false balance fallacy debate

The New Face of the False Balance Fallacy

You’ve likely encountered the false balance fallacy. If you read or watch any kind of news, you’ll know it straightaway.  It often occurs in discussions of hot-button topics like climate change and GMOs. Here’s a classic scenario.

A news show (or story) wants to present both sides of an issue. They pick a vocal proponent of each side of the issue to debate the validity of each one’s argument. Seems legit? Absolutely not. The problem lies with the issue itself.

With a topic like climate change, there is no debate in the scientific community. The debate exists with the general public, many of whom don’t understand the science. Instead, it boils down to a matter of beliefs. The same is true of GMOs. GMOs are safe—and necessary.

By creating a “debate,” the media gives equal weight and voice to each viewpoint. Unfortunately, it elevates the wrong view and legitimizes it. This action creates doubt where none should exist. We end up wasting time arguing about an issue that is settled.

The New Face of Fallacy

Welcome the new spin on the false balance fallacy, renewable energy. Let me say outright that I haven’t any grudge against renewable energy. Based on the evidence I’ve read, I believe that several serious problems exist with implementing large-scale renewable wind or solar power plants.

All lives matter, especially birds and bats. We can’t forsake major pollinators and dispersal agents, to say nothing of biodiversity and ecological impacts.

The new false balance fallacy gives equal weight to renewable energy sources like wind and solar to put them on the same level as fossil fuels. As much as we hear about it, it sounds like the evil corporations of fossil fuels are refusing to let up their stranglehold on the Earth’s future. This scenario could not be further from the truth.

All sources of renewable energy provided 13 percent of our electricity in 2014. Fossil fuels supplied just over two-thirds, with nuclear contributing 19 percent. What about wind and solar, you ask? Wind power came in at 4 percent and solar with less than 1 percent.

Yet, if you listen to the debates about wind and solar, you’d think that they contributed much more. Just like the climate change skeptic, they are given an equal standing on the energy debate forum. It’s another misleading example of the false balance fallacy.

Fallacy Risks

In this case, the fallacy encourages hate against legitimate industry. It clouds our judgment about the serious impacts of wildlife loss on the environment.

It also engages in its own version of astroturfing or fronting. By putting out a message of being safe for the environment, it ignores the devastation needed to bring those power sources to market. All energy is dirty and environmentally destructive. It’s the price we pay to live our lives as we do.

By recognizing the misleading nature of the false balance fallacy, we can view the energy debate with a more informed understanding. The burden of electricity generation may even out. However, for today, the reality is fossil fuels.

http://exploring.weborglodge.com/By Chris DR

photo credit: Great Debate, “Wah wah, wah wah, wah, waaah.” via photopin (license)

water pollution

How Humans Have Impacted the Environment

The other day, I wrote about a study that concluded that forces other than climate change are impacting the environment. I’d like to revisit it in light of another study by the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE).

Underestimating Land Use Impacts

The researchers reviewed about 700 life cycle assessment studies. These analyses considered the impact of land use on ecosystems. They concluded that these assessments have underestimated the effects humans have on the environment. Considering that these assessments help dictate public policy, there is a real danger that that authorities do not have the proper information to make decisions.

Underestimating a risk means that it may continue unabated. Moreover, it could lead to other problems and create a cascading effect. Natural processes like reforestation which could alleviate carbon emissions with carbon sequestration are hampered.

Immediate Problems versus the Future Issues

Climate change has become the poster child for the environmental movement. However, the planet faces grave dangers from land use that have nothing to do with global warming. Those are the risks that could cause greater harm in a more immediate way.

Because the dialogue about climate change focuses on the future, we may ignore the problem outside our window. We focus on carbon emissions at the expense of polluting our rivers. Just ask the EPA.

Somehow, we need to extract the politics from the environment. It is, after all, by far the greatest source of pollution. We need to act to protect the environment just for the sake of the environment.

Other factors that we can’t control influence climate change too. That is why we need to set boundaries around what is feasible for us to do. The immediate problems of water and air pollution are things we can fix now. The environment should not have to endure another Animas River disaster.

http://exploring.weborglodge.com/By Chris DR

photo credit: Plastic bottles and garbage on the bank of a river via photopin (license)


It’s Not Just the Heat

yakA study by Washington State University reminds us that it’s not just heat that causes negative impacts from climate change. Researchers concluded that cold weather rather than heat may have lead to the collapse of the civilization located on the outskirts of the Tibetan Plateau around 2000 B.C.

Effects on Staple Crops

The problem wasn’t about rising sea levels or rising temperatures. Rather it involved the impacts of climate on a staple crop, namely, millet. Millet thrives in warm areas. It is also drought resistance, making it a good crop for the drier countries of Africa as well as the Plains states in the United States.

The end of the warm Holocene Climatic Optimum ushered in a trend toward cooling temperatures. The change in climate made it difficult to grow millet. Even more interesting is the response of farmers later in that same region. Archaeologists had noted the presence of wheat and barley seeds.

Coming Full Circle

The changing climate favored the cultivation of these crops, thus, explaining their presence at the sites. As researcher, Jade D’Alpoim Guedes, notes the irony of these findings is that the area is coming full circle. Rising temperatures are interfering with residents’ ability to raise yak, the modern-day staple for sustenance.

The takeaway offers some valuable lessons. First, abrupt climate change represents the true danger. It comes down to wildlife’s or farmers’ ability to adapt to a changing world. It’s not simply a matter of moving your village if times get harsh. It’s also the ability to be able to move toward more hospitable regions.

Second, climate change is a complex phenomenon. It isn’t just about temperatures rising. Climate change impacts regions differently because each is its own unique blend of geography, climate, and land use. It’s perhaps an unfortunate thing that climate change has come to a simplistic statement of a 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature rise.

Finally, the message from this study is worth repeating. We are all dependent on the climate, whether it’s directly or indirectly.

http://exploring.weborglodge.com/By Chris DR
photo credit: YakYak via photopin (license)

flight response

A Point Worth Addressing

flight responseI am an avid reader of the Discover blogs. The writers produce well-researched articles that I for one, appreciate. However, I had to take some exception to one post today from the ImaGeo blog.

The writer, Tom Yulsman, wrote about Rush Limbaugh’s radio show where he criticized a study that suggested that the Santa Catalina Island near Los Angeles is sinking. Limbaugh questioned the study as well as its 3-million year timeline.

I don’t have an opinion on Rush Limbaugh. I can understand though why he may not be everyone’s particular cup of tea. There are two points in rebuttal to this article that I wish to make.

Point 1: Skip the Snark

On the onset, let me state emphatically that I accept climate change and anthropogenic climate change. You only have to summon simple logic to understand that having 7 billion people on the planet is going to have an impact. Okay, that’s understood.

The first point I want to raise concerns the tone. The writer mentions the clown Al Franken calling Limbaugh “a fat idiot.” (I can say that about Franken, seeing as I live in Minnesota and have a stake in it.) The language is unnecessary, like a lot of the rhetoric that liberals use in the climate change debate.

Call for rappers to get involved in the message or publishing articles with headlines like, “It’s Global Warming, Stupid” take the debate to the elementary school playground. That’s not the way to present an argument.

Writers like Yulsman should realize this, since their writing for the most part is professional. This is what falls under the categories of snark, trolling, thuggery, bullying, and the like. You will never convince anyone of any worthy—or unworthy—subject by descending into an ad hominem fallacy. Saying someone doesn’t understand everything is a classic example.

Point 2: Let’s Deal with the Elephant in the Living Room

As I stated earlier, I have no opinion about Limbaugh and in no way am I defending him. However, he raises a good point, namely, the 3-million year timeline of the Santa Catalina evidence. And it is one that underlies the majority of the evidence of climate change.

First, let’s remember that our brain’s hardwiring is one that deals with immediate threats to our own survival. Our brains have not evolved a great deal over the last 10,000 years. We operate on a fight-or-flight type of survival instinct for the moment.

The whole discussion about climate change revolves around concepts foreign to us. Instead of thinking about your own survival, now it’s a dialogue about the planet and about the other 7 billion people. Dare I say that it’s a topic that many would find hard to get their head around. And it is.

Second, there is the time factor. And this is where I think Limbaugh’s point is well taken. We live day-to-day. The further into the future we go, the muddier the waters become. It’s especially hard to conceptualize times when we know we won’t be around.

Think about a lot of the data that speaks to trends toward 2100. I hate to even conceive of a time beyond my lifetime. As far as I’m concerned, I’m living forever; time stops when I pass. The idea then of considering long-term objectives in this time frame is daunting, to say the least, let alone 3 million years.

Pointing the Way Toward a Better Dialogue

Instead of the snark from the left, how about addressing the bigger questions? How about considering a dialogue that doesn’t focus on attacks on people with different points of view? How about realizing that something vital isn’t being communicated and is creating an obstacle toward accepting climate change?

How about leaving the playground and name-calling behind and begin thinking and acting like adults? As soon as you attack the person, you have initiated the fight response. And remember that the solution hinges on cooperation. You don’t foster cooperation with rock-throwing. Think about it.

http://exploring.weborglodge.com/By Chris DR
photo credit: Raaki parakkunna Chembaruntheee… via photopin (license)

bipartisan science bias

Bipartisan Science Bias

bipartisan science biasAs if misinformation and careless reporting weren’t enough, science must contend with bipartisan science bias. Yes, it exists on both sides of the aisle. The anti-science criticism is appropriate for both liberals and conservatives, according to a study by Ohio State University.

The Scope of Bipartisan Science Bias

Researchers found that both groups engage in anti-science bias if something treads on their political beliefs. The subject varies, but the anti-science bias exists just the same. Liberals reject nuclear energy despite the economic benefits and the support of scientists. Though the study didn’t address it, the same bias applies to GMO, which are safe according to the AMA, AASA, WHO, and the Royal Academy, to name a few.

On the conservative side, evolution and climate change struck similar discords. Of course, the media stokes the fire, creating its own kind of bias. For example, you’d think ant-vaxxers were more prevalent in society, but thankfully are not. And not everyone engages in vigilantism a lá Greenpeace. The media just likes to push our buttons.

The Harm of Motivated Reasoning

This attachment of political views and science is a dangerous component of bipartisan science bias. Emotions become the driving force in the decision-making process. We are losing our ability to view science rationally and unbiased. Everyone loves a good story, but I blame popular media for fanning the flames.

Psychologists call this kind of thinking motivated reasoning. With emotions in play, individuals can justify just about anything. They filter science with a sieve of misinformation, letting the good information flow away. It’s a horrible riff on throwing the baby away with the bathwater.

Because it would be one thing if we were talking about football strategies, but we’re also talking about big issues with grave consequences like fracking, climate change, and food security. (Yes, GMOs are an essential part of the latter.) While we need to consider the stakeholders’ positions, we also have to act with the best knowledge, namely, science—even if we don’t like what it tells us.

The popular media has its selfish motivations for acting as it does. People, however, often forget one of the most basic tenets underlying all science. Until next time.

http://exploring.weborglodge.com/By Chris DR
photo credit: Welcome to Wellington via photopin (license)