They “Know” But They Don’t Know

BAD OLD DAYS: The desire to control weather and climate is a powerful human emotion, and it has gained currency among people who should know better during the last 30 years.

Update (6/1/12): The poll results for the poll at the end of this post are in. Zero percent agreed that “science demands that witches be burned”; four percent agreed that “science does not demand that witches be burned”; zero percent agreed that “I don’t understand the question, but I believe strongly in global warming”; and 96 percent agreed that “this question makes me laugh, and I’m proud to be a climate skeptic.” 

In my book, I talk about how the good old days of weather and climate are happening right now. If you obtain most of your news from MSNBC, CNN, The New York Times, NBC News, CBS News, or ABC News, you may not be aware of that fact. Indeed, if you’re in this category, a combination of video technology, satellite technology, and the Internet have likely by now created a perfect storm of images in your mind convincing you that the end of time is nigh. But that perception is not connected to objective reality, at least not in terms of hurricanes, droughts, floods, forest fires, tornadoes, sea level, heat waves, or any other objective measure worth talking about.

Unlike the good old days of weather and climate (which, again, are happening right now – did I mention that?), the good old days of humility in the face of nature’s power are gone. Sure, for a long time people removed plenty of human hearts from their living owners and burned a cheering football stadium’s worth witches in the hopes of creating more favorable atmospheric conditions for agriculture. But Science, from about the time of the eighteenth century, allowed people to see that the crops don’t fail because of too few live human sacrifices.

That time, though, has ended. As of 2012, a dominant clique within climate science has demanded vast swaths of public funding, all the while frightening people the world over with Apocalyptic imagery and pronouncements. Science, in this one but important sense, has become anti-Science. If you’re a news consumer of the sort described, and you assert your passionate belief in the Science that you’ve been fed for the past few decades, meaning climate science above all, then you’re really asserting your passionate belief in anti-Science.

In the process, you’re living through a historical moment of singular significance. For not since the Englightenment has Science been used so successfully to make otherwise rational people irrational. What is Earth’s temperature today? They don’t know. What was Earth’s temperature 30 years ago? They don’t know. Is 2012 a particularly warm year within the Ice Age that started three million years ago? They don’t know. Let’s be perfectly clear, the overwhelming majority of believers in global warming don’t know what they don’t know. They know that a journalist told them that a scientist told them that they should be afraid. And so they’re afraid. It’s the only reasonable response, right?


The only reasonable response is to educate yourself, listen to both sides in a sustained and thoroughgoing manner, and then ask a couple of hundred questions of people who know more about the subject than yourself. That would be a start. That would be a return to Enlightenment values of reason and fair-mindedness. In the meantime, most of you who say you love science but know nothing of Earth’s climatic past will be part of the important social movement that set real Science back half a century or more, pushing it perilously close against the sorrowful tradition of witch burning.

Which leads me to the first-ever poll on

Does Science demand burning witches?

About Harold Ambler

I am a lifelong environmentalist. I started my journalism career at The New Yorker, where I worked as a copy editor. Since then, my own work has appeared in The New York Daily News, The National Review Online, The Atlantic Wire, The Huffington Post, The Berkeley Daily Planet, The Providence Journal, Brown Alumni Monthly, The Narragansett Times, Rhode Island Monthly, and Providence Business News.
This entry was posted in Climate change, crying wolf, don't sell your coat, global warming, media, Science, witch burning and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to They “Know” But They Don’t Know

  1. Chuckles says:

    harold that sounds suspiciously like the German ‘gewollt, aber nicht gekonnt?’

  2. Chris says:

    I tried clicking the link to buy your book but it seems to be broken? I can certainly find it on Amazon but believe you deserve the referral fee as well. 🙂

    • Harold Ambler says:

      Thank you! How would I get such a referral from Amazon? My tech skills are still growing 🙂

  3. Robin Pittwood says:

    Interesting post Harold. It seems to me that the problem is the world’s political system is driven by power and influence, where as science is only a way to describe nature. They are completely different things altogether.
    However, fear has been used as a mass motivator since time began, and now fear of climate change is being used by most political masters as a means to influence and control. As for me – and you I suspect, we take the trouble to seek the truth, and share what we learn with others as we are able.

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