Rant

The French have no word for entrepreneur.

George W. Bush

IMG_3020I’m recycling a photo. The bird nest found on the patio now sits on my window sill, and this week a bird landed on the ledge outside the window and wanted to make use of the nest.  It flew off after pecking the glass twice.

I’ve read that various groups in the United States are blaming this and that on them and those, but really, isn’t the cause of the most of the problems with political and social discourse in the U.S. due to the likes of Bill O’Reilly, Megyn Somebody, and other Abrahamic hate-flamers stirring up the rabble and spreading pseudo-science falsehoods about?

There’s a state in which one is awake but re-experiences a dream of such clarity and lucidity that one experiences a case of deja vu … I sense that each time I hear the far-right talking heads discuss anything that smacks of astronomy, biology, chemistry, geology, physics or any other field of science as it takes me back to school days and hearing student after student provide an incorrect answer.  Jonathon Gatehouse’s article in the 15 May 2014 issue of Maclean’s (Canada) (America dumbs down – The U.S. is being overrun by a wave of anti-science, anti-intellectual thinking. Has the most powerful nation on Earth lost its mind?) found

They [Americans] don’t appear to be getting much smarter as they age. A 2013 survey of 166,000 adults across 20 countries that tested math, reading and technological problem-solving found Americans to be below the international average in every category. (Japan, Finland, Canada, South Korea and Slovakia were among the 11 nations that scored significantly higher.)

It’s one thing to debate reality, but for people to inculcate ideas such as dinosaurs co-existing with humans and all of it coming together during one week 10,000 years ago is just so nonsensical and intellectually dishonest and negligent. I think faith and science can co-exist better than faith and pseudo-science.  I think part of the U.S. distrust of “science” is not of science at all, but of “scientific” claims by businesses and advertisers.  As the “newest and best” product debunks the claims of its predecessors by using technical and scientific jargon, it’s easy for Americans to distrust “science,” but marketing and merchandising aren’t science at all.

As new knowledge appears, some people like to point out that “science was wrong.” They misunderstand the process of science, which is not to provide “eternal” truths—for how can anything be eternal when everything in the universe undergoes change—but to provide knowledge that best describes the world at that moment given existing knowledge and existing tools.  Better tools for measurement or viewing come along, providing new insight, and old thinking gets revised or discarded based on new evidence.

Gatehouse reports that a YouGov poll found

three-quarters of Americans agreed that science is a force for good in the world. Yet when asked if they truly believe what scientists tell them, only 36 per cent of respondents said yes. Just 12 per cent expressed strong confidence in the press to accurately report scientific findings. (Although according to a 2012 paper by Gordon Gauchat, a University of North Carolina sociologist, the erosion of trust in science over the past 40 years has been almost exclusively confined to two groups: conservatives and regular churchgoers. Counterintuitively, it is the most highly educated among them—with post-secondary education—who harbour the strongest doubts.)               [emphasis added]

[Note:  In such a short article, Gatehouse has insights into a great deal of contemporary American thought and behavior, especially with regards to political choices and the benefits “reaped” by the electorate.]

In 2013 Republicans in the House of Representatives

blocked a proposal that would [have] institute[d] the position of science laureate of the United States. It was expected to sail by–after all, who could possibly have a problem with an honorary position that costs the taxpayers absolutely nothing, the goal of which is to promote science education? House Republicans, apparently.

I recently received a photo of one of my grandson’s fourth-grade class.  Each student holds a slate board stating “the place they’d like to go.” Some chose locales and for some, the locales were related to ancestry (Mexico, Japan) while for others they were tied to fun (Disneyland, DisneyWorld, a friend’s place for a sleepover, scuba diving): one child chose Paris, another a career (baseball player). Some chose space (moon, stars), and then there were the surprising places: one boy chose Anne Frank’s house and my grandson chose the Library of Congress.  At least two in that class buck the trend of anti-intellectualism.

Historically Americans are not alone in their distrust/disapproval of science.  A short list of scientists and their persecutors (and/or executioners):

  • Muhammad ibn Zakariyā Rāzī or Rhazes—9th century physician wrote Continens Liber, a compendium of everything known about medicine. This offended a Muslim priest who ordered the doctor to be beaten over the head with his own manuscript, causing the doctor to go blind and preventing him from practicing medicine.
  • Michael Servetus—16th century Spanish physician credited with discovering pulmonary circulation. He wrote a book about reforming Christianity (deemed heretical by the Catholic Inquisition). He escaped to Switzerland only to be burned at the stake by the Protestant Inquisition under orders from the reformer John Calvin.
  • Galileo
—16th century Italian astronomer and physicist convicted in 1633 for publishing his evidence supporting the Copernican theory that the Earth revolves around the Sun. He was sentenced to house arrest, where he remained for the rest of his life and his offending texts were banned.
  • Albert Einstein—a non-practicing 20th century German Jew whose General Theory of Relativity and pacifist politics drew animosity from right-wing members of German society. The Nazis deprived him of his posts in Berlin and membership in the Prussian Academy of Sciences, seized his property and burned his books in public.

In times of great and/or rapid change there can be great uncertainty and uncertainty scares people.  People have difficulty with complexity.  Mix complexity with uncertainty and the fact that there are far fewer smart people than not-so-smart people and you have the right situation for fundamentalism to flourish. Political and religious fundamentalism offer the promise of a simpler, more comprehensible world.  Fundamentalism offers the lure of a future without immigrants or atheists or Jews or Christians or Muslims or gypsies or blacks or whites or poor or women or men or scientists or [pick your group] present.

Frank Bruni writing in The New York Times in November of last year stated:

Plenty of Americans without any strong religious beliefs opt not to vaccinate their children, ignoring the ironclad scientific arguments in favor of doing so. Plenty reject the virtues of pasteurization and feed their children raw milk. Plenty spend lavishly on herbal supplements and alternative medicine, defying physicians and deciding when myth suits them better than actual fact.

The Fairness Doctrine in U.S. broadcast journalism was in place from 1949 to 2011 in the United States. The Doctrine provided opposing view points an opportunity to be heard.  It didn’t mention anything about allowing pseudo-science (claims that cannot be proved by those who do not believe the claim) equal time to counter the work of science (claims that can be proved empirically by those who do not believe the claim).

For example, I can believe that a rock is 10,000 years old.  If someone else believes the rock is 9,000 years old we will be in disagreement.  There is no way to determine who – if either of us – is correct as there is no method of proof involved.  Our beliefs cannot be proved.

However, using various tools, I can learn that three isotopes of carbon exist on Earth.  Carbon 12 atoms (containing 6 protons and 6 neutrons), Carbon 13 atoms (6 and 7) and Carbon 14 atoms (6 and 8).  On Earth Carbon 12 is most prevalent (99%), Carbon 13 is next (1%) and Carbon 14 exists in traces (1 part in a trillion).  I can learn that a Carbon 14 atom is radioactive; thus, it is unstable and over time, by giving up an electron and an electron anti-neutrino, C-14 becomes a stable Nitrogen 14 atom. Moreover, I can learn the half-life of C-14 is approximately 5730 years—meaning that about half of the unstable C-14 atoms will become stable N-14 atoms during that period. I can publish my findings and anyone in a similar environment (Earth, for example) using similar techniques can reproduce my results.

One may find it difficult to believe certain findings from science and one may not like those findings.  This seems particularly true for those who have a conservative bias. Religious leaders, especially Protestants, did not like the findings of Copernicus, but they could not disprove them; they simply branded his thinking heretical (heresy being nothing more than an opinion pronounced by an institution that declares something contrary to church or organizational dogma) and ridiculed him.  An example (from Philipp Melanchthon, one of Martin Luther’s pals):

Some people believe that it is excellent and correct to work out a thing as absurd as [the Polish] astronomer who moves the earth and stops the sun. Indeed, wise rulers should have curbed such light-mindedness.

It’s possible to burn the heretical thinker at the stake, but that does not change the FACT that the science is accurate.

Our knowledge changes over time (Newtonian physics expanding to include behaviors at atomic and subatomic levels as well as in the cosmos), but the knowledge is still correct given the appropriate frame of reference.

Calvin believed that execution of dissenters was important not simply because it rid the world of heretics but also the public staging of it will send fear into the hearts of would-be apostates.

Calvin, like the Nazis, like the Islamic State, like the Roman Catholic Inquisition, like any party or person that has a non-secular desire to govern (such as Oliver Cromwell in England whose measures against Catholics in Scotland and Ireland might be considered genocidal or near-genocidal) find tolerance naturally abhorrent. J. M. Robertson wrote that Calvin’s behavior tells

of the ordinary spirit of the bigot – incensed at opposition and exulting in vengeance.

The Presidential Lineup of the Republican Party, the leadership in both houses of Congress and the Supremacist Court should make one—if one is a humanist, if one believes in a secular society—very, very afraid.

With that rant out of the way, I watched a fun movie featuring a French female Indiana Jones-like character. You might watch it, too, to get your mind off the other stuff, if only for a few hours.  83 per cent of reviewers liked it (although none of the biggies reviewed it), but that didn’t stop one podunkite from writing:

Even for a film with fantastic elements, the plot holes are huge and the unlikeliness keeps adding up to a degree where this is merely a comedy.

“Merely a comedy”? Doesn’t that chipmunk know how hard it is to write comedy? Ummm, the “unlikeliness” of the plot might be due to the story having been based on a comic book (sorry, “graphic novel”).

A second critic criticized the film because the mummies, on waking, spoke perfect French!  Did the critic miss the fact that the mummies were talking (regardless of language) and moving and were … awake?

Another reviewer wrote that the movie was

Flagrantly silly, but also disarmingly feather-light and charming.

There’s a millisecond flash of boob in the preview below so you might have to grant youtube some authority to show it to you should you choose to watch it.

Les aventures extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec (The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec)

Little-known culture shock

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