Archive for August, 2010

Suspicions Confirmed

18 August 2010

How do we form our opinions anyway? Reason, propaganda, facts, hearsay? How about good old gut instinct? Family tradition?

Facts do NOT speak for themselves. People speak for them–and often over them, through them, and around them.

I once explained to a family friend how I researched topics before deciding where I stood on issues, explaining that I tried to keep my mind open even after forming an opinion since new research or other aspects might come to light and cause me to change my stance. The friend rolled her eyes and huffily said, “Can’t you just believe what your parents told you to believe?”

Alas, she was not joking. She cherished the hammer and nail her parents had given her and adding reason to her toolkit was not something that interested her.

Jonathan Swift supposedly said something akin to this: “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.” The sentiment is sometimes attributed to Mark Twain as well. In the same vein, Twain also said, “Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.”

From years of teaching college undergrads, I nod wearily. That now deceased family friend was not a rare creature. In other words, confirmation bias is about as stubborn a human trait as any.

Here’s a quick podcast titled “Your Opinion of Climate Change Depends on Your Social Psychology.”

I look forward to reading the whole transcript.

For now, I suggest reading Tom Toles’ rant in the Washington Post as well as the comments:

Confirmation bias. Through the ages, how many people have died because of it? In the coming decades, how many more will die because of it?



Global Weirding

12 August 2010

Anyone watching CNN or any other news channel should be aware of the cascade of new weather records from around the world. Record flood here, record drought there. Extreme weather. Weird weather. None of this means anything in itself, of course, but it’s hard to deny how frequently weather records are toppling?

This AP story came out three hours ago: “Long, Hot Summer of Fire, Floods Fits Predictions”

The weather isn’t not all that dramatic. Droughts occur. So do floods. But do most of us still think the latest worst heat wave record on record and/or the latest record rainfall record from wherever will stand for a hundred years? Fifty? Ten?


The Unemployment Hockeystick

10 August 2010

Here’s a chart from John William’s Shadow Government Statistics: Analysis and Beyond Government Economic Reporting.

Even if one decides to go with the tepid “Official” U3, this chart doesn’t look good, does it?

Interestingly, in the entry for August 8, 2010, Stoneleigh of The Automatic Earth blog disagrees with Williams over the general trend this portends. He sees hyperinflation. She sees deflation.

To me, her arguments are stronger.


Here’s the Beef

2 August 2010

Lierre Keith’s Mother Earth News article “The Truth about Vegetarianism” brings up several points worth considering, most importantly this one:

The truth is that agriculture is the most destructive thing humans have done to the planet, and more of the same won’t save us.

Keith doesn’t mention William Ruddiman’s theory that our current global climate change started when man discovered slash and burn agriculture, but what she says certainly fits right in with Ruddiman’s conclusions. People have intensified their food production and with that their numbers. Like all living things, the nutrients we need limit our lives. By nature, we are omnivores. That’s a fact. Whether or not we eat meat however is quite a complicated issue, morally, ecologically, and economically.

I grew up hearing about how much grain was wasted by feeding it to livestock, but I agree with Keith that the answer isn’t going vegan. As she suggests, the answer is even simpler: Stop feeding grain to food animals. Cows eat grass. Chickens chase down grasshoppers. As he, a former vegan says, the answer isn’t getting rid of all the food animals and going vegan. For some parts of the country, the local populations could, in fact, add to ecological destruction by going vegan.

Eating cattle raised on land naturally suited for grass may well be ecologically sounder than eating organic vegetables and fruits raised on grassland made suitable for vegetables and trees through the use of intensive irrigation provided by humans rerouting or pumping water.

Much of western America is basically unsuited for growing vegetables. The west was–and a great deal still is–rangeland, sparsely populated by deer, antelope, and such, along with a few people and their cattle. (I’ll refrain from comment about grazing permits for now.) But over much of America, grain crops now rule where cattle and buffalo once roamed.

Wells, then pivot sprinkler systems, allowed the mass production of grain crops, and then with surplus grain came modern industrial farming, one of the worst abominations invented by mankind. Not only do factory animals suffer unspeakably, but it’s also becoming more and more clear that, overall, this capstone of supposed efficiency embodies all disruptions and dangers inherent in human agriculture.

Ironically, even when we operate from the best intentions, human efforts to improve our lot, corrupt, and even destroy efficient and highly functional ecosystems.