Thursday, February 11, 2016

What do creationists and climate change deniers have in common?

Both creationists and climate change deniers attack those who disagree with them. And according to Steve Newton, they misunderstand some key aspects of the way science works.

What do creationists and climate change deniers have in common?


This is not the first line of a joke, but the theme of this commentary piece appearing in Earth. The author is Steven Newton, who works for the National Center for Science Education. The NCSE has been focused on protecting the teaching of evolution in public schools, but a few months ago they branched out into climate change. Why?

I talked to Newton yesterday, and he said the organization has had a number of requests to step into the heated issue of global climate change. Some of the latest anti-evolution bills include climate change as well. These bills are pushed as “academic freedom” bills, and people at NSCE think they’re aimed at allowing teachers to push antiscientific propaganda.

Newton asked me what I did to bring on such a torrent of nasty press from the Discovery Institute – a creationist/intelligent design think tank. I could venture a couple of guesses as to why they’re not happy with me. I’d worry a lot if I got any praise from them. But I’ve gotten even worse from the more extreme climate denial websites.

So one thing creationist and climate deniers have in common is both have me on their bad lists. Creationists and climate deniers tend to use the same technique to bash journalists who disagree with them – they accuse us of being too stupid to understand the fine points of intelligent design or climate modeling. I’ve seen that with other pseudo scientists as well, accusing journalists who challenge them of being too dimwitted to truly comprehend homeopathy, astrology or whatever junk they’re peddling.

But are there any philosophical similarities? Here’s what Steve Newton wrote in is Earth piece:  

What it boils down to is that creationists and climate change deniers both reject central principles of science on ideological, religious and political grounds. Moreover, they deny not just these principles, but also the idea of science itself as a way of knowing about the world.

Attacks on evolution and climate science are both based on the rejection of well-established scientific techniques. Geologists demonstrate the age of the Earth with the techniques of radiometric dating. “Bunk,” say young-Earth creationists: These techniques rely on unproven assumptions. Climate scientists develop complex computer models as a technique to understand what might happen to future climates. “Bunk,” say climate change deniers: Such models are just a convenient fiction.

Climate deniers often do well on tests of so-called science literacy. I think that’s an important piece of this story and one I hope to explore in an upcoming Inquirer column.

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About this blog
Faye Flam - writer
In pursuit of her stories, writer Faye Flam has weathered storms in Greenland, gotten frost nip at the South Pole, and floated weightless aboard NASA’s zero-g plane. She has a degree in geophysics from the California Institute of Technology and started her writing career with the Economist. She later took on the particle physics and cosmology beat at Science Magazine before coming to the Inquirer in 1995. Her previous science column, “Carnal Knowledge,” ran from 2005 to 2008. Her new column and blog, Planet of the Apes, explores the topic of evolution and runs here and in the Inquirer’s health section each Monday. Email Faye at Reach Planet of the at

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