Authority vs. Evidence

The search for truth takes you where the evidence leads you, even if, at first, you don’t want to go there

~ Bart D. Ehrman


Authority is one of the pillars of patriarchy. I recall one of my colleagues telling me, 15 years ago on the campus in Utah where he taught biology, about the majority of his college students citing God and their father as two of the three authorities he requested for an introductory writing project. Need more be said?

In a culture of celebrity, as epitomized in the United States and exemplified by the “first” world, evidence is perceived by the masses as secondary to authority. If Lady Gaga says something, regardless how obviously ridiculous the statement, then it must be “true.” As a renowned public figure, Lady Gaga is somehow viewed as a credible source, regardless of the topic. She can sing. She can talk. She must know more about politics and science than the majority.

Sadly, I suspect she does. She’s literate, after all.

I’m attacked, insulted, libeled, and slandered every day because I present evidence people don’t want to accept. The evidence is not questioned because it is unimpeachable. There is no credible critique of my work. Every aspect of my personal life, no matter how irrelevant, is dragged into the conversation. It’s the opposite of the Lady Gaga phenomenon.

A radical since my teens, I get to the root of issues that matter through my teaching, research, and social criticism. One result: I’ve repeatedly been asked to serve as an expert witness in the United States judicial system. Another result: My classrooms at the University of Arizona were under surveillance by the United States government no later than 1996. I’ve been labeled an anarchist and eco-terrorist by senior members of the Obama administration because I modeled and taught anarchism in my college courses.

I walk my talk. When evidence indicated collapse of civilization would allow our species and others a longer run on Earth, I voluntarily walked away from my high-pay, low-work position as a revered professor at a major university. I created an off-grid homestead and transformed myself from an ignorant city dweller to a multi-talented grower, builder, and communicator. The principled move from Tucson, Arizona to the wilds of New Mexico cost me everything. Whether it was “worth it” no longer matters. It’s done.

As a long-time radical, I know about evidence. I’ve taught courses in the philosophy of science and the generation of reliable knowledge. I was acknowledged in my home college as an A+ Advisor my third year on campus, and I suspect I’m the only person ever honored with the highest award given by each of the two transdisciplinary colleges at the University of Arizona (Graduate College 2002, Honors College 2009). I am one of the very few people in history to achieve the status of full professor before turning 40 years of age. My lengthy resume is replete with scholarly publications, including dozens of refereed journal articles (the “gold standard” by which the process of science creates reliable knowledge).

Seeing a single paper through the publication process requires talent and persistence. Essentially none of my critics have accomplished this task. Collating and synthesizing evidence in the form of a book is beyond even most academics, especially in the natural sciences. My scholarly efforts have produced more than a dozen books.

I know about conservation biology and climate change, too. I’ve been studying both topics since my early days in graduate school in the early 1980s. My list of publications includes refereed journal articles in premiere ecological journals describing interactions between climate change and ecosystems.

As a result of my knowledge of conservation biology and climate change, I have become the world’s leading authority on the topic of abrupt climate change leading to near-term human extinction. Consequently, I have been featured in several documentary films, as well as an episode of National Geographic Explorer. I’m a frequent interviewee for broadcast and print media.

As I’ve written previously in this space, few people accuse their oncologist of profiting after she issues a fatal diagnosis. Once the patient recovers from the shock, he sometimes thanks the honest doctor. And if said medical doctor misunderstands the evidence and offers an incorrect, hopeful diagnosis, then filing a legal claim of malpractice is warranted. Indeed, it’s expected in the United States, the most litigious society in the history of the planet.

I pursue and promote the truth, based upon evidence. The evidence comes primarily, and almost exclusively, from the very conservative refereed journal literature. I’m not referring to my truth, a notion rooted in the naively postmodern palaver that we each have our own truth, and that each version of the truth is equally valid. Nor am I referring to the evidence-free religious concept of Truth rooted in patriarchy.

My detractors include unscientific people afraid to face evidence, lovers of the omnicidal heat engine known as civilization, and others who lack the credentials necessary to collate and organize relevant evidence. Few people turn to their plumber for advice about cancer. Yet many people seek and believe diagnoses about climate change from wholly unqualified sources.

I’m routinely accused of horrible intentions and terrible acts. There is no supporting evidence. None is needed when the hate is spewed online from a culture dominated by willfully ignorant, small-minded people with questionable intelligence writing for an audience with similar talents. I won’t even venture into the topic of trolls paid to deny reality and promote disaster capitalism at every cost.

My work relies upon evidence. It is rooted in reason. I am a rationalist. Contrary to the cries from my critics, ever eager to attack the messenger rather than evaluate the message, I am not mentally ill. The entire culture is insane. The inmates, who are operating the asylum, believe they are the sane ones.

I’ve been deemed insane since voluntarily leaving my high-pay, low-work position at a major research university. Taking action based on principle, rather than money, seems crazy to people afflicted with a bad case of the dominant paradigm.

In contrast to my critics, I do not benefit from my work in any way. It has cost me thousands of dollars for every dollar I’ve received in return. It has cost me the ability to do what I love. It has cost me everybody I loved from my former life.

I am motivated by evidence, as I wrote more than two years ago. In presenting the results, in simple language, I make the evidence accessible to the public.

I’m not ignorant enough to believe my detractors will pull in their talons. I’m not sufficiently deluded to believe the attacks will cease. I’m under no impression that reason will prevail before the last human on Earth takes her last breath. The grip of patriarchy is strong. There is no escape at a scale that matters. The only way out is in.