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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Supporting Science, Saving the Planet

I recently engaged in a Facebook exchange with astronomer Reed Riddle and astrophysicist Rebecca Oppenheimer about a widely circulated 4-minute video featuring pop-science superstar Neil DeGrasse Tyson (http://americannewsx.com/sciencetech/neil-degrasse-tyson-shared-important-words-ever-spoken-video/ ) – about the importance of science and how it must be supported. I thought it was a dreadful video: arrogant, condescending, simpleminded, insulting to its viewers, unlikely to do anything other than inflate Tyson’s already well-puffed ego and rub the tummies of those – like me – who already believe that science is vital to our survival. Reed and Rebecca patiently explained that I simply didn’t understand.

In the process of thus putting me in my place, they invited me to advise them about how I’d pitch a 4-minute video to the unwashed masses making the same point. I’ve thought a bit about this, and here’s my outline:

  1. Have the pitch-person be someone who’s more likely than Tyson to connect with the average Trump voter. I don’t know who that would be, because I’ve lost track of the world’s celebrities, but I’m sure such a person could be found.
  2. Make the following points:
    1. The world is in really serious trouble. We’ve got:
                                                              i.      Way too many people, and making more all the time;
                                                            ii.      A changing climate that’s reflected quite objectively in things like sea level rise and shrinking glaciers; we can argue about why it’s happening, but there’s no real question that it IS happening;
                                                          iii.      Far too many weapons of mass destruction, many in the hands of deeply untrustworthy parties;
                                                          iv.      Dangerous levels of social and economic inequality;
                                                            v.      Pollution that’s fouling the seas and land, and killing off our fellow residents on the planet; and
                                                          vi.      On and on and on…

    1. We humans may or may not be entirely responsible for all these crises, but we’ve certainly contributed to them all.
    2. Science bears a fair share of blame, for making overpopulation easy, for providing the comforts that have made it possible for us to add heat to the atmosphere and generate pollutants, for creating weapons of mass destruction and slow suffocation, etc.
    3. If we and our fellow residents are going to survive, we need to take action. All of us.
    4. What can we do?
                                                              i.      If you believe in a higher power, pray; ask forgiveness for what we’ve done, and beg for help.
                                                            ii.      Stop having so many babies.
                                                          iii.      Reduce, reuse, recycle, and
                                                          iv.      In the immortal words of Matt Damon (There’s one celebrity I remember), science the shit out of it. Although there are plenty of dangers in what may be portrayed as scientific solutions (Remember Fukashima and beware geoengineering), we need to put all options on the table and figure out which ones have the best chance for success with the least risk.
                                                            v.      This requires supporting science and science education.


Squeeze that into 4 minutes? I think it could be done, but doing so is beyond my technical capability.

There, Reed and Rebecca; another bit of poorly informed silliness for you to ignore. Though thanks, Reed, for the link to http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2017/04/explaining_science_won_t_fix_information_illiteracy.html?wpsrc=sh_all_dt_fb_bot -- which I think rather makes my point.

1 comment:

Terrence O'Neil said...

In the same way that science is neither inherently good nor bad, it is also not totally secular. Let's face it; just as those with active religious beliefs base their actions under those beliefs with an element of faith in things unprovable, those of us who base our understanding of the physical world on the current scientific method ground many of our actions and hypotheses on faith in things as-yet un-proven. So, as one whose undergraduate education was at a strongly secular engineering school, I feel it is doing us no good when those viewed by the general public as representative scientists, openly scoff at religion. Looked at objectively, we, too have our un-proven axioms that we base our life-models on. Including tolerance if not acceptance of the other guy's axiomatic beliefs is part of an effort over time to win at least cautious acceptance of scientific evidence.
We will never win over those who reflexively thump thousand-year-old documents as the literal model for the universe, but we don't have to. In a democratic society we only have to win over the fence-sitters to be successful in cultivating the resources needed to go forward in scientific inquiry.
We also have to be honest, and acknowledge that some of our scientific number have slanted, even falsified, their observations to justify the conclusions they wanted to prove. Failing to "clean up our own house" only gives those at the rapid opposite pole a chance to say "See---I told you! Their whole world model is built on fake findings!" Piltdown man, Silent Spring, and the recent stem cell research fakery only create poster children for those threatened by the solidly-based research findings of the honest.
Finally, we need to aggressively pursue making our point with real events. It would not be dishonest to say, loudly in the present, "Look---two huge hurricanes destroying billions of dollars of our Country within days of each other cannot be sheer accident. The hydrological cycle has accelerated DUE TO GLOBAL WARMING. Anyone with eyes can see it." That is the time that a battered public may begin to doubt that global warming is some artificial crisis manufactured to export jobs.
Again, the impending collapse of Mount Manpac in North Korea following multiple subterranean nuclear explosions with the threatened release of radioactive fallout into the air of South Korea, Japan and even southern China and the waters of the Sea of Japan that feed so many is a perfect opportunity for the scientific community to raise awareness at an international level, upping the ante on the Chinese Government to see North Korea as more of a threat to them in the political and physical spheres than Kim Jong Un's usefulness as a nettle in the side of the U.S.
Support of well-performed and clearly-spoken science is, indeed, vital to not only science, but saving the planet from the depredations of our clannish, often-thuggish and violent species.