Those who are suspicious of science are missing part of the restoration

Scientific literacy is falling in America. Part of the reason is that its value is being under-appreciated by a larger and larger segment of the population. Suspicions about evolution and climate change have created an atmosphere where two of science’s most strongly supported investigations are dismissed. To do that, you have to dismiss science itself. Really. Continue reading Those who are suspicious of science are missing part of the restoration

Unmasking some of the ‘Conspiring men’

Suppose your friend came to you and said that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer. Suppose he said that he had seen 100 doctors and using best medical practices 98 had told them that he should start treatment immediately. Further, suppose that the 98 say that it is not too late to intervene, but time is critical. Suppose that the 98 come from all over the world and represent a number of specialties and disciplines and have come to the conclusion that he has cancer from multiple tests, procedures and such. Then suppose that your friend tells you that he’s decided not to get treatment because the doctors have not reached a consensus. That 2% still believe that he doesn’t have cancer, and given its cost it would be better until we have more data before deciding on whether to treat his cancer—and the costs will be substantial. Once treatment starts he may have to give up his job, it will drain his life savings, and he will undergo significant pain and discomfort. Nothing in his life will likely be the same. The question is, is your friend acting rationally? What’s the best thing for your friend to do? Is there an argument that he is not getting treatment because he really wants to believe he can avoid the unpleasantness he must face? Or is the evidence really as insufficient as your friend argues. What would you advise? Continue reading Unmasking some of the ‘Conspiring men’

Naomi Oreskes’s talk on ‘Merchants of Doubt’ at BYU

Recently Naomi Oreskes historian of science and author of Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming talked at at the Kennedy Center as part of a special series of talks sponsored by The Nature Conservancy and BYU’s Environmental Ethics Initiative (which I’m . . . → Read More: Naomi Oreskes’s talk on ‘Merchants of Doubt’ at BYU

Why science is so darned powerful

Crossposted at

What is Science? A school kid’s definition goes something like this: Find a hypothesis (from somewhere); make sure it is falsifiable; test it against reality; if it fails, discard it; if it doesn’t, published it. Rinse and repeat. We’ll call this SKD view of science for shorthand.

There is some truth in it. In the same way that, being a good tennis player means, being able to hit the ball really hard, keeping your knees bent, and keeping your eye on the ball. While that’s got some things right and that seem to lean somewhat in the direction of what it means to be a good tennis player, there is much that could be taken away and gobs of stuff that could be added to give a richer and more accurate description of the concept. Continue reading Why science is so darned powerful

Don’t eat puffer fish

There are many ways to get into trouble visiting foreign ports of call. I seem to find them. For instance millions of people go to Vietnam a year and do not come down with killer bacterial brain infections (see ‘My Madness’ in the side panel). I am unlucky I fear. I tried to come out of the womb backwards and have been doing the same (metaphorically speaking) ever since.

Here is the tale. It is a story about fear actually, but I’ll get to that. On a Thursday back in March we drove to Sally. A small costal city in Senegal where there was a company that flew mini-helicopters that we were thinking of using to drop sterile male tsetse flies over wide areas (you know—to make it hard for a female tsetse to find a good man). Continue reading Don’t eat puffer fish

Why Science Matters

It turns out that getting the science right matters. We live in a wondrous age in which a breathtaking understanding of our universe is possible. We understand the nature of life though DNA and how structures arise though protein construction during embryonic development. We are discovering possibly inhabitable worlds at distances measured in light years. We have mapped the interior of our own planet and explored its oceans from deep under its waters and scanned them from above with orbiting satellites. This is not to say that science will answer all our questions, or provide all sources of value in all areas of meaning. But ignore it at your peril. Continue reading Why Science Matters

The myth of global cooling

A friend asked me how I was going to feel when I discovered that anthropogenic climate change (ACC) was not real, when science was proved wrong. Continue reading The myth of global cooling

Ecology and Economics: Betting against science

Everything living depends on ecology. The planet’s hydrologic cycles provide the water that we use for agriculture and industry. Everything you’ve eaten today depended upon soil ecologies, the carbon cycle–driven largely by photosynthesis, insects, and countless other ecosystem processes. Consider, for example, the things made of wood around you right now. Continue reading Ecology and Economics: Betting against science

Bye, Bye Sponge Bob: Ocean Acidification

Oceans are acidifying, due to an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, (for details see this site by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)). We can see this right now from multiple studies. This does not mean that the oceans are actually becoming acidic (which would mean that pH had fallen below 7), but rather that they are becoming less alkaline, moving from a pH of 8.2 to 8.1. Doesn’t sound like much, but it’s huge if you are an ocean dwelling creature. Continue reading Bye, Bye Sponge Bob: Ocean Acidification

Goodbye Alaotra grebe, it was nice knowing you

Alas, the Alaotra grebe has gone extinct. Scientists (including me) have not seen extinctions on this scale since the dinosaurs disappeared at the end of the Cretaceous.

It joins a rather heartbreaking list.

Here is a list of some bird extinctions since about 1500. Continue reading Goodbye Alaotra grebe, it was nice knowing you