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Contagious Apophenia in the Senate

The Honorable Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island is getting a lot of well-deserved criticism for stating that natural disasters such as the tornado that devastated Moore, Oklahoma, this week are the products of climate change (n�e, "global warming") and, therefore, somehow the responsibility of climate change doubters. Moreover, since many Republicans are among those questioning the assertions of global warming and especially the idea that people mainly cause it, he said, they ultimately are responsible for forcing the rest of the country -- including his state -- to help pay the costs of disaster relief.

This kind of thing would be the stuff of satire if it were not taking advantage of the recent tornado deaths and destruction in Oklahoma.

Discovery Institute senior fellows Stephen Meyer (author of the forthcoming Darwin's Doubt) and Jay Richards were on the Michael Medved show today to talk about a variety of similar claims fraudulently made in the name of science.

Misperceiving patterns and lessons from random information is a form of psychiatric disease called "apophenia," a delusional condition the sufferer confuses with reality. The political and metaphorical version of it is conspiracy theory, or, in this case, an attempt to claim for climate change what even scientists (including those who fully accept the idea that the Earth is warming and that people are responsible for it) don't claim; namely, that specific severe weather can be attributed to climate change.

Moreover, even if you did hold weather is a reflection of climate change, you would have to deal with the statistics that until this week's tornados, the past year has been notable for a relative paucity of tornados. In the same way, Hurricane Sandy last year was terrible in its destruction in the populous Northeast, but otherwise not an example of a trend in hurricanes.

The Medved program did a good job dispatching the Sheldon Whitehouse case of political aprophenia. The trouble is, the disease is contagious, as comments from Sen. Barbara Boxer show.

The old Guy Lombardo song joked that Rhode Island is "teensy weensy," and so, it seems, is the scientific acumen of Sen. Whitehouse.