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Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto equates science with religion

By Joe Romm  

"Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto equates science with religion"

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I suppose it was inevitable that some anti-science extremist would compare the doomsday claims of evangelical broadcaster Harold Camping with the overwhelming body of scientific evidence that says unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions risks multiple simultaneous catastrophes for human civilization.

It’s just sad that this extremist was the editor of The Wall Street Journal‘s online editorial page, James Taranto.  His inane, defamatory piece, “The Christian Al Gore: The eternal appeal of doomsday cults,” makes one question the factual basis of every thing that appears in the WSJ.  After all, if an astrologer and Flat-Earther can rise to such prominence at the leading financial newspaper in the country, and publish pure anti-science nonsense, then on what basis is there to believe that the rest of the staff is any more rational?

Oh yes, I forgot.  There’s an impenetrable firewall between editorial and news at the WSJ.  No doubt it’s as impenetrable as the firewall in Wall Street investment banks between the corporate-advisory group and the brokerage department.

Taranto’s money graf is:

To reject traditional religion is not, as the American Atheists might have it, to transform oneself into a perfectly rational being. Nonbelievers are no less susceptible to doomsday cults than believers are; Harold Camping is merely the Christian Al Gore. But because secular doomsday cultism has a scientific gloss, journalists like our friends at Reuters treat it as if it were real science. So, too, do some scientists. It may be that the decline of religion made this corruption of science inevitable.

Yes, because science has a scientific gloss, real journalists treat it as if it were real science.  So, too, do some scientists.

Of course Taranto doesn’t actually cite any science in his piece, just two news articles he doesn’t understand:

  • “Decline in Snowpack Blamed on Warming”–headline, Washington Post, Feb. 1, 2008
  • “Record Snowpacks Could Threaten Western States”–headline, New York Times, May 22, 2011
  • Let’s set aside the fact that these are not not peer-reviewed articles, but newspapers whose reporting on climate change is spotty at best.  Global warming is predicted to make weather more extreme so that even as the Southwest dries up it occasionally sees record-breaking precipitation.  For Taranto, this is all the proof he needs that climate science is a religion.

    Here’s a Journal of Climate study that would really make Taranto’s head explode:

    A new study by a Duke University-led team of climate scientists suggests that global warming is the main cause of a significant intensification in the North Atlantic Subtropical High (NASH) that in recent decades has more than doubled the frequency of abnormally wet or dry summer weather in the southeastern United States.

    Those darn scientists can’t make up their mind whether it’s going to be drier or wetter.  They must be evangelicals.

    Sadly, the scientific literature couldn’t be clearer that the SouthWest is headed towards a long term catastrophic warming and drying:

    Those darn doomsday cultists working for Bush.

    Also sadly, the scientific literature couldn’t be clearer that we are going to be seeing more extreme precipitation, some of which will come down as snow because global warming hasn’t canceled winter (see Two seminal Nature papers join growing body of evidence that human emissions fuel extreme weather, flooding that harm humans and the environment).

    Why does the anti-science crowd like to talk about Al Gore so much?  Because they just don’t want to talk about the actual science.  And that is the surest road to Hell and High Water.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304520804576341310352792784.html?mod=WSJ_Opinion_MIDDLETopOpinion

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    25 Responses to Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto equates science with religion

    1. Lou Grinzo says:

      They talk about Gore so much for two reasons.

      The first is the one Joe highlights — they don’t want to talk about the actual science.

      The second is that Gore is an easy target. He’s easily mocked (as he himself has done at times), and he’s everything the deniers detest — smart, successful, a dedicated to the public good instead of lining his own pockets. In short, he makes it very easy for them to crank up the anxiety level for their daily two minutes of hate. So as long as the deniers have Gore to kick around, they will.

    2. Philip Eisner says:

      The reason, I believe, that the Republicans hate Al Gore is that he is a Democrat and a Democratic who had the nerve to oppose George Bush. Gore actually won that infamous election; clearly Gore needs to be severely punished for that. Democrats today seem to have a lot of trouble believing that Republicans hate them, but that is the way it is.

    3. RobertH says:

      Camping made a claim based on his own calculations that something that hasn’t ever happened before would occur on a specific day. He received absolutely no support from any other Christian denomination, let alone from non-Christian religions. Camping is an erstwhile prophet.

      Gore made a claim based on others’ work that something which has repeatedly happened in the geological record was occurring again. Virtually all climatologists supported him, as did the world’s science academies and institutes, and the vast majority of the world’s scientists, regardless of their fields. Gore is a popularizer.

      Science is knowledge-driven, strives to extend knowledge, is self-correcting, and is in agreement about principles and method across the disciplines. Religion is revelatory and rigid, rejects out-of-hand contrary information and indeed frequently strives to constrain the growth of knowledge, the various beliefs contradict and often are at war with one another, and internal and external challenges to their authority tend to be met with violence.

      How religion and science are similar in method or intent is totally unclear to me. Perhaps it is with Taranto as well. Obviously, many things are unclear to Taranto; maybe were he to step out of the shadow of Rupert Murdoch…

    4. PAUL DONOHUE says:

      Last week on media matters, http://mediamatters.org/mmtv/201105200017
      Limbaugh was making the same points about those worried about global warming beiing like a religious doomsday cult. So, I guess the WSJ is just another one of Rush’s echo chamber.

    5. Solar Jim says:

      Isn’t the Wall Street Journal owned by Murdock, the same conglomerate of propaganda that owns most of Australia’s main-stream-media, which promotes coal business interests? I’ve read that Australian coal makes their per-capita carbon footprint even larger than the historically large foot print of Americans. And this in a continent of massive solar resource.

      Alice (of Wonderland) would recognize all the blatant agendas and manipulations, including those from the Bankster Street Journal.

      Follow the money. Especially when purchase of government (by “investment banks”) has a 100,000% return on investment ($1 million begets $1 billion X 100%).

      So let’s see, no more purchase of: WSJ, NYT, Scientific American. We still have Mother Jones, The Progressive, The Nation, etc. And CP.

    6. Michael Tucker says:

      I don’t know for sure but I don’t think Al Gore fits into the atheist nonbeliever pigeonhole. I do imagine a cartoon where Al Gore arrives on a corner to warn of impending doom from catastrophic global climate disruption and acidification of our oceans only to be told by a Camping like Christian apocalypse monger to find another corner; he was here first. Maybe that cartoon already exists…probably does.

      Of course the apocalypse mongers ARE ALWAYS WRONG while the evidence of climate change and ocean acidification is indisputable.

      Anyway, it seems obvious to me that Gore is the target because of the movie and the Nobel Prize. That really upsets the deniers…they have nothing to compare. They cannot directly attack the science because the science is accurate so attack Gore personally and make wild unsupported allegations like the science is corrupted. I am not at all surprised to hear that they now would like to say that Gore, and all others who accept the evidence, are atheists and the science is corrupted because of this alleged denial of Christianity (Taranto’s idea of what “traditional religion” is).

    7. Kasra says:

      Not sure if anybody here has seen this article, maybe it’s a stretch, but it gives me hope.

      http://crookedtimber.org/2011/05/22/reality-based-journalism/

      and, when coupled with this article

      http://nymag.com/news/media/roger-ailes-fox-news-2011-5/

      Maybe truth and science and fact and peer-reviewed sensible discussion will soon win the day with the media?

      I think the overarching theme of these two articles is that the lies and deliberate, insane deception on the part of one of our two political parties will eventually defeat itself. Because the public, and, more importantly, the media, can buy it for so long.

      Let’s consider the tea party — call it a manifestation of the Republican party’s reliance on more and more extreme positions with every election cycle to keep drawing voters from the shadows. If you think of more extreme as just meaning more and more lie-based, then this can only catch up with them, and maybe sooner than we can expect. Just look at the field of 2012 Republican candidates. In any normal election year, there would be nothing totally wrong with Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty. But they have to back-pedal on their previously stated sane positions on climate change and sensible tax rates and health care, which makes them look very, very weak. They have “toughen up” for their voter base by staking ground in outright lies about the economics of slashing taxes on the wealthy and denying the science of climate change.

      Change we can believe in?

    8. catman306 says:

      I’m surely not a bible thumper but one has alerted me to the language of
      Isaiah 24 (New International Version)

      The LORD’s Devastation of the Earth

      1 See, the LORD is going to lay waste the earth
      and devastate it;
      he will ruin its face
      and scatter its inhabitants—
      2 it will be the same
      for priest as for people,
      for the master as for his servant,
      for the mistress as for her servant,
      for seller as for buyer,
      for borrower as for lender,
      for debtor as for creditor.
      3 The earth will be completely laid waste
      and totally plundered.
      The LORD has spoken this word.

      4 The earth dries up and withers,
      the world languishes and withers,
      the heavens languish with the earth.
      5 The earth is defiled by its people;
      they have disobeyed the laws,
      violated the statutes
      and broken the everlasting covenant.
      6 Therefore a curse consumes the earth;
      its people must bear their guilt.
      Therefore earth’s inhabitants are burned up,
      and very few are left.

      The floodgates of the heavens are opened,
      the foundations of the earth shake.
      19 The earth is broken up,
      the earth is split asunder,
      the earth is violently shaken.
      20 The earth reels like a drunkard,
      it sways like a hut in the wind;
      so heavy upon it is the guilt of its rebellion
      that it falls—never to rise again.

      The omitted verses are just as applicable.

      http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+24&version=NIV

      Throw that at Wall Street Journal and tell them they are right but for the wrong reason, that religion IS indeed like science in what has been predicted and will come to pass if we don’t stop burning fossil carbon NOW. We’ve broken the everlasting covenant, the laws of nature.

    9. catman306 says:

      @Solar Jim:

      Mother Jones’ website has been offline for about a week. I don’t know why.

    10. DSL says:

      Yah, catman, I don’t know. I think spreading a thin layer of God all over AGW is a bad idea. A rapidly warming planet is bad news, not Good News. If GW is understood to be predicted by religion, then there’s no point in trying to delay the inevitable.

      And Paul, I don’t think Rush is a forcing. He’s a feedback.

      On Taranto: hey buddy, if you’re reading this, it really makes me angry that you have a job and hundreds of thousands of people smarter and more able than you (in the position you currently hold) don’t have jobs. Your logic (and the implied ethic) is astoundingly awful but hardly unexpected, given the audience. Journalism as a free market: give ‘em what they want.

    11. RobLL says:

      Most of us appreciate the irony that both the very scientifc and the wacko religious right (not identical with fundamentalists or conservatives) are both predicting the end.

    12. David Fox says:

      An oldie, but a goodie. Sam Harris clip from “The God Who Wasn’t There”, on rapture…

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJnvx07rdbU

    13. Joan Savage says:

      I’d have expected a WSJ bloke to look at graphs and track a trend. Economics and finance may not be exact sciences but they do cover working with spread sheets.

      Here (again) are the data on the Lake Mead, Nevada, water levels.
      http://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/g4000/hourly/mead-elv.html

      It might help Taranto to get his head straighter about those two news items about water supply in the Southwest. If Taranto doesn’t want to do the spread sheet himself on Lake Mead water levels, a mathematician (Paul Lutus) has supplied a graphical web page. I’ve posted this link before.
      http://www.arachnoid.com/NaturalResources/

      Lutus’s home page has a quote that is an appropriate counterpoint to Taranto’s dismissal of scientists’ recommendations. “Science is the organized skepticism in the reliability of expert opinion.” — Richard Feynman

      And, was the estimate of 40 million climate refugees in 2010 that far off?
      Droughts in Mexico contributed to at least some part of the millions of immigrants accumulating in the USA. I haven’t seen an analysis of the number of people from water-poor countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia who have sought work in Europe, Canada and the US, either. That’s not a comprehensive list of immigration patterns! The rural to urban migration has been large.

    14. darth says:

      Great op-ed in the Washington Post today by Bill McKibben.

      The post even had a front page story that almost implied climate change might be affecting some of this extreme weather – but only 1 sentence about it in the actual article.

    15. Russell says:

      It’s not that Taranto is fat, but scientifically clueless that renders him so God forsaken- the copy of Nature I gave him at our last encounter was the first he ever handled

    16. Jay Alt says:

      Christian denominations believe in an historically inevitable sequence – creation, sin and redemption. Some emphasize end times, others not. In recent centuries creation received little theological attention. That is in contrast to the middle ages where nature was God’s 2nd book (after scripture) from which man should study and learn. Theology in more recent centuries focuses on human / God relationships and generally neglects the relationships between man or God with the rest of creation.

      That theme is quite strong in Hebrew thought. Prophets and psalmists repeatedly stress God’s love for justice and righteousness; righteousness as justice embodied. Ps 89 says his throne was upheld by those two qualities. So when Israel did wrong, prophets said this upset the universe. There were consequences and people suffered since their actions had caused the land to suffer. If they were here with us now and running things, they’d heed the prophets, change their ways and preserve the people and land. The hour is late, we’d better take all the help and ideas we can get folks.

      Today in the west, scientific and technical advance welded to a mindset of Cartesian dualism leads many to see humans as observers, separate from nature. Nature is no longer regarded and valued as God’s creation, it is a set of resources. In contrast, the Eastern Orthodox Church has ideas of Essence or God’s energies through the world which help avoid that trap. Patriarch Bartholomew was the Green Patriarch, traveling on Arctic cruises to see glaciers and sea ice and to call for climate action.

      Our misguided opponents invoke another dualism, that modern science and even the Cosmos have no connection to religion. I think religions with mystic aspects on 6 continents would disagree. If it were true, why do atmospheric scientists ask to speak to churches to explain AGW? Because they know religions have a moral authority to lead and motivate. Our opponents use the word faith to describe our trust in real science. That is inappropriate however they do it because they misunderstand science. But humanity will need all the faith in themselves they can muster to survive the coming mess. And many will use their religion to find the strength to act and to change themselves.

      For more along these lines see books by Thomas Berry or Matthew Fox.

    17. Mike Roddy says:

      Of all the weird and fatuous claims the Right makes about Gore and “warmistas” (Watts’ new term), the global-warming-as-religion is the weirdest. Few scientists go to church, and probably even fewer climate bloggers. That’s an indication that we prefer evidence, not fantasy.

    18. Jeffrey Davis says:

      To paraphrase Mark Twain, First find your Reductionist. Then kick him.

    19. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      We see Taranto a deal in Murdoch’s ‘The Fundament’ (‘The fundamental orifice of the Nation’) and, in my opinion, he’s a Rightwing zealot long lost in the gloomy forest of fanaticism. Wherein he was bitten by a hairy spider whose venom set him capering, leaping and gibbering, a condition now known as ‘Tarantism’, or in the vernacular ‘Trying to get Rupert’s attention and a nice little pat on the head’,
      The very rapid onset of weather disasters, crop failures and unambiguous evidence of rapid climate change has the denialist Right spooked. You can see it in the increasing hysteria of their propaganda. This stuff is, literally, deranged, but expect to see more like it. The Right, so long dominant in the West, so used to getting their way, raking in money, destroying unions, keeping their boot on the throat of the lower and middle classes, destroying little countries that don’t follow orders and being praised (by their own propaganda rags) as paragons for it all, are now face to face with one entity that they cannot bully, intimidate or obliterate-the physical reality of the processes that sustain life on this planet. And they see this as a direct affront to their massive egotism, a rank insubordination of mere molecules of gas. It’s driving them bonkers. Add to the strain and stress the reality that global market capitalism is moribund, is imploding into black holes of debt everywhere, that the Chinese are laughing, and that popular revolts will not be confined to countries that the US wishes to subvert, and you have a recipe for the group ‘mental breakdown’ that we see on the Right, quite unambiguously in this deliciously loony diatribe. The Right is falling back on one of its favourite tactics, the hyperbolic spray, flinging utterly fallacious fantasies in all directions, and seeing if any of the globules of rhetorical snot stick. At least it’s amusing.

    20. Tim says:

      I wonder when the WSJ published its last Op-Ed by a tobacco company owned prostitute claiming that the Surgeon General was a commie alarmist trying to take food out of the mouths of hardworking Phillip Morris capitalists?

    21. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Tim #21, I cannot remember exactly, but I’m sure it was recently.

    22. Ed Hummel says:

      Mulga, I never thought I’d find someone more cynical than I, but I do believe I’ve met my match! By the way, your comments at #20 were perfect.

    23. People on all sides use the vocabulary of religion too often when discussing climate change: http://www.climatechronicle.com/2011/05/beyond-belief/