Archive for May, 2010

Growing up as Carl Sagan’s son

May 31, 2010 | By | 1 Reply More
Growing up as Carl Sagan’s son

Nick Sagan published this article describing what it was like to be raised by Carl Sagan. He has included many touching behind-the-scenes anecdotes that made me respect Carl Sagan all the more.

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Messing with the phone company

May 31, 2010 | By | 9 Replies More
Messing with the phone company

My phone company has utterly and repeatedly lied to me about my bill. It’s infuriating. I call them up and ask them to justify my bill. They “apologize” and insist that it will cost exactly $X every month in the future. Then the bills show up and they are $X plus an extra $15. What do you do, go to small claims court over $15? I’m saving up my bills and I actually might do that someday. In the meantime, I do wonder how many other people are having the same experience, and I assume that there are plenty of you out there. Unfortunately, these do not make good class actions because they usually involve oral misrepresentations over the phone. In order to prove that a large group of people were lied to, you’d need to call every customer into court to testify. Courts usually reject these as class actions. Therefore, anyone with this situation is likely in the same boat I’m in. Small damages also combine with clever arbitration clauses to amount to telephone company immunity.

I’m telling you this little story as a prelude to showing you this image. I do understand this person’s frustration. Bravo!

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Agnotology: The politics of ignorance

May 30, 2010 | By | 2 Replies More
Agnotology:  The politics of ignorance

In the January, 2009 issue of Discover Magazine, Robert Proctor discusses “agnotology,” defined as the “politics of ignorance.”

It’s the study of the politics of ignorance. I’m looking at how ignorance is actively created through things like military secrecy in science or through deliberate policies like the tobacco industry’s effort to manufacture doubt through their “doubt is our product” strategy [spelled out in a 1969 tobacco company memo]. So it’s not that science inherently always grows. It can actually be destroyed in certain ways, or ignorance can actually be created. . . . It’s pretty common. I mean, in terms of sowing doubt, certainly global warming is a famous one. You know, the global warming denialists who for years have managed to say, “Well, the case is not proven. We need more research.” And what’s interesting is that a lot of the people working on that were also the people working for Big Tobacco. The techniques of manufacturing doubt were created largely within the tobacco industry, and then they were franchised out to other industries.

In this Wikipedia article, the root causes of agnotology are deemed to be “media neglect, corporate or governmental secrecy and suppression, document destruction, and myriad forms of inherent or avoidable culturopolitical selectivity, inattention, and forgetfulness.” To this list, I would add, fatigue, the bright-shiny distractions and gadgets offered by society, the “Dunning-Kruger Effect,” limited attentional capacities and the banality of evil.

I do like the trend that so many writers and scientists are beginning to focus in on these topics and the related topics of undue certitude and “tortucanism.”

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Great card trick by James Galea

May 30, 2010 | By | 3 Replies More
Great card trick by James Galea

There are not enough superlatives for this card trick by James Galea at the 2009 Melbourne International Comedy Festival Gala. You’ll never forget watching this trick plays itself out, because it takes the form of a story.

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Our task, it seems

May 29, 2010 | By | Reply More
Our task, it seems

I can’t think of any way to argue with the logic of this t-shirt.

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The fury of nature

May 29, 2010 | By | Reply More
The fury of nature

Here is a terrific collection of photos of the fury of nature.

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So tempting to anthropomorphize . . .

May 29, 2010 | By | Reply More
So tempting to anthropomorphize . . .

This National Geographic video on cockroaches is fascinating by its own rights, but the quote at the 30 second mark sounded like information that might apply to more than a few of the annoying people in the news:

“The cockroach doesn’t really have a brain per se, but it has instinct and a ferocious desire to survive and reproduce.”

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The rot at the core of American conservatism

May 29, 2010 | By | 2 Replies More
The rot at the core of American conservatism

Peter Daou argues that the anti-environmentalism espoused by the political right wing is not only wrong-headed; it is dangerous:

Of all the wrongheaded ideas proudly trumpeted by America’s right, anti-environmentalism occupies a unique position: it is at once the most devoid of a rational or moral foundation and the most dangerous. It is selfish, crass, illogical, willfully blind, a denial of the undeniable reality that humans are pillaging irreplaceable natural resources and spewing filth into the air and water and soil at unsustainable rates. Green-bashers stubbornly negate what is directly before them. There is no moral imperative underlying their belief (or lack thereof). It’s about unbridled hostility at the suggestion that we must all make shared sacrifices. It’s about refusing to acknowledge that the environmental movement has been right to sound the alarm. It’s about laziness. And greed. And irresponsibility. And colossal shortsightedness. Green-bashing exposes the rot at the core of modern conservatism.

The reason this conservative attitude toward the environment is dangerous is that it would leave us unprepared for the quickly approaching transition from oil to post-oil. It would be an economically and socially dangerous transition even if we planned well for it.

I’ve argued before, and I still maintain, that the right wing uses its anti-environmentalism as a badge of group identification (among other things). In short, I don’t believe that most right-wingers are truly against the green positions that they publicly disparage. I’m not convinced that most right-wingers have actually thought their positions through (e.g., most conservatives don’t realize that there’s only enough oil in Alaska to run the U.S. for six months, which makes “Drill Baby, Drill palpably absurd). I believe that when conservatives shout down green positions, they are actually shouting up their membership in the right-wing herd.

But how can someone take a policy position contrary to the facts without a straight face? See the Dunning-Kruger cognitive bias, which refers to the fact that “people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it.” Thus, many people are ignorant of the fact that they are ignorant, thus freeing them up to pontificate to others and to run for Congress in good conscience. We’re surrounded by this, and we’re fed “news” media stories that flout this conflict pornography (featuring know-nothings shouting at people who do know something) in order to sell commercials. Note that self-critical fact-finding and careful analysis is not treasured anywhere in this process. See also, this earlier post on tortucanism.

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How well do children know their vegetables?

May 28, 2010 | By | Reply More
How well do children know their vegetables?

Not very well. If you haven’t yet seen the following video featuring Jamie Oliver (part of his extremely well-executed six-part “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” television series), you are in for a treat. Oliver has a genius for making the life-or-death issue of nutrition engaging.

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