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Yes, I am one of those annoying people who pick movies to pieces. Of course, when the movie is fantasy, I am capable of suspending disbelief to enjoy the movie. In the case of the new movie, Noah, however, that isn’t an option.
The reason being that there are many people who still take the fable as truth – some going as far as to waste their life away on a vain effort to find evidence.
How can I be so sure that the story of Noah arises in the Middle Eastern dreamtime? Because of engineering. Because of biology. Because of earth.
Engineering is not my field, so I’ll leave it up to others. In short, a wooden boat of such a size defies the known properties of the material and cannot be replicated by engineers.
Now into a territory I’m more familiar with, I will need to break this down to many points to show just how idiotic the idea is.
No boat could be big enough.
It would have appeared otherwise to the all-too-human author at the time, with their limited experience of life that existed at the time of writing in other corners of the world and of all the life that had ever previously existed.
Even assuming all the dinosaurs and mega-fauna forgot to buy their tickets and assuming genus, or even families were the “kinds” described, the line would still have been too long (eg. ranging from the many millions with species down to the many thousands of families – which in turn would require evolution along the lines of Pokemon, that is within a generation or two, to account for all the species today).
Worse than that; the floods would have either been saline or fresh, meaning that the SS Noah would have needed aquariums for all species of the opposing environment.
And this point is a catch-22; if we grant that the waters were saline – in turn leaving the massive per-historic marine reptiles and modern marine mammals off of the ark – well, then this boat needed to carry a year’s worth of water for all those on board.
Fresh flood waters demands tanks big enough for the likes of blue whales and their buddies.
The problem of thirst isn’t the end of the problem with resources.
We must also consider what we could forgive the writer for not knowing; trophic levels. That is to say, animals eat each other.
To support just the big carnivorous cats and dogs over this period, we couldn’t have just two of every species – but rather whole herds of prey species. These sacrificial herds were never mentioned.
This in turn magnifies the problem of feed for the herbivores, as the prey herds will need vast amounts of food and water to maintain the meat-eaters.
Assuming that the floods were fresh, thereby saving Noah the issue of carrying the water, he would still need to catch hundreds of tons of krill prior to the flood (because the freshening water would have killed them off) to feed however many baleen whales he needed to carry to “evolve” into the species we see today.
As soon as you factor in food, the already absurdly small boat looks even worse.
Again, we could forgive an author a few millennia ago for being ignorant, in this case, of limits to viable population size.
Sure, a few breeding pairs of a given rodent might take off in a new environment, but that’s not guaranteed. We only need to look at how many times rabbits needed to be introduced to Australia before they exploded.
When you are talking about a species that may only breed once a year or even longer, the chances that a single breeding pair would suffice to save to species is effectively shot.
And I’ve ignored the problem of inbreeding here, which would have played havoc with subsequent generations.
Having a singly breeding pair of every known species (or genus or family), Noah would have been lucky to have any persist and flourish.
And now the real kicker
To sprinkle salt into the wound, the year on the ark in itself means everything.
Not only would he need to carry all the animals and all the food (and potentially water) to survive the year, but also for much longer. Worse than this, he would have needed to carry tons of seed.
No seedbank (ie. seeds in the top soil) would remain viable for such a period under the flood. Apart from the osmotic pressure – or high salinity – caused by the flood itself and apart from the silt collection from a year of turbulent water movement (remembering that this silt, the creation would tell us, led to all the fossils), the seeds would simply expire.
So, Noah would have needed herds of prey to release after the flood and enough food to support these as well as the herbivore breeding pairs while he reseeded the entire global terrestrial landscape with all the plant life we see today.
None of this is mentioned and must fail the laugh test.
This problem is one noted prior to Darwin even learning his alphabet. No-one has found a single example of a fossilised duck mingled with Triceratops.
We could take this further and state that there has never been fossilised evidence of a giant ground sloth being killed by a t-rex, of a human kill of any dinosaur or of pterosaur competing with a large eagle (noting that they share the same niche).
That’s because these species existed in different geological periods.
The flood silt didn’t conveniently cover different groups in sequence. Of everything, the fossil record is both the most damning and easiest to understand to anyone who has any actual interest in reality.
If these ancient stories are true, show me the fossils.
Back to the movie
Sure, it looks dramatic, but with so many plots holes, the story fails before it even begins. Yet, for the true believer, it would, absurdly, be cementing to their faith. This work of fiction will be watched by the faithful as though it were some documentary!
Of course, Russell won’t be shooing off any dinosaurs or else the critics would rip it to shreds.
Which brings me to the crux; there is a way out for the faithful. It is the only way out and one few who want to soundintellectual is likely to mention; magic.
“Oh, the boat would break? God held it together.”
“Oh, the boat wasn’t big enough? God made the animals shrink for the trip.”
“Oh, there wouldn’t possibly be room enough for all the food and water? God ran a meals-on-wheels service.””
“Oh, there’s a problem with salt or fresh water? God made all aquatic life temporarily salt tolerant.
“Oh, two individuals don’t make for a viable population? God again…”
“God… God… God…”
Geeezus! Give up with the mockery of science and admit to placing faith in ancient stories over genuine certainty derived through critical analysis and get on making Adam and Eve Dino parks. If you’re willing to suspend the laws of the known universe to make your story fit reality, you are no longer talking about science – which is all about those laws. There’s nothing wrong with that, just admit it.
I don’t care. Live and let live.
If only they could admit to their warped, magically inclined reality, we could dutifully write it off and stop pretending to take it seriously.
Then, perhaps, I would allow myself to suspend disbelief and watch the epic, yet terribly scripted, movie.
With the discovery of the early jawed fish, another gap for the creationist god has been culled.
But what irritates me is how the debate usually places evolutionary science on the back foot. As though it has to prove itself against creation myth.
Think about it, the insanity doesn’t lay with being great apes, with whom we share not only most of our genetic make up but also appearance, but that a god supposedly made us and other apes.
What’s with that? In trying to make something from dirt in “thy image”, did “He” get it wrong a shitload of times (yes, look not only at living apes, but other hominids, such as Neanderthals etc).
What about other primates? Was god drunk when he made them, seeing as they are in the same ballpark, but way off? What about oceanic mammals or true seagrass?
What the hell must this supposedly perfect being have been smoking to make such creatures?
It’s shameful that we treat creationists with respect. That we are supposed to think that a god thought it a great idea to make both testicles have a different path to the exit or that chimps and bonobos were a great idea – otherwise obviously very similar to us – is madness.
The recent Nye and Ham “debate” illustrates too much kindness to dreamtime delusions. Stop allowing accommodation to those who want, or need, myth to persist in an age when our developed critical reasoning cannot help but laugh at a talking snake convincing a rib woman to eat fruit…
The problem doesn’t sit with gaps in the fossil record, but instead with people who fail to apply Ockham’s razor when the only alternative is a stoned egotist who failed to mention the benefits of basic hygiene between pages of applauding genocide and servitude (provided you were female or of a different race of religion).
No, in the 21st century, evolutionary science is no longer in a position to defend itself. Creationism is on the back foot. Creationism must provide a convincing argument as to why we should consider it valuable in this day and age. I doubt it has one, hence why it stages this side show with the fossil record.
In a recent post, I made the point that the power of an idea is not with the transmitter, but entirely with the receiver. The only the difference (and I mean only) between Chris Monckton and, say, the walking sign, screaming hysterically that the end is near is the audience. The message is manic, obsessive and irrational in both cases, but the audience provide validity to the former over the latter.
In truth, my efforts have been focused upon such crackpots and in doing so, I’ve given them audience. Correcting an error airs the error and, from what I have seen, does little to improve the accuracy of information. The ardent climate “sceptic” remains committed, if not entrenched, regardless of the counterfactuals provided. The truther on fluoride, vaccination or creation remain as much so as well on their pet subject.
I’ve often convinced myself that my efforts are aimed, largely, to provide not a counterweight, but an example of the approach a true sceptic should take. This is critical thinking; do not simply believe a compelling argument, but investigate the evidence to see if it supports the conclusion. Yet, I’m no longer convinced that this is useful.
In fact, it costs me a lot of my personal time, it has brought me a lot of otherwise avoidable stress and recently it has gotten worse. I don’t receive huge traffic and yet what I have created has been provocative enough to merit genuine concern in my real life.
What frustrates me the most is that none of this even attempts to critique my work. I’m happy to be wrong, just prove it. Instead the target is the writer, leaving me convinced that I must in fact be correct and the opposing individuals simple do not wish to face reality.
The Idea of Ideas
Dawkins “meme” seems revolutionary for the same reason the notion that free will is an illusion, as debated by Harris, sits so uneasy to most. In essence, it comes back to my point about the power of ideas.
We hold no ownership of ideas. Sure, an individual may provide new insight or invent something that changes how a society functions, but in truth, they only did so because of the background conditions that lead to that resolution. This is why our ancestors scratched out rudimentary agriculture around ten thousand years ago and not the tablet computer.
Ideas develop, sometimes fuse and eventually evolve, using us as hosts all along. Ideas belong to no-one. For this reason, the transmitter is of little importance.
Personally, I am certain that I am not ideological by nature.
Even as a child, my Lutheran upbringing never sat well with me. In my adolescence, I wanted to “believe” and researched what I could of numerous faiths to no avail.
Even an ideological basis to “environmentalism” cannot be labelled on me. I became passionate largely because I detested invasive weeds. I was passionate and naïve. My environmental message has changed due to my training and increasing education on the subject rather than becoming solidified to a single position due to mounting counterfactuals.
This is what puts me at odds online. So much of my effort has been in addressing ideological positions or critiquing claims. This effort has largely been ineffective.
For the most part, I suspect the internet is not, as YouTube’s Thunderf00t puts it; “where religion goes to die,” but in fact the very opposite. The internet is one’s personal faith booster when reality stubbornly refuses to bend to a favoured position.
This is across the board; from the free-market ideologs, to the religious or pet-theorists, to even the environmental advocate or greeny-pretender, advocating a single solution to enormous problems (eg. like those whom push feverishly for nuclear power).
The internet is where propaganda thrives. It is not unlike the early days of the printing press and the audience then too had to learn new skills to avoid being taken for a ride. Of course, it was too often after their messiah had been proven false by the relentless erosion of time.
Futher, one online tool used is ‘troll bombardment’. If you call upon enough of your audience to comment wherever, you can provide a false impression of the general position. Again, the ability to critically analyse the material provided and then to critique such comments exposes such a hoax.
Yet, all of this typically falls on deaf ears or finds hostile and irrational knee-jerking from the faithful to a given position.
Unfaithful and Weary Writing From Here On
At this point, I’m not certain of the future of my writing online. Within the last couple days this has ebbed from outright shut down to where I currently sit.
This position comes back to ideas. Until the committed climate sceptic, anti-fluorider, anti-vax or creationist provides compelling scientific arguments, I will not report on it. The ideas I have tended to report on have been lousy and a waste of effort. Does one still need to argue that the earth is round or would such be a waste of effort? Likewise must similarly be said for all bad ideas.
I will focus on critical thinking, but I’ll find more productive avenues than relying upon examples from the various ideologs.
I will also return to discussing new science as it comes my way. The best way forth is forward and writing so much on backwards thinkers is simply not worth it.
Political posts will most likely completely disappear. I have no confidence in the Australian government and am reaching the conclusion that it has given up on the people in favour of undemocratic business interests and we are all worse off for it. Yet, the negative reaction to my writing here seems to be the greatest and is simply not worth pursuit.
I’ve been following the whole GM and rat tumour rumble with great interest. It’s a shame that most of the discussions are within science literature not easily obtained by the general public, a fact which, in itself, opens up doors of concern to be discussed below.
Many alarms bells seem to have been triggered within the relevant scientific community in relation to the study, Séralini et al. (2012). The first of which centred around the unusual process the authors of this paper undertook in going public. Rather than discussing the limitations of the study itself in a reasoned and reflective manner, the approach encouraged wild gossip; through the creation of an embargo to avoid critical evaluation of the study by unrelated researchers within the initial media reports… oh, and it also coincided with the upcoming release of a book and movie on the study.
It sounds more sensational than good science, don’t you think?
It is made even more delicious by the book and movie covers of Tous Cobayes; the former, an apple cut open, revealing a portion of a human skull and the latter, a mother and child walking towards a power-station along a dirt road within a vast monoculture (not forgetting the human skull – this time replacing the “o” in Cobayes – which is also chewing on a grain straw).
Far from objective, the meaning is clear; from this one study, we’re all guinea pigs, with deadly consequences.
Before I go any further, I should clarify my standing on GM food. Like any chemical compounds to be exposed to our species, I believe they should be studied through critical clinical trialling. If it passes, all good. We have been in the business of genetic modification long before we knew what it was. I object entirely to genetic ownership and imposed sterility however. I just look at the tobacco and fossil fuel industries to mount my case of concern regarding profitable environmental ownership which compromises human flourishing.
That said, the backlash to Séralini et al. (2012) has continued, suggesting in itself why the embargo imposed on journalists was fundamental; the conclusions were not as strong as the researchers have allowed to permeate pop-media.
First of all, it was a two year study using a breed of rats, Sprague-Dawley rats, that “are prone to developing spontaneous tumours” and Harlan Laboratories (who supplied the rats) “show that only one-third of males, and less than one-half of females, live to 104 weeks.”
You heard right; a two year study with a breed of rats known to be highly susceptible to tumour development and are more likely than not to be dead within two years was undertaken to demonstrate high tumour development… hmmm.
“But the study was comparing two groups of the same rat breed (ie. control vs. exposure to GM maize) – surely this would counter such criticism?”
Fair point… Alas, Séralini et al. (2012) only used ten males and ten females for each treatment group. With a breed of rat known to spontaneously produce tumours and is more likely than not to be dead within your research period, comparing treatment size of a mere ten rats is likely to be compounded by statistical errors!
“[The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] recommends at least 20 rats of each sex per group for chemical-toxicity studies, and at least 50 for carcinogenicity studies.” Talk about a lightweight study!
If critical review was allowed with the media release of the study, it’s obvious that the study would have had far less impact and the accompanying book and movie, perhaps a waste of effort.
Here is where the real concern comes to play; the media has probably done its damage.
If we need evidence to suggest this, all we need to do is look at the thoroughly discredited Wakefield et al. (1988) study which suggested a link between autism and the MMR vaccine. Even though the study has been retracted and is considered and “elaborate fraud”, the damage has been done with anti-vaccination groups committed to the “Truth” of a causal relationship between vaccination and autism, which remains unshakable regardless how strong the contrary evidence is.
While Séralini et al. (2012) does not necessarily represent dishonestly as Wakefield et al. (1988) does, the conclusions of the paper are clearer weaker than have been trumpeted.
The resolve that all GM is bad is probably solidified even further from this study, regardless of its shortcomings and all the other contrary evidence. My only suggest is; link back here or follow up the links I’ve referenced to below. Hammer the point and don’t give credence to individuals whom bombastically pronounce Séralini et al. (2012) to be ‘the final nail in the GM coffin’. Do this because the argument is not a balanced by weighty evidence that deserves equal credibility. It is one lightweight study that stands today on its lonesome, alongside a rush to hush criticism and to advertise a book and movie.
References Séralini et al. (2012) Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Food and Chemical Toxicology. 50.11 Link  Nature Editorial (25th Sept 2012) Poison postures. Link  see Google Images search of “tous cobayes”  Butler (2012) Hyped GM maize study faces growing scrutiny. Nature. Link  Wakefield et al. (1988) Lleal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children. Lancet 351 (9103) Link  CNN Medical journal: Study linking autism, vaccines is ‘elaborate fraud’. Link  Moth: Anti-Vaccination vs. AGW denial. Link
I spend a lot of time attacking the ideologies of what could be loosely termed strongly conservatives. Far less of my posts have targeted another group which too deserves as much criticism.
I, for one, thank Greenpeace for their activities in pursuing whaling operations. Not so much from an emotional view point, but from the view of preserving genetic diversity. Harvesting of the oceans is almost entirely unsustainable and until we can appropriately farm sea life sustainably (if it will ever be possible) I will not support fisheries on any level.
That said, their destruction of a CSIRO GM crop was a pathetic, emotionally fuelled gesture that will have no positive effect to their cause (unless they are simply attention seekers). Likewise, Nature recently published a news article about PETA activities to pressure the transporters of research animals.
Firstly, I do not support animal testing of cosmetic materials, but that said, this too is an emotionally fuelled gesture based more on an extreme ideology which contradicts the benefits such people have been able to enjoy in the modern age.
Animal testing is fundamental for safe medicines. It’s not enough to test the effects on living tissue (as psychological effects cannot be tested on non-conscious material), nor is it ethical to test directly on people*. Likewise, many such tests require certain genes to be present (or absent) to understand the relevant effects. This again requires fully formed animals of some sort.
Without such testing, it would have taken far longer for there to be conclusive evidence (at least, within the public arena) of the detrimental effects of cigarettes on our species; indeed the carcinogenic and otherwise poisonous properties of many materials that have (and still do) surround us.
The resulting data we have obtained for such testing has greatly improved the quality of human life and our understanding of ecology and animal behaviour (essential for conservation). Further testing will only increase our understanding of the brain, toxins, improved medicines, genetics, ecology and animal behaviour.
If any one of the PETA characters behind this movement have ever taken medicine (as opposed to the untested or tested-and-proven-not-to-work “alternative remedies”) to overcome an ailment (or to save their life), well, they are thus a hypocrite. They would expect such medicine to work and the only reason we have confidence of the abilities of such chemicals to do a certain job as well as knowing the side-effects is due to this process.
The same could be said about species conservation; behavioural ecology sometimes requires a sample group to be taken into the lab for behavioural as well as physiological studies. It’s also our work in genetics and population dynamics as well as animal testing which leads us to conclusions about gene pool and outbreeding coefficients. Saving the animals indeed means studying them.
It’s unlikely such actions will even do as PETA would like them to. Instead, other less favourable methods of transport will have to be considered – at the expense of the very animals PETA are trying to save.
From the Nature article;
In India, for example, the government’s National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), in Hyderabad, relies on Air India to ship specialized mouse strains to researchers and companies throughout the country. “From Hyderabad to Delhi by train would take more than 30 hours” and require an attendant, says Madan Chaturvedi, dean of life-sciences research at the University of Delhi. Without Air India transporting the animals, research at his institution “would definitely suffer”, he says.
Admittedly, it does serve as an ethical dilemma. If PETA genuinely stand for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, they would have more positive impact by working with researchers to set up a best practice policy. It would start with trying to eliminate needless animal testing where possible and then steps to ensure animals are handled appropriately. I wouldn’t be surprised if PETA learnt, through such an endeavour, that many researchers already act as ethically as possible.
Scientists are not the villains, riding on the back of some mutated rodent, out to take over the world that cartoons tend to portray. Believe it or not, they’re your average human, in a given profession, and like your average human they tend to be empathetic. They are not in the game to inflict cruelty for the sake of it.
Only through working with researcher can such groups truly understand what work is actually being done (rather than what the read in their pamphlets and understand from hear-say within their group) and work to ensure that important work is done to the highest ethical standards possible. Bullying others into a certain ideological framework will only lead to worsening the conditions of such animals and isolating such extreme ideologies even further… It’s counterproductive to mantra of PETA and hypocritical to the benefits its members enjoy in the modern world.
* There isn’t a version of the reality that I’ve heard that would not exploit the vulnerable and unnecessarily threaten human life.
As another foot note; I suspect many fans of PETA and alike, whom reject any animal testing / food supply, would have rejoiced at the recent study, by Séralini et al. 2012 that suggested a link between tumours and GM foods. Of course, this conclusion could have only been drawn by animal testing (whether or not the implications indeed turn out to have the impact, or meaning, those now trumpeting its message – without reading the paper or relevant material surrounding it, some of which is summarised by Butler here as well as an illuminating editorial here – would hope it to have).
It’s not so black and white.
I must admit, I’ve been lazy in contributing to the wider scientific communication network over the last year. I was once in continual contact with a wide range of communicators, scientists and advocates, however with my attention focused elsewhere throughout mid-2011 to mid-2012 and in some ways allowing the endless swarm of trolls burn me out, my heart just wasn’t in it.
The people whom have been patiently keeping tabs on my site through this period (for which I am very thankful) would have noticed a return to regular posting. My plan is a new post every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at a set time, with random posts around that. I am also keen to build up the former connections I once had as well as many more.
With that in mind, in resurfacing to the subject matter – that is (in my case), issues that impact our immediate future – I have found that the arena is becoming dirtier and, well, more pathetic.
The actions behind the whole Climate-gate saga where nothing more than a criminal act; private information was stolen from research facilities. For all the hype and bung “nails in the coffin”, all that happened was theft and unfounded noise. One would have thought, if there was indeed a genuine case of fraudulent behaviour, such material would be teeming with it. That we have a couple quotes, taken out of context illustrates the point I return to again and again – committed sceptics are in no way interested in the science.
But it gets worse.
I only recently learnt about the hacking and theft of private material from the forum of Skeptical Science and again the same pathetic quote mining. Geez; someone said we need a conspiracy to save humanity, OMG – the crazy environmentalists are duped by, I don’t know, bankers, the devil, Zombie Stalin, in the grand scheme to produce the one world government… this one quote proves it all!!!
No it doesn’t. It was one of the cuff comment that wasn’t really entertained and even if it was; these are people writing on one website… come on, get over it.
Entertainers of this delusion are simply looking for confirmation to their warped perception of the world. This proves the whole conspiracy! When you have no expectations, when you don’t have a strong ideology to prop up, you have no need for confirmation bias. It’s a wonderfully liberating place to be – although, I must admit it is isolating.
This is because the same types of events are occurring against the contrarians. This has happened to Jo Nova (from what I’ve heard, twice in the last year) with her site being bombarded by traffic and shut down.
Now this act too demonstrates no interest in the science. The science may never have actually come into it at all, instead it is purely a battle between the two major political wings; a battle that has resorted to cyber terrorism and has long included bullying. It’s increasingly an affront to free speech as much as the Islamic backlash, insisting global adherence to religious law.
I’m not really in favour of the petition against letting Anthony Watts pollute the air ways with his nauseating brand of hype and misinformation or the online petition in response to the, somewhat typical, thoughtless rant of the near senile Alan Jones.
In the spirit of free speech, I say; let them speak! Let every last loud mouth, zealot, hypocrite and idiot stand on a soap box and record their thoughts and values.
If it wasn’t for this, we wouldn’t have the brilliantly funny video presentations by Peter Hadfield and the world would be a poorer place for it.
Think about it; by letting every last people write or present themselves, they are effectively telling their decedents what kind of person they are. The black and white photos from rallies against racial equality look horrid by today’s standards. We can judge them, as we do the Westboro Baptist Church, for what they were and what people like Monckton, Alan Jones and Watts write and say. We have the right to object to their rubbish, which itself is recorded.
What I feel is being overlooked is the true cause for all this angst (in those who counter the contrarian position); the proliferators of nonsense and ideology have lulled us to confuse “equal” for “fair”. They demand “equal” time to sprout their contempt for reason, when what they deserve is “fair” time.
To quote Eugenie Scott;
“Now let’s just say that I find all of this research and peer review to be burdensome and let’s say that it’s so much easier for me to go to a state legislator and convince him to pass a law that determines that [my idea] goes directly to the class room without having to go through all that tedious research and review. You can imagine that my colleagues would be rather annoyed at me and I would be strongly criticised by my colleagues for the unfairness of my cutting to the head of the line. They had to go through a very laborious process… I took a short cut.”
Fair air time for Anthony would be a 30 second bite, in which he can say, “I don’t like it,” following a 30 minute presentation of the best information we now have due to critical investigation by the leading experts on the matter. We should be petitioning for fair weighted media on the important subjects – weighted by its empirical credibility and not political popularity. That’s the fight worth fighting.
Outside of this, as I’ve hinted throughout this post, we should have a laugh at what is really funny: Many of these people actually believe there is a secret agenda to create a one world socialistic government! Many of these people actually believe in various conspiracies dating back to the Middle Ages – even John Tyndall must be involved somehow! Many of these people still believe the warming trend in the data is entirely the result of urbanisation encroachment on weather stations! Many of these people actually believe that an invisible superhero is the sole agent behind our climate (the seasons too were in this boat until we understood the tilt in the Earth’s axis)…
These, and many more similar arguments, are hilarious. We should acknowledge just how far off the spectrum into some dark and dank extreme pocket they arrive from. By taking them seriously – without credible empirical evidence – we unfairly give them weight, in fact, equal weight.
I’m totally against censorship and all in favour of transparency and fairness. Let everyone share their thoughts, demand empirical evidence and weigh their ideas accordingly, just don’t resort to this juvenile warfare.
Light in the absence of eyes, illuminates nothing. Visible forms are not inherent in the world, but are granted by the act of seeing. Events contain no meaning in themselves, only the meaning the mind imposes on them. Yet, the world endures…
As a teenager, I was obsessed with the animated series Æon Flux. The above is part of a quote that opened episode 5 of season 3, where Trevor Goodchild was having a ‘Hamlet moment’. It has been changed in a more recent release of the series.
It has stuck with me for close to twenty years now. Memorised. Hardwired.
Musing over it today, I see it differently than I did as a teenager. Perhaps less moved, but still as thought provoking.
While meaningful to the state of mind of the character, it is at once an illustration of the human ego and also desperately fatalistic.
Visible light is but a small region of the electromagnetic spectrum. Some species, take for instance certain bee species, can see wavelengths outside this range. Perhaps on a much grander scale, infrared plays more influence over the universe…
More importantly, in reflecting the meaning of events, we hit the fatalistic note. It’s the mind that imposes meaning. Well, of course it is.
Meaning is, after all, the way a self-aware entity makes sense of the information it receives about the known universe surrounding it. Meaning is as important to the self-aware entity as is itself. It has to be. One cannot be self-aware without assigning meaning to the information that bombards for it is that information which leads to the persistence of the self-awareness (ie. staying alive).
This is an important note to my recent posts on values and science. The separation of personal values and scientific certainty is clearly an illusion, based on an impersonal (and functionally impractical) philosophy. All information that reaches each one of us must contain both objective and subjective meaning or else it would be rejected as meaningless. This seems a no-brainer, but in practice, we do separate meaning into pigeon holes as though there were functionally different categories, which in practice, there clearly are not.
I’d like to thank the author of Climate and Stuff for the post, Good God! This is realy scary stuff. In the post, the author highlights some of the points of the declaration on global warming from the Cornwall Alliance. While no surprises are to be found, they deserve reflection by anyone interested in the communication of increasing scientific certainty.
Here are a couple worth pointing out;
What we believe
1) We believe Earth and its ecosystems—created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence —are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory. Earth’s climate system is no exception. Recent global warming is one of many natural cycles of warming and cooling in geologic history.
What we deny
1) We deny that Earth and its ecosystems are the fragile and unstable products of chance, and particularly that Earth’s climate system is vulnerable to dangerous alteration because of minuscule changes in atmospheric chemistry. Recent warming was neither abnormally large nor abnormally rapid. There is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming.
Points 2 – 5 are also worthy of reflection and debate, however as they are hinged on these two points of belief and denial (I thank them for using that word) and are points rebutted elsewhere, at great length, I won’t bother here.
The first thing to note here is that the points quoted are clearly wrong. A casual look into species abundance over the industrial era demonstrates ecosystems are not robust, suited for human flourishing, they are self-evidently fragile to outside impacts, such as human induced degradation. So much so that Rockström et al (2009) places biodiversity loss as significantly more impacted by human activity than climate change, ocean acidity and a host of other variables. Left to their own devices, with ample range and resources, it has been demonstrated that ecosystems can be resilient (Fischer et al 2006), but this remains contradictory to the rest of the statements being made.
The core value being address in this declaration is that the earth and ecosystems are “created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence”. This is the meaning that many minds have imposed on the information they received.
Directly, it has nothing to do with climate change or biodiversity loss, but simply that the world is our divine playground in which we can do no wrong. Thus, errors such as those I’ve pointed out above miss the point of the declaration entirely. To say as much or to point out that “minuscule changes in atmospheric chemistry” relates to more than 10 gigatonnes additional CO2 per year and can only be considered “miniscule” if unfairly balanced against Nitrogen and Oxygen (both of which play no role in the greenhouse effect) is translated to, “you are wrong about your core value; that is, your god”.
I am not certain about my reader, but I’m not here to challenge the religious faiths of other people. They can choose to believe any ancient mythology of their choosing. However, I don’t want their beliefs to be shoved onto me. Here is a clear example of faith based values doing just that; through the continuing paralysis on both biodiversity loss and climate change I am party to ideologies that amount to, “she’ll be right – God’s looking after us.”
I find such apparent dependency (assuming there is a god looking after us) infantile and degrading, especially when it is obvious the Raphus cucullatus (Dodo), the Thylacinus cynocephalus (Thylacine) and Rheobatrachus silus (Gastric-brooding frog) among others as well as the difference in ambient conditions between the earth and her satellite all stand as evidence to the contrary.
Hence such musings have not only exposed the core values of people such as those of the Cornwell Alliance, but also my own. At the root, I cannot help but feel I am being asked to relinquish a sense of control – thus meaning – to my life. I’m being asked to take a leap of faith that common-sense tells me is a bad move.
It’s easy to see how quickly such discussions can go astray.
While we may be addressing the science, in reality, we’ve walked into a debate over ideologies; in the meaning the mind imposes on events. How we avoid this, when such groups as the Cornwell Alliance explicitly thread their theology to certain views of the world (such as climate change and biodiversity loss), remains to be seen.
Personally, I won’t hold my breath on a superpower saving us from ourselves. I just can’t do it. History is too full of plague, famine, extinction and hardship that I can’t take solace in a higher force whom, we are told, sides with the victors. Likewise, in weaving their core values to a certain way of seeing the world,* it seems clear that such people are equally unlikely to budge.
So what remains? My suggestion would be to question. “What real world evidence do you have that ecosystems are robust and self-correcting?” or “How does extinction fit into this?” or “Climate has indeed changed over the millennia – but it has been too cold and too hot to support human life in a way that “flourishes” today, what if this occurs again?” for instance.
You would be unlikely to change their minds, true, but maybe, just maybe, the cracks might start forming between the evidence available and the contradictory meaning already imposed. Hopefully, at the very least, the poor marriage between the evidence and certain ideologies may lead groups such as the Cornwell Alliance to unpick the threads they’ve sowed between the two. Maybe they will find a better match with governance – good stewardship of a wonderful world – as a divine practice over unquestioning dependence.
Who knows? It couldn’t hurt to try.
*The Cornwell Alliance lists a number of signers with a scientific background. I have to admit, I feel the science teachers of these signers failed them. The most important lesson one should be taught in science is to be plastic with the evidence. We all have pet hypotheses, but all too often they eventually crash and burn. Even Newtonian physics can only go so far – falling to pieces on the very small or very fast scales. For a scientist to sign a declaration stating that the universe is set in one way, perfectly definable today, represents a lapse of understanding, that will look as silly in retrospect as a similar historical document would regarding the flatness of the earth or pivotal (and unchanging) position of the earth in space.
How hot is the shower?
As one increases the temperature of the water, the answer to this question becomes less and less subjective and more and more objective. Eventually, it becomes conclusively too hot, where cellular damage can be measured.
I mention this because on re-entering the blogosphere lately, I have found the comment threads are still awash with the “CAGW” acronym. Prove to me, they ask, that any warming that is due to human activity could be catastrophic.
Of course it’s a sign of weakness from the committed sceptic and I flag it to my reader in the hope they spot it for what it is and save themselves the effort in confronting the fellow seriously. They are not interested in a genuine reasoned argument. It’s a sideshow; a trump card played by someone needing attention rather than seeking clarity on a subject they indeed are open-minded to.*
I don’t care who mentioned the word “catastrophic” in what publication. Yes, I have been focusing on values of late, but here we have a great example (and warning) of poor communication that just will not die. It has played into the hands of the committed sceptic and has been something I’ve run into continually for the past three years as a blogger.
In truth, you cannot say with any great certainty that any amount of warming will be catastrophic until it becomes too hot. Venus is too hot, but we’re not likely to hit such temperatures until the sun is on the way out.
Would the committed sceptic find the previous ice age to be catastrophic if it reoccurred within a century from now? That was around 5oC cooler that today.
It is entirely up to ones judgement whether or not such a significant shift could be termed “catastrophic”. A half intelligent committed sceptic is aware of this.
Hence you have a stalemate position and a smug smile returned for your attempt at reasoned debate on the subject. It’s likely most of us would find a world 6oC warmer to be “catastrophic” to how and where we live and grow food and to biodiversity richness, but you cannot expect that to be acknowledged by others.
I’ve seen enough projections from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and research currently being completed by researchers within working teams I have been associated with (currently unpublished) to be concerned by as little as 2oC additional warmth to South Australia, however projections as much as 4oC warming in Greenland might look good. How hot is too hot?
The projections for this coming century are within the realms of a subjective answer to such questions. You cannot hope to question the validity of “catastrophic anthropogenic global warming” because the answer remains subjective. They know that. That’s why they hand it to you so easily.
The first suggestion to such a situation may be to ignore it, but this just doesn’t cut it. So what can we do to counter such a subjective question?
In my opinion, make it clear that the committed sceptic has posed a subjective question – they’ve asked you how hot is too hot. It depends on where you are and what you think would be too much stress to local systems. Ask them to dry a line in the sand; tell you what they would think is objectively too hot – what would they see as being “catastrophic”.
Either they’ll offer you something objective (ie. ice caps melted or frequency of extreme weather events) from which you can start to refer to the science literature on the subject or expose themselves to be ‘pissing in the wind’ for attention. That is to say if they refer to a “warmist” statement on what is “catastrophic” or of balmy summer holidays to the UK, they remain in the subjective. Tell them so and move on.
From my experience, such individuals that refer to “CAGW” are typically bombastic and avoid answering questions directly. They will probably cut-and-paste quotes from their favourite “sceptical” website and dart from one accusation to another.
Don’t try to keep up with them, for they are well trained to Gish Gallop and will leave you for dust. Continually press on this initial point and for their personal statement on what is too hot. You’ll probably find that, like a puppy, if you won’t chase them, they’ll grow bored of the game and either attempt a dialogue or (more likely) move on to greener pastures for attention, saving you time and effort.
*I’m aware that, at this point, it is likely many of the committed sceptic have shut off and are darting towards the comment stream to complain noisily with terms like “warmist”, conspiracy theories and self-righteous claims of awareness in the face of my apparent arrogance or ignorance. I’d hope you can take the time to read the rest of the post and hopefully provide more thoughtful reflection.
The more I reflect on what I have learnt regarding the inherent cultural values associated with factual evidence (such as that relating to evolution, climate change etc) and from discussions with others on the subject, I’m drawn to one point which I feel is potentially the most difficult to overcome by those who reject evidence to maintain a favoured view point.
This is a fear of a loss in control supposed by “committed sceptics” of a given subject.
With those who accept the high certainty of such finding, in general, I find they are happy to acknowledge their own shortcomings and prefer to embrace acquisition of high quality information over a need for absolute certainty. This of course can lead to flying off the spectrum entirely (especially where critical evaluation of information is neglected) and into the ether of “anything is possible and thus everything is really unknowable”, which I have also encountered.
On the other hand, I find a panicked reply when reasoned debate fails a committed sceptic.
A creationist once told me he would prefer to be evolved from a wolf then, when he couldn’t counter a reasoned look at the evidence. Most others claim that morality is meaningless if evolution is true.
A committed sceptic once told me that he welcomed the tropical summers of the UK then, when he couldn’t counter a reasoned look at the evidence regarding climate change. Most others talk about the end of the civilised world if it’s accepted as true (eg. initiatives aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will send us back to the Stone Age).
Listen to the language; morality would be lost… society as we know it – the hard won civilizations we have created – will be destroyed; the primary value at heart here is a sense of purpose, of meaning, both personally and communally. If this instinctive meaning to one’s life is “lost” absurd propositions are likely and fatalism inevitable. If X is true, well, all hell will break loose…
Of course it wouldn’t.
We have incredibly strong evidence to support the theory that the universe is more than 13 billion years old and of our genetic relationship with all other life on this planet; of evolved diversity.
We have conducted studies that conclusively demonstrate empathy and altruism in other species. Morality exists not due to divine implantation in our minds and/or soul, but due to increasingly well understood social behaviour which is not unique to our species.
What’s more, our morality is not a written and thus stagnant code hardwired on our brains, as unchangeable as they would be on stone tablets. Instead they are evolving – arguably for the better – with subsequent generations (read, for instance, Mary Wollstonecraft’s essay, The Vindication of the Rights of Woman).
Likewise, climate change is true – it has occurred for reasons understood previously without human influence or consequence, however, this time is different only in that latter points.
Climate change is always punctuated with great changes to species abundance, distribution and regional weather patterns however, so far, life has persisted.
Fatalism and committed scepticism only reduces our potential for effective adaptation. And it is in this point that I feel the concern over a loss of control is unwarranted. It is a misunderstanding control entirely.
Surely we have given up the days in which a daily, weekly, monthly or other pivotal points in time required a sacrifice to ensure the gods favoured us with good weather (for our crops and well-being).
Sure we may laugh, but such events are written even into the stories of the god of Abraham and, within my own lifetime, people in developed countries have turned to rainmakers for help. It is laughable to think such devices enable control over the elements – giving up expected favour or assistance by the gods or other magical methods isn’t to give up control, only a delusion of it.*
On the other hand, we clearly do have control over the global climate. We’re currently and inadvertently conducting such geo-engineering. We have the control on how much heat we wish to trap and what kind of global climate we want.
Thinking about it in this way, imagine in the future that we knew that the axis of the Earth’s spin, the orbit around the sun or solar activity (or a combination of these factors) were to send us into another cold or warmer phase (science has given us the tools to make such prediction). We could alter the concentration of greenhouse gases to ensure we maintain a climate similar to the Holocene, ensuring food production, human well-being and species protection.
We also have the power to control how well we adapt to any unavoidable changes, in advance, if we so choose to acknowledge the projections. The results of our efforts may not even be evident until long after we have handed the keys on to future generations. This demonstrates not only control, but wisdom.
We truly are capable of being masters of our domain. However, we remain victims instead to our own delusions and preoccupation with fatalism. As stated above, the worst fears expressed by committed sceptics are simply unjustified and in truth masked the real fear; a fear in losing control. The reality is, as is so commonly the case, the very opposite. In letting go of false “certainties”, tied to a delusion of control, we can instead own our future.
While I believe if push came to shove, we would battle on under change and persist, however, I would like to think we could instead value real certainty and real control which is already within our grasp.
*Even if there is a god(s) – which is not the point of this article – we always claim their ways to be mysterious, favouring or ignoring for their own reason, leading us back to same point; it is thus a delusion of control under such “mystery”.
I have been a student or employee of a few universities now and one thing I noticed they all share is a proliferation of proud posters, website “ads” and statements of their successes in progressive work.
As far as I can tell, this ought to be their primary position. Anything else would be squandering their unique assortment of resources.
Universities and colleges can be places comprising thousands of staff and students focused on enhancing our understanding of the natural world, human health and social justice. They often take up large plots of land and require large quantities of resources (especially water and electricity). They can also be large sources of pollution and chemical use (eg. waste, various gases, radiation, etc).
If they are not asking themselves, ‘How could we be more efficient in the use of X?’ or ‘How could we reduce the waste of Y?’ well they are not making use of the cluster of thinkers and doers at their disposal. Likewise, if they are not asking themselves, ‘How can we improve well-being within a community?’ and applying various social experiments within their (often vast) community (or subsets within their community), well, again they are missing a unique opportunity.
Too often we cry that the government should do something about problem B, however – and this touches on the point I was making in my previous article – most often there isn’t an acceptable example of the contrary locally. Take, for instance, old growth forest loss or the recent noise around the carbon tax in Australia.
In the former, what are the alternatives? White Australia is heavily culturally coupled to logging as it is the sheep industry (which too is unsustainable). Examples of countries that do otherwise are countries that live different with different cultural values. Look at Japan for instance. The protection of their woodlands does relate strongly to other cultural options – such as limited (if at all) land meat production and much higher urban density to that “expected” within white Australian culture. Germany is another country with a strong focus woodland protection and even though it is, like white Australian culture, western European, it is still a different way of life to ours and the two hundred years of ‘a sunburnt country’ mentality.
Likewise the carbon tax plays on a fear that our politicians are relentlessly screaming wolf about; it’ll ruin the economy. This is very much a cultural value. Most people in Australia hold the right to free enterprise as one of the highest virtues. We’re probably not unlike our counterparts in the US in that we praise the success of others who were able to secure a large chunk of wealth for themselves. Look at Clive Palmer and Gina Rinehart. Both are, in general, viewed as “go-getters” (although, this is far from universal).
The carbon tax is seen as an attack on this cultural value (as is the mining tax, and the goods and services tax etc). A “big fat tax on everyone”, as Abbott drilled into the public is an affront to a prime cultural value held by most Australians. So foreign is the contrary position, it may feel that it’s not unlikely one would hear comparisons to socialism or communism. Fears of an Orwellian state run rampant.
Yet, within our own communities, we have large sub-communities, with a large amount of assorted resources and a drive for knowledge. From these communities, we could (or should) have a playground for testing local cultural values, under the guise of resource management and social well-being (that is to say, improvement in these fields would be the quest). The medical schools already do this – so why is it too much to expect third year or post-grad students to be asking questions like, ‘How can we make the campus more biophilic?’ or ‘How can we lead to lower stress and improved learning rates within the students?’ or ‘What can be done to manage X resource more efficiently within the campus?’
Such answers could be profound as it would not be restricted simply to factual answers, but also within a cultural context. It could be thus more easily applied within the wider community than, say, expecting Australians to adopt practices from abroad simply because they are more efficient.
The one thing to be wary of however, is the potential grounds for xenophobia that is created if we put too much emphasis in culture. Again, I feel that tertiary education provides a good tool. They are, in Australia, multicultural communities. Posing questions and developing answers within this sub-group could reflect Australia, as a whole, and thus present answers to a wide range of problems – within that cultural context discussed above.
I started this article by saying that, from what I’ve witnessed, universities are doing this and proudly sharing this fact via various media. I would like to see more of it – especially aimed at student project development and across a wider scope than I am aware of occurring so far.
It would also be useful for the students of natural science as it would give their studies a social aspect that is sometimes lacking (not always, as I am aware with the natural resource management components of my own degree) and hopefully an awareness of the impacts their future careers could have on politics and their local communities. It could also provide an avenue for learning science communication to such students. Most importantly, it would help to couple facts, or at least greater certainty, to cultural values that could be more readily applied to the greater community beyond the campus boundary.