My Own Research

I watched some of Bill Maher’s show on TV recently, in between sitting on the balcony hoping for a breeze and catching the odd stray alate that had flown in the open kitchen door. I don’t normally watch it because he annoys me, but one of his guests was Andrew Breitbart, a right-wing pundit. He talked the usual shit and made me angry, parroting the usual climate change denial wormery.

People who refuse to believe scientific evidence often use the phrase, “my own research”:

I’ve done my own research and I don’t think AGW is real

You should do your own research before you decide whether to vaccinate your children

So I googled the phrase “done my own research”, and found this excellent post about this very subject. I commented:

Good piece – I agree with you on both these counts. I googled “done my own research” to get here, because it makes me laugh as well. Do climate change deniers go to the South Pole and do ice core measurements, or launch satellites? Do anti-vaccination activists run drug trials? No, they use Google and read bias-confirming websites.

It’s ironic that Maher was taking the side of science and the climate change on his show on this occasion, because he has a rather unpleasant record of being a paranoid anti-vaccination conspiracist.

When anti-vaccination celebrities like Jenny McCarthy and Bill Maher say things like, “Do your own research before making a decision”, what exactly do they mean? Run your own drug trials? Experiment on people? Google “vaccines and autism”?

The “do your own research” thing is often very close to the “figure it out for yourselves, wake up sheeple” thing. For example, Jim Corr out of charming sanitized-Irish-folk-music-combo The Corrs uses several key phrases on his archetypal NWO conspiracy theory wesbite:

  • “My intention is not to sow fear, but understanding” (CRIB TO REEL THORTS: if you read my stuff, you will “wake up”)
  • “As you will discover with a little research…” (CRIB TO REEL THORTS: “…such as googling and watching grainy YouTube videos with slowed-down-zoomed-in bits”)
  • “I have been studying what is referred to as the New World Order…” (CRIB TO REEL THORTS: “I have been googling stuff and reading bias-confirming websites and self-published books”)

Another trope that crops up a lot is the “need for a debate”. There needs to be a debate. Why isn’t there a debate? Are you afraid of a debate?

Debate doesn’t change anything except opinions, and opinions can be wrong.

Imagine a live, televised debate between X and Y. X is a prominent and articulate climate change “skeptic” (read: denier). Y is a climate scientist, and climate change “believer”. During the debate, X makes several “gotcha” points, raising the UEA email scandal, the hockey-stick curve, sunspots etc. Y can debunk most of these, but in the atmosphere of live debate, X is able to score more points, and as a result, people walk away from the debate saying, “X won that debate. I don’t think I believe what Y says anymore.”

It makes no difference to the evidence. Even as the debate was raging, researchers and scientists all around the world were gathering data, and the vast majority of it supports the existence of anthropogenic climate change.

The thing is, science and the scientific method is a debate: a slow, step-by-step debate based on assertion and refutation. Someone puts forward an idea, creates experiments and models to find evidence to support or refute it, and publishes. Others then pile on, examining the theory and the data. If it works, it’s allowed to stand. For now. If not, it’s torn apart, and held up as an example. Later on, further data may help confirm the theory or help disprove it. It’s a process, not a big book of answers, and it’s always changing. As someone said, “Science doesn’t know everything. If it did, it would stop.”

As the US approaches the elections, there are a lot of ads and leaflets around which make claims about numbers of jobs, amounts of money, and actions by people. It should be easy to prove or disprove most of these claims, but in the end, you vote for who you want – never mind the evidence.

I can’t vote here, so I would ask you not to vote for Meg Whitman, because she would definitely cut funding for the California High-Speed Rail Project, despite the huge future job losses that would cause. She lives down the peninsula in one of the communities who are opposed to the project, so she’s bound to jump on that issue at some point. I have no evidence for this, but you can tell – it’s common sense.