Discourse / Editorials / October 30, 2008

Warm up your mind

Let’s take a moment to address a few of the claims made about a week ago by Ms. Allen in her allegedly “thorough letter to the editor, repudiating most of [Horner’s] data on the subject.” For starters, the notion that the speaker had not researched the topic of global warming thoroughly is preposterous. It suggests that the nearly forty pages of references in his first book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming and Environmentalism, were just there for fun. This, of course, is a stark contrast to the one lone source used in Al Gore’s pseudo-documentary regarding “Dr. Thompson’s Thermometer.” Oddly enough, Dr. Thompson himself rejected Gore’s claim. Nevertheless, once Gore and his cronies say it, it’s gospel.

Admittedly, Horner did not have explicit citations for scientific journals in a few of the slides used in his presentation. That is, of course, because the majority of the data was pulled fresh from government data sources while the rest was sourced from a combination of scientific journals, Al Gore’s docu-drama, and the UN’s IPCC report. Both during Horner’s talk and in Ms. Allen’s letter to the editor, the claim was brought up regarding the lack of units on some of Horner’s graphs. This, naturally, was thrown out to the reader without offering a context with hopes that it would appear that the speaker was inept, or worse, a liar. Unfortunately for these folks, the only graphs that lacked units were ones in which it didn’t clearly say “Year” on the x-axis. I suppose some people aren’t perceptive enough to make the connection through the course of an oral presentation, but hey, it happens to the best of us, I guess.

Unfortunately, space constraints prohibit me from dissecting the majority of Ms. Allen’s letter. However, the bigger issue revolves around the manner in which so many Knox students address opinions that are contrary to their own. Two weeks ago, the commentary from the TKS editorial board was particularly revealing in this respect. In short, they explained that Knox students had an obligation to struggle with an opposing opinion because it is, “…this kind of exercise that makes our beliefs stronger and better-defended.” However, it wasn’t even a paragraph later where they quickly rejected that notion in discussing the talk given by Dr. Sandra Steingraber. They said, “Her data was presumably more accurate than Horner’s, although nobody went and checked her facts that way Allen checked Horner’s…” Wait, what!? Yes, they really said that. Their statements need no elaboration as I think they adequately speak for themselves.

With all of these people throwing out the idea of being “scientific”, let’s pause for a moment to reflect on the methodology used in scientific research and even in the classroom. An observation is made, a hypothesis formed and later, tested with a conclusion to follow at the end. What we continually see in the claims made by Ms. Allen and others here at Knox and elsewhere, is the desire to do the exact opposite. They make their conclusion and then seek ways to make data or reality conform to the desired conclusion. Not only is this inherently unscientific, but it is dishonest.

Unbeknownst to many in attendance, what Mr. Horner did during his talk was to merely refute and explain that the popular conclusions promulgated by Mr. Gore and his people were rife with inaccuracies and lies. This, of course, is not altogether unlike what we are seeing here at Knox. Students hurriedly reject anything not conforming to, as Mr. Horner put it, their world view. This is a pedagogical problem here at Knox and it cannot be resolved by continuing to ignore it. We have an obligation to ourselves and our institution at the very least, to embrace the notion of a liberal arts education. We must not only engage ourselves with beliefs contrary to our own, but we must genuinely open our minds to the possibility that we can be wrong. We need to follow the examples set by Dr. Crawford in chemistry and Dr. Schwartzman in environmental studies in which students are forced to engage and grapple with dissenting opinions as part of the regular coursework.

As an institution, we need to move beyond merely offering free copies of Al Gore’s movie or the myriad of speakers brought in by the administration that represent only a certain perspective—a perspective already rampant on campus anyway. Instead, we must present the entire argument to the student body, not merely one side. Only then can we look ourselves in the mirror and say, yes, I tried to understand someone else.

Mike Burt


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