The Crank-Off

Speaking of contests, Orac has winnowed a list of “terminal terminator cranks” into the top three and asks readers to pick a winner:

  • Anti-vaccine loons
  • Tobacco/secondhand smoke denialists
  • Anthropogenic global warming denialists

55 Responses to “The Crank-Off”

  1. Shub says:

    I am all three!

  2. Keith Kloor says:

    Congrats! You hit the trifecta!

    Seriously, that would make for an interesting post, to see how many people can check off the list.


  3. Leonard Weinstein says:

    I don’t know enough about the first two, although I have read there is some reasonable questioning about the degree or extent of effect. However, on the third, the point should be AGW skeptics, not GW skeptics, and in fact even most scientists who are skeptics are not even AGW skeptics, but CAGW skeptics. Anyone who is so sloppy and tries to make such nasty points as Orac is a clear nut.

  4. David44 says:

    You’re really hard up for subjects these days, Keith.

  5. Hector M. says:

    The first two are surely cranks. About the last, there are “denialists” who deny that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, or deny that other things being equal atmospheric CO2 may heat the planet. But they are very few, and quite crank. Most skeptics about climate change do not deny the greenhouse effect of CO2. The debate is about two questions:

    1. How much?
    2. So what?

    The first revolves about climate sensitivity, and most especially clouds. There are also important debates about the empirical data: what are the past trends in temperatures? (including both instrumental records and paleo-reconstructions via proxies), and involving issues about met station choice, increasing urban heat effects, methodology for finding and isolating long term trends in historical temp data, the way indexes of global mean temperature are estimated; methodology used for reconstructing past climate via proxies, and several other empirical issues that impinge (among other things) on climate model calibration and hind-casting, and on the attribution of recent warming to CO2. A large problem with all these matters is the uncertainty of it all, not always clearly visible in climate change forecasts and other climate science outcomes from the IPCC and from the scientific literature. The lack of transparency of core climate scientists about their data and procedures has not helped indeed.

    The matter of “So what?” refers to the alleged impacts. The IPCC AR4 WG2 report  has been harshly characterized by the recent evaluation of IPCC by the Inter Academy Council commissioned by the UN. Not only stunning mistakes have been discovered in the report, but also the curious fact that all mistakes (and also all unfortunate turns of phrase) invariably point in the direction of depicting more terrible impacts, never on the opposite direction.

    Discussion of numerical parameters, sensitivity, feedbacks, and impacts is therefore very much open for research and discussion, while the physical basis of the greenhouse effect of CO2 as such is disputed by nearly nobody (out of a thin fringe).

    Thus I’m afraid the third element in the list could only remain there if restricted to the fringe of true “denialists” (though the word I do not like either) that disavow any warming effect of CO2.  If rephrased as “People denying that increased CO2 would have a greenhouse effect, all other things remaining equal” would merit inclusion in the list, along possibly with “People who think the world is on the very verge of severe and dangerous ecological disasters due to global warming unless drastic measures are taken immediately regardless of cost” may also belong there.

  6. Brandon Shollenberger says:

    This is probably a bit off topic, but I have always been curious about something.  If you talks about “loons,” how do you distinguish the people who have honest reasons for their beliefs?  For example, secondhand smoke was initially condemned based upon (at least in large part) shoddy science.
    The initial EPA report which labeled it a Class A carcinogen wasn’t just shoddy; it was dishonest.  A person who starts researching the subject and comes across that report might be disinclined to believe secondhand smoke fears.  This is especially true since the report has never been withdrawn, or admitted to be garbage.
    The same is true with climate science.  Shoddy work gets used to promote global warming concerns, and when it is discovered, the community ignores or covers it up.  Sure, it may be uncommon, and there may be plenty of good evidence for the overall position, but how can people be expected to believe this?  They can’t hope to understand all the science, so they have to go with what they do know.
    When people find out they’ve been fed BS, and they don’t have the capability of discovering the “truth” on their own, is it really surprising they don’t accept what they are told?  The amount of evidence for a position isn’t what determines if people accept it.  It’s the quality of evidence they are shown.
    With that said, anti-vaccine people are mostly just nuts.

  7. Keith Kloor says:


    What can I say, I like Orac. Do I agree with his style, necessarily? No, but he’s a damn good read (often too long, though, for my taste). He’s even got another recent post up on anthropology which I find quite provocative and that I’d like to talk about in conjunction with a similarly related post from Savage Minds.

    Anyway, I also believe HectorM (5) has a point about Orac not distinguishing between outright cranks (many who dismiss AGW as some sort of “hoax”) and the dissenters/contrarians who are skeptical of the projected climate change severity/impacts, etc.

    It should be clear to readers by now that I have a more nuanced stance on climate skeptics than Orac. But it should also be clear that I have little tolerance for the kind of woo and pseudo-science that Orac regularly derides.

  8. Dean says:

    For all those who are trying to parse the third choice into the many variations: if we are trying to choose the nuttiest of the cranks, then it is hardly necessary. Whether or not you agree with those who debate sensitivity and feedbacks, that is not the “terminal crank” winner.
    In any case, I think those who think Apollo 11 landed in New Mexico or Arizona are the worst of the conspiracy cranks.
    While I don’t agree with the anti-vaccine folks, the fact that we really have almost no idea what causes autism makes it harder to consider them the most cranky.

  9. John Mashey says:

    Hector M:
    “while the physical basis of the greenhouse effect of CO2 as such is disputed by nearly nobody (out of a thin fringe).”
    How would you categorize the following, with names removed:
    1) Suppose someone said: (the A parts:)
    “A: I said I agree that it is warming. That is what I agreed to.I mean, I said it several times now that the temperature record from 1850 onwards indicate that it is warming.
    Q: I also had said earlier that in my question to Dr. X and that most scientists agree that in large part or for your purposes I will say in some part attributable to human activity. Would you agree with that?
    A: I don’t know that for a fact.
    Q: Okay. You don’t know that.
    A: Again, it is the connection between carbon dioxide and temperature increase. Now, Mr Y pointed out that he thinks there is a physical explanation based on a blanket of carbon dioxide in the reflection. Carbon dioxide is heavier than air. Where it sits in the atmospheric profile, I don’t know. I am not an atmospheric scientist to know that but presumably if the atmospheric–if the carbon dioxide is close to the surface of the Earth, it is not reflecting a lot of infrared back.”
    2) And suppose they wrote:
    “B, et all. also infer that since there is a partial positive correlation between global mean temperatures in the 20th century and CO2 concentration, greenhouse-gas forcing is the dominant external forcing of the climate system. C and D  make a similar statement, where they casually note that evidence for warming also occurs at a period where CO2 concentrations are high. A common phrase among E  is correlation does not imply causation.”
    “The variables affecting earth”˜s climate and atmosphere are most likely to be numerous and confounding. Making conclusive statements without specific findings with regard to atmospheric forcings suggests a lack of scientific rigor and possibly an agenda.”
    I think that person did everything they could to avoid admitting a connection between increased CO2 and warming, even under persistent questioning.   What do you think?

  10. Huge Difference says:

    “But it should also be clear that I have little tolerance for the kind of woo and pseudo-science that Orac regularly derides.”
    Sure, that’s like 99% of your readers.  But on what basis do you judge woo?  Do you research it yourself, or do you let yourself be bullied by Orac?
    Your posts re: fluoridation (Orac the surgeon/scientist using his judgment but with no experience in the field vs. Beck the doctor/biochemist describing his experience in the field) and your confused posts regarding vaccines suggest you aren’t doing your own research and are just making this into a popularity contest.
    As I asked in the other thread, what is the criteria you use to choose Orac over Beck?  What are your credentials for discussing fluoride? Science journalists, how do they work?

  11. Hector M. says:

    John Mashey, I do not know who your talking about or quoting, but in my view all this guy is saying is “I do not know”. Meaning “I do not know the extent, the precise value, of the net effect of CO2 and the other confounding factors known to be present”, or something along those lines. However, let me make a further point: suppose the statements you transcribe were made by a well respected skeptic that points out specific problems with the mainstream or “consensus” views; it might be that the person in question is not a firm “believer” in the warming effect of CO2 (probably because of countervailing forces, probably not because that person denies the basic physics of CO2 molecules interacting with photons). Even in that case, the specific points made by that person (e.g. that tree-ring paleo-reconstructions based on bristlecones are not reliable, or that many supposedly rural stations have suffered increasing urban heat during decades, or that some principal components routine is flawed) may still merit honest discussion, insofar as they do not rely on those beliefs (or unbeliefs) harbored by the hypothetical skeptic I am depicting.

  12. Keith Kloor says:

    99 percent of my readers are cranks? Wow, I’m folding up shop right away.

    Seriously, how do you figure? You going by the commenters, which strike me as motley sort, or do you have some secret way to determine who all the lurkers are?

    Bullied by Orac? Huh? Do I come across as a guy who can be bullied in this blog? Please. You’re being silly.

    As to how I base my own judgment: by the argument and evidence presented.

  13. Barry Woods says:

    1 All my children had MMR, yet we didn’t bother with swine flu (just hyped)

    2 Lindzen is probably right, ie secondary  if you are standing at a bus stop, the carcinogens from a taxi/bus are probably much more (statistically) a risk, than the person smoking near you..  But personally I was overjoyed when smoking was banned from public places, restauarants/bars.  Hate smoking.

    3 I guess. but I find it offensive….

    as if I belive that the only evidence  is of low sensitivity Due to AGW, that apparently makes me one….

    I guess this will also include the whole of Japan now?

    As Kyoto  (and the rest of Japan) have rejected Kyoto…

    At Cancun: “Japan will not inscribe its target under the Kyoto protocol on any conditions or under any circumstances.”
    The move came out of the blue for other delegations at the conference.
    The genera public is totally disinterested in the UK

    No one can be bothered to fund the CACC…

    Last Gasp March in the SNOW tomorrow? 😉
    From the Guardian –

    Phil Thornill – Founder/National Co-ordinator.

    And he’s worried about his organisation, Campaign Against Climate Change, which is, he says frankly, “running out of money massively. I’m exhausted, we’ve been running on risible funds for years now, and to be honest I don’t know what we’re going to do.”
    Given CACC’s position as one of the very first groups campaigning straightforwardly on climate change, it is indeed worrying that they, sitting in the middle of the campaign spectrum from conservative to radical, should be going bust.

     Makes an interesting read, especially the comments.

  14. How about that the person sees that the questioner is seeking a simple statement about a complex system, and recognises that simplistic assessments of complex systems with inherent uncertainties cannot be sufficiently represented that way. You on the other hand, John, find subterfuge and conspiracy wherever you seek it.

  15. Barry Woods says:

    I must be a 3…. and one of Keith cranks..(who somehow has climate scientists as good friends)

    Hey Keith do you think I’m a crank?

    I just started this blog….
    So I must be a ‘climate change deniar’ (man made catastrophic sort)

    Of course Keith runs an honest blog, I would be deleted/barred out of hand elsewhere…

    No doubt Keith will hear calls for ‘better’ moderation, otherwise Collide a Scape will be called  a hotbed of sceptics, like Joe Romm’s commentors described Richard Black’s Earthwatch) and I’m allowed to comment there.

  16. Huge Difference says:

    “Bullied by Orac? Huh? Do I come across as a guy who can be bullied in this blog? Please. You’re being silly.
    As to how I base my own judgment: by the argument and evidence presented.”
    Bullied not in the Joe Romm sense of the term, but bullied in terms of bias, wanting to present as credible, very serious person, “naturally” taking the status quo view, understanding that quacks are very very bad, and judged by the company you keep, just like Orac bullied Beck.
    Judging by the evidence presented?
    Again, what are your credentials for understanding that evidence?  Have you replicated the experiment?  Have you read the papers? Have you gone over the statistics with a fine toothed comb? Can you present a discussion on where one paper fits in and among the rest of the papers?
    (Dan Drezner once said I presented the silliest argument in some Did George W. Bush debate some folks were having that he was to judge.  My silly argument was a Star Wars Death Star reference, not operational, but so dangerous it presented an imminent threat.)

  17. “99 percent of my readers are cranks? ” asks Keith?
    No, but 99% of the ones who chimed in to comment on this post are.
    KK, I’m glad you’re an Orac fan.   Note please his  application  of ‘denialists’  to several brands of cranks, without hand-wringing.   See?  Not such a big deal.  (Though he reserves ‘loons’ for anti-vaxxers..I think  he really really doesn’t like *them*).
    Btw, Orac’s post was about ‘Terminator’ cranks…as in, they WILL NOT STOP.  ‘Terminal cranks’ means much the same but has less pop culture piquance.

  18. Barry Woods says:

    as 1% of 16 comments equals 0.16 of a person….

    Then rounding down, means everyone on this post so far is a crank, welcome to the club Steven.

  19. Keith Kloor says:

    Steven (17):

    Those who strongly object to something I write are more likely to chime in than those who agree. This is apparent by any post (and indeed, in the ratio of letters to the editor in any newspaper).

    I am aware that Orac applies the “denialist” term more broadly than most, which is something I had planned on noting in a future post.

    Thanks for the correction. I’ll make the change in my post.

    HD (16):

    “Bullied by bias”? I don’t get how that would work.

    Also, your bar for weighing the merits of an argument is absurd. The average person doesn’t replicate experiments, read dozens of papers and dive deep into statistics. Get real. You don’t have to do all that to determine, for example, that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is an anti-vaxxer “loon.”

    I didn’t do all you suggest before getting my kids the MMR vaccine. I talked to my kids’ doctor (who I respect immensely), read up on where the body of evidence leans solidly, talked to some more smart, rational-minded, scientifically inclined  people (who are also parents) etc, etc.

    Where I differ with Orac (and PZ Myers, who I also like a lot) is that I’m a more tolerant sort. I’m an atheist (been one since reading Bertrand Russell’s Why I am Not a Christian as a teenager) but I understand and respect the purpose that religion and a belief in god serves in people’s lives. I don’t believe in reincarnation but I don’t dismiss the Dali Lama out of hand because of that.

    I could go on and maybe I will in a post someday…

  20. Huge Difference says:

    Hi Keith,
    First, I do appreciate any response to my comments, so thank you.  Bullied by bias — I was searching for the blogospheric formulation, which Paul Krugman reiterates today, the Very Serious Person.  If you are at all skeptical about Global Warming, if you are at all skeptical about vaccines, if you are at all skeptical about fluoridation, then Orac says, and PZ agrees, and ThinkProgress and many many other political science majors, journalist majors, and lawyers all agree, you cannot be a Very Serious Person.
    “The proximate cause is that cutting Social Security is one of those things you’re for if you’re a Very Serious Person. Way back, I wrote that inside the Beltway calling for Social Security cuts is viewed as a “badge of seriousness”, which has nothing to do with the program’s real importance or lack thereof to the budget picture; that column elicited a more or less hysterical reaction, which sort of proved the point. (Looking back at the column, I was surprised to see that it was about the ISP himself; tales of a debacle foretold.)”

    You’re right, my bar for arguments would be absurd IF I were referring to an average person.  I am not of course, I believe i often say, what are YOUR credentials, as a JOURNALIST for backing Orac over Beck.

    I find your blog interesting in large part because you make yourself accessible, and I am hopeful, make the professionalism/craft of journalism accessible since you are not just a journalist, but a journalism professor.

    You claim it is easy to spot Robert F. Kennedy as an anti-vaxxer loon, but I am not so sure that was the case prior to the mercury report coming out.  But I am more curious about how/what journalists are taught about spotting loons, so far, we have you on just your truthy gut feelings, and no actual real methodology involved.

    This is what I’ve said before, you seem to rely on proxies, just like the rest of us.  Because I rely on proxies outside my own field, I do not say things like “So and so is right, and so and so is wrong”, I say, it seems mainstream scientific thought believes that, but there seem to be significant amounts of disagreement.  Many lawyers seem to feel that law would be … but there are others who disagree.  I don’t think that’s an emphasis on false balance, I think that’s an emphasis on my stating what I’ve heard, giving people references, and letting them decide for themselves.

    But what I see from you and other journalists, is Very Serious Person reporting.

    “All the cool cats on Journ-O-List read Orac and PZ Meyers and I want to be invited to the next Journ-O-List so I’m going to side with Orac.”

    Examining your writings as a black box, it seems impossible to differentiate that you are persuaded by Orac’s argument by evidence and argument, and not just persuaded by the (hidden?) bias of actual Ignorance and wanting to be a Very Serious Person.

    If you truly agree with Orac and PZ that climate denialists and vaccine denialists and fluoride denialists and evolution denialists and religionists (?) are as dangerous as Orac and PZ believe them to be, then your tolerance isn’t understandable except possibly as another indicator that you are fuzzy on what you believe and why.

    (I read Paul Krugman religiously for insights into the economy and politics, (and for entertainment and humor too), but I think his own postings about climate change verge on Very Serious Person reporting as well — he never describes what convinces him about climate change, he just dismisses anyone that doesn’t believe as a denier and heretic, just as Orac and Romm prescribe for us.)

  21. Huge Difference says:

    Did I just write that much? Oops, sorry.  Anyway, the Krugman paragraph is from this blog post of his today:

  22. Bob Koss says:

    I chided Keith a couple months ago in this thread.
    A journalist shouldn’t be writing disparagingly about a person or group when they have little or no knowledge of the subject matter or people involved.   I think most people prefer thoughtful rather than thoughtless writing. Perhaps your additional critique will spur him to up his game.

  23. Keith Kloor says:

    Bob Koss (22):

    Yes, let’s add to the things that get me peeved: immigrant bashing, and it’s even more pernicious when done under a phony cloak.

    On that thread, you were answered by Francis and John Fleck.

  24. While I am sure Huge Difference and I have huge differences regarding climate change, his point here is extremely cogent and sound:
    <em>This is what I’ve said before, you seem to rely on proxies, just like the rest of us.  Because I rely on proxies outside my own field, I do not say things like “So and so is right, and so and so is wrong”, I say, it seems mainstream scientific thought believes that, but there seem to be significant amounts of disagreement.  Many lawyers seem to feel that law would be “¦ but there are others who disagree.  I don’t think that’s an emphasis on false balance, I think that’s an emphasis on my stating what I’ve heard, giving people references, and letting them decide for themselves.
    But what I see from you and other journalists, is Very Serious Person reporting.</em>
    This is just the flip side of my usual complaint: an incapacity of the journalistic profession to make adequate judgments of who the non-serious people are follows from an incapacity to judge who the serious people are. While this has been my key complaint about journalism, and indeed accounts for HD’s apparently skewed vision of the balance of evidence, it cuts both ways.
    As I read in a very different context, and have quoted several times since, “when deep quality metrics are unavailable, customers will base their decisions on shallow metrics instead.” That is, we base our beliefs on signals of credibility when we are not in a position ourselves to judge credibility. Since the world is complex, we mostly base our beliefs on shallow metrics. If achieving shallow symbolism of credibility is much easier than achieving actual credibility (which becomes true the more the academic system is flawed, and nobody would argue that it is safe from charlatans nowadays) and false expertise will tend to drive out real expertise. The peer review defense fails once a topic gains broad enough interest; the definition of the peer group becomes unclear.
    And here we find ourselves, both in environmental sciences and (I would argue) at least as seriously so in economics. We don’t have a quality metric. We (and this includes our political leadership) look to the press to solve the problem, and the press emits a massive shrug, and the world continues to spin out of control. The whole idea of democracy rides on it: these are not small problem domains.
    If academic peer review can’t scale to meet the problem, something else has to. Our natural expectation is to turn to journalism, which basically punts or at best tries valiantly to manufacture some meaningless “middle ground” between theories which can’t be averaged out to anyone’s satisfaction.
    My conclusion is that science journalism is too important to be left to nonspecialist journalists. We need a new institution and it will take some time (time that many of us do not feel is in ample supply) to develop its credibility.

  25. Keith Kloor says:


    I’ve told you before (several times) that your main complaint about journalism is overgeneralized and misplaced. This comment by you is just the latest example.

    Now it appears that you are extending your complaint well beyond the climate change issue:

    “We (and this includes our political leadership) look to the press to solve the problem, and the press emits a massive shrug, and the world continues to spin out of control. The whole idea of democracy rides on it: these are not small problem domains.”

    Wow, the fate of the world rests on journalism?

    Tell you what: folks like you and Romm, who are chronic kvetchers about journalists (we always seem to be blowing the story!) should stop pointing fingers and just get on with writing the story or making the two minute news broadcast the way you think it should be done. Set up a website/blog and every time a news show or a paper puts out bad or faulty piece of climate-related journalism, you can correct it with your own version. It could be your journalistic version of a rapid response team. But this one would act like a shadow journalism enterprise, producing the stories exactly the way you think they should be done.

    Lead by example. If the journalism profession isn’t understanding your criticism, or taking it to heart, show us how’s it done.

    That happens to be one of the maxims in journalism, too: show, don’t tell.

  26. Eli Rabett says:

    Keith, the refusal of journalists to accept responsibility for their writing is truly breathtaking.  You are an excellent example.

  27. Keith Kloor says:


    I would put it this way: the refusal of some to understand the role of journalism (and it’s limitations) is truly baffling.

    You and Michael are excellent examples.


  28. Joh says:


    Hey, you left this off your list:

    “Anti-Skeptic Blog Site Owners”

    : )


  29. harrywr2 says:

    It’s always entertaining to listen to academics who value ‘academic freedom’ advocate for a ‘ministry of truth’.
    We had a ministry of truth, it was called ”The Roman Catholic Church’.
    Ministries of truth are all the same. Once something is established to be true it can’t be changed or altered by the introduction of new evidence.

  30. TimG says:

    #24 Michael Tobis

    The question of what to do about CO2 is a question of values – not science and that means Gore’s opinion is no more worthy than Inhofe’s. Hansen and Linzden are no more than other political activists communicating what values they think should drive policy.

    For that reason a professional “science” journalist is not going to particularly helpful especially since a competent science jounrnalist would properly communate uncertainty which I am sure would upset you as much as ‘false balance’ because most people interpret uncertainty to mean ‘we don’t really know’

  31. BobN says:

    EAch group has, within its ranks, differing degrees of loons, cranks, and crackpots.  For me, probably the worst are the extreme anti-vaccine folks.  Yes, all vaccines have some degree of risk associated with them but there are parents who not only eschew all vaccines for their children but also hold “measles” parties so their children will be exposed to another child that actual has the illness so their children get the illness and are henceforth immune.  To me, this is not only lunacy but child abuse as well.

  32. Keith,

    I haven’t read much Orac at all, but what struck me was you saying that you don’t agree with his style, while still enjoy reading him (presumably for the contents, if it isn’t for style).

    How does that contrast with your very antagonistic view of Joe Romm’s writing, about whom you deride mainly his style rather than the contents of what he writes.

    Is Romm’s style so much more inflammatory in general, or mainly to you and people you sympathisize with, or is it the contents that make you more allergic to the style? Just wondering about the equivalence here (if there is any).

  33. Lead by example. If the journalism profession isn’t understanding your criticism, or taking it to heart, show us how’s it done.”

    Thanks. I do try within the limitations of my resources. If I could round up more resources I would do more.

    Wow, the fate of the world rests on journalism?

    If democracy is to be the brain of the world, then surely journalism is its eyes and ears. Yes, I think that journalism is absolutely crucial.

    What do you think it is? Entertainment? If so, there’s your problem right there.

  34. Tom Fuller says:

    What resources does Tobis think are available to Kloor that Tobis does not have himself? His website has been around longer, he certainly has at least as good if not better access to both scientists and communicators, he is part of academia and has unlimited access to journals and papers.
    What isn’t Kloor doing that Tobis could not do himself?

  35. JamesG says:

    Anyone reminded of Scott Ritter being called a crank for saying there were absolutely no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? The trouble with popular wisdom is that it’s so often a popular delusion. That’s why skepticism of any popular movement is vital.
    Vaccines are great. But should we be wary of over-vaccinating? Wouldn’t it be utterly stupid not to be?……..
    “Troops sent to the Gulf were given a large cocktail of vaccinations in a short period of time. In total, US servicemen may have received as many as 17 different vaccines, including live vaccines (polio and yellow fever) as well as experimental vaccines that had not been approved (anthrax, botulinum toxoid) and were of doubtful efficacy . In the UK, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has declared only 10 vaccines given but reports from veterans and official documents seem to tell a different story.

    A large 2002 study of 900 veterans found a strong correlation between the anthrax vaccine and subsequent ill health (15). The study indicated that those who received anthrax vaccines reported more adverse reactions than those who did not receive the anthrax vaccine. It also found that the more severe any initial reaction to the vaccine was, the more severe long term health effects were.”
    Second hand smoke as a contributary cause of anything except stingy eyes and smelly clothes is fundamentally suspect but smoke inhalation is generally bad so anyone who disagrees with a ban must be a smoker ie an addict, not necessarily a crank. However if they wanted to ban it there was no need to fake any health agenda because just saying it is antisocial was enough. Very much more convincing health studies have been done for soot inhalation yet nobody seems to give a toss about that any more, despite the well-established hypothesis that it is widely thought to be responsible for 50% of warming. So where are these anti-crank moralists on this issue? Why they are rearranging their morals to suit their unyielding ideology as per usual!

    Ironically the genius and inventor of vaccination, Pasteur, was also vilified by the establishment drones. Just one of the many, many occasions in the history of science when the minority was proven correct and the so-called “experts” knew much less than they pretended.

  36. Huge Difference says:

    “Wow, the fate of the world rests on journalism?”

    I think there’s a lot to be said for this, especially in a democracy. One of my complaints is that we do live in a democracy, and it’s not supposed to be a bureaucracy, or a technocracy.  If the average layman is to make informed decisions, how journalism not key to the fate of the world?  I am surprised that you as a journalist are so modest about that, I can only compare it to my modesty as a software engineer realizing after years and years that most of what my profession pumps out is crap.

    But we do have standards, and so do journalists, or so we’re told….

    I am told that journalists won’t print a story without getting two sources.  But by that token, what do journalism professors teach journalists about science reporting?

    Is it, just print the press release?  Just go with what NASA says? Use your gut to determine who the expert is? Ask on facebook or journ-o-list and print what Klein and Yglesias and DeLong tell you to print? And Happy Hour starts at 3?

    Is there a methodology for science reporting when you’re reporting about fields you’re not an expert in?  Is that methodology taught, and studied, and measured, and defended, and critiquable?

    And Tom, that’s what I think Kloor has, or should have, that Tobis, as well intentioned as he is, but untrained as scientific journalist, does not have.

    Personally, I think science is wonderful, and truly understanding a field very difficult, which is why I am always so amazed at how many journalist bloggers and lawyer bloggers and econ bloggers and political science bloggers and liberals arts bloggers always get it right, always have the time to get it right, read the papers, study the statistics, understand the contexts, understand the infighting, the differing theories, the evidence for each, the different schools (just ask Krugman!), about everything about science, when I barely have enough time to do the research to do my own job in my own field. They know so much, and they are so confident about what they know, that like Orac and Kloor, they are comfortable calling other people out on their incompetence, they’re malfeasance, their denialism, their crank and quack factor.

    I stand, a midget, amongst giants, and sometimes wonder if it would be nice if there was a functioning press.

  37. <em>one of the many, many occasions in the history of science when the minority was proven correct and the so-called “experts” knew much less than they pretended.</em>
    I have had occasion to wonder about this.
    Clearly there is sample bias here. How many crackpot theories were laughed at because they were wrong?
    But I’m not sure even that captures the unlikelihood of this sort of extreme outcome. When was the last time this sort of major revolution from the outside unambiguously triumphed in a quantitative science?
    (Please do not count economics as a science for this present purpose.)

  38. Keith Kloor says:

    MT, HD:

    The journalism you bemoan or characterize I don’t recognize. It would help if you actually were more specific, so I could see what exactly you are describing.

    In #37, Michael mentions “sample bias,” but in the context of something else. Well, I think that is what Michael and HD suffer from acutely (with respect to their journalism-is-failing-us assertion).

    What journalism? You mean newspapers? Cable tv news? Magazines? Or is it just science journalism on the whole you have a problem with?

    Yes, I could isolate shortcomings in particular pieces, but on the whole, I’m consistently impressed by the work of my colleagues.

    Has journalism failed us periodically as an enterprise? Absolutely, and I would point to the run-up to the Iraq war as the most recent and conspicuous example. That was a shameful episode in the history of journalism. (There were shining examples of a few who did not march in lockstep.)

    Bart (32):

    I have issues with Romm that go beyond his style. Most of his slash and burn attacks against individuals in the past (and I will note he has moderated his tone considerably in the past six months or so) were quite personal in nature.

    I don’t see that as being a hallmark of Orac. Yes, he likes to call people cranks and loons, but you don’t get the sense he’s trying to tear someone down as much as what that person espouses. I also don’t see him misrepresenting people’s positions. I  don’t see him make an argument with selective evidence. Romm does all those things in spades. Or he used to, until recently. But every once in a while still you see it.

  39. Shub says:

    BobN, What are mandatory vaccination campaigns but another form of “measles party”, except perhaps that they are a bit boring?
    What the geniuses fail to realize of course, is that the vaccine will not cause disease and you are assured of developing immunity – neither of which work out that good in a “real” measles party.
    Every crank and loon deserves to be watched. The cranks are sometimes so cranky that you cannot help but laugh, but one cannot stop engaging. One, there is always hope, and two, cranks have the dangerous propensity of flying under the radar and capturing political power or colonizing policy structures.

  40. Roddy Campbell says:

    Tobis:  ‘My conclusion is that science journalism is too important to be left to nonspecialist journalists. We need a new institution and it will take some time (time that many of us do not feel is in ample supply) to develop its credibility.
    That’s just funny.  Keith – you’re BANNED for irresponsible writing, RED-CARDED for 6 months.  And let’s add another 3 months for writing about things you don’t fully understand, like vaccines!  Let’s hope you have learned your lesson when you return.  Your role has been taken over by a quasi-autonomous-non-governmental-organisation who will have the automatic right to column-inches in the national press, television, radio, and automatic right of response on your irresponsible blog should you re-offend.  WUWT has been shut down.
    Tobis – you do make me laugh, really.
    Re passive smoking, am I a crank/loon to be unbothered by it as a health threat to me?  I let people smoke in my house if they want to.  What I am eating or drinking at the time seems to me more health-relevant, as does the care I take crossing the road.

  41. PDA says:

    I’m consistently impressed by the work of my colleagues.
    Okay. In the context of the current discussion, what are some complex scientific subjects, widely misunderstood by the public, that you think are well-covered by journalists, and how would you explain the disconnect?
    A genuine question, not an argumentative one.

  42. Roddy Campbell says:

    What’s that Law called when you respect the work of journalists as you read through the paper until you come to a subject on which you yourself are both well-informed and opinionated, and then you realise that the insightful and wise op-ed you’ve just read on the Middle East is probably as nonsensical as the one you’re now reading on the sub-prime market collapse [fill in something you know about].
    So that Tobis/Rabett and other hotly opinionated and informed awarmists find some/most/too much/all climate journalism poor is not terribly surprising.  That it makes them angry is equally unsurprising!
    That people think climate science is widely misunderstood by the public is however surprising.  I think you’d find VERY wide knowledge of consensus climate science in the UK – it’s warming, it’s CO2 greenhouse, sea levels are rising, droughts a’coming, floods a’flooding – I think they get it, they understand that it’s global, it’s not weather.  And the overall coverage (BBC/Sky/newspapers) is pretty respectable.
    (The policy response options are however VERY widely misunderstood, as much by the ‘experts’ as the public.)

  43. Roddy Campbell says:

    Complex scientific subjects that matter to the public (ie they have given them thought, they present risk) might include (UK bias):
    HIV, STIs in general, Salmonella, Mad Cow, Bird flu, Swine flu, Millenium bug, Chernobyl fall-out risk (implications for domestic nuclear power), – were / are these covered well, badly, ok?
    Closer to climate, but NOT climate, the decarbonising of electricity generation is a complex scientific/policy question?  I think that is covered ok by journalists given the subject’s sprawl across science and policy.

  44. laursaurus says:

    Keith: “Where I differ with Orac (and PZ Myers, who I also like a lot) is that I’m a more tolerant sort. I’m an atheist (been one since reading Bertrand Russell’s Why I am Not a Christian as a teenager) but I understand and respect the purpose that religion and a belief in god serves in people’s lives. I don’t believe in reincarnation but I don’t dismiss the Dali Lama out of hand because of that.”
    So you haven’t reflected on your spiritual beliefs since you were a teenager? Since you found Bertrand Russel’s rationale for not being a Christian convincing, you figured there is no God? If you can’t believe in Christian doctrine, then why bother?
    I’m glad you don’t consider people who believe in God (or some divine entity) as cranks. If we are applying statistics, then atheists are clearly on the fringe. The majority of the US population vaccinates their children, understands the health advantages of fluoridated drinking water, realizes Genesis isn’t meant to be a science textbook, recognizes second-hand smoke presents a public health risk, seeks medical treatment from licensed health care providers, tries to decrease their carbon footprint, laughs at conspiracy theories, and believes in some concept of a soul. Obviously, Christianity doesn’t do it for everyone. But every society has some concept of the transcendent, except in a few isolated and very recent instances. Belief in God is the norm. Suggesting that this makes one a crank is obnoxious and snarky. I know you don’t do this Keith, but the comment sections of Orac and PZ make it a routine practice with a disturbing amount of profanity.
    Before someone blames religion for terrorism, remember that Timothy McVeigh was an atheist and said that “science” was his religion.

  45. Keith Kloor says:

    What is your point, Laurausaurus? And why would you think I haven’t reflected on any religious beliefs since I was a teenager? Is it possible that I might have read more than Russell’s book after that and still remained an atheist?

    I will tell you that evolutionary biology figures in a lot of my thinking on these sorts of topics, which is why my views on religion are probably best summed up by this recent book by Nicholas Wade. Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett have also been very influential.

    But on one thing you’re right: when it comes to angels and demons and a belief in miracles, I am definitely in a minority.

  46. Steven Sullivan says:

    Laurasaurus’ point is really just :  HOW DARE YOU NOT BELIEVE IN GOD.
    His/her/its definition of ‘crank’ is uselessly broad, if it’s just ‘someone who doesn’t believe what most people believe’.  By that definition, most members of the National Academy Of Science are cranks.
    Not to mention that ignorance of science is the norm in the US.
    Orac’s definition of ‘crank’ is much more circumscribed than laurasaur’s: it involves disbelief in things for which there is good scientific evidence.

  47. laursaurus says:

    I guess I’m disappointed that you like PZ Myer’s blog. I occasionally read it because I’ve discovered a few gems following the links to what manages to draw his ire.
    I’m tempted to explain why his blog disturbs me. But you rightly discourage complaints about how someone else runs their blog.
    Now about Orac. This “crank-off” is basically an hominum attack smearing people who have  doubts about CAGW by justifying his use of the term “crank” across the board. Denialist must have gotten old.  Interesting message from the JREF, considering last year when Randi “came out” not as gay (nobody cared when he finally did), but as a CAGW skeptic. Guess he was chased back into the closet on that topic. Now I’m a crank for believing in God? I know you said the complete opposite, Keith, and I’m sorry to unload my frustration with PZ and Orac on you.
    I’ve gotten used to the pejorative term, “denier” on the topic of climate change after repeatedly explaining (to no avail) why I find it insulting.  The most popular writers rarely blog about science. Instead they put most of their energy into flaming their political opponents and maligning Christians (since the mosque at Ground Zero, they suddenly want to support Islam).
    I fail to comprehend how evolution disproves God. Eugenie Scott commented that Catholic schools do a better job of teaching evolution than most public schools. Certainly, most mainstream Christian denominations accept all of the natural sciences. Only a fraction of Christians interpret the Bible literally. Plus there are countless people who don’t attend church or read the Bible, but still believe in God. If evolution is sufficient enough to disprove the existence of God, then Climategate can disprove CAGW. Would the climate scientists who defend the Hockey Stick be the equivalent to fundamentalist Christians?
    And no, I don’t believe in a “sky daddy” with a long white beard condemning people to eternal torture for not believing in Him. (in case anyone was thinking I do).
    Did anyone read this Is Monbiot being tongue-in-cheek to malign theists and contrarians simultaneously?
    I need to mention that Deltoid doesn’t focus on religion. Tim has special radar that alerts him whenever someone mentions his blog in their comments. But question CAGW or the Green Movement in the comments there, and his fans will declare you a troll! I’m glad that we have actual discussions on c-a-s, instead of dismissing people as “trolls.”
    Ok,  I’m going off topic again! Time to take a break. I’ll be back lurking in a few hours.

  48. laursaurus says:

    No, I was objecting to be called a crank for something that falls outside the realm of science.

  49. Steven Sullivan says:

    Randi spouted off without actually knowing what he was talking about — even after admitted he didn’t.  It’s happened before with him, and it’s embarrassing (and given his occasional misquotes and misidentifications, for him to chide PZ Myers for writing before consulting the target, was quite rich).    When presented with facts Randi apparently hadn’t bothered to gather in the first place, and corrected by peopel he trusts on some howlers he’d made, he basically beat a retreat.   IMO  he’s getting on in years and he’s not as sharp as he once was.  It happens to most of us, including ’emeritus’ scientists (who seem disproportionately represented among scientists who are AGW ‘skeptics’):

  50. Keith Kloor says:


    The ageism thing is really not good form. I saw it trotted out with Freeman Dyson esp that NYT mag profile appeared and it didn’t reflect well on his critics, then, either.

    Perhaps more to my point: Is Rani becoming a doddering old fool (cue sarcasm) just on the issue of climate change, or his age showing on other issues, as well?

  51. Steven Sullivan says:

    Evolution doesn’t disprove god.   Even Dawkins doesn’t say it does.    It does render ‘special creation’ stories, upon which many religions rely to give man ‘pride of place’ in the order of things,  moot.

  52. Steven Sullivan says:

    Again with the ‘tone’ critiques, Keith?  Too much gloom?  People get old, and they often do become less sharp.  Or more rigid.   And I didn’t use the phrase ‘doddering old fool’.
    I was particularly thinking of a topic near to my heart, high-end audio charlatanism, which Randi weighed in on a few years back.  He was quite right in principle , but got enough of the particulars wince-makingly wrong that it was embarrassing to watch.    And then in the end rather than address his errors  he declared victory and dropped the matter.  It was a clear case of him not consulting friends who actually *knew the material*  first, before weighing in on a topic, and it appears AGW is another.

  53. Keith Kloor says:

    Yeah, well, Paul Ehrlich is getting on in years, too, right? Should I dismiss anything off the mark he says to age, too. Or is he still sharp as a tack?

    What about E.O. Wilson (whom I’m a huge fan of)? Is he losing his edge too?

    I’m being facetious, of course, but maybe you get my point.

    Or maybe not, since you think I’m doing the “tone” critique.

  54. I don’t get your point, Keith. I said loss of mental acuity happens often, not *invariably*.  So what then *is* your point?  That if someone has been on the mark for most of their careers, and starts to flub, we *musn’t* consider age as a factor?
    Ever hear of Linus Pauling?

  55. Smilla says:

    “¦..And I thought that I was reasonably well-read but obviously plenty of room for improvement! :o) Thanks for link to “The faith instinct”, it looks very interesting. I watched a program about the ancient world yesterday which illustrated some of the points made in the excerpt beautifully.

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