Us & Them: Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Jul 16, 2015

For this show, I speak with two men with very different perspectives on science.  They feel so strongly about their opinions that they are willing to put their money where their mouths are.   They each are offering a cash prize to anyone who can disprove their scientific theory.

Karl Priest, may be familiar to some West Virginians for his frequent letters to the editor in the Charleston Gazette. He often urges Christian parents to pull their children out of public schools and either homeschool them or enroll them in Christian schools.  Karl is also an ardent opponent to the teaching of evolution and he serves as kind of the “boxing manager” for a physicist, Dr. Joseph Mastropaolo, who advocates for creation science. Karl tries to get scientists to debate the doctor in what they call the “Life Science Prize Challenge.”  Dr. Mastropaolo and the challenger put down $10,000 and present their evidence in a courtroom before a judge, who as Priest says, agrees to weigh the evidence that “has to be a valid, objective, reliable and calibrated -- that’s science.  It has nothing to do with the Bible, it has to do with evidence.” 

Dr. Christopher Keating is a climate scientist and the author of a book called Undeniable! Dialogues on Global Warming.  When it was published last year, he issued a challenge to global warming skeptics.   Dr. Keating said that he’d pay $30,000 to any climate science skeptic who could present an argument that he couldn’t dismantle. “They had to prove via the scientific method that global warming was not real,” Keating said.  “And it did not have to be original work.”

Different from the “Life Science Prize Challenge,” Keating judges all of the submissions.  He says it’s his money and he feels that he gets to be the judge.  But he writes a detailed response to every submission to show why it was not a valid submission.  I asked if he received any submissions that made him worry enough to pull out his checkbook.

“Basically, this goes back about 150 years, so there’s millions of man hours involved to get us to the point that we are right now.  The community of climate scientists are not suddenly gonna go and slap themselves on the forehead and go ‘Doh, we never even thought about that!’ So I was very, very skeptical that anyone would be able to produce any kind of science that shows that it is not valid.”

Priest and Keating don’t think they can convince the people whose minds are made up.  They’re hoping that the publicity generated from their challenges might influence people whose minds are not yet made up.

There’s some fascinating research that shows that on things like climate change, if your mind’s already made up, hearing evidence to the contrary only strengthens your belief. I guess that’s why I find Priest and Keating so interesting. Science is supposed to be an objective look at the facts. They both believe they’re doing science. But they are totally unmoved by each other’s arguments.