Wednesday, 16 December 2015

How to respond when your precious theory is debunked. The case of farting cows.

"Who're you blaming for climate change, matey?"
We should stop eating meat because of climate change. All the cow farts, pig trumps and sheep letting one rip are contributing to greenhouse gas emissions thereby leading to the end of civilisation as we know it closely followed by the earth ceasing to be a viable ecosystem for anything more sophisticated than cheese mould. It is of course nonsense - it's lettuce that should bother us:

Lettuce is “over three times worse in greenhouse gas emissions than eating bacon”, according to researchers from the Carnegie Mellon University who analysed the impact per calorie of different foods in terms of energy cost, water use and emissions.

Published in the Environment Systems and Decisions journal, the study goes against the grain of recent calls for humans to quit eating meat to curb climate change.

Collapse of the vegetarian's strongest argument (global warming is because we eat meat). Except for the noble soul who has the job of defending the cow fart argument because the funding of his institution depends on it:

The initial findings of the study were "surprising", according to senior research fellow Anthony Froggatt at Chatham House, an independent think-tank which is currently running a project looking at the link between meat consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr Froggatt told the Independent it is "true lettuce can be incredibly water intensive and energy intensive to produce", but such comparative exercises vary hugely depending on how the foods are raised or grown.

"We usually look at proteins rather than calories, and as a general rule it is still the case that reducing meat consumption in favour of plant-based proteins can reduce emissions," he said.

Watch that spin there Froggatt old chap! Especially since his argument that these naughty scientists haven't taken everything into account is quickly debunked too:

But surprisingly, even if people cut out meat and reduced their calories to USDA-recommended levels, their environmental impact would increase across energy use (38 per cent), water (10 per cent) and emissions (6 per cent).

Dang and double dang! Poor Froggatt is left with just the weakest of weak arguments - akin to sticking out his bottom lip, stamping his foot and insisting he is right:

"We do know there is global overconsumption of meat, particularly in countries such as the US," he said. "Looking forward that is set to increase significantly, which will have a significant impact on global warming."

We can expect more along these lines - a narrow focus on what the actual animal does (fart mostly) rather than a proper appraisal of the entire production process. It is, sadly, how science goes these days - look at vaping, at sugar taxes, at overweight girls or indeed almost any public health or climate change research and you'll find assumptions, ad hominem, lousy methods and the reliance on simply repeating a given mantra regardless of the actual evidence.  But then pointing at critics shouting heretic has always been an effective tactic in the short run.


1 comment:

FrankC said...

I read somewhere (was it here?) that a farmer was asked how much his cattle farted. "Not much" says he "though they do belch a bit."