home » history, science

it takes the human voice

4 January 2010 2 comments

Today, I watched a National Geographic show called “Earth: The Biography” about the atmosphere.  It reiterated much of what I already knew, but to see some of the imagery is astounding.  Watching a pair of scientists drill a hole in arctic ice – then set it on fire – was amazing.  It made me wonder: who else knows why you can set a hole in ice on fire with a match and nothing else?  No one knows how many do, but it begs a further question.  “Who should?” And I know the answer to that one: all of us.  Because of global warming? That’s a reason, yes.  But we should all know it because it’s important.

I have had conversations with highly intelligent people that have uttered the phrase “evolution is just a theory.”  Every time I hear it, I am disappointed.  Here is a person, who knows English, but doesn’t know science.  And there is a seriously good chance that they learned this word in high school (and definitely college) biology class.

On any given day on the Drudge Report, he will have linked a few sites saying how cold it is.  Mr. Drudge is attempting to make a statement; if we have record cold, then the world cannot be warming.  Unfortunately, he is capitalizing on the non-analytical nature of those of his readership who do not understand (nor is he educating them about) long-term averages.  He reports that glaciers are growing.  This is true – as long as you don’t measure the parts that are melting.

Another of my favorites is “warmer temperatures means longer growing seasons.”  Even without a scientific analysis of this one, an obvious outgrowth of that logic is that millions of people in already drought-prone areas will die.  Does the “longer growing season” argument belie an implicit racism?  One wonders.

One I have unfortunately used in my younger years is that, since one can find fossilized sea creatures atop tall mountains, proof of the existence of a global flood is abundant.  This is merely a misunderstanding of plate tectonics.  All of our miles-high mountains used to be far below sea level.  The grinding of the earth’s plates against each other have thrown these mountains skyward.

Scientific literacy is such an important tool in understanding our world, and it is unfortunately reduced to either sound-byte level knowledge, religious dismissal, or active politicization. Understand this:  I believe in capitalism.  But as we have seen in the last few years, when it spirals out of control, it turns into something intolerable.  I don’t know if global warming is human-caused.  I do know that the climate is changing.  And there is a whole lot of money to be made off our conversion to a green economy – and sustainability benefits, as a bonus.  Plus, we get the benefit of a cleaner world.  But, we have to understand things first – and that means knowledge.

A fun way to learn about science is Neil DeGrasse Tyson; he makes learning fun.  (link to Dr. Tyson’s podcasts)


  • Gordon Bryan said:

    Phi, Fie, Foe, Phumb, Look Out Science, Herez I Come

    Who can argue against the importance of science and the paucity of its study in America today?

    But whose science do we choose? The science of Ptolemy or the science of Copernicus? The science of former Washington governor Dixie Lee Ray or the science of former Vice President Albert Gore, Jr.? The science of Mentos in a coke bottle or the science of nuclear fission? It seems the chief end of science is to prove itself wrong.

    And then we consider “Does the “longer growing season” argument belie an implicit racism? One wonders.” Not unless you are referring to the HUMAN race, in which case, spot on! Remember that Australians are people, too.

    It may be my bias as a product of the liberal arts (too lazy to study), but I believe a poet summed up the global warming debate quite well before it began. Behold Robert Frost:


    Some say the world will end in fire,
    Some say in ice.
    From what I’ve tasted of desire
    I hold with those who favor fire.
    But if it had to perish twice,
    I think I know enough of hate
    To say that for destruction ice
    Is also great
    And would suffice.

  • dan (author) said:

    “It seems the chief end of science is to prove itself wrong.” Absolutely, G. It is the *explicit* end of science to offer up solutions that are workable, or that can be falsified. If I give you a thesis that I can neither demonstrate, nor can you prove it wrong (given sufficient education and dedication on both our parts), it isn’t science. And, to both celebrate Newtonmas (belatedly) and to quote one of the Greats: “if I have seen further than others, it is because I stood on the shoulders of giants.” Science is about progress, not picking which ideas you like – and then proving it.

    And alas, thanks for offering up one of my poetic faves. Ice has indeed “sufficed” many times – the impact event that got rid of our distant dinosaur cousins didn’t do so by burning them up. It did it by freezing them (to a degree) out. And great evidence that homo sapiens won out over our genus-brethren because of an ice age about 75K years ago.

    Welcome, my good sir, and I look forward to many spirited discussions.