Cargo cults in global warming, and Arthur Robinson

March 14, 2009

Cargo cult science has deep roots among those who deny global warming or who allow that warming is occurring, but claim we can do nothing about it.  So, it’s no surprise that, at the voodoo science 2nd International Conference on Climate Change, somebody would trot out the old falsehoods about DDT.

According to Traditional Catholic Reflections (you can tell its traditional Catholic because it brooks no comments — you can’t correct an error there):

Speaking at the conference hosted by the Heartland Institute in New York City,[Dr. Arthur Robinson, Director of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine] said, “There is a current example of genocide by the removal of technology, and that is the ban on DDT, and that has resulted in the deaths of 30 to 40 million people and has left half a billion infected with malaria.”

It’s malaria that kills people, not a lack of DDT.  The removal of DDT from spraying cotton crops  in Texas and California did absolutely nothing to promote malaria in Africa.  Dr. Robinson needs a basic geography course.  Mosquitoes do not migrate from the U.S. to Africa or Asia.

Stopping the spraying of DDT in the U.S. in 1972 wasn’t a factor in the cessation of usage of DDT in Africa seven years earlier, either.  Dr. Robinson could use some basic math sequencing and calendar reading remediation, too.

Dr. Robinson could use some history and public policy instruction, too.  DDT was never banned in Africa, nor was it banned in India or China which together now produce almost all the DDT used in the world, which is a lot.  There’s no ban on DDT in Uganda, where Dr. Robinson’s friends in the business world are suing to stop the spraying of DDT in huts in affected regions — because they are afraid it will harm their tobacco business.

It’s a heckuva lot easier to throw darts at health care workers and disease fighters than it is to talk about real solutions with these guys.

If Robinson is dead wrong on a one-liner about DDT, how wrong do you think he is in the rest of his presentation on climate change?

Is there any crackpot “scientist” who was not at the Heartland Institute’s wing-ding?

Encore post: Feynman and the inconceivable nature of nature

March 14, 2009

[This is an Encore Post, from August 2007 — just as it appeared then.  See especially the links on textbook selection processes, and “cargo cult” science, at the bottom.]

NOVA had a couple of good programs on Richard Feynman that I wish I had — it had never occurred to me to look at YouTube to see what people might have uploaded.

I ran into this one:

Richard Feynman struck my consciousness with the publication of his quite humorous autobiography, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman. I thought it was a wonderful book, full of good character portraits of scientists as I saw them in my undergraduate days, only more famous ones. He followed that with What Do You Care What Other People Think?

By then, of course, Feynman was one of my heroes. His stories are useful in dozens of situations — his story of joining the samba bands in Rio testify to the joy of living, and the need for doing new things. Brazil was also the place he confronted the dangers of rote learning, when students could work equations perfectly for examples in the book — which they had memorized — but they couldn’t understand real world applications, such as describing how the sunlight coming off the ocean at Ipanema was so beautiful.

Feynman wrote about creationism, and about the dangers of voodoo science, in his now-famous essay on “Cargo cult science” — it’s so famous one has difficulty tracking down the facts to confirm the story.

Feynman’s stories of his wife, and her illness, and his love for her, were also great inspirations. Romance always gets me.

I failed to track him closely enough. During the run of the President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors, we had the misfortune of having scheduled a hearing in Orlando on January 30 (or maybe 29), 1986. We had hoped that the coincidental launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger on January 28 might boost our press response. Of course, the Challenger exploded. Our hearing went on as planned (we had a tough schedule to meet). The disaster affected our staff a lot, those who were in Florida, and the rest of us in Washington where many of us had been on the phone to Florida when the disaster occurred.

Feynman’s appointment to the commission studying the disaster was a brilliant move, I thought. Our schedule, unfortunately, kept me tied up on almost every day the Challenger commission met. So I never did walk the three blocks down the street to meet Feynman, thinking there would be other opportunities. He was already fatally ill. He died on February 15, 1988. I missed a chance of a lifetime.

We still have Feynman’s writings. We read the book aloud to our kids when they were younger. James, our youngest and a senior this year, read Surely You’re Joking again this summer, sort of a warmup to AP physics and his search for a college.  [2009 Update:  James is studying physics in the wilds of Wisconsin, finals week at Lawrence University next week — study hard, and good luck, James!]

And we still have audio and video. Remembering Feynman makes even the most avidly atheist hope for an afterlife, just to get a chance to hear Feynman explain what life was really all about, and how the universe really works.

Other notes:

Tip of the old scrub brush to Charismatic Megafauna.

Worldwide Web – 20 years ago, March 13

March 14, 2009

Almost missed this one:  The Web traces its birth to a meeting 20 years ago, on March 13.  Details at Daily

Quaint drawings, no?

Great Depression in music and images – look what good film can do

March 14, 2009

History is Elementary once again shows why we ought to be reading her stuff regularly, pointing to the short film “Pennyland” by Eddie and Frank Thomas.

I dare you to plug that into your lesson plans, teachers.  When you do, drop back and tell us in comments what you did, will you?


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