Archive for June 7th, 2010
I read another article about why not to have public debates on socially contended scientific issues. This time, it was about Global Warming: Climate Science on Trial.
It brings up an issue that gets little press. There is a qualitative difference between science (as a type of investigation) and other philosophical filters such as law, religion, and so forth. Science was developed because we cannot trust our senses, our feelings, or our memories outside of now-known ranges of perception. That is, too big, too small, too fast, too slow, or too complex.Even within normal ranges, much of what we think we perceive is colored by habit and expectations.
The democratic ideal is that everyone is equal. But methods of understanding are not equal. Without the methods of science, we still would be living on a flat, stationary, unchanging world under a moving canopy of the heavens just beyond our reach, where the smallest thing is a mustard seed, and the widest realm is a few weeks walk. Where the universe was created during the era of early Sumerian urbanization, and will end some lesser time in the future. The Bible says so. The best minds in the world agreed, until Galileo and his ilk
The problem of public debate is that it takes some training to understand why science is the best filter for making judgments on big issues. It doesn’t care about the personalities, preferences, and prejudices of scientists. The method weeds out false answers, however many people believe them or how authoritatively they are stated. If a scientist turns out to be wrong, because he (as a human) has the limitations listed above, those who disagree with his position herald his failure as proof that the method is flawed. Those who agreed with him claim conspiracy among those who proved him wrong. Pick a position; everyone is equal.
It is easy to make a convincing argument that persuades the majority who don’t actually have the grounding to really understand the issue. It is harder to make people understand that what so obviously feels right is actually wrong, and to understand the proof and its validity. It feels right to say that Man is unique and superior and is the purpose of the universe. But examination by the scientific method that shows that there really are few things that distinguish our kind in any way, and that we are a tiny part of the ecosystem, much less the universe. We have risen (thanks to technology and industrialism) to a level of might wherein we have the ability to make the planet uninhabitable for ourselves. But we don’t have the ability to deflect or escape the next extinction event, whether a nearby quasar, nova, asteroid collision, or massive ice age of yet-undetermined cause.
The current hot issue is whether we need to act fast to reverse the current unprecedented rise in global temperatures. It is easier to ignore the issue. Much like the proverbial frog in a pot who entered comfortable water, and doesn’t notice it slowly warming till he dies of the heat. We’re in the pot, and the temperature is rising. But denialists (supported by the fossil fuel trade) use tried and true methods of persuasion to keep the public from acting on it.
All the climate scientists agree: It is happening, it is partially (if not entirely) our doing, and we can do something about it. By now, the warming cannot be completely stopped or reversed. But slowing it down may be the difference between the collapse of our civilization, and a unifying cause to move world civilization forward.
But most people still don’t see that science, as a practice, is actually a distinct and more reliable way of figuring out what is going on. Public debate primarily publicizes the anti-science position. How can this be fixed?
I suggest that, in this age of ubiquitous information, that primary and secondary education lean less on packing facts into kids, and spend more time teaching how to deal with information: How we know what we know, how to judge fact from fallacy, information from disinformation, and knowledge from counterknowledge.
Alan Grayson reminds us that Osama Bin Laden had an overall plan to ruin the United States. All he needed were a couple of presidents to help him carry out the plan. George W. Bush was more than willing. Then along came Barrack Obama, who surprised his followers and decided to do his part to bankrupt the United States. Grayson explains:
Today, the war in Afghanistan becomes America’s longest war. Longer than the war in Vietnam. Longer than the Korean War. . . . Bin Laden’s strategy was — and is — painfully simple: to repeat his victory in Afghanistan against Russia, by driving us into bankruptcy. As he put it, he wanted to use his “experience in using guerrilla warfare and the war of attrition to fight tyrannical superpowers, as we, alongside the mujahidin, bled Russia for 10 years, until it went bankrupt and was forced to withdraw in defeat.” In other words, he just wants to go two-for-two. And, as Bin Laden noted, it is equally simple to get us into that trap.
If you are dismayed that President Obama (and Congress) are eagerly following Bin Laden’s plan to bankrupt the United States, consider signing Grayson’s petition to support “The War is Making You Poor Act.”
This bill would eliminate the separate funding for the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and eliminate federal income taxes for everyone’s first $35,000 of income (or $70,000 for couples) each year. And it would help pay down our national debt.
About a month ago I was traveling East on Manchester Road in St. Louis County, Missouri. I decided to make a right at New Ballwin Road but the light was red. I put on my brakes, slowed down to where my speedometer went to zero. I flipped on the signal, looked left and right and then made my turn. There was an officer several cars across from me as I made my turn and I had seen him as I stopped. I thought nothing of his presence until he hit his lights and pulled me over.
The officer was completely professional and courteous as he wrote me a ticket for not coming to a complete stop before making my right turn on red. I asked the officer whether he was a traffic officer or a regular patrol officer and he identified himself as a traffic officer. You see, traffic officers are those which choose to lay about in wait for giving tickets to unsuspecting alleged lawbreakers. Traffic officers do not arrest burglars, robbers or kidnappers or such unless there’s no one else to call upon for assistance. Traffic officers write tickets which generate revenues and make the city not have to raise other taxes or fees for their citizens.
The ticket was allegedly for my not making any “complete cessation from movement” before making the right turn. I explained to the officer that I had ceased all forward momentum, turned on my signal, looked around and safely made my turn and that as for any “complete cessation from movement,” that was not possible in our physical universe. The officer and I debated the language of the ordinance, which he said was not as I had told him.
Some readers know that I am an attorney. The whole “complete cessation from movement” thing seems like a scam so I did a little research. It seems that any “complete cessation from movement” actually does not naturally occur in our universe. At approximately – 459.67 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Kelvin) molecular motion is slowed to its minimum but, such motion never stops.
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