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Sunday Morning pastries and coffee

February 15, 2009

An event I’d hoped for has occurred: Dana Hunter went to see Lucy at the Pacific Science Center.  Lucy is a distant ancestor to our kind, the oldest one of the old ones, and she’s on a world tour.  There isn’t a lot left of her after 3.2 million years, but just as I expected, Dana’s review captures the wonder and awe of what she means to us.

Not everyone who has seen Lucy was impressed, though, in which I suspect they really didn’t understand what they were looking at.  Afarensis catches one such vacuous mind, in the act of plagiarizing another such vacuous mind, in Denyse O’Leary’s ‘Friend’ visits Lucy

Religion and Darwin

The Lucy tour brought to mind an essay written by PZ Myers; The proper reverence for those who have gone before.  In which he clearly illustrates how small a snippet of human history is the book that creationists claim encompasses all of it.  If you have only seen Myers’ angry side, read this essay.  Though he would be loathe to admit it, he has a little bit of Loren Eiseley in him.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has put up an idiotic billboard in Columbus, OH, that says; “Praise Darwin / Evolve beyond belief”.  Crikey!  OK real slow now; Darwin is a scientific hero, not a saint.  He’s a great example of how we humans can break out of the perceptual occlusion that is our temporal frame, and see the bigger picture.  Can we please avoid the use of religious language in describing him?  Thank you.

PalMD, in his Sunday Paeon, explains the virtue of great scientists, and how that is different from being a prophet or a saint:

“…To come up with realistic, testable ways of describing reality is very difficult. Scientists struggle for years to find a good way to isolate and test voltage-gated sodium channels, impossibly small biological machines with impossibly important implications for health. Prophets bypass this by proclaiming them “designed” and leaving it at that…”

Stupid climate-reporting tricks…

One of my pet peeves about “science journalism”, this time from BBC:

The BBC’s science reporter Matt McGrath says the most recent data is also worrying because it threatens to kick-start what climate scientists call negative feedback effects.

If you follow the link you won’t find the offending words in the quote above.  BBC has removed them since last night after I, and presumably a lot of other people, sent them emails that said; “Climate scientists call them ‘positive feedback’, dumbasses!”

I’m sorry,but I can’t be nice about this.  It is not a typo or a trivial error. If you are a science editor for the BBC and you don’t know the difference between positive and negative feedback effects, go sell used cars or something.  Really. 

  • Negative feedback: a change in condition causes the system to push back toward the original level.  Examples include thermostats, cruise-control, and autopilot systems.
  • Positive feedback: a change in condition causes the system to push in the direction of the change.  Examples include microphone feedback in a public address system, or CO2 causing global warming melting permafrost releasing more CO2 and methane, which results in more global warming.

There are actually several positive feedback mechanisms in global warming, and the result is anything but positive. Melting permafrost releasing greenhouse gasses is one.  Increased Arctic heat absorption due to reduced ice cover is another. The possible release of sea-floor methane hydrates is another.  So is desertification of forests, or even the cutting of rainforest for sugar cane. (Yes, we are part of the climate system; that’s the whole point of anthropogenic global warming.)

And some political tricks…

Yes, Obama got pwned by the Republicans.  He wanted so badly to believe they could move and think as individuals, but it was a wasted effort.  Everyone but him saw it coming.  Either that, or he is some kind of political strategy super-genius and wanted to force them out into the open as being incapable of true bipartisan interaction. 

Here’s another idiot worried about whether Obama wears a jacket in the Oval Office.  You will recall that Andy Card, former Bush chief of staff, was upset that Obama didn’t wear a jacket, conveniently overlooking the fact that everyone thought it was charming that Reagan wore a red flannel Western shirt with jeans in the Oval Office.  And anyway, what is the track record of ‘leaders in jackets’ that we should be all that impressed by them anyway?  Bush?  Jacket.  Abramoff?  Jacket.  Madoff?  Jacket.  Depending on your selection bias you could prove that wearing jackets means you are corrupt and evil.  Or the opposite, so let it go already.

One other thing: Republicans, spare me your newfound fiscal responsibility.  You had your chance to prove it, and to prove it would work, and you blew it.

And finally, despite what the report says, I think we’re getting exactly the results we should expect from the War On Drugs.

There’s plenty more where that came from; I’m just sipping from the Internet firehose on a Sunday morning. 

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. February 16, 2009 at 09:50 | #1

    Thanks for giving me a topic for my next blog post. Calling “praise” religious language certainly reflects how the ad will be perceived by those most likely to be offended, but the word isn’t specifically religious. Would we say that giving a child (or anyone) praise for their accomplishments is in any way religious? It’s because the people responsible for the ad don’t have any sense of what the word means to the religious that it’s a bad choice.

  2. February 16, 2009 at 10:17 | #2

    Exactly.  There’s no problem with praising anyone’s virtues, including Darwin.  It’s the pairing of “Praise Noun” that is chanted and sung over and over in churches, which triggers religious associations.

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