Archive for October, 2012

Science: The Facts

29 October 2012

Tania Lobrozo’s NPR blog article “Should Scientists Promote Results over Process?” tackles a good question.

Distrust and/or outright hostility to science is close to being a doctrine of faith in America, the post-fact country.  Evolution.  Climate Change. Of course facts don’t go away. They are merely discovered, examined, evaluated, then reexamined, reevaluated, and revised. Alas, this  process is not the way most people want to spend their lives.

As one of the few who does, I worry about any society that rates faith and stalwart belief — and I’m not just talking about religious belief — over observation, experimentation, and the scientific process in all its manifestations. First of all, being absolutely sure of something often bumps up against facts.  For example, blind faith in a certain method of baking bread can be as bad as anything else.  I still remember the yelling from a fine French chef who was visiting a relative here in the high mountains.  Cooking his first meal here, he failed to adjust his recipes to allow for the high altitude, a scientific mistake.  One he never made again.

Unfortunately, too many Americans cling to their mistakes.  For some it’s laziness or politics or plain stupidity.  For a good many though it’s simple ignorance. Ignorance is forgivable and fixable, but too few make an effort to fix their thinking patterns. Too few even realize that thinking is hard work.

Teaching is hard work too, and some educational programs try, but I have strong doubts that many will succeed.  Inequality in schools, inadequate or worn down teachers can’t light intellectual fires.  Plus, since its earliest days, resistance to scientific thinking has been endemic in America — read Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-intellectualism in American Life — and now, in its waning days, good teachers are rarer and rarer.

Hence, here we are with a nation taught to believe in simple answers, and even though the scientific method is actually quite straightforward, it’s not good at providing simple, absolute  answers.  So we are a nation where too few people understand what the scientific process is, how it works, and what its results mean and fewer yet have any tolerance for the glorious ambiguity inherent in the scientific method.  All black or all white. That’s what too many of us want.  Faith is soooo much more attractive with its absolutes.

Absolutes however are the fundamental problem. Philosopher Theodor Adrorno (1903-1969) was correct when he said, “Intolerance of ambiguity is the mark of an authoritarian personality.”

To me, this line of his explains a lot about what’s going on in the United States today.



And Sometimes I Get It Right

27 October 2012

Surprise, surprise!  BP Gives Up On Cellulosic Ethanol In The U.S.

I remember back when BP was touting their ventures into U.S. non-corn ethanol. I thought, oh, right, THAT’ll work.

But then I am a Cassandra, and everyone seemed so optimistic about everything from switchgrass to algae.  The vote’s still out on the algae–I’m still seeing a big NO WAY–but everything I’ve read on the switchgrass and such projects have proven they work in theory but not in practice. That is, coming up with a lab experiment that shows possibilty does not mean it’s a feasible idea for mass production.

Want ethanol?  Move to Brazil.  They have great heaps of cane left over from the sugar harvest.  It makes great ethanol and they don’t have to devote special fields to it or build tanks or whatever.  They just pick up the waste stalks and make ethanol out if it. Big difference.


Denial–Same people, Same Tactics, Different Topics

27 October 2012

Old tobacco company flacks don’t die, they just switch to denying climate change and the dangers of GMO foods.

Monsanto’s Lies and the GMO Labeling Battle

Another Brick Falls from the Denial Wall

22 October 2012

Insurance companies were, as far as I know, the first to recognize that the climate was changing and causing more claims for damage.  Now an iconic manufacturer is recognizing environmental problems:

“Big Company. Smaller Footprint.”

Big Company equals Big News, doesn’t it? Nope.  This story isn’t making big headlines. In fact, they released this document on October 4 and I just found it.  And I look daily.  As far as I can see, only a few have noticed this.

Why did Levi change its approach?  Reading this little article, it’s not hard to assume they, like the insurance companies, noticed significant changes.  Levi Strauss needs cotton and the water to grow cotton.  Climate change and population growth influence both.

So Levi Straus is turning several shades of Green.

It’s a lovely color.

Now the real question: Why isn’t this all over the news?  Is being environmentally correct now hopelessly politically incorrect?


We’re Number One!

18 October 2012

As far as I know, insurance companies were the first big businesses to recognize that climate change was indeed happening. They’ve been adjusting their policies for the last few years because of the number of events resulting in claims.  That is, when events that they’ve calculated should happen every twenty years start happening every three years, something is up.

North America Sees Biggest Jump in Climate Change-related Disasters:  MunichRe”

Nice to know the USA is still Number One.

In something.



Do Your Research!

16 October 2012

I just ran across this headline:  “Did Global Warming Really Stop in 1997?

The answer, as anyone who reads widely knows, is NO.  At least that’s what NASA, NOAA, the US military, and any number of climate scientists say.  But does that stop the Daily Mail from running such a story?

The answer, as anyone who reads widely knows, is NO.

Why?  Because they don’t care?  Because they don’t do their research–to use the great line from the BBC’s Sherlock?  Because they just want to stir up a few more temperatures–among their readers?

The Internet’s a great resource for information.  I googled these words:  British newspapers political orientation and found a website called Paperboy.  Here’s what this site says about The Daily Mail:

The Daily Mail is a British, daily middle market tabloid newspaper. First published in 1896 by Lord Northcliffe, it is the United Kingdom’s second biggest-selling daily newspaper after The Sun. It is currently owned by the Dail Mail and General Trust plc. The Daily Mail was Britain’s first daily newspaper aimed at the newly-literate “lower-middle class market resulting from mass education, combining a low retail price with plenty of competitions, prizes and promotional gimmicks”. It was the first British paper to sell a million copies a day. It was, from the outset, a newspaper pitched at women and is still the only British newspaper whose readership is more than 50% female. Politically the Daily Mail has a conservative slant. Its frequently sensationalist, conservatively biased headlines often provoke a strong reaction amongst the liberal leaning blogosphere who sarcastically label it the “Daily Fail”. As of May 2011 its online version is the most popular newspaper web site in the UK with around 64 million unique visitors for the month.

So, does The Daily Mail sound like a first rate source for information on climate change?  If you read widely–and critically, you know the answer.

Why do I suspect that in a world with greater knowledge, nearly instant communication, and myriad easily cross-referenced facts widely available, the percentage of magical thinkers is rising instead of falling?