climate Change Communication. Credentials of respondents: A.M.S. –CBM seal: 28.7%, A.M.S. Seal of Approval: 55%, N.W.A. Seal of Approval: 33.3% n = ~ depending on the question

29 AMS and NWA T.V. Meteorologists 93 percent said they are fairly or very well informed about the causes of global warming. 30 percent said they could easily change their mind about global warming. 27 percent agreed with the statement by a prominent TV weathercaster 1 : “global warming is a scam.” Maibach, E., Wilson, K & Witte, J. (2010) A National Survey of Television Meteorologists about Climate Change: Preliminary Findings. George Mason University. Fairfax, VA: Center for Climate Change Communication. John Coleman – Co-founder of the Weather Channel™ n = ~ depending on the question

30 Some data to consider: A 2010 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States reviewed publication and citation data for 1,372 climate researchers and resulted in the following two conclusions:Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States (i) 97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of ACC (Anthropogenic Climate Change) outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and (ii) the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC are substantially below that of the convinced researchers.

31 Some Concluding Thoughts: We are human, and inherently subject to biases and irrationality – we have to guard against this. Opinions are fine – when labeled as such. In the professions where we enjoy the public’s trust, we must exercise great care. We must keep thinking!

32 “My idea of education is to unsettle the minds of the young and inflame their intellects.” Robert Maynard Hutchins Robert Maynard Hutchins

33 Thank You for Your Kind Attention – please keep thinking. Jim Wysong


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