Crank magnetism strikes again

Since I happen to have fallen into the topic of anthropogenic global warming, before I move back to medical topics I might as well have a little fun. Certainly, I could use some, given that I just wrote two posts in which I felt forced to criticize someone whom I admire greatly. Besides, it’s been over a week since I last blogged about vaccines on this blog. that has to be some sort of record. Why wreck it now? It feels good to take a break from the topic, and there’s always next week. I have no doubt that the anti-vaccine movement will produce something begging for some not-so-Respectful Insolence before Christmas, and I don’t want to be burned out by dealing with anti-vaccine nonsense when it does.

You may remember that not too long ago, I postulated the corollary to the concept of crank magnetism known as the “vindication of all kooks.” Basically, this corollary states that, as a consequence of crank magnetism, when one kook or group of kooks are perceived as having been “vindicated,” then all kooks will view it as vindication. Most recently, I discussed this idea in relation to “climategate,” where cranks of all stripes are jumping upon the perceived “vindication” of AGW “skeptics” as “proof” that all science is corrupt and therefore their views must have merit.

What better way to finish the week than yet another example of crank magnetism. Even better, it’s by Rick Santorum in the form of an article entitled The Elephant in the Room: Challenging science dogma. Talk about a hunk o’ burnin’ burnin’ stupid! It’s also excellent source material for “spot that logical fallacy.” Let’s begin.

Santorum begins:

Questioning the scientific consensus in pursuit of the truth is an important part of how science has advanced through the centuries. But what happens when the scientific consensus becomes an ideology that trumps the pursuit of truth? Answer: Those making legitimate inquiries are ostracized, the careers of dissenters are destroyed, and debate is stifled.

Unfortunately, I am referring not only to the current proponents of the theory of man-made global warming. In 2001, I offered a legislative amendment about teaching the subject of evolution. I caught more flak for this simple amendment than for almost anything else I championed in the Senate.

The amendment Santorum added stated:

Good science education should prepare students to distinguish the data or testable theories of science from philosophical or religious claims that are made in the name of science; and where biological evolution is taught, the curriculum should help students to understand why this subject generates so much continuing controversy, and should prepare the students to be informed participants in public discussions regarding the subject.

Ah, yes, teach the controversy! Except that there is no scientific controversy in this particular area, at least not with respect to the theory of evolution. Notice how Santorum paints himself as the skeptic, the one defending children against dogma. of course, it becomes manifestly clear that he is not if you just ask yourself one simple question: Why does Santorum doubt evolution? Obviously, it’s not because of a sober assessment of the science, in which he examined the issue, the evidence for evolution, and found it lacking based on science, reason, and logic. With very few exceptions, creationists “doubt” evolution not because of the science, but because science conflicts with their religion. Indeed, although Santorum was very careful not to mention God as a reason for his wanting to teach the “weaknesses” of evolution along with the evidence for it, he did slip up here:

A recent Gallup poll found that only 14 percent of Americans agreed that “humans developed over millions of years” and “God had no part.” A Zogby poll this year found that 78 percent of Americans agreed that schoolteachers “should teach Darwin’s theory of evolution, but also the scientific evidence against it.” The same poll also found that 86 percent of self-identified liberals agreed that “teachers and students should have the academic freedom to discuss both the strengths and weaknesses of evolution as a scientific theory.” But the scientific “community” claims there is no controversy, and that debate should be banned.

This is nothing more than a classic appeal to popularity. So what if most Americans don’t “believe” in evolution? It’s not an issue of belief or lack of belief. Moreover, why would it matter in the least whether a majority of Americans disagree with the contention that “God had no part” in how humans developed. I thought this was supposed to be about the science! Oops! Actually, it is all about religion, Santorum’s denials notwithstanding. His amendment was nothing more than a clever attempt to provide an opening to teachers to present various flavors of creationism as “alternatives” to evolution under the guise of teaching weaknesses in the theory.

Having established himself as an evolution crank, Santorum then demonstrates his most excellent crank magnetism:

It is one thing for ideologically driven science to indoctrinate children in classrooms. It is another for politicians to use science to destroy national economies and redistribute global wealth. I refer, of course, to the latest scientific non-controversy, man-made global warming.

Climate change’s Pharisees reassure us that the global-warming science is still settled. Never mind recent revelations of gross misconduct on the part of Britain’s Climatic Research Unit. Never mind its repeated refusal to release vital climate data. And never mind the legitimate questions that climate-change skeptics have been asking for some time. There’s nothing to see here; move along.

Ding ding ding ding ding! We have the vindication of all kooks corollary to crank magnetism! And if you don’t believe me, Santorum makes it explicit here:

Given this uncertainty, I think most Americans find the experts’ cocksureness unsettling. Despite the bravado and billions of dollars in media hype supporting the climate alarmists, only 37 percent of respondents agreed that man is causing global warming in a recent Rasmussen poll.

Why? Well, maybe because Americans don’t like being told what to believe. Maybe because we have learned to be skeptical of “scientific” claims, particularly those at war with our common sense – like the Darwinists’ telling us for decades that we are just a slightly higher form of life than a bacterium that is here purely by chance, or the Environmental Protection Agency’s informing us last week that man-made carbon dioxide – a gas that humans exhale and plants need to live, a gas that represents less than 0.1 percent of the atmosphere – is a dangerous pollutant threatening to overheat the world.

Let’s see. Here we have crank magnetism plus some logical fallacies, such as another appeal to popularity (argumentum ad populum), as if what the public believes has any bearing on the strength of the science supporting AGW and evolution. Then there’s one that I like to call the “appeal to common sense,” which is basically a subset of argumentum ad populum, in essence arguing that “everybody knows” something to be true. Of course, “everybody knows” ghosts exist, too, but that doesn’t make it correct. Just because the public believes it doesn’t mean it’s correct.

Rick Santorum is a most excellent example of crank magnetism. Science is the enemy because it conflicts with his predetermined views. Of course, it never ceases to amaze me how supporters of religion-based pseudoscience such as creationism often fall back on the tactic of trying to represent science as just another religion but not the One True Religion. Don’t they know that in doing so they’re reducing their own religious beliefs to the same level they perceive the science they detest to be at?

Probably not.