Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Junk Science - A refreshing look at things we believe

I've watched John Stossel's rants about "Junk Science" for years when he was a correspondent on the ABC program 20/20. As a former science teacher I've even used Stossel's program in video tape form to help teach or at least stir up some controversy among my students.
Today Stossel works for the FOX Business channel, which I don't even get, but thanks to the magic of the internet and YouTube I can share with you Stossel's latest foray into deflating some commonly held beliefs regarding science. There are few journalists that I know that have the enthusiasm and passion of Stossel. Better yet he has a libertarian fire in him that no one can seem to quench. This is in five parts and deals with everything from nuclear power to global warming to plastic garbage bags. Enjoy:


  1. Roy Spencer - creationist, evolution denier. Doesn't make him wrong, but I'm skeptical of any science claim he makes considering his personal beliefs. Corrections to his agenda on climate change is here:


    I'm not sure why you admire Stossel so much when you claim to be aware of your confirmation bias. In this quote, Stossel gives away his bias in climate science (emphasis mine):

    "all this industrial activity, which improves people's lives, is poisoning the planet..."

    I've cut out the context to save space but he's essentially saying here that us climate-worriers are just trying to deny the benefits of industry by claiming the climate is being poisoned. Non sequiter, Stossel.

    For an atheist, bright and, apparently, centrist Libertarian Mr. Small, you spend a lot of time wallowing in hard right-wing Christian conservative politics.

  2. Please call me Allen.
    I do admire Stossel, and have for a very long time. He has an agenda to push, I am in agreement with most of what he pushes. He is outspoken maybe outlandish, passionate and enthusiastic. All admirable traits for a journalist with a different viewpoint.
    As far as Roy Spencer, well, politics makes strange bedfellows. Maybe I would not have chosen him for this program, but the peer-pressure to conform to the accepted paradigm must be great for anyone else. Spencer probably has no funding to jeopardize - like others would.
    Climate change is political, the science is fairly irrelevant to what the "eco-Nazi's" want or don't people to do. Even Spencer was very careful in his wording - he accepts that the climate is changing and that humans may have a role - thats fair, for me.

  3. I decided to watch Part 2 and I agree with many things discussed but I also see why climate deniers go hand-in-hand with oil and gas Republicans. The guest on the show laid it out: Oil, Gas and Coal are cheaper than the alternatives therefore "drill, baby, drill". Of course it is cheaper to use highly polluting forms of energy especially when the cost of the pollution is not factored in the equation. I recommend reading about the problems in Montana when mining companies destroyed many ecological sites because it was cheaper to mine 'dirty'.

    Nuclear energy has an unprecedented safety record. It is expensive but only in comparison to the option of burning dirty fuels which cause exponentially greater harm than nuclear fission. Of course uranium needs to be mined but the energy density of uranium is also exponentially higher than fossil fuels requiring far less mining and sludge treatment.

    We cannot justify poisoning the river just because it is cheaper to do so.

  4. The costs of "clean" fossil fuel mining or drilling should include the cost of preventing environmental damage or at the very least cleaning up the mess, protecting private property rights and therefore people's health. Often (because gov't turns a blind eye) these costs are not included. But I'm certain even if they were included, the price of the fossil fuels would still be cheaper than existing alternatives. When alternative energy sources become cost effective (without gov't subsidy) no one will have to force people to use them.

  5. We are closely in agreement other than in determining the costs of pollution. Prevention and clean-up are certainly important and likely quantifiable but difficult to price is the value of human health. Nuclear causes almost negligible harm compared to the direct and indirect deaths and disease due to air and water pollution. I would have to dig up my source but I believe fossil fuels cause tens of thousands of times more deaths per year than nuclear (even when using comparing deaths to number of plants).

    What number do we assign here to the calculation?

    I believe 'alternative' energy is about twice the price of fossil fuels today. With higher production and a formula for human health effects (including health care savings due to less sickness) I would be surprised if Solar, Wind and Nuclear is more than slightly more costly than fossil.

    Unfortunately much free market economics neglects to subtract undesirable economic numbers such as the economic boom created at car accidents. In this scenario, as with fossil fuels, it's a plus to have companies compete to clean up a mess as it generates more wealth at the cost of health than to prevent it in the first place - which is less profitable and lowers economic growth.

  6. "I believe fossil fuels cause tens of thousands of times more deaths per year." I find that hard to believe. Its a bit like saying "water" or "cars" cause thousand of deaths per year. Any number that you may find is likely rampant speculation. The benefits of fossil fuels FAR exceeds the downside, in extending human life, preserving human health, creating wealth and on and on.
    When I said costs of fossil fuel exploration damage should be part of fuel cost - I meant that it should be in the price as set by the producer who is legally obliged to compensate individuals and institutions that are affected by the exploration and development of the fuel, not some arbitrary number arrived at by some eco-group or government body. Even after that added cost the fossil fuel will be cheaper and more reliable than the alternative. BTW, I'm not happy with what the Ont. Gov. just did in their so-called "green initiative".


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