Monday, 5 November 2012

Hurricane Sandy and Answering Religious Critics

I was reading an interesting Popular Science article that I found through the Ars Technica website: Meet the Climate Change Denier Who Became the Voice of Hurricane Sandy On Wikipedia by Dan Nosowitz. It tells about, and includes quotations from an interview with, Ken Mampel, a Wikipedia editor. This gentleman has a background as a journalistic stringer in Florida but, being currently unemployed, had time to spend documenting Hurricane Sandy. Spend it he did, and liberally: "When I talked to him," Nosowitz writes, "I believe he had slept for maybe 15 hours in the past five days."

Some other contributors, though, found that Mapel was deleting any references to Climate Change or, as it used to be known, Global Warming. Why?
Without my prompting, Ken mentioned that New York City's Mayor Mike Bloomberg had endorsed Obama for president based on his handling of the hurricane. This is true, and Mampel planned to add this to the Wikipedia entry. "But I don't believe that climate change bullcrap," he said. Bloomberg had specifically mentioned climate change in his endorsement speech, but Mampel wouldn't add that to the Wikipedia entry. That's despite dozens of articles pointing out the connection--not a causation, necessarily, but certainly a connection worth exploring. I myself spoke to a hurricane expert about three hours before I spoke to Mampel who told me that the roughly two-degree increase in the water temperature in the Atlantic could have had a major effect on Hurricane Sandy's strength in the northeast. Mampel doesn't care. He wasn't going to mention climate change.
By Wikipedia standards, he didn't have the right to exclude a major element in the discussion of Hurricane Sandy. This magazine cover sums up the controversy that Mapel would not allow to be mentioned on the page:

One lovely aspect of Wikipedia that its critics often ignore is that you can click on the "Talk" tab of an article to follow the debates about the article's content.

The "Talk" on the page recorded a lively debate that tried to converge on a consensus about if and how Global Warming should be mentioned. The if viewpoint, Mapel's own, was a minority. The how has been resolved by this paragraph under the section "Meterological History":
According to Kevin E. Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, "natural variability and weather has provided the perhaps optimal conditions of a hurricane running into extra-tropical conditions to make for a huge intense storm, enhanced by global warming influences."[34] Unusually warm ocean surface temperatures contributed to the size and strength of the storm, and the storm lingered due to a strong blocking pattern.[34][35] According to their analysis, global warming is expected to continue to increase ocean surface temperatures and the frequency of blocking patterns in the future.[34][35] Mark Fischetti of Scientific American proposed a more explicit link, arguing that the melting of Arctic ice caused a negative North Atlantic Oscillation, which fueled the expansion of Sandy by pushing the jet stream south.[36]
This is probably enough, given that there is also a link to another Wikipedia article, Meteorological history of Hurricane Sandy, which includes a section on Global Warming.

I am glad that there are critics of Wikipedia who help to keep the project honest. Certainly, some of the comments in the Talk about Hurricane Sandy were aware that the omission of Global Warming from the page was being scrutinized by outside media. However, the community of editors and other contributors came together, spoke civilly, and provided a quick and fairly adequate fix to a problem with the page. On the whole, Wikipedia is a public good.

One slight exception to the "spoke civilly" part was provided by Ken Mampel himself, under his username of Kennvido. Here it is, along with the response.
I can only respond to you with Proverbs 26:4 Kennvido (talk) 13:12, 3 November 2012 (UTC)
As a Christian, what Proverbs 26:4 suggests to me is that you, sir, should be indefinitely blocked from any further contributions to this article. Your behavior is embarrassing to all of us who believe, as did Einstein, both in the scientific method as well as the infinite wonders of God's Creation. The more relevant piece of scripture that comes to mind, is 2 Corinthians 11:19. Garth of the Forest (talk) 23:10, 4 November 2012 (UTC)
Facepalm3.svg Facepalm IRWolfie- (talk) 13:20, 3 November 2012 (UTC)
Kennvido your attempt to hide incivility (calling some of us fools) behind the words of the Holy Bible just make your incivility more offensive. I am not going to bother initiating an ANI proceeding but I would support one. NewsAndEventsGuy (talk) 14:29, 3 November 2012 (UTC)
I think it's just Kennvido's poor grasp of WP policies, particularly WP:CONSENSUS. There's no need to start a fuss at ANI ... at least at this point. --Vejvančický (talk | contribs) 14:54, 3 November 2012 (UTC)
Agree, I think it was done more for rhetoric than actual incivility (and so I did not take it as such). IRWolfie- (talk) 15:02, 3 November 2012 (UTC)
Proverbs 26:4 reads, "Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him."

The reference to 2 Corinthians 11:19 is to "For you suffer fools gladly, seeing you yourselves are wise."

The comments under that are an example of "Turning the other cheek."

One interesting but minor lesson from this is that a good way to respond to a religious person who asserts a point with a scriptural reference is to answer back with a scriptural reference. Your opponent certainly cannot say, "you're wrong" to the Holy Word itself.  This rhetorical technique is available to believers and unbelievers alike.

1 comment:

  1. Gareth, thank for posting this entertaining discussion. When I finished reading it an interview I saw with Noam Chomsky came to mind, in which he talks about the United States' religious approach to global warming. (I blogged this as part of a series of antinomian fushigis.)

    Here's a transcript from the Chomsky interview:

    [Chomsky:] ... Take a look at the new Congress, for example. Just about every new congressional representative that came in last November is a climate denier. In fact the congress has already moved to ban funding for the most mild environmental efforts, and furthermore, unfortunately many of these people are true believers. The head of one of the congressional sub-committees, new Republican, explained that global warming can't be a problem because God promised Noah that there wouldn't be another flood. Others are supported —

    [Paxman:] But why do you care about stupid people?

    [Chomsky:] Stupid people?! These people have power. And they're carrying out actions! They're carrying out the actions which are defunding possible efforts to do something about these crimes. Furthermore they're backed by major concentrations of power. The major business lobbies for example, have announced that their funding big propaganda campaigns to convince people that this doesn't matter. These are serious issues. Incidentally if you want to look at stupid people we find them all over the place. For example we happen to be right in the middle of a huge financial crisis. People have noticed. You can trace that back. A lot of it comes from a fanatic religious belief in what's called the efficient market hypothesis. It's pure fanaticism. Dominated the economics profession. Dominated the federal reserve. The one consequence was that when an eight trillion dollar housing bubble developed totally unrelated to any fundamentals; completely off the hundred year history of housing prices, the profession — the feds the central bank — say it wasn't necessary to pay attention because of efficient markets. Is that very different from God promised Noah?

    Here's the link to the entire interview:
    BBC's Jeremy Paxman