Friday, April 29, 2011

drudge disinformation

--climate happenings are at blisterdata--

Sharpened 4-30

Drudge report, a popular US news site, couldn't resist spinning the weather crisis in denialist fashion.  Below headlines such as survivors pick up the pieces, now come the floods, storm death passes 300 in South, and deadliest swarm of twisters since 1974, the site added (screenshot above): SORRY, AL: tornadoes whipped up by wind, not 'climate change' ...

Drudge report discloses the American Disenlightenment.  Its spin shows the cognitive impairment of climate skepticism.  The disinformation begins with a mock apology. "AL" refers to Al Gore, not Alabama.  The idea is to use the weather crisis for linking climate change to the author of An Inconvenient Truth; a link forged by lobbyists, hardened by their Republican serfs, and reinforced by Drudge.  Thus climate change does not stand on its own, but stands and falls with an eccentric loser of a bygone presidential election.  The purpose is to present a globally emerging reality as if it wasn't; as if it were nothing but a mental disorder, an idée fixe, Al Gore's demon baby.

The rest of the headline is equally revealing. A key to American Disenlightenment is its Humean bent: empiricism expressed as skepticism, which impairs its victims to make connections and to think holistically.  Just as the American Disenlightenment is a reality-disconnect in moral terms -- as a narcissist repudiation of the other, manifest in the Republican virtue of selfishness -- so it is a reality-disconnect in causal terms: a divorce of behavior from its consequences.  Moral and causal disconnects are mutually reinforcing.  As the egoist hopes to 'get away with it,' and as the narcissist trusts he deserves to get away with it, the skeptic insists that, really, there is nothing to get away from, there is no constant conjunction between what seems cause and what seems effect, and that, therefore, there is perfectly good reason for expecting to get away with it.

The self-serving disciples of David Hume can see this tornado and trace it to that wind being whipped up.  But cognitively confined to the ostentatiously observable, they cannot trace this to the powersurge that comes with a warming climate.  Since climate is around us, it is white noise and perceptual background, thus not really visible and therefore not really real.  Hence Drudge puts it in quotation marks: not climate change, the reality, but "climate change," Al Gore's idée fixe .

Yet for all of this, Drudge's disinformation is now on the defensive.  You'd think that with the corporate resources at their command, denialists could do better.  The journalists of the article titled "Tornadoes whipped up by wind, not climate: officials" quote an assistant professor at Mississippi State University as their lead authority.  That faculty's comments are the hook of the news: Dr. G. Dixon is cited as denying the link between the particular event of tornadoes here and now, and the general event of climate change overall and everywhere.  Dixon is a good scientist in doing so: he is echoing the consensus that attribution of freak weather to climate change can be done only with difficulty, and only rather recently

A look at Dixon's work shows he's on the level.  He's not a denialist.  But the journos who cite him make it seem as if he were, as if blaming a weather catastrophe on climate change is, to quote, "a terrible mistake," thus underscoring the headline that, indeed, "officials" like Dixon are telling us that "tornadoes [are] whipped up by wind, not by climate."  The monster storms lashing the South are thus a 'teaching moment,' to differentiate climate and weather.

What follows are quotes from meteorologists who explain the how-to of tornado formation.  Scroll further down in the article, and you come across a real skeptic: a Mr. Fugate at FEMA, described as an "administrator," who "also dismissed Thursday climate change as a factor in the deadly tornadoes." So here's a skeptic at last ... and he is an administrator.

The article ends with a quote from a Mr. Imy at NOAA, who repeats the conventional wisdom that such upticks of freak weather are still within statistical norms.  Imy is presented as another authority (dude works for NOAA), but googling shows he doesn't have a Ph.D. ... he's a weather forecaster.

So what's happening here?  Drudge's disinformation demands another post, on attribution, but here's the upshot.  First, single weather events hardly signify climate change.  For the most part, and for the time being, the former are lost in statistical fog and do not qualify as evidence for climate change.  Which doesn't matter, since the evidence comes from elsewhere--not single factoids and discrete events constitute confirmation, but the aggregate of factoids or series of events does.  Just as one swallow not yet a summer makes, one incident does not constitute a trend.  Local weather events do not point to global climate change as evidence.

Second, climate change contributes to single weather events.  This is obvious--the warming of the atmosphere has consequences all over, and therefore also locally.  On the other hand it isn't obvious, because global events do not directly translate to local events.  A regional bridge connects them.  Global warming causes regional changes such as the soaring temps and high pressure zones in the Arctic Circle, and such as the greater surface heat on the Gulf of Mexico.  Regional changes in the Arctic cause more frequent southbound flows of unusually cold air.  Regional changes in the Gulf cause more frequent northbound flows of unusually hot air.  When two such air-flows collide, as they did this week, a highly energetic storm blooms in the Southern US, locally spawning EF5 tornadoes more than 1 km wide and moving at 300 km/h.  Global climate change points to local weather events as consequence.

The disinformation is to smear all this together as if affirming the one entailed denying the other: because local weather events don't point to climate change as evidence, we can rest assured that they also won't arise as consequence.  (The missing premise such reasoning would need to get off the ground is that there is no other evidence, which, as we know, is false.)  The beauty of manipulation is you don't even have to make this explicit.  All the manipulator needs to do is to imply it through good timing.  Just when a consequence of climate change occurs, Drudge assures us that this is not evidence, thus stick to your carbon lifestyle and be good little sheep.

Sixty-eight months left.

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