Hey, who says I can't be right twice in a row.
I have come across two science related stories. One about climate change, the other about teaching evolution.
First climate change. The New York Times has an article about physicist Freeman Dyson.
.... he is a great problem-solver who is not convinced that climate change is a great problem.
.... “humanists,” like himself, who contend that protecting the existing biosphere is not as important as fighting more repugnant evils like war, poverty and unemployment.
The article runs eight pages and gets to be a biography of the man's life. Dyson is brilliant and a contemporary of Einstein, Oppenheimer and Fermi. The gist of the Times article is that Dyson thinks that the effects of climate change are something we can live with, we can fix it easily, if we have too and we have other, more pressing things to worry about.
The Times does us a dis-service by not noticing the lack of logic in Dyson's arguments.
“I’m expressing possibilities. Things that could happen. To a large extent it’s a question of how badly people want them to. The purpose of thinking about the future is not to predict it but to raise people’s hopes.
... the only thing we can really be sure of is that much of what we expect to happen won’t come to pass."
What ?? Raise hopes while expecting that 'it' won't happen. I'm not seeing logic.
...if CO2 levels soared too high, they could be soothed by the mass cultivation of specially bred “carbon-eating trees,” ...
Come on - trees are already made of carbon. If you want a tree that eats more carbon grow a bigger tree or grow two trees. The logic of breeding something extra escapes me. [ Disclaimer: it is true that trees do not store carbon for the long term. The carbon is often returned to the atmosphere through decay within a couple of hundred years. ]
Science is not a matter of opinion; it is a question of data. Climate change is an issue for which Dyson is asking for more evidence, and leading climate scientists are replying by saying if we wait for sufficient proof to satisfy you, it may be too late.
Dyson agrees with the prevailing view that there are rapidly rising carbon-dioxide levels in the atmosphere caused by human activity. To the planet, he suggests, the rising carbon may well be a MacGuffin, a striking yet ultimately benign occurrence in what Dyson says is still “a relatively cool period in the earth’s history.” The warming, he says, is not global but local, “making cold places warmer rather than making hot places hotter.”
Yeah, perhaps, and possibly some hotter places will be cooled off by being underwater.
Dyson speaking of NASA climate scientist James Hansen ( wiki )
“If what he says were obviously wrong, he wouldn’t have achieved what he has. But Hansen has turned his science into ideology. He’s a very persuasive fellow and has the air of knowing everything. He has all the credentials. I have none. I don’t have a Ph.D. He’s published hundreds of papers on climate. I haven’t. By the public standard he’s qualified to talk and I’m not. But I do because I think I’m right. I think I have a broad view of the subject, which Hansen does not. I think it’s true my career doesn’t depend on it, whereas his does. I never claim to be an expert on climate. I think it’s more a matter of judgement than knowledge.”
In 1976, ..... Dyson joined a group of meteorologists and biologists trying to understand the effects of carbon on the Earth and air. He was now becoming a climate expert. Eventually Dyson published a paper titled “Can We Control the Carbon Dioxide in the Atmosphere?” His answer was yes, and he added that any emergency could be temporarily thwarted with a “carbon bank” of “fast-growing trees.” He calculated how many trees it would take to remove all carbon from the atmosphere. The number, he says, was a trillion, which was “in principle quite feasible.” Dyson says the paper is “what I’d like people to judge me by. I
still think everything it says is true.”
Eventually he would embrace another idea: the notorious carbon-eating trees, which would be genetically engineered to absorb more carbon than normal trees.
The Times article mentions that Mr Dyson is getting up there in age but says that he is not failing in his intellectual abilities. I don't think he's a babbling old codger, I think he is just out of his lane. By ' out of his lane ' I mean that he is speaking of things that he is not an expert in. Dyson admits he is not an expert, acknowledges that there will be considerable grief to humanity caused by global warming and contends he is a contrarian because it suits him.
It's like if I went into the kitchen, read the recipe for biscuits that the Lady of the Manor likely knows by heart and proceeded to criticze her methods and results. I'm not that stupid, I'm irritated that Dyson is that stupid and that the New York Times would give ammunition to climate change deniers by profiling Dyson's arguments simply because Dyson is a genius in other fields.
I remember reading a couple of things about Einstein. He was always amazed that people would come up to him and ask for his wisdom about economics, business, government or a branch of science he was not involved with. Why would people assume he had wisdom about anything other than what he was knowledgeable about. The other story is about when he was with Charlie Chaplin out in front of a crowd and the crowd was cheering them. Einstein asked Chaplin " What does it mean ? " Chaplin said " Nothing ". I'm thinking that crowds, and journalists, may think well of you, but it doesn't mean you are right.
Strange things were in the linked Times article.
By the end of the school year in 1943, which Dyson celebrated by pushing his wheelchairbound classmate,
Oscar Hahn, the 55 miles home to London in one 17-hour day
Waa ?? Huh ?? Did the writer of the article write miles when he meant kilometers ?? Was Dyson' having him on' to see if the writer was paying attention ?? Is Dyson mis-remembering. A marathoner can't run 26 miles in under two hours, could even a triathalete push a wheelchair 55 miles in 17 hours ? Yowza
The article is not without humour.
Freeman Dyson's mother, Mildred "organize[d] a club for teenage girls and a birth-control clinic" and told a story of a " young mother who walked in carrying a red-headed infant. “What a beautiful baby,” Mildred reported saying. “Does he take after his father?”
“Oh, I couldn’t tell you, Mum,” came the reply. “He kept his hat on.”
On to evolution and more.
The Texas Board of Education ... is considering other amendments casting doubt on well-established ideas in the earth and space sciences -- plate tectonics, radioactive decay and how the solar system developed.
School board chairman Don McLeroy ... "You need to present other ideas to the kids."
The board in January voted to remove language that called on science teachers to focus on the "strengths and weaknesses" in all scientific theories.
It was replaced by language urging students to use "empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing" to "analyze and evaluate scientific explanations."
Ya see, the problem with that last part is that there isn't enough time. What is being suggested is that high school students re-invent the wheel, that they do the legwork and experiments to re-prove the theory of evolution. It would be a heck of an education but there isn't enough time before study hall.
This is the gist of the Federal ruling in the Dover Creationism Case ( wiki ) from the article
"intelligent design is religious creationism in disguise and injecting it into the curriculum violates the constitutional separation of church and state."
Myself I don't think the constitutional argument is the most compelling one. The way I see it the only argument needed is to say that there is no scientific basis to creationism or intellegent design.
a "thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution."
isn't the wrong way to go. Critical analysis will show that evolution is the best explanation so far. If new evidence comes to our attention we will modify the theory as appropriate. Until then we are not changing the textbooks.
Why does this come up in Texas and why is it important to squelch it in Texas ?
The size of the textbook market in Texas gives it influence nationwide, as publishers adapt their material to its standards.
I don't understand how that can be, but that is the reason that is always given.
I have no closing thoughts or humorous anecdotes. I do have three feet of snow on my front lawn. I had hoped it would have evolved into a green lawn by now. Perhaps what I lack is faith in evolution.