Pseudoscience in the North Carolina legislature

A bill [PDF] approved yesterday by the North Carolina Senate’s Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Committee would force the use an approach dictated by politicians rather than the best available science to forecast sea level rise for regulatory purposes.

This is at least an improvement over an earlier version [PDF], which was worded in a way that conceivably would have outlawed the use of science in computing sea level rise for any purpose, including research at the state's universities. The narrower focus is presumably fine with bill's major supporters, principally those involved with development and real estate in the state's coastal areas.

The bill's current text does make some attempt at scientific soundness -- or at least at sounding scientific -- in that it requires using "generally accepted scientific techniques" to extrapolate from historical sea level data. The problem is that it doesn't allow taking into account any other data, as if the only thing affecting sea level were its historical trend line. This is like telling college basketball coaches that they have to assume that their players' heights will continue to increase at the average rate during childhood.

Worse, while those pushing for the bill don't realize it, the result can be almost anything, depending on how far back you look at the historical data, because sea level rise has not followed a simple straight-line pattern.

For more, see the websites of the Asheville Citizen Times and the North Carolina Coastal Federation.

Speaking in favor of the bill, Republican Senator David Rouzer of Johnston County said, "Just because there is a group of folks that project the sea-level rise does not mean the sea will rise. There was consensus years and years and years ago that the earth was flat; turned out to be round." Yep, as far back as Ancient Greece the scientifically minded realized that the world was round. It was the politicians who tended to think otherwise.

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