. . . and I can taste and smell the sweet, sweet breeze of a dream

April 7, 2015

Frankie looks out on the life he's living. Film image by Peter H. Reynolds

Frankie looks out on the life he’s living. Film image by Peter H. Reynolds

Is your bus coming?

Will you get on it?

Or will you be late to that “meeting?”

Details:

A powerful tale written by Peter H. Reynolds. Animation and Direction by John Lechner and Peter H. Reynolds. Executive Producer, Gary Goldberger.

What can you do to let that kid out? Will you?

(Just who the hell is Peter H. Reynolds?  Why isn’t he more famous?)


Again: Why do we worry about global warming? It ain’t the climate, it’s the people

July 15, 2013

This is almost entirely an encore post, repeated for the benefit of the millions who missed it the first time who make fools of themselves when they argue we don’t need to save trees.  It’s not about trees.

Kids hiking in a forest. These are the humans environmentalists worry about, these four, and a few billion like them.  Photo from American Forests.

Kids hiking in a forest. These are the humans environmentalists worry about, these four, and a few billion like them. Photo from American Forests.

Alun Salt gave great advice about not bothering to engage idiots, pigs, denialists or trolls (here, among other places).  He said I should avoid lengthy answers to blogs that have little audience.

This is probably one of those occasions.

But in a running attempt to stimulate serious thought at a denialist blog, I got a question that has been rather common, and a question which indicates the deep serious misunderstanding denialists and even some well-meaning, overly-skeptical sensible people have:

Why worry about  climate change, since the climate is changing all the time?  Especially, why are people like Al Gore urging that we stop climate change, when CO2 has no great direct effect on human health?  Shouldn’t environmentalists be cheering climate change on, since it’s a “natural process?”

The answer is lost on the other blog, as Mr. Salt predicted it would be.  But since I’ve gotten some version of the question repeatedly in the last month, I may as well repeat the answer here, for the record.

The short answer to why we worry about climate change is that, as with almost all environmental protection, we are worried first about the quality of life of humans, and ultimately about the ability of human life to survive at all.

Here’s the question put to me there:

Ed I’m a little confused. I thought we were talking about the effect of co2 on the climate not the effect of co2 on human health. Co2 is not a toxic gas and would have no effect on human health. The fact that humans weren’t around when co2 was 10-20 times higher has absolutely nothing to do with its effect on climate.
Ed there was no runaway greenhouse effect [link added here] or climate catastrophe. The planet was fine during the phanerazoic. There is actually a lack of co2 in the atmopshere comapred to that time.

Here’s my answer, with a few more links than their format would allow:

No, you’re not a little confused.  You’re a lot confused, greatly misinformed, and not thinking hard.

We worry about CO2’s effects on climate only because we worry about the future of humanity.  Many of us who have children and wish them the same blessings of having children and grandchildren, have thought through the truth of the matter that we don’t possess and rule the Earth for ourselves, but instead act only as stewards for future generations.

No Earth, no humans; but at the same time, no habitable Earth, no humans.  In the long run, Earth doesn’t care.  It’ll do fine — without humans.

We can’t damage the planet.  We can only damage its habitability for humans.

I don’t know what sort of dystopian Randian future you and other Do Nothings hope for, but it’s a future contrary to human life, American values, and all known religions.

We’re talking about the future of humans.  I tell “skeptics,” “If you don’t care, butt out.  You’ll be dead in the short run anyway, but that’s no reason to stand in the way of action not to ensure a livable planet for our grandchildren.”

You also fail to understand chemistry, pollution, and how the world works.  CO2 is indeed a toxic gas.  For about a century now we’ve had indoor air standards that require air circulation to keep CO2 down below concentrations of about 500 5000 ppm [see comments], because at that level it starts to have dramatic effects on humans working.  It clouds their thinking and causes drowsiness.  CO2 is a conundrum, in that it is also necessary to trigger mammalian breathing.  If CO2 drops too low, we don’t take in enough oxygen and may pass out.  Too much oxygen in place of CO2 is a problem in that regard.  A substance can be both essential and a  pollutant, at the same time. (This has vexed food safety experts for years, especially after the 1958 Delaney Clause; substances we know to be essential nutrients can be carcinogenic, in the same concentrations, or in the same concentrations with a slight twist in chemical formula — how do we regulate that stuff?)

English: Main symptoms of carbon dioxide toxic...

Main symptoms of carbon dioxide toxicity (See Wikipedia:Carbon_dioxide#Toxicity). References: Toxicity of Carbon Dioxide Gas Exposure, CO2 Poisoning Symptoms, Carbon Dioxide Exposure Limits, and Links to Toxic Gas Testing Procedures By Daniel Friedman – InspectAPedia Davidson, Clive. 7 February 2003. “Marine Notice: Carbon Dioxide: Health Hazard”. Australian Maritime Safety Authority. Model: Mikael Häggström. To discuss image, please see Template talk:Häggström diagrams (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

CO2 is toxic in much greater proportions — it was a CO2 cloud that killed thousands in Cameroon 30 years ago or so, if you know history.

Clearly you did not know that we’ve regulated indoor CO2 for decades.  Clearly you haven’t looked at the medical journals‘ discussion on CO2 — and I’ll wager you’d forgotten the Cameroon incident, if you ever knew about it.

CO2 is a toxic gas (the dose is the poison); CO2 has dramatic effects on human health — too little and we die, too much and we die.

The fact that humans were not around when CO2 was much higher is exactly the point.  That was presented here, as it is in most venues, as support for a claim that we don’t need to worry about CO2 pollution.  Well, that’s right — if we don’t care about a habitable Earth.  But when CO2 was higher, life for humans was impossible.

I think it’s reckless to run an experiment on what would happen with higher CO2 levels, using the entire planet as a testing place, and testing the hypotheses on just how much CO2 will kill us all off, and how.

How about a control group, at least?

In the past, massive CO2 created massive greenhouse effects that would devastate us today — not as a toxic gas, but as a result of the warming that greenhouse gases do.

Let us understand the physical conundrum of CO2 here:  Without the greenhouse effect from the human-historic levels of CO2, this would be an ice planet.  Our lives today depend on the greenhouse effects of CO2.

Consequently, anyone who claims there is no greenhouse effect fails to understand physics, chemistry, biology and history.  (Heck, throw in geology, too.)  Life would be impossible but for the greenhouse effect.  Life is impossible without water, too, but you can’t live totally surrounded by water.

Can it be true that there can never be too much of a good effect, with regard to greenhouse gases?  Ancient Greek ideas of “all things in moderation” applies here.  We need a Goldilocks amount of CO2 in our atmosphere — not to much, not too little; not too hot, not too cold.

To the extent that higher CO2 levels didn’t produce a total runaway greenhouse effect, as some hypothesize exists on Venus, we know that was due to other feedbacks.  Early on, for example, CO2 began to be reduced by photosynthesizing life.  Animal life today would be impossible but for that occurrence.  Few if any modern chordates could breathe the very-low oxygen atmosphere of the early Earth, and live.  Those feedbacks and limiting situations do not exist today.

Greenhouse Effect

Greenhouse Effect. Wikipedia image

So now we face a double or triple whammy.  The reduction in CO2 in the air was accomplished through a couple billion years of carbon sequestration through plants.  In fact, a lot of carbon was sequestered in carbon-rich fossils, stuff we now call coal and oil.  Oxygen replenishment was accomplished with massive forests, and healthy oceans, with a great deal of photosynthesis.  This created a rough CO2 equilibrium (with fluctuations, sure) that existed we know for at least the last 50,000 years, we’re pretty sure for the last 100,000 years (we know that from carbon-dating calibration exercises).

Today we have removed fully 30% of the forests that used to replenish oxygen and lock up a lot of CO2 (some estimates say 50% of the forests are gone); modern plant communities cannot pluck CO2 out fast enough.  Plus, we’re releasing a lot of that old, sequestered carbon in coal and oil — at rates unprecedented in human history.

Will more CO2 warm the planet?  We know from the fact that the planet is warm enough for life, that more CO2 will warm the planet more.  Anyone who says differently does not know physics and chemistry, nor history.

Is there anything that can stop that effect?  Sure — healthy, massive forests, and healthy oceans.  Reducing carbon emissions could help a lot, too.  But we’re committed for about a century.  CO2 in the atmosphere doesn’t fall to the ground like particulate pollution.  it drifts until it is incorporated into something else, either through photosynthesis or other chemical reactions.  It takes a mole of CO2 a couple of centuries to come out of the air.  We’re stuck with elevated and elevating CO2 regardless our actions, for a century or two, even if we are wildly successful in reining in emissions and creating sequestration paths.

What happens when CO2 levels get higher than 350 ppm?  History, physics and chemistry tells us glaciers will melt, rainfall patterns will alter dramatically, sea levels will rise, carbon will be absorbed by the seas in increasing amounts (causing acidification — simple chemistry).  [See the counter in the right column of this blog; by July 2013, CO2 temporarily climbed above 400 ppm in a spike, and rested dangerously close to 400 ppm constantly.]

It’s a very exciting experiment.  The entire human race is at stake. How much CO2 will it take to produce the effects that kill us all?  It’s likely that changing rainfall patterns and rising sea levels will produce wars over resources, long before CO2 itself starts being physically toxic.  That’s what the Pentagon’s big thinkers say.  That’s what the Chinese big thinkers say, which is why they are working to reduce emissions even without an enforceable treaty.

As experiments go, I think it’s immoral to use humans in experimentation without getting their consent, and without passing the entire experiment through the Institutional Review Board to make sure the experiment is useful, necessary, and done ethically.

Do you have those consent statements?  All seven billion of them?  Have you got approval from the research overseers of the institution?

If you don’t have permission to proceed with this progeny-killing experiment, why do you propose to proceed?  Many people believe that, if the courts on Earth don’t get us, a higher court will.

How will you plead wherever the call to justice is delivered?

More:


Real discussion if ruled by philosophers?

August 17, 2012

Is this too much to hope for these days, especially within 100 miles of the U.S. Capitol:

(3) One of the things I like most about teaching philosophy is that in a philosophy class people with hugely different viewpoints are expected to sit in a room together and discuss matters politely and reasonably.  In my animal rights class, vegans talk to hunters–without anyone going berserk. In my course on the meaning of life, religious students talk about life with atheists–all in a mode of mutual respect.  In a contemporary moral problems class, if you’re skilled, you can get pro-life and pro-choice students to talk to each other calmly, and even see eye-to-eye on some issues.  This is great preparation for being part of an inclusive “community of reason,” one in which nobody’s sent into exile just for the “crime” of accommodationism, thinking one way or another about sexual harassment policies, etc.

“Why philosophy helps,” at In Living Color.  More, there.


Conference for women skeptics, in Dallas, September 15

August 17, 2012

Stealing the news completely, including most of the formatting, from P. Z. Myers:

On 15 September, you could attend the Feminine Faces of Freethought Conference in Dallas for only $20. Check it out!

Women of Reason–Dallas presents Feminine Faces of Freethought, a conference featuring women speaking about topics that affect the freethought community as a whole.

Join us for a day of talks by

Panels include

  • Secular Parenting,
  • Diversity in the Freethought Movement,
  • and What Atheist Women Really Want.

We welcome people of all genders.

Childcare will be provided. Please reserve childcare while purchasing your tickets.

Less than a month away.


Why we worry about global warming: It ain’t the climate, it’s the people

January 9, 2012

Alun Salt gave great advice about not bothering to engage idiots, pigs, denialists or trolls (here, among other places).  He said I should avoid lengthy answers to blogs that have little audience.

This is probably one of those occasions.

But in a running attempt to stimulate serious thought at a denialist blog, I got a question that has been rather common, and a question which indicates the deep serious misunderstanding denialists and even some well-meaning, overly-skeptical sensible people have:

Why worry about  climate change, since the climate is changing all the time?  Especially, why are people like Al Gore urging that we stop climate change, when CO2 has no great direct effect on human health?  Shouldn’t environmentalists be cheering climate change on, since it’s a “natural process?”

The answer is lost on the other blog, as Mr. Salt predicted it would be.  But since I’ve gotten some version of the question repeatedly in the last month, I may as well repeat the answer here, for the record.

The short answer to why we worry about climate change is that, as with almost all environmental protection, we are worried first about the quality of life of humans, and ultimately about the ability of human life to survive at all.

Here’s the question put to me there:

Ed I’m a little confused. I thought we were talking about the effect of co2 on the climate not the effect of co2 on human health. Co2 is not a toxic gas and would have no effect on human health. The fact that humans weren’t around when co2 was 10-20 times higher has absolutely nothing to do with its effect on climate.
Ed there was no runaway greenhouse effect or climate catastrophe. The planet was fine during the phanerazoic. There is actually a lack of co2 in the atmopshere comapred to that time.

Here’s my answer, with a few more links than their format would allow:

No, you’re not a little confused.  You’re a lot confused, greatly misinformed, and not thinking hard.

We worry about CO2’s effects on climate only because we worry about the future of humanity.  Many of us who have children and wish them the same blessings of having children and grandchildren, have thought through the truth of the matter that we don’t possess and rule the Earth for ourselves, but instead act only as stewards for future generations.

No Earth, no humans; but at the same time, no habitable Earth, no humans.  In the long run, Earth doesn’t care.  It’ll do fine — without humans.

We can’t damage the planet.  We can only damage its habitability for humans.

I don’t know what sort of dystopian Randian future you and other Do Nothings hope for, but it’s a future contrary to human life, American values, and all known religions.

We’re talking about the future of humans.  I tell “skeptics,” “If you don’t care, butt out.  You’ll be dead in the short run anyway, but that’s no reason to stand in the way of action not to ensure a livable planet for our grandchildren.”

You also fail to understand chemistry, pollution, and how the world works.  CO2 is indeed a toxic gas.  For about a century now we’ve had indoor air standards that require air circulation to keep CO2 down below concentrations of about 500 ppm, because at that level it starts to have dramatic effects on humans working.  It clouds their thinking and causes drowsiness.  CO2 is a conundrum, in that it is also necessary to trigger mammalian breathing.  If CO2 drops too low, we don’t take in enough oxygen and may pass out.  Too much oxygen in place of CO2 is a problem in that regard.  A substance can be both essential and a  pollutant, at the same time. (This has vexed food safety experts for years, especially after the 1958 Delaney Clause; substances we know to be essential nutrients can be carcinogenic, in the same concentrations, or in the same concentrations with a slight twist in chemical formula — how do we regulate that stuff?)

CO2 is toxic in much greater proportions — it was a CO2 cloud that killed thousands in Cameroon 30 years ago or so, if you know history.

Clearly you did not know that we’ve regulated indoor CO2 for decades.  Clearly you haven’t looked at the medical journals‘ discussion on CO2 — and I’ll wager you’d forgotten the Cameroon incident, if you ever knew about it.

CO2 is a toxic gas (the dose is the poison); CO2 has dramatic effects on human health — too little and we die, too much and we die.

The fact that humans were not around when CO2 was much higher is exactly the point.  That was presented here, as it is in most venues, as support for a claim that we don’t need to worry about CO2 pollution.  Well, that’s right — if we don’t care about a habitable Earth.  But when CO2 was higher, life for humans was impossible.

I think it’s reckless to run an experiment on what would happen with higher CO2 levels, using the entire planet as a testing place, and testing the hypotheses on just how much CO2 will kill us all off, and how.

How about a control group, at least?

In the past, massive CO2 created massive greenhouse effects that would devastate us today — not as a toxic gas, but as a result of the warming that greenhouse gases do.

Let us understand the physical conundrum of CO2 here:  Without the greenhouse effect from the human-historic levels of CO2, this would be an ice planet.  Our lives today depend on the greenhouse effects of CO2.

Consequently, anyone who claims there is no greenhouse effect fails to understand physics, chemistry, biology and history.  (Heck, throw in geology, too.)  Life would be impossible but for the greenhouse effect.  Life is impossible without water, too, but you can’t live totally surrounded by water.

Can it be true that there can never be too much of a good effect, with regard to greenhouse gases?  Ancient Greek ideas of “all things in moderation” applies here.  We need a Goldilocks amount of CO2 in our atmosphere — not to much, not too little; not too hot, not too cold.

To the extent that higher CO2 levels didn’t produce a total runaway greenhouse effect, as some hypothesize exists on Venus, we know that was due to other feedbacks.  Early on, for example, CO2 began to be reduced by photosynthesizing life.  Animal life today would be impossible but for that occurrence.  Few if any modern chordates could breathe the very-low oxygen atmosphere of the early Earth, and live.  Those feedbacks and limiting situations do not exist today.

So now we face a double or triple whammy.  The reduction in CO2 in the air was accomplished through a couple billion years of carbon sequestration through plants.  In fact, a lot of carbon was sequestered in carbon-rich fossils, stuff we now call coal and oil.  Oxygen replenishment was accomplished with massive forests, and healthy oceans, with a great deal of photosynthesis.  This created a rough CO2 equilibrium (with fluctuations, sure) that existed we know for at least the last 50,000 years, we’re pretty sure for the last 100,000 years (we know that from carbon-dating calibration exercises).

Today we have removed fully 30% of the forests that used to replenish oxygen and lock up a lot of CO2 (some estimates say 50% of the forests are gone); modern plant communities cannot pluck CO2 out fast enough.  Plus, we’re releasing a lot of that old, sequestered carbon in coal and oil — at rates unprecedented in human history.

Will more CO2 warm the planet?  We know from the fact that the planet is warm enough for life, that more CO2 will warm the planet more.  Anyone who says differently does not know physics and chemistry, nor history.

Is there anything that can stop that effect?  Sure — healthy, massive forests, and healthy oceans.  Reducing carbon emissions could help a lot, too.  But we’re committed for about a century.  CO2 in the atmosphere doesn’t fall to the ground like particulate pollution.  it drifts until it is incorporated into something else, either through photosynthesis or other chemical reactions.  It takes a mole of CO2 a couple of centuries to come out of the air.  We’re stuck with elevated and elevating CO2 regardless our actions, for a century or two, even if we are wildly successful in reining in emissions and creating sequestration paths.

What happens when CO2 levels get higher than 350 ppm?  History, physics and chemistry tells us glaciers will melt, rainfall patterns will alter dramatically, sea levels will rise, carbon will be absorbed by the seas in increasing amounts (causing acidification — simple chemistry).

It’s a very exciting experiment.  The entire human race is at stake. How much CO2 will it take to produce the effects that kill us all?  It’s likely that changing rainfall patterns and rising sea levels will produce wars over resources, long before CO2 itself starts being physically toxic.  That’s what the Pentagon’s big thinkers say.  That’s what the Chinese big thinkers say, which is why they are working to reduce emissions even without an enforceable treaty.

As experiments go, I think it’s immoral to use humans in experimentation without getting their consent, and without passing the entire experiment through the Institutional Review Board to make sure the experiment is useful, necessary, and done ethically.

Do you have those consent statements?  All seven billion of them?  Have you got approval from the research overseers of the institution?

If you don’t have permission to proceed with this progeny-killing experiment, why do you propose to proceed?  Many people believe that, if the courts on Earth don’t get us, a higher court will.

How will you plead wherever the call to justice is delivered?


Scenes from a beach: At the edge of the sea

December 20, 2011

Interesting little bauble in the Biloxi-Gulfport (Mississippi) Sun-Herald, I think from their columnist George Thatcher:

Cover of Rachel Carson's "The Edge of the Sea"

Good teacher resource for National Environmental Week, April 15-21, 2012

December 20 Scenes from the beach

“To stand at the edge of the sea,” wrote Rachel Carson, “… is to have knowledge of things that are as eternal, as any earthly life can be.”* The things that we see this morning–a cerulean sea and sky, the shorebirds, the sun still near the horizon — are identically the same objects that could be seen in Cambrian times, eons ago. There is a sense of the eternal in the objects viewed today. And I suppose there will be little change in a faraway eon that lies in some future age. — Diary, autumn 2011

* At the Edge of the Sea by Rachel Carson; Signet Books, New York (1955)

Read more here: http://www.sunherald.com/2011/12/19/3641733/december-20-scenes-from-the-beach.html#storylink=cpy

One should read Rachel Carson to get closer to the universe, not for political reasons, not necessarily for the science.  But being scientifically accurate, and being close to the pulse of the universe, Carson’s views will change your politics for the better if you really read and listen.


Oh, say, can Republicans see?

December 18, 2011

Old Jules was referring to something else, a serious enough issue on its own, and not necessarily the lack of vision among Republican presidential candidates.

But it fits from time to time:

Zero Visibility, a warning sign - photo by Old Jules, perhaps

Zero Visibility, a warning sign - photo by Old Jules, perhaps

Bill Cosby once asked if anyone else had the same chill of fear he gets when the lights start to go down at the theater:  Are the lights getting dim, or are you going blind?

Is there zero visibility, or are our eyes shut tightly?  Can the candidates see what it takes to get us out of this olio, this olla podrida of messes, or is there too much fog, or are they just not looking?  Worse, is it dark AND they are not looking?

What say you?


Quote of the moment: John Kenneth Galbraith pokes fun at conservative politics

October 25, 2011

John Kenneth Galbraith, BusinessWeek image

Economist John Kenneth Galbraith, Economist image

The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.

John Kenneth Galbraith
“Stop the Madness,” Interview with Rupert Cornwell, Toronto Globe and Mail (6 Jul 2002)

(I find this attributed to Galbraith at several places — where and when did he say that?)

John Kenneth Galbraith, in paper mache, by Frank Lerner, for Time Magazine cover February 16, 1968

John Kenneth Galbraith, in papier-mache by Gerald Scarfe, photo by Frank Lerner, for Time Magazine cover February 16, 1968


Easy energy

July 21, 2011

You can’t buy the poster from Max Temkin anymore — it’s sold out — but the idea remains:

Max Temkin's poster print "Plastic Spoon" - copyright 2011 Max Temkin

Just wash your spoon, eh?

Tip of the old scrub brush to Grist. For the search engines, full text of the poster below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »


Dying man’s daily journal: So, you think you’ve got it tough?

February 18, 2011

Dallas ISD began cutbacks on spending weeks ago, when it became rather clear that the Texas Lege would come after education with lots of knives and cleavers.  The layoff of 700 teachers two years ago was tough; we face a loss of 3,000 teachers by next fall.  Morale and spirit among the teachers bottoms out, with just a couple of weeks to the first test in the battery of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS).

Good timing, Lege!

In a district that has more than 400 buildings, getting stuff to work at all can be a challenge.  The blower for the classroom I’m in has not worked right in two years.  On a very hot day in the classroom last fall, on a not-very hot day, I got the attention of our school’s administrators.

Follow-up is less than satisfying, shall we say.  There was the guy from downtown who told me that the blowers weren’t supposed to blow.  I noted to him that building standards for schools require a complete turnover of air more than once a week.  There was the guy who warned me that any air coming out would not be cool — this while the classroom across the hall dipped to 55º F  in a similar, but opposite “out of control” situation (Six Sigma need not apply in education.).

We had a couple of comfortable days in the last two weeks, but they were extremely cold days outside.  We also had five days out for ice storms and snow.

This week my classroom has been an even 80º F when I arrive, between 7:00 and 8:30.  Then the blowers kick in with warmer air.  The classroom climbs to more than 85º in the afternoon with the windows wide open.  Even windows didn’t help much today, when it was 78º outside.

Piffles.  This guy, at Dying man’s daily journal,  has a brain tumor and congestive heart failure. He was given a terminal prognosis four years ago.

Today he’s blogging about keeping a positive attitude.

Yeah, we all need to do that.  Is that more woo than we need?  Is it acceptable woo?

When I was a child, my first Cub Scout Den Mother had a framed quote on her wall:  “I had no shoes, and complained — until I met a man who had no feet.”

Barefoot is cooler, you know?

(Drop by Dying Man’s Journal, leave a comment — it helps him keep a positive attitude.)


Santayana’s Ghost

January 28, 2011

George Santayana was a Spanish-born (Madrid, December 16, 1863), American-educated philosopher who practiced education at Harvard University (died September 26, 1952, in Rome).  In an almost-off-hand comment in a book, he wrote the statement which is this blog’s unofficial motto:

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

(The Life of Reason, vol. 1: Reason in Common Sense)

Who or what is Santayana’s Ghost?  It’s the shade of Santayana, watching us, watching those condemned to repeat history as they repeat the bad parts over and over.  The shade smiles when a student learns a valuable lesson from history, and laughs with delight when those lessons find application to prevent further tragedies that could so easily be prevented, if policy makers only made the effort to avoid the errors of the past.

Why does the ghost haunt us?  Because he knows, as Santayana also wrote, “only the dead have seen the end of war.” (Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies, number 25 (1922))


More Billy Blob: Bumble BeEing and the Butterfly Effect

August 16, 2010

Also from Billy Blob (as the Space Probe cartoon posted here on August 15), “Bumble BeEing, Part 1:  The Butterfly Effect.”

How to categorize such a cartoon:  Philosophy?  Science of Chaos (from which we get the hypothetical “butterfly effect”)?

Education?  Religion?


Jerry Coyne in San Marcos: Why evolution is true, even if some Texans don’t think so

March 17, 2010

Steve Schafersman sends along a press release; Texas college biology departments continue to advance science and education despite foggings from the State Board of Education.  Odd thought:  You can be relatively certain that you can avoid Don McLeroy, David Bradley or Cynthia Dunbar, by being at the Alkek Library Teaching Theatre on the evening of March 23; learning will be occurring there at that time, and so it is a cinch that the leaders of the Austin Soviet will not be there:

Evolution expert to deliver lecture at Texas State

SAN MARCOS — Jerry A. Coyne, professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, will present an evening talk and book signing at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 23, at the Alkek Library Teaching Theatre on the campus of Texas State University-San Marcos.

Jerry Coyne and friend

Jerry Coyne and friend (image stolen from Larry Moran's Sandwalk; pretty sure he won't mind)

Coyne’s presentation is titled Why Evolution is True (and why many think that it’s not) and is based on his latest similarly-titled book.

Admission is free and doors will open at 6:30 p.m. A book signing with light refreshments will take place following the lecture.

Coyne is an evolutionary biologist whose work focuses on understanding the origin of species. He has written more than 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers on the subject.

In addition, he is a regular contributor to The New Republic, the Times Literary Supplement, and other periodicals. He runs the popular Why Evolution is True blog, and is an internationally known defender of evolution and critic of creationism and intelligent design.

The book Why Evolution is True has received widespread praise for providing a clear explanation of evolution, while succinctly summarizing the facts supporting this revolutionary theory.

Coyne’s lecture is sponsored by the Department of Biology and the Philosophy Dialogue Series at Texas State. Contact Noland Martin (512) 245-3317 for more information. For more information about Coyne and his book, please visit his blog: http://www.jerrycoyne.uchicago.edu. [and Why Evolution is True]

This lecture is part of a larger series on philosophy and science, featuring a few lectures that appear designed solely to irritate P. Z. Myers:

Philosophy dialogue to take up evolution, identity

031410gordon1

Texas State philosopher Jeffrey Gordon will be among the speakers at the university’s Philosophy Dialogue Series in the next two weeks. Texas State photograph.

STAFF REPORT

The Philosophy Dialogue Series at Texas State will present evolution and identity as its discussion topic for the next two weeks in Room 132 of the Psychology Building on campus.

Following is the schedule of events, giving the discussion titles, followed by the speakers.

March 16: 12:30 p.m. – Evolution and the Culture Wars, Victor Holk and Paul Valle (Dialogue students). 3:30 p.m. – Arabic Culture 101: What You Need to Know, Amjad Mohammad (Arabic Language Coordinator).

March 17: 2 p.m. – Phenomenology of Humor, Jeffrey Gordon (Philosophy)

March 18: 12:30 p.m. – Stayin’ Alive: Does the Self Survive? Blaze Bulla and Sky Rudd (Dialogue students).

March 19: 10 a.m. – Sustainability group, topic be announced, Laura Stroup (Geography). 12:30 p.m. – Talk of the Times, open forum.

March 23: 12:30 p.m. – Evolution: An Interdisciplinary Panel Discussion, Harvey Ginsberg (Psychology), Peter Hutcheson (Philosophy), Kerrie Lewis (Anthropology), Rebecca Raphael (Philosophy & Religious Studies). Special guest panelist, Jerry Coyne, University of Chicago (Evolutionary Biology). Evening lecture – Why Evolution is True, Jerry Coyne, University of Chicago, time and place to be announced.

March 25: 12:30 p.m. – Constructing a Masculine Christian Identity: Sex, Gender, and the Female, and Martyrs of Early Christianity, L. Stephanie Cobb, Hofstra University (Religion and Women’s Studies).

March 26: 10 a.m. – Sustainability Group: Civic Ecology, and The Human Rights of Sustainability, Vince Lopes (Biology), Catherine Hawkins (Social Work). 12:30 p.m. – Talk of the Times, open forum.

Sponsors of the Philosophy Dialogue Series include: the American Democracy Project, the College of Liberal Arts, Common Experience, the Gina Weatherhead Dialogue Fund, the New York Times, the National Endowment for the Humanities, Phi Sigma Tau, University Seminar, the University Honors Program, the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs and the Vice President for Student Affairs.

For more information about this topic, contact Beverly Pairett in the Department of Philosophy at (512) 245-2285, or email philosophy@txstate.edu. A complete schedule of discussion topics and presentations can be found at http://www.txstate.edu/philosophy/dialogue-series/Dialogue-Schedule.html.

Probably can’t make it to San Marcos from Dallas on a school night.  San Marcos biology and social studies students, and teachers, should plan to be there.


Quote of the moment: Bertrand Russell, on the Dunning-Kruger Effect, 64 years prescient

March 14, 2010

Lord Bertrand Russell in a BBC Radio studio

Lord Bertrand Russell in a BBC Radio studio,circa 1940 – BBC Radio 4 image

The trouble with the world
is that the stupid are cocksure
and the intelligent
are full of doubt.

– Bertrand Russell, The Triumph of Stupidity in Mortals and Others: Bertrand Russell’s American Essays, 1931-1935 (Routledge, 1998), p. 28

With these words Russell stated, in 1935, a phenomenon observed and chronicled by Justin Kruger and David Dunning, in research at Cornell University, published in 1999 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. “Unskilled and unaware of it:  How difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments” reported on research they had conducted on subjects at Cornell.  The effect they observed is generally called, after them, the Dunning-Kruger Effect.  According to the abstract:

People tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. The authors suggest that this overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it. Across 4 studies, the authors found that participants scoring in the bottom quartile on tests of humor, grammar, and logic grossly overestimated their test performance and ability. Although their test scores put them in the 12th percentile, they estimated themselves to be in the 62nd. Several analyses linked this miscalibration to deficits in metacognitive skill, or the capacity to distinguish accuracy from error. Paradoxically, improving the skills of the participants, and thus increasing their metacognitive competence, helped them recognize the limitations of their abilities. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2009 APA, all rights reserved)

In other words,

  1. Incompetent individuals tend to overestimate their own level of skill.
  2. Incompetent individuals fail to recognize genuine skill in others.
  3. Incompetent individuals fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy.
  4. If they can be trained to substantially improve their own skill level, these individuals can recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill.

Thus, the Dunning-Kruger effect explains the existence and arguments of creationists, climate change denialists, Tea Baggers and birthers, and the actions of the right-wing historical revisionist faction of the Texas State Board of Education, and provides Monty Python’s Flying Circus with volumes of new material each month, should they ever care to revive the program.

More: 

Tip of the old scrub brush to Mal Adapted, commenting at Open Mind.

Broadcast the news:

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Creationist: Murdering Jews may be preferable to lying to prevent the murder

November 14, 2009

I’m cutting the monster a lot of slack with the headline.

P. Z. Myers publicized the e-mail exchange involving Bodie Hodge, a minor deity at the anti-science, creationist organization Answers in Genesis (AiG).  Myers was nice to the guy, contrary to the usual creationist cartoon of Myers as somehow immoral for being a non-worshipper of gods.  Well, he was nicer than I would have been.  But Myers expects Christians to exhibit no sense of shame, no common sense, and twisted morality.  I expect bettter of them.

A reader posed that age-old question to Hodge:  Is the Christian rule against lying so strong that a Christian should tell Nazi troops where Jewish families are hiding?  Hodge weasels later by saying he hopes he never has to make such a choice, and that he really doesn’t know how he’d act in that situation.  But this comes only after he says that telling  a lie to Nazis to save Jews will get one burned in hell.  And then he goes on to note it’s better to be in good with God than to act morally.

In other words, better to become an accomplice in the murder of Jews than to stand up against murderers.

I don’t get how these charlatans of religion, reason to such a point.

What would Jesus do?  We know.  When the crowd was threatening to stone to death a woman guilty of adultery and she sought refuge with Jesus, Jesus stood up to the mob and saved her life.  Just execution of Biblical law or shelter the accused, Jesus stood against the murder, even murder sanctioned by the religious rules of the community.

We also know that scripture endorses deception from time to time.  You know these AiG clowns are charlatans when they say stupid stuff like this.  Hodge tries to explain away another case of deception by inventing a scenario not found in scripture in which the lie doesn’t get told.

He’s forgotten the story of Jacob and Esau, and how Jacob and his mother conpsired to deceive Isaac in order to steal away Esau’s birthright (Esau and Jacob were twins, by the way).  Jacob got away with the deed, was then blessed by God.  He took a new name:  Israel.  He lived on to be the seed of Judaism, the religion Jesus followed and the foundation of Christianity.

To AiG, it appears that scripture is just a dusty old book, except when they can twist it to support their bigotry.  Here’s irony for you:  The story of Jacob is in Genesis.  You know, as in “Answers in Genesis.”  They don’t even know their own namesake book!

Here in America, as a nation we overcame that morality-or-religion problem with Huck Finn.  The ill-educated young teen, an absentee to grammar, faces the moral decision as he floats down the Mississippi with Jim, an escaped slave who has saved Huck’s life and is in other ways a very good friend.  Huck notes that the preachers are all agreed that Huck’s moral duty is to turn Jim in as an escaped slave, to condemn Jim to a continued life of slavery, should Jim survive the lashing.  Huck Finn puts the dilemma squarely:  Whether to obey God and turn in Jim to the authorities, or to burn in hell and let Jim live the life of a free man.  Huck agonizes, but decides:  He’ll burn in hell rather than give away his friend.

Myers wrote:

As a non-Bible believing amoral godless atheist, my first thought was that this is trivial: you lie your pants off. The ‘crime’ of telling a lie pales into insignificance against the crime of enabling the death of fellow human beings.

According to Bodie Hodge of AiG, though, I’m wrong. The good Christian should reject lies, Satan’s tools, in all circumstances, and should immediately ‘fess up the location of the Jews. He backs it up with Bible quotes, too.

If we love God, we should obey Him (John 14:15). To love God first means to obey Him first–before looking at our neighbor. So, is the greater good trusting God when He says not to lie or trusting in our fallible, sinful minds about the uncertain future?

Consider this carefully. In the situation of a Nazi beating on the door, we have assumed a lie would save a life, but really we don’t know. So, one would be opting to lie and disobey God without the certainty of saving a life–keeping in mind that all are ultimately condemned to die physically. Besides, whether one lied or not may not have stopped the Nazi solders from searching the house anyway.

As Christians, we need to keep in mind that Jesus Christ reigns. All authority has been given to Him (Matthew 28:18), and He sits on the throne of God at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:33; Hebrews 8:1). Nothing can happen without His say. Even Satan could not touch Peter without Christ’s approval (Luke 22:31). Regardless, if one were to lie or not, Jesus Christ is in control of timing every person’s life and able to discern our motives. It is not for us to worry over what might become, but rather to place our faith and obedience in Christ and to let Him do the reigning. For we do not know the future, whereas God has been telling the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10).

Gosh. I never thought of it that way. So…all those Christians who sheltered Jews during WWII are actually burning in hell right now for their sinful wickedness? That is so counterintuitive, it must be true!

One more time we should side with morality, and against creationist distortions of Christianity and morality.

With all the learning they get at that reeking cesspool the creationism museum, you’d think they could demonstrate the moral fiber of a tobacco-chewing, food-stealing, school-cutting runaway teen, Huckleberry Finn.

Full AiG post below the fold (I expect them to strike it down when they rethink; let all Christians pray to God they do rethink).

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