Thursday, October 12, 2006

Penn & Teller: Bullshit!

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In Episode 13, season 1 of Penn & Teller: Bullshit! they try to prove the global warming crisis, among other things, was created by the out of control imagination of hysterical hippies and environmentalists. This is why the episode is titled "Environmental Hysteria". We would just like to point out that Penn Jillette is a research fellow of the ExxonMobil and Industry funded CATO institute which has strong minarchist leanings. This gives Penn Jillete a conflict of interest when it comes to any topic that might require government regulation. During the show he puts Tobacco and Oil funded lobbyists against hippie college protesters. If a fair match was their intent they should have those lawyers up against any of the scientists on this massive list. Granted the show was officially about "hysteria" and not science itself but that doesn't excuse them for grossly misrepresenting a very strong scientific consensus and providing facts thats are demonstrably false. The following is a quoted, sourced, and time stamped point by point analysis of their show (google video). It will focus on the facts presented by Penn & Teller's "experts":

10:28 Bjorn Lomborg presents his book

Lomborg is an associate professor of statistics at Denmark's University of Aarhus. He has been widely criticized for his book The Skeptical Environmentalist. Scientific American has a 12 page article titled "Misleading Math about the Earth" dedicated solely to debunking Lomborg's book. The prestigious peer-review scientific journal Nature also joined the battleground and described Lomborg's work as 'employs the strategy of those who argue that... Jews weren't singled out by the Nazis'. Grist Mill certainly didn't treat Lomborg kindly as they lined up a whole host of leading scientists to critique his work. And National Academy of Science member Norman Myers says Lomborg lacks "a preliminary understanding of the science in question." Regardless of whether or not Lomborg is right or wrong, Penn & Teller may have done better by choosing someone that is a little more respected among mainstream scientists. More information on Lomborg can be found here.

13:30 Penn says 1998 was the peak (temperature wise).

Not anymore, according to NASA 2005 was the hottest year. Penn Jillete also left out a little thing called El Nino which gave 1998 a nice artificial boost. In defense of Penn Jillette, the show was made in 2002. However, this does not excuse the fact that he cherry picked the year of El Nino. If he had interviewed a mainstream scientist Penn & Teller would have known this. If he had looked at a simple line graph he would have also seen an obvious trend in temperatures. The 1998 argument stems from Bob Carter and his claims are debunked in full here.

13:42 Jerry Taylor from CATO says "If we plot temperatures... put them on a graph and draw a trend line, we will know what is going to happen with global warming in the next 100 years.

Jerry Taylor, might want to comment on
this list of quotes or even this graph:

This is known as the "hockey stick". It is arguably the most analyzed graph in the history of science. The hockey stick continues to be affirmed by realclimate, the IPCC, the national academies of 11 countries, Wahl and Amman, and every major American scientific society with relativant expertise.

15:08 Jerry Taylor from CATO claims scientists predicted an Ice age

Real climate covered this topic in their article titled The Global Cooling Myth. William Connolley has also made a hobby out of debunking this myth. There is a BIG difference between peer-review scientific literature and regular magazines and newspapers. While there were some questions about aerosols blocking sunlight, the global cooling threat was not predicted in the peer-review scientific literature and it was not predicted by the National Academy of Sciences.

Taylors exact quote from Penn and Teller's show: "In the mid 70's we were told pollution is going to cause a new ice age... The very same scientists who argued an ice age was coming because of industrial pollution then shifted gears and argued industrial pollution will bring on a greenhouse warming world with virtually no breath in between." It would be nice if he actually named which NAS reports and scientific journals he was talking about. If you find any peer-review journals predicting imminent global cooling please email them to us or William Connolley. As of right now we can't find any.

15:50 Penn says "they must remember we are still gathering information..... we are not sure yet!"

Maybe Penn should actually do a little research or ask a real scientist what the scientific consensus is before he makes such a bold claim. The National Acadamies of 18 countries and every single scientific institution with relative expertise disagrees with him. There is a massive list of people that say we do know.
Dr. James Baker says "There's a better scientific consensus on this than on any issue I know - except maybe Newton's second law of dynamics". There is probably a very good reason why there is such a strong worldwide consensus. Maybe Penn should have asked them what those reasons might be.

25:40: Patrick Moore says the "best science tells us less than 1% of the species will go extinct in the next 100 years."

This is also false. A peer review paper from Nature titled "Extinction risk from climate change" showed a significant percentage of our planets species could become extinct by 2050. As an added note, the excess CO2 is also increasing the oceans acidity by turning into carbonic acid. The acidification of the ocean could drive all known forms of coral to extinction by 2065. 10, 11, 12 In the Discovery Channel's show "Global Warming: what you need to know with Tom Brokaw" NASA's James Hansen talks about the extinction of 50% of the planets species by 2050 being a realistic possibility due to ocean acidification and other mechanisms. The World Wildlife Fund says: "Without action, climate change will cause the extinction of countless species and destroy some of the world's most precious ecosystems." So what exactly is "the best science" in Patrick Moore's mind? Again, he doesn't mention their source. This may be hard to believe for many of our readers so here are some more sources on climate change and species extinction:

Blogs, Mainstream Media & Press Releases:
BBC: Acid oceans spell doom for coral
Los Angeles Times: A Primeval Tide of Toxins
The New York Times: British Scientists Say Carbon Dioxide Is Turning the Oceans Acidic
University of Minnesota ecology professor David Tilman: Species extinction rate speeding up The Acid Ocean – the Other Problem with CO2 Emission
NCAR: Report Warns about Carbon Dioxide Threats to Marine Life
World Wildlife Fund: Climate Change
Discovery Channel: "Global Warming: what you need to know with Tom Brokaw"

Peer-Review Scientific Journals & Government Reports
Thomas et. al., Nature 8 January 2004: Extinction risk from climate change*
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: Climate change hastens population extinctions
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: Climate change threats to plant diversity in Europe
Pearson & Palmer, Science 10 December 1999: Seawater pH and Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide
Pennisi, ScienceNOW 5 July 2006: Coral Face Death From Above
NSF, NOAA, USGS Report: Impacts of Ocean Acidification on Coral Reefs and other Marine Calcifiers
*interviews w/ Gavin Schmidt from NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies show this is the source of the Discovery Channel's info

End Notes:

Penn & Teller did bring up some good points. For example, they managed to get college aged protesting hippies to sign petitions to ban dihydrogen monoxide which is also known as water. This showed that people will take information at face value and that can be a very dangerous thing. By the same token many of the industry lobbyists interviewed on that show were speaking falsehoods (e.g. the global cooling myth) to discredit mainstream scientists. So you really have to watch your sources. Penn & Teller used these falsehoods to debunk "hysteria" that lined up very well with the scientific consensus. If they are going to critique "environmental hysteria" it might be wise for them to focus on a movement that doesn't agree with the scientific consensus. Misinformation is a double edged sword. Former Greenpeace member and cofounder Patrick Moore spent a considerable amount of time denouncing the motives of Greenpeace. The problem is that Greenpeace is not an accredited scientific institution and does not represent the scientific consensus. So while Greenpeace may go overboard when it comes to certain dangers with fusion and fission power, nothing mentioned in the "Environmental Hysteria" show that was attributed to Greenpeace differed from the scientific consensus. To make matters even more complicated Patrick Moore owns Greenspirit whose clients consist of industries that have to deal with environmental regulations. Moore's current business gives him a conflict of interest. Penn & Teller's Bullshit! started in 2003. This was after the Royal Society's 2001 press release on climate change which was signed by 16 countries. For more about the consensus please go here. Since so many scientists agree, maybe they should have talked to scientists instead of oil lobbyists to get their environmental data and scientific facts. If this show really was about "hysteria" then why did the only post-puberty 'environmentalist' interviewed on the show, Ross Gelbspan, represent the scientific consensus and undisputable facts far more accuratetly than the oil-funded experts used by Penn & Teller?

Please Comment!
Please comment on this article at our Blog!. I posted a link to this page on wikipedia here. Apparently it might be against the rules (rule #4 and #6 are conflicting) to post a link to a website you maintain. One wikipedia user that doesn't like this page has since removed it from the page's external links. However, that doesn't prevent other people from referencing this website! The wikipedia user that deleted the link called this page a "strawman" even though I've been very careful to use quotes, time stamps, and address every single scientific "fact" presented or "debunked" during the show with multiple and reproducible peer review journals. If you feel I have misrepresented the show in any way please feel free to comment on our blog. Since I cannot post a link to this site on wikipedia I release the content of this page under a GPL. In otherwords, feel free to reproduce, rehost, and even modify this page. Just don't forget to give me credit for my hard work! If you do replicate the page please let me know, my e-mail is at the bottom of the page.

For more info on Penn & Teller:
Related Info:
Sierra Club director Paul Watson says: "
Moore makes accusations that have no basis in fact."


John Feeney said...

Nice, thorough analysis, Wacki. Penn & Teller appeal to a lot of young people, who unfortunately probably believe that, because they're magicians, they can "debunk" anything. As you show, though, they have political biases which clearly dictate their actions in this case.

I hope your blog readership grows fast. The message needs to get out there.

Anonymous said...

sure sounds like you are worried that Penn and Teller might be pointing out their own "inconvenient truth". especially informative is the information re: the "ice age" environmental hysteria of several decades ago..........

Anonymous said...

anonymous of 11:03 am demonstrates the attribute of "invincible ignorance" or is it just an inability to read? The critique of Penn and Teller covers the "ice age" hysteria of the 1970s - a media phenomenon. There was no scientific consensus about it, no national academies or IPCCs or hundreds of climatologists backing the "ice age" scare, so there is no comparison to the well-grounded understanding of global warming and its relationship to hydrocarbon emissions today.

Anonymous said...

Penn and teller are not saying that every thing about global warming is wrong you, if you would pay attention they are trying to prove that the people behind these extreme eco groups dont actualy know why they are fighting point in case the whole water treaty. Also ur information is no more vaild then theres u put up these charts like the one of the rise in tempertaure and c2o trying to show the tempertaure is raising because of global warming but in the same picture you see that the global population is growing at the same rate as the other 2, the increase in all 3 of them are at the same rate so cant global warming be caused by increase in pop.

Anonymous said...

What about veteran weatherman John Coleman? He has said on more than one occasion that global warming is a scam. He seems (seems being the key word here) more qualified than most of the interviewed people on this episode, and you didn't mention him!
In reference to the hockey stick graph by Michael Mann, I'd suggest you take a look at this link:'s-hockey-stick-climate-graph.htm
I did a research paper last fall for my college English class, and I found several discussions disputing the hockey stick graph, and this is my favorite one. Read closely, because Mann's graph has been disputed several times for his poor collection methods. I'm no scientist, but you are ignoring disputes against this famous graph that has been an embarrassment to environmentalists everywhere.

JC said...

For what's wrong with what John Coleman says read:

There is much confusion between climate and weather. John Coleman is not an expert on climate.

The arguments against global warming remind me of the Tobacco Institute's former tactics -- deny, misdirect, provide counter-examples. The data is abundant and starting to paint a picture - it has nothting to do with a given chart being flawed.

Cold winters and greater variation in weather patterns are expected when global temperatures rise. It's also expected that warmer summers will melt glaciers. This was predicted over 30 years ago -- and the glaciers are melting. This is not disputable (like lung cancer).

Cedric Katesby said...

Great analysis. Thank you for your efforts.

If people understood how science works and the importance of peer-review, the global warming deniers would fade away.

Bruce said...

Wouldn't it be equally fair to point out the much of the research generated to support global warming is funding by governmental entities (who continue to justify their existence by regulation after regulation). Who would fund research that finds no effect?

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Shashank Araokar said...

I agree that Penn and Teller are total losers. They have no background in science and no understanding of morality. However, the exploit their proximity to James Randi and others. Entry level skeptics are obviously fond of them.

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