The Burning Question: A Review

Taking down the fossil fuel industry with balloons and bubbles.

One argument that caught my eye quite early on in this book is our attitude to efficiency as we aim for a transition to a low-carbon society.

There are two parts to this:

1. History reveals that as each new energy source is discovered, previous resources continue to grow producing a positive feedback mechanism: The more energy we have, the more technology we can create, the greater our population will grow – creating the need for more energy.

“Coal didn’t replace existing energy sources, it augmented them.”

2. Becoming more efficient doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to leave more fossil fuel in the ground, we’ll just find another place to put it. To explain this, Clark and Berners-Lee use the analogy of squeezing a balloon: when a person or a company consumes less energy, that will free up more fossil fuel for others to use. “Governments seek to reduce their own emissions at the same time as maximising their exports of fossil fuels for use elsewhere.”

The Squeezing Balloon Effect.

The Squeezing Balloon Effect.

Over the last decade, we have become concerned about our impact on the planet, even if there are still plenty of clashing arguments: the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol, hybrid cars and even low energy light bulbs. However this hasn’t made a dent in the global exponential curve of our carbon emissions. In fact, it has strengthened it.

“From 2000 to 2010, the average annual growth of carbon emissions from all man-made sources was around 2.3% higher than the long-term trend of 1.8%.”

An exponential curve means that the steepness is proportional to the height. It's the curve you get the the more of something you have, the faster that something grows, in this case, energy.

An exponential curve means that the steepness is proportional to the height. It’s the curve you get the the more of something you have, the faster that something grows, in this case, energy.

Lowering the impact of our goods and services without making our consumption more efficient has presented a great challenge to lowering our carbon emissions. Efficiency doesn’t exempt us from the positive feedback mechanism, unless the demand for fossil fuel drops as we move to a low-carbon society.

So how do we reduce the demand for fossil fuels? That’s the burning question.

If becoming more efficient alone isn’t working, what else can we do to ensure a 50% chance of keeping below a 2C increase in global temperatures?

The authors examine 3 keys areas for constraining fossil fuel use:

  1. Minimising the influence of the fossil fuel sector on politics and public opinion in carbon rich countries.
  2. Maximising the positive global influence of nations which are ready to do an ambitious deal and
  3. Stemming the flow of money into fossil fuel reserves and infrastructure.

Money is flowing into oil, coal and gas extraction and infrastructure sectors as if global warming had ever been discovered. $672m a year is spent by the fossil fuel industry in securing more energy reserves that, as Carbon Tracker reports, are not safe to burn.

bubbleFossil fuel companies raise money from pension funds, lenders and other investors such as our universities and use the capital to develop more reserves. Investors assume that this will lead to oil, coal and gas sales which will generate revenue. When carbon limits are introduced through an inevitable global climate deal, less fuel will be consumed and reserves will become stranded assets that no longer provide returns. $6.74 trillion of capital expenditure, our universities endowments and pension funds could be wasted developing burnable reserves, producing a carbon bubble.

Cutting our financial links to the fossil fuel industry will have a massive impact on how they do business. “Art galleries and cultural institutions could shun their sponsorship and institutional investors could even divest from the fossil fuel sector all together.”

fossil freeThis year, students all over the UK will be demanding that their universities go Fossil Free. Motions for support are already being passed by student unions in the UK. This is looking to be the largest global climate movement our generation will ever be part of.

The authors observe that “the rapidly growing campaign around divestment is sending a powerful message and highlighting the idea that fossil fuel production now has an unavoidable moral dimension, much like other controversial sectors such as firearms and tobacco.”

The Burning Question covers plenty more questions, empowering the reader that it is possible to reach out to the community and build this movement whether fossil fuel companies and our governments like it or not.

If you’re serious about being a Fossil Free activist then this book should be at the top of your reading list.

Activists call on US Secretary of State to Stop the Tar Sands.

Climate activists made their way to London as the US Secretary of State John Kerry came to Lancaster House this morning (Thursday 11 April) for a meeting on the G8. Activists from People & Planet, 350.org, Platform, UK Tars Sands Network, UKYCC, Campaign against Climate Change, Rising Tide North America and even Gulf Coast activists from Houston, Texas were there to greet Kerry at 8am and send him a clear message:

‘We don’t want your tar sands!’

Activists from all over UK gather outside Lancaster House, London at 8am.

Activists from all over UK gather outside Lancaster House, London at 8am.

Activists from Houston, Texas tell us about actions happening in the US.

Activists from Houston, Texas tell us about actions happening in the US.

Kerry will soon be deciding on the future of the Keystone XL pipeline. This pipeline, if given the go-ahead, will run through the heart of America transporting tar sands from their source in Canada to refineries in Houston, Texas, paving the way for this unconventional, dirty fuel to come to Europe.

In the US, Kerry and President Obama have been met by Canadian First Nation’s people including communities who live on the path of this pipeline calling for the end of tar sands extraction and the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. We stood in solidarity with our allies in Canada and the US to give Kerry a clear message: reject the Keystone XL and keep tar sands out of Europe.

Student Activists from People & Planet demanding No Tar Sands in Europe.

Student Activists from People & Planet demanding No Tar Sands in Europe.

“It was really exciting to see young people from organisations all over the UK coming together to call for action” said Izzy Braithwaite, medical student and National Coordinator for Healthy Planet UK. Simon Howlett, co-director of UKYCC expressed how great it was to meet Gulf Coast activists from Texas – the pipeline’s destination, “it reminds you how important this campaign is and that we’re all in this together”. Rob Abrams, People & Planet activist from Swansea left the protest feeling invigorated, “I’m as ready as ever to take part in People & Planet’s new Fossil Free campaign and to put pressure on our universities to stop investing in the fossil fuel industry. It’s time to cut our ties with an industry that cares more about it’s profits than the lives of millions living in zones vulnerable to climate change.”

Aside

They came, the feasted, and now they’re (almost) gone. This week I was besieged by a flock of climate change deniers (they now go by the name Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming deniers). All comments where made by the ardent readers of one sceptic blog and they took it on as their duty to seek retribution to the referenced ‘warmist’ (Me). I must admit, it was a nice feeling to know that in least some people were actually reading my blog.

I would write a response but other brave scientists took the whack for me, doing a much better job than I could have done. Not like they were flies that needed swatting, everyone deserves their say, no matter how many times they need to rephrase the same argument.

One thing that really interests me, however, is the risk that excellent scientists in their field could be advocating bad science. Even with 100s of publications and citations, does this mean the world should just take their word for it?

This takes me back to talk I went to last October where George Monbiot explains an encounter he had with a famous ecologist and known climate change denier, David Bellamy.

David Bellamy

David Bellamy

David Bellamy is an ecologist, author and broadcaster with papers published in Nature and over 400 TV shows including Bellamy’s Backyard Safari.

He’s also a founder of The Conservation Foundation, UK.

In April 2005, Bellamy wrote a letter to the New Scientist claiming the world’s glaciers “…are not shrinking but in fact are growing… 555 of all the 625 glaciers under observation by the World Glacier Monitoring Service in Zurich, Switzerland, have been growing since 1980.”

The Climate of Fear was wrong, the Himalayan Glaciers are advancing

The Climate of Fear was wrong, the Himalayan Glaciers are advancing

A perplexed Monbiot decided to investigate where Bellamy had sourced this information. This led him to the website iceagenow.com (a website that was also directed to me in the previous post through an attempt to enlighten me).

iceagenow.com (now called iceagenow.info) was constructed by a former architect, Robert Felix who claims sea levels are falling, not rising, that the Asian tsunami was caused by the “ice age cycle” and that “underwater volcanic activity – not human activity – is heating the seas.” Felix’s source for this information was from a publication called 21st Century Science & Technology by Lyndon Larouche. In 1989, Larouche received a 15 year sentence for mail fraud and tax violations. When Monbiot dug deeper to find the original source of this information we has led to a so-called “paper published in Science in 1989″. There was no paper published in Science in 1989 that contained any study about glacial advance or retreat. Monbiot brought this discovery up in a debate with an unprepared Bellamy on Channel 4 News.

It’s surprising to me that a trained scientist, especially in the environmental field didn’t research his findings. What led this influential player in conservation and nature to being so careless and yet not admitting that the evidence simply doesn’t exist?

And like Linzden, who I spoke about in the previous post, they’ve come out with these allegations near the end of their career. This also reflects the age group of the interrupters at the Oxford Union last week.

Is it a fear of death to the trained eye?

A Pew Report in 2012 showed that people over 65 were less likely to think warming is caused by human activity compared to their younger counterparts. In the study, 28% of people over 65 believed that global warming is due to human activity compared to 47% of people under 50.

From growing up living with my grandparents, I’ve seen how hard they’ve worked to get to the technological advancement they’re at now, shouldn’t they be entitled to it? We are imposing blame on their generation, could this reaction just be a defence mechanism? Or maybe it is the fear of death and the obvious reminder climate change brings with images of disasters all over the world. A bit of a put-off.

Maybe we owe it to the older generation to be more forgiving. They’ve created a world with the luxuries they wanted their children to enjoy and now it’s up to us to make sure it’s an habitable and enjoyable environment for ours.

Adding fuel to out-of-date scepticism.

I must admit I was intrigued to hear about a climate change debate happening in Oxford especially when it was involving ‘one of the world’s leading climate change sceptics’, atmospheric physicist, Professor Richard Lindzen. Little did I know, not only was it a complete waste of my time but I may of played a vital role in the push to bury any attempts to encourage the world to act on climate change.

Image

Richard Lindzen (left) and Medhi Hasan (right) go head to head, March 7 2013, Oxford Union

In a room that hosted speakers from the Dalai Lama to Steven Hawkings, Al Jazeera presented a televised debate on “Climate Change, Fact… or Fiction?” were its host Medhi Hasan went head to head with professor Lindzen. Comments were taken from expert panellists; Professor Myles Allen from the School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, Mark Lynas, author and environmentalist and David Rose, the token Daily Mail reporter.

For those who understandable don’t know who Richard Lindzen is, please let me explain. Lindzen, professor of Meteorology at MIT, proposed that the Earth acts like an infrared iris, the iris being the part of your eye that widens in the dark to let more light in. In Lindzen’s theory, the Earth’s iris uses the cloud system to allow the swift exit of the surplus heat we are creating in our atmosphere due to the increase in CO2 emissions. Long story short, we can emit as much as we want and the Earth will never heat up due to this handy little escape valve. *Surprisingly, this paper was never successfully published in a scientific journal due to the lack in credibility. However, he has been a major influence in scientific policy as lead author in the IPCC Third Assessment Report on Climate Change.

*Sarcastic comment.

Al Jazeera invited Lindzen and his buddy, the Daily Mail reporter to shine light on a debate that should be long out-of-date, yet certain members of the audience dotted around the union made it clear that there was still a conversation to be had. Without sounding as conspiracist as the sceptics themselves, these audience members had an agenda and that was to make loud, misconstrued statements, interrupting the debate out of turn. When on the subject of changing weather patterns, an aging interjector announced that while in his house in Oxford during the winter, he didn’t open his window once. *Some obviously clear evidence to debunk climate change.

*I seem to use sarcasm to funnel my anger.

Hasan started the debate asking Lindzen if he’d categorise himself as a sceptic or a climate change denier. He refused both claiming he didn’t wish to be labelled, despite going by the strap line ‘most credible of all climate skeptics’. Hasan continued by presenting all the accusations that were made against Lindzen, such as science journals rejecting his paper, his theories going against proven data records and the fact that there’s a 97% consensus by climate experts that climate change is going to affect us all. Lindzen admitted to charging “oil and gas interests $2,500 a day for his consulting services”.

At the age of 73, Lindzen didn’t make an exceptional speaker, pointing this out when Hasan commented on how relaxed he was that it was due to what his doctor had prescribed him. He agreed that the Earth is warming gradually (not in the past decade he adds) with the increase in greenhouse gases, but he spent the majority of his time on stage boring the hell out of me. He claims that the climate is not as sensitive that we think it is and it can control the heat that we produce in the atmosphere. He’s sides with the IPCC in taking proper precaution in making predictions and calls mainstream media ‘alarmists’. It got interesting when the Daily Mail guy, David Rose started making claims that global warming stopped 16 years ago, bless him. Mark Lynas made reluctant attempts to speak next to hot headed sceptics while Professor Allen tried to come to some sort of consensus with Lindzen, failing at each painful attempt. The whole time, these dotted interjectors hissed and mocked any actual science that was discussed.

This was nothing but a cockfight with male experts either fighting or trying to appease Dick, the reason for this fowl debate on the subject.

It was at this moment where I began to agree with Bob Ward, Policy and Communications Director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at LSE. Ward expressed his anger, via Twitter, that we were giving air time to a person who is now completely irrelevant to science and research in climate change: “Yet another example of the media hosting a falsely balanced debate about climate science instead of covering the real issues.” Ward did not attend this debate and I very soon saw his point. Not only would this be reaching media in the UK, but globally and with such power to control what people take away from this issue.

Hasan, on the side of real science made some intelligent statements but the audience were too polite to speak compared to the loudmouths in front tossing the debate around, making it seem more complicated then it was. I am sorry I was there, I felt like I was a contributor to this horse and pony show. The aim was to shame the sceptic, but we just gave him a stage.

Aside

”I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made.” – William Butler Yeats.

Growing up in Ireland, I had the opportunity of learning about Irish mythology and the stories that were tied to the land, such as Tir Na nOg, an early paradise that lay far off the west of Ireland, a place were sickness and death never existed. I was named after the Hill of Tara in Co. Meath, believed to be the seat of kings until the 6th century. This sacred hill lies in close proximity to Newgrange. Every year, on the 21st of December, the winter solstice, my birthday, light from the rising, winter sun floods the inner chamber of this prehistoric monument and is believed to be a symbol of the days getting longer as well as a signicantly religious event.

Image

It is with this, that I feel a close connection to the land and a determination to protect it.

Whenever I read the first line of The Lake Isle of Innisfree by Yeats, I am reminded of the shear beauty, elegance and purity of the west of Ireland. In March 2011, my vision of this peacefulness was broken when Labour MP, Patt Rabitte awarded exploratory licences to two energy companies in the Lough Allen Basin, North West Ireland.

Canadian-based Tamboran Resources and LANGO (Lough Allen Natural Gas Company) were granted licences to investigate the area over the Lough Allen Basin and explore the possibilities of extracting shale gas from the region.

Hydraulic Fracturing (fracking) is a method used to extract natural gas from the ground. The process involves pumping millions of gallons of water, mixed with chemicals, thousands of feet deep into the ground. It has been used in the USA and Australia and has caused widespread environmental damage and water pollution, including death to lifestock and wildlife.

Richard Moorman, chief executive of Tamboran Resources claims to have found reserves of up to 4.4 trillion cubic feet worth £96.5 billion. He promises to open Ireland’s market, providing 3000 jobs over the next 40 years and a long term supply of fuel which would attract international businesses to Ireland.

My heart sunk when I found out that the lake isle, the naturally carved landscape of Co. Clare, Mayo and Leitrim would soon be pierced with 150 wells. Production is expected to peak at 2025 supplying 400 million cubic feet of gas daily. Dreams of Ireland becoming a leader on climate change are fading. Most of the pollution from fracking comes from the evaporation of ‘produced’ water, water that has been pumped into the well and released, containing all the fracking fluids. Farmers who believe they would make money from leasing their land are not thinking about the future pollution clean-up costs. The livelihoods and health of the population are at risk.

In 2014, the EPA will have completed their full independent report on the feasibility for extraction of natural gas in the Lough Allen Basin. Sian Cowman, climate activist with Young Friends of the Earth Ireland, wrote about her concerns that researchers taking part in this report, may have close ties with the fossil fuel industry’s funding body, “…this kind of industry co-opting of scientific studies is becoming more common than you’d think.”

I have lost trust in the government who are looking into the tax benefits of this venture. I have lost trust in experts that are claiming to be doing independent research while oil money is flowing into their bank accounts. The only hope we have is in building our own movement that rises up to the grip the fossil fuel industry has on our natural resources, our land and our water.

On Oct 21st, in Dublin, Young Friends of the Earth Ireland held a FRACtion, an anti-fracking day of action. Young activists took to the streets to raise awareness of the harmful effects fracking has on the environment. People all over Ireland are working in solidarity with groups from Europe, USA and Australia to highlight the dangers of fracking in our community. I believe that our generation can revoke our dependence on fossil fuels and push for a future of renewable, sustainable energy.

ImageYoung Friends of the Earth Ireland

Silent Spring’s 50th Birthday

A couple of months ago, I wrote a review of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, published in 1962. In her book, she challenges the practices of agricultural scientists and the government, and called for a change in the way humankind viewed the natural world. I compared her passion for communicating these issues with Josh Fox’s documentary, Gaslands, 2010. 50 years on and nothing has changed, energy companies still have a grip on the policy makers and the policy makers prioritise power and wealth over the safety of the people who elected them.

After writing this review, I have come across many criticisms of Carson, her

Rachel Carson

poetic style of writing and her intent to murder African children . There are even websites dedicated to dismissing Carson’s scientific claims such as rachelwaswrong.org.

 

A recent blog post in TIME, highlighted once more how much backlash Carson received just before her untimely death due to breast cancer in 1964.

Carson was attacked for being a female scientist and like a scene from 1984, was accused of being an accomplice of the communist regime.

”Miss Rachel Carson’s reference to the selfishness of insecticide manufacturers probably reflects her Communist sympathies, like a lot of our writers these days. We can live without birds and animals, but, as the current market slump shows, we cannot live without business. As for insects, isn’t it just like a woman to be scared to death of a few little bugs! As long as we have the H-bomb everything will be O.K.

—Letter to the editor of the New Yorker [cited in Smith 2001, 741]”

DDT

Silent Spring highlights the toxic effects of DDT use on animals, particularly birds. After attention was drawn to these concerns, in 1972, the resulting movement succeeded in getting DDT banned in the U.S. Carson’s main critics linked her call of the dangers of DDT to the death of millions in Africa.

DDT had been effective in eradicating malaria- carrying mosquitoes and was sprayed heavily on houses in developing countries. However, due to the over-use of DDT, mosquitoes have developed a enzyme that makes them resistant to the pesticide, proving it useless.

There is no global DDT ban. DDT is indeed banned in the U.S., but malaria isn’t exactly a pressing issue there. Africa didn’t cut back on pesticides, in fact, the opposite occurred. As the pesticide companies got to participate in the United Nations agency through a system called the “Industry Cooperative Program,” they provided advice on pest control, unsurprisingly recommending significant pesticide usage.

These pesticide industries preferred to blame Carson instead of the fact that mosquitoes were becoming resistant to their own product, DDT.

A web page on JunkScience.com features a live Malaria Death Clock next to a photo of Rachel Carson, holding her responsible for more deaths than malaria has caused in total. The website RachelWasWrong.org, features photos of deceased African children along the side of every page.

“At one level, these articles send a comforting message to the developed world: Saving African children is easy. We don’t need to build large aid programs or fund major health initiatives, let alone develop Third World infrastructure or think about larger issues of fairness. No, to save African lives from malaria, we just need to put our wallets away and work to stop the evil environmentalists” (www.fair.org)

Carson simply wanted to bring some balance to the use of powerful chemicals at a time when ecology was barely considered a science and industry had license to do whatever it wanted in the name of progress. She was the first to recognise that these energy and pesticide industries had a terrifying grip on policy.

“If Silent Spring gave birth to the modern green movement, the critical reaction to it created the blueprint for how industry would defend itself against environmentalism.” Whether it’s pesticides, shale gas or tar sands, the battle plan has been the same: question the science, attack the scientists’ credibility and warn of unbearable costs.

However, these costs may not be as unbearable as one might think. And so I’ll finish with a quote from Carolina Lucas, Green Party MP from the Friends of the Earth conference (London, Sept 15th 2012) “what happens if climate change isn’t real and we’ve built a better future for no reason?”

Further reading:

http://www.rachelcarson.org/Biography.aspx#.UGbmqbKPUs0

http://science.time.com/2012/09/25/how-silent-spring-became-the-first-shot-in-the-war-over-the-environment/

http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=3186

http://www.environmentandsociety.org/exhibitions/silent-spring/personal-attacks-rachel-carson

Does science leave room for religion?

Last weekend, I caught my eye on a debate between Chief online editor of Nature magazine, Ananyo Bhattacharya and Senior Research fellow at the School of psychology Cardiff University, Chris Chambers over Twitter. 

Sometimes science must give way to religion.” The article that subtly shovelled  the shit into the fan.

Daniel Sarewitz, co-director of the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University wrote an article in Nature pondering the similarities between science and religion.

His holiday to the Angkor temples in Camodia made him think about the research being conducted on the Higgs Boson at CERN ”The Higgs, of course, has been labelled the ‘god particle’ because it accounts for the existence of mass in the Universe.. to probe the origins and meaning of existence itself – which, to some, is the job of religion.”

To which a commenter replied ”Leon Lederman did not want to call it ‘The God Particle’, just the opposite ‘Goddamn Particle’. The publisher wouldn’t let us call it the Goddamn Particle, though that might me a more appropriate title, given its villainous nature and the expense it is causing.”

Sarewitz continued to explain that most people acquire knowledge of complicated scientific research ”through the metaphors and analogies that physicists [regarding Higgs] and science writers use to try to explain phenomena that can only truly be characterized mathematically.”

He follows this by saying ”for those who cannot follow the mathematics, belief in the Higgs is an act of faith, not of rationality.”

To which another commenter replied, ”believing the Higgs Boson is faith if you can’t follow the mathematics is akin to Creationists who say, ‘Well, no one was around when the universe was made, so our explanation is as scientific as yours, and evolution is religion.’ You can teach someone the mathematics to understand the Higgs Boson. Absolutely no faith is required. You can begin studying the very foundations of physics, the work forward, step by step, to see the process which led to theorizing the existence of the Boson, of formulating tests to determine if it existed, to performing those tests. At no point in the process do you need to have faith.”

Sarewitz continues to express the power of the Angkor temples ”the genius of a long-vanished civilization, expressed across the centuries through its monuments, allows visitors to connect with things that lie beyond their knowing in a way that no journalistic or popular scientific account of the Higgs Boson can.”

Chris Chambers was first to comment on Sarewitz’s article. He believes that his arguments are” weak and deeply flawed” ”the writer argues that ‘for those who cannot follow the mathematics, belief in the Higgs is an act of faith, not of rationality.’ This is simply absurd… My belief is rational because (a) their method of obtaining the interpreting the evidence is itself rational; and (b) their method has revealed vertifiable truths in the past. In short, they have earned my trust. This is no more an act of blind faith then believing Moscow exists even though I have never been there.”

In response to Sarewitz’s visit to the Angkor temples in Cambodia, Chambers claims; ”Here the argument is that an ‘authentic personal encounter’ has more intrinsic value then actually knowing something about reality.”

Chambers concludes by stating that science is the best way for understanding reality as it refuses to accept the unknown. If science were a person he’d be the most straight laced, pedantic fecker you’ve ever met. ”Does religion give us an insight into the ‘unknowable and the inexplicable’, as the author concludes? Of course not. It provides no knowledge, it obtains no evidence. It can only pontificate and seek to emotionally impress. Religious faith provides comfort, control, and social reinforcement for animals that are cursed (or blessed) by the knowledge that they will die.”

In response to Chambers comment on Sarewitz’s article, Ananya Bhattacharya defends Sarewitz and the role of religion in understanding scientific study. ”It was here, in their rush to defend the walls of reason from the barbarians at the gate, the scientistas unwittingly took their cue from the logical positivists and came rather embarrassingly unstuck. It is as if, given an excellent Philips screwdriver, someone had concluded that only cross-head screws are of any use. Or worse, they are the only type of screw to exist.”

Bhattacharya argues that religion may have a role to play in understanding complicated stuff like, why are we here?

The philosopher of logic, mathematics, mind and language, Ludwig Wittgenstein believed that ”ethical convictions, values and metaphysical ideas… were the most important concerns in life”

In Wittenstein’s autobiography,  Rudolph Carnap describes  ”His point of view and his attitude toward people and problems, even theoretical problems, were much more similar to those of a creative artist than to those of a scientist; one might almost say, similar to those of a religious prophet or a seer”

But what has this got to do with religion? Wittenstein didn’t believe in god. 

Bhattacharya claims that ”Sarewitz was right that accepting new research requires not blind faith but ‘belief’, and most dictionary definitions of the word are perfectly consistent with his argument.”

In continuing to defend Sarewitz against the critisisms of commenters like Chambers, Bhattacharya says ”Yet in their eagerness to bash those that dare to suggest that one might experience wonder and awe, or be moved, outside of scientific context, the scientistas happily dismiss culture without a second thought.”

Is Bhattacharya arguing that religion can explain phenomena better than science or his he merely defending the argument that science is not the only explicable way of understanding our existence?

Is the aim of this argument to find real facts or to provide a comfort in understanding or even to favour a more creative way of thinking like Wittgenstein?

It seems that the argument is slightly misunderstood, surely the temples in Cambodia can give one a sense of awe of the ability of humankind to build such beautiful structures, but was the aim really to communicate the actual meaning for our existence? Religion provides comfort, science provides an explanation.

Commenter:”I have confidence in the scientists researching the Higgs mechanism because they require 5 sigma accuracy before announcing a discovery and because they have a peer review process that, over time, will enforce a convergence to more and more accurate results. To try to make that equivalent to blind belief is nonsensical and is a disservice to the men and women who dedicate their lives to discovering and elucidating new information about the real, and wonderful, world around us.”

Chris Chambers’ response to Ananya Bhattacharya’s response to Chris Chambers’ Response to Daniel Sarewitz article (are you still with me?)

Chambers explains that knowledge can be acquired in different disciplines (e.g. history) using different techniques i.e not just the Scientific Method of testing the hypothesis. But certainly not religion!

Chambers ‘’I said that science is not just the best way of understanding reality, but the ‘’best and only’’. I agree that the use of ‘’only’’ here is debatable, and whether others agree or not may depend on their definition of what science is… the scientific method is by no means the purview of the traditional sciences, many disciplines in the humanities (e.g. history) adopt what I would regard as a form of scientific method.’’

Bhattacharya’s twitter response to Chambers’ response to Bhattacharya’s response to Chambers’ response to Sarewitz’s article (that’s enough!!)

AB: I’m not going to get into quails and the rest. The point is unless your definition of the scientific method includes things like…

AB: for example Wittgenstein’s description of language or Marx’s theory of history, your statement on science being the only or best

AB: description of reality is simply wrong. There are different modes of description available! Marx’s theory is not ‘right’…

AB: in any scientific sense. But neither is it ‘wrong’. It’s a useful way of analysing, critiquing, understanding history. ie reality

AB: but it IS NOT science. Certainly not in any form that most people would recognise it. Thus your statement is incorrect. End of.

CC: It’s dangerous to assert what most ppl think is and isn’t science. Many I know agree w/ this by @Neuroskeptic

-          ‘’ Outside science, people use all kinds of methods as well. Historians have their set of methods, economists have others, all tailored to the particular demands of the case. ‘’

AB: yes i like the post too+agree you can define it widely. but are you REALLY saying you’d include Wittgenstein+Marx in there?

AB: Many thinkers have concluded similar things about the sci method but at some point, if you widen a concept too much, it becomes meaningless

CC: Yes that is one thing that I take from this debate that makes me think…

AB: For those still thinking about Wittgenstein, reality, science, religion etc, here’s a quote I just came across to stir the pot ;-)

“Elementary particles are not real; they form a world of potentialities and possibilities rather than one of things or facts” W. Heisenberg

To conclude, Science might be a broader topic then your typical Biology, Chemistry & Physics, but is there room for Religion?

I wouldn’t go as far as science being the ‘best and only’ way of finding real answers, however, I can understand the beauty of religion that could inspire a person to search for knowledge. But, unless religious texts can make their way past the peer review process, I’d be hesitant to change roles.