Even scientific amercian and other fashionable scientific magazines could not achieve what Carl Sagan achieved with Cosmos. It probably influenced an entire generation of who are now astrophysicists, cosmologists, quantum physicists and just physicists and many others I am sure. It is still incredibly watchable on youtube and still entertaining and educational.
Maybe scientists are human with human values, jealously and envy and egos and should I say following the money which many people accuse scientists of in todays world. Some people say that science follows the money and not the money to fund the science anymore as it should be.
Should science and its practitioners be judged accordingly.
I should think that a fair proportion of the blame can be laid at the door of religion and its more ‘enthusiastic’ practitioners, or is that too hot a potato to consider? I’m not trying to make trouble.. :-)
As a scientist who has tried to communicate clearly to scientists in different fields and to interested people who are not scientists, I realize that communication is hard and is critical. More support for those attempting communication between scientists and non scientists, during college and, more importantly, after college is critical. Scientists eating their young does not help the communication.
The joke below has to lose its nearly universal bite of truth, to scientists and non-scientists.
‘A lawyer, a salesman, and a scientist were having a beer together. They started to talk about wives and mistresses. Eventually, the discussion got to which is better.
The lawyer said,”A wife is better because she is always there and supports your career.”
The salesman said, “A mistress is better because she is always happy to see you.”
The scientist said, “It is better to have both.”
“Yes. Because when the wife thinks you’re with the mistress and the mistress thinks you are with the wife, you can be in the lab working.” ‘
Very interesting to see this idea recently returned to print. There was a text that came out in either late 1989 or the early 1990′s talking of technocrats and the increasing divide between general society and the technical establishment it has spawned.
The call for someone who would bridge the gap as science ambassadors was predicted to gain in importance by the 21st century. Where they explored the idea of the then emerging Technologists, the former and more relevant ambassador of science education has always been the teacher.
Though many expunges the value of teachers with the saying, “Those who can do, do and those who can’t teach”, denies the value of teachers to our society. If you are looking for an ambassador look to our teachers and supplying them with the best and most up to date tools.
By the same token require of our teachers to teach not only the rout curriculum; but, diversity, pointing to the interaction between the various branches of education and critical thinking. If there is insufficient capacity in the teaching ranks then open up the possibility of team teaching. We scream at the world for its ignorance and yet we choke the very vehicle that can help lift us from the morass…
One field where the public does have some interest in science is medicine. It would be interesting to see what drugs are used by those in congress who call climate change a hoax. Would they call biology a hoax when it’s time for their heart transplant? Same question for editors, producers & fossil fuel executives…
I hope \Unscientific America\ is widely read. Thanks for review.
So why not practice what you preach and offer one of the major networks a debate on the consequences of climate change, and the cost of doing nothing or low-balling the efforts. I don’t mean another Discovery, PBS, HBO or CNN special that appeals to the converted. This has to be prime time and ubiquitous like the actors or authors promoting a movie or book.
Both the G8 and the US Energy Bill say that we (human species) still don’t get it. The “opposition” has convinced many that the impacts are not serious or can be technologically managed and that in an era of financial breakdown we can’t afford to spend or constrain carbon.
Which one of you is up to the challenge? Gore’s idea of educating citizens at special seminars and sending them out to proselytize (noble idea) is not really the same as top climatologists speaking and debating the issues frequently on major networks and talk shows. You need to jump in with the rabble or the rabble will be our unraveling.
Speaking of Scientific American – maybe they’re to blame!
I mean, I first subscribed to SciAm when I was 12 – because it forced me to whip out the Encyclopedia and/or to check out physics or chemistry or geology texts to figure out all of it’s oh-so-delightfully LONG HAIRED content; now….now it’s just another Rag that has been intentionally ‘adjusted’ so as to ‘match’ the averag Americans misserable ’4th Grade level’ reading skills.
I still Love it – but will it ever earn another teenager, like I once was, a consistent 98% Science Aptitude Test Score; will it still teach kids like me what my High School Teachers wouldn’t – or couldn’t, years ahead of College?
I’m looking forward to picking up this book as soon as I see a copy in the Cornell Store. Chris Mooney’s previous works are must-reads for anyone interested in the how science intersects with policy politics, and this one looks to be even more diagnostic.
I grew up with Carl Sagan and still to this day think back to specific episodes when pondering new scientific discoveries. I think Neil DeGrasse Tyson does a pretty good job and Nova in general, presents science in intersting ways, but it is not enough. I hear people at work who spout of the usual nonsense about not believing in Global warming. My inclination is to belittle them for their ignorance but generally just hold off saying anything to keep the peace. Gotta pick the moments and hopefully make them teaching moments. Still waiting for someone to bust a comment on my picture of Darwin “very gradual change you can believe in” t-shirt.
I rather think that in casting the blame to everyone, they’ve missed the culprit. People like Carl Sagan are actually part of the problem. Through men like Sagan, the culture has lost more and more of the necessary philosophical basis for the pursuit of science and any confidence in it. If we are only stardust, and the universe is all that there is, then how do we find an imperative for scientific study?
Not only so, but how do we hold on to the presuppositions on which science was founded – namely, that logic applies, that the universe is ordered, and real, that our observations are not simply a meaningless dream, etc? These convictions which gave birth to modern science as we know it, did not come from Sagan’s philosophy, and there is no room for them within it.
I think the problem runs a lot deeper through the subconscious philosophical undercurrents of culture than those authors have realised.
Comment by Samuel Watterson — 8 Jul 2009 @ 9:35 AM
Being a non-scientist, I have only 5 words to add.
Bill Nye the Science Guy.
My children loved his show and still talk about him. I have always been a Carl Sagan fan. And what is wrong with someone in science having fans? Especially when our education institutions need “billions and billions” of dollars to improve our American scientific efforts.
Etc. – for James P.
You are so right! Here’s a good example! I have a Neuropathy, which was diagnosed by DNA test and declaired ‘autosomal’ – which means passed through the male, with the likelihood of 9 out of 10 of any children that I might have getting it, too.
Nonetheless; I have a Christian acquiantance who insists that I should, “Go ahead and have babies anyway,” because, “He’s not so sure he believes in that DNA Test STUFF”, and besides, “We’ll pray for the babies…you believe in the power of prayer, don’t you?”
They also want to ‘Faith Heal’ ME – as they’ve assured me that if I just get rid of the Buddha nonesuch and accept Jesus into my Heart – my Pain will go away!
I don’t know whats worse; what people like this have done to me personally – or what they have the potential to do to all of us.
Not starting trouble, either – THEY did that part already!
How do we ensure that it is the Jim Hansen’s who do the talking for scientists and not the Richard Lindzen’s? Unfortunately, as noted in the original post, moneyed interests can hijack the messengers and distort the message. When the media fire their science reporters that only gives moneyed interests more power.
Creating science communicators is tricky indeed. For what it’s worth, I was set on the path when Isaac Asimov gave a talk at Cornell ca. 1962; the talk was supposed to be on his work but turned into a plea for scientists to get out and explain themselves to the public. So it helps just to present the case as often as possible.
When I first started writing a science book for children, it was because my Aunt had done just that, and urged me on. My PhD adviser was bemused–okay, so long as I did it on my own time (outside the 60 hours/week expected of a grad student working on his dissertation).
I expect every scientist who moves into communication has such personal stories–on the record so far, institutional changes aren’t likely to be as much help as the right shove at the right time. So onward with more blog posts like this one and books like Mooney’s, just constantly reminding people that it’s really important and worth support. Hmmm, next time I give a public talk on whatever, I think I’ll include a plug for scientist-communicators. Let’s all do it.
Just a nitpick, but CP Snow’s “two cultures” was not about a rift between the scientific and the popular culture, but between sciences and the humanities within the academy.
Though admittedly the rift between the “two cultures” discussed here is by far the larger and the more important one.
[Response: Thanks, point well taken. -mike]
Comment by Silver Rattasepp — 8 Jul 2009 @ 10:06 AM
I don’t mean to take anything away from Carl Sagan, he was certainly a great science communicator, but I don’t believe he was “the most effective science communicator in modern history.”
In my opinion, that honor falls to Isaac Asimov. I probably learned more science from him than from all my pre-college schooling (by a long shot).
[Response: Certainly we can have honest differences of opinion as to who takes first honors. Feynman and Gould are certainly also in the running in my book, and I'm sure our readers could come up with a long list of equally qualified candidates. But after having recently re-watched the "Cosmos" series for the first the time since childhood, I'm simply awed by Sagan's talent for, seemingly without effort, explaining tough scientific notions in a way that makes them seem intuitive. His explanation of Maxwell's equations for a lay audience in "Demon-Haunted World" is nothing short of brilliant. -mike]
The first is that the tension between popular culture and science is not new. The period after WWII was anomalous in many ways in the US. The higher degree of nonpartisanship in politics at that was also not typical of US history.
Second, I think that the suggestion in #9 – for a debate, demonstrates the problem, not the solution. Public debates have demonstrated that they are not effective ways to communicate science. Debates are short-term adversarial events, the opposite of science. There are clear examples that when somebody sticking to science debates somebody more attached to a political and rhetorical method, the science loses.
Third, seems that more recent than Sagan, a successful science communicator is Edward O. Wilson. Though it’s a different field, I’m wondering if he has run into problems. He certainly didn’t avoid advocacy.
Thank you! I’m sorry to hear of your condition and the position it puts you in, but good to know there are people who can act rationally. I hope it’s fixable, although that will probably involve foetal stem cells, so you’ll be in trouble with the fundamentalists again.. :-)
Being a scientist by formation and having been a science journalist and science teacher, I can tell you how difficcult is to communicate science, especially science has it is beeing done.
As a science journalist, I am often limited to 250 or 375 words to explain some concepts. Not an easy task. Often, this means I can only resume the abstract of the paper. The same is true for teaching. I discovered than most science course a taugh as a bunch of recipies to remember. This is not the case of physics. In consequence, most students are totaly ignorant of the way science is done. They only know recipies for the course in order to get good grade. They forget everything after the course.
Compoud that with the fact the average science paper is at least twice as complex than in Sagan’s time.
“How do we ensure that it is the Jim Hansen’s who do the talking for scientists and not the Richard Lindzen’s?”
Missing the point?
It should be the science that speaks.
The only way to increase scientific literacy, like in every area of ignorance, is to make the debate more widespread.
Debate leads to curiosity.Curiosity will inspire enquiry. Enquiry will lead to education.
Making unilateral decisions about who has the voice of science, or who controls the forum for debate is a huge step forwards on the path of ignorance.
Comment by James Griffiths — 8 Jul 2009 @ 10:43 AM
One thing the RC community could do to help a little is to try to avoid the arrogant attitude that many perceive scientists having, especially when dealing with non-scientists. The scientific method (which is about as anti-arrogance as is possible to be) is something everyone can understand. When the public sees scientists ignoring the scientific method (and other scientists tolerating this behavior), how can you blame them for thinking scientists are just another elite special interest group?
Another example is the disdain shown here at RC (especially by some commenters) for the efforts of ‘amateur’ scientists in the area of AGW. Some of these efforts may be misguided and not produce significantly useful results beyond educating the participants. Even if that education is the only useful result, the effort deserves respect.
#10: If the problem is scientific literacy among the general public (as opposed to motivating kids who are already the high tail of the distribution to go into careers in science), then aren’t we at Sci Am doing exactly what is needed by trying to reach out to a broader audience? Calling us a “rag” is the same disapprobation that Carl Sagan faced. Most of us who work here (and at other science magazines) gave up careers in research to be the science ambassadors that Chris and Sheril are calling for.
That said, if you have specific ideas for how we can improve our coverage, please email me offline. We’re the first to admit we could improve.
Most people thought his way of speaking, in `cosmic tones’, was something he put on for his TV presentations. But an astronomer I knew at Northwestern, who was a graduate student with Sagan, told me that he always spoke that way, even in casual conversation.
“The scientific method (which is about as anti-arrogance as is possible to be) is something everyone can understand.”
Yes, they can understand…if they take the effort to do so. But many are intellectual lazy. As can be seen by some of the regular denialist posts here over time. Even after explaining the scientific method to the same people over and over, they just either ignore trying to learn, pretend it does not exist and they know something that scientists do not, or exclaim that the scientific method is a religion.
Just recently I saw Chris Mooney speaking here at the UW, on a panel discussing the topic of his book. The irony of the presentation is that it was hosted by the recently terminated science reporter for the Seattle Post Intelligencer, laid off prior to the end of the print edition of the PI and after he’d arranged the panel.
How metaphorical is that? A layer cake of degeneration…
I come from the other end, a journalist who later became interested in science and science communication, first in environmental issues and now in astronomy. There can and should be many voices communicating science, and one set of them that should be considered is writers and journalists. The journalism industry is undergoing vast changes, and many writers will be looking for new avenues of work. Good writers already have the communication skills, and with some additional training in science, can convey the issues to the public in a clear yet non-condescending manner. Another source, especially in astronomy, is the vast network of amateur astronomers, who outnumber professionals by almost 20 to 1. Amateur astronomers love what they do and love to talk about it. Some are involved to the point of making actual discoveries and imaging hard-to-find objects. Many amateur astronomy groups already have some form of public outreach in place to bring astronomy to schools and other public venues.
“Another example is the disdain shown here at RC (especially by some commenters) for the efforts of ‘amateur’ scientists in the area of AGW. ”
Depends what their efforts are toward.
a) wasting time
if it’s (b) then fine and dandy.
But there have been quite a few (JBob being a good one) who started out “I only want to learn”, refused to listen to anyone who didn’t agree they have something and then give up trying to go “I’m trying to learn” and throw their toys out, blaming RC for the damage to them.
I don’t think things are all bad on the outreach front. In fact, I think there is reason to hope, at least, in the UK. Recently, my prior PhD advisor has essentially gained enormous recognition, awards and mega-funding by selling our chemistry department as an outreach tool. The outreach program was aimed at kids of all ages and even involved various evening lectures aimed at adults to talk about important scientific issues. The department was able to win a funding bid, on the back of these outreach efforts, to re-furbish the department’s teaching labs into one of the most state-of-the art facilities in the world.
I’m not sure that the scientific method speaks of anything to do with politeness or arrogance. As far as I’m aware, it’s a means for testing the validity of ideas, hypotheses and theories, nothing more, nothing less. So, just because RC takes a pop at someone and is perceived of being arrogant it does not mean that they are not using the scientific method. That said, I think you have a point with regard to being condescending. Whilst choosing sides in a debate based on perceived arrogance on one side or another is a logically flawed way of making that selection not all readers apply logic when making these decisions. Therefore, some will be swayed by perceptions of arrogance. However, it’s really very difficult to ascribe any sort of respect to the, at times, deliberate generation of nonsense ideas by certain individuals. Referring specifically to amateurs being on the receiving end of condescension, can you provide some examples of where and when this happened? I can think of at least one example.
I’d like to add another shout out to Isaac Asimov. I became an “environmentalist” as a direct result of seeing Asimov interviewed on TV in the late 1960s.
As a child I had read and loved all of his science fiction books and some of his nonfiction books as well. So I was quite excited to see him interviewed on TV.
Towards the end of the interview, the interviewer asked him “So, Doctor Asimov, what do you think the future will really be like?” I pretty much expected, as the interviewer probably did as well, that Asimov would talk about space flight, robots and other “futuristic” marvels like those found in his stories.
Instead, Asimov basically said, “Well, if we keep going on the way we are now, we are not going to like the future at all, because we are destroying the capacity of the Earth to support life and setting ourselves up for famine, plague, war, the collapse of civilization and the extinction of the human species.” The interviewer was visibly startled and dismayed, as was I.
And that was my introduction to what have come to be called “environmental” issues.
I have extensive experience with amateur astronomers; I’d venture to say that astronomy is the single scientific field in which amateurs make the most significant contribution.
In part that’s because astronomy is still, to a large degree, an observational science, and the vast army of amatuer observers can muster orders of magnitude more “telescope time” than professionals (who constantly complain about how hard it is to get telescope time at major observatories). Amateurs are also extraordinarily well-equipped, especially in this age of CCD cameras. And I remind readers that amateurs have intense dedication originating from their motivation; the word “amateur” comes from the latin “amatorem,” meaning lover. The importance of amateur contributions to advancing astronomy is indisputible.
But the more theoretical a science becomes, and the more its observational aspect depends on satellites, the less scope is available for amateur contributions. This is a difficulty for amateurs who hope to contribute to climate science.
In the field of statistics I’ve come to develop a “love/hate” relationship with the many easily available and free analysis tools. The tools are great, and certainly make my life easier, but many if not most who apply them are ignorant of their proper use. Alas, too often the end result of powerful methods and powerful desktop computers in the hands of amateurs is: Anthony Watts. ‘Nuff said.
Perhaps the biggest difference I see between “amateurs” in climate science and in other sciences is: arrogance. None of the amateur astronomers I’ve ever known (and I’ve known a lot) would proclaim that the evolution of solar-mass stars is a sham based on faulty computer models, let alone that it’s a hoax perpetrated by astronomers to gain access to research funding. They’re far too much in awe of the majesty of the universe to allow themselves such presumption.
Most of the “amateurs” who pollute the blogosphere with ruminations about climate science aren’t really amateurs in the purest sense; they don’t do it for love of the science, but for the hatred of it.
Entry in the National Academy of Sciences is based on the quality of scientific research, not on success in popularizing science. I find it rather astonishing to see this very relevant point ignored in the case of Sagan. His work within the field was good, but it did not match his profile outside of the field. To ascribe this to “jealousy” is to badly misrepresent the actual grounds on which the debate was carried out.
[Response: Save us the lecture. I'd happily match Sagan's work on the Faint Young Sun paradox, in terms of its scientific importance and its significance in advancing the forefront of knowledge, against the qualifying achievements of any number of current academy members. -mike]
tamino wrote: “None of the amateur astronomers I’ve ever known (and I’ve known a lot) would proclaim that the evolution of solar-mass stars is a sham based on faulty computer models, let alone that it’s a hoax perpetrated by astronomers to gain access to research funding.”
The difference is that there are no phony “think tanks” and so-called “conservative” media outlets hammering amateur astronomers with ExxonMobil-funded propaganda claiming that theories of stellar evolution are a “liberal” conspiracy to destroy capitalism and impose a global dictatorship headed by Al Gore.
The “hatred” of climate science that you observe on the blogosphere didn’t just arise spontaneously and mysteriously. It has been very deliberately and methodically created by a long, carefully crafted brainwashing campaign, funded by the fossil fuel industry and executed by the so-called “conservative” media, targeting an audience that has been conditioned for a generation to obediently, unquestioningly believe whatever is marketed to them as “conservative” and reject whatever is branded “liberal”.
Thanks (Mike?) for this excellent and thoughtful review, and for pointing out this book. Our university is in the process of revamping their environmental science curriculum, and one aim is to increase science and environmental literacy across the entire university. This book sounds like a must-read for all of us who have served on curriculum committees!
This post reminds me of the constant challenge for university educators, especially when one considers that one, 100-level science course may be the only exposure some students get to science. The C student in your class is likely to be tomorrow’s CEO, policy maker, journalist, blogger… What do you want those students to take away? How do you create a scientific learning experience that they will remember?
tamino says “I have extensive experience with amateur astronomers; I’d venture to say that astronomy is the single scientific field in which amateurs make the most significant contribution.”
Why thank you
My dad’d say thanks too.
However, there are still the same level of ignorance about global warming and the science behind it in the amateur astronomy side too. Which is REALLY strange, since a common one is “CO2 is saturated! How can it have any more effect???” when the emiision lines are saturated in our sun for many common elements and yet we can still tell the concentration from how much dimmer the sun (or indeed any star) is in those specific bands. Literally observational proof that saturation doesn’t stop the effect for absorption.
And the proof of the CO2 bands’ existence is of quite an interest to astronomy too, and independently verified: I don’t think the professional astronomer is so selfless as to make stuff up that will move the grant pot from their research centres to the climate ones.
Yet still “CO2 is saturated! It CANNOT have an effect” is still very common there.
Science advances due to:
1) narrowing specialization of scientists
2) unique out of box insights
3) and of course persistence.
making scientific community to desperately communicate their knowledge will cut on these points. then why do it at all? Availability of information is all scientists should offer. That will do the education job well. I do not think anything would do much better – the margin would be small.
The problem really is that people (that is democracy) makes wrong decisions. And that is the point to address. You cannot educate everyone in all aspects of life! Therefore, certainly there are issues where polls would be undesirable. Or, Dalai Lama may help. Because he will teach rock solid logic, ethics and egolessness.
“Most of the “amateurs” who pollute the blogosphere with ruminations about climate science aren’t really amateurs in the purest sense; they don’t do it for love of the science, but for the hatred of it.”
More charitably (?), I believe a lot of them are enthusiasts who think they’re witnessing some kind of game and– unequipped with the tools to discriminate– have more or less arbitrarily chosen a “team”, have put on their jersey and then carry on, whooping and shouting from their armchairs as they imagine seeing goal scored, etc.
It’s a diversion; they might be arguing about something else, the actual topic is not really the point.
So you’ve got a relatively few actual denialists, followed by a large fan base.
I was lucky to grow up in the 50s & 60s when (perhaps due to our embarrassment over Sputnik) science was king, so even those who went in to other fields got a reasonable science education, at least at my schools, or at least a healthy respect for science. And for those who didn’t pay attention in science class, there was the Scientific American Hour on TV – I remember “Hemo the Magnificent” and a number of other episodes.
However, I guess for the most part we non-scientists only need to know how to turn on the switch, and let the scientists and engineers do their mysterious things.
However, with anthropogenic environmental problems, especially global warming, in which blind material progress comes up against viability of life on planet earth, that’s where we really need to know more science, and especially we need a dose of humility to turn to the real scientists for their assessments.
It seems to me to come down to arrogance. Maybe on both sides. But now with climate change, the scientists are coming to us non-scientists with hat in hands telling us, “Houston, we have a problem.” And for the non-scientists and denialist scientists to ignore that or sweep it away as a political ploy is sheer evil, well beyond hubris or outright arrogance.
“That said, I think you have a point with regard to being condescending”
In the US, bucking authority is a way of life. We have a natural disdain for the opinions of people in power.
In regard to GW, when people hear “here is the science, now change your lifestyle” I would say more people are inspired to learn about the science in efforts to debunk it. If you are more trusting of the scientific community and the claims they make, what motivation would you have to educate yourself?
This post brings to mind a straw poll I’ve been taking: can anyone think of any U.S. public figure comparable to Britain’s David Attenborough (or Canada’s David Suzuki, for those familiar with his career)? Attenborough is a household name and his voice is widely mimicked in efforts to spoof TV nature documentaries. Similarly, here in Canada, David Suzuki has built a (second) career as a TV nature journalist via his long-running CBC documentary series The Nature of Things. Suzuki is also a leading campaigner for action on climate change, through the David Suzuki Foundation. Suzuki started out as a geneticist before becoming both broadcaster and environmental activist.
Among those I’ve asked about this, the only names that have come up for the U.S. are Jack Hanna, famous for bringing exotic zoo animals on TV talk shows (going back to the Johnny Carson era) and the even older “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingom” (aired from 1963-88, and which is apparently back on the air; see online at wildkingdom.com. This show at least did nature themes somewhat like those covered by Attenborough, but with much less breadth (what? another episode on cheetahs?), lacking the scope of either Attenborough or Suzuki who often include geology, oceanography, broader ecology (birds, smaller mammals, reptiles). Wild Kingdom mainly just stayed with their proven safe ground of large African predators, the way I remember it.
Americans got a heavy dose of Australia’s “crocodile hunter” Steve Irwin before his untimely demise in 2006. Steve made his fame wrangling crocodiles, but also conveyed great passion for wildlife conservation and broader environmental protection.
So, I ask readers: can anyone name a widely recognized American public figure associated with natural history, nature education, wildlife conservation, environmental protection, and/or science/nature communications (writing or documentaries)? Can any American match the stature of Attenborough, Suzuki or Irwin in their respective national media (and worldwide)?
My own impression is that there is no comparable American figure, and I suspect that is a rather telling corollary tp what Mooney and Kirshenbaum are documenting in Unscientific American.
Another field where amateurs are acknowledged for making real contributions that scientists find useful would be ornithology; avid birders and even backyard birdwatchers contribute huge quantities of statistical inputs through so-called “Christmas counts”, backyard bird count projects, as well as by documenting rarities and previously undocumented behaviours.
Now, as for “saturation” – I audited a whole semester on radiative processes in planetary atmospheres, and I really did ‘absorb’ a lot, but I struggle to formulate a simple definition of what it means for absorption to be “saturated” for a specific molecule / band / whatever. Does this term indicate that every photon in a specified band is sure to encounter at least one molecule of the absorbing gas before traversing that layer?
I have read that Asimov wrote his 200+ books on a typewriter, 70 wpm, first draft ready for publication.
Here’s some relavancy from Wikipedia
“Asimov was a long-time member and Vice President of Mensa International, albeit reluctantly; he described some members of that organization as “brain-proud and aggressive about their IQs”, but also said that the only two people he had ever met who he would admit were more intelligent than he was were Marvin Minsky and Carl Sagan.”
Sorry, in my last post I obviously intended to include “aside from Carl Sagan”! (Also I mistyped “to what” as “tp what” in the last sentence.
Sagan did cosmology on TV and certainly did become a household name. I don’t recall if he did other aspects of science beyond cosmology/astronomy.
35.Paul H: “Referring specifically to amateurs being on the receiving end of condescension, can you provide some examples of where and when this happened?”
Well this comment just below yours is one example:
37. tamino: “Alas, too often the end result of powerful methods and powerful desktop computers in the hands of amateurs is: Anthony Watts. ‘Nuff said.”
While I do not defend everything Anthony Watts has written, he and his team have put a lot of apparently (to me) sincere effort into gathering data and understanding AGW issues. Just because someone distrusts his motives or dislikes his results does not justify the dismissal above. That kind of dismissal is what I expect from denialists, not practiced by scientists.
Another Watts example: The speculation on his blog a few months ago of whether it was ever cold enough in Antarctica for CO2 snow. I thought that (which eventually included an apparently effective experiment) was a good example of the scientific method in action. Here on RC, it was a subject of ridicule.
I could mention more examples, but I would like this to get through the censor, and I need to get back to work.
[Response: Yes, he does. I respect PZ views on many matters. Here however, even by his own admission, his objectivity is likely compromised: He is at the receiving end of a fair degree of criticism in the book. The subjects explored in the book, especially the delicate and often awkward intersection of science and religion, tend to excite great passion and fierce disagreements. I'll let my appraisal of the book stand on its own merit, but I'd encourage folks to read the book and form their own opinions. -mike]
“The only way to increase scientific literacy, like in every area of ignorance, is to make the debate more widespread.
Debate leads to curiosity. Curiosity will inspire enquiry. Enquiry will lead to education.”
Wow! I’d love to visit your home planet because it sure doesn’t work that way on this one. :-)
Can you name a single scientific topic that has advanced through widespread debate? I can’t think of any. That’s because debate does not lead to curiousity, any more than professional wrestling leads to physical fitness. Debate is just entertainment at best, and propaganda at worst.
On the other hand I can think of a number of topics that have benefitted from widespread educational initiatives. Ecology, environmentalism, recycling, renewable energy, and manned space flight are several off the top of my head. I’m sure there are many others.
I think we’re up against a basic problem: there are Snow’s Two Cultures*, each involving only a small fraction of the poulation. The remainder form the great mass of the uncultured, whose only interaction with either is to ridicule them as the activities of eggheads and longhairs. (If you’ll forgive rather dated terms. Nerds and geeks I think are the contemporary equivalents for those interested in science & technology.) So how do you educate those who don’t want to be educated?
*Though from my observation there are two only if looking from the humanities side, since scientists as a group tend to be rather interested in the humanities, if often dismissive of the more avant garde aspects.
I have extensive experience with amateur astronomers; I’d venture to say that astronomy is the single scientific field in which amateurs make the most significant contribution.
Amateur ornithologists give amateur astronomers a run for their money. Heck, Jared Diamond, the world’s leading authority on the avian fauna of New Guinea is technically an amateur.
In part that’s because astronomy is still, to a large degree, an observational science, and the vast army of amatuer observers can muster orders of magnitude more “telescope time” than professionals (who constantly complain about how hard it is to get telescope time at major observatories).
And the same comments apply to ornithology.
Perhaps the biggest difference I see between “amateurs” in climate science and in other sciences is: arrogance.
I think that amateurs in fields like astronomy and ornithology have a sense as to where they fit in, i.e. largely providing huge amounts of valuable data than professionals rely upon for the more theoretical aspects of the field of science involved.
Amateurs are responsible for monitoring USF&W breeding bird routes, for instance, and they know exactly what they’re doing – the nitty-gritty, time-consuming, often fairly uninteresting job of data collection in the field. They understand the value, that there’s not money available for paying the huge number of field techs that would be necessary if the job weren’t done by skilled and dedicated volunteers. And they know that the raw data of a single count done in one year isn’t useful, it’s the long-term accumulation of data over a large number of BBS routes that allow for making observations about changes in distribution of species over time, etc.
There are a large number of such examples. Astronomy’s similar. Amateurs view themselves as being useful helpers.
And when they’re told “we need you to stand here for 15 minutes, and identify every bird you can by eye or ear”, they don’t respond by e-mailing you a photograph saying “well, I didn’t get you the data you want, because all you really need is a photograph and this air-conditioner in the photo proves that northern spotted owls breed in junkyards”.
Most of the “amateurs” who pollute the blogosphere with ruminations about climate science aren’t really amateurs in the purest sense; they don’t do it for love of the science, but for the hatred of it.
And this is the best sentence summarizing the problem I’ve seen. That and/or the hatred of the *implications* of the science. These people aren’t amateur climate scientists any more than creationists are amateur evolutionary biologists. There’s no comparison with the amateur enthusiasts helping out with the observational aspects of fields like astronomy and ornithology.
In my country, Dr. David Suzuki — through the Nature of Things on CBC — has turned many, many people onto science and sustainability. And yet, I still remember my oceanography professor in 1980 taking Suzuki to task for losing his objectivity, and for becoming so political. (The irony is that this particular professor went on to do the exact same thing on various CBC radio and television programs for more than a decade).
It drives me crazy that Suzuki has become the Al Gore of Canada, a focal point for so much anger and vitriol. I honor the man.
Science ambassadors — that’s a great way to describe applied scientists and inventors who bring science to bear on important problems. It used to be, in America, that applied science was admired. Lay people could see what it was good for.
But now, pure scientists, instead of applied scientists, get nearly all of the funding and the academic posts. Like eunuchs in the Roman empire, they promote only those like themselves, so it will take generations to correct the system. Lee Smolin’s devastating critique of string theory, “The Trouble with Physics,” points this out with regard to physics departments today. String theory (the putative Theory of Everything) is unprovable, but nevertheless such quasi-theological speculations in cosmology and particle physics consume most of the available physics grant money and get most of the graduate students.
Even if the science budget is increased in response to the current global emergency, it’s a safe bet that the money will go to academic and national lab pure science for efforts that will bear no fruit. For example, hot fusion and supercolliders. We need mission-driven applied science, but we’ll probably get nothing tangible but obscure papers concluding that much more study (grant money) is needed.
So maybe that’s part of the reason that science gets no respect.
“Another Watts example: The speculation on his blog a few months ago of whether it was ever cold enough in Antarctica for CO2 snow. I thought that (which eventually included an apparently effective experiment) was a good example of the scientific method in action. Here on RC, it was a subject of ridicule.”
What if it WAS ridiculous?
After all, we don’t ridicule David Ike because he wears tracksuits (though there’s enough reason right there…), we ridicule him because he’s CONVINCED that the Labour Government consists of alien Lizards who are trying to take over the world.
Do you think that *maybe* ridicule of that idea is warranted?
RE #3 JamesP & “I should think religion and its more fanatical practitioners could also take a fair amount of the blame/responsibility, or is that too hot a potato?”
I think that’s an important point, the role of the Religious Right (RR) in attacking science, but personally I wouldn’t call them “Christain.”
It’s interesting that just this week my (Catholic) pastor made the point that science owes its existence to Christianity. I might not go that far; there was already foundations for science in the pre-Christian Greek world, and Christianity has had bleak periods of viewing science as a threat, but many of the scientists in history were monks or religious persons. And at least the Catholic Church supports science education, and accepts evolution and anthropogenic climate change and other science, and adds the ethical/moral dimension that it is everyone’s responsibility to mitigate AGW.
However, the RR has made it a point to promote bogus science to debunk evolution, which they see as a threat, so they’ve made attacking science almost a righteous duty.
(I actually think it’s a sin not to accept evolution or AGW, since God is Truth, and scientific truths — tho subject to change with better evidence and/or theories — are to be respected. God’s creation could be viewed as a bible written directly by God, and the scientists are its interpreters. E.O. Wilson said in KEEPING THE EARTH that causing a species to go extinct was like tearing out a page of scripture.)
But how in the world could many on the RR view climate science as a threat when the solution to AGW could include living a more humble, ascetic, Christ-like life, one of caring for others we might be harming. That really shows their true colors as adhering not to Christianity, but to some perversion of extreme, misguided, self-defeating materialism (there must be some books written about this). So, they are no better than the materialistic big biz-supported deniers who would sell the world down the drain for their own gain.
I could give a social science explanation for this…..
Seeing all this about scientific reasoning, i had a question and did not know where else to post it.
A ‘contrarian’ came to me once and said “the scientists say we will get maybe 3 millimeters of sea level rise per year. That means 300 millimeters in a century, or about a foot. That isn’t much, no worries!”
Can someone help me answer this? I see projections measured that way here all the time, and can’t get my head around the fact that a millimeter is small, and even adding up 1000 of them only gets you three feet (1m). In NYC, where I live, that would put high tide only to the edge of the walls at Battery Park– I doubt many would consider it that serious.
I know the problem is how people measure things, and relating it to real things we all come into contact with. Any thoughts? I know that I never did understand this measurement either, and only realized it when someone brought it up.
I should think that a fair proportion of the blame can be laid at the door of religion and its more ‘enthusiastic’ practitioners, or is that too hot a potato to consider? I’m not trying to make trouble..
Why don’t you do the scientific thing and provide some empirical evidence for your hypothesis? It’ll be interesting to see how religion could have caused the decline of support for science in an era when people are less religious than ever before.
Christianity was responsible for the scientific revolution. The SR petered out in ancient Greece, the Caliphate, and medieval China. The one place it succeeded was in medieval Europe, and it succeeded because of the Christian doctrines of 1) a lawful universe, 2) secondary causation, and 3) vocation.
Ancient Greece denied (3). They thought they could do it all on pure reason. Manual labor was for slaves, not gentlemen. And empirical research was manual labor. From careful analysis of his works, we can tell that Aristotle did a lot of fieldwork, but he was ashamed to admit it–he always disguised his results as having come from pure chains of argument.
The Caliphate denied (2). Al-Ghazali wrote, “Words do not appear on a page because the writer writes, the hand moves, and ink flows from the pen. Allah moves the writer, the hand, the pen, and the ink according to his good pleasure.” The Arab natural philosophers who wanted to talk about natural causes were hounded out of the Empire.
Medieval China denied (1). To them the Universe was capricious. The will of Heaven might cause anything to happen, and it was useless to try and predict it. Today undamming the flow of chi might cure a disease; tomorrow it might not. It was not for mortals to try to divine the mind of Heaven.
Only the Christian philosophers got it right on all three points.
I think I’ll do a web page on this.
[Response: No more discussion of religion please. - gavin]
Not just ornithology, there’s a huge number of amateurs in natural science – Britain’s leading flea expert is a retired bomber pilot, most work on insect & plant distribution in Europe is done through amateurs submitting records, there has been some recent research that actively seeks out public assistance as the amount of ground that can be covered is so much more than could be done by professionals, one example being bumblebee nest habitat selection research: http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/119392104/abstract?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0
I believe a lot of them are enthusiasts who think they’re witnessing some kind of game and– unequipped with the tools to discriminate– have more or less arbitrarily chosen a “team”, have put on their jersey and then carry on, whooping and shouting from their armchairs as they imagine seeing goal scored.
You sir, have a fine turn of phrase. The above is how I’ve thought many people choose (and support) a political party.
Debate does not lead to curiosity, any more than professional wrestling leads to physical fitness.
I may have to borrow that. :-)
I really came to to say there were three cultures, but found that James (#55) had said it better.
No, of course not, and didn’t really mean to place ornithology on a pedestal. Though it’s far more important than in mammology, but there are a lot of reasons for that … most mammals (other than charismatic megafauna) are secretive, in many habitats nocturnal, hard to identify unless in the hand, etc. So the skills needed for observation are less accessible to the enthusiast.
Guy I know here in the PNW – Dennis Paulson – a leading expert on Odonta (dragonflies etc)- spent time in the ’90s trying to get his fellow taxonomists to adopt and publicize popular names as well as the binomial nomenclature used professionally (as has been done with organizations like the AOU for birds). Most species are fairly easy to identify visually and his goal was to make “dragonfly watching” more accessible to those who dabble in natural history. Don’t know how much traction he got among his fellow odontan taxonimists.
But my main point – and I really loved Tamino’s “hatred of science” sentence – is that the motivation for involvement is due to love of astronomy or natural history or … not because the conclusions of science clash with one’s ideology. And that love shows in the good work volunteers do in so many areas of natural history, astronomy, etc.
Oh, another fun example, going out whale watching in the atlantic, the boat driver with his camera sitting beside him, ready to shoot any humpback seen, because there’s a large database cataloging their markings – unique, like fingerprints – and the photos are used to help track migratory patterns, etc. Oh, maybe I shouldn’t mention this example, it proves that photographs really are useful to science! :) uh-oh.
Watts’ surface stations photography project obviously tapped into an enthusiastic resource. It’s a pity his own scientific illiteracy has served to lead to severely misleading people as to the scientific relevance of his project.
Jesse (66) As it gets warmer, the rate of sea level rise goes up. The best current estimates of 2100 sea level rise are more like 4-5 feet. Note that the first 3 feet of sea level rise floods half the cropland of Bangladesh. Doesn’t do much good for south Florida either.
Scientists unfortunately have also become politicized and hence radioactive on certain issues like bioethics and global warming. Many conservative and republicans distrust scientists as left wingers who have a political rather than scientific agenda. I don’t blame them, I attended a prestigious research university for atmospheric science and many of my graduate professors couldn’t help but bring their political ideology into the classroom. This mix is toxic and leads to stale debates on a relatively clear issue like global warming. I suspect this bias was even more prevalent in the 1960′s and 70′s and is now ingrained in peoples minds when listening to scientists talk about certain issues. I certainly don’t agree with global warming denialists, but I would hope some of you would take the political bite out of your lectures and arguments. I’ve actually sucessfully swayed a conservative newspaper columnists by first informing him that I voted republican in the last two elections and telling him to put down his political guard when listening to my explanation behind anthroprogenic global warming. The same method has opened the minds of some of my more conservitive family memebers. After World War 2 there was no discernable political correctness among scientists I suspect, but that all changed thanks to ‘peace love and harmony’ era. 90-95 percent of college professors most likely vote democratic. That number is probably lower among scientists, but still too high to remove an ideological charge to scientific issues in my opinion. I wish I knew how these two sides could reconcile, however, I suspect the death of the baby boomers will be a big help (no offense).
“Another Watts example: The speculation on his blog a few months ago of whether it was ever cold enough in Antarctica for CO2 snow. I thought that (which eventually included an apparently effective experiment) was a good example of the scientific method in action. Here on RC, it was a subject of ridicule.”
I attended a 4-day “institute” where the newly-wed Asimov (on his honeymoon) was a lecturer and panel member. During his spare time at that institute, he wrote a science fiction novel. He may have been smart, but he did not always put a lot of thought into everything that he wrote.
Futurists, including Asimov, Forrester, and Fuller, offered a world of tomorrow based on “science”, much of which has not come to pass. Even futures based on detailed models have not come to pass. For example, commodity prices did not rise as fast as Forrester projected. On the other hand, Arctic sea ice declined much faster than IPCC Climate models forecast. Glaciologists have expressed surprise at the behavior of (moving) ice over the last decade. If glaciologists are repeatedly surprised at the movement of ice, how can the public have confidence in the language in the latest IPCC report related to ice and sea level rise? Frankly, science has lost credibility. To quote R. P. Feynman (1985 pg 255), “Since then I never pay any attention to anything by ‘experts.’ I calculate everything myself.”
I was beaten to it (at #20) but I was going to point out out that Snow’s “two cultures” was nothing to do with a disconnect between “scientific and popular cultures”, and if the authors think it does it isn’t much of a recommendation for the book. Snow was talking about a far away time when educated people could be expected to be aware of, able to discuss in an informed fashion, the issues of the day. But he was saying that science (eg with nuclear physics, DNA) had become so technical that even a well-educated humanist could no longer be informed about it. But we have reached the point now, thanks largely to the media and populist politicians, where the public at large is well-educated and informed about nothing. There are still two cultures among the educated and aware, and this may well be part of the problem we face, because this is a time when all good men need to come to the aid of the party, but the proportion of the public they represent, and their influence on public policy, is tiny. Snow would be devastated.
“String theory (the putative Theory of Everything) is unprovable, but nevertheless such quasi-theological speculations in cosmology and particle physics consume most of the available physics grant money and get most of the graduate students.”
I disagree. Theorists are cheap, as every physix department knows. Experimentalists are expensive. And experimental tests of string theory are many, many, many orders of magnitude greater than our powers today.
To amplify on the point made by Silver Rattasepp (#20) and others, I think the problem, at least in the U.S., is not specific to science, but is more generally an increase in anti-intellectualism (does the book discuss the work of Richard Hofstadter?) and the extinction of the public intellectual. Without getting too specific (for fear of starting a tangential argument), there is no shortage of recent examples in, for example, economics or foreign policy, where the informed viewpoint has been totally absent from what is allowed to be presented to the public by television and the mainstream press. In other words, the problem isn’t the lack of presenters, but the lack of platforms for them.
I’ve read it; I said that I don’t defend everything Watts has written. I think it is great that you point out when he is wrong.
I just think it is counterproductive to promoting interest in science to dismiss everything he does with disdain just because he may be wrong ½ the time (or even 90% of the time).
How many scientific publications (including peer reviewed ones) are free of errors? These are just blog posts we are discussing.
1) I finished the book yesterday, concur with mike’s review.
I’d amplify two of the mesasges:
2) Rewards system
Indeed, if you want something to change, you have to change the rewards system. If you run a university, and you want to encourage interdisciplinary research (which can be especially tricky for younger faculty in disciplines that tend to be stovepiped), you hae to take explicit action.
If you want communication skills to be improved, as the book suggest, you have to offer long-term encouragement for some scientists to do that. Most people have observed that university researchers vary widely in their communications skills, from truly wonderful to abysmal. [Imagine a course in theoretical mechanics where the professor starts at one of a blackboard, spends the class scribbling illegible equations from one end to the other, all the while mumbling in not-so-good English.]
On the other hand, when I was at Bell Labs (1973-1983), good communications skills were prized and rewarded, and showed up in merit reviews, because management knew that uncommunicated results weren’t very useful.
Besides lectures & papers, we had frequent internal formal courses … but people weren’t usually *allowed* to teach them unless they’d generally displayed good communications skills atop the relevant expertise. Otherwise, they’d be wasting the time of a bunch of well-paid professionals, few of whom would be shy in complaining about a poor course.
Rewards systems matter.
3) Receiver-oriented communicators (p.61-62 of book), i.e., calibrate the audience and adapt to it.
Anyone successful in sales or outbound marketing does this all the time.
Counterexample: someone asks a really basic question.
Answer: Read the IPCC.
Comment: not particularly productive, unless one points them at one of those tutorial boxes, which are actually pretty good.
Calibrating audiences is one of the reasons for trying to develop a coherent scale for knowledge and expertise on some natural science. That might help people recommending study, to get from one level to the next in their understanding.
re: #29 Scientific American: I’ve gotten it since 1967, think it’s still useful. Hang in there, George. SciAm still has good material, written by scientists and science writers for the lay audience (which includes scientists far enough away from their own field).
But, I run into long-out-of-school adults (Background B1 on that scale), and if they try to keep up with science (by reading SciAm, etc, say solid K2), but want more (K3-K5), I occasionally recommend to them:
Join AAAS for a year – anyone can join. You’ll get Science once a week for a few dollars, a great deal. Read the first half of each issue to see what scientists think is news and important, and for context. Some of that overlaps with SciAm.
Read the abstracts of the second half to see current high-quality research, and how it’s said, by researchers writing mostly for each other. If an article title appears written in some language other than English, don’t feel bad, just skip it. You get online access to past issues, so you can look up references. If you find an article you can understand, look carefully at the wording, caveats, errorbars, uncertainty estimates. This will help explain why real science lends itself poorly to soundbites and headlines, and why good science often gets confused in the media, even with the best of will.
The question itself wasn’t ridiculous, though given that the poster (Stephen Goddard) and his host (Watts) both believe that they’ve pretty much overturned much of climate science, you’d think they’d be more careful about looking scientifically illiterate.
What *was* ridiculous was the response when posters with a bit of knowledge of physical chemistry trotted out phase diagrams, cites from text books, etc showing that it was impossible.
The ridiculous response was Goddard’s repeated insistence that he was right, and every professional scientist with knowledge of such things was wrong. Backed up at first by Watts, who quoted as an authority a guy who, as it turned out, works for Argonne National Labs and has a MS in Meteorology.
So here you had it … a guy with no university degree as far as can be determined (Watts), much less scientific training. Goddard – no scientific training. And a meteorologist. All having proven this bit of basic science wrong, through pontification and assertion of the “I know I’m right and the textbooks wrong” variety.
Even some of the staunch supporters over their pled “please stop! you’re making our side look ridiculous, like we don’t know anything about science!” (they’re right).
Finally, someone decided to try an experiment and came back and said, in essence, “well, I guess these textbooks and phase diagrams used every day by scientists are right, after all”.
Gee, who would’ve thunk that?
If you don’t find this ridiculous then I suggest that you *might* be humor-impaired.
Goddard never did admit to being wrong, and AFAIK he still believes he was right. He’s not posted again, apparently, at least not as a topic-starter.
I just think it is counterproductive to promoting interest in science to dismiss everything he does with disdain just because he may be wrong ½ the time (or even 90% of the time).
Nothing he does has anything to do with science. Pure and simple.
56.dhogaza: “Amateurs view themselves as being useful helpers.
And when they’re told “we need you to stand here for 15 minutes, and identify every bird you can by eye or ear”, they don’t respond by e-mailing you a photograph…”
I think that is another example of ‘amateurs being on the receiving end of condescension’.
[edit--lets keep this civil]
“I see projections measured that way here all the time, and cant get my head around the fact that a millimeter is small, and even adding up 1000 of them only gets you three feet (1m). In NYC, where I live, that would put high tide only to the edge of the walls at Battery Park I doubt many would consider it that serious.”
As GFW pointed out, that rate of rise may well accelerate. As well, using your Battery Park example, don’t forget that if mean high water reaches the edge of the walls at Battery Park, you’ve lost any buffer to account for storm surges, spring tide, wind-driven waves, or a combination thereof.
Your choice of the Battery Park seawall is an excellent example of the nearly countless artifacts we’ve constructed using our current notion of mean and spring tide as a guideline for location. 3′ of difference will put much of that construction at risk.
A little matter of partial pressure, and Watts’ failure to understand this reveals him as ignorant about crucial features of the windmill he’s chosen to battle. Combine that with his posturing as expert on climate science and the net result is, he appears thoroughly ridiculous even by the most generous standard.
85.dhogaza: “So what was ridiculous about it?
What *was* ridiculous was the response when posters with a bit of knowledge of physical chemistry trotted out phase diagrams, cites from text books, etc showing that it was impossible. The ridiculous response was Goddard’s repeated insistence that he was right, and every professional scientist with knowledge of such things was wrong. Backed up at first by Watts, who quoted as an authority a guy who, as it turned out, works for Argonne National Labs…Finally, someone decided to try an experiment…”
That sounds like the scientific method in action to me. Experiment trumps authority (or in this case confirms one authority over another). Also, almost everyone involved learned something. What’s not to like?
When people show this kind of interest in science and properly follow the scientific method, they should be praised, not ridiculed.
Well, with the mention of Dawkins (53), I have to say that there may be some problems with some “science popularizers.” I say that as an anthropologist who in the 70s when I came to know of his theories really disputed the “selfish gene” idea and biological reductionism in general.
And in recent decades it seems he’s less into promoting science and more into promoting his own ideology. He’s more likely to be used by the anti-science folks as proof positive of the evils of science.
And this in an age when what we need most is to all come together and mitigate climate change, and we need people to pay attention to the scientists that are informing us about it, not get side-tracked into far-flung theories of evolution/biology that even anthropologists who firmly accept evolution have trouble with.
It seems he, PZ, and other scientists like them are part of the problem, not the solution.
But I do understand their anger and railing against the anti-science crowd; it’s just that increasing the polarization doesn’t help much in bringing people together for the important task at hand of mitigating climate change.
Lynn Vincentnathan (91) — Please take that over to Panda’s Thumb, not here. Nothing wrong with Dawkin’s popular works on biological evolution (although his most recent forays certainly cause controversy; but its not the science that does that.)
As for climatology, there are many good books for the intelligent lay(wo)man. I haven’t seen any mentioned in these comments so far, so I’ll put W.F. Ruddiman’s “Plows, Plagues and Petroleum” right up front, so to speak.
“That sounds like the scientific method in action to me. Experiment trumps authority (or in this case confirms one authority over another). Also, almost everyone involved learned something. Whats not to like?”
Probably that Watts would like to insist that we start with 19th century science and work our way forward to the present, for the second time. This is not dark matter or string theory we’re speaking of, it’s material that was all squared away in the first half of the 18th century.
If by “everyone involved learned something” you mean the denizens of Watts’ site, perhaps so, but that’s no recommendation, it’s more condemnatory as well as reflective of an appalling lack of basic scientific knowledge. Again, combine that with all the posing and self-aggrandizement and you end with “ridiculous”, again.
This is in response to a post by James P. His post contains a
He said “I have a Neuropathy, which was diagnosed by DNA test and
declaired ‘autoso-mal’ – which means passed through the male, with the
likelihood of 9 out of 10 of any children that I might have getting
The error has to do with the term autoso-mal. Autoso-mal refers to all
of the chromosomes except for the two sex chromosomes (X & Y). Males
have only one X chromosome that is inherited from mom. If a gene for
a trait is present on the X chromosome that a male receives then he
gets the trait. If a gene for a trait is on the Y chromosome then it
is acquired only by the male and is passed on only to the male
Comment by William Geoghegan — 8 Jul 2009 @ 8:58 PM
Carl Sagan explaining Maxwell’s equations may be good, I don’t remember. But I was mesmerized by Richard Feynman’s “QED.”
[Response: Feynman was of course irreplaceable and remains greatly missed. Interestingly, his sister Joan is a highly respected scientist herself (solar physics). She's a fond acquaintance, who has done some very nice work on solar/climate relationships, particularly on solar forcing of the NAO. Interesting, by the way, that you happened to use the term "mesmerized". Sagan, as it happens, discusses in 'Demon-Haunted World' the pseudo-scientific origins of the term (which comes from the 18th/19th century German physician and astrologer Franz Mesmer, who claimed he could cure patients of their ills through a mystical procedure involving magnets). -mike]
When people show this kind of interest in science and properly follow the scientific method, they should be praised, not ridiculed.
Steve, seriously what are you talking about? Anybody who knows how science operates sees through Watts in about 6 milliseconds OK? Notwithstanding the fact that there is no one “scientific method” (popular opinion to the contrary), the guy has no idea what the methods of scientists entail, and ergo, no idea what he’s doing.
The guy has no interest in science per se. He has an interest in making noise for the sake of attention. He appeals only to people who like himself, don’t understand what scientific inquiry really entails.
#34 – Mark
‘But there have been quite a few (JBob being a good one) who started out “I only want to learn”, refused to listen to anyone who didn’t agree they have something and then give up trying to go “I’m trying to learn” and throw their toys out, blaming RC for the damage to them.’
Did I hear my name in vain? Sorry, but I would disagree. One of the things I wanted to show was other methods besides statistics, can be used in analysis, and not get stuck in a “statistics rut”. However, that was beneficial in that it forced me to go back, check the analysis and verify it by cross checking the result by other analysis methods.
But the point is, the analysis was dismissed without probably looking at it, and worse calling the procedures outlined and followed by the co-developer of the Fast Fourier Transform, “bungled” out of hand.
“But the point is, the analysis was dismissed without probably looking at it…”
The record shows intensive discussion and critique of your analysis going far beyond dismissal out-of-hand, J.Bob. Some people (yours truly, for instance) did not give it “due respect” but several others did.
For the record, improvement in this department is possible, for me anyway. As I said in another post, somewhere, it struck me too late that you were not simply parroting talking points. After belated reconsideration about what you were doing, in future I will think twice before shooting off my mouth.
I still think that hinging your entire argument by forming your conclusions from a single temperature record from middle England was fundamentally flawed, I agree with your critics’ points about exceeding the limitations of the tools you applied, but you did make an effort better than the vast majority of ill-equipped garden variety fact-avoiders.
Promoting an enthusiasm for nature can be done in ways that improve understanding and conservation, or work against it.
I’m an Australian environmentalist and unfortunately I see Steve Erwin as part of the dumbing down of science. He was a likeable clown who entertained people by poking wildlife (until one poked back). He wasn’t a scientist by training, and he did’t set out in his shows to seriously impart a deep understanding biology, ecology (which I don’t percieve he had other then his gut understanding of reptilian behaviour).
In contrast there was Harry Btler, the ecologist I grew up watching and who set me on my path to study ecology. In his television series In the Wild with Harry Butler he who took the audience on an exploration of the Australian landscape, it’s fauna and ecology. He was famous for his ability on to plung his arm into random tree hollows or to flip over random rocks and pluck out fabulously interesting creatures. The thing is that he then told you all about their biology and ecology. And he always treated the creature with respect, releasing it and making a point about carefully replacing the rock or log where he found it.
I’m part of a group that goes to shows and festivals all around southern Australia, putting on educational performances teaching about nature, flora & fauna, and raising an awareness in people of all ages about the critical role that people play in managing and conserving their local flora, fauna and pockets of habitat. It’s clear to me from my interactions with audiences that Steve Erwin raised the publics interest in reptiles. But my percepton is that he has caused a spike in the number of people who are collecting reptiles from the wild and thereby pushing populations to extinction. So I always take the time in my performance to explain the impacts that collecting from the wild has, hopefully undoing a little bit of the damage that Steve did in this respect.
Steve Erwin, God rest his soul missed a huge opportunity to contribute enourmously to the conservation of Australian flora and fauna. But hey, his ratings were HUGE.
Actually, Steven Reynolds, you’ve gone beyond the stupid (I used to think you weren’t really there) saying…
56.dhogaza: “Amateurs view themselves as being useful helpers.
And when they’re told “we need you to stand here for 15 minutes, and identify every bird you can by eye or ear”, they don’t respond by e-mailing you a photograph…”
I think that is another example of ‘amateurs being on the receiving end of condescension’.
No, this is actually an example of volunteers not doing their job.
And, of course, you cut the rest of my statement about going on to claim that the photo of an A/C unit proves that NSO can breed in the habitat being photographed.
i.e. you gutted my words to “prove you’re right” while stupidly still posting something false.
But your quote-mine attempt … tch tch you’re dishonest. Proven for all to see who are willing to scroll backwards.
1) I finished the book Tuesday, concur with mike’s review.
Following are comments on two of the topics:
2) Rewards system
Indeed, if you want something to change, you change the rewards system. If you run a university, and you want to encourage interdisciplinary research (which can be risky for younger faculty in disciplines that tend to be stovepiped), you have to take explicit action to encourage that to happen. (Stanford’s Bio-X is a good example).
If you want communication skills to be improved, as the book suggests, you have to offer long-term encouragement for some scientists to do that. University faculty vary widely in their communications skills, from truly wonderful to abysmal. [Imagine a physics course in theoretical mechanics where the professor starts at one of a blackboard, spends each class scribbling illegible equations from one end to the other, all the while mumbling in heavily-accented English.]
On the other hand, when I was at Bell Labs (1973-1983), good communications skills were encouraged, because management knew that uncommunicated results weren’t so useful. This showed up in merit reviews.
Besides lectures & papers, we had frequent internal formal courses, but people weren’t usually *allowed* to teach them unless they’d shown good communications skills atop the relevant expertise. Otherwise, they’d be wasting the time of a bunch of well-paid professionals, few of whom would be shy in complaining about a poor course.
Rewards systems really matter.
3) “Receiver-oriented communicators” (p.61-62 of book) calibrate the audience and adapt, rather than being “source-oriented communicators”.
Anyone successful in sales or outbound marketing does this all the time.
Counterexample: someone asks a really basic climate question.
Answer: Read the IPCC.
Comment: not particularly productive, unless one points them at a specific tutorial box.
Calibrating audiences is one of the reasons for trying to develop a coherent scale for knowledge and expertise on some natural science. That might help people recommending study, to get from one level to the next in their understanding.
re: #29 Scientific American: I’ve gotten it since 1967, think it’s still useful. Hang in there, George. I think SciAm still has good material, written by scientists and science writers for the lay audience (which includes scientists far enough away from their own field).
But, I run into long-out-of-school adults (Background B1/B2 on that scale), and if they try to keep up with science (by reading SciAm, etc, say solid K2), but want more (K3-K5), I occasionally recommend to them:
“Join AAAS for a year – anyone can join. You’ll get Science once a week for a few dollars each, a great deal. Read the first half of each issue for context, and to see hot topics. Some of that overlaps with SciAm.
Read the abstracts of the second half to see current high-quality research, and how it’s presented, by researchers writing mostly for each other. You can see what real arguments *within* science look like.
If an article title appears written in some language other than English, don’t feel bad, just skip it. I skip most after reading 1-2 sentences. If you find an article you can understand, look carefully at the wording, caveats, errorbars, uncertainty estimates. This will help explain why real science lends itself poorly to soundbites and headlines, and why good science often gets confused in the media, even with the best of will.”
That sounds like the scientific method in action to me. Experiment trumps authority (or in this case confirms one authority over another). Also, almost everyone involved learned something. What’s not to like?
Yes, I learned that Steven Goddard is scientifically illiterate. I already knew Watts is. I’ve now learned that you’re scientifically illiterate, too. Thank you. Hopefully you’ll accept the consequences.
Experiment trumps authority (or in this case confirms one authority over another).
This is why every soldier, learning how to hit targets on the firing range, should tell is instructors “you’re wrong! I don’t have to compensate for that weird downwards force you insist is real!”
Each and everyone should spend months experimenting, because, you know, being told that gravity is real and therefore believing it, is *so* unscientific.
Everyone should always start from first principles (naked, no cave, no stone tools, etc) because, you know, this is how all scientists really work.
They all throw out all existing knowledge.
Newton’s “Standing on the shoulders of giants” claim was heresy, after all, Rather, every scientist must build everything they know about the world by climbing from the primal much, without the aids of undergraduate and graduate education, textbooks, seminars, etc.
40 Karen Kohfeld: You make the “Engineering and Science Core Curriculum” mandatory for everybody, even acting option Drama majors. Make “Science and Immortality” by Charles B. Paul 1980 University of California Press required reading. In this book on the Eloges of the Paris Academy of Sciences (1699-1791) page 99 says: “Science is not so much a natural as a moral philosophy”. [That means drylabbing [fudging data] will get you fired.]
Page 106 says: “Nature isn’t just the final authority, Nature is the Only authority.”
I’m a little surprised to see such emphasis on changing the science curriculum. The bottleneck to scientists engaging in outreach seems to me to be more located in the institutional rewards for working scientists than in the educational curriculum. Perhaps I’m biased, because I was fortunate enough to have a lot of free choice in courses to take, eg communication and social psychology courses in addition to atmospheric chemistry stuff.
The problem seems to me that none of the rewards for academic researchers are related to public engagement. It could even diminish your career chances, as you also point out. Shouldn’t the solution be searched more in the academic working environment rather than in the education system?
Right now as a scientist wanting to engage more in public outreach you face a choice: Remaining in science and trying to squeeze in some outreach work, often at the risk of your career perspectives. Or leaving science and search for another job that entails more communication with the public (eg teacher, journalist, politics, …). I know a fair number of scientists who went into teaching for that reason, whereas some of them perhaps had an intrinsic ability to reach a lot more people, if given the chance. It is sad that there is no middle road, where combining research and outreach is valued (read: paid), just as the combination of research and teaching is (in most academic environments). I’m still looking…
Steve, what was ridiculous is well put by dhgoza. A shorter form was their insistence that they are merely skeptical, yet when it comes to a theory they want to promote, they show NO signs of skepticism.
I’ll add Richard Dawkins for his fine books on biological evolution.
For me, Dawkins’s usefulness is compromised by his insistence that accepting evolution means you can’t believe in God; that evolution somehow disproves theism. I think he probably turns off a lot of people that way and actually makes the problem worse. The science-minded people who read his books already accept evolution.
There’s also the fact that he embraces one very fringe-science idea (gene selection) and one pseudoscience (sociobiology).
“Another Watts example: The speculation on his blog a few months ago of whether it was ever cold enough in Antarctica for CO2 snow. I thought that (which eventually included an apparently effective experiment) was a good example of the scientific method in action. Here on RC, it was a subject of ridicule.”
61.Mark: “What if it WAS ridiculous?”
So what was ridiculous about it?
The freezing point of CO2 is 194.7 K. The lowest temperature ever recorded on Earth was 184.0 K, at Vostok Station, Antarctica, 07/21/1983. While technically this is cold enough to freeze CO2, it didn’t last long enough, and there isn’t enough CO2 in the air, for CO2 snow to fall. That’s why carbon dioxide snow has never been observed in nature, even in Antarctica.
Nothing wrong with Dawkin’s popular works on biological evolution
Yes there IS. “The Selfish Gene” especially. Mainstream evolutionary biology assumes selection at the level of the individual–”genes mutate, individuals are selected, populations evolve.” Dawkins pushes selection at the gene level, and what’s more, tells everyone that his side won and is the consensus now, which is just not true. Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace, Ernst Mayr, Theodosius Dobzhansky, and Lynn Margulis got along just fine without ever making use of “gene selection,” and as Stephen Jay Gould pointed out, you can’t even make it work in real life. “The environment does not see genes, it sees bodies.”
There’s also the unquestioning belief he has in sociobiology, to the point of supporting idiocy like Kevin MacDonald’s crackpot books about the Jews. Like every pro-sociobiology writer I’ve ever encountered, he knows a lot about biology but has never taken a course in sociology and doesn’t know anything about it.
to GPW and Doug Bostrom — that helps, but even if sea level rise accelerates, if I tell someone it is 1.8-3mm per year, it would still have to be a pretty big increase to make a dent. Again, say 3mm/year. After 10 years that’s 30mm — about an inch and change. After 20 years you get 2 inches, if it accelerates a little more. The Battery park example would take, at 3mm per year, 300 years.
So I feel like I am halfway there to understanding this. But I can understand why people might not feel too concerned about sea level rise when put that way: “Two inches? So what? And 300 years from now it won’t matter.”
I don’t mean to be dense. I am jut trying to understand the relationships between the rate of change measurements (measured in single mm) and the meter-scale changes I see elsewhere. Looking up methods of measuring sea level rise didn’t help.
I teach science in a public university. I think that the deficiencies are particularly bad right now because of economic inequality and the dominant European culture’s tendency to keep scientific skills and knowledge within their own sphere. Carl Sagan pushed to democratize science, but we need to do a great deal more.
Nice to see C. P. Snow’s ‘Two Cultures’ getting a little air. ‘Science and Government’ might also be worth a look now as it is about the development of Radar from a science bureaucrat’s point of view.
The most important thing about Radar, apart from the fact that it worked and that it is . . . well . . . basically beautiful, may be that it is the ultimate in technological winner picking by governments. The bureaucratic paper trail (that starts the process of selecting, funding and deploying radar) starts at a time when there was no consensus about the threat that that pack of Godwin Law inspiring nutters really posed. The scientists and bureaucrats that supported the idea had to defend it against a series of hostile cabinets with their own ideas, arguing simply on the merits of the science.
It is a good story, well told by a participant with some axes to grind, most declared, some not. Most importantly, C. P. Snow understood science and he understood politics. One of my Pol Sci lectures used to tell a story about C. P. Snow and the First Soviet Ambassador to the UN, I think it was Vasily. Apparently Vasily approached Snow and said “I have read your book, ‘The Masters’, politics in England is not so different to the Kremlin”.
96.Jim Bouldin: “Anybody who knows how science operates sees through Watts in about 6 milliseconds OK? Notwithstanding the fact that there is no one “scientific method” (popular opinion to the contrary)…”
Not OK. I claim to know something about how science operates and I think Watts’ work has some value, but that is not the topic.
So what are these multiple scientific methods you claim as fact?
101.dhogaza: “If you think that Andrew Watts, for instance, is in any way a scientist, well! You might just fall into the fallacy that YOU TOO are a scientist (amateur or profession, choose your poison).”
“… If I may resort to the maligned “personal experience or anecdotal observation” (actually both): a few years ago, when I had to create a basic science literacy course for college non-majors, I structured it around the tangible benefits of evolutionary theory to medicine and agriculture – just like the NAS report did! I did that back in 2005, well before the NAS report was published. It seemed obvious to me as a teacher that I had to reach my students on their own terms, using issues that were important in their lives and their families’ lives. Health is a universal issue of interest; plus, my college had lots of pre-nursing students. So I explained how we get antibiotic resistance and why vaccines need to be constantly updated. That’s how I taught evolution. It just made sense….”
“Last Wednesday, when I had to slip out of the State of Innovation Conference early, I had the good fortune to encounter the venerable sociobiologist E.O. Wilson in the elevator. (yay!) I spent almost five minutes talking to him; if there ever was a time in my life for an elevator pitch, that was probably it! But I didn’t pitch anything. It was more important to simply thank him for his leadership in one particular area: communicating the importance of environmental conservation to religious America (as he does in his book, The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth.)
I grew up in a conservative religious town. The people I grew up with were neither bad nor stupid; most of them loved the natural world. They spent a huge proportion of their time outdoors – camping, fishing, hunting and hiking. But many of them couldn’t relate to ecological arguments, because they perceived science – rightly or wrongly – as being materialistic and therefore anti-faith. They didn’t see how their personal values could possibly be acknowledged, if a strictly evidence-based discourse was shaping policy. I know this probably sounds alien or bizarre to many scientists, but many people in the town where I grew up honestly felt oppressed by what they saw as powerful environmental lobbyists with sinister government scientists on their side. (You ecologists can quit rolling on the floor now; I’m serious.) See what I mean about the importance of understanding different perspectives?
E.O. Wilson tries in The Creation to make environmental arguments accessible to people who are working from a different worldview than most scientists. He doesn’t patronize them. He assumes that most Americans want to do the right thing. And that’s huge to me. If I had a copy of The Creation when I was a tree-hugging high school idealist with a Greenpeace sticker on her locker, I would’ve made every adult I knew read it. It says the sorts of things I wanted to say, but just didn’t know how to say back then.
Anyway, I didn’t get all that across to E.O. Wilson in the elevator. But when I mentioned where I grew up, he brightened and said, “I know just what you mean – I grew up in Alabama.” When E.O. Wilson wrote The Creation, he was writing for people he knew – a community he was part of, and one he cared about. Those people are citizens of the United States. They one of the groups that science communicators and science policymakers should be most concerned about reaching. We can’t write them off. And that is why it is so important that we bring different experiences and perspectives to the table: because as convinced as we may be of the importance of science, there are perfectly reasonable, genuine, caring Americans who do not understand science, do not relate to it, and do not know why they should bother to invest their time in it.”
There. Did anyone bother to read that while rushing to comment on something else? Go back. Give it some thought.
If you blow that kind of information off, you’re dismissing a large part of the United States population, or at least their parents. You need to reach their kids.
With respect to Watts, at a certain point, science done badly–by amateur or professional–becomes indistinguishable from anti-science, regardless of the sincerity of the person doing it. Science is not just empiricism. It is empiricism guided by understanding. You can’t simply throw out all the work that’s been done in the past and expect to make a meaningful contribution–beyond comic relief, anyway.
I just wanted to stop by to thank the readers of this blog (and Mike) for such a great discussion.
One way to boil down our book is this: The dangerous gap between scientists and the public is the fault of *both*, and it won’t do to put the blame only on one side. Accordingly, bridging the gap requires many things of the public, but also many things from scientists–many of which are now under valuable consideration here.
It would be helpful if part of the communication was about the scientific process itself — how ideas are challenged and tested, in what arenas and so on. Simply showing off the “gee wiz” sort of thing common to science shows or articles misses the point entirely.
Re the issue in context of climate change, would be helpful to continually refer back to the process itself, and show how most of what passes in the publics’ mind as scientific debate on this topic is actually nothing but heckling by the uninformed.
It seems that the National Academy of Sciences was right to reject Sagan. While you might feel that it is good to have a “scientist” communicating with the public, the National Academy of Sciences should be a body for elite scientists, not elite Johnny Carson Show guests.
[edit - sorry, I won't permit this thread to be hijacked as a forum for dubious attacks against Sagan. And spare us the egregious and, in my view, rather disingenuous straw man that anyone is arguing Sagan should have been elected to the academy for his work as a science communicator. Nobody is arguing that. As I pointed out earlier in this thread to a like-minded commenter, I'd happily match Sagan's contribution to our modern understanding of long-term Earth System evolution (in particular, his work on the "Faint Young Sun Paradox") against the scientific accomplishments of any number of other scientists who have been elected to the academy. Feel free to take this elsewhere. But consider the matter now closed here at RealClimate. -mike]
Hey Mike, you said my claims against Sagan were “dubious”. Did you understand the actual physics? Did you consult a physicist? If not, how did you decide on the degree of merit?
You obviously have Sagan as your idol, and childishly want to censor criticism about him regardless of whether or not it is correct.
If Sagan actually was seriously wrong about things he pontificated to the general public about, that does not have relevance on whether he was a good ambassador for science?
[Response: I suppose if I was in an argumentative mood, I'd point out that my having advanced degrees in physics probably qualifies me to evaluate the merit of your criticisms. Now, I've let you have your say above, ok? Lets get back to a more productive discussion on this thread. -mike]
Hank, I did read that, and I’m trying to understand how it fits together with the pernicious and degenerate voices of unreason howling at the same demographic Wilson mentions.
Perhaps the key is hidden in this statement:
“They spent a huge proportion of their time outdoors – camping, fishing, hunting and hiking. But many of them couldn’t relate to ecological arguments, because they perceived science – rightly or wrongly – as being materialistic and therefore anti-faith. They didn’t see how their personal values could possibly be acknowledged, if a strictly evidence-based discourse was shaping policy.”
Science leads to engineering. Engineering enables us to produce complex, useful artifacts, and there we have evidence in the material world of the successful predictive abilities of scientific theories.
In the products of engineering we have not only tangible illustrations of how science works for us, but common ground. We all enjoy and depend on various engineered artifacts impossible to produce without foundations of solid scientific findings, findings so reliable that we can depend on them for our very lives. The control arm connecting the steering box of one neurotic ecobunny’s Prius is made using the same principles as a ski boat’s outdrive steering fork.
So perhaps by analogizing the success of science in making recreational things safely work for us with other predictions, we could find a way forward.
Still, faced with competing voices of irrationality I’m not sure this is possible without a generational commitment to improving our educational system. It seems to me some basic powers of discrimination have to be in place before folks can sort out who is misleading versus those pointing the way ahead.
Every centimeter of rise will be accompanied by a statistical increase in various undesirable outcomes. No one collapsing structure or drowning will be attributable to any given increment of increase, but taken as a collection and graphed the results will be easily visible. To the extent that we can minimize the rise it’s good.
Human nature is tough to deal with. In the end we have to account for how poor we are at thinking on the kind of timescale involved, and for that matter how common it is to make the mistake of turning our backs on the ocean.
At a certain point you may have to say “Our grandchildren will know the answer. I hope it’s good, let’s give them cause for more hope by being responsible for their world to the extent we can.”
Sagan did some excellent work in planetary science, stellar evolution and several other areas. He also produced some very good students, who really did love the man. It really says a lot about a man when even his grad students won’t say anything bad about him.
Eerily apropos to the topic at hand is this survey on science and its public perception just released by Pew Research Center (in collaboration with AAAS). It is perhaps reason for some degree of optimism, but there are some warning signs there too, in my view.
\Sagan did some excellent work in planetary science, stellar evolution and several other areas. He also produced some very good students, who really did love the man. It really says a lot about a man when even his grad students won’t say anything bad about him.\
Ray, I actually listed specific things that Sagan had said that were seriously wrong, but Mike keeps editing them out, and then pretending that I am just ranting without actually knowing what I am talking about. That is pretty sleazy of him.
Obviously I’m not exactly counting on this post making it through censorship either.
[Response: Not sure how many times I have to repeat myself. This will not be a forum for debating whether or not Carl Sagan ever made a mistake or got something wrong. In "Demon-Haunted World" he actually enumerates for his readers a long list of mistakes he'd made in his career, and how he learned from them. Now, if you want to go on an anti-Sagan tirade, then do it on your own site. I'll even let you post a link to it here. Beyond that, let me once again state that I consider the topic closed on this thread. So, yes, any further comments from you in this vein will not be posted. Feel free to complain elsewhere about how mean we are here. -mike]
I forgot to bring up a point I’ve been pounding on forever….
When commicating about science, or right after, we need to let people know about “scientific standards,” and how scientists usually require 95% confidence that A is causing/impacting B before making a claim; that scientists need to avoid the false positive of making untrue claims, so they won’t be the boy who called wolf and lose their credibitility.
But we know what happened in that story — the people got eaten up by the wolf in the end. People, policy-makers, and those suffering from or under threat of harm need to know that they can (and perhaps should) have lower standards before acting to avert threats, such as toxic poisoning or climate change effects. They should be striving to avoid the false negative of doing nothing while the real problem rages. They do not have to wait and wait and wait until 95 (.05) blings on the scientists’s computers. They should be out in front of the scientists, striving to mitigate harms and threats, not trailing far behind, destracted by tabloid news.
And certainly they need to be doing all the cost-effective measures to avert or mitigate the harms; and be willing to pay a price (if any) to mitigate, commensuate with the level of threat.
These ideas also need to be communicated right behind communication of the science.
In fact, I’m thinking that part of the problem people have with science is just this — they feel betrayed when science cannot definitively prove their child’s cancer was caused by the toxic dumpsite next door. They know some scientists are working for industries and covering up evidence of harm, like the tobacco and formaldehyde industries (some of whose scientists ended up in prison for falsifying the science). And hopefully they understand the media are supported mainly by advertisements from businesses and bound to be somewhat biased. And if they don’t know the specifics of these issues, it’s in their general understanding of how the world works. Unless they were born yesterday.
Anyway, people have to be informed of this difference between what the scientists are trying to avoid (false claims) and what they as persons facing threats or responsible to people facing threats should be trying to avoid — that is, harm from doing nothing about true problems. Maybe this could be included right after the science is explained….sort of like “caveats for policy-makers and laypersons,” such as: “Science has not reached 95% confidence that global warming will cause severe drop in food production, but we should nevertheless be working to mitigate it and adapt to right now.”
Or, “Not all scientists agree with Hansen about the probability of runaway warming if we continue BAU — most haven’t even read his work on this (see http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/2008/AGUBjerknes_20081217.pdf) — but, hey, we’ve got to work double time to avert this one, no matter how many scientists are not on board with it yet.”
Also to Jesse – the predicted acceleration of sea level rise will take it much higher than 3mm/year. Even then, it’s a particularly slow-motion disaster. But as I previously said, a sea level rise of 4-5 feet is very likely by 2100 (where 3mm/y would only give 1 foot). The first 3 feet take out half the cropland of Bangladesh. The population of Bangladesh is over 150 million. That’s just one country. Entire low lying island nations will vanish. Nigeria, Indonesia and China will suffer cropland loss (not as extreme as Bangladesh) and they also have huge populations. Here in the US, large chunks of Louisiana and Florida will no longer be habitable. Heck, parts of London and New York may no longer be habitable. A long time before the ocean climbs the Battery Park seawall, it will have flooded the utility tunnels in the area. The Dutch will put up a valiant struggle, but at 3 feet, I don’t know.
(aside – reCaptcha must be a Jodi Foster fan. “starling FBI”)
“He also produced some very good students, who really did love the man. It really says a lot about a man when even his grad students won’t say anything bad about him.”
This makes him a good man. But that doesn’t make him a smart man.
I’m pretty sure he WAS a smart man (though I only know him through the series on telly), but if you’re trying to say he’s smart enough to be in NAS, you can’t really use how nice he was as proof.
[Response: Agreed. But the case for him having been inducted into the academy had nothing whatsoever to do with how nice or loved he was. It has to do with the fundamental contributions he made to the forefront of our knowledge in key areas, such as Earth System evolution, as I've discussed above. It is the belief of many that his efforts at popularization did indeed inappropriately influence the decision regarding his prospective induction into the academy--in a negative way. That is the injustice we are talking about here. I trust the point is now clear. -mike]
Hey Mike, maybe you should have just posted my original post without doctoring or editing, even though you disagreed with me.
It is strange that you do not understand the concept of allowing differeng views, and worse yet that you are such a sleaze as to delete key material and then debate me while acting as if I made no specific claims. While you can legally do what you want on your own website, it clearly is unfair to actually have a debate with someone without posting that person’s actual responses.
[Response: You were warned multiple times. There was no 'doctoring' of anything you posted, and to imply that to our readers is simply dishonest. What I did do was to delete material (as indicated for our readers by the 'edit' note) that was defamatory of a highly respected and loved scientist who is sadly no longer here to defend himself. On top of that, I even offered you an opportunity to provide your views off site, where they would be linked to. You chose not to take me up on that offer, and instead come back with an ad hom. By my assessment, you've now violated essentially every one of our comment policies multiple times. You have now earned the rare honor of permanent ban from the site. -mike]
mike: “But the case for him having been inducted into the academy had nothing whatsoever to do with how nice or loved he was”
However, that wasn’t the point Ray made. Ray made the point in a discussion about Carl Sagan’s ban from entry to the NAS that he was a good man.
You agree it’s OT for the discussion. He could be the loveliest man alive (if you’ve seen “Support your local Sherrif”, think of Joe Danby talking about his Paw: “A heart as big as the whole outdoors. But not a brain in his whole body”), but that doesn’t mean he should have been in the NAS.
His education was.
Now if Ray had said “he had many students who praised his intelligence”, THEN he’d have had an on topic point.
In fact, Carl probably does. Hence the outrage (in limited circles of people who know and care about the membership of the NAS).
mike: “influence the decision regarding his prospective induction into the academy–in a negative way”
This could have been not spite but old-fashioned thinking.
The Gentleman Scholar. Seeks not the limelight but persues his work with quiet dilligence.
It’s kind of old fashioned thinking, after all, the change of that form of thinking (which IS extant: was it Wallace, can’t remember the name off the top of my head, but he went and allowed Darwin some time to collect his thoughts on evolution by natural selection rather than steal a fellow scientists’ thunder).
It could be some were thinking more of the gravitas of the post and were concerned by getting a “household name” in, that this would make their work seem less serious.
Again, old-fashioned, wrong (IMO), but not malice.
And, yes, there could be some malice. Newton had a hate-on for quite a few of his fellows and as the President of the Royal Society, quashed a few good names. But as we saw with Darwin/Wallace (or whoever), such malice is not all-pervading.
All we CAN say is that from what we know (though again remember that I only know his TV appearance, not his scientific one, like many do here), is that Carl Sagan would have been an excellent choice for a member of the NAS, as good as any who were accepted for that role, and who would have maybe made the works of science better known and understood by virtue of his showmanship talents.
I’m not going to get into a dissertation on the varieties of methods in science, but there are many depending on the field and it’s maturity. But one that is ubiquitous, is that, as thoroughly as possible, you examine the existing literature on a topic before you wade into it with any putative contributions or criticisms. You do NOT simply assume that previous work is faulty, and you DEFINITELY DON’T assume that it is driven by some sort of a non-scientific agenda. You have a degree of respect for peer review (both during the pre- and post-publication processes). You recognize that on any less than obvious topic, you’re not the first one to address it or ask questions, and those who have already published on the topic are more than likely to have thought the matter through more thoroughly, and/or more rigorously, than you have. Until you REALLY understand the topic and its history, you’re very likely to be wrong in concluding that you have a new/better approach that nobody’s thought of. As for assumptions of collusion or agenda, you damn well better have rock solid evidence of it, because that’s not how scientists operate.
It’s too bad that some are resisting reading Carl Sagan’s last book,cited by Mike, and particularly the chapter titled “Maxwell and the Nerds”.It’s a fascinating tale taking us from the remarkable discoveries of Oerstad and Faraday to Maxwell’s easily understandable(Thanks to Sagan) math synthesis of these insights and his own insight leading to an understanding of light as an electromagnetic wave, and taking us to Hertz,Einstein and beyond. Quite a story!
[Response: Yeah, it doesn't get much better than that. Sagan realized he needed to explain Maxwell's equations to his readers for them to truly appreciate what makes them so elegant, and for them to appreciate the point he's seeking to make about the importance of individual moments of great scientific insight (in this particular case, Maxwell's ansatz of keeping the displacement current term for the pure vaccuum limit of the equations, which might have seemed nonsensical to others). Then, once he's got his readers on board with all of this, he uses it to drive home the point that pure science is essential for technological innovation, i.e. that there would have been no Marconi radio without the understanding of the possibility for electromagnetic wave propagation provided by Maxwell decades earlier. Sagan manages to pull it off where most would likely fail, and he tells a fascinating and important tale in the process. -mike]
123.Bart Verheggen: “See this excellent book chapter for an exposition of the different scientific methods…”
Thanks; I looked at that, but I don’t really see different scientific methods. What Oreskes writes may be useful but does not clearly distinguish the essentials.
141.Jim Bouldin: “I’m not going to get into a dissertation on the varieties of methods in science, but there are many depending on the field and it’s maturity. But one that is ubiquitous…”
As sidd says, that may be ‘a good description of the process of writing a doctoral dissertation, or a serious paper’, but I don’t see it as accurately describing the scientific method. It may be good advice to on how to efficiently do scientific work, but a more conventional (and I have found, ubiquitous) definition is typically as shown below:
“The scientific method has four steps
1. Observation and description of a phenomenon or group of phenomena.
2. Formulation of an hypothesis to explain the phenomena. In physics, the hypothesis often takes the form of a causal mechanism or a mathematical relation.
3. Use of the hypothesis to predict the existence of other phenomena, or to predict quantitatively the results of new observations.
4. Performance of experimental tests of the predictions by several independent experimenters and properly performed experiments.”
A key feature of the convention definition (and in contrast to what came before it) is a complete lack of appeal to authority. Authority may be a useful short cut, but it has no place in the foundation of science.
Since the issue of sea level rise has come up in this thread, I feel comfortable asking the following:
As a water lawyer, one thing I’m concerned about is salt water intrusion into groundwater basins that are critically important potable water resources. (The Los Angeles area being a prime example of this. Enormous sums have been spent injecting water into the basins to establish a high water barrier to keep the saline out.)
How much study has been done on the risk of increased saltwater intrusion into groundwater resources due to climate change?
Steve I think you’re missing my point, though that may be because I’m failing to make it well on what is after all a complex topic.
There are many crucial aspects to scientific investigation that go beyond the typical stepwise progression you cite (and which I have no problem with). My point above is that step numero uno–before any of that sees the light of day–is to thoroughly understand the history and issues of a topic before you start any sort of prescribed “method” of investigation. Failing that, one makes all manner of who knows what kind of assertions in the attempt to reinvent the wheel (or destroy it). And you will quite rightly be taken for lazy at best, or a fool at worst, for so doing, by those knowledgeable in the field. This is where Watts fails big time. Why you think this should only apply to a doctoral dissertation or “serious paper” I have no idea. It applies to science overall; nay it applies to good scholarship in general. No check that, it applies to the advancement of knowledge generally.
As for authority, you need to define what you mean by that term. It is quite appropriate and necessary to appeal to authority if that authority is derived from solid, validated research on a topic. It’s authority that is based on anything else (e.g. position, charisma, etc) that is unwarranted. Big difference.
Furthermore, there is a lot more variation to “the” scientific method than is encapsulated in your 4 steps. That’s also partly what I was referring to. For example, there are huge methodological and analytical differences between fields in which controlled experiments are (e.g. molecular biology, chemistry), and are not (e.g. much of earth system science, ecology etc), possible. And there are a whole host of “little things” (not so little in fact) that have to be done right as well (e.g. proper data management, quality control, and archiving). Tedious stuff a lot of it.
Francis (146) — First just ask the question irrespective of cause. I suppose civil engineers or geologists ought to have studied saltwater intrusions in, say, the Mississippi delta and so on.
Then take up the separable question of sea level rise due to global warming. Here engineeers in Northern California, England and The Netherlands have taken three slightly different stands as to what they need to protect against in 2100 CE. As I recall, they all, each with their own studies, are using 1+ meters.
“Heck, parts of London and New York may no longer be habitable.”
This of course presumes that they could be considered habitable now.
I think harping on sea level rise as though it’s the principal, if not only, consequence of global warming is a mistake, both as a debating tactic and in reality. Other effects – climate zone migrations, changes in weather patterns, melting of mountain glaciers & snowpack – will be more severe.
Francis, I took a quick gander at your question via Google Scholar using the search term “salination of aquifer due to sea level rise”. Lots of work being done in that department, seems to be a very active area of investigation.
“I teach science in a public university. I think that the deficiencies are particularly bad right now because of economic inequality and the dominant European culture’s tendency to keep scientific skills and knowledge within their own sphere.”
I wonder what university you teach at? My own experience has been quite different, in that the majority of students (and faculty, perhaps) were and are not from that “dominant European culture”. An extreme case was a graduate physics course I took some years ago, where the instructor was prone to lapsing into Chinese – and I was the only student for whom it wasn’t my native tongue :-)
Carries over into the work world. At my last salaried job, at a large computer company research lab, I was the only member of “the dominant European culture” in my group. (The others were Indian (3), Chinese (1), Iranian (1), and a black guy from the East Coast.) Overall, roughly a third of the 600 or so researchers were from India, maybe 20% from China. Add in others from all over the map, and that members of that supposedly dominant culture were a distinct minority. Judging from names on papers and attendees at conferences I’ve been to, I’ve no reason to think those numbers are at all unusual.
“Carl Sagan pushed to democratize science, but we need to do a great deal more.”
I have to disagree. We don’t need to democratize science any further than it has been. Instead, we need to elitize the rest of the non-scientific world.
If any of you did not read the quotation Hank Roberts posted, please, please go back and read it. It is absolutely on the money. I know because I come from people just like the ones described – I was born in Dallas, Texas and raised a Southern Baptist.
I have been a science geek since birth – I was reading Asimov in grade school – but most of the people I grew up with were good, religious folks who would have done anything for their country. However, they did not understand science and did indeed feel it was “anti-faith.”
I never had a problem myself with evolution/religion because I learned about it when I was so young that a simple “that’s the way God chose to work” was more than enough. I’ve fallen away from that simplistic view of things, but it took years and a lot of thought on my part about the intrinsic contradictions in the message of my faith that had nothing to do with evolution.
If in those earlier days someone like Dawkins had come along and insisted that I had to summarily give up my religion in order to accept evolution – and by extension, science in general – really, I don’t know what I would have done. Giving up something that is as much of a given as the existence of God was to me then is no small thing. Dawkins doesn’t seem to have any grasp of what he is doing to religious people with his stance. I probably would have had a breakdown – I had a hard enough time giving up my religion gradually.
If you’re going to educate these people and make them care about science, you can’t just jerk the rug out from under them and expect them to thank you for it.
I know none of this matters to some, but if you don’t the book burners to send us back to the Dark Ages, blowing them off isn’t the right answer.
James (149) — I wasn’t thinking of sea level rise as the ony thing, just that when it comes up I was trying to get my head around the concept that even a few millimeters can matter.
And I think New York is one of he most habitable American cities– few others exist where not owning a car is perfectly workable.
The big issue we have here with sea level rise is not with how high it is, per se, but the amount of water you need to pump out of the subway tunnels. As it is it’s becoming more problematic as the pumping systems were designed 100 years ago in some cases.
I cited some of the work Sagan did in planetary and astrophysics–among them the atmospheres of Venus and Jupiter. One of his grad students, Dave Stevenson, now at Caltech, I think, has gone on and had a pretty stellar career himself. Again, I didn’t know Sagan. I did know some of his students. The esteem they held him in wasn’t just because he was a nice guy. I see no objective reason why Sagan should have been denied election to the academy.
[Response: I happen to agree. As I've explained above, his work on early earth evolution and the "Faint Young Sun" paradox represents a fundamental enough contribution in the Earth Sciences that it has become a core topic in introductory courses on Earth system history at most universities. To me, that is an unambiguous indication of research achievements that clear the academy's significance hurdle. But this particular topic appears to bring out quite a bit of vitriol in some corners, so I'm going to enforce the request that there be no more comments on this topic---from either side. -mike]
147.Jim Bouldin: “As for authority, you need to define what you mean by that term. It is quite appropriate and necessary to appeal to authority if that authority is derived from solid, validated research on a topic. It’s authority that is based on anything else (e.g. position, charisma, etc) that is unwarranted. Big difference.”
I absolutely agree with the general points you make in 147 except possibly the second sentence above. I’m not sure what you mean by ‘authority… derived from solid, validated research on a topic’. If you mean to consider data and results ‘from solid, validated research on a topic’, certainly that should be done, but I would not call that authority.
The additional authority that is unwarranted is to accept unsupported statements from someone who has previously done ‘solid, validated research on a topic’ or to take on faith that ‘solid, validated research on a topic’ could not be in error.
“…you examine the existing literature on a topic before you wade into it with any putative contributions or criticisms. You do NOT simply assume that previous work is faulty, and you DEFINITELY DON’T assume that it is driven by some sort of a non-scientific agenda. You have a degree of respect for peer review (both during the pre- and post-publication processes). You recognize that on any less than obvious topic, you’re not the first one to address it or ask questions, and those who have already published on the topic are more than likely to have thought the matter through more thoroughly, and/or more rigorously, than you have. Until you REALLY understand the topic and its history, you’re very likely to be wrong in concluding that you have a new/better approach that nobody’s thought of. As for assumptions of collusion or agenda, you damn well better have rock solid evidence of it, because that’s not how scientists operate.”
“a good description of the process of writing a doctoral dissertation, or a serious paper”
I was incorrect. I should have said: “a good description of the beginning of the process of writing a doctoral dissertation or a serious paper”
a lot more goes into it of course. The actual calculations and comparison with measurements and dancing in rage when you discover simple arithmetical errors in the last proof that just went off to the publisher, and such. But I agree with Mr. Bouldin, we begin in the library.
Science does not contradict personal faith. Everyone is entitled to their own faith. Evolution is fact, but it has nothing to do with believing in “GOD,” or a higher force..faith and evolution can completely reside in one’s mind reconciled. It is ridiculous to think one “must” be an ahteist to understand and practice science…insulting even.
I recently ended a presentation at an AMS Climate seminar for broadcasts Meteorologists with Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot. If you have not seen or heard it, it is a must. Am currently reading Demon Haunted World.
All I can say is you hit the nail on the head Mike.
Sagan’s the man and his book is by far the best introduction to science and skepticisim ever written. A couple of others that come to mind are Bronowski’s “The Ascent of Man” which was made into a BBC series, and a non-scientist, the Magician James Randi who’s thin little paperback debunking Uri Geller cured me of “woo woo physics” about three decades ago.
I wholeheartedly agree with you on Sagan, Bronowski’s book should also be required reading and Randi’s lectures should be required viewing.
I would also recommend Julius Summner Miller’s “why is it so” series for younger students, he always made a point of leaving some questions unanswered and I think the world needs more “mad proffesors” like him, not less.
Ray – Well Dave was at Cornell, so I guess he at least took courses from Carl. I thought Ed Saltpeter was his adviser. In any event, Sagan’s influence is far and wide. I got hooked on Shklovskii and Sagan’s \Intelligent Life in the Universe\. And you’re right, he was the most generous of scientists.
And I am entitled to state unequivocally that your religious faith is made up fabricated delusions with no empirical basis. If you demonstrate any of my hypotheses to be completely false or wrong, my whole world is not going to come crashing down on you, but when your faith is demonstrated to be wrong, the actions that you have caused by exercising your delusional faith have real ramifications in the real world.
[moderator: ok, that's enough on religion now. thanks]
A ‘science ambassador’ in his own field of medical science and biology, Lewis Thomas,made a statement that I think should apply generally, even though he made it about his particular field: “If I were a policy make interested in saving money for health care over the long haul,I would regard it as an act of high prudence to give high priority to a lot more basic research in biological science……”
This is from an essay titled “The Technology of Medicine” in his collection of essays titled “Lives of a Cell”.
His words are just as applicable today as when he made them, and can be widely applied to cover all the sciences, including climate science.
I think the following passage by Sagan, from The Demon-Haunted World, is an interesting example of skepticism:
“At the time of writing there are three claims in the ESP field which, in my opinion, deserve serious study: (1) that by thought alone humans can (barely) affect random number generators in computers; (2) that people under minor sensory deprivation can receive thoughts or images “projected” at them; and (3) that young children sometimes report the details of a previous life, which upon checking turn out to be accurate and which they could not have known about in any other way than reincarnation. I pick these claims not because I think they are likely to be valid (I don’t), but as examples of contentions that might be true. The last three have at least some, although still dubious, experimental support.”
Here Sagan acknowledges his a priori bias — that he doesn’t think such “claims” are “likely” to be “valid” but they “might be true”.
He has already made the entirely subjective judgment that — in the terms of his own famous aphorism — these are “extraordinary” claims that require “extraordinary” evidence. (Of course to many people in India, including scientists, the idea that young children will sometimes “remember” a “previous life” in what researcher Ian Stevenson called “cases of the reincarnation type” is not extraordinary at all, but quite ordinary.)
And yet, Sagan is willing to be skeptical of his own skepticism, and to acknowledge that these claims have some experimental support and “deserve serious study”.
Jacob Mack wrote: “Humans are hardwired to have a belief in something ‘higher’ than themselves.”
Well, sure. The Appalachian mountains to the west of me are higher than myself. And the Rockies further west are even higher than that. And birds fly way up high over my head every day. And then there’s the Moon which is quite a lot higher still.
Or perhaps by “higher” you meant greater, and more powerful. Well, there are likewise plenty of things that I know of that are greater and more powerful than me. Numerous other human beings, to start with, who are certainly physically or mentally or economically greater and more powerful than me. Corporations. Governments. And of course ecosystems. Hurricanes. The Earth’s biosphere. The Sun.
Or perhaps you meant “spiritually” higher. Well, “spiritual” means lots of different things to different people, and even means different things at different times to any given person. But whatever it means, if I am a “spiritual” entity, then surely various aggregates of “spiritual” entities, such as my family, or my community of friends, or my country, or the human species, or all sentient species, and on and on up to and including at least the Earth’s biosphere considered as an undivided, whole, living system, are “higher” than myself alone.
All of this seems pretty self-evident and I don’t see that any of it has anything to do with being “hardwired” to “believe” anything in particular.
if you did dome reading on current findings in Neuroscience, behavioral genetics and the classic works: Carl Gustav Jung and Joseph Campbell you would see the point. It has been found that a need for a “higher power” or dominant belief system etched out in superstition is actually hardwired in our brains. Cultural Anthropology studies as well have found that superstition has actually assisted in preserving our species. Of course different cultures express spirtuality and beliefs in something “higher” in a myriad of ways; what is your point? Of course there are plenty of intelligent “atheists” as well who deny an existence of any “God,” but they place their principles and their anti-religious sentiments or other teahings as higher mandates which they derive a sense of purpose from. Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus are two noted existentialists who were militant atheists who used their body of work and beliefs to attain a “higher” purpose in their lives. I strongly suggest you check out ack issues of Scientific American Mind and the journal Neuroscience for further clarification on the hardwiring found. Any Cultural Anthropology textbook or PBS special with Joseph Cambell should be enlightening as well. I am not preaching and I belong to no religion; just making the point clear from research.
James #168…You are using faulty logic…you indeed do place something above all else as most important and it fills your days of thought and actions. It may be science, debating, your family, etc… but even more than that we all belive in “myths” and “constrained models” of some sort in place of actual 100% unadulterated reality. All humans are hardwired to believe in a higher cause, power, ideilogy, or system. We are influenced preanatally and through birth until adulthood; we are shaped, primed, and persuaded one way or another by good arguments, “facts”, and our own choices and studies under the circumstances.
It is a shame the level of scientific illiteracy in this country, but it is not just true of physics, chemistry and climatology. Most of my scientifically literate peers who post here know virtual;y nothing of Neuroscience, Neuropsychology, Behavioral Genetics and Anthropology. Science is too broad a term, and no one can be literate in all branches of science equally and still make a living doing science…science is a great cause and methodology in general, however, do not pretend it is not an human endeavor full of misapplicatoins, greed, error, cover ups, and gross uncertainties. Scientific American had several articles over the past few years highlighting the possibility of “Science” becoming the new state religion. There is still so much mystery and things that are in fact unknowable as Plato stated.
So, yes in all of humanity’s actual genes are codes which predisposes us to belief and to “faith,” of some sort, and in turn our neurons creat clusters in key regions which “superstitions” and belief in higher purposes, or perhaps beings reside. How many people are stuck on the belief in super intelligent aliens if not a God or universal consciousness? How many atheists “faithfully” cling to their belief that all religion and spirituality is evil or harmful? Think about it.
A brief excerpt from the above because this is seriously relevant to convincing people of ideas — the brain does appear wired for vigilance against ideas that challenge beliefs:
“… These theoretical models and empirical data suggest that the detection of novel or imminent changes in the direction of a series of semantic implications or meanings may be first discerned by the right hemisphere, before ‘left hemispheric’ awareness occurs or a ‘choice’ is made. If the right hemisphere is more specialized for vigilance and affect than the homologous regions of the left hemisphere, then one would expect specific activation by the emotional meaning or implications of statements that challenge personal beliefs …”
It’s a research study on how the brain handles challenges to deeply held beliefs, neurologically. It’s worth reading.
Of course the paradox is: reading the study will challenge anyone who has strongly held beliefs about _how_ to effectively convince people.
If you’re sure your method is right, you won’t consider reading the research. Chuckle. My method is always to suggest reading cites ….
So take the self-test: can you read the study before responding to argue about the idea? Preview text is available; free registration with ScienceDirect will be needed.
#173 Rather interesting series of papers. I would like to remind you of Francis Collins and Isaac Newton as two prominent figures with high IQ’s who have held or currently hold a religious faith. Still religion can be “opiate for the masses.” PBS has an excellent debate among religious evolutionary biologists as well, which you may find of ineterest. Now, past religion; even the methodology of science itself takes on a religious fervor and spiritual quality for many of its practitioners.
The glowing review of Unscientific America that I have read at this site, contrasts strongly with the critique offered by P.Z Myers at Pharyngula. For example, beginning with chapter 1 he says:
This chapter is completely baffling. They chose to illustrate the serious problem of the disconnect between a science-illiterate public and the science establishment with a strange example: the redesignation of Pluto as a non-planet. This event was accompanied by a public outcry, by people who had some peculiar emotional attachment to the idea that Pluto was the ninth planet, an attachment that was fed by a willing media that found this level of trivia to be about as complex an issue as they could handle. We know that certain topics rouse the public, and often it’s unpredictable what will catch the fancy of the news. But this? This is the opening story on which they build their argument that “consequences of the science-society divide may prove far more damaging”? And what do they propose we should do to resolve the issue?
I guess I am going to have to check out the book and read it myself. Imagine that.
The article states in part:”Almost a third of ordinary Americans say human beings have existed in their current form since the beginning of time, a view held by only 2 percent of the scientists. Only about half of the public agrees that people are behind climate change, and 11 percent does not believe there is any warming at all.”
Pretty disheartening numbers. There exists lots of misunderstanding by the general public.The survey was done by the Pew Research Center.
‘“Humans are hardwired to have a belief in something “higher” than themselves.”
I have no such belief, therefore I am not human. That’s logic :-)’
Picking on your post James not for any particular reason other than it shows two sides of the same coin…
We’re wired in a way that lets us “see” the future. The future we see includes that we’re going to die, shed this mortal coil, etc. Yet we’re supposed to reproduce and maintain offspring, a tremendous amount of work and accompanied by the knowledge that they, too will grow old and die. Somehow we have to do all that work with all the commitments it entails, making a serious emotional investment, even though we’re increasingly (thanks a -lot-, cosmologists!) aware that the whole matter is pointless in the long run.
So perhaps it’s not too far a stretch to imagine that we’ve also been genetically selected to include an inherent capacity to concoct fantasies wherein we don’t really die, or we in some other way avoid the “awful truth” via unlikely magical means.
I personally can’t integrate religious feelings into my psyche, not so far. As a result I question whether I’m genuinely well adapted to my role as a gene carrier. Perhaps the expression of my “magical thinking” genes is poor.
I think the issue of the divide between the scientific and unscientific America is extremely important. Simply being “right” is no excuse to pretend the other opinions don’t matter.
Certainly Galileo was “right”, but that didn’t stop him from being persecuted for saying the Earth revolved around the Sun. He had lots of hard evidence and it made no difference.
There is a culture war going on, and I see no reason to assume science minded people can win just because they are right. If the masses don’t support something, then the funding can easily be cut or never happen at all.
It reminds me of a joke – How do you keep a [insert insulting label here] in suspense?
I’ll tell you tomorrow.
Point is that there is NO way that belief in the here and now will determine your fate once you die. You’re worm-food [and a spirit?], but no sane higher power is going to punish or reward you based on your beliefs. That sort of higher power would be far too petty and mean to deserve the label “higher”
Often in Error, Rarely in Doubt
Chair: Don A. Moore
Carnegie Mellon University
Excessive confidence in the precision of one’s knowledge is both the most robust and the least understood form of overconfidence. This symposium investigates its ultimate causes. The evidence suggests that overprecision is caused by limitations on the working capacity in human memory, conversational norms, and social pressure. …
Overconfidence in Intuitive Confidence Intervals: Effects of Assessment Format, Short-Term Memory Capacity, and Aging
Uppsala Unversity, Sweden
The naive sampling model suggest that one cause of overprecision is that, although people accurately describe the small samples of similar observations they activate within short-term memory, they are naive about more sophisticated statistical relations between these small samples and the properties they are assessing.
“There is a culture war going on, and I see no reason to assume science minded people can win just because they are right. If the masses don’t support something, then the funding can easily be cut or never happen at all.”
Yep. Despite all the cynicism and distrust inculcated into the electorate’s conception of our government, here in the U.S. at least the power to do well or poorly ultimately still rests with us.
Social research such as the recent Pew survey is a great tool for figuring out what needs to be done to better connect scientific findings with policy products.
As it turns out, there is a branch of social science research having to do with mental models, including mental models of risky processes. As with all social science, there are no levers than can be cranked to produce identical results in any given person; results appear as bell curves or the like. Yet we have learned a lot about how to communicate in a way that works better with our internally squishy notions of odds and statistics, low probability/high risk situations and the like.
So, amusingly and ironically, we can look forward to applied science assisting us with digging our way to daylight when it comes to communicating compellingly important scientific information.
There is a culture war going on, and I see no reason to assume science minded people can win just because they are right.
No, you’re right, we’ll win because NATURE is on our side.
If the masses don’t support something, then the funding can easily be cut or never happen at all.
So what are the ‘tards gonna do, cut funding to nature so that the laws of physics stop operating? ‘Tards are amazing, they have so much power, with their elected representatives representing their delusional fantasies and all. In the future we can expect great things, no?
Debates are pointless over the pure science issues. They can’t be explained at a sound-bite pace. They also send the wrong message – they pretend that a handful of cranks, mostly not even in the field they’re pontificating in, equal the vast majority of scientists with the requisite expertise. It’s why we don’t have “debates” over ether vs. relativity, phlogiston vs. oxidation, the flat vs. spherical earth, heliocentricity vs. Ptolemy, chemistry vs. alchemy, astronomy vs. astrology.
Debates over what to do are still in the realm of meaningfullness – but I would recommend that people like Ben honorary doctorate from hobart business college wattenberg be excluded. nobody in the now-debunked washington consensus should be allowed in the debate, neither should a climate science denialist.
Comment by Marion Delgado — 10 Jul 2009 @ 10:28 PM
Why bother even worrying about trying to educate any new scientists (or engineers) since they won’t be able to find any jobs in the USA. As for trying to educate the American public on Science issues. Again why bother when more than half of the public doesn’t believe in evolution. You’re wasting your breath on people that won’t even listen to you in the first place. Sorry, that’s just reality.
Instead, any efforts by the science community should be concentrated immediately on educating the current leadership at the federal, state, and even local level and hopefully our political leaders will be able to turn the ship back around before it’s too late for the USA.
As someone who cares both about science and the educational enterprise in general, this sounds like a must read. And not having read it yet, this comment may be redundant, but I think some of the fault lies in the way basic science is taught in high school and introductory college level (the most science that the average American will encounter directly). Science textbooks and your average science teacher, despite lip service to the principles of research and “scientific method,” present science as a set of facts to be memorized, making science little different to the average student than the memorization of the facts of history or the elements of grammar.
Another source for the problem comes not from science but from religion. There is a theme in contemporary Christian religion these days, that there is no objective “truth” and that everything is a matter of faith, one can put their faith in God and the Bible or in science and scientists, and there is no basis for establishing the truth of assertions other than personal faith.
“James #168…You are using faulty logic…you indeed do place something above all else as most important and it fills your days of thought and actions.”
You don’t know me as well as you apparently think you do :-) There really is nothing like that in my life; nothing that could be called “higher” without stretching the definition out of all meaning. When I do those things on your list, I do them because they are enjoyable, or because they will in some way (perhaps indirectly or over a long term) profit me.
I won’t, for fear of boring everyone, go over your list in detail, but I will say a few words about science. You write about believing in science, but I don’t. I use it because it works (and because it’s fun and pays me a good living). Show me that something else works, and I’ll use that.
“How many people are stuck on the belief in super intelligent aliens if not a God or universal consciousness? How many atheists “faithfully” cling to their belief that all religion and spirituality is evil or harmful?”
But this takes us right back where we began: many people may in fact “believe” these things, but I don’t*. Therefore either your contention that ALL humans are wired this way is wrong, or else I’m not human.
*For clarity’s sake, I should explain that not believing is not the same as disbelieving. I won’t categorically say that there aren’t such things as gods, superintelligent aliens, or the like, just that I’ve never seen any evidence for them, or any reason to think that they’re necessary hypotheses.
“Groundwater … is always in the ground, drought-proof, Garrod said…. county water authority and Sweetwater Authority officials said no municipality would be foolish enough to deplete its aquifers. …” http://www.inkstain.net/fleck/?p=3773
“Somehow we have to do all that work with all the commitments it entails, making a serious emotional investment…”
But it’s fun :-) Though to be honest, while I think that kids are great fun in small to medium doses, I must admit that I prefer the sort that can be returned to their parents when I’m tired of them.
“…even though we’re increasingly (thanks a -lot-, cosmologists!) aware that the whole matter is pointless in the long run.”
Yeah, and so’s climbing mountains – after all, you generally just turn around and climb back down. But that’s fun too.
“So perhaps it’s not too far a stretch to imagine that we’ve also been genetically selected to include an inherent capacity to concoct fantasies…”
Concocting fantasies is one thing: many of them are entertaining, some few are useful. But some people pick one particular fantasy (and in much of the world, a particularly nasty one) and set about believing in it while trying to exclude all the others.
I don’t think that the divorice between science and the public is something novel, and i don’t think it
specifically applies to the U.S.; although some more obvious gap might have been observed
during the last 50 years; the divorce between science and society goes along way back,
maybe 500 years, and it is a western european problem at large, not an essentially american one.
Buy yes, indeed one thing that remains a fact and I entirely agreed with it, is that there is
But I don’t think that system of rewards to create science communicator will have any large scale
effect for two reasons. One because, the number of such communicators would be substantial;
Responsibility and societal concern in my own view comes from an inner impulse, it does not forment through
rewards and incentives.Again, The problem of societal responsibility is rampant among scientist, but it is
a problems of intellectuals in general. If there were magic keys to render intellectuals responsible and socially concerned,
we would probably resolve a great deal of the crisis of our time.
Shouldn’t science history play a big part when one wants to communicate science to a broad audience? It is easily given the narrative structure and human interest that a popularization anyway needs to draw the reader’s or listener’s attention.
A historical approach, with stories of the right ideas winning through in the end after many false starts and challenges, also helps get across the idea of science as a cumulative project, where a single contrary observation does not suffice to falsify an established theory (denialist vulgarizations of Popper to the contrary).
RealClimate’s “A saturated gassy argument” post, one of my favorites, is a good example of what an historical narrative can add to an explanation of the science. So is Spencer Weart’s Discovery of Global Warming in general.
Since we’re discussing our intellectual heroes here: The late Stephen Jay Gould excelled at rising above such dichotomies as “the two cultures” and communicating science in historical perspective. With his nuanced understanding of the complex historical relationship between science and religion, he also argued for their peaceful coexistence. While this indeed is not a good place to discuss religious convictions, culture-war perceptions of science vs. faith (a late 19th-century construction in Gould’s view) are topical here, since several commenters above have identified them as an obstacle to getting the scientists’ message across to a “middle American” audience. If science is to have ambassadors, they’ll need to learn diplomacy, and Gould’s Rocks of Ages has much to teach on that score.
But Barton (#69) — if Mike will allow me that far off topic —
while there are good reasons for revising the received wisdom on this, your (Rodney Stark-inspired?) argument is not tenable. Any neat single-cause explanation of the scientific revolution is bound to go down in flames. This one seems to rely too much on a caricature of Greek and Islamic science. It also begs an account of how theological doctrines translated into scientific practice, acknowledging the significant role in the West of doctrines similar to that of your Ghazali quote. But that’s a discussion we’d better take elsewhere.
ReCaptcha: “radium is”. As for intellectual heroines, my well-worn copy of a children’s biography of Marie Curie described her giving physics lessons to school children even as a world-famous Nobelist. Dunno about the reward structure.
RE #152, it is, I guess, more common for people to lose their religion (if at all they do) as they become more educated, especially in science. For me, the more education and science, the more religious and awe-filled I become — it’s like everything is a miracle, and some things have scientific explanations and some don’t (yet). However, for me religion goes far beyond science (which does very well in the territory it has carved out for itself — the empirically knowable material world) & includes the “known” and the “unknown” and “unknowable,” and most importantly “the I and the Thou” — which science as objective endeavor can never include.
What demoralizes me and threatens to harm my faith is those on the religious right who reject science, especially climate science. I guess it makes me a bit upset with God (as in “Where is God when you really need God”) that these types should be allowed to spout their falsehoods and threaten life on planet earth.
Bring on the science, bury the unbelieving religious right with scientific truths, strenghten my faith and inspire my awe.
Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 11 Jul 2009 @ 7:32 AM
How does climate science skepticism relate to religious fundamentalism? By creating a division between people and science on science that are not aligned with religious dogma.
They create the rift that causes scientific establishment to become a competing religious institution in the minds of the religious population–the ‘truths’ of science become challengers of the Truth of the religion, which is considered infallible at the extremes. To the common religious observer, science does become a ‘religion’ because of religious insistence on its own ‘truths’. The debate between the age of earth on scientific or religious terms is no longer apples and oranges, but religious apples (or oranges). The obvious degrading of scientific certainty goes unnoticed as religious ‘truth’ is considered as perfectly capable of providing absolute certainty.
Because religion dominates the society, political parties are able to hook onto the religious descriptions of science and make that one of their founding principles. As such, skepticism of the scientific establishment–as simply a competing religion–is applied to other matters, such as climate science. The climate skeptics can easily recruit the entire religiously fundamentalist political movement by adopting their rhetoric of science. Climate scientists that warn of global warming are “priests” of a competing religion, rather than seekers of secular knowledge.
Religion is an issue. As is excessive long posts. My apologies on the latter.
@91 – And this in an age when what we need most is to all come together and mitigate climate change, and we need people to pay attention to the scientists that are informing us about it, not get side-tracked into far-flung theories of evolution/biology that even anthropologists who firmly accept evolution have trouble with.
Excuse me? This is the heart of the matter right here. First, the MOST important thing is that we mitigate climate change. If that can be done by “coming together”, then fine. But to place “coming together” along with – either to claim it as a goal, or a neccessity for reaching the goal of mitigating climate change – is a huge mistake. If you think you need to convince the far-right deniers that man-made climate change can only be addressed by man-mad solutions, you will never acheive your goal because they cannot be convinced or reasoned with, the same way “god did it” people will never be convinced. Did you hear the state congresswoman from Florida recently say the earth is 6000 years old, and its done just fine so far (thank you) that we don’t need to worry about climate change.
The two belief systems are so wrapped up in each other that we cannot address one without addressing the other.
But the author of comment 91 further illustrates the fallacy of this approach (ie. must. come. together. to. defeat. climate. change.) with her parting comment:
“…far-flung theories of evolution/biology that even anthropologists who firmly accept evolution have trouble with.”
This kind of nonsense and mushy thinking (as also utilized by the author’s of the book in question – of which I admit to have only read 2 chapters of, chapter 1 and chapter 8, in the bookstore, I did not purchase it) – THIS kind of mushy thinking is what is at the core of PZ Myers and Dawkins arguments.
There are NO “far-flung” theories of volution/biology at contention between scientists and “god did it” creationists.
Evolution is fact, and there is nothing far flung about it. People who use language like this are either creationists themselves, or are “hedging” because (again, like the argument made by the authors) believe it is NECCESSARY to appease and appeal to the creationists, to “bring them on board” so to speak so we can all work “together” to mitigate climate change. Yawn. Never going to happen, these people are frozen in the cement of their religous beliefs and think the world is 6000 years old! For chrissakes!
So no, this book is not useless, it shows us a good example of how NOT to crusade against climate change. A better approach is to say THIS is science, THIS is fact, you have no facts so thank you very much, now go away and leave the adults alone to address the problems.
Not this molly-coddling “togetherness” crap. I love kum-bay-ah as much as the next guy, but there comes a time when you have to conclude that beating your head against a wall is not going to break down the wall. A new approach is neccessary and Myers and Dawkins are on the right track. The authors of THIS book, are not.
I’m both very religious, and very engaged with science. As with Lynn Vincentnathan, the more I learn about Science, the more miraculous I find the Universe.
I think that some people view Science and Religious as either-or, as with post #200. If ‘Science’ is right, ‘Religion’ must be wrong, so the argument goes. But for me, and I suspect Lynn Vincentnathan as well, I don’t see them as competing. When I run across a person who rejects ‘Science’ in favor of ‘Religion’, I try to focus on the fact that religious texts don’t explain ‘How?’
“I think that some people view Science and Religious as either-or, as with post #200. If ‘Science’ is right, ‘Religion’ must be wrong, so the argument goes.”
I don’t see how you can avoid that, at least in some instances. If religion says the Earth is a bit over 6000 years old, and multiple lines of scientific evidence say it’s something over 4 billion, then there are really only three possibilities: either the religion is wrong, the science is wrong, or the religion’s run by a deity with a sophomoric taste for practical jokes :-)
I am using the term “genius” in accordance with the definition which entails the ability to take complex subject matter and make it understandable to the lay person; James you lost me on your last post… Bart, to make claim that Neuroscience, Neuropsychology, Genetics, and Sociobiology is less credible and validated than climate science is ludicrous to say the least. (to put it nicely)
Jacob Mack wrote: “It has been found that a need for a ‘higher power’ or dominant belief system etched out in superstition is actually hardwired in our brains.”
Barton Paul Levenson replied: “I don’t take sociobiology seriously because most of its contentions are impossible to test. But this one is easy to test. If it were true, there would be no atheists.”
Actually I would put Mr. Mack’s contention in the “impossible to test” bin. Certainly the existence of atheists doesn’t refute it. There are plenty of conceptions of “a higher power” and plenty of “dominant belief systems” that might be characterized as “superstition” that are in no way theistic, and would therefore be compatible with atheism.
No, the problem that I have with that contention is that the terms “belief in a higher power” and “belief system based in superstition” that are asserted to be “hardwired” are so vague and ill-defined that almost any notion that any sort of pattern or entity or system exists that transcends oneself meets the criteria, including a hard-core, purely “materialist” belief that the universe is governed by physical laws.
All it seems to say is that we are “hardwired” to believe that there is some sort of order in our experience, or if you prefer, in the universe. If so, that’s probably a good thing, since empirically speaking, it is pretty self-evident that there is some sort of order in the universe. We know from observation that the universe, and our experience of it, is not just random chaos.
As for sociobiology, the fundamental idea as I understand it is simply that human social behavior is ultimately biological in origin. That seems to me to be an uncontroversial idea. Given that we are biological entities, everything about us is ultimately biological in origin.
#203 In modern times many religious leaders from various denominations, sects and cultures have come to accept the science regarding just such topics you bring up. Science is not “right” or “wrong,” but rather it is a methodology of applications. It uses “constrained models” to explain small pieces of whatever the subject of study happens to be; as Mark correctly points out time and time again, gravity and other physcial pheneomena just “are,” and science approaches approximations of “truth” on what these phenomena actually are. I belong to no religion, but faith in
“God” can be comeplete;y independent of religion or dogma per se. For some science is their “religious dogma.” Religion= “to reconnect,” science= “to know.” Science can only explain physical things in gardations of approximations in space-time, which if fine.., this is what it is meant to do. Then again there are many Muslims and Christans who work an dmake a lot of $ in science from all fields and subdivisions. I had several religious Biology professors for example. There are also dozens of well publiscized scientists who uphold evolution for the fact it is while maintaining religious beliefs. I dare say science may be a state religion for you James.
“I’m both very religious, and very engaged with science. As with Lynn Vincentnathan, the more I learn about Science, the more miraculous I find the Universe.”
That’s one reason why some scientists become heavily christian (e.g BPL). On seeing the miracle of reality, some think this is evidence of a God.
It’s a valid hypothesis, but has very little to do with science, since any effect by such a being would either be concomitant with science and therefore indistinguishable from it (so can be forgotten as an agent of reality) or breaks science which doesn’t seem to have happened.
As for religion, this discussion, like many others, seems to have a myopic focus on particular, Middle Eastern monotheistic religions and particular scriptural doctrines thereof regarding the origin of the Earth and of life, which are contradicted by modern scientific understanding.
Please keep in mind that other religions have quite different ideas. The Vedic scriptures that are the basis of what we nowadays call “Hinduism” describe a vast, ancient universe that has existed through endless cycles of big-bang, expansion, collapse and bang again, on time scales similar to modern understanding of the age of the observed universe, and a universal deity, Brahman, which is not so much the “chief executive” of the universe as the impersonal ground of being from which all things arise, reminiscent of physicist David Bohm’s “implicate order”. Taoism does not have any notion of “God” as found in theistic religions. Various other nature-oriented religions, including European pagan traditions and Native American religions, view human beings as just one of many species on this Earth, with no special status, and with deep connections to all life on Earth. The Buddha taught radical empiricism as the foundation of Buddhist practice, repeatedly exhorting his followers that they should not take his teachings on faith but test them for themselves, and the Dalai Lama has said that if the knowledge of modern science challenges Buddhist beliefs, then Buddhists should reexamine their beliefs.
This is not to contend that science “proves” any of these religions to be “right” or that they are more or less “scientific” than Middle Eastern theistic religions, merely to suggest that we ought not to speak of the particular beliefs of particular religions, which may not be in accord with scientific thinking and scientific knowledge, as though they represented some sort of universal religious incompatibility with science.
Secular Animist, one of the reasons I’ve heard for the lack of scientific *progress* (note, not scientific ability) is that a pantheistic system allows several reasons for something to happen. A monotheistic one looks for the “one true reason”.
IMO, Bhudda has it right: his teachings are merely HIS view of reality and that you need to find your own way.
I’ve got mixed feelings about the whole concept of science ambassador. The thing that gives me trouble about it is the line it implies between \us and them.\ Having an ambassador may improve relations at border crossings, but it doesn’t really address whether the border is even a good thing. It sort of sounds like you’re condescending to the riffraff. Maybe it’s just a weird fixation of mine, but wouldn’t it be preferable to have a continuum of understanding from lay person to master scientist rather than a quantum jump, either/or, at some point?
I’d contend that Sagan was more than an ambassador. He created a comfortable venue in peoples heads where anyone willing could commune with a world of science that might otherwise be inaccessible to them. That’s as much art as it is anything else. I’d go further and suggest that much of what religion supplies to people, the absence of which makes some antagonistic to science, is really just art that provides them a desirable sense of place in the world, nothing more, despite protestations to the contrary.
As for poor, beleaguered PZ, you wouldn’t necessarily want him setting the tone for the whole of *Science*, but sometimes a science brawler is more appropriate than a science ambassador. IMAO, too much politeness has given permission to the rise of hateful anti-science over the past few decades, something that should have waned to the point of vanishing by the opening of the 21st century. Instead the world is at the mercy of a bunch of AGW denying, creationist, homeopaths.
\Scientist,\ def. see Sheldon in \The Big Bang Theory.\ Intellectually rigorous, socially autistic.
“Sociobiology is a neo-Darwinian synthesis of scientific disciplines that attempts to explain social behavior in animal species by considering the evolutionary advantages the behaviors may have. … Applied to non-humans, sociobiology is uncontroversial.” from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sociobiology
Comment by David B. Benson — 11 Jul 2009 @ 3:23 PM
Mark #207… The term genius has many definitions and extrapolations, but my loosley phrased definition holds up; just check a few dictionary definitions or discussions on Carl Sagan himself; you make a valid point in that the genius I aforememtioned is an application. Still there are many typologies when discussing “genius,” like Mozart, Einstein, Darwin, and Maxwell for example.Maxwell applied quite elegant, but simple mathematics to solve complex problems. Mozart was a genius of a composer and Einstein saw a greater glimpse of physcial reality before the mathematics and experiments revealed the “truths,” in his hypotheses. Carl Sagan was a “genius” in not only understanding complex scientific matters, but he also made them understandable to others, not only is his teaching an application of “genius,” but definition of “genius,” is to make complex matters understandable and add some new viable hypothesis based upon such findings or data.
Let’s not get sidetracked into theology or sociobiology arguments. The book is about how to do science education. Equal opportunity is the place, I suggest, to start.
As Tom Paine points out
genius arises equally among people in every generation–he didn’t know how heredity gets reshuffled but he certainly observed clearly how it worked, and that government should give every opportunity to all children of every generation to learn everything they could.
We haven’t come close yet. We should do better. This humbles me.
Take just a moment to read these few words from 1791-1792:
“… nature acts as if she disowned and sported with the hereditary system; that the mental character of successors, in all countries, is below the average of human understanding; that one is a tyrant, another an idiot, a third insane, and some all three together, it is impossible to attach confidence to it, when reason in man has power to act….
… it is impossible to control Nature in her distribution of mental powers. She gives them as she pleases. Whatever is the rule by which she, apparently to us, scatters them among mankind, that rule remains a secret to man. It would be as ridiculous to attempt to fix the hereditaryship of human beauty, as of wisdom. Whatever wisdom constituently is, it is like a seedless plant; it may be reared when it appears, but it cannot be voluntarily produced. There is always a sufficiency somewhere in the general mass of society for all purposes; but with respect to the parts of society, it is continually changing its place. It rises in one to-day, in another to-morrow, and has most probably visited in rotation every family of the earth, and again withdrawn.
… How irrational then is the hereditary system, which establishes channels of power, in company with which wisdom refuses to flow! By continuing this absurdity, man is perpetually in contradiction with himself; he accepts, for a king, or a chief magistrate, or a legislator, a person whom he would not elect for a constable.
It appears to general observation, that revolutions create genius and talents; but those events do no more than bring them forward. There is existing in man, a mass of sense lying in a dormant state, and which, unless something excites it to action, will descend with him, in that condition, to the grave. As it is to the advantage of society that the whole of its faculties should be employed, the construction of government ought to be such as to bring forward, by a quiet and regular operation, all that extent of capacity which never fails to appear in revolutions.”
“itwbennett writes http://www.itworld.com/
“Rose Shuman developed a contraption for this under-served population called Question Box that is essentially a one-step-removed Internet search: ‘A villager presses a call button on a physical intercom device, located in their village, which connects them to a trained operator in a nearby town who’s sitting in front of a computer attached to the Internet. A question is asked. While the questioner holds, the operator looks up the answer on the Internet and reads it back. All questions and answers are logged. For the villager there is no keyboard to deal with. No complex technology. No literacy issues.’ This week, Jon Gosier, of Appfrica, http://appfrica.net/blog/
launched a web site called World Wants to Know that displays the QuestionBox questions being asked in real time. As Jon put it, it’s allowing ‘searching where Google can’t.’ And providing remarkable insight into the real information needs of off-the-grid populations.”
all good points… society should support its citizens to attain the highest learning possible. To Mark’s points: Nikola Tesla was a far superior “scientific” genius in comparsion to Thomas Edison and yet Edison shit down AC current for a long time and stole many of his inventive ideas as well. Science is a worth while cause, but like all human endeavors it is filled with corruption and outright politics.Biil Gates stole ideas from Jobs who in turn stole them from NM. Many typologies do exist, so no everyone agrees semantically on the concept of “genius.”
Nowadays DC current can be generated more efficiently, but generally AC current drives DC current. Hnery Ford a “genius” of an engineer and shrewd buisnessman killed the electric car.
The climate skeptics can easily recruit the entire religiously fundamentalist political movement by adopting their rhetoric of science.
Did you see where 86 leading US evangelicals signed a statement saying that Christians should do more to combat global warming? Did you see the print ads where Pat Robertston and Al Sharpton were sitting together on a bench to advertise that the one thing they agreed on was the need to stop global warming? Don’t assume fundamentalists are inherently anti-environment. It’s not true.
The Vedic scriptures that are the basis of what we nowadays call “Hinduism” describe a vast, ancient universe that has existed through endless cycles of big-bang, expansion, collapse and bang again, on time scales similar to modern understanding of the age of the observed universe,
Wouldn’t that make the universe a perpetual motion machine of the second kind?
Yes, enough about religion and science, except to say that,
In the beginning……
there was not a clear distinction among religion, science, ethics, philosophy, and expressive culture (art, literature). All were one. The split only came much later, and only very recently (within 300 years) did science develop into it’s distinctive form that calls not only for theories, but empirical, objective observation/data and experiments and continual retests.
So you could view the Judeo-Christian Bible and ancient writings of other religions also as ancient “science” books. People of those days were amateur scientists, if you will. They stood outside and viewed the sun crossing the sky — a sky which held up the water, occasionally leaking rain. Now we know about how the earth goes around the sun and about the hydrologic cycle.
I teach expressive culture and mythology, and also include science’s view in each section — world creation, the flood, world end or destruction. In the “world end” section, in addition to science’s entropy and the fizzling out or winding down of the universe I talk about how thru global warming we might be destroying life on planet earth (actually that sort of fits with the Christian Bible, you know, how sin leads to world destruction :( ).
Since I’m in the deep South many of the students are fundamentalists, and I know they don’t teach evolution or global warming in high school, because I’ve asked the students, and I know a HS teacher who is adamently denialist on GW.
But by the end of my courses, the students not only have an appreciation for the myths of the world, but also for science, and I think many come to belief in evolution and climate science, and view these as not threatenting to their religions (since I’ve made it a point — professor cap off — that these are not threatening to my religion). Some even join our campus Environmental Awareness Club, of which I’m advisor :)
Small, local advancements in promoting the appreciation science and its harder truths, but that’s all I seem able to do.
Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 12 Jul 2009 @ 8:32 AM
“Did you see where 86 leading US evangelicals signed a statement saying that Christians should do more to combat global warming”
And there are as many who say that Man cannot be causing this because God is All Powerful.
Those 86 leading evangelicals are not letting their religion control their reason. Unlike the tinheads who refuse because God is Great and He wouldn’t let this happen.
Another example of religion being used to bad effect and ignoring the tenets where they interfere with logic and reality shows up good.
Religion can help someone work out how to live life and that doesn’t mean that it is real in any sort of solid sense you can rely on. But it should be a GUIDE to life, not the REASON for it.
“Small Gods” by Terry Pratchett has a good section about it and how the structure of religion can be a bad thing. But Brutha is religious. Yet he is more concerned that humans are allowed to think freely.
Okay Mike, I went back and re-read “Maxwell and the Nerds.” Very good, I wish we’d had a teacher to impart some of that perspective in undergraduate Electromagnetics. I also didn’t realize that Sagan quotes Feynman in that same chapter. And yes, I was mystically attracted to the book “QED” as if there were mental magnets somewhere in the paper binding. :-)
Some of the best science ambassadors should be college graduates. But who is it that teaches science to undergraduates? Have they been trained in science communication? Many undergraduate science instructors are young scientists working hard to get their first grant and publish enough to get tenure, and many tenured teachers are focused on their science. For these instructors, their teaching can be just a distraction.
I ran a required Scientific Presentation Skills course for Ph.D. students that gave them an advantage in presenting their own science to their peers and helped them prepare for teaching duties. The course didn’t require a lot of time and was popular with both the students and their advisors. There were a lot of presentation components that were taught, but three most relevant to the present discussion were:
Perspective taking– From years of study scientists know their area well, and when one knows a teaching unit very well it is hard to remember all the grinding head work it took to obtain that understanding. To communicate understanding, a teacher must provide the students some of the insights he/she had when learning the material themselves. Presenters have to learn to talk to the audience they have, otherwise they are just wasting everybody’s time.
Science is a series of stories– There is an unresolved problem that causes tension, and it could be explained in one or more ways (strategy/hypotheses). Action is taken to resolve the problem (data collection) and this leads to a resolution of the tension with a logical answer. Such stories make a connected sequence of ideas in which one part leads logically to the next in a manner that engages student attention. Bumps in the road make the story more complex and interesting. Always look for the stories to tell.
Enthusiasm trumps all other presentation techniques– Scientists enjoy the learning process and mastery of new material, even for teaching. It is a small shift of attitude toward teaching to let this enthusiasm come out in the classroom. Teaching should be fun, not a drudgery.
It doesn’t take any more time to prepare and give required lectures well than it does to give ones that are boring and full of unrelated facts. College graduates should go out into the world with an appreciation for the beauty and logic of science so they will influence others and improve the scientific literacy of the general public. If any of you here teach graduate students and your program doesn’t have a good science presentation skills course, I strongly urge you to create one.
Jordan Bigel (201) Wow! I’m sure Lynn can stand up for herself (and maybe has — I haven’t read further down yet), but (and truth in lending: I’m on the skeptic side) since your interest is clearly and exclusively just beating hell out of people you disagree with, I don’t think you’re helping the AGWers’ cause. First, as I said earlier, I’m not aware that global warming/climate change is in any part of any religion’s doctrine. (And one person who is both a religious fanatic and opposed to AGW — and say a German heritage — has zero relevance.) There are people, e.g., posting in RC who are strongly religious and strongly an AGWer; I, as one example am a border atheist and a skeptic. I admit you might find some correlation in what you assert, but it is completely coincidental. Second, a minor point, if you’re asserting that evolution theory is all wrapped with nowhere to go then you’re in disagreement with probably all who work in the field, as Lynn correctly points out.
If someone offers you a job in major sales or marketing, run away fast. Your method of influencing people makes your average Neanderthal look like a pussy cat.
Steve, Fish, #230. By the time you get to university, you should be intelligent enough to teach yourself, if someone shows you the path.
That this doesn’t seem to be the case any more is more an indictment of the falling standards in acceptance of students. Probably in the name of getting paying customers, no matter how poorly prepared…
Mark # 220 and 221: New Mexico Mark..soemtimes Realclimate does not allow brand names and no Apple did not pay for all they got: the GUI platform and background programming was taken in secret and Microsoft in turnm stole it rom Apple; oh we are not arguing at all” I never said your definition of genius did not hold up; see where not readng other’s post responses get you…nowhere:)
Regardless of the terminology(someone had reservations of the use of ‘science ambassadors),explaining science to non-scientists is a worthwhile, and in today’s world,even a necessary endeavor. Just one example why would be in the area of public policy making. An educated public would be a great advantage in influencing their representatives in an informed manner,leading to better decision making.
I’m with Lynn V, seriously in awe, thanks. Trouble is that idea of some kind of superhuman made in man’s image. But this is not why I’m here.
With vast amounts of scientific association and moderate but excellent limited training, I find real science challenging and make a lot of mistakes. I work a lot at correcting deniers, pointing out that that science is not a static belief system and a big conspiracy, and am constantly attacked for doing this. The better I phrase it the more I am attacked.
It is difficult though I’d guess my science training hits top percentile in the general population – where I find it difficult most people find it imcomprehensible and are not interested. The “overeducated” tend not to grasp how out of touch this is. A leftish neighbor, for example, said, well, there’s so much argument he didn’t know whom to believe, and in any case there was nothing to worry about, was there, after all the weather has been rather cold. He’s worried about things that seem closer to home. This is pretty typical; I did succeed in making some suggestions.
The charisma of the presenter is enormously important. Obama is one of the best; I remember cheering when he mentioned “critical thinking”. Rather than lecturing and arguing, we need a population that knows how to and wants to check for themselves, and can spot bias and bullshit.
While discussion of WUWT and the like has been recommended to stop, it is important to note that science is not what they do; their purpose is disinformation and advocacy for the wishful thinkers and vested interest fellow travelers. Science, even at its most prejudiced, takes account of reality. These sites are set up to confirm beliefs and select for that purpose. They provide the appearance, a kind of gestalt science (ever parked a car by gestalt? – you get the picture) with resources for those wishing to prevent real discussion. Following the money sometimes points this up.
I’m a big Mooney fan but found book a little lightweight – maybe a good thing. Liked points about religion and conflict (the science wars stuff startlingly on point). To me it seemed to be intended as a call to action; a logical progression, perhaps for the producer of Republican War… and Storm World (which was surprisingly fair and a great resource just because of its lack of bias).
If you want to talk to people about science, you’ll also need to talk about the books–and the translations–they rely on. This is an important one to be prepared to talk about in Western culture: being responsible for the world is the bottom line.
“So the specific dysfunction of crackpottery points to the notion that you cannot do science by just studying the right books, having the right mathematics and being commited to (some form of) “scientific method”. What you ned, over and above all that, is constant social interaction with other practising scientists. Oral tradition and daily exposure to other scientists’ everyday decisions are indispensable, and only a very small fragment of that makes it way to the scientific journals. This, incidentally, may be why cranks do not read the journal articles – simply because most of these must be totally opaque to them. Understanding them requires not just technical expertise but also all the implicit assumptions that are shared by the community at a particular point in time. (That is also why it is so difficult to understand old articles – try reading cognitive psychology from the 1970s…)”
Mark #238, 247. You state that “By the time you get to university, you should be intelligent enough to teach yourself, if someone shows you the path.” All I am saying is that good teaching shows the path more effectively and that one significant contact between scientists and the general public is teaching at the undergraduate level. I can’t really disagree with your assertion (“should be able to”), but what this thread is about is the low level of scientific literacy in the general public. The general public we all are concerned about consists of adults who should be able to teach themselves science, but they haven’t. What do you suggest?
You seem to be saying that general public science literacy would be improved by preventing the students that are least prepared from attending university. This may or may not be a good idea, but I don’t see how it improves science literacy in the general population.
Re lack of science. I mean, just how much science do we need know to screw in a compact fluorescent bulb? (Answer: It takes 3 scientists to screw in a compact fluorescent bulb — one to collect the data, one to analyze it, and one to present the findings at a conference — or one ordinary person. And as for the denialists? They aren’t able to screw in a compact fluorescent bulb, but they’re writing a thousand page dissertation on why it can’t be done.)
Lack of a science education is simply no excuse for BAU on global warming, which was also known as “the greenhouse effect.” Perhaps we need to get back to that analogy — the greenhouse, or the closed car out in a sunny parking lot, and a baby left in it dies from the excessive heat. People can understand that.
When I had to explain AGW in my limited Tamil to person in India who never went to school, I told her the world was getting warmer and causing more floods — in past few years a large % of Tamilnadu has experienced extraordinary flooding as well as getting warmer (esp at night & when you don’t have AC at night, you really notice that), so that was in her knowledge base — likewise increased droughts, which are also affecting Tamilnadu. I told her this warming was caused mainly by us driving cars and using electricity, and that caused something like a blanket in the sky, one we can’t see, that was warming the world.
She seems to have grasped it, then went on to talk about some animal programs she had seen on TV and how they said the animals were in trouble.
So if she can grasp it, why can’t other people who are educated beyond 2nd grade grasp it?
Now that’s not saying we shouldn’t have more science education. We should, but it’s not vital to having people mitigate global warming.
What we really need is for people to respect what the scientists are telling us, and to be savvy enough to distinguish between denialists in scientists’ clothing and real scientists. People who are street smart enough to know that if it sounds too good to be true,* it is.
As many have noted, the real issue is the way that science is taught. In terms of biology, if you look at the state standards used by K-12 teachers, you find that biology is approached as a collection of facts and that is fully supported by the textbooks that everyone use. Before we can improve the general scientific illiteracy, we need to address how science is taught and change the paradigm!
Biology needs to be taught as a method of asking and answering questions, not as a collection of facts. This can change by changing our approach to teaching freshman courses. Throw out the encyclopedic textbook and replace it with a discussion of concepts. Use real data to demonstrate how science is done. Integrate science with statistics to allow students to understand how data can be analyzed. If we can approach freshman courses this way, we can start to change the culture!
“Throw out the encyclopedic textbook and replace it with a discussion of concepts. ”
At University, YES.
To some extent, for A Levels, YES. To an extent.
All of school? NO NO NO.
You need a good grounding first in the uncontested or the “good enough” without the faffing about with “teach the controversy” style “education”.
You should end up in your first year knowing all you need to have been TAUGHT.
And your first year is to show you how wrong that was. At the end of your undergraduate you should be able to work on your own (everyone needs help, but they don’t need *teaching* all the time).
It’s like being taught that matter is made of atoms and the electrons run about like orbiting whizzers around the heavy nucleus.
To an extent.
THEN at university, you find out that that wouldn’t really work because of something else you got taught: electromagnetic radiation. And the electrons are waves that have to sit somewhere where the wave nature makes it constructively interfere with itself as a stable orbit.
The cleverer ones work out that this doesn’t work either.
But the lecturers are telling you what’s going on and assuming you’ll work out the interconnects on your own. Either by working with colleagues, asking lecturers, or reading for yourself.
The teacher doesn’t want you second-guessing them.
Perpetual universe — one possibily is an infinte contraction phase leading to a big bang from a hot, dense state and cooling to the present. Then the universe continues to expand forever.
Cute, symmetric, but the part before the big bang is untestable, so it is not a scientific hypothesis as it stands.
Comment by David B. Benson — 13 Jul 2009 @ 2:55 PM
Mark, I agree with your #257 and also Hugh Miller (#258). I believe that true skepticism (as apposed to the false skepticism of the denialist crowd) and the logic of assembling unbiased facts to solve problems should be taught in school from the earliest grades. I have seen some interesting ideas about this in the Skeptic magazine and their Junior Skeptic is an interesting approach to teaching skepticism. As for the actual method for teaching, I believe that an involved and knowledgeable instructor can make any method work. In an average classroom I have no idea what method would be an improvement.
Lynn Vincentnathan #255. I have a soft disagreement with you in that I believe that the problem in the US (I have little knowledge of other western nations) is that our ethic of equality and equal opportunity has been inappropriately spread, in popular culture, into a sort of post-modern notion that this also means that all opinions are equal and facts don’t matter, and this leads to the Dunning-Kruger effect. Otherwise, why would anyone even listen to Monckton. I think the question is- what kind of educational experience will provide a citizen with respect for “what the scientists are telling us, and to be savvy enough to distinguish between denialists in scientists’ clothing and real scientists”?
Ever hear of Jack Tales. Jack and the Beanstalk is one of the few we still know, but there were hundreds in Britain in the 16-1700, all telling how a young upstart or halfwit gets the better of his betters. There’s a long anti-authority streak in Anglo Saxon culture. Nothing new or post-modern about it. They listened to fire-and-brimstone preachers in the Great Awakening and to snake-oil salesmen on the frontier. It’s not that people are getting stupider. They’ve never been that smart.
Hey Ray, #262, thanks for that. A sizeable portion of my career was professoring in the Appalachian region. I encountered local yokel verses city slicker tales there that are similar, and probably related, to the Jack Tales. That said, I do believe that the recent, and hopefully gone, post modern movement in some universities promoted a singularly disgusting version of this genre. The question is- how do we find a way for smart skeptic kid makes a fool of slick libertarian think tank guy stories to become popular?
I think the worst thing that happened to Global Warming science was the statement ‘ the science is settled’. That to me is a political statement, not a science statement. Global Warming and String Theory have been around about the same amount of time. No one would say that String Theory is settled because many scientists think it has promise. The scientific issues of Global Warming are the issues of Global Warming – not politics or money. As long as there are issues of fact, theory, statistics, and measurements, there will be debate. When we portray the image that none of these issues can or should be studied or debated, when we dismiss opposing views, we key to the public that this is not science. The public is not foolish. They can see this. We need open scientific exchange. We need to embrace the Litzens and Spencers, as well as Manns and many others. When the public sees that the issues have been truly wrung out in the scientific process, then the ‘science will be settled’.
[Response: Perhaps you could show me where this has actually been stated by any scientist? As opposed to being set up as a strawman argument by people who want to paint all knowledge as either known perfectly or unknown completely? - gavin]
I agree. I believe that many Climate scientists that I have read do not say that the ‘science is settled’, although I do think Jim Hansen has said something like that. Buy once Al Gore said it in his movie, it has shaped the discussion even, I believe, within the science community. It has certainly shaped how the press in general reports the science. The New York Times last week had a news article, not an editorial, based on this assertion. My point is that the public perceives this, and does wonder if the science appropriately open. I believe that he science will get ‘settled’ in the eyes of the public only when the Climate science goes out of its way to embrace, not dismiss, the issues of theory, measurement, statistics, etc. underlying the Global Warming assertions, and the people who raise them, and that includes some of the ‘skeptics’.
the science f AGW is settled in much the same way as the science of how babies are created and born is settled.
Is anyone willing to bet that it’s the males who give birth?
Yet we have people saying “the science is still under heavy discussion” because there are people arguing that women don’t have babies. That is the line by the educated “skeptic”. The uneducated skeptic you read on many blogs merely argues that men have the babies.
“As for the actual method for teaching, I believe that an involved and knowledgeable instructor can make any method work. In an average classroom I have no idea what method would be an improvement.”
At school you HAVE to be there. There are compulsory courses.
Therefore you will get a proportion who do not want to be there. You have to teach “facts”. Things that are, to the needs of the people who will go no further in their education of this subject, are true.
Post-educational studies have people who know why they are there. They either want to be there or know what they need to get out of it. University used to do that too. Except now you can’t get a job without some form of degree, so you have more people there who don’t know why they want to be there or just don’t want to be there, but have been forced.
So post-educational work can teach via the better methods of teaching how to learn for yourself (which was a massive part of MY university education and one of the reasons, I think, why my tutors expected a much higher grade than I got: I could learn very well. My expression of that learning, not so good, probably due to impatience with the time taken to get the detail out). However for remedial classes (adult education), they don’t need to know how to learn, so we’re back to teaching “facts”. However, the teacher can become more of a lecturer. Motivation helps you pay attention.
Yes, it’s true that DC can be generated more readily than AC. But AC has a huge advantage over DC — it can be transformed from one voltage to another by a … transformer. I have about 500 amp-hours of 48VDC storage in my side yard. Yet I’m having the hardest time imaginable coming up with any supply of 12VDC close enough to all that 48V storage without either wasting huge amounts of energy, or creating all manner of problems.
While Tesla was clearly a genius compared to Edison, Edison’s decisions were often based on commercial issues, whereas Tesla dealt more in theoretical issues. Edison’s DC dynamos were feasible long before Tesla’s polyphase AC power was practical. Even then it took effort before all the kinks were worked out. Before there was 3-phase (120 degrees between phases) there was 2-phase (90 degrees between phases). Two-phase power taught lessons that couldn’t be guessed at with the limited knowledge of the period.
That era has a lot to teach the present — while some technologies, such as CCS, might be nice from a theoretical purpose, the only proven carbon-free and sustainable solutions are wind, solar, hydro, and the like. Existing coal power facilities, much like Edison’s DC transmission system, is here today.
Steve Fish, I taught in Pikeville, KY for a couple of years–hence my exposure to Jack Tales. The enemy is anti-science, whether it is the sell-the-controversy corporate anti-science of the right or the postmodern BS of the left.
Uh, ever hear of Fourrier, Tyndall, Arrhenius? Your estimate of the age of climate science is only off by a factor of 5 or so.
Please read: http://www.aip.org/history/climate/
Once you’ve read it, ask yourself whether you might be equally wrong in any of your other opinions.
The problem with this statement and the response to it is, what exactly is meant by “the science”?
Is CO2 a greenhouse gas? The science is settled. The answer is yes.
Do higher atmospheric concentrations of CO2 cause the Earth system to retain more of the Sun’s energy? The science is settled. The answer is yes.
Are human activities over the last century and continuing today, principally the burning of fossil fuels, releasing large amounts of previously sequestered carbon into the atmosphere and thereby dramatically increasing the atmospheric concentration of CO2? The science is settled. The answer is yes.
Is the anthropogenic increase in atmospheric CO2 causing the Earth system to heat up? The science is settled. The answer is yes.
Is the anthropogenic heating of the Earth system already causing rapid and extreme changes in the Earth’s climate, hyrdosphere, cryosphere and biosphere? The science is settled. The answer is yes.
Will continued, unmitigated anthropogenic warming cause further changes that will be detrimental to human well-being, on a very large scale? The science is settled. The answer is yes.
Can we predict in minute, specific detail exactly what the consequences of anthropogenic global warming and consequent climate change will be, throughout every nook and cranny of the Earth system, and exactly when these consequences will occur? No, we can’t. The science is not settled on that score.
The problem is, that the phony “skeptics” dishonestly say that because the answer to the last question is “no” that the science is “not settled” on whether CO2 is a greenhouse gas, or whether human activities are increasing CO2 concentrations, or whether increasing CO2 concentrations are causing warming, or whether there even is any warming, etc.
But on those questions, the science IS settled, and scientists should not hesitate to say so.
That’s not incompatible with saying that the science is NOT “settled” on the exact details of what AGW will bring … while also pointing out that what our “unsettled” science on that score can tell us, is extremely unsettling.
Another thought about Carl Sagan. The science fiction movie Contact, based on Sagan’s novel of the same name, was on cable the other night. For those unfamiliar with the book or the novel, Contact tells the story of humanity’s first contact with extraterrestrial intelligence. The movie changed various parts of the story from the original novel, mostly (in my opinion) for the worse.
In particular, the movie left out the novel’s ending. At the end of the book, the protagonist — a radio astronomer — goes to work on a hint she received from the extraterrestrials, searching for scientific evidence of the existence of “God”, a higher intelligence that created and guides the universe.
What she finds is very interesting in that it suggests what Carl Sagan himself might have considered to be sufficiently “extraordinary evidence” for the “extraordinary claim” of the existence of “God”.
Of course it’s just a story.
Comment by SecularAnimist — 14 Jul 2009 @ 12:03 PM
Yeah, the science is definitely unsettled on GW. For instance we don’t quite know yet whether a BAU path will lead to climate hysteresis (akin to the end-Permian warming and extinction of 251 mya when 95% of life on earth died), or to something bad, like runaway warming, in which all life on planet earth dies.
We might even have to wait this one out to see which it is before taking any action.
Harrison Schmitt, the pilot of the lunar lander during the last Apollo mission and later a United States senator, said in an interview that the poor state of the nation’s schools has had predictable results. “If people decide they’re going to deny the facts of history and the facts of science and technology, there’s not much you can do with them,” he said.
“For most of them, I just feel sorry that we failed in their education.”
Excellent comprehensive debunking site, a great how-to example: http://www.clavius.org/
The opinion regarding the statement “the science is settled” was meant in large part (by me, too, much earlier on other posts) to be a helpful suggestion. The suggestion is that this response offered up as the answer to many/most questions is neither effective nor helpful in changing peoples minds. In fact it often works contrary to its purpose. The fact remains that “the science is settled” is a pervasive argument form AGW proponents. Maybe it’s not true for Gavin’s inner circle, or maybe there is a goodly number of scientists who don’t use the argument, but to deny that it is a pervasive argument, or to parse the hell out of it as SecularAnimist does to claim you all really do have clothes on, is just silly. The fact that some piece-parts of the science are not exact doesn’t mitigate the assertion that “the science is settled” as y’all would hope. It’s just looking for loopholes.
The dilemma of course is that 1) it is a good political slogan, and, 2) as you fear, if you succinctly tout the ‘unsettled science,’ a bunch of the aginers will pounce all over it — the kind of thing that would lose every time in 30-minute soundbite debates (which I agree is not a helpful way to get your word out). It’s your choice. I can see where your denial [does this make y'all deniers?? ;-) ] might be the best overall choice. But it ain’t science and it ain’t true.
Re “For most of them, I just feel sorry that we failed in their education.”
But it’s not really a failure of education, because they have to learn about lunar landings, and have to use a good bit of science (even though they twist it) in order to come up with a rationale for their conspiracy theories.
I don’t know exactly what you would call it, but it seems like the same impulse that motivates climate denialists & many others. They don’t want the world to work in the often simple & obvious, but always open ways that it does, but through hidden knowledge. And of course their possession of this secret knowledge places them among an elite…
Have a look at what the BBC is doing with Brian Cox and Alice Roberts. Two seriously professional scientists who are also able to make science cool! It is also worth adding that the two Top Gear presenters, James May and Richard Hammond, when not playing the fool host some very good series on science and technology.
On the other side of the coin, the Dawkins agenda of creating a false dichotomy between science and religion does not help with this problem on little bit.
Well, they were using high powered DC lines in Africa a while back, and nowadays DC lines could be harnessed across large lad expanses in the Mid-West. Regarding current and voltage intercpnversion, you got me, I would need to do more research.
Yes, Thomas Edison was a practical and shrewd businessman. Nikola Tesla was by far the better inventor, more skilled engineer, and gifted/brilliant scientist. Like Bill Gates, Thomas Edison copied, (for free)stole, and discredited competing technological innovations and inventions. Incidentally, it was Nikola Tesla who invented alternating current applications and consequently AM radio among other things. So, yes I agree that AC is better under most circumstances, but it was that “commercial inventor,” and practical scientist, Nikola Tesla…not Thomas Edison. Yeah Edison had some loot to make it happen.
Teaching has changed for the worse I think in the public school
system in general.
oh and here:
“AC/DC: What’s the Difference?”
“In 1887 direct current (DC) was king. At that time there were 121 Edison power stations scattered across the United States delivering DC electricity to its customers. But DC had a great limitation — namely, that power plants could only send DC electricity about a mile before the electricity began to lose power. So when George Westinghouse introduced his system based on high-voltage alternating current (AC), which could carry electricity hundreds of miles with little loss of power, people naturally took notice. A “battle of the currents” ensued. In the end, Westinghouse’s AC prevailed.
But this special feature isn’t about the two electrical systems and how they worked. Rather, it’s a simple explanation that shows the difference between AC and DC.”
Oh and my aplogogies FurryCatHerder, and Realclimate; here:
“Nikola Tesla (10 July 1856 – 7 January 1943) was an inventor and a mechanical and electrical engineer. He is frequently cited as one of the most important contributors to the birth of commercial electricity, a man who “shed light over the face of Earth,” and is best known for his many revolutionary developments in the field of electricity and magnetism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Tesla’s patents and theoretical work formed the basis of modern alternating current (AC) electric power systems, including the polyphase power distribution systems and the AC motor, with which he helped usher in the Second Industrial Revolution.”
Rod B, is the science settled that CO2 is a greenhouse gas? Yes or no?
Rod B, is the science settled that human activities over the last century have released large amounts of previously sequestered CO2 into the atmosphere? Yes or no?
Rod B, is the science settled that the anthropogenic increase in atmospheric CO2 is causing the Earth system to retain more of the Sun’s energy, and heat up as a consequence? Yes or no?
Rod B, is the science settled that the anthropogenic heating of the Earth system is already causing rapid and extreme changes in the Earth’s climate, hydrosphere, cryosphere and biosphere? Yes or no?
Rod B, is the science settled that continued unmitigated business-as-usual anthropogenic emissions of CO2 will cause even more warming, and even more changes to the climate, hydrosphere, cryosphere and biosphere? Yes or no?
Do you think that people who say that the basic science of anthropogenic global warming, as summarized in the points above, is “unsettled” are being honest?
Exactly what part of the science do you claim is “unsettled”?
Comment by SecularAnimist — 15 Jul 2009 @ 10:59 AM
I bet RodB reckons that men DO give birth since the science isn’t settled on what defines a male or female mentally…
No. Global warming might be implicated by some of the major (large scale) deviations of late. Causing the myriad of local or regional changes touted is far from settled.
Maybe. But the degree of future changes is far from settled.
They are being exaggerative to make a point. In nearly all of the cases I would not call that dishonest. (Though if a skeptic made an analogous assertion we would be called frauds, liars, and subject to prosecution.) In fact IMO stretching the point a bit is often O.K. and desirable in political debates.
You, of course, will refute my assertions by simply saying I’m wrong. But you asked. The point, however, was whether it is good in the scientific debate, explanation, or in convincing the masses, not necessarily if it’s correct or not.
Mark, your (or anybody else for that matter) unequivocal 100% certain belief and assertion does not make science. Are you 100% positive-certain that an equilibrium doubling of CO2 will not produce an increase of say 1.43 degrees?
I have no idea what women or men giving birth has to do with anything…
Gavin, I understand why you adopt this as a general principle, but in this particular case it seems downright weird: one of the factors Mooney and Kirshenbaum blame for anti-science attitudes is “New Atheists” such as PZ Myers attacking religion as incompatible with science. In this context, discussing the book without allowing discussion of the relationship between religion and science is like discussing “Hamlet” while prohibiting any mention of the Prince of Denmark.
[Response: That whole discussion is tedious and a huge distraction from what we talk about here. There are plenty of other places where people can give full rein to their feelings on the subject far in excess of it's actual importance. It doesn't need to dominate our threads too. Sorry - but dem's the rules. - gavin]
“Are you 100% positive-certain that an equilibrium doubling of CO2 will not produce an increase of say 1.43 degrees?”
Now, if you were to say “1.43 +/- 0.1 degrees”, then the answer to that would be “no”.
However, that is an unlikely scenario no more likely (and probably less likely since there’s a definite lower bound:0 on CO2 insensitivity but no real upper bound without looking at the data, for which we already have a figure for the likelihood) than it being 4.85+/-0.01C.
Are you saying that because we don’t know 100% that it is within 1.5 and 4.5 C per doubling, then it will be less than 1.5?
This isn’t science or rationality. It’s blinded hope.
I really think science education is not enough to solve global warming — look at all the very well educated deniers.
In this regard, the Pope recently wrote an encyclical, Charity in Truth, and states:
In order to protect nature, it is not enough to intervene with economic incentives or deterrents; not even an apposite education is sufficient. These are important steps, but the decisive issue is the overall moral tenor of society.
Which actually makes our situation of staving off the worst of climate change look pretty hopeless. I mean, how do you get people to act morally and ethically — that’s much tougher than getting them a top rate science education.
RE #299, I think most would agree that killing people willy nilly is unethical (except perhaps for drug cartels and the Church of Satan), and that’s just what we are doing re global warming…..only most of the bullets we’re shooting now won’t kill the people for decades, even hundreds & thousands of years.
However since in my experience a good chunk of humanity is pretty much unethical, they might agree it’s wrong, but would say, “so what.” Except for the well educated unethical, who would make convoluted twists in the science and logic to make it seem they weren’t doing anything wrong. For them more and better science is useful for making more sophisticated denialist claims. Same goes for the unethical religious, using religion in some convoluted way to justify whatever they’re doing.
“…but if your belief in your worldview is stronger than your belief that the reality is real, you’ll drop the science.
You and nuclear power, for example.”
Sorry, but it’s just the other way around. Science is why I think nuclear power is a reasonable option. Show me science – real science, not thinly-disguised political tracts such as some introduce – that says otherwise, and I’ll change my opinion.
“..only most of the bullets we’re shooting now won’t kill the people for decades, even hundreds & thousands of years.”
Sure. And I don’t see how anyone can take an unbiased look at the situation, and not conclude that human population levels are a major contributor to the problem; one which, if unchecked, will become even greater in the future. 
James wrote: “Show me science – real science, not thinly-disguised political tracts such as some introduce – that says otherwise, and I’ll change my opinion.”
With all due respect, I doubt that you will ever change your opinion. Nor are you willing to look impartially at “the science” regarding the need for, the cost of, or the dangers of nuclear power.
In many, many years of engaging in online discussions — from USENET newsgroups to blogs — I have rarely encountered anyone so determined as yourself to ignore and dismiss information that contradicts his opinion, and to support his opinion with one unsupported assertion after another, and to accuse anyone who questions his unsupported opinions of ignoring the “facts” (which he never really gets around to presenting) and being motivated by some “political” or “ideological” or “religious” agenda. And rarely have I encountered anyone who seems so honestly, blithely, un-self-aware of doing this.
I mean, really, are you listening to yourself? Here are some “arguments” you have offered in this forum:
Large-scale nuclear war would be preferable to building concentrating solar thermal power plants on one percent of the USA’s deserts.
Building solar thermal power plants on a small percentage of the USA’s deserts is equal to paving the entire continent with solar panels.
The Chernobyl disaster was a “net improvement”.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the nuclear regulatory structure in the USA is designed to prevent the building of nuclear power plants.
Anyone who expresses concern about the very real problems and risks of nuclear power is anti-science and motivated by religious mania.
Comment by SecularAnimist — 17 Jul 2009 @ 10:34 AM
Mark says (17 Jul 2009 at 3:09 am):
“But you fail to heed any science that says that nuclear is not the better option.”
How could I heed such science, when I haven’t been shown any yet? I do pay attention to some of what’s posted here (and elsewhere, of course), but so far it’s all had… well, it’s hard to say mistakes, since they appear to be deliberate, so let’s say initial assumptions that cause the studies to come up with the desired answers.
“Your desire for a nuclear future outweighs the evidence against that being workable here.”
But again, I don’t have a desire for a nuclear future. I just think that all the other options are either unworkable or produce worse results.
Mark, going from the ridiculous to the sublime, I’ll go one more even though you clearly “read” whatever you want in what others write, and even though we’re taking up otherwise valuable space on this thread.
I can’t prove it’s less than 1.5 degrees, but what does this have to do with the price of Chinese tea? I thought you could so prove it within the “settled complete” science when you send “…definitely more than 1.5C per doubling.” But then you come back to say not definitely 1.5 or more. So it sounds you’re talking just to hear your head roar.
I answered SecularAnimist’s question (singular) by answering his eight questions on his eight areas of climate science that I claim is unsettled, and even went into the degree of “unsettledness”. Though you kinda have to read and absorb what I actually wrote to pick this up.
“In many, many years of engaging in online discussions — from USENET newsgroups to blogs — I have rarely encountered anyone so determined as yourself to ignore and dismiss information that contradicts his opinion…”
You know, I could say EXACTLY the same of you :-)
“Large-scale nuclear war would be preferable to building concentrating solar thermal power plants on one percent of the USA’s deserts.”
First, can we get our facts straight? Go back to the Scientific American article from which you apparently derived that 1% number. Look at their figures for square miles used & percent of power generated. Then look up the land area of the US. Do the math, and tell me, is it 1% of the deserts, or 1% of the entire country?
Now can you perhaps begin to understand why I sometimes don’t regard your posts as perfectly reliable?
On the nuclear war question, again, do the math. Here http://www.stardestroyer.net/Empire/Science/Nuke.html you will find an app to compute the effects of a nuclear explosion. I’ll let you use the larger ionizing radiation radius, and assume that everything within it is rendered permanently sterile (as the land covered by solar plants would be), even though it would eventually recover. I’ll also overlook the fact that most targets would be cities, where most of the natural environment is already destroyed. Now figure out how many nuclear weapons* it would take to destroy the environment over 30,000 square miles.
So tell me, do you get a number that equates to a medium-sized or larger nuclear war?
*If you search, you’ll find that most warheads are in the fractional megaton range, but I’ll let you assume all are a full megaton.
“Building solar thermal power plants on a small percentage of the USA’s deserts is equal to paving the entire continent with solar panels.”
Land area required to provide 35% of US energy, per Scientific America article: 30,000 square miles.
Land area of the state of Maine: 30,861 sqare miles.
Small percentage? Again, do some math: to get 100% of US energy would require covering and area equal to New England plus half of New York state.
“The Chernobyl disaster was a “net improvement”.”
Didn’t we argue that one enough? I say the facts speak for themselves.
“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the nuclear regulatory structure in the USA is designed to prevent the building of nuclear power plants.”
OK, so how many nuclear plants have been built in the US under the laws & regulations currently in place?
“Anyone who expresses concern about the very real problems and risks of nuclear power is anti-science and motivated by religious mania.”
How about some honesty? When have I ever said “anyone”? I’ve frequently said “many”, even “most”. I stand by that, and I don’t see you, or anyone, even trying to refute it.
James wrote: “How could I heed such science, when I haven’t been shown any yet?”
You have been shown plenty of such science, and you respond by preposterously and baselessly accusing researchers like Mark Jacobson, director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program at Stanford University who published a peer-reviewed, quantitative scientific study of the environmental impacts of alternative energy technologies which found that nuclear power was tied with coal-CCS as the worst, of engaging in deliberate fraud and publishing “garbage” — because his conclusions don’t agree with your ill-informed opinions.
James wrote: “Go back to the Scientific American article from which you apparently derived that 1% number.”
You don’t pay much attention to what I actually post here. I have repeatedly posted links to my source for that number, which is a peer-reviewed study from solar thermal manufacturer Ausra, which projects that concentrating solar thermal power plants with a total land footprint of 9600 square miles could power 90 percent of the US grid with power left over to charge a national fleet of hybrid cars. The earlier Scientific American article proposed using photovoltaics rather than concentrating solar thermal power plants, which are more efficient and can also use less costly thermal storage to provide 24×7 baseload power.
James wrote: “I’ve frequently said ‘many’, even ‘most’. I stand by that, and I don’t see you, or anyone, even trying to refute it.”
I stand corrected. You have repeatedly said that many and even most critics of nuclear power are anti-science and motivated by religious mania. With all due respect, that’s nothing but a baseless insult which doesn’t merit being “refuted”.
James wrote: “OK, so how many nuclear plants have been built in the US under the laws & regulations currently in place?”
No nuclear power plants have been built in the USA for decades because nuclear power is a proven economic failure and investors don’t like to throw money away. Investors especially don’t like to throw billions of dollars into nuclear power when they can see that the much-touted “next generation” nuclear power plants, like the French AREVA-designed plants being built in Finland and France, are years behind schedule, billions of dollars over budget and plagued with the same serious safety problems that have afflicted nuclear power forever. That’s why leaders of the nuclear industry are now saying that they are unwilling to put a shovel in the ground to build even one new nuclear power plant, unless the taxpayers and ratepayers absorb all the costs and all the risks up front — including the risk that the power plants will be obsolete and unprofitable by the time they go online.
ANDRILL educational activities in Italy: progettosmilla.it, a case-study of an interactive project
AU: * cattadori, m
AB: In January 2006, the Italian ANDRILL (Antartic Geological Drilling) team selected the project progettosmilla.it and its instructor Matteo Cattadori, a high school teacher and collaborator of Museo Tridentino di Scienze Naturali (TN – Italy) to represent Italy in the ANDRILL-ARISE team. The ARISE (Andrill Research Immersion for Science Educators) comprised a group of teachers from 4 nations (US, New Zealand, Germany and Italy) and is part of the initiative Public and Educational Outreach component of the ANDRILL project. The selected teachers are sent to Antarctica and are actively involved in all stages of the scientific investigation, with the main aim of establishing a bridge between research and the schools in the participating countries. Progettosmilla.it was selected to take part in the first edition of ANDRILL-ARISE held at the American Antarctic base of Mc Murdo during the 2006-2007 austral summer.The project makes use of different tools, techniques and forms of communication-education to stimulate the interest and motivation of students, teachers and organizers/trainers in ANDRILL research and polar sciences in general. Activities are organized and scheduled according to a fixed timetable that cover 2/3 of an academic year and are centered on the site http://www.progettosmilla.it. This site feature daily reports, as well as online activities and various services for users in Italian schools. Among the online materials, more conventional ones are: – summaries of the ANDRILL research and the Antarctic environment; including multimedia (1200 photos, 10 video and audio); resource folders for teachers on 10 different subjects of study; course work for the participating school students. – ITC-oriented materials such as: videoconferencing and chat sessions with Antarctica or between classes, blogs, web-quest, animations and interactive teaching. -Many services are implemented in collaboration with other teachers and allow the ARISE team to perform distant collaborative work between classes of different nations. The project also envisages at least one follow meeting at each participating school with Mr Cattadori and available ANDRILL researchers, in addition to daily support via e-mail to students and teachers to facilitate knowledge transfer or organise teaching activities, such as visits to research centers/museums, contact with other ANDRILL participants/researchers etc. Progettosmilla.it involved 66 registered schools across 18 Italian provinces with a total of 2100 students, 70 meetings at schools and 6000 visits per month to the website.
DE: 0820 Curriculum and laboratory design
DE: 0825 Teaching methods
DE: 0850 Geoscience education research
SC: Cryosphere [C]
MN: 2008 Fall Meeting
RE #306, and “And I don’t see how anyone can take an unbiased look at the situation, and not conclude that human population levels are a major contributor to the problem; one which, if unchecked, will become even greater in the future”
Well, I guess one solution to that is if enough people would become celibate for the sake of the life of the world….
And BTW, RE #186 & 187, “tard” is short for “religitard,” just the type of lingo and rhetoric Mooney and Kirshenbaum (and other commentors above) say will make unscientific America worse, not better.
Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 19 Jul 2009 @ 9:25 AM
Comment by Hank Roberts”
Actually there WAS a science program when I was a kid called “How!”. ITV or BBC.
“… Like everyone else, I have lots of good ideas about how to solve this problem:
* bring back “El Mundo de Beakman”
* new CBS drama “Dr. Quinn, Postdoctoral Researcher”
* marijuana-growing contests
* daily ballistic pendulum demonstrations in elementary school classrooms
* Tacoma Narrows Bridge video put into constant rotation on MTV and MTV2
* routine in-school showings of pro-biology movies like Underworld: Evolution and Dragonball Evolution
* new national anthem: “She Blinded Me With Science”
“Those are great ideas,” you’re thinking…”
I didn’t know there was anywhere near that much footage of the Tacoma Narrows bridge, or that _any_ was in color.
Yet there it is.
In re Jacob and anyone else who thinks DC is a good idea.
I was talking to one of my resellers yesterday (I produce software that manages electrical systems and he resells it …) about a customer of his. This customer has a number of small buildings on a fairly large piece of land — something like 60 acres, as I recall. Each of these buildings has it’s own battery storage and it’s own DC to AC conversion. Connecting each building is a DC intertie.
The electrician in me (license in purse, under ATM card) did a quick calculation and concluded that the intertie has to be rated at 625 amps DC @ 48VDC nominal. It wasn’t — off the top of my head, maybe 100 amps. Not to worry — at 100 amps all of the power would be lost as heat and the wire wouldn’t melt. Note — ALL of the power. Here’s a voltage drop calculator — enjoy: http://www.csgnetwork.com/voltagedropcalc.html
Do any of you have any idea how fat a cable that is? My cables, which have a maximum load of 350A are as big as my index finger, and I’ve got big hands.
The problem with DC, especially in a residence, is that the current requirements are just plain HUGE, and the voltages aren’t anywhere near standardized. You want 12VDC? My toaster oven uses 1440 watts — that’s 120 amps and a cable the size of a pinky finger. A/C compressor? 14.4KW inrush — 1,200 amps @ 12VDC. No clue how big in terms of body parts — never worked with wire that large before. If you pick a higher system voltage to get a lower current, the problems with step-up / step-down show up again — and that’s more power lost.
And forget transmitting those voltages — at full capacity, in just ten feet of wire, I lose 1 1/2% of my power to heat. It’s over 100 feet from the transformer to my toaster oven. I don’t think losing 15% of my power to heating dirt is a good idea, not when I can lose only 0.1% by using 240V AC.
Read the whole thing. He ends for the moment with:
“There’s been a lot of talk with the release of Unscientific America about how to communicate science to the public. But we have realize that this isn’t an educational problem, but a propaganda one. To combat that, we need organizations–and they will need money–that can competently knock this propaganda down. I’m not sure that’s a role for scientists as much as it is political operatives, since this would go well beyond policy pre scr ip tions. In other words, a scientist could decide to join this effort (and that would be worthwhile), but a scientist could also go to Wall Street (or could have, anyway): this is flat-out political warfare. I’ll have more to say about this later this week hopefully.”
And so we ask, why, these days, does one need an electrician’s license to work upwards of 60VDC?
It makes so much sense to use far higher DC voltages:
“Transmission losses are proportional to the square of the delivered power and inversely proportional to the square of the power-line voltage” — higher DC voltage suffers far less line loss, so it makes far more sense to use much higher DC voltage; using low voltage DC across the back yard is a line-loss killer.
DC will stop your heart, at very low voltage.
The muscle goes one way, CLUNK, and locks in that position as long as the voltage is applied. It can do that well below 100 volts.
AC even at 110V gives you a 60-cycle muscle jitter, scares the bejesus out of you and makes sparks.
So we have long distance ultra-high-voltage DC transmission coming, for good reason.
And switching, yeah, that’s gotten a lot better since the big old knife switches that if opened or closed lackadasically, would arc and weld themselves — so had to be snapped open and closed _very_ quickly.
Hank, way OT but interesting. What you say makes sense — but how does it mesh with’s Edison’s fight for DC and against AC because, for one, the latter was more dangerous?
Though maybe a little OnT. Might the push for (certain) alt. energy force a lot of normal folks to rise above their breaker box (which most have never even opened) and start playing with high power DC, invertors, convertors, phase controllers, utility-level interconnect, circuit breakers, and disconnects, and big heavy wire draped over the eaves — somewhat dangerously?
“and start playing with high power DC, invertors, convertors, phase controllers, utility-level interconnect, circuit breakers, and disconnects, and big heavy wire draped over the eaves — somewhat dangerously?
Comment by Rod B ”
And that would be new how?
People already fry their house by fiddling the electric meter. Fry their family by bodge internal electrics of 110/240V AC.
C’mon, people, you can get someone killed by giving bad advice about electricity. There’s no simple safe voltage or type of current.
Touching conductors with dry skin is relatively less dangerous than a shock from a sharp point that breaks the skin; dry skin is somewhat an insulator.
Just as an example.
Either is dangerous. Lack of understanding can be fatal. So can bad advice.
I rewired our house completely, with guidance from a competent union electrician (it was her last job before she left to start medical school, in fact). The result passed the inspection fine. I learned a lot. Like, put the left hand behind the back before reaching for the electrical box holding the screwdriver in the right hand. Even when you’re absolutely sure you’ve disconnected the power. Why? Paths through the heart from the left hand to ground are more risky than paths from the right hand to ground. Just in case you’re wrong ….
Every single time.
Look it up and point to good information.
Just an example with a brief quote. This is not THE answer. It’s an example from a site that helps people understand how complicated these questions are.
Would you rather risk stopping your heart cold — clunk — with DC? Or put it into fibrillation — flutter — with AC? Depends. The first aid response to the former (bang on the chest) is different than the first aid response to the latter (get the shock paddles to try to stop the fibrillation).
Are you prepared? If not then don’t give people advice.
# A shock from DC is more likely to freeze or stop the victim’s heart.
# The current range of 100 to 200 ma, is particularly dangerous because it is almost certain to result in lethal ventricular fibrillation….
… The fibrillation threshold is a function of current over time. For example, fibrillation will occur with 500mA over 0.2 seconds or 75mA over 0.5 seconds.
# AC is more dangerous than DC causing more severe muscular contractions. AC is also more likely to cause a victim’s heart to fibrillate , which is a more dangerous condition. Safe working thresholds are consequently much lower for AC voltages.
# It is easier to restart a stopped heart once the source of the electric shock has been removed than it is to restore a normal beating rhythm to a fibrillating heart. A heart that is in fibrillation cannot be restored to normal by closed chest cardiac massage….”
And yes, this kind of thing is on topic — science education.
Science is the main thing keeping people healthy and improving health.
Personal health and public health. If you want to get someone thinking about why science matters, ask them about what matters to them personally.
Much of what may afflict any single person is the kind of thing that only shows up with epidemiology and statistics. Tobacco. Lead. Asbestos. Small particle air pollution. Skin cancer. All these and many more can cause health problems that are horrible for the individual, but causation is only identifiable by scientific work on large populations.
Do you wonder why teaching science isn’t a high priority?
Good science interferes with sloppy business practices that are otherwise hard to detect.
An educated population that understands science is going to be a lot harder to sell crap to. Or so we can hope. It would be worth trying.
Licensing arguments are cut and dried, by your jurisdiction’s rules. No problem. Can’t imagine what you’re suggesting.
Science education should go beyond simple rules into what’s interesting, like Galvani’s work with frog’s legs.
Above I wrote:
> Just an example with a brief quote. This is not THE answer.
> It’s an example from a site that helps people understand how
> complicated these questions are…..
You lecture on current versus voltage; if you read the link I gave as a teaching example, you saw that’s what I pointed to:
“… While the severity of the electric shock is mainly determined by the current, the current in turn is influenced by numerous variables …. Because of this wide variation in resistance and contact duration, people have been known to survive shocks of 40 KV while others have been killed by less than 50 Volts ….”
“Punctured skin with cuts, abrasions or burns caused by the electric current itself: No resistance
… * Working with minor wounds to the hands seriously increases the risk of shock.
* Once a shock has been initiated, the resulting electrical burn can puncture the skin and increase the shocking current….”
Please try to find some way in which we disagree about this, because I certainly can’t find any basis for further argument.
It’s all there, kids. That’s the kind of page you can find with almost no effort at all, in this modern world. When someone makes a science claim — Look it up!
When people are talking science, don’t trust what the grownups say. They’re at best telling you what they think. They go by what they remember learning from some dinosaur. That likely was wrong when they learned it, and memory makes knowledge worse over time. Mine’s no better, don’t trust me either. The old dusty facts are in the past and aren’t well recalled, but at least you can find them accurately by looking in references. And you’ll probably find new information when you do, and even more new information when you look again a bit later.
You can find this stuff out for yourself.
Adanson, Volta, Galvani, Nobili, Berzelius, Matteucci, Helmholtz, and of course Kermit. All contributed to this work.
Science education concern notes from elsewhere (catching up on the stack of second-hand Science that I get from time to time)
Q: What is the biggest challenge facing AIP? [American Institute of Physics]
A: [Fred Dalla, Exec. Director and CEO of AIP] Our primary challenge is to fully embrace and push for the recommendation in _Rising_Above_the_Gathering_Storm_, the[National Academies] report that calls for increased funding for the sciences and science education.
That report is still being discussed actively in 2009.
The acronym for it is “RAGS”
Among several organizations working to bridge the Two Cultures is the Society of Environmental Journalists, a 501c3 for working journalists and academics based in the US and Canada. If you’re a science journalist or a scientist interested in communications issues, you might want to know more about SEJ.
CP Snow’s essay was definitely not about the relation between science and popular cultures. [edit--this point was already made, and indeed accepted near the top of the thread (comment #20). Please come back when you have something new to add]
Yes, Mark, I have an electrician’s license. And no, working at 48VDC doesn’t mean one doesn’t need a license because the output of a typical inverter is 120VAC (220/240 in regions where that’s the system voltage), and connecting that to anything useful, in the States at least, usually requires a license.
As for everyone else’s comments about DC –
Don’t go selling rotating magnetic field’s short. Polyphase AC has a great many properties, not the least of which is the simple ability to put an inexpensive pole pig out by someones house and give them more electricity than they know what to do with. DC buck converters aren’t so cheap.
Finally, anyone who’d touch a potentially live conductor with their body should be kept away from wires. And anyone who’d ever suggest doing so should be held criminally negligent. There are a wide range of tools for checking out wires, and there are always gloves and insulated tools for that added measure of safety.
More education — pointer to two recommended videos.
Question to Gavin and the other Contributors — might it be worth collecting a list?
I have trouble with video, it’s too damned slow. But many rely on it for their news now.
At least the first of these two comes with citations.
And they’re recommended by a usually reliable source: http://strangeweather.wordpress.com/2009/07/16/wake-up/
“Yes, Mark, I have an electrician’s license. And no, working at 48VDC doesn’t mean one doesn’t need a license because the output of a typical inverter is 120VAC (220/240 in regions where that’s the system voltage),”
And so working on the transformer or on the high voltage AC side needs a license.
120VAC isn’t “High Voltage”. And yeh, if you want to run your house on 48VDC, with all the current and voltage drop problems that come with it, you can manage to get by without a license. You’d have a lousy electrical system, but hey — wouldn’t need that license!
Scientists plot and prepare for Noah’s Ark-like floods
California may be caught in the throes of a years-long drought, but crisis experts are now planning for a 200-to-500-year flood.
By Dana Bartholomew, Staff Writer
Posted: 07/26/2009 10:15:14 PM PDT
scientists are now fashioning a hypothetical scenario similar to the mother of all known California floods — the Great Flood of 1861-62.
That flood, occurring during 45 days of rain, turned California into an inland sea. It also forced Gov. Leland Stanford to take a rowboat to his inauguration, wiped out a third of taxable land, and virtually bankrupted the state.
Despite more than a century of flood channels, debris dams and levees built since, such a flood could wreak $25 billion in damage to the state capitol alone, according to the Geological Survey.
And because of global warming, scientists forecast such a colossal gully-washer born by the “pineapple express” jet stream to happen sooner, rather than later.
“With climate change, the West Coast is expected to experience even more extreme winter rainfall than we’ve seen so far, along with extreme episodes of dry, hot weather in summer,” said Marty Ralph of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., a member of the team creating the scenario, in a statement. …
I just finished this book and agree with the central premise: we scientists must learn how to communicate with the general public. Communicating science via the peer review process must continue but each of us must learn how to take that information and bring it to policy makers and to the public in a style that is easy to understand. We can no longer just shrug our shoulders when we hear and see pseudo-science on the airwaves and on the Web (thinking Rush Limbaugh, WUWT, etc.)
Blogs such as Realclimate.org are extremely helpful but even this blog requires some scientific background or, at the minimum, some post-secondary education. Many voters in this country do not meet that standard. Fortunately, the following two books Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming by Mann & Kump, and Climate Change: Picturing the Science by Schmidt & Wolfe are excellent sources of information for the general public and are certainly what Unscientific America was preaching.
My Earth & Space Sciences team presents a public lecture each month to try to bring current science topics to the community. One such presentation by me titled Global Warming: Man or Myth – The Science of Climate Change has been published on the Web at: http://www2.sunysuffolk.edu/mandias/global_warming/
I hope that my site can help the general public separate the science from the pseudo-science. Any comments about or suggestions for my site by the readers of Realclimate.org are very welcome. Thank you.
Great example here of scientists who differed, got together on a new study, and came up with a better result (fisheries):
By Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY
Three years after a controversial paper predicted the collapse of 90% of the world’s edible fish species by 2048, the original paper’s author and a main opponent have collaborated on a groundbreaking survey of the Earth’s oceans which finds hope for fish stocks and the millions who rely on them for protein — but only if overfishing is ended.
The paper, published today in the journal Science, comes after a 2006 Science paper by marine biologist Boris Worm of Dalhousie University in Canada and colleagues. Its prediction of the destruction of fish populations because of overfishing and ecosystem destruction caused enormous controversy among marine ecologists and fisheries biologists.
But a 2006 radio interview that brought Worm and fisheries biologist Ray Hilborn of the University of Washington in Seattle together to debate the paper led them to launch an international research effort over two years involving 21 scientists who surveyed 166 areas where specific fish species are caught — called a fishery worldwide and looked intensively at 10 marine ecosystems.
“It was like a ‘CSI’ for overfishing,” says Worm.
What they found was that in areas where the rate of fishing is reduced, even collapsed fish stocks can revive and become commercially viable again.
“This has enormous practical application for the United States and world policy, with billions of dollars at stake,” says Steve Murawski, chief scientist of the National Marine Fisheries Service. …
Evidence that a debate between two competent experts can be productive.
Have any of you ever heard the saying that when earth presents a problem it also has a solution. Well everyone should know that the earth should produce C02 and other greenhouse gases. so there must be a way to get rid of it .So alge takes from 80-90% of the co2 from the atmosphere and alge also thrive under co2 rich hot conditions. so if as many “experts” are saying that we are making the co2 levals rise and it’s makeing the temp rise with it then the alge population should rise with it witch in tun will take in more co2 and make the temp decsease. If you want more info or to hear more rantings on how to fix the world’s biggest problems then E-mail me @ email@example.com thank you Richie Abel