Brainy Quote of the Day

Friday, April 7, 2017

A Quicksand...

My t-shirt. You can order at (I get no commission).
Topics: Climate Change, Education, Environment, Global Warming, Politics, Scientific Method

I almost don't want to post anything about climate change because of trolls, but one cannot pick when a battle will begin. I like what Scientific American said (I apologize I couldn't find it for this post), that instead of talking about the heating of the globe, we should be discussing replacing those coalminers' jobs that aren't coming back and instead think of new avenues of employment; future instead of past jobs.

I wore a t-shirt, purchased for The March for Science (April 22): "We The People want evidence based SCIENCE," along with its associated symbols. That got me into a spirited conversation with a gentleman that obviously had deep religious convictions. I didn't think a shirt would spark a back-and-forth weeks before the march.

Some of the things I pointed out:

- A 6,000-year-old universe limits Deity ("How do scientists know how old the universe is?"). An ~ 13.6 billion year universe is far more expansive, and does show the limit of our technology - that's as far as our telescopes can see. I connected this to my next point.

- I reviewed with him the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation, discovered accidentally by American radio astronomers Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson in 1964, resulting in the pair achieving the Nobel Prize in 1978. This is evidence of an expansion and colloquially coined as "The Big Bang."

- In 1979, the Nobel in Physics was won by Abdus Salam, Sheldon Lee Glashow, Steven Weinberg "for their contributions to the theory of the unified weak and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles, including, inter alia, the prediction of the weak neutral current." I've had the luck to meet Dr. Weinberg at a conference in Austin, Texas, and have a personal autographed copy of "The First Three Minutes," two of my life's greatest thrills. I mentioned them because Abdus Salam (deceased) was a devote Muslim; I'm betting Dr. Weinberg is at least an agnostic.

- I continued the discussion with the 1887 Michelson–Morley experiment that measured the speed of light by Albert A. Michelson and Edward W. Morley at what was then Case School of Applied Science (now Case-Western Reserve). Before that, scientist thought of light as being carried along by the "luminiferous ether" (since waves were their thing back then). This led to the Nobel Prize in 1907. I believe - and, I told the gent - Michelson was a practicing Christian. They were the "shoulders of giants" opined by Sir Isaac Newton and the foundation for the Special Theory of Relativity by Albert Einstein.

- That led to a discussion of The Scientific Method and Theory (versus the colloquialism "in theory"). Scientific theory has to be proven in experiment, or discarded. I explained that was the unifier in the scientific enterprise: Agnostics, Atheists, Buddhists, Christians, Muslims et al are welcome to the table of inquiry as long as one forms a null hypothesis; an aleph null hypothesis and after experiment and evaluation able to prove it, replicate it in controlled conditions elsewhere and stand up to peer review (and if it doesn't), be willing to throw it out like "luminiferous ether".

I'm kind of a "ringer" for discussions like this. Yeah, everything I said was a mouthful, but when people ask questions out of a sincere desire to KNOW, I answer as best I can. What I don't know, I try to point them in the right direction. Our encounter ended amicably and respectfully. I'm pretty sure we both enjoyed it.

There is a "disdain for expertise," and that phrase can lead to a plethora of search engine results. The current, rampant anti-intellectualism is as American-born as Eugenics, perverted by the Nazis and mentioned by the Executive Mansion's current resident in his bigoted, misogynistic, nationalistic,  xenophobic campaign ("good genes," even included in a 90-second rambling mash). The disdain is exacerbated by technology, information "at our fingertips" has made us all experts on areas and subjects we have no passion to study or excel in, the equivalent to watching a few videos online and calling oneself a martial arts master.

To have a disdain for expertise, you must have a disdain for education and learning; The Scientific Method must be assaulted as probing could reveal inconvenient truths that could result in apostasy; heresy. Authoritarians in particular are famous for not liking anything that diverges from their carefully crafted narratives. If remote mind control weren't in the realm of science fiction, they would have nations of automatons.

From an article in New Scientist by Brian Owens:

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is facing a future in which its hands will be tied on making many policies if a new bill becomes law.

Last week the US House of Representatives passed a bill, the HONEST Act, that would prevent the EPA from basing any of its regulations on science that is not publicly accessible – not just journal articles themselves, but all of the underlying data, models and computer code.

“The HONEST Act requires EPA to base new regulations on sound science that is publicly available, and not hidden from the American people,” said Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican and chair of the House science committee, who sponsored the bill, in a statement. “The days of ‘trust me’ science are over.”

“Allowing EPA’s data to be independently reviewed promotes sound science that will restore confidence in the EPA decision-making process,” said Smith.

While this may sound like a laudable move towards increased transparency, it would actually hobble the agency’s ability to develop good, science-based public health regulations, says Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science and Democracy.

“It’s couched in terms of transparency, but is actually one of several actions intended to bring regulations to a halt,” he says.

The reboot of COSMOS enjoyed high ratings and I'll assume high sales of DVDs (I bought the set), but only one season. There was a tremendous push back online from authoritarians that were threatened by information that countered their narrative.

There is a comforting narcissism in willful ignorance, but it is lethal to constitutional republics. The fall of Rome was a slow decline: military overreach, economic stagnation and an empire too massive and extensive to reasonably manage.

We are in a quicksand, and in the nature of the medium, we will discover our folly neck-deep and unable to extricate ourselves from its steady pull. Perhaps a few more t-shirt conversations - before and after the march with respectful dialog as my surprise encounter - might help and throw a lifeline to the republic.

Related links:

The Chronicle of Higher Education
The Academic Home of Trumpism, Jon Baskin

The Intellectualist
Republican Disdain for Expertise is One of the Party's Defining Principles

Washington Monthly
Disdain for expertise, Steve Benen

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