Class Warfare Blog

June 4, 2020

Why Science Hasn’t Stamped Out Religion

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 8:42 am
Tags: , , , ,

I was reading a piece on the Vridar blog site and Neil Godfrey wrote this (in 2013): “Religion has not gone away since the end of the Europe’s religious wars and the ensuing Age of Enlightenment. Indeed, scientific advances and the rise of secularism may even be largely responsible for religious revivals.”

One part of the reasoning behind this statement jumped out at me. As opposed to science, religion puts no intellectual demands on its proponents. Scientists are asked to explain themselves, and argue, and think . . . really, really hard. Religionists, to the contrary, are given warm “There, theres” and are not asked to think. They are not expected to answer or ask questions. They do not have a final arbiter of what is right and wrong as natural scientists have in nature.

As a college professor, I saw a great many students over the years, almost all of whom had selected a major course of study. Since the science courses I taught were not something that other students took to meet a breadth requirement or “for fun,” I tended to see the same types of students. And didn’t encounter students who were majoring in far flung intellectual pursuits. But I did meet and work with colleagues from all over the college. And one could see clear divides in those folk according to their chosen fields of study.

For one, there is a simple dichotomy between scientists and non-scientists that breaks along the lines of, what should I call it . . . social skills (?). Science types, often referred to as “geeks,” often lacked social skills one could observe elsewhere and it is my opinion that science attracts people with poorer social skills because the topic addresses and studies things and not people. (Things can be pinned down, people are inconsistent, variable, and often cantankerous.) Study science and you have fewer people to deal with and more things/facts/etc. (Yes, I know these are broad characterizations. There are many, many exceptions. I myself am a scientist who is suave as hell and comfortable in the company of a wide strata of society. And I need a tongue-in-cheek emoji here.)

Another fault line between scientists and non-scientists is math. To learn math, you must master, to some extent, abstract thinking. This makes a clear line between those who faired well in math (I wasn’t that good, just persistent.) and those who did not.

So, to make an argument or address a problem scientifically, you have to pull non-science types into a realm in which complex arguments, math, and foundational knowledge all are involved in complicated fashions. (Look at how complex environmental issues are often described with simplistic and, at root, misleading explanations. Global atmospheric warming was attributed to the Greenhouse Effect and greenhouses work primarily by not allowing warm gases to escape the house. This is not the mechanism of climate change as we are experiencing it now.)

On the other side of this divide, the religionists are told “There, there . . . all will be well” and other nonsense like “The blood of Christ will protect you in the pandemic.” (The latter led me to wonder where I can get me some of that shit.) It may be nonsense, but it is simple nonsense, making no intellectual demands and offering many reassurances, albeit vacuous ones.

I do not claim that all of this plays out consciously through free will. In general I think most of us drift in the currents of our lives (me, especially). But those unable to accept the complexity of real problems set in a real nature are subject to those more than willing to provide fantasy solutions set in a fantastic nature which are less demanding. All you need is faith and there are no real tests of that any more.

May 28, 2020

Climate Change . . . Have We Been Too Optimistic or Too Pessimistic?

Some enterprising climate scientist went back to the early days of climate modeling and put the actual data involved into the models instead of the hypothesized data we used back then (we didn’t have all the data needed so we made up “reasonable” estimates). What they found was that those models were very close to being spot on. Their deviation from actual values of climate change parameters was mostly due to the faulty inputs, not the models themselves. Climate change opponents at the time were scathing in their “reviews” of the climate change model predictions as being premature, not capable of being done, being pie in the sky wishful thinking on the part of the scientists. Of course, the critics that were most prominent could barely spell climate change, let alone had mastered any of the intricacies.

As time went on the models were revised and we found a data consensus (based upon data from different sources indicating the same things). But for the critics, the predictions were “overblown,” “too pessimistic,” and neglected advances in technology that would mitigate much of the changes. Again, most of these objections were not science-backed, just economics-backed, aka they said “we are making too much money to change for you airy-fairy science types.”

Now we are finding out that the dire predictions we have been hearing for the past couple of decades have been far too optimistic, that is not pessimistic enough. More than a few effects of climate change that were predicted for years or decades in the future are happening now.

In short order, I expect the climate change deniers to start saying “How could we have known?” and “Who would have predicted this?” Assholes . . . greedy assholes.

July 1, 2019

Will We Never Learn?

Filed under: Politics,Science — Steve Ruis @ 8:54 am
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There was a notice in The Guardian today (“Ozone layer finally healing after damage caused by aerosols, UN says”) which stated (in part):

“The ozone layer is showing signs of continuing recovery from man-made damage and is likely to heal fully by 2060, new evidence shows.”

“The results, presented on Monday in a four-year assessment of the health of the ozone layer, represent a rare instance of global environmental damage being repaired, and a victory for concerted global action by governments. Scientific evidence of the depletion of the ozone layer over the Antarctic was first presented in 1985, and in 1987 the Montreal protocol was signed, binding world governments to reduce and phase out the harmful chemicals identified as causing the problem.”

If you do not remember, there was quite the panic when it was discovered that the currently-used aerosol propellants (in spray paint, spray deodorant, hairspray, spray . . . everything) migrated into the upper atmosphere, where no one thought they would go, and decomposed under the influence of ultraviolet light producing a catalyst that caused the decomposition of ozone. (The mechanism for is was worked out in the early 1970’s, by the way.) We all then found out that ozone is a primary source of our protection from the sun’s ultraviolet rays (those which cause sunburn on your skin) and that if we kept up our use of said aerosol propellants, we would be subjecting ourselves and all of the other plant and animal life on the planet to destructive radiation.

Even if you believe that some technological genius will save us,
the solution will take 100
years to work and the problem has always been
‘can we act fast enough’ and ‘can we adapt to the changes fast enough.’
The answers so far to these critical questions are ‘no’ and ‘no.’”

My point now is that effective measures took 20 years or so to agree upon and implement and then, even though we are now seeing positive results from those efforts 30 years later, it will take another 40 years for the damage to be fully healed. That’s a total of 70 years to fix the atmospheric problem we created in a much shorter time.

Now, we are standing in front of another atmospheric problem that is of much greater magnitude, that we have been bashing it around politically for 20 years or so and we have not come up with neither technological, nor political solutions to this problem. If the Ozone Hole Problem was any indicator, it may take as long as a century before we arrive at the end the Global Atmospheric Warming Problem . . . at the earliest.

While we have been whinging and cringing over who or what is at fault (Is it man-made? Is it natural? Is it CO2?) the fact that this is almost irrelevant to solving the problem eludes us. Even is natural CO2 is 50% to blame for the rise in atmospheric (and therefore ocean, and land, and . . .) temperatures, we still have to deal with the problem. The same is true for any other natural/man-made split. If it were 100% natural, then working to reduce man-made sources of CO2 would be futile, but it clearly is not this situation. To address the problem, we must shut off the source of the problem, as we did with the Ozone Hole Problem. Or we must remove that gas from the atmosphere in quantity.

We have not yet begun to fashion a solution and we are now seeing some of the dire effects predicted, actually occurring in advance of the dates predicted, so our estimates of the negative effects are too conservative. Even if you believe that some technological genius will save us, the solution will take 100 years to implement and the problem has always been “can we act fast enough” and “can we adapt to the changes fast enough.” The answers so far to these critical questions are “no” and “no.”

And it seems that the 1960’s prescription for what to do in the event of a nuclear attack also applies to how to respond to the effects of climate change (bend over and kiss your ass goodbye). At least we can do this ourselves.

And for us science types who thought that those quite dense aerosol propellants couldn’t possibly end up in the upper atmosphere, the lesson is “It ain’t what you don’t know that will kill you, it is what you think you know that ain’t so.” It is oh, so easy to confuse what we think we know with what we actually know. So often, what we think we know is an extension of what we do know and even mathematicians understand that interpolations (filling in the gaps) tend to be far more accurate than extrapolations (extending the trend out and out and out).

July 13, 2018

The War on the Theory of Evolution

In all of science there are just two areas that are in major dispute in society. The dispute over the reality of Climate Change is fueled by people making money in ways that exacerbate the problem and who do not want to change because, well, they are making a great deal of money through those activities. The dispute over the validity of the Theory of Evolution in biology is fueled by theists who claim their religious ox is being gored. This is about the latter more than the former, but also about magical thinking in general.

Interestingly enough, wisdom can be had in the words of someone who suffered no little mental and physical discomfort from the theistic opposition, Galileo Galleli:

I should have added only that, through the Scripture cannot err, nevertheless some of its interpreters and expositors can sometimes err in various ways. One of these would be very serious and very frequent, namely to want to limit oneself always to the literal meaning of the words. . . .

Thus, given that in many places the Scripture is not only capable but necessarily in need of interpretations different from the apparent meaning of the words, it seems to me that in disputes about natural phenomena it should be reserved to the last place.” (Galileo Galleli in a 1613 letter to Benedetto Castelli)

Those who argue against the Theory of Evolution are showing up to a gun fight with a knife and behave accordingly. They whine and criticize and nibble around the edges but eschew engaging fully (they know they cannot win because their rich backers would be backing actual research if they thought there was any chance of their position being supported by that research–the creationists/intelligent design folks no no (zero, zip, zilch) research). The attempts to establish the validity of Jewish scripture via science (by Christians!) are pathetic at best and disingenuous and harmful at least.

You may wonder “What’s the harm?” The harm is that if one engages in magical thinking about nature, when Nature Herself provides a wonderful, neutral referee, then what are the consequences of accepting such magical thinking in society at large. As just one example, our President just claimed that under his stewardship, our Gross Domestic Product* (GDP) has doubled.

Mr. Trump was elected in November of 2016  and began to serve in January of 2017. The GDP of the U.S in 2016 was 18,624.48 billion dollars. The GDP for the year 2017 was 19,390.6 billion dollars, a 4.114% increase over the previous year. The GDP for 2018 hasn’t yet been determined (year ain’t over, yet) but even if extrapolated to today, I can’t see it would reach a 100% over 2016, which is what would be necessary to achieve a “doubling,” maybe 106% of 2016, but not 200%.”

Now, you could argue that Mr. Trump misspoke or was misinformed, but here is the problem. Should not Mr. Trump know that a doubling of GDP in a year or a year and a half is batshit crazy magical thinking? Shouldn’t he know that before making the claim, not as Donald J. Trump, but as the Fucking President of the United States? (FPOTUS?)

Mr. Trump’s supporters may believe his every utterance and that is on them for believing in magical thinking, but we cannot afford to have a President who does.

Plus, while we are blathering on about the myriad piles of verbal bullshit created out of the fevered mind of this president, his minions are doing serious damage to our democracy. They currently are packing the federal courts with people they like, people who believe in magical thinking and by the time you find out you do not like those thoughts, they will be installed on federal judiciary benches with lifetime appointments (to immunize them from political pressure, which has already been applied and vetted).

* Gross domestic product (GDP) is the value of the goods and services produced by the nation’s economy less the value of the goods and services used up in production. GDP is also equal to the sum of personal consumption expenditures, gross private domestic investment, net exports of goods and services, and government consumption expenditures and gross investment.

 

May 20, 2018

Stupid, Stupid, Stupid

I read a comment the other day that set my head spinning. The comment pointed out that up until around 1970, the only way to increase agricultural output significantly was to put more arable land into production. Basically that had been done to all effective extents by well before 1970. We now note how people are trying to put very marginal lands into production with predictable disastrous results. (Hey, let’s cut down that jungle and raise crops! … jungles have notoriously poor soils.)

But right about that time came the Agricultural Revolution, sometimes called the Green Revolution. We managed to increase crop yields for our staple grains (rice, wheat, corn, barley) by the simple expedient of growing these grains on shorter stalks. Shorter stalks are stronger and they can support heaver seed heads without falling over from being too top heavy. We practically doubled our yields per acre of these grains.

This I already knew. What the comment pointed out that the old “acreage limited” model of agriculture, which took about 10,000 years to run out, supported a global population of about three and a half billion people. The Green Revolution doubled our grain supplies and, if you are not aware, those grains also feed our cattle and other livestock, so represent fairly well the entire food supply of the world. (You will find grain of some type in 90% of the foods you can find in a local market.)

So, we doubled our food supply starting in 1970 or so and now the world population is about seven billion people. It is an axiom of population biology that organisms expand their populations up to the limits of their food supplies. The fact that our doubled food supply (from 1970 levels) matches our now doubled population (3.5 to 7 billion) supports the idea that we are at the end of the effects of the Green Revolution.  This second phase took less than 50 years. (Think about it! Three and a half billion more people in just fifty years.)

So, what is next?

Since there is no intelligence in charge of humanity, it is likely that corporations that are exploring the genetic engineering of food crops will work up a solution. I have written before that these shortcuts to different organisms have more risks associated with them than the procedures used before (up to and including the green Revolution). But let’s say they whip up something that works and it again doubles the yields of these grains, what then?

Well, history and biology indicate that we will double our population again, this time to 14 billion people. Imagine the impact on food distribution and electricity distribution networks, on transportation systems (cars and roads, subways, air travel, on the lives of us all.

What is really scary is that the reliance on the plants created under the Green Revolution has shrunk the number of species under cultivation to a very small number. When there is a much wider diversity of crops, crop failures are not widely catastrophic, but when they are but a few kinds of crops being depended upon, well, think of the Irish Potato Famine.

Nobody predicted the Bubonic Plague, otherwise know as the Black Death. This disease killed over a quarter of the population of Europe. So, what happens if some new agricultural blight, on the order of a plague, wipes out rice or wheat. Since there are only a few types of rice or wheat under cultivation it means that such a blight may wipe out all of the rice or all the wheat or very large fractions of those crops. The repercussions would not be pretty: massive famines, food riots, insurrections, whole countries destabilized, etc. (Take a look at what is happening in Venezuela currently, being a manifestation of just bad management.)

I guess my question is not “what is next?” so much as “to what end?” We haven’t developed enough political maturity to determine a fair and equitable distribution of resources. We still operate on a “get what you can” basis. (Exhibit No. 1 President Donald Trump) Is there any upside to doubling our food supply again, other than corporate profits for Big Ag Science corporations? Do we need another seven billion people on this planet? Are we prepared to handle the changes associated with such an event?

All of the answers to these questions are, of course, no. Herds of lemmings running off of cliffs is a societal meme we created. Lemmings are not so stupid as to do that. So, basically we, as a people, are projecting that behavior onto those animals. And, we seem quite capable from doing just that.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Note The word stupid is used as a pejorative meaning lacking in intelligence. Rather, it means “slow” as in “slow on the uptake” or slow to learn (it has roots similar to those of stupor). Really bright people can distract themselves in sophisticated ways so that what is glaringly obvious gets missed for a long, long time. That stupid, that’s the one I mean.

January 8, 2018

Just Plain, Or Not So Plain, Ignorant

I was reading Yuval Harari’s “Sapiens” last night and came upon this. (Despite my occasional cavils, this is a brilliant book, highly recommended.)

The Scientific Revolution has not been a revolution of knowledge. It has been above all a revolution of ignorance.

Shortly after came this:

Premodern traditions of knowledge such as Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Confucianism asserted that everything that is important to know about the world was already known. The great gods, or the one almighty God, or the wise people of the past possessed all-encompassing wisdom, which they revealed to us in scriptures and oral traditions. Ordinary mortals gained knowledge by delving into ancient texts and traditions  and understanding them properly. It was inconceivable that the Bible, the Qur’an or the Vedas were missing out on a crucial secret of the universe – a secret that might yet be discovered by flesh-and-blood creatures.

If something couldn’t be found in scriptures then it was, by definition, trivial.

So, I have to ask: has anything changed? The power of religions is based upon their traditions and scriptures, so they reinforce that power every chance they get. They weave that power into our cultures and politics to sustain it.

And, it is clear that very, very, very important things were left out of scriptures as they were unknown at the time of their writing.

So, has anything changed?

 

 

December 24, 2017

Effing Blundering Humans

What a perfect invention a human is, how noble in his capacity to reason, how unlimited in thinking, how admirable in his shape and movement, how angelic in action, how godlike in understanding! There’s nothing more beautiful. We surpass all other animals. (Hamlet, Shakespeare)

We use the term “civilized” as a complement and “uncivilized” as a criticism. We seem to be fans of civilization and “being civilized.” Unfortunately this is part of the self-propagating control mechanism which is culture. Culture exists so a few can control the many for the benefit of the few.

I was watching a documentary on the Americas before Columbus. I knew much of what they portrayed but to have it all thrust in my face at once made me see the big picture in alarming clarity.

The European conquest of Europe and then the Americas was a blundering, abysmal, staggeringly unenlightened display of brute force. The European’s animals and plants were brought onto this continent and then took over essentially every ecological niche available. Along with the pigs and barley and beer came European weeds and European diseases; smallpox itself was the cause of a majority of the Native Americans being killed. Native species of plants and animals died in front of a wave of horses, pigs, cattle, sheep and staple grains. The plow basically ruined the thin soil in New England that the Native Americans had been nurturing for millennia. Hogs rooted up vast acreage and spread diseases that native species had no ability to fight. Whole forests fell under the axes of the invaders.

Viewed in its entirety, this is a horror show. Genocide alongside ecological imperialism alongside greed alongside culture assassination.

And we call it civilization.

What I see is immense ignorance on display. A complete uncaring for the future of humans and a complete uncaring for anything that does not benefit humans. The definition of a “weed,” for example, is any plant unwanted by humans.

Arrogance, greed, immense ignorance, … aka civilized.

Are we any different now? Are events any different now?

Europeans used up Europe’s resources: cutting its trees, depleting its soils, spoiling its streams, and stripping its oceans of fish. Then they brought “civilization” to the Americas. And now the Americas are quite like Europe when the Americas were discovered.

Have we really learned anything?

I am not talking about academic knowledge, but cultural and political knowledge and actions. Have were learned to the “doing stage” any of the lessons we should have, lessons that will allow us to survive and other species alongside of us? If we have, I sure haven’t noticed that.

 

October 26, 2017

The Republicans Don’t Think

The Republicans don’t think … you need the right to sue your bank, your investment banker, or really any financial agent, because, gosh, they would never do anything even kind of shady, certainly nothing illegal, because that would hurt their reputation and be bad for business. That little kerfuffle in 2008 in which U.S. bankers brought the world’s economy to its knees and permanently made the U.S. economy weaker, that was just a misunderstanding.

The Republicans don’t think … we needed all of those guides to the laws protecting the rights of disabled children and adults. Those people already get too much mollycoddling. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, am I right?

The Republicans don’t think … you’ll mind cutting 20 to 35 million people off of the Obamacare rolls, because Repeal & Replace! Repeal & Replace! Well, Repeal and Maybe Replace If We Can Find the Time, Kinda, Sorta! It’s complicated; who would have known?

The Republicans don’t think … you’ll mind if they remove contraception coverage from Obamacare and restrict abortion rights because women should not have control over their own reproductive rights, their own bodies … because … because they’re sluts anyway and … because God said so!

The Republicans don’t think … you’ll mind going toe to toe with North Korea with nuclear weapons even if they do manage to drop a few nukes on California. They’re just a bunch of liberals who vote Democrat way too often, there in California.

The Republicans don’t think … you’ll mind giving the coal and nuclear industries big federal tax cuts, no wait, direct subsidies, because those corporations have suffered enough … wait, those workers, yeah, those workers have suffered enough. Pop-yoo-liz-um, pop-yoo-liz-um, pop-yoo-liz-um, rah, rah, rah!

The Republicans don’t think … coal mining corporations should be banned from dumping their toxic, heavy metal-laced wastes into public streams and rivers, because those corporations have suffered enough … uh … well … look, look at the waving flag and those NFL players disrespectfully kneeling as if they were praying during the national anthem! Disrespectful, disrespect while being Black!

The Republicans don’t think … we need all of those national parks and monuments. All that land and none of their donor class making a cent off of them … outrageous!

The Republicans don’t think … you’ll mind taking money away from your public schools to fund charter schools and voucher programs that perform no better than the public schools and often far, far worse. It’s for the children! And, rich Republicans need a publicly-funded voucher to be able to send their kids to private religious schools they are already sending them to. That thing in the Constitution … the Founding Fathers didn’t really mean it.

The Republicans don’t think … you’ll object to massive tax cuts for the rich as long as you will get a miniscule one, too. Never mind the cuts in public services, needed because of all of the revenue lost in tax cuts for the rich, will offset the minimal tax cuts for the rest of us, making our lives worse. I mean, nobody likes to pay taxes, right?

The Republicans don’t think … we should go along to get along, especially on things like Climate Change. The U.S. is exceptional; we lead, others follow. And we certainly don’t follow a whole horde of pointy-headed intellectual climate scientists. Sheesh, what do they know?

The Republicans don’t think … that we think enough to notice the way things are going.

The real question is: are they right?

Do Not Pay Attention to Trump’s Words

Do Pay Attention to His Administration’s Actions

August 25, 2017

Aliens … and Dinosaurs!

Having covered all of the ground possible … and a lot more, the Ancient Aliens TV show has hit a new high, or low, depending on your point of view. They kept many of the same people on staff, introduced some new folks, and they kept their normal whirlwind pace, one that doesn’t allow much time for consideration of the fabulous things they propose, such as aliens being the cause of the demise of the dinosaurs.

The main thrust of this episode is indeed that it might just be possible, maybe coulda been, that aliens eliminated the dinosaurs so we could thrive. I won’t comment on the “evidence” they present but there was one point at which the idiocy achieved new heights. They were developing a line of argument challenging the facts that humans are 2-3 million years old at best but “all” of the dinosaurs perished 65 million years ago, in what was considered an extinction level even involving a rather large meteor, landing in Mexico, but clearly dinosaurs and humans lived alongside one another … well, and aliens, too, of course.

They trotted out the éminence grise of this generation of unbridled thinkers, Erich von Daniken, to ask the question: If this was an event large enough to kill “all” of the dinosaurs, why did it kill off just the dinosaurs? (Apparently enquiring minds want to know.) Well, the event in question is called the Cretaceous-Paleocene mass extinction event and it resulted in about 75% of all species on the planet being wiped out, not “just” the dinos. And, it didn’t even kill off all of the dinosaurs! Many of the smaller theropods (what most of us think of when we think of dinosaurs), that is those under 25 kg/55 lb in mass, survived. Of course, the big beasties died.

The show then went on it’s merry way establishing that dinosaurs and human beings could possibly have lived together (mighta coulda). They didn’t mention Alley Oop in their arguments but they did throw in the Loch Ness monster and coelacanths. Right in the middle of this a talking head I didn’t bother to identify started bad mouthing radiocarbon dating, saying things like it was based on the production of carbon-14 in the atmosphere by cosmic rays (true) and that the rate of production may have been different millions of years ago (also true) and that these things could affect the dates on early human and dinosaurs remains (uh, not so much). If you want to know why I was puzzled, Dear Reader, read on.

Carbon-14 Dating: A Primer
All radioactivity-based dating methods are based upon a factoid of radioactive isotopes (kinds of elements): they all decay in a pattern involving a half-life. A half-life is an amount of time in which a radioactive sample loses half of its radioactivity. Interestingly, the next halving of that sample’s radioactivity takes the same amount of time, as does the next even though there is less and less to lose. This creates a situation that is summarized in a rule of thumb: a radioactive isotope can be used to date object as much as 10 half-lives back in time. The amount of radioactivity in a living animal cannot be very high in the first place. Comic books aside, radioactivity in high doses is typically lethal. So, all living plants and animals start out with only tiny amounts of radioactive elements in their bodies. Then after one half life, half of it is gone (unless it is replaced which in the case of carbon-14 happens because we eat carbon atoms in all of our food and plants absorb carbon dioxide—this, of course, stops when the plant or animal dies). After two half lives, only a quarter remains because half is lost in the first period and half of what is left was gone after the second. After the third half-life one eighth is left, after the fourth, one sixteenth is left, etc. After ten half-lives 1/210 is left. As a percent that is a little less than 0.1%. Since very little was started with, at this point close to zero is left, so there is basically nothing to measure.

So, what is the half-life of carbon-14 you ask? (You’d better!) It is 5730 years. Ten times this number is 57,300 years. This is the time span that radiocarbon dating can be used. That won’t get you back before Homo sapiens begins (200,000-300,000 years) let alone back to the large theropods getting killed off 66 million years ago. This is a classic smokescreen tactic, used often in this show. Throw anything you got against the wall and see if it sticks.

The Problem With All of This
As you are probably aware, Americans are not the most scientifically-literate people on the planet. As more and more of this bushwah is passed off as some sort of legitimate argumentation (It is not!), people are going to more easily believe the bullshit our governments peddle us. Global warming? That’s a hoax perpetrated by greedy scientists looking for grants. Dumping mine wastes laced with toxic heavy metals, not a problem. The Earth cleans itself. Lead in drinking water? A little bit is okay; go ahead and drink it.

The Exxon Corporation has released documents showing that 80% of the studies they undertook or analyzed showed that global warming/climate change was real and had real negative consequences. At the same time, 80% of its marketing budgets on the topic went to casting shade on the topic (for decades). Their problem is that one of the greatest sources of the climate change problem is the burning of petroleum products, which is what Exxon is in business for.

 

August 9, 2017

A Modern Quandary

I have been reading “Sociology is a Martial Art: Political Writings by Pierre Bourdieu.” This is puzzling to me because I haven’t been having any trouble sleeping, so why would I want to read a sociology text? (Sorry, old joke.)

In a context different from the one I will address in this post ( his was the impact of television), Professor Bourdieu wrote “How can I reconcile the exigency of ‘purity’ inherent in scientific and intellectual work, which necessarily leads to esotericism, with the democratic interest in making these achievements available to the greatest number?” His concern was that the primary function of television seemingly was to dumb down even simple discussions. Here I want to address the topic of the anti-evolution crowd and the anti-climate change crowd.

Without specialized training, it is hard to follow the science in these fields. I have a graduate degree in chemistry and I am not versed in the nuances of either subject (although I guess I could create a small summary of each). So, without esoteric training, how are the citizens in a democracy supposed to assess the validity of such concepts.

We could start with having better basic education, explaining that a scientific theory is a mechanism that explains a great many facts as well as makes predictions available to expand out knowledge. Currently people use the word theory as a synonym for “wild ass guess.” “I have a theory about that …” they will say. No, they don’t. At best they have an hypothesis and more likely they have a guess that is poorly substantiated at best. To say one has a “theory” makes one sound better than to say “I have a guess as to….”

It also does not help that each topic has a cadre of sociopolitical opponents. If the Theory of Evolution is correct, all of fundamentalist Christianity and most of doctrinaire Christianity is off to a rubbish heap somewhere. Basically, if God didn’t created humanity magically, we couldn’t have “rebelled” against his authority, so there was no original sin, and hence nothing for the human sacrifice that was Jesus to absolve. (Bye, bye!)

Climate change has political opponents who have economic stakes at risk. The Koch brothers fund anti-climate change efforts to protect their oil refining, oil pipeline, and other industries, while David Koch supports NOVA science education programs on PBS, including programs on climate change (possibly as a suppressing maneuver?).

So, ordinary citizens are left to evaluate what appears to them to be a propaganda war. “Scientists” have lied to them before as have businessmen, so it is hard to decide which side of either of these debates is trustworthy.

I find the argument that climate change was invented for scientists to be able to secure grants for their work (It is a hoax!). Whoever invented this red herring obviously has never interacted with scientists, each of which has a big ego, and the first of them to discover such a plot would gleefully expose his colleagues to shame and humiliation for participating in it. Most scientists minored in gloating in college.

So, what’s a citizen to do?

I think part of the problem has to do with the evidence not being on display. I hear Christian apologists often ask the question: Where are the transitional fossils? This questions goes back to the time of Charles Darwin when there was a very sparse fossil record. The key facts that the public needs to know is that fossils do not form all that often, so are passably rare and that with regard to transitional fossils, fossils that show one species transitioning to another, there are large numbers of them available. Maybe a video (to reach the masses) needs to me made of the amount of evidence underlying the Theory of Evolution. The amount of evidence, from many, many different and unrelated fields of science is incredibly vast. Just a list of peer-reviewed articles supporting the theory scrolling on like the credits of a Hollywood movie (like they do on TV, at super high speeds) would take hours. Flashing photos of all of the fossils that apply to animals no longer in existence but which fit into the evolutionary family tree of Earth, would also take quite a long time (blink, blink, blink, maybe a running counter would help: 1, 2, 3, …, 3008, 3009, …).

The same could be true for Climate Change. We could run publicity shots of the smiling faces of the scientists in the field who support the tentative conclusion that humanity is contributing to the current round of climate change (blink, blink, blink, maybe a running counter would help: 1, 2, 3, …, 178, 179, …). Then the photos of those reputable scientists who oppose the current consensus on climate change could have their photos flashed (blink, blink, blink).

There is no way ordinary citizens could be brought up to speed on these topics through educating them, because even with the head start in such training I have, I do not want to put in the effort. Instead, I trust the scientists in their field to represent their findings correctly (to the best of their ability) and I trust the egos of their colleagues to prick any intellectual bubbles that are flimsy or unfounded.

Another route might be to create an independent evaluation board to provide basic explanations of science topics to legislators and citizens. The Town of Brisbane, Australia did this a while back (don’t know whether they still do) when they created the office of Town Scientist whose job it was to explain scientific topics to the town governing board and citizens of the Town of Brisbane. For the longest time the State of California had an independent political official whose job was to explain issues voters needed to address and that office was never politicized or demeaned, and it worked really well for quite some time (don’t know whether it still does).

This is a modern problem, because back when “governance” was by autocrats/monarchs, they didn’t give a fig about whether the people understood or not. Ironically, it was the advent of merchants (aka business people) who accumulated wealth (aka power) enough to make it important that a wider swath of a country’s population be made to understand governmental decisions. With the advent of modern democracy, issues are now submitted to the ballot and candidates for office are voted upon, too. We need to figure out how to “reconcile the exigency of ‘purity’ inherent in scientific and intellectual work, which necessarily leads to esotericism, with the democratic interest in making these achievements available to the greatest number” and we need to do it fast. Life ain’t gonna get simpler.

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