Pournography and Denial

June 24, 2008 | By | 4 Replies More

I was surprised yesterday to find a post by Jerry Pournelle (well known SF author and technology columnist) on MensNewsDaily (a starkly conservative news magazine site with pretensions of middle-of-the-roadism). His column, Intelligent Design: Answers and Questions, is openly favorable to the premise that Intelligent Design and Global Warming denial should be taught in science classes.

I have read much by Pournelle, starting with his collaborations with Larry Niven in the 1970’s and ’80’s, and then his columns in Byte magazine, and his solo novels more recently. There is a strong Libertarian feel in his recent works (such as “High Justice”), where big corporations are the good guys and “liberal” governments merely stumbling blocks to progress or even survival. But he does write some great adventure stories. I was only mildly put off by the contention in “Fallen Angels” that embracing the global warming hoax would lead into international Luddism. I figured that it was just a plot device.

But now I see that the writings of Pournelle reflect an overall feeling that Nature and Man are but players on a stage that no mortal can understand. Perhaps it has something to do with his recurring close brushes with mortality. If you read some of his other columns at JerryPournelle.com, you’ll see that he champions all manner of oddball challenges to “Mainstream Consensus Science”. Sooner or later, one of these challenges may turn out to be valid. But historically speaking, successful challenges to the well established theories of thermodynamics and quantum theory are far between.

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Category: American Culture, Current Events, Evolution, global warming, Religion, Science, Writing

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A convoluted mind behind a curly face. A regular traveler, a science buff, and first generation American. Graying of hair, yet still verdant of mind. Lives in South St. Louis City. See his personal website for (too much) more.

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  1. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    There is one basic concept that seems to elude all creationists, particularly American creationists. The concept is that complexity is not the result of intelligence, but intelligence is the result of complexity.

    Perhaps it is a sort of social egotism to assume that mankind is collectively so godlike, that we are the unintentional cause of every environment problem.

    An example is Conlony Collapse Syndrome of the honeybees. Unproven theories abound, such as global warming, electromagnetic interference. Recently, the actual cause was found to be a virus.

    I am not skeptical of the current global warming trend, I am, however, skeptical of the overly simplistic theory of anthrogenic co2 as the major and controlling cause of global warming. I could go into details, I know I will be ignored and dissed by the majority here that have already decided the majority must be right.

    I have learned to be skeptical of any simplistic explanation of a complex system. Science must be able to show how things work in a consistent and predictable manner within the scope of measurable observation. The scientific method is based in the concept that critical concepts should be tested and not merely speculated on. scientists should not be saying "It is so because I say it is!", because that is the role of religion. Science should say "Here is the data, look at it and see what you think."

    The internet has made an incredible amount of information available to the masses. The problem being that most of it is the purest dreck. There is so much dreck that it is often mistaken for the truth, while the real truth is buried under great volumes of misinformation and disinformation.

    The problem is that many so called scientific facts are neither scientific or factual, but simply echoes of a multitude of people who believe in something without really knowing the actual data or processes by which to prove or disprove the belief.

    In short, if we do not question the popularized science to uphold the standards of the method, it ceases to be science and becomes superstition. and after a while, that superstition turns into religion.

    So I say: Be vigilant. Question everything.

  2. Dan Klarmann says:

    The necessary sequel to "Question Authority" is "… and listen carefully to the answers".

    Check out popular sites like http://climate.jpl.nasa.gov/ and follow their references to see exactly why the consensus is moving more and more strongly toward the theory of human accelerated global warming.

    As for colony collapse: They looked for new parasites first (besides the known mites that started thinning bee populations 20 years ago). When none could be pointed to in either bio labs or epidemiological studies, then they started examining the statistically less likely human-caused scenarios. You say they found a definite virus? There was some buzz about a possible link between Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus and CCD last fall. But it didn't seem to lead anywhere. They still don't know.

    Humanity is not "godlike" to cause the destruction of our environment any more than is anthrax. Both are relatively benign parasites in their host environments, until the overpopulate and contaminate it with their wastes.

    Malthus made no appeal to ego when he accurately modeled our limited position and options on this planet, long before Darwin came along. Humanity takes a toll on its environment by existing. Between our incrementally increased ability to measure, and our exponentially increased effect, we can now measure how we are destroying our cradle. Climate is just another mode that we are now recognizing.

    But my point in this post wasn't about specific issues, but rather my disillusionment that a former collaborator on hard science fiction is now on the loose fringe. It is fine to postulate oddball ideas that have not already been disproven, but I object to promoting these near-hypotheses as scientifically valid in educational fora before they are properly vetted.

  3. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    My point is one MUST consider the source of information, not on their wall of diplomas, but on the proximity to the raw data, and expertise in the field.

    There is a well known concept in social psychology that is used by cults throughout the world. An individual will tend to believe what ever he or she hears the most. The application of this concept pervades the media. It is also the foundation of religious fundamentalism. The "education" of the masses under this concept takes the form of some expert tells you what to believe, And anything that disagrees with that belief is wrong.

    It sounds like the Pope telling the Christian world that creationism is evil because he says so. Real science is based on the scientific method, which encourages challenges to the theory and results. Real science is always in a state of flux as it adapts and evolves. Populist science is based on parroting and promoting limited views the are particularly emotive to the masses. Populist science sells books and movies,

  4. Erika Price says:

    Niklaus: but does public misunderstanding of science come from the scientists, the media, or something else? I think the problem has two culprits: the media for misreporting scientific findings, and the people for misinterpreting scientific information so readily. Both entities get the blame not because they have a lacking understanding of science- I won't begrudge them that- but because both neglect even trying to learn more about science and research.

    My favorite example of this comes from nutrition research. A researcher finds a modest link between oranges and longevity, let's say. Somewhere down the line, either a reporter or the public at large gets the wrong idea- the confuse causation and correlation, or they think one published piece of research can be generalized to all of existence. Then, when a new finding sees that this effect doesn't hold up in the elderly, the frustrated, confused consumers of science news throw their hands in the air- how can scientists just change their minds like this! How can we know which foods are "good" and "bad"? I guess we should just eat what we want, and ignore the bogus science, the well-meaning lay people say.

    But science didn't do anything wrong. An unskeptical, uninformed approach to science did the dirty work. This applies to climate change, too- after An Inconvenient Truth came out, most everyone seemed to have the impression that climate change caused hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters. Science knows otherwise- but Gore and the rest of us kinda missed the boat. We believed what we wanted, what made intuitive sense, and didn't dig far enough into the evidence to learn otherwise.

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