Posted by: Green Knight | September 15, 2011

Polar Dunce Cap

Regular readers may recall that I gave a big thumbs-up to my friend Mark Pendergrast’s book Inside the Outbreaks a while back.  The book was about emergent diseases and the efforts made to respond to the threats.  I saw today on LinkedIn that Mark has joined the Society of Environmental Journalists, a group I hadn’t encountered before.  It sounded intriguing, and I like the following from their mission statement:

“The mission of the Society of Environmental Journalists is to strengthen the quality, reach and viability of journalism across all media to advance public understanding of environmental issues.

SEJ provides critical support to journalists of all media in their efforts to cover complex issues of the environment responsibly.”

There certainly is a need for accurate reporting on things such as the climate crisis.  Even veteran science reporters occasionally simplify things for readers in ways that introduce errors.  This would be a good service to force on politicians, who have little to no grasp of basic scientific principles at all.  Just today, watching the “24 Hours to Reality” webcast mentioned below, a clip was shown from the US House of Representatives, in which Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, R-CA, said something so absurd that I almost laughed, albeit bitterly.  It’s worth quoting in full:

“It’s called sunspots – yes – solar activity.  That explains why one sees similar temperature cycles on Mars and Jupiter to the cycles that are happening on this planet.  That’s why ice caps on those planets, like on ours, expand and contract.  It’s the Sunstupid.”

Well, Dana, first of all, sunspots occur on a relatively regular 11-year cycle.  Temperatures have been going up steadily since the Industrial Revolution began in the late 1700s, except for a brief dip around 1850.  We don’t need to rely on data only from that revolution, like weather balloons, satellites, etc., because we have atmospheric composition from bubbles in ice cores, which can be dated by depth, information from tree rings, and a whole wealth of other sources of direct and indirect indicators.  But we’ve had modern thermometers since the early 1700s, so the decades in question are covered.

The most ludicrous part of Rohrabacher’s comments, though, was the bit about icecaps.  Mars (my other favorite planet) and Earth have them, of course, although Mars’s are cyclical but stable, while ours are in trouble, but Jupiter has no ice caps because it’s made almost entirely of GAS, not unlike the Congressman, I guess. There’s a small rocky core, but that’s beside the point.  And this guy is on the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, part of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology!?!  There needs to be some sort of body that can provide remedial science education to these guys, who are mostly lawyers.  The President has a Science Advisory Committee, why doesn’t Congress?

To be fair, I looked up Rohrabacher’s voting record and positions, and he & I actually agree on a few things (admittedly a very few), but on this one he was an arrogant, incorrect blowhard.

(the photo is from one of my favorite movies, and looks a lot more like Rush Limbaugh than the Congressman, but it conveys the vibe I was looking for.)



  1. Good to hear about a group of journalists whose goal is to advance public understanding of environmental issues. Its really hard to watch the “news” sometimes, and listen to the utter disregard of basic facts. I believe many just refuse to admit that we as a species can create new technologies which provide great benefits, while at the same time our foibles often cause us to overlook or intentionally ignore the harmful effects of the same.

    I read recently an article about Chemetco, a copper smelting company in the Alton/Wood River area, a NPL site that polluted the soil and groundwater there for years before shutting down. They actually discovered a pipe that was secretly built by the company, I think in the ’90’s, which dumped millions of gallons of heavy-metal contaminated water into the nearby Long Lake and wetlands. The company owner is old and overseas now, was fined for restitution, but that’s about it. He made his money. Some employees which were involved with the pipe construction had to do jail time.

  2. thanks for finally commenting, Stevarino! good to hear from ya.

  3. see here Fantastic, this is a great blog! This article is just what I was looking for, glad I found this! Will definitely be linking this on my blog!

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