“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Monday, December 31, 2012

When talk show hosts explain science to students

Through a series of links, I wound up watching a youtube segment in which one Brian Sussman was a guest lecturer at a Political Science Colloquium at UC Berkeley (Political Science 179). I'd never heard of Brian Sussman. He's a talk show host out of San Francisco and either is or used to be a weathercaster (or, maybe, a meteorologist - his bio says that he went to the University of Missouri but doesn't say he graduated or list his field of study). His web site's tag line is "Right Thinking from the Left Coast." Readers should not misunderstand - I'm generally sympathetic to conservative (truly conservative) ideas and no one would accuse me of being a leftist or liberal. And I don't disagree with all that he said in this excerpted video.

But two things stood out to me. First, at about the 0:10 mark, Sussman starts talking about an atmospheric scientist at UC Berkeley, one "Dr. Robert Muller." He's clearly referring to Dr. Richard Muller. This is simply lazy but likely not malicious. But note the comparison that Sussman makes. He discusses Muller's "conversion" from skeptic to believer (Sussman's words) based on completion of a study and, with great hyperbole, states that "the media went wild." He then contrasts that with UC Santa Barbara Emeritus Professor Harold Lewis, who resigned from the American Physical Society over his allegation that money has corrupted the society, resulting in their endorsing the consensus view of climate change. Do you note the difference? Lewis expresses an opinion, Muller cites the results of a study he and his associates and students performed.

The second was rather shocking. Check out around 2:15. Sussman is telling the attendees that the Earth will enter another ice age in about 10,000 years. Why? Because "the Earth's orbit is not circular, it's elliptical. We're gonna get farther and farther away from the Sun, and pretty soon it's going to be parka time..." OK, it's true that one component of one theory of the Earth's quasi-periodic entry into ice ages is the Milankovitch Cycle which is related, in part, to the varying eccentricity of the Earth's orbit. And further, it's true that a deep explanation of this phenomenon would be lost on most of the attendees of Political Science 179, but Sussman's statement doesn't convince me that he understands what he's talking about and, even if he does, this narrative is much more likely to obscure than to clarify.

The video is embedded below.

No comments: