Saturday, December 12, 2009

Today's Safe Word: Expertise

Sarah Palin is an idiot. Yes? Need we discuss this further?

How about this: what, if any, kind of expertise does Palin have? List what you'd like, credentials and all. According to the once-estimable Washington Post, Palin is an expert on climate and energy issues; they've published two opinion pieces by her* this year, the first against "cap and tax" on Bastille Day (storm the Bastille! Get on the snow machine and storm, ye gods!), the most recent this week on the Copenhagen climate summit and the Swifthack**.

Obviously, the Post takes the idea of expertise lightly--they let bowtied dilettante*** George Will write about climate change and charmingly ignore his many factual errors. (Leni Riefenstahl's reanimated corpse is currently making a film called Failure of the Will.****) But Will's on the payroll, a Post staffer who has, theoretically at least, earned his keep. How about Palin? They published her op-ed piece because she's a shit-stirrer. So can any sentence of her Wednesday essay escape ridicule? Are you ready for linguistic sadomasochism? Have your safe words at the ready.

With the publication of damaging e-mails from a climate research center in Britain, the radical environmental movement appears to face a tipping point.

What "radical environmental movement" do you speak of? Oh, that one: broad scientific consensus. Also part of that "radical environmental movement"? The majority of Americans. To the streets, my fellow radical citizens!

Speaking, by the way, of publication: that's an odd word choice. It elides the computer hacking, theft, and illegal online posting of private correspondence between scientists. One sentence, two errors. (Three, if you count the nickel that goes to Malcolm Gladwell for her use of the phrase "tipping point."

The revelation of appalling actions by so-called climate change experts allows the American public to finally understand the concerns so many of us have articulated on this issue.

I think Alaska's "so-called" governor raises a good point here. Who calls these people "climate change experts? How did they become "so-called"? Michael E. Mann, for example, only has the following degrees:
  • A double A.B. from Berkeley in Physics and Math, where he graduated with honors.
  • An M.S. in Physics from Yale.
  • An M.Phil. in Physics from Yale.
  • An M.Phil. in Geology and Geophysics from Yale.
  • A Ph.D. in Geology and Geophysics from Yale.
Five degrees, but he only got them from two schools! That's nothing! Sarah Palin attended four colleges to earn her one degree, which shows a real breadth of knowledge.And as for Mann's publications in Science, Nature, Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, who's heard of those rags? Palin publishes in the esteemed Washington Post!

Now, I know some of you are screaming "Expertise" right now, hoping the safe word saves you from this, but we're only through the first paragraph. (I'll leave that phrase "the concerns of so many of us on this issue" alone [italics mine]).

"Climate-gate," as the e-mails and other documents from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia have become known

Nuts. I can't even get through the whole sentence. For whom are the emails known as "climate-gate"? Why, climate skeptics and deniers, who've been claiming all along that global warming isn't real. It's the perfect storm***** of the "noun-gate" formation and one's pre-prepared beliefs.

I would like to acknowledge, in Palin's defense, that she does have some level of expertise in things -gate. I can even imagine a broad category of offenses dubbed Palingate. But onward through the sentence.

"Climate-gate," as the e-mails and other documents from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia have become known, exposes a highly politicized scientific circle -- the same circle whose work underlies efforts at the Copenhagen climate change conference.

How did the work of scientists become highly politicized? Could it be that U.S. Senators with no scientific background cook up fake lists of dissenters? It's almost as if the scientific circle became highly politicized by uninformed attacks from without.

But enough of this. Even I'm screaming the safe word. Let's hit Palin's biggest whoppers.

The e-mails reveal that leading climate "experts"

Ooh, scare quotes! You know, you can kill wolves from helicopters in Alaska by using scare quotes.

The e-mails reveal that leading climate "experts" deliberately destroyed records

Um, that's just false.

The e-mails reveal that leading climate "experts" deliberately destroyed records, manipulated data to "hide the decline" in global temperatures

Is Sarah Palin a liar or just ignorant? First, no one manipulated data to "hide the decline"; they put the data on a graph. Second, the scientists didn't "hide the decline" in global temperatures. Not only is there not a decline in global temperatures but an increase, the decline is in tree-ring records, which are just one proxy record for establishing past temperatures. That decline in tree-ring records has been openly discussed in the peer-reviewed literature since the late 1990s. It's almost as if Palin has no idea what she's talking about.

There's more, but I can't take it. Expertise!

*Considering that they are grammatically correct, I'm assuming they were ghost-written or heavily edited. Is that ungenerous?
**I'm going with Swifthack instead of Climategate.
***Not that being a dilettante is necessarily a bad thing. It's just that Will's not even good at being that.
****I'm almost sorry for this pun. Almost.
*****Please note that I would never use the phrase "perfect storm" in seriousness. This is a parody of that usage.

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