Rick Santorum Demonstrates the Technique of Fake Science

August 31, 2015

UPDATE: For what it’s worth, one of the major “fact checking” web sites has now contacted the scientists interviewed here to follow up.

I think this is important.

The other night, we had yet another demonstration of how things go wrong when one of our major political parties decides that they no longer believe in the scientific method.

Rick Santorum, former Senator and current Presidential candidate in the US, appeared on the Bill Maher program.  With the departure of Jon Stewart, Maher is left as one of the few remaining powerful, critical and satiric voices available in the media, and thus the platform is an important one.
Maher quizzed Santorum about climate change, and why it was that Santorum did not believe in the overwhelming consensus, 97 percent, of the science community, who have warned about the human causes of climate change.

Santorum’s response was horrifying, but at least we can take the opportunity to learn from it, as an example of how the alternative universe of climate denial works.

“The most recent survey of climate scientists said, 57 percent don’t agree with the idea that 95 percent of the change in the climate is being caused by man.”

Maher’s response, “Which ass did you pull that out of?”,  was dead-on appropriate.

Since I spend a lot of time looking at asses on this blog, I decided to investigate, using an obscure, antique, and seldom used technique that has fallen out of favor among most professional journalists, –  calling up the author of the survey, and asking him what it really said.

Meet Bart Verheggen.

Another paper that Santorum maligned was the famous “97 percent” paper by John Cook. I spoke to John via skype twice in the last 24 hours, and here’s the first quick cut, more coming.

UPDATE: I had a second chat with John Cook this morning, and he went thru the Santorum statements in more detail.

Verheggen’s paper itself is open access and available here.  Key quote:

Our results for the level of consensus are similar to those found in other surveys. Doran and Kendall-Zimmermann
reported an 82% consensus among 3146 earth scientists,  which rose to 88% for those who identified themselves as climatologists, which is very similar to our findings. However, Oreskes, Anderegg et al., and Cook et al. reported a 97% agreement about human-induced warming, from the peer reviewed literature and their sample of actively publishing climate scientists, as did Doran and Kendall-Zimmermann for the most published climatologists. Literature surveys, generally, find a stronger consensus than opinion surveys. This is related to the stronger consensus among often-published−and arguably the most expert−climate scientists. The strength of literature surveys lies in the fact that they sample the primary for a where the evidence is laid out, whereas the strength of opinion surveys such as ours relates to the fact that much more detail can be achieved about the exact opinions of scientists. As such, these two methods for describing scientific consensus are complementary. Different surveys typically use slightly different criteria to determine their survey sample and to define the consensus position, hampering a direct comparison. It is possible that our definition of “agreement” sets a higher standard than, for example, Anderegg’s definition (e.g., AR4 WG1 author or having signed a public declaration) and Doran and Kendall-Zimmermann’s survey question about whether human activity is “a significant contributing factor”.

As indicated, contrarian viewpoints are likely overrepresented in our sample (amounting to ∼5% of respondents), about half of whom have published peer-reviewed articles in the area of
climate. However, this does not fully explain the difference with the above mentioned studies. Excluding those tagged as “unconvinced” more closely approximates the methodologies of earlier studies and increases the level of agreement, for example, from 84% to 87% based on Q1, excluding undetermined responses. Moreover, we solicited responses from a wide group of scientists. A larger proportion of those not specializing in climate science research may be unconvinced by or unaware of the scientific evidence for anthropogenic causation, as was also found by Doran and Kendall- Zimmermann.  Our results agree with Anderegg’s and Doran and Kendall-Zimmermann’s findings that the level of consensus is strongest for actively publishing climate scientists. For
example, the level of agreement−excluding undetermined responses−among AR4 WG1 authors, usually highly published domain experts, for Q1 and Q3, was 97% and 96%, respectively.

The anonymous blogger that Santorum quotes, goes by the name of Fabius Maximus.  Verheggen responds to FM’s distortions here. There is also an FAQ on the paper here.

Key quote:

4. How does this study compare to the often-quoted 97% consensus?

Our results are consistent with similar studies, which all find high levels of consensus among scientists, especially among scientists who publish more often in the peer-reviewed climate literature.

Cook et al. (2013) found that 97% of papers that characterized the cause of recent warming indicated that it is due to human activities. (John Cook, the lead author of that analysis, is co-author on this current article.) Similarly, a randomized literature review found zero papers that called human-induced climate change into question (Oreskes, 2004).

Other studies surveyed scientists themselves. For instance, Doran and Kendall-Zimmermann (2009) found lower levels of consensus for a wider group of earth scientists (82% consensus) as compared to actively publishing climatologists (97% consensus) on the question of whether or not human activity is a “significant contributor” to climate change. Our results are also in line with those of e.g. Bray and von Storch (2008) and Lichter (2007).

In our study, among respondents with more than 10 peer-reviewed publications (half of total respondents), 90% agree that greenhouse gases are the largest – or tied for largest – contributor to recent warming. The level of agreement is ~85% for all respondents.

While these findings are consistent with other surveys, several factors could explain the slight differences we found:

  • Surveys like ours focus on opinions of individual scientists, whereas in a literature analyses the statements in individual abstracts are tallied. Literature analyses have generally found higher levels of consensus than opinion surveys, since the consensus is stronger amongst more heavily published scientists.
  • This study sets a more specific and arguably higher standard for what constitutes the consensus position than other studies. For instance, Doran and Kendall-Zimmermann (2009) asked about human activity being a “significant contributor” to global warming, and Anderegg et al. (2010) investigated signatories of public statements, while we asked specifically about the degree to which greenhouse gases are contributing to climate change in comparison with other potential factors.
  • Contrarian viewpoints are somewhat overrepresented in our survey and they may have overestimated their self-declared level of expertise (see question 9).

What we’ve observed, time and time again, in the course of pushing back against climate disinformation, is how climate denial talking points make their way from obscure and unchecked, in this case, anonymous, sources – to the right wing media machine, to Fox News, and from there to the mouths of people that really should know better.

What we have here is someone that is offering himself as the potential leader of the Free World, who is taking his science talking points on an issue of critical importance from an anonymous blogger, rather than the scientific literature

27 Responses to “Rick Santorum Demonstrates the Technique of Fake Science”

  1. mbrysonb Says:

    When good sources don’t say what you want them to and changing your mind is not on the menu, this is what you’re left with…

  2. dumboldguy Says:

    Maher is one slick dude. He gets the fools on his show, lets them mindlessly babble on, skewers them with wit, and thereby helps them show the world what ignorant fools they are.

    Unfortunately, some of the audience are going to subconsciously hear the ongoing lies that Santorum and his ilk spread. If they are at all motivated to think Santorum has any credibility, their reptilian (Republican) brains will merely believe the denier horseshit a bit more strongly.

    Yes, this IS an important post, and its importance is summed up nicely in the last two paragraphs. You have done an excellent job of pointing out what a lying narcissistic scumbag Santorum is, and by extension, so are all the others on his “side”. Too bad that your message is going mainly to those who already know that.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      nevertheless very important that people on the side of science have good primary source information to work from.

    • indy222 Says:

      I actually think Maher totally fumbled the ball on that. He’s now been at this long enough that he should have stiffened his back and blown Santorum out of the water with the kind of facts shown here. I thought it was one of Maher’s worst moments on air, frankly. He let Santorum dominate his show by sheer volume, never mind it was all lies. Let these blowhards walk on you a little for even a moment, and they’ll bring on the tanks and flatten you, and that’s what happened to Maher and his feeble protests squeezed into micro-breathing points in Santorum’s rant.
      This is something that’s really grinding my teeth (need a new molar cap next week! Grrrr!), is how inept are the Forces of Good (except Peter – who’s excellent), and how ruthlessly professional is the media-savvy and psychologically savvy Right-Wing/Big Oil Machine. They’re “winning” (if “winning” is what you call wrecking the planet for all future generations).

      • dumboldguy Says:

        I had the same feeling about Maher letting himself be drowned out by the sanctimonious, bullying, know-nothing, narcissistic, soon-to-be-nobody that is Santorum. Maher thereby DID allow him to show what an anal orifice he is—-he came on Maher’s show, acted as if HE was the host, and gave a good approximation of what Limbaugh does.

        It’s precisely because the forces of evil ARE so “ruthlessly professionally” evil that they are able to behave so shamelessly and without honor. The really sad thing is that there are ignorant people out there who worship them and will vote for them.

  3. Bob Doublin Says:

    OMG,did you catch that clause about 1:00 in where twitbrain starts babbling about the IPCC and says that 77 scientists were polled and “not even 97 were asked” He’s claiming you have to have 97 respondents in order to talk about 97%?!?!?! I did a quick in my head calculation and 29 of 30 rounds off nicely to 97% 30 of 31 even better

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Yep, and Santorum has no understanding of what he is talking about—-he is just quoting from the handy “talking points for deniers” manual that so many Repugnants keep next to their bibles.

      That 97-77 crap is rather old stuff, and part of the same smelly pile of debunked horsepucky as The Oregon Petition and Climategate. That won’t stop people like Santorum from endlessly repeating the lie, though. I hugely dislike Santorum for many reasons (some of them apparent in this clip), and the sooner he disappears from the scene, the happier I will be.

      Here’s a piece by Larry Bell, a non-scientist and Heartland Stooge that often writes articles for the non-science magazine Forbes.. It discusses it from the denier viewpoint, and shows how deranged they are. The term lying POS was coined to describe guys like Bell.

      http://www.forbes.com/sites/larrybell/2012/07/17/that-scientific-global-warming-consensus-not/3/

  4. Andy Lee Robinson Says:

    I put this updated rebuttal together from a comment I found ages ago – feel free to copy and use as a baseball bat when appropriate:

    A study by James Powell, who was a member of the National Science Board for 12 years, reviewed more than 24,000 peer-reviewed scientific articles on climate change published between 2013 and 2014 and found a total of 24 papers “reject human-caused global warming or endorse a cause other than CO₂ emissions for observed warming.”

    These 24,000 articles had a total of 69,406 authors while the number of authors of “skeptics” papers had a total of 4.

    The number of publishing scientists who say that we are causing climate change by burning fossil fuels would more than fill the Super Bowl, whereas the number of scientists who disagree would hardly fill a taxi to get to the game.

    This is the extent of the “debate” about the science.

    The 97% Scientific Consensus on Climate Change Is Wrong—It’s 99.99%
    http://news.yahoo.com/97-percent-scientific-consensus-climate-change-wrong-much-211621750.html

  5. indy222 Says:

    I cringe whenever I hear the “97%” trotted out. What fraction of scientists who are NOT supported by (a) a big RightWing “think” tank, or (b) Big Oil, are part of the supposed 3%? That is NEVER given any mention. I’m not impressed with the typical popular science reporting media. I’ve read that 89% of K-12 science teachers have no degree in science. I wonder what the figure is for science writers? Maybe in every grant award to a scientist, a little extra should be added in order that they can take the time to put out their own press. Then if it’s bogus, there’s no one to blame but themselves.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      “I’ve read that 89% of K-12 science teachers have no degree in science”.

      You need to do some more reading, because that figure is not right. Some excerpts from this link. http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind14/index.cfm/chapter-1/c1s3.htm

      “In 2012, 82% of high school science teachers and 73% of high school mathematics teachers held degrees in their teaching field or in science or mathematics education (table 1-8). High school mathematics and science teachers were twice as likely as their middle school counterparts to hold in-field degrees. Very few elementary school teachers who taught mathematics or science held an in-field degree (about 5%)”.

      “Each state requires public school teachers to earn a certificate that licenses them to teach. States set criteria for various types of certification; usually a full certification entails a combination of passing scores on tests, a bachelor’s degree with a specified number of credits in education and in the discipline taught, and supervised practice teaching experience (NCTQ 2013). Criteria for certification vary among grade levels, with elementary teachers usually certified to teach multiple subjects and high school teachers certified within subject areas. Whether middle school teachers are certified in multiple subjects or individual subjects varies across states.”

      “Although elementary school teachers are not generally expected to have degrees in mathematics or science, both the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) have recommendations for the number and types of courses that elementary teachers should take to be adequately prepared to teach these subjects (Banilower et al. 2013). The NSTA suggests that elementary science teachers have one course each in life, earth, and physical sciences. In 2012, 36% of elementary school teachers met this standard, and 38% had taken courses in two of the three areas (figure 1-15). Six percent of elementary teachers had no college courses in science. For mathematics, the NCTM recommends that elementary school teachers take college coursework in five areas, including numbers and operations, algebra, geometry, probability, and statistics. In 2012, 10% of elementary teachers met the standard of having coursework in all five of these areas, 57% had courses in one to two of these areas, and 1% had no courses in these areas.”

      Having taught some high school science in both NJ and VA, and having been involved in hiring and supervising teachers, I can tell you from experience that that virtually every science and math teacher I dealt with had in-field degrees and most had advanced degrees. An uncertified teacher was a very rare bird.

      Science WRITERS, on the other hand, are journalists, and there is no initial requirement that they have expertise about ANYTHING that they may write about. Judging from the state of reporting on many science topics, they are NOT as well-grounded in science as teachers.

  6. John Cook Says:

    indy222, it’s important to recognise that when you ask the general public how many climate scientists agree that on the basic fact that humans are causing global warming, the average answer is around 50 to 60%. This misconception is crucial because perception of scientific consensus has a big influence on whether people support climate action or not.

    There is a reason why opponents of climate action seek to cast doubt on the consensus – it delays public support for climate action. They’ve been doing it for two decades and as Rick Santorum demonstrated, continue to do it to this day.

    Consequently, there is a growing body of social science research finding that communicating the 97% consensus is a powerful and effective way of communicating our state of understanding of the human role in climate change. And it all it takes is communicating a single number. It really is the low-lying fruit of climate communication.

    I’ve published a paper summarising the scientific research into the importance and efficacy of consensus messaging at http://sks.to/ncse

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Yes, but as Andy Lee points out, the 97% figure is wrong. I myself have used it, or sometimes bumped it to 98% just to be ornery, but the 99.99% is the figure we should use (even though it takes longer to type).

      What we should be saying repeatedly to the general public is that basically ALL scientists agree with AGW, and that those very few who do not are no longer scientists but science deniers who are motivated by politics, ideology, or money to spread lies.

      The public that believes that only 50 to 60% of climate scientists needs to be hit between the eyes with the fact of their ignorance, and you’re correct in saying that it is the “low hanging fruit”. I often couple it with “98 out of 100 oncologists agree that you have cancer and agree on how it should be treated. Two oncologists say you don’t have cancer or want you to use the drug from the company they work for, although the 98 recommend another drug. Who are you going to listen to?”. That gets them thinking.

      I’m bumping those numbers to 9999 and 1 in the future, and think we should all start saying “Only 1 in 10,000 climate scientists does not agree with AGW”.

  7. ubrew12 Says:

    I think the most important ‘take away’ from the interchange between Santorum and Maher is to observe, once again, how people rejecting CC on national television are extremely over-prepared with their talking points. It’s the SPEED with which Santorum rattles off bullet points he barely understands that illustrate how thoroughly his handlers grilled him on this topic: Maher is left bewildered as from an ambush, just as Bill Nye was when he ran into a similar ambush from GOP Rep Marsha Blackburn on Meet the Press:

    Blackburn and Santorum are lawyers, trained debaters, who are obviously being prepped by Big Fossils to have the latest bullet points at the ready when their moment on TV is at hand. Even though Nye has more knowledge overall, and Maher a deep respect for the Science, they aren’t up to the onslaught of fox-toids being regurgitated like machine-gun fire by these well-trained hand-puppets.

    It’s always deeply upsetting to watch these sorts of ‘debates’. People like Nye and Maher need to understand ahead of time just how thoroughly Big Fossils is stuffing ‘truthiness’ into those who venture into these kinds of public debates. There’s barely enough time to digest the #you-know-what# as its being hurled at the camera. So that’s a point for future encounters: because its ALWAYS going to be this way.

    • jimbills Says:

      “its ALWAYS going to be this way.”

      Exactamundo. We act like we’re surprised each time, but it will always be this way. People who start with convictions don’t care about facts or even reality – they care about defending their convictions. They won’t change, and they probably can’t change. We need to stop giving these guys air time (but then, corporate media runs on its own agendas).

      • ubrew12 Says:

        Big Fossils absolutely wants Rick Santorum to access Bill Mahers audience and drop brain-turds into their open minds. They would fight for an interview like this knowing that the inevitable question would be asked at which point, like throwing the switch on a robot, the pre-taped recording delivers.

      • ubrew12 Says:

        Perhaps people like Nye and Maher should be prepped ahead of time to confront these high-profile debate-team deniers like Blackburn and Santorum with a simple question, like: “If CO2 is a greenhouse gas, how could a 40% increase in its concentration NOT cause a global warming?”

        Such a question interrupts the rapid-fire delivery of memorized talking points and asks the denier to address the Physics behind Global Warming directly (a Physics he or she is almost certainly NOT prepared to comment on). The idea is to catch them in an obvious idiocy, like “Oh, that’s because CO2 is NOT a greenhouse gas” or “What 40% increase?”.

        Santorum (in a debate speed World record) both promotes his own consensus ‘study’ AND claims the 97% study is hogwash by no less than the ‘head’ of IPC. In a debate over consensus studies, his lie is as good as anyone else’s truth. But if you can turn the conversation to the underlying Physics, you have a better chance of catching him unprepared or making an absurd conclusion.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        In the slightly wild and wooly corner of academia that I inhabited, anyone who was as blatantly disrespectful of everyone’s intelligence and told the lies that Santorum did in any “forum” setting would have had his “air time” taken away. He would have been shouted down by others or told to sit down and shut up by the moderator while others took their turn, and they would have systematically exposed his lies and hypocrisy.

        Maher and other hosts should simply say “that’s enough” to this kind of display and take command—-tell the lying POS’s to either take turns, share time, and debate point by point, or leave the stage. The dead time that resulted after sending the lying POS into the wings could then be filled by an explanation of the FACTS, a discussion of Gish Gallops, and a dissection of the rudeness, hypocrisy, and disrespect displayed in Santorum’s BS. A good final line would be to the effect “And this man wanted us to vote for him to be President?”

  8. jimbills Says:

    Santorum’s “head” of the “IPC”:

    Tol is an economist. Economics is to science like marketing is to art. The former uses (mimics) the techniques of the latter for commercial purposes. Both marketing and economics, though, start with a conclusion and bend the techniques of its inspiration (art for marketing, science for economics) to fit that conclusion. As a result, they’re both the antithesis of its inspiration.

    I know economics is a widely accepted field in today’s world, but it really bothers me that it’s treated with apparently equal respect to the physical sciences. And I know the IPCC uses economists for addressing the “options for adaptation and mitigation” part of its mandate:

    Click to access ipcc-principles.pdf

    It still really irks me that the IPCC uses economists. We should be able to figure out a simple budget for what we’re allowed to burn in carbon emissions in aggregate, then figure out how to divide that budget fairly and evenly amongst the different nations, then allow those nations to work out their own budgets for how to transition using those quotas. This is very simple, and it would actually address the problem, but instead, we have to invent a multitude of ways to ignore that approach completely and maintain the status quo. That’s what economists do – they rationalize and defend the very practices that have gotten us here in the first place.

    Additionally, from this respect and need for economics, we get BS like the Santorum quotes.

    BTW, Santorum is working from a script. He’s just an actor – the “best” politicians are the ones that can deliver their lines most convincingly. Santorum is not intelligent enough, nor does he have the time (or even interest), to come up with these little sound bites on his own. Some kid straight out of college is pulling this stuff together for him, or else he’s getting it from a higher authority in the form of think tank memos and party talking points. Again, it’s starting with a conclusion and finding the “evidence” (and barring that, manufacturing the evidence) to fit that conclusion. It’s not scientific at all – it’s a perversion of the process.


  9. Just for the record, my colleague, Flatulus Maximus is not anonymous. He has thirty seven years working in the finance industry. His name is Larry Kummer.

    See http://fabiusmaximus.com/about/authors/#Fabius


  10. […] VIDEO: Rick Santorum Demonstrates the Technique of Fake Science (Climate Crocks): I think this is important. The other night, we had yet another demonstration of how things go wrong when one of our major political parties decides that they no longer believe in the scientific method. Rick Santorum, former Senator and current Presidential candidate in the US, appeared on the Bill Maher program. […]


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