Unless you are that rare person who has exceptionally hard tooth enamel, and also brushes and flosses as enthusiastically as the IRS inspects 1040‘s, you know a few things about Dentistry. The things we know are mostly superficial. The average dental patient knows that there are anaesthesia, x-rays, drills, fillings, and crowns. That average dental patient doesn’t know about the neurobiology of anaesthesia, electromagnetic theory of x-rays, special materials and mechanics of dental drills, or materials and mechanical interactions of fillings and crowns with teeth.
Such a state of minimal knowledge is ok. We don’t need to know much, because we have many very good Dentists – experts, all – to handle the difficulties. They do this for us because they enjoy their profession, and because we pay them.
Let’s have a show of hands:
If you think that the general public should sit in on meetings of Dental associations, and comment on, influence, or even over-rule the findings of dentists about their profession, raise your hand.
If you think that the prior question was kinda nutty, and you wouldn’t dream of sticking your nose into something that you are not trained to understand professionally, and you realize that interfering with dentistry could, ultimately, be painful – pull down the other folks’ hands.
Now, you can all relax again.
The ‘nutty’ scenario of my question is a common reality. There are certain professional subjects which the lay public has become interested in influencing. One such subject, with a long pedigree of public meddling, is environmental policy.
There can be a great distance between the practice of a scientific profession and public policy. In some cases, the distance is modest and not very detrimental. When people who are minimally and errantly knowledgeable become actively involved, the distance between science and public policy increases.
I read a good examplar of those minimally and errantly knowledgeable people: 12 more glaciers that haven’t heard the news about global warming [www.ihatethemedia.com/12-more-glaciers-that-havent-heard-the-news-about-global-warming].
“Turns out the IPCC’s chicken little story that all the Himalayan glaciers are melting is just another exaggeration. Or fraud. Take your choice.”
This might be a really big deal, because dramatic melting of glaciers has been cited as visible evidence of the exacting temperature measurements recorded by scientists. The statement above says that (1) The IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – is causing alarm without justification (2) glacial melting has been exaggerated, or (3) scientists are lying about it. These scientists must be either stupid, or just bad folks, dontcha think? Be glad they didn’t become dentists!
OK, that was a side trip into Bizarro World. In fact, scientists are neither less intelligent nor more nefarious than your dentist. This exemplar overtly announces a you-can’t-trust-them-like-you-trust-your-dentist bias. What is not overt, unless you are one of my nerdly friends, is that it conveys huge exaggerations (or fraud) about the reality-based world we are dealing with.
If you get your groove on to a reality-based tune, you will enjoy the facts:
1. Citations of specific examples do not support generalization. Scientists examine the glacier-mass database in whole (It’s a much bigger database than 12 glaciers). It does not matter how good the logic of an argument is, if extrapolation from specifics to generalities contradicts the actual data of those generalities.
2. The effect of (any type of) climate change will generally not be of the same magnitude or direction in every area globally. That is, global temperature change may produce the opposite change in specific areas. A global warming example: the American wheat belt is expected to develop weather that produces lower harvests, while Siberia is expected to experience the opposite.
3. Much anti-global-warming reporting in lay forums has been incorrect, or even deceptive, about citations. Such sloppiness or overt lying would ruin a scientist’s career, while lay forums merely enjoy higher Google rankings. Scientists cite their sources, because NO OTHER SCIENTIST will accept their work without being able to read the sources.
4. Anti-global-warming reporting in lay forums is void of any consideration of climate sensitivity. Sensitivity to changes in the equilibrium line on glaciers is highly variable. Reporting confounding growth in a glacier without noting that it is a very insensitive glacier results in exaggeration of variances – looking at the noise in data. It’s the same thing that those geeeeenius stock market analysts do when they use chaotic market fluctuations to predict stock prices.
5. Scientists do a lot of work on error-band estimates in addition to analyses of sensitivities. It is important to know the comparison between a piece of data and the possible range of errors in that data. Scientists analyse data for its confidence factors (ask your local statistician), another topic which anti-global-warming reporting in lay forums omits.
6. The actual data, for all glaciers that are monitored: World Glacier Monitoring Service [www.wgms.ch/index.html]. There are many items you can review. I recommend (in NEWS list): FLUCTUATIONS OF GLACIERS Vol. IX (2000–2005).
This is a forum for informed and thoughtful commentary. You are invited to consider the references that I suggest. Many other informative sources of substantive information (that is, NOT speculation, naked opinion, or emotional ploys) are easy to find.
If you can’t plow through the actual science which some polemicists criticise, then simply think about your dentist and how to trust scientists in the same way. They are simply working hard, enjoying their profession, and occasionally getting paid for it.