WHY does climate denialism still exist?

I became outraged earlier when the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology posted the following tweet:


First of all, we’ve mentioned several times how frustrated we are with the people in charge of this committee. Second, it is absolutely inappropriate for a government establishment to spread misinformation in this manner. Third, WHY is the climate change “debate” still happening?

I think we can blame a lot of this on denialism, and I think Wikipedia does the best job explaining it:

In the psychology of human behaviordenialism is a person’s choice to deny reality, as a way to avoid a psychologically uncomfortable truth.[1] Denialism is an essentially irrational action that withholds the validation of an historical experience or event, by the person refusing to accept an empirically verifiable reality.[2] In the sciences, denialism is the rejection of basic facts and concepts that are undisputed, well-supported parts of the scientific consensus on a subject, in favor of radical and controversial ideas.[3] The term climate change denialist is applied to people who argue against the scientific consensus that the global warming of planet Earth is a real and occurring event primarily caused by human activity.[5] The forms of denialism present the common feature of the person rejecting overwhelming evidence and the generation of political controversy with attempts to deny the existence of consensus.[6][7] The motivations and causes of denialism include religion and self-interest (economic, political, financial) and defence mechanisms meant to protect the psyche of the denialist against mentally disturbing facts and ideas.[8][9]

Denialism occurs as a way to avoid a psychologically uncomfortable truth, and often out of self-interest. We know the uncomfortable truths that come with accepting climate change: the need to revamp and alter energy production, which inherently leads to the loss of many jobs (coal industry, oil, etc), loss of wealth and income for many, and loss of votes for the members of congress who represent these people. As a result, it’s easy to try to not accept climate change as a way to avoid these truths.

However, I think the largest problem with this issue is that the government is trying to turn the conversation into a scientific debate trying to delegitimize climate change research instead of focusing their energy on the political debate.

Politicians don’t want to lose votes, and americans don’t want to lose jobs. The easiest way to maintain the status quo is to make false claims that climate change doesn’t exist because the “science doesn’t add up”.

There are VERY FEW politicians who are educated in the subject enough to assess for themselves the validity of climate change data. This is why they often will have aides, who are educated in the topic, to help inform their decisions. And, this is why scientists have the process of peer review and data reproduction. Results go through a harsh critique and review process from highly qualified scientists in the field, and then are validated through reproduction from other groups. This way, there are several levels to gauge whether data are legitimate or not. As a result of this process, there is a VERY HIGH CONSENSUS among scientists that man-made climate change is occurring.

I think it is our duty to shift the focus AWAY from this post-truth, false idea that climate change science is a “debate”, and instead focus on the real debate: the policy decisions on how we tackle climate change. There is a clear difference here. The debate is not on the validity of the science (because lets get real here, most politicians are not equipped to comment on that), but what you do with the data that exists (the real job of politicians- take the data, and make informed policy decisions).

If that’s the case, I think it’s fair for conservative politicians to be upfront and honest with what their REAL intentions in this matter: Climate change is real, but tackling that problem from a policy point is a nightmare, so they don’t actually about the future, and will not handle the problem. They’ll be long gone before the full repercussions of climate change affect humanity anyway.

Science update! What’s happened in the world of science since we last posted #alot

So, a LOT has happened since our brief hiatus. We’ll try to fill you in on some of the major news in science:

  1. Scientists isolate and measure antimatter for the first time! Published in Nature, summary in Nature News, and another good summary of the discovery here.
  2. The EM Drive– while controversial, NASA scientists show that the EM drive, an engine that does not require propellant, does indeed work (but there’s no explanation for how it works). Either way, could be an important step in the future of transportation and space exploration!
  3. Human Cell Atlas launched– a collaborative worldwide effort to create reference maps of all human cells in effort to understand human health and diagnose, monitor, and treat human disease.
  4. RIP John Glen– first astronaut to orbit the earth. Video obituary from The Guardian.
  5. 2016 Nobel Prizes!
    1. Nobel Prize in Physics: David J. Thouless, F. Duncan M. Haldane and J. Michael Kosterlitz “for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter”
    2. Nobel Prize in Chemistry: Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart and Bernard L. Feringa “for the design and synthesis of molecular machines”
    3.  Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine: Yoshinori Ohsumi“for his discoveries of mechanisms for autophagy”

  6. 5th annual breakthrough prizes awarded. 
  7. First proven vaccine against Ebola! Still in testing stages, but fast-tracked through the FDA. Summary in the Washington Post.
  8. And in some negative news, Donald Trump was elected president of the USA. While we cannot say for sure what will happen, we know his pick for budget director doesn’t think there’s a need for govt funded science, his pick to head the EPA is a climate change denialist, and his choice to lead health and human services does not believe in women’s reproductive rights.Slate provides a grim perspective for the outlook on science. There’s so much anti-science Trump-related news in the media, that we simply don’t have the physical space or mental capacity to display it all.  This being said, CauseScience is even more dedicated than ever to promote science and advocate for science literacy.

While a wonderful few months for scientific discovery and progress, we are faced with bleak prospects for the future of science in this country. In times like this, I think this quote from Astronaut Edgar Mitchell about going to the moon is most appropriate:

“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.'”

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all from CauseScience!


CauseScience celebrating New Years Tiki style!

Sorry for the brief hiatus from posting! Here at CauseScience, we’ve been busy with lab work, stressed about our futures, and a little depressed about the state of the world. The good news is that the progress of science is inevitable, and this should give us hope for the future. We’re back now, so stay tuned for the latest in the world of science!

NASA media call on activity on Jupiter’s moon, Europa

NASA will host a teleconference at 2 p.m. EDT Monday, Sept. 26, to present new findings from images captured by the agency’s Hubble Space Telescope of Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa. (Details here)

Astronomers will present results from a unique Europa observing campaign that resulted in surprising evidence of activity that may be related to the presence of a subsurface ocean on Europa. Participants in the teleconference will be:

  • Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington
  • William Sparks, astronomer with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore
  • Britney Schmidt, assistant professor at the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta
  • Jennifer Wiseman, senior Hubble project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland

To participate by phone, media must contact Dwayne Brown at 202-358-1726 or dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov and provide their media affiliation no later than noon Monday.

Audio of the teleconference will stream live on NASA’s website at:


For information about NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, visit:


The Chan-Zuckerberg initiative: end all disease by 2100 #YAAAAS

THIS IS AWESOME! Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have launched the Chan-Zuckerberg initiative where they will be giving $3 billion to prevent, cure, or manage ALL disease by the end of this century. Their mission:

We want every child to grow up in a better world. Our hopes for the future center on two ideas: advancing human potential and promoting equality. We’ll focus first on personalized learning, curing disease, connecting people and building strong communities. We will make long-term investments over 25, 50 or even 100 years because our greatest challenges require time to solve.

It is a beautiful thing when very wealthy people spend their money on scientific research and innovation. YAAAAAS.

Baracktrema Obamai- new parasite named after the president #LifeGoals

I guess when you become president, you get the honor of having a newly discovered organism named after you. Introducing Baracktrema Obamai, a newly discovered freshwater parasitic flatworm that is found in Malaysian turtles. The full discovery is published in the Journal of Parasitology. Enjoy!

WaveNet- trying to make computers sound more human?

Check out the latest development from Google’s artificial intelligence team, DeepMind: Called WaveNet, this is a synthesized speech system that mimics human voice more closely than ever before. Basically, a way to get computers to sound more human. You can test it out and see for yourself!!!

Do the candidates know what science can and cannot do?

Short answer- some candidates *cough* Hillary *cough* are way more informed than others. NPR has a nice commentary piece:

Tania Lombrozo poses three science questions for the presidential candidates.

Monty Rakusen/Getty Images

This election season, voters should be evaluating the presidential candidates’ attitudes toward science.

ScienceDebate.org proposes a set of 20 science and science policy questions for all candidates, suggesting that “science impacts voters at least as much as the economic policy, foreign policy, and faith and values candidates share on the campaign trail.”

Yet beyond questions about specific scientific issues are broader questions about how each candidate understands the value of science itself. Science is unique among human enterprises in its insistence on systematic observation and reasoning as a means of drawing generalizations about the natural world. Scientific claims are at the mercy of evidence, subjected to constant scrutiny and revised as we learn more.Scientific methodology gives science special authority when it comes to answering empirical questions, an authority that isn’t shared by other human endeavors.

But is this an authority that the candidates recognize?

In her speech accepting the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, Hillary Clinton affirmed her belief in science, an affirmation that an article in Slate derided as “bizarre,” since science shouldn’t be a matter of personal or partisan preference: “Science is a fact, and either people acknowledge reality or they do not.”

Yet Clinton’s affirmation makes sense in the current political context. It’s no secret that not all politicians hold science in equal esteem. Republican nominee Donald Trump has offered little in the way of science policy and has questioned scientific consensus. Astrophysicist Lawrence Krauss writes that “for science, research, and their impact on the economy, the election of Trump would simply be a disaster.”

When it comes to these attitudes toward science, it’s not a straightforward matter of liberal versus conservative. Another article in Slate describes Green Party candidate Jill Stein as “a Harvard-trained physician who panders to pseudoscience.” It’s a mistake to deny scientific claims the authority they deserve (as Trump has done), but it can be just as deadly to confer that authority where it doesn’t belong (on pseudoscience).

A related mistake comes from thinking that science — on its own — can settle questions of policy. As I’ve written about before, science can answer empirical questions that should inform policy decisions, but the policy decisions themselves aren’t just a matter of science — they typically involve complex trade-offs between different risks and benefits, and evaluating those trade-offs is also a matter of values.

Vetting candidates on their views about specific scientific issues is clearly important — policies related to energy, innovation, education, water and beyond will profoundly shape the coming century. But the only constant in science is change. As science progresses, technology advances, and local and global issues take new forms, politicians will confront new challenges that science can inform, and we need to know that our future president will face those challenges with an appropriate appreciation for what science can — and cannot — do.

Some of ScienceDebate’s 20 questions for candidates do get at more basic issues about the process of doing science, including scientific funding and how to preserve the integrity of science. But to complement their list, here are three more questions for today’s presidential candidates, questions about the nature of science itself:

  1. Science is one of the most successful human enterprises. What do you think accounts for this success? What would you do to ensure the continued success of science during your term and beyond?
  2. Do you think science has special authority when it comes to answering certain kinds of questions? If so, what kinds of questions? How will you ensure that your decisions are based on the best answers to these questions? In particular, how will you differentiate good science from bad science and pseudoscience? (If this is a matter of having good scientific advisers, how will you select those advisers?)
  3. There are some questions that science cannot answer — either because it is insufficiently advanced or because the questions are, in principle, beyond the scope of science. Can you provide examples of questions of each type, and explain how science will — or will not — influence the way you approach those questions?

Tania Lombrozo is a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley. She writes about psychology, cognitive science and philosophy, with occasional forays into parenting and veganism. You can keep up with more of what she is thinking on Twitter: @TaniaLombrozo