Satire can be a powerful tool in the right hands, pointing out the folly of a dominant power by highlighting shortcomings, creating a cartoonish exaggeration of its target through parody or sarcasm. The grade school example is the 1729 work by Jonathan Swift, in which he puts forth A Modest Proposal that poor Irish citizens sell their children as food for the rich. It’s a classic use of satire to call out economic inequality and lack of empathy for those who could use a helping hand.
There’s a long history of satire being cleverly used as a mechanism for intelligent public discourse. But for every example of satire done with a deft touch, there are untold examples of ham-handed misfires. Enter the deniers.
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Over on cliscep where a sad set of UK deniers pool their efforts in a futile hope that someone will notice them, self-styled satirist Brad Keyes has a couple of posts up in a fit of click-bait handwaving. Giving the finger to Dr. Michael Mann, Keyes headlined one post “BREAKING: Mann Quits Climate Science” and the other “Mann Retirement: Analysis, Reax.” Both have a similar format, using real media banners from the New York Times, Guardian and others as a sleight of hand. It’s a (sadly successful) trick to fool readers into thinking what follows is a re-hosted version of a real news story, instead of what it really is -- hackneyed satire. Someone should tell Keyes the key to good satire is a clear message driven home by hyperbole, because he wanders from one denier meme to the next, touching on the hockey stick and climategate and litigation without really pounding the table on any of them.
Perhaps inspired, Anthony Watts hands over some of his own satire on WUWT in response to the news that Hillary Clinton is planning on creating a climate change-focused Situation Room if elected. His little screenplay suggests Clinton would expect to see screens with climate info constantly changing, due to the phrase “you can see climate change happening now." Of course, that phrase refers to seeing things like record-breaking glacial melt, or warming-intensified hurricanes and typhoons, or empty reservoirs in California due to drought. Obviously, actual temperature readings or model runs would be static on a day to day basis and as Watts’ “technician” character points out, “the standard baseline for measuring climate is 30 years."
By having the "technician" reinforce the fact that climate refers to longer-term trends, Watts unintentionally serves us some delicious irony, as this debunks one of the most popular denier arguments that “the pause” means climate concerns can be waved off.
On the flip side, for someone who knows satire like the back of his hand, check out the latest episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. He takes on the media’s oft-overblown science reporting and ends the show with a perfect example of satire, spoofing pseudoscientific TED Talks with his own Todd Talks.
What Oliver hands up is hands down one of the best examples of science-satire out there, so we hope you digit.
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