Browsing the archives for the science category.

Faith-Based Skepticism

environment, Europe, science

According to an article in TCS Daily, “climate skepticism” is growing in Europe. Whether that’s true I can’t say, but the article itself is unintentionally, um, revealing.

Climate scepticism has now gained a firm foothold in various European countries.

In Denmark Bjørn Lomborg stands out as the single most important sceptical environmental­ist, defying the political correctness which is such a characteristic feature of his home country, as well as other Nordic countries. But wait! Bjørn Lomborg is not a genuine climate sceptic. Real climate sceptics admire his courage, his scientific rigour and debating skills, but beg to disagree with him on the fundamentals of climate science. Lomborg acknowledges that there is such a thing as man-made global warming, which is quite in line with the mantra of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). He ‘only’ challenges the cost benefit relationships of the policy meas­ures, which have been proposed to do something about it. Massive expenditures (often euphemistically called ‘investments’) in exchange for undetectable returns.

In other words, the foremost “skeptical” scientist is not a skeptic.

Real climate sceptics do not accept the man-made global warming hypothesis. They are of the opinion that the human contribution to global warming over the last century or so is at most insignificant.

Real climate skeptics are not skeptical about global climate change. They just plain don’t believe it, Bjørn Lomborg’s “scientific rigour” notwithstanding.

But, of course, they are happy with the arguments advanced by Bjørn Lomborg to bolster their case against climate hysteria.

Of course.

But the AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming) belief is still overwhelming in Germany. In newspapers and on TV, Stefan Rahmstorf, the German climate Torquemada, — comparable to Al Gore in the US, George Monbiot in the UK and David Suzuki in Canada — are constantly attacking critics of the AGW hypothesis. Contrary to good scientific practice, he lavishly lards his interventions with ad hominem attacks and insinuations that his opponents lack qualifications and/or are being paid by industry.

Comparing Al Gore, George Monbiot and David Suzuki to Torquemada doesn’t qualify as an ad hominem attack?

The author is upset that no one on the Nobel Peace Prize committee is a scientist. But then he says,

Britannia rules the waves. Stewart Dimmock, a Kent lorry driver and school governor, took the government to court for sending copies of Gore’s film to schools. He was backed by a group of campaigners, including Viscount Monckton, a former adviser to Mrs Thatcher. They won a legal victory against ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. Mr Justice Burton ruled that the movie contained at least nine scientific errors and said ministers must send new guidance to teachers before it was screened. ‘That ruling was a fantastic victory,’ said Monckton. ‘What we want to do now is send schools material reflecting an alternative point of view so that pupils can make their own minds up.’ Monckton has also won support from the maker of ‘The Great Global Warming Swindle’. Martin Durkin, managing director of WAG TV, which produced the documentary, said he would be delighted for his film to go to schools. I have become a proselytiser against the so-called consensus on climate change … people can decide for themselves,’ he said.

Notice none of these people are scientists. Double standard, much?

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Don’t Pity the Fool

environment, science

The notion that global warming is merely a hoax — or, at least, is not being caused by humans — is firmly entrenched among righties. Countless megabytes have been devoted to “exposing” the hoax. Most of their arguments, such as this one, reveal that they understand global climate change about as well as I understand quantum mechanics. Which is pretty much not at all.

Some of the “it’s a hoax” sites are hoaxes themselves, even spoofs. Recently our pal Rush mistook a site spoofing climate change deniers for a serious anti-climate change argument.

Breaking news: “proof” that global warming is entirely a natural event published in a definitive looking (okay, at first glance) site with The Journal of Geoclimatic Studies. (The links are down. Great Beyond has links to the cache material.) According to a ‘research paper’ published on the website, rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are coming from CO2 emissions from “saprotrophic eubacteria living in the sediments of the continental shelves fringing the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.” In other words, humanity had no role. Well, this paper began to run the lines of the Climate Denier branch of the Flat Earth Society.

Well, add Rush to the list of Flat Earthers caught, well, caught flat-footed. Yes, “America’s Truth Detector” has such a good nose for fraud that we can expect that Brooklyn Bridge salesmen have had a good time with him.DeSmogBlog has a run of some of those who chose to run with this fantasy. Well, for these Flat Earthers, one problem: none of the authors existed.

The author of the site said in an interview —

Its purpose was to expose the credulity and scientific illiteracy of many of the people who call themselves climate sceptics. While dismissive of the work of the great majority of climate scientists, they will believe almost anything if it lends support to their position. Their approach to climate science is the opposite of scepticism.

Are you surprised at the pick up your coverage has generated?

Not really. Equally ridiculous claims – like those in the paper attached to the “Oregon Petition” or David Bellamy’s dodgy glacier figures – have been widely circulated and taken up by the ‘sceptic’ community. But you can explain this until you are blue in the face. To get people to sit up and listen, you have to demonstrate it. This is what I set out to do.

How quickly did you expect people to realise that your paper was fake?

In the Age of Google, hoaxes can’t last for very long. But it hooked quite a few prominent sceptics before it was exposed. According to the various exposes now circulating online, among others, Rush Limbaugh broadcast it on his programme, James Inhofe’s office posted it on his site [Editor’s note: Sen. Inhofe’s office says it was never posted on his website], Benny Peiser sent it to 2000 people and Ron Bailey wrote it up in glowing terms.

This rightie “it’s a hoax” site also says Michael Savage was taken in.

It gets worse. Last week Rush blasted an Eskimo teenager for speaking out about global warming. Erika Bolstad writes for McClatchy Newspapers:

Charlee Lockwood has never heard of Rush Limbaugh or listened to his radio program, and perhaps it’s just as well.

On Monday, the talk radio king told listeners that Democrats were exploiting the 18-year-old Yupik Eskimo, and that her emotional testimony that day in front of a U.S. House committee on global warming made him “really want to puke. I just want to throw up.”

“It’s the Democrats exploiting a young child, ladies and gentlemen, for the advancement of a political issue that will grow the size of government and increase their control over everyone,” Limbaugh told listeners of the 600 stations nationwide that carry his show.

Lockwood didn’t let Limbaugh’s comments faze her. Her upbringing in the community of St. Michael included learning “about respect and treating people the way you want to be treated,” Lockwood said, during a brief interview just before she got on a plane to return to her village on Alaska’s west coast.

And she had plenty of people willing to defend her.

“For Rush Limbaugh to make fun of young people coming in and trying to be a part of the political process, it really shows a disdain for political discourse and for the role of young people in that political discourse,” said Eben Burnham-Snyder, a spokesman for the chairman of the committee, Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass.

Limbaugh’s attack on the teenager was “outrageous and grotesque,” said Deborah Williams, an Anchorage environmentalist who accompanied Lockwood on the teen’s first trip to the nation’s capital in 2005. It’s one thing to take aim at a public figure, Williams said, but it’s quite another to attack someone young and eager to participate in the democratic process.

You think Limbaugh gives a bleep for the democratic process?

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Cabbages in Greenland

environment, science, weather

Greenland Thaws is a series of 13 photos by John McConnico on the NYT website, that will give you pause. I photoshopped a few of them, including captions:

Greeland Farmers

Greenlandic farmers are experimenting with vegetables that have never been grown commercially in the country. Kenneth Hoeg, the region’s chief agriculture adviser, says he does not see why southern Greenland cannot eventually be full of vegetable farms and viable forests.

Greeland Sheep Are Fatter

Ewes are having fatter lambs, and more of them every season. The growing season, such as it is, now lasts roughly from mid-May through mid-September, about three weeks longer than a decade ago.

Greenland Decorative Cabbage

People come from all over to gape at the plants, like these decorative cabbage, growing at [agricultural research station] Upernaviarsuk.

Local Produce

A Greenlandic supermarket is stocking locally grown cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage this year for the first time.

Back in the early 1960s, when global warming was only a theory, scientists predicted that the effects would be most dramatic in the polar regions. This is borne out by the dramatic lengthening of the growing season in Greenland, versus lower latitudes.

This posting is kind of a Rorshach test. Those from a limited perspective may see this single data point as evidence of human ingenuity and adaptability in the face of change, a triumph of free market economics, and conclude that global warming is not as serious as some make it to be. Those from a larger, planetary perspective, will likely be alarmed, for they understand that the earth’s climate is a large and complex system, with many feedback loops and interdependencies, and that a change at one point can trigger dramatic, and less benign changes elsewhere. The world’s leading scientists have articulated many of them.

I’m not a climate scientist, but I am a student of chaos mathematics and physics. I wish I could tell you where I first heard this, but a useful analogy is to envision the earth’s climate as a beach ball at rest between a particular set of sand dunes. It has mostly been in this stable state – resting between a particular set of dunes – since the last ice age. A few breezes may have rocked the ball from time to time, creating mini ice ages for example, but the earth’s atmospheric and oceanic currents have remained in the same configuration since the end of the last ice age.

Global warming represents a large enough energy input that could cause this ball to move, potentially kicking it into the air, where it would ultimately come down and find a new equilibrium, a new resting spot, possibly between a new set of sand dunes. As the beach ball moves to a new resting point, the ocean and atmospheric currents are reconfigured, dramatically altering worldwide weather and habitat.

The ice ages, and the intervening, opposite periods of relative warmth – are similar reconfigurations from the past, times when the beach ball was kicked into a new region on the beach. Transition periods – when the climate is seeking a new equilibrium – when the old pattern is dissolving and the new has yet to emerge – analgous to times when the beach ball is in motion – is the disaster scenario that disrupts everything, not just the lives of farmers in Greenland.

No one knows whether the climate has reached this particular tipping point – whether the ball is airborn and seeking a new equilibrium, invoking this disaster scenario – but it’s significant that the system has feedback loops, amplifying the inputs which push it toward this point of no return.

Al Gore is more optimistic than I, regarding our ability to deal with global warming. It would be one thing if we had a functioning, forward thinking government that could lead the world’s richest, most able nation – as well as the rest of the planet – into something approaching ecotopia, but we’re presently cursed with the most backward, unconscious leaders this country has ever seen, and lots of inertia and brokenness after they leave. This doesn’t even consider Lord Cheney’s demonic lust for a massively bigger conflagration in the Middle East by attacking Iran.

Despite the Democrats’ likely sweep in 2008, and despite the relative sanity of the leading Democratic candidates, my fear about 2008 is that it may be too little, too late – all the moreso if a triangulator like Hillary wins. I hope I’m wrong. I’d be more optimistic if the leading candidates were serious about getting out of Iraq, which is a proxy for admitting and coming to terms with America’s oil addiction, a root cause of global warming. I’d be even more optimistic if the leading candidates were serious about atoning for our country’s shameful acts overseas – necessary to move past war, and to get to cooperation, and to begin to make real progress on living in harmony on the earth. It can be done, if we want it. If the leaders are unwilling, we individual citizens will have to find ways to do this from the grass roots.

If we don’t change course in time, I foresee a period of resource wars – Iraq is the opening battle – which will ultimately be trumphed by the accelerating effects of climate change. It will spread well beyond farmers blessed with cabbages in Greenland. Erratic weather, disease and starvation – the horsemen of the apocalypse – will trumph and finally put an end to war, as people will be too busy simply trying to survive. The Hopi call it the time of Purification, which will either be achieved peacefully, or by force, until we humans get the message. And evolve.

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We Loves Us Some Al Gore

Democratic Party, environment, science

I knew our Al would win the Nobel Prize. Just think — he’s won an Oscar, an Emmy, an a Nobel Prize in the same year. How cool is that?

Of course, as the Talking Dog says,

Notwithstanding that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences liked him enough to award him an Oscar, and now, the Norwegian committee charged with the prize has awarded former Vice-President Al Gore the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in publicizing the dangers of climate change, the American press corps will still tell us that Gore is stiff, wooden and boring, sighs too much, and of course (wait for it…) he’s fat. Let’s face it… notwithstanding that he is a happily married man (and a decent man) who would never dream of such a thing, with an Oscar and a Nobel Peace Prize in his pocket… is there any doubt that this man could get laid anywhere he wants, anywhere in the world? Well, almost anywhere, I suppose, as the Washington press corps would still tell us of his made-up inadequacies (inadequacies they made up, of course, because (1) they don’t like him, (2) their corporate masters don’t like him and (3) Mr. Scaife doesn’t like him.)

And while he could be getting laid anywhere, is there anyone (who isn’t mentally defective, such as a huge portion of the American electorate) who wouldn’t rather have a beer with this guy than, say, the current idiot who infests our White House (who purportedly doesn’t even drink!!! Hah, press corps? You’d “rather have a beer with” a MAN WHO DOESN’T DRINK? WTF kind of fun is THAT??? Hah, press corps?)

Today all the rightie bloggers are flopping around in high derision mode. Bleep ’em.

I will say that the Right has done a good job planting disinformation in the press about climate change. As Mark Lynas writes,

Where does science end and politics begin? On climate change this is a particularly thorny question. For over a decade now we have seen a heated and increasingly bitter debate between environmentalists and sceptics about to what extent the globe is warming, who is responsible, and what (if anything) we ought to do about it.

Seemingly presented with two sets of “experts” and with no idea which side is telling the truth, the lay public is left confused, as opinion polls show. The real truth – that all the major scientific questions about global warming have long been settled, and largely support the long-standing environmentalist position – remains obscured by continuing political trench warfare and media debate. This failure to reflect the political debate on global warming, despite its largely accurate portrayal of climate science, is why Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, was dismissed as “one-sided” by the high court.

That is not to say that Gore got everything 100% right. … All of these points, however, are trivial details in the context of the main argument of the film, which is unambiguously correct in its portrayal of mainstream scientific understanding of climate change.

And there is speculation whether the Nobel Prize will inspire Al to get into the presidential race. I don’t think he will, for the same reasons Eric Pooley gives at Time

He put himself in position to win the Nobel by committing to an issue bigger than himself — the fight to save the planet. If he runs for president now, he’ll be hauling himself back up onto that dusty old pedestal, signaling that he is, after all, the most important thing in his world. Sure, he’d say he was doing it because he feels a moral obligation to intervene in a time of unparalleled crisis. But running for president is by definition an act of hubris, and Gore has spent the past couple of years defying his ego and sublimating himself to a larger goal. Running for president would mean returning to a role he’d already transcended. He’d turn into — again — just another politician, when a lot of people thought he might be something better than that.

But oh, I wish he would run. If he declared I think he’d be the front-runner overnight. I’d endorse him, anyway.

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liberalism and progressivism, Religion, science

An article in Newsweek about the struggle between evolution and creationism got me thinking about the recent post on religion and liberalism.

Day before yesterday I wrote about how liberalism seeks to promote domestic tranquility and individual freedom by drawing lines between the personal and the public. To quote John McGowan:

Here I just want to end by noting how “unnatural” liberalism seems. It involves self-abnegation, accepting the frustration of my will. It involves, as I will detail in my next post, compromise in almost every instance, and thus can seem akin to having no strong convictions, no principles. Yet its benefits are enormous; it provides, I am convinced, the only possible way humans can live in peace together in a pluralistic world. …

…Because liberalism aims to insure peace and prevent tyranny in pluralistic societies, it often works to establish zones of mutual indifference. Liberalism strives to place lots of individual actions outside the pale of politics, beyond interference from the state or other powers. And, culturally, it strives to promote tolerance, where tolerance is, at a minimum, indifference to the choices and actions of others and, at best, a recognition that diversity yields some social benefits….

… Except for what are generally weak claims for the benefits of diversity (weak not in the sense of being unconvincing, but weak in the sense that no very major social benefit is claimed and some costs are acknowledged), the liberal argument for non-political interference, for privacy and individual autonomy, is primarily negative. Conflict is the result of trying to tell people what to believe and what to do, so we are better off cultivating a talent for resisting our inclinations to insist that others see the world and run their lives the way I do.

Ironically, anti-liberal forces in America use the values of liberalism against liberalism. For example, creationism is argued to be an alternative view to evolution that is owed respect. Peter Slevin wrote in the Washington Post (March 14, 2005) (emphasis added):

Alabama and Georgia legislators recently introduced bills to allow teachers to challenge evolutionary theory in the classroom. Ohio, Minnesota, New Mexico and Ohio have approved new rules allowing that. And a school board member in a Tennessee county wants stickers pasted on textbooks that say evolution remains unproven. …

… Polls show that a large majority of Americans believe God alone created man or had a guiding hand. Advocates invoke the First Amendment and say the current campaigns are partly about respect for those beliefs.

It’s an academic freedom proposal. What we would like to foment is a civil discussion about science. That falls right down the middle of the fairway of American pluralism,” said the Discovery Institute’s Stephen C. Meyer, who believes evolution alone cannot explain life’s unfurling. “We are interested in seeing that spread state by state across the country.” …

…That approach appeals to Cindy Duckett, a Wichita mother who believes public school leaves many religious children feeling shut out. Teaching doubts about evolution, she said, is “more inclusive. I think the more options, the better.”

“If students only have one thing to consider, one option, that’s really more brainwashing,” said Duckett, who sent her children to Christian schools because of her frustration. Students should be exposed to the Big Bang, evolution, intelligent design “and, beyond that, any other belief that a kid in class has. It should all be okay.”

Fox — pastor of the largest Southern Baptist church in the Midwest, drawing 6,000 worshipers a week to his Wichita church — said the compromise is an important tactic. “The strategy this time is not to go for the whole enchilada. We’re trying to be a little more subtle,” he said. …

…”If you believe God created that baby, it makes it a whole lot harder to get rid of that baby,” [Southern Baptist minister Terry] Fox said. “If you can cause enough doubt on evolution, liberalism will die.”

See, science is supposed to “compromise” with religion, because to deny religion equal say with science violates the liberal values of “inclusiveness” and “freedom.” And the goal is to destroy liberalism. Of course, if the creationists had the authority they’d see to it that only their version of creation is taught in public schools, because they aren’t liberals.

Here’s the latest round in the evolution wars, by Sharon Begley in the current issue of Newsweek:

There may be some battlefields where the gospel’s “blessed are the peacemakers” holds true. But despite the work of a growing number of scholars and millions of dollars in foundation funding to find harmony between science and faith, evolution still isn’t one of them. Just ask biologist Richard Colling. A professor at Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois and a lifelong member of the evangelical Church of the Nazarene, Colling wrote a 2004 book called “Random Designer” because—as he said in a letter to students and colleagues this year—”I want you to know the truth that God is bigger, far more profound and vastly more creative than you may have known.” Moreover, he said, God “cares enough about creation to harness even the forces of [Darwinian] randomness.”

For all the good it’s done him, Colling might as well have thrown a book party for Christopher Hitchens (“God Is Not Great”) and Richard Dawkins (“The God Delusion”). Anger over his work had been building for two years. When classes resumed in late August, things finally came to a head. Colling is prohibited from teaching the general biology class, a version of which he had taught since 1991, and college president John Bowling has banned professors from assigning his book. At least one local Nazarene church called for Colling to be fired and threatened to withhold financial support from the college. In a letter to Bowling, ministers in Caro, Mo., expressed “deep concern regarding the teaching of evolutionary theory as a scientifically proven fact,” calling it “a philosophy that is godless, contrary to scripture and scientifically unverifiable.” Irate parents, pastors and others complained to Bowling, while a meeting between church leaders and Colling “led to some tension and misunderstanding,” Bowling said in a letter to trustees. (Well, “misunderstanding” in the sense that the Noachian flood was a little puddle.) It’s a rude awakening to scientists who thought the Galilean gulf was closing.

So much for compromise.

Colling’s troubles come as more and more researchers are fighting the “godless” rap, emphasizing that evolution does not preclude a deity (though neither does it require one).

Science doesn’t have anything to apologize for. It’s the creationists and their “intelligent design” allies who dissemble and lie and misrepresent evolution and science in their war against liberalism.

I think it’s a mistake for science to attempt “compromise” with the religionists (and I doubt many scientists are thinking about doing so), because it wouldn’t be an honest compromise. Creationism/ID “theory” is not only based on lies; it has the intention of undermining science. Same thing for liberalism, which does not require giving in anti-liberal factions in the name of “inclusiveness.”

As John Holbo wrote, (h/t Dan S):

I would also like to request a moratorium on critiques of liberalism that consist entirely of a flourish for effect – with accompanying air of discovery – of the familiar consideration that liberalism is inconsistent with blanket, categorical tolerance of absolutely every possible act and attitude. That is, liberalism is incompatible, in practice, with any form of illiberalism that destroys liberalism. If something is inconsistent with liberalism, it is inconsistent with liberalism. Yes. Quite. We noticed.

Also, it might not be a half-bad idea to notice that liberalism is not incompatible with religion, merely with illiberal forms of religion. Just as liberalism is incompatible with illiberal forms of secularism.

Exactly. We should all print that on our T-shirts.

It is not “inclusive” to allow propagandists to hijack science classes. It is not “academic freedom” to lie to children to confuse them. Don’t forget that this controversy is not between religion and science. It’s between a faction of religious totalitarians and modern civilization. We do not have to tolerate them, compromise with them, or humor them. They must be utterly resisted in the public sphere. And this resistance is not a betrayal of liberal values, but a defense of liberal values.

Here is the line drawn between the personal and the public: That minority among the religious who find evolution incompatible with their beliefs are perfectly free to make up their own minds who and what to believe. They can disregard science, if they wish. They can do what Professor Richard Colling did and find their own middle ground. They can even build creationist “museums” with their own money. But they have no right to demand their views be respected as science, nor may they impose their views on children through public schools.

Science doesn’t owe anything to religion, or anyone else, except to be honest, ethical and diligent about the practice of science. However, neither does religion have to justify itself to science. But that’ll have to be the topic of another post.

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The War on Science

blogging, conservatism, Middle East, Religion, science

In Salon, Steve Paulson interviews Turkish-American physicist Taner Edis, who explains why science in Muslim countries is stuck in the past. For example, “A team of Muslim scholars and scientists has spent more than a year drawing up an Islamic code of conduct for space travel.” And this is remarkable considering that, centuries ago, the Middle East was light years ahead of Europe in science.

What’s so striking about the Muslim predicament is that the Islamic world was once the unrivaled center of science and philosophy. During Europe’s Dark Ages, Baghdad, Cairo and other Middle Eastern cities were the key repositories of ancient Greek and Roman science. Muslim scholars themselves made breakthroughs in medicine, optics and mathematics. So what happened? Did strict Islamic orthodoxy crush the spirit of scientific inquiry? Why did Christian Europe, for so long a backwater of science, later launch the scientific revolution?

Note also that Copernicus used the mathematical work of Iranian astronomers to construct his theory of the solar system.

What happened, in brief, was the European “scientific revolution.” Beginning in the 16th century, Europeans went through a shift in consciousness about how to understand and study the natural world. As a result, religion and science were separated into two entirely separate spheres of knowledge. Plus, as Edis says, this separation, with its promise of infinite new inventions and technologies, became complete just in time to plug into emerging capitalism. But in Muslim countries the critical separation of science from religion never occurred. Thus, scientific inquiry in the Middle East never matured into true science as it did in Europe.

And now, there’s Islamic creationism.

In many Muslim countries, you don’t have much creationism, but only because evolution does not appear in their textbooks in the first place. In countries that have had some exposure to conventional science education, such as Turkey, then you also have more of a public creationist reaction. In the last 20 years, we’ve seen creationism appearing in Turkey’s official science textbooks that are taught in high schools. Turkey has also witnessed a very strong popular movement for creationism that has spread to the whole Islamic world.

But before we feel pity for Middle Eastern scientists, let us consider what we’re dealing with here in the U.S. Namely, wingnuts. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Ace of Spades. Never mind that the Ace’s, um, interpretation of the article bears no resemblance whatsoever to what the article says. Wingnuts generally have reading comprehension skills roughly equivalent to that of spinach. Just take a look at this conclusion —

Hey, Christian conservatives? You want to win your creationism cases? Start bringing in Muslim creationists. And watch your liberal opponents suddenly finding it much more plausible that God — or, rather, Allah — created the earth, the animals, and humans directly.

Somewhere in there is a clue to why one cannot have a sensible conversation with an American right winger.

To his credit, the Ace is not a creationist himself. However, he dismisses global climate change as a “cult.” I’d say we’d best not point fingers at the Muslim world for being hostile to science. And we shouldn’t be too proud about logic or literacy, either.

See also:
Sadly, No.

Why some say we liberals should support righties in their fight to save the liberal values of the Enlightenment. No, serously.

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The Next Lakoff


Meet Drew Westen, author of The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation:

Drew Westen, a genial 48-year-old psychologist and brain researcher, was talking to a rapt liberal audience about the role of emotion in politics, how to talk back aggressively to Republicans, and why going negative is not to be feared.

It was Day 2 of the progressive Take Back America confab, and those who had crowded into a meeting room of the Washington Hilton were about to discover why Westen, a psychology professor at Atlanta’s Emory University and former associate professor at Harvard Medical School, had quietly become the great rumpled hope of Democrats who believe their candidates should have won the last two presidential elections.

Example: When President Bush recently refused to allow Karl Rove to testify under oath about his role in the sacking of federal prosecutors, Westen said, Democrats blundered. Instead of insisting Rove testify under oath, they simply should have said (over and over), "Mr. Bush, just what is it about ‘So help me God’ that you find so offensive?"

Read the whole article here. The problem Westen’s work addresses is well known: The Rs have learned how to effectively communicate to the gut, and run rings around the Ds who talk to the brain (recall the Bush-Kerry debates). Westen is the guy who looks like he could change this.

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Republican Party, science

Species must adapt or become extinct.

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How Not to Save Embryos

abortion, science, stem cells

Liza Mundy writes in today’s Washington Post that “Children are born every day whose health and well-being are permanently affected by the funding ban for embryo research.”

This isn’t just about the therapeutic potential of embryonic stem cells. The stem cell restrictions are indirectly resulting in an increase in babies born with health problems such as cerebral palsy.

Here’s how: The popularity of in vitro fertilization and other fertilization treatments has resulted in a dramatic increase in multiple births. But the human womb is designed to carry one baby at a time. So the rise in multiple births has resulted in more babies with health problems.

The number of babies born as triplets, quadruplets or even more rose from about 900 in 1972 to 7,275 in 2004. That same year, the highest number of twins ever were born — 132,000, nearly double the number born in 1980. Not coincidentally, there has also been a rise in premature births, infants born with low birth weights and disorders — such as cerebral palsy — that can occur when a premature baby’s brain is insufficiently developed.

Some of these problems could be eliminated if doctors performing in vitro fertilization could learn more about embryos. But federal law prohibits the research.

In 1996 a law known as the Dickey-Wicker Amendment took effect prohibiting funding research involving the creation or destruction of embryos. The provision is regularly passed as part of the Department of Health and Human Services appropriations bill. It has become a conservative touchstone.

The upshot is that scientists who receive federal funding — and most good scientists do — cannot use any part of it, even indirectly, to study the embryos that IVF creates so as to learn how to better assess their viability. “There is so much we do not know about the human embryo that we need to,” said scientist James Trimarchi. “The truth is, we really don’t know anything.”

Doctors performing in vitro fertilization routinely implant multiple embryos to ensure at least one will be viable. But if all of them are viable — hello, quadruplets. Further, doctors may be making other mistakes in the handling of the fertilized eggs that could compromise the long-term health of “in vitro” babies.

U.S. scientists acknowledged that there is much they don’t know, including whether embryos are affected by the media in which they are cultured, and the long-term impact of the increasingly invasive lab techniques that IVF now often involves.

These complications arise from a peculiar belief, held by many Christian conservatives, that a human blastocyst has the same inherent value as a baby or child or adult. An aggressive, politicized religious Right has imposed its will on the rest of us, knocking science and sensibility out of the way in their single-minded determination to “protect” embryos. And their “protection” of embryos hurts embryos.

I think one could make a moral argument that we shouldn’t be doing procedures like in vitro fertilization if we’re going to be half-assed about it.

In a related story, Rick Weiss reports in WaPo that researchers think they have found a way to get stem cells with the same properties as embryonic stem cells from tissue other than embryos.

Three teams of scientists said today they had coaxed ordinary mouse skin cells to become what are effectively embryonic stem cells without creating or destroying embryos in the process — an advance that, if it works with human cells, could revolutionize stem cell research and defuse one of the hottest bioethical controversies of the decade.

In work being published online today, the scientists reported two new ways of turning back the biological clocks of skin cells growing in laboratory dishes. Thus rejuvenated, the cells gave rise to daughter cells that were able to become all the parts needed to make a new mouse.

Of course, it could be years before the researchers know whether this will work with humans, or if the resulting cells really do have the same properties of embryonic stem cells. But conservatives have already seized upon this research to argue that scientists don’t need embryos to do stem cell research.

“A human is not a mouse, so a lot more work has to be done,” said Marius Wernig, who led one team with Rudolf Jaenisch of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass.

But opponents of human embryo research said the findings bolster their argument that stem cell science can progress apace without harming human embryos.

“Morally and practically, this new approach appears to be far superior,” said Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Seems to me that even if the new process eliminates the need to destroy embryos to get stem cells, we are left with our current blind spots about embryos. And we’ll still have too many premature births, infants born with low birth weights and disorders — such as cerebral palsy — that can occur when a premature baby’s brain is insufficiently developed.

We do seem to have a lot of insufficiently developed brains in this country, don’t we?

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Global Idiots


Will someone please explain to these scientifically illiterate twits that the phenomenon of global warming doesn’t mean the planet is getting warmer in a uniform way. My understanding is that climate changes are causing shifts in long-established patterns of air circulation around the planet as well as disrupting ocean current patterns like the Gulf Stream. These changes are causing some places to get colder because air is moving more directly from the poles to those places that it used to. But it’s the warming of the oceans, among other things, that is causing the changes in wind and current patterns. Hence, global warming is causing some parts of the planet to be cooler. Some scientists argue that we ought to be talking about “global climate change” rather than “global warming” to avoid confusion.

Every time I see some dimbulb rightie hoot because there’s a cold snap in his neighborhood (hence, global warming is a myth) I feel embarrassed for our species.

Update: The same scientifically illiterate twits turn out to be economically illiterate twits as well.

As Atrios would say … the stupid! It burns!

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