Friday, August 31, 2007

Article 8: Hype and Agendas

Phew, this one has dated a bit...


It is a constant source of annoyance to me how facts are twisted to either fit political agendas or to hype stories, and that when you peel all of that away, even the facts are dubious. Take for example the recent furore concerning passive smoking. Apparently, breathing secondhand cigarette smoke increases your chances of getting lung cancer by 25%. Most people, whose acquaintance with mathematics was an unhappy affair from childhood to teens and quickly forgotten, will illogically look at that percentage and think breathing secondhand smoke gives them a one in four chance of getting lung cancer. They don’t seem to realise that to understand the statement you need to first know what your chances are without breathing that smoke. They are about 1% – one in a hundred. A 25% increase in your chances of getting lung cancer means these odds rise by a quarter per cent – substantially less than your odds of being killed in a car accident, of committing suicide or being gunned down. But how much passive smoking are we talking about: a lifetime serving behind a bar or a whiff of cigar smoke in your high street? Well, you can guarantee those odds are predicated on the first instance and not the second.

Another fact the media is throwing at us lately is that human-produced CO2 is causing global warming which will lead to an eco-catastrophe. There are stories about this every day now because it’s ‘sexy’. ‘The scientists’ – as much in love with appearing on TV as those sad cases in the Big Brother house – try to mention this in relation to any research they are conducting. Thus we learn that a recent shot to Venus will enable us to learn much about the coming disaster, for the greenhouse effect is operating there and on the surface the temperature is high enough to melt lead. The usual corollary is that if we carry on as we are, Earth could end up like Venus. One tiny tiny point is neglected, that being Venus’s 26,000,000 mile closer proximity to the sun. A probe sent merely to study that planet is not going to get as much airtime as one sent to study global warming.

Those same scientists, aware that global warming is a touchstone of political correctness, know that towing-the-line is the best way to get their funding renewed, and that nay-saying a good way of getting yourself cast out into wilderness. Recent studies of Antarctic ice cores prove that our present CO2 levels are higher than ever before. Shock, horror, probe! Further research reveals that the timescale of these cores is almost entirely self-referential, and that one warm day at any time in the past can destroy as much as centuries of data. So what would a past period of global warming do – before anyone started up an SUV – wipe out evidence of itself? And where does our CO2 come from? Burning fossil fuels. How were those fossil fuels produced? By plants. Where was the CO2 throughout the process when the plants trapped it? Erm. Should we consider the Carboniferous period, when all this was occurring and every square inch of Earth burgeoned with growth, to be a time of eco-catastrophe?

Also, the Arctic is melting and polar bears starving because they can’t get to their food. Again a bit of further research reveals that the Arctic has always gone through cycles of melting like this. The last time was sixty years ago when it was hotter there than now. The availability of food for polar bears is less simply because their population has grown and there is greater competition for what there is. And while the Artic is melting, the Anarctic is doing precisely the opposite.

Another misleading story is the one that is the basis of all the above: our CO2 production is causing global warming. Ask anyone now, what is the main cause of the greenhouse effect (without which, it must be noted, we’d all be under a few hundred feet of ice by now) and because of the nonsense in the media every day they will reply, “CO2!” Wrong. The main one is water vapour, which causes 95% of it and also rather shoots down the idea that hydrogen-powered cars will save us. CO2 causes 3% of it, and man-made production of the same is 3.5% of that. For those who believed the bull about passive smoking, let me make the calculation for you: our overall CO2 contribution to the greenhouse effect amounts to just over 0.1% – one part in a thousand.

But the temperature is rising and those experts can’t be wrong! Just like they weren’t wrong back in the 70s when a group of them, after a few chilly winters, decided we were about to descend into a new Ice Age. In fact, only a few ‘experts’ said this, but the media grabbed that ball and ran with it. But what about the temperature rise of, supposedly, one degree? Well, on the one hand this could easily be part of the cyclic nature of Earth’s weather, on the other, even the ‘experts’ can’t agree on what the overall temperature of Earth is right now. There’s also some cherry-picking of the data. Most of the climate modelling done by the doomsayers takes its temperature data from weather stations, all on land, and most having their data corrupted by the heat of encroaching urbanization. The most accurate reading of Earth’s temperature is by satellites, which have shown very little rise at all.

For the conspiracy theorists amidst us it might be worth noting that without global warming our government would have some problem justifying a near 80% tax on petrol. Also, that what we are supposed to do to prevent the eco-catastrophe, is precisely the same as what we should be doing in preparation for our fossil fuels running out. You have to ask yourself, which should I worry about most: global warming or that we are running out of the stuff that supposedly produces it?

Way back in the mists of time an English teacher told the class I was attending to get hold of two papers with opposing political slants – the Sun and the Mirror or the Mail and the Guardian – and in them compare the reportage in each of the same story. It’s something everyone should do since it opens the eyes to the adage: They don’t like to let facts get in the way of a good story. From different reporters you might read the lines: ‘Man assists suicide of terminally-ill wife.’ Or ‘Brute slaughters sick wife.’ We must therefore, all of us, follow the dictates of that other adage: Don’t believe everything you read in the papers, to which I would make the alteration of ‘papers’ to ‘media’. In the end there is no ultimate font of truth in this world (even me), so we must all use our own judgement.


Kirby Uber said...

i have tried to explain this on a number of occasions to those not in the "know" and the reaction i get is without fail "If that was true THEY wouldn't let THEM print it." Both for passive smoke and so called global warming.

makes me want to start smoking again on general principle or begin a well justified killing spree.

Neal Asher said...

I would write this article differently now. For example I'd mention that the 25% isn't exact, it's actually something like 25% plus or minus 100%, which is below the threshold of provability and means that statistically there's a chance that passive smoking decreases your chances of getting lung cancer. In fact, one study of the children of smokers (raised in a smoky environment) shows them to have a higher resistance to lung cancer than those not exposed - perhaps it toughened up their immune systems.

As for global warming, I would of course mention that the ice cores showed a rise in CO2 AFTER warming, which totally shoots the whole hypothesis in the foot. And I'd mention the rest of the growing body of evidence that fucks this whole ideology up the arse.