I once subscribed to Scientific American. We had to read it in high school, and I often used articles from the magazine in research projects. I also was a fan of its history, which intersected with my long-time love of magic and magic history. It was Scientific American, back in the 1920s, that created the special cash prize for anyone who could prove they had supernatural powers, or that paranormal phenomena was real. After a while psychics and other miracle workers stopped applying for the prize, because SA’s panel of experts always exposed them as frauds. The star member of that panel was Harry Houdini, in his post-performing second career as the enemy of charlatans and frauds
Thus it pains me to see the once great, dumbed-down vestige of Scientific American publish an article with this unforgivable headline, in front of content that is little better:
Climate Change May Have Helped Spark Iran’s Protests
And space aliens may have built the pyramids.
Actually, the article still has educational value, though no teacher is likely to use it properly. It is a wonderful example of poor critical thinking, bad science, the result of mixing science with politics, and how bias makes you stupid. The author, Scott Waldman, doesn’t even try to hide the article’s weak logic and lame premise, beginning it with this:
The impacts of climate change are among the environmental challenges facing Iran that helped spark protests in dozens of cities across the Islamic republic.At least 20 people have died in the uprising, driven by the sudden collapse of financial institutions, low wages and mistrust of national leaders. Rising temperatures are seen by some experts as an underlying condition for the economic hardships that led to the unrest. A severe drought, mismanaged water resources and dust storms diminished Iran’s economy in recent years, according to experts who study the region. While the protests are largely driven by resistance to the country’s hardline conservative government, such environmental factors might have contributed to the largest protests inside Iran in years.
That tells any objective reader all he needs to know: junk ahead. The old “some experts” ploy, eh? You can find “some experts” who will say anything, especially on TV. We just went through weeks of unethical speculation on whether the President was suffering from dementia based on “some expert,” a Yale professor of psychiatry who breached the American Psychiatric Association (APA) ethics protocols and was revealed as not to be licensed to practice anymore.You know. An expert.
Waldman himself isn’t an expert on climatology or even science: he’s a reporter, and his degree was in journalism. Funny, I’m so old, I remember when the articles in Scientific American were written by scientists. How quaint.
Almost none of the “experts” that Waldman quotes to support his “maybe” thesis are scientists either. For example, he quotes Suzanne Maloney (without saying what her expertise is), telling us that she is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Energy Security and Climate Initiative.
“The drought has certainly impacted Iran’s economy broadly, and it’s impacted quality of life and living patterns, migration patterns around Iran quite considerably,” she said. “It’s an issue of huge political importance, one that factored into the presidential election last year, so it’s certainly something I think one can say has had a role in shaping frustrations and driving some of the underlying grievances around the protests.”
OK, a drought is quantifiable and provable. Does Maloney say that the drought was caused by climate change? No, but Waldman’s use of her quote implies it. She’s not a scientist either. Now that we have the words of a non-scientist, we are told by the non-scientist writer—who is he to argue with experts?—this:
Iran is increasingly vulnerable to climate change, experts say. [ What experts? What does “vulnerable” mean? The fact that a nation is vulnerable to a phenomenon doesn’t mean that the phenomenon is occurring or will occur.] Rainfall in the Middle East is expected to fall 20 percent by the end of the century, and temperatures could rise by as much as 5 degrees Celsius, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. [ Deceit. One organization has models that make this prediction. “Is expected” suggests “is expected by more than one panel.” And wait: why is rainfall in the Middle East is “expected” to fall 20 percent, but the same group only says that temperatures “could” rise by as much as 5 degrees Celsius? Are these conditions expected, or are they possible?]
Aaa, what the hell. You know. Whatever. It’s climate change, Jake.
Here comes another “expert,” actually a bunch of them: “By 2070, the Persian Gulf could experience a spike in heat waves that are hard for humans to survive, according to a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study published in 2015.”
By 2070? How have those last batches of long-term models panned out, Scott? Hey, where’s the link to the study? What “experts” performed it? Oh, right—the the Persian Gulf could experience a spike in heat waves. Good to know. Based on that, I think we should go back to horses and buggies.
And yet another “expert” is weighing in! Kaveh Ehsani, a professor at DePaul University and an expert on Iranian politics, says that environmental issues have brought some protesters into the streets, in part because climate change is “now seen as a contributor to inequity. Newscasts on the environment are potentially reinforcing Iranian views, since that topic is not generally censured by government officials.” Environmental issues aren’t seen through the same political lens as they are in the United States, he says
Wait, that’s not climate change causing unrest! That’s punditry, biased reporting and activist propaganda causing unrest. A phenomenon and the buzz about it are not one and the same, Scott. SA? Is there a scientist in the house?
Details, details. What do you want, precision? This isn’t a scien—oops. Heh. Right.
Ehsani, who is—surprise! not a scientist, but an expert— says that the Trump administration’s retreat from the Paris climate agreement and its larger rejection of climate policy mean that Iranian citizens are increasingly blaming environmental problems on the United States. Since the “climate agreement” has no effect on the climate and the U.S. withdrawal cannot possibly have affected the climate in Iran now, then this statement means that intellectual laziness and dishonest propaganda may have helped spark…no, no, the protests are against Iran’s government, not the U.S.
What’s this article about again? And where’s Houdini when you need him?