Oklahoma, Where The Denial Comes Right Behind The Drought

Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain
And the wavin’ wheat can sure smell sweet
When the wind comes right behind the rain.

Over 90% of Oklahoma is now in extreme drought, up from 72% just a week ago. The drought seems to intensify the denial — a feedback that, if it continues, will turn the state into a permanent Dust Bowl.

by Brian Powell, via Media Matters

The Oklahoman advocated for the separation of science and policy in its editorial pages, expressing serious misgivings about the veracity of manmade climate change and warning that we shouldn’t “mi[x] science” with politics. The newspaper is Oklahoma’s largest source of printed news and is owned by billionaire oil and gas tycoon Philip Anschutz.

In a November 28 editorial headlined “Mixing science, politics can result in bad policy,” The Oklahoman put scare quotes around the word “science” when discussing global warming and argued that, because the science of climate change isn’t “settled,” it may as well be ignored by policymakers (emphasis added):

[S]cientific evidence for global warming remains muddled at best. The United Kingdom-based Daily Mail recently noted data compiled from more than 3,000 measuring points on land and sea showed the world stopped getting warmer nearly 16 years ago. Before that, temperatures rose from 1980 to 1996, but had been stable or declined for the 40 years prior to that period. Some scientists believe those temperature changes are a product of natural variability and non-manmade causes. Definitive proof remains elusive for all sides.

Those who claim science is “settled” don’t understand science. In 1854, cholera was tied to contaminated water. It took nearly 30 years before that explanation was accepted over theories blaming bad vapors for outbreaks.

When politics taints science more than science improves and informs policy, the results can be distressing. Should we wipe out countless jobs and increase economic hardship for families in the name of global warming theories that could ultimately prove no more valid than the cholera-vapors link?

Skeptical Science, a website dedicated to “explain[ing] what peer reviewed science has to say about global warming,” responded to arguments by climate change skeptics who claim, like The Oklahoman, that the science isn’t “settled,” and is therefore unworthy of consideration by policymakers and politicians:

No science is ever “settled”; science deals in probabilities, not certainties. When the probability of something approaches 100%, then we can regard the science, colloquially, as “settled”….

Outside of logic and mathematics, we do not live in a world of certainties. Science comes to tentative conclusions based on the balance of evidence. The more independent lines of evidence are found to support a scientific theory, the closer it is likely to be to the truth. Just because some details are still not well understood should not cast into doubt our understanding of the big picture: humans are causing global warming.

In most aspects of our lives, we think it rational to make decisions based on incomplete information. We will take out insurance when there is even a slight probability that we will need it. Why should our planet’s climate be any different?

The National Research Council (NRC) echoed these sentiments in a climate change report, stating that the occurrence of manmade global warming was “so thoroughly examined and tested” that there is a “vanishingly small” likelihood that the findings will be overturned. The report also reiterated the point that certain scientific conclusions have been more thoroughly verified than others, which should have been obvious to editors at The Oklahoman, who dubiously compared modern studies on climate change to 19th century theories about cholera outbreaks. From the NRC report (emphasis added):

From a philosophical perspective, science never proves anything–in the manner that mathematics or other formal logical systems prove things–because science is fundamentally based on observations. Any scientific theory is thus, in principle, subject to being refined or overturned by new observations. In practical terms, however, scientific uncertainties are not all the same. Some scientific conclusions or theories have been so thoroughly examined and tested, and supported by so many independent observations and results, that their likelihood of subsequently being found to be wrong is vanishingly small. Such conclusions and theories are then regarded as settled facts. This is the case for the conclusions that the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities. In other cases, particularly for matters that are at the leading edge of active research, uncertainties may be substantial and important. In these cases, care must be taken not to draw stronger conclusions than warranted by the available evidence.

The Oklahoman published its editorial just one week after the Washington Examiner (also owned by Anschutz) published an op-ed arguing that cutting carbon emissions is futile, raising ethical questions about the papers’ tendencies to oppose any policies that would harm their owner’s pocketbook.

And The Oklahoman’s editorial serves as yet another piece of evidence that conservative voices will attack any peer-reviewed science that doesn’t align with their political agenda. Earlier this year, a study by the American Sociological Association looked at “trends in public trust in science in the United States from 1974 to 2010.” They found that “conservatives began the period with the highest trust in science, relative to liberals and moderates, and ended the period with the lowest,” a finding that seemed to confirm the theories expounded by Chris Mooney in his 2005 book The Republican War on Science — that the conservative movement has developed a uniquely adversarial relationship with scientific conclusions. The Oklahoman‘s “Mixing science, politics can result in bad policy” is a clear illustration of this phenomenon.

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19 Responses to Oklahoma, Where The Denial Comes Right Behind The Drought

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    It’s not just The Oklahoman. Newspapers have always been more conservative than the general population, and now broadcast media companies are more conservative still. We see this in cable channels, which have been systematically bought by far right corporations, to the point that NGC, Science Channel, Discover, History Channel etc either avoid global warming or show false balance.

    This is the media landscape for red state residents. Sure, blogs, Twitter, and Facebook are cool, but young and educated people are now easily overruled when important decisions are made. Red state residents are not dumber, they just do not have access to accurate information, and have effectively become brainwashed.

    This will only change when right wing media outlets are fully called to account. There are laws against fraud and endangerment, especially when it is commercially motivated, and disguised as public service. Otherwise, this ignorance will provide cover for continued Congressional obstruction of any meaningful action to forestall disaster.

  2. Robert Callaghan says:

    That’s the funniest article I read in a while.
    Here’s another funny one.
    Sometimes when I plug my ears and say, “lalalalalala” I get dizzy and fall down.

  3. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    This is precisely why the big denialists, the propagandists in particular, must face trials for their crimes against humanity. No amount of evidence will make them tell the truth. Quoting the execrable ‘The Daily Mail’ says it all about how denial is a global Rightwing conspiracy. And to speak of ‘ethical questions’ in relation to the Rightwing MSM is preposterous. They have no ethics whatsoever to quibble over.

  4. MorinMoss says:

    I’ve often wondered where this mythical “liberal media” was, outside of a few poorly-circulated rags and modern blogs.

    In all the places I’ve lived and all the newspapers I’ve read, 90% have been right-leaning to center-right.

  5. syd bridges says:

    Anyone citing the Daily Mail as a source for anything needs a reality check. It won’t be long before Oklahoma is again a dustbowl, and then it’s citizens will wonder how it happened. Unlike the last time, however, there will be no Hugh Hammond Bennett to come to the rescue. Where will the Okkies go this time? Most other areas will be in as bad a condition as their home state.

  6. Dennis Tomlinson says:

    “It is easier to fool people than to convince them they have been fooled.” –Mark Twain

  7. Mike Roddy says:

    They will settle the river valleys of British Columbia, which are lightly populated and have some decent floodplain soil. Others will go there too, but Oklahomans are meaner, and have more guns.

  8. I think it is time for the good folks of Oklahoma to follow the footsteps of the past pre-science-literate civilizations when confronted by epic drought: sacrifice a bunch of innocents to appease the angry gods.

    Oh, wait…they already are. Sorry kids.

  9. P Ward says:

    When you see this interview with Sen. Jim Inhofe, it is clear that this man cares about one thing, and one thing only: Profits of oil & coal company executives. Still worth watching because it gives clues to his plans for his “fight” against anyone who cares about global warming.

  10. Joan Savage says:

    Like the deniers’ head-swiveling version of who is playing the role of Galileo, the editiorial’s comparison to the history of cholera is also upside down and sideways. The “vapors” are the equivalent of the vaporous thinking that humans aren’t causing climate change, while the far-more testable view that water-borne organisms cause cholera is more parallel to the well-documented and testable view of CO2 emissions leading to heat retention in the atmosphere. I threw in “sideways” because not all contaminated water contains Cholera vibrio, so even that part of the editorial is irresponsible.

  11. Kelli says:

    People in red states have access to the internet like anyone else. Major media outlets are paid for by corporations, simple.

  12. jyyh says:

    Thanks for the gallows humor.., From the European perspective, though Obama is willing to let the aeroplanes of USA to continue their chemtrail experiment, the red states are becoming redder if one beleives these drought maps. I’m beginning to doubt there is a drought in Oklahoma, maybe these are just pollitical maps.

  13. jyyh says:

    Mississippi would be a clear outlier here (probably above 4*sigma), as only 40% Democrats present in the state senate, it still has only 20% of abnormally dry land. This might be a fun excercise for a democratic statistician.

  14. Dennis Tomlinson says:

    Thanks for the dry humor.

  15. Don A in Pennsyltucky says:

    The Liberal Media are those news providers which check an occasional fact and try very hard to describe reality. Since facts and reality are biased in the Liberal direction, the only organizations which claim to provide “news” and are not part of the Liberal Media are part of the Murdoch Entertainment conglomerate.

  16. Spike says:

    The PDSI on the Global Drought Monitor looks awful, including SE Europe and much of Russia/Ukraine (click on PDSI in left hand menu).

  17. Ann says:

    Hard to get past this glaring error: “In 1854, cholera was tied to contaminated water. It took nearly 30 years before that explanation was accepted over theories blaming bad vapors for outbreaks.”

    In fact, only two years after John Snow’s data of cholera death rates/10000 houses gave indisputable evidence that water was the source of the cholera epidemic, legislation mandated that all the water companies filter their water. That was in 1857, most definitely NOT 30 years after 1854.

    Medical doctors had been attending meetings of the Royal Statistical Society thereby learning their techniques.

  18. Wordfetish warning says:

    Here’s another example of the sort of stance one could take when asked about whether climatologists are certain that CO2 is warming the Earth:

    “You mean, certain in a practical sense? I’d have to say yes. But if you mean ‘Are scientists ‘certain’ in some absolute, philosophical sense’, that’s another question.”

    There’s nothing epistemically corrupt about that, yet it doesn’t lead off into some half-crazy abstract mumble about how scientists allegedly always doubt everything.

    Note that part of the no-certainty word fetish is the idea that “certain” always must mean “absolutely-don’t-tell-me-otherwise-no-possible-doubt-certain”. This is silly. As everyone knows, “I’m certain” and “I’m absolutely certain” don’t have exactly the same meaning.

  19. Mixing Reason and Policy? A bad idea 6000 years ago. Still a bad idea today.

    Paid for by Flying Spaghetti Monster for President. Some restrictions apply. No orders filled after 10. Just go to the back and tell them ‘necessity’ sent you…