The cat i' the adage

"The growth of knowledge depends entirely on disagreement" Karl Popper (1902 - 1994)

Friday, January 21, 2005

10 Myths of the Modern Age

After the Enlightenment and the revolt from religious dogma we have descended into a new superstitious age. It appears scientific, because it likes to quantify things, but it lacks true scientific rigour. The major tenets of the new faith are not open to question: dissent is put down, contradictory evidence suppressed and corroborative evidence trumpeted. Dissidents are pilloried: they are not just wrong, they are evil.

The new myths have accumulated around two central ideas: man is responsible for the state of the planet; and man is responsible for his own health. To a certain extent these are uncontroversial, but, taken to the extreme, they lead us massively to overestimate our effect on the environment and the environment’s effect on us, and we are drawn to an anthropocentric world view with a quasi-religious content: most of us no longer believe that we can achieve eternal salvation, but we stick tenaciously to the idea that if only we behave well we can avoid disease and natural disaster.

The following is my initial list of 10 myths of the modern age. In listing them as “myths” I do not mean to say that I know them to be false - there may be elements of truth in many of them - but that the quality of evidence in favour of them cannot account for how fervently they are believed.

(1) Eating at least 5 pieces of fruit a day protects against disease;

(2) High-fat foods raise blood cholesterol;

(3) High cholesterol causes heart disease by clogging the coronary arteries;

(4) Passive smoking is harmful to health;

(5) More than 21 units of alcohol per week is harmful to health;

(6) Environmental pollution is a significant factor in childhood disease;

(7) Increased carbon dioxide emissions have substantially changed the levels of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere;

(8) Global temperatures are rising;

(9) Sea levels are rising;

(10) Global warming is causing increased hurricane activity.


First reserve: A diet low in salt is good for you


At 21 January 2005 at 12:52, Blogger Jorgen said...

(5) More than 21 units of alcohol per week is harmful to health;

How much is a unit? "one drink"? If you need three drinks every single day, you are an alcoholic.

(8) Global temperatures are rising;

They probably are and have been since last ice age apart from a colder period in the dark ages. The temperature will rise a couple of degrees more after which we can declare that the current ice age has finished 100%. The following day the next ice age will start, as they always do every 11-12,000 year.

I think these ice ages are the result of cavemen upsetting the balance of nature by using bow and arrow.

At 21 January 2005 at 13:24, Blogger Jorgen said...

(9) Sea levels are rising;

They are and will continue until the next ice age starts, but the rise is no faster now as in the past (which is what matters!).

At 21 January 2005 at 14:00, Blogger rexie said...

(8) Global temperatures are rising

My understanding is that exactly those places where the most careful records have been kept - US, UK, Australia, Antarctica - show little or no warming. Certainly I have confirmed this in the case of the UK with the help of Met Office data from various stations -

This also corresponds to the tropospheric temperature record as measured by balloon and satellite.

I agree that, even if it were true that temperatures are rising, there are many more plausible explanations than man's carbon emissions.

(9) Sea levels are rising

Not everywhere they're not. Much of the apparent rises in sea levels may be due to the lowering of the tidal gauges due to the slow collapse of the structures on which they are mounted or of the land itself (especially, post glacial rebound - which also has produced less-heralded falls in apparent sea levels in places like Stockholm).

At 21 January 2005 at 14:07, Blogger rexie said...

'How much is a unit? "one drink"? If you need three drinks every single day, you are an alcoholic.'

If you "need" alcohol you are an alcoholic, but simply drinking three units per day (equivalent to half a bottle of wine in total) is some way from alcoholism though non-drinking doctors might choose to disagree.

At 21 January 2005 at 15:11, Blogger Jorgen said...

Re. Alcohol: agree if that is the quantities we talk about.

Re. Global warming etc.: Again, I am no expert. We are talking about very small fractions of a degree per year and by global warming I mean that the temperatures are rising seen in the very long run (finishing off the ice age over the next 50-100 years). Crichton's "State of Fear" seems to have a good foundation as far as I can see from various sites on the Internet (and the books references). Crichton et all also emphasizes that there are many local exceptions and that temperatures may go up in one 30-year period and then go down over the next 30 years.

All the above are taken from my not infailable memory. The main point is that there is absolutely no proof for global warming caused by rising CO2 etc as the BBC or the Guardian seems to take for granted (based on "political science"!).

At 21 January 2005 at 15:34, Blogger rexie said...

Absolutely agreed on the last point. If increased CO2 emissions were responsible for any surface warming, we would expect a better correlation between the two; furthermore we would expect to observe atmospheric warming which we do not. In the absence of atmospheric warming, I remain sceptical too that the global surface temperature record can be relied upon, though I concede that this is a different question, and even if it is reliable I should need some persuading that man were in any way responsible rather than a slow rebound from the last mini-ice age

At 21 January 2005 at 18:56, Blogger Jorgen said...

Yes, the record is quite another problem. Painting with a broad pen, people in some countries are generally more diligent at collecting data than others (quality and precision of hardware, were the data written down immediately, are they verified, how many times have they been copied to other journals, ...). And the records do not go back more than to the 1870ies or so.

At 24 January 2005 at 20:07, Blogger Jorgen said...

And here is the latest scaremongering giving us 10 years. This is political science, not clima science. The bad thing is that Blair will grasp it whether he believes it or not to get away from the current problems and to look "environmental"; and it is a good opportunity to spend lots of other peoples money.


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