Saturday, October 7, 2017

Settled Science

If you're new here, this is a weekly column consisting of letters written to my grandchildren (who exist) and my great-grandchildren (who aren't here yet) -- the Stickies -- to haunt them after they become grups and/or I'm dead.

[Boggaramians: Blogarama renders the links in my columns useless. Please click on View original (above) to solve the problem/access lotsa columns.]

Irregularly Appearing Imaginary Guest Stars
Marie-Louise -- My sublime, drop-dead gorgeous muse (right shoulder)
Iggy -- Designated Sticky
Dana -- Designated gentlereader (left shoulder)

[Gentlereaders, please note: I tried to write about the recent slaughter of innocents in Las Vegas but all I could come up with was anger. First, anger directed at the asshole in the window(s). Honestly, I wish the cops had caught him before he shot himself and had thrown him out of one of those windows.

Second, anger at how quickly the usual suspects politicized this tragedy, as they politicize everything. But that's what sells, and that's how you get reelected.

Scott Adams logically and dispassionately analyzes both sides of the political debate and what can actually be done, in the real world. It's dry, and lengthy, and short on potential sound bytes, so you probably won't hear anything about it, but it's worth a read. Here's a taste:

"Both sides pretend they are arguing on principle, but neither side is. Both sides are arguing from their personal risk profiles, and those are simply different. Our risk profiles will never be the same across the entire population, so we will never agree on gun control."

What follows is sorta/kinda about climate change -- and a lot of other things. You know how I get. Nate, the hurricane of the week, is bearing down on us even as I write this last minute note. So, this letter is accidentally topical since certain members of the Algore cult have blamed this bad hurricane season on global warming even though the settled scientists say it's not true.

On with the show! You might want to warm up your coffee since this note has made an already long letter even longer. Lots of words and no pictures...I'm never gonna' go mainstream.]

"Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge."  -Carl Sagan

Dear (eventual) Stickies & Great-Grandstickies,

There's no such thing as settled science, and that's a good thing. There is such a thing as scientific consensus, and that's also a good thing.

Warning: Possibly Outdated Cultural Reference

I haven't talked to Martha Stewart lately (she got out, right?), but I'm sure she'd agree.

Resume Reading

If science were settled, that is, done, it wouldn't be science. It would be more like a religious sect with a very rigid dogma.

["All right, we're done here, everybody out of the lab. Looks like we finally know everything there is to know about everything. Make sure you sign up for occupational retraining on the way out. Remember, The Gummits paying for it and it's mandatory to qualify for extended benefits. What with robots and artificial intelligence and all, finding a decent job these days ain't gonna' be easy." 

"Oh, and don't forget to turn in your parking badge or your last check will be held till ya' do."]

Once upon a time and for a very long time, everyone -- smart, dumb, and in between -- knew the Earth was flat and the center of (comparatively speaking) a small, comprehensible universe. Nowadays, everyone (well, almost) -- smart, dumb, and in between -- knows the Earth is a round speck of dust (comparatively speaking) in an incomprehensibly large universe.

None of the former had an inkling that quantum mechanics would someday comprehensively describe how matter and energy behave at the incomprehensibly small atomic level. Most of the later (including me) find quantum mechanics incomprehensible although it is (they are?) the reason why I'm able to use a computer to write this.

Science is never settled because scientists know they can never possibly know all there is to know. The occasional major breakthrough opens up all sorts of new questions, and a good scientist always wants to know more.

There is scientific consensus. The scientists in a given field can (more or less) agree on something, particularly when experimental results can be independently verified and when these results are so reliable the engineers can turn them into useful products.

Consensus provides a reasonably stable platform for everyone, scientists and non-scientists, to stand on while we await the next mind-blowing breakthrough.


Scientists, like everyone else, quibble over the who, what, when, where and why of a given consensus. Scientists, like everyone else, have egos and reputations and financial security to worry about. Some scientists, like some clergy -- and many politicians -- claim to be selfless public servants and often are anything but.

[Well thank you Mr. Obvious! declares Dana. Thanks for clearing that up! Why I...I had no idea! Marie-Louise gently places her hand on my shoulder, not scratching, and looks at me with concern. Iggy's performing at a neighboring high schools band night.]

Settle down, settle down. I'm just laying a solid foundation for the following.

In general, my dear Stickies, beware of experts, and, any and all H. sapiens whose first reaction to anyone questioning their position on this or that is to lash out emotionally and irrationally.

Experts are a good thing. People who have dedicated their lives to a particular field of knowledge, and are respected in their particular field of knowledge, are necessary and invaluable. They are also sometimes, as we all are, wrong about very important things.

The "good" ones, for lack of a better term, cheerfully (well...) admit it and move on.

There is a consensus among scientists who keep an eye on such things that the Earth is warming and that H. sapiens, to one degree or another (Pun, as usual, Intended and Relished -- PIR), are responsible. OK, I'll buy it. However, I'll entertain the arguments of reasonable people that disagree, scientist or not. More on that in a minute.

little but

In this subject, and all others, I tend to ignore the shrill infotainers of both the left and the right who make their living turning everything into a blood sport. I suggest that you do the same. I suspect that in most cases money, ego, and ratings are at the top of their list, truth at the bottom.

As to social media, of every sort, my default position is that every posting is complete bonkercockie until proven otherwise. I maintain that this is as commonsensical as, "Believe nothing  you hear, and only one half that you see." -Edgar Allen Poe

My advice is to cultivate a bucketful of usually reliable sources that includes an actual H. sapien or two that you speak to in real time and real space. It should be just large enough to assure you might have a clue as to what's going on. But, assume that all knowledge is provisional and subject to change, which is just another way of saying keep an open mind.

Which brings us back to global warming, or climate change, or whatever phrase is hot this week (PIR).

While Keeping In Mind (KIM) that experts often turn out to be wrong and while KIM that models that predict the future are often wrong and while KIM that I am, like most people, not a climate scientist and don't know how much I don't know (inhale) -- I'm still prepared to accept that man-made global warming is settled science the current consensus of those who study such things.

So, what should we do?

I decided to look into this and I decided that the Paris climate agreement would be the place to look. Since just about everyone, including America, signed on to this puppy, it must be a good thing, right?

What I learned, or rather, confirmed (since I already knew), was that Mr. Obama was so worried about global warming that he violated the Constitution of the United States and signed a treaty without getting the Senate to approve it. Although known in some circles as no drama Obama, he did what he thought needed to be done. This impressed me.

Then I learned that he channeled his inner lawyer (I didn't know this) and he said the reason he could do this was because the treaty was not really a treaty, it was a nonbinding agreement. Who needs courage when rationalization will do? This depressed me.

Geeze, if it's nonbinding, what's the point? Is that how we got away with what we did to the Native Americans? The treaties were nonbinding? See what happens when you don't sweat the fine print?

Next, I looked into why the Donald wants to back out of the deal, or not, it, um, depends. Anyway, he said the deal was stupid because it would disrupt the economy of the entire planet to reduce the average global temp by .02 degrees Celsius.

This looks like a job for!

Gentlereaders, read the FactCheck article, I dare you, I double dog dare you, all 1,704 scintillating words of it.

I did, two or three times. I'd really like you to read it because I must be wrong. I came away concluding that the bottom line is that while a gaggle of geeks from MIT agree with the Donald, that finding doesn't count. See, it doesn't take into consideration the fact that there will probably be additional nonbinding climate agreements on top of the current nonbinding one as time marches on.

I'm like, totally serious dude, check it out.

Of the 1,704 scintillating words, these are my favorite. "Other studies have shown greater reductions. Estimates differ because researchers make different assumptions at the onset of their calculations, such as whether countries will make more ambitious pledges to reduce carbon emissions in the future (my emphasis)."

The settled scientists and the politicians have determined that the best course of action is an international, nonbinding pinky swear that will make a significant dent in global warming -- if we all pinky swear to implement future nonbinding treaties that don't exist yet. Read this paragraph again for full effect.

That doesn't sound like a scientific solution to me, it sounds "...more like a religious sect with a very rigid dogma." -me But then, I'm not a scientist. Poppa loves you.

Have an OK day.

[P.S. Gentlereaders, I've experimented and will continue to experiment with various formats, column lengths, and the like. While my primary motivation was/is developing my writing style, I've always given (minimal) consideration to what I thought a potential publisher and/or advertiser might want to see. 

One of the reasons I don't run ads on my website anymore is the fact I've decided to just let the column happen and go where it (and Marie-Louise) wishes it to go. 

If there are some readers out there that think my shtuff is worth sharing and/or worth a buck or three, fine. If not, so be it.]

©2017 Mark Mehlmauer   (The Flyoverland Crank)

If you're reading this on my website (there are tons of older columns, a glossary, and other shtuff there) and if you wish to react (way cooler than just liking), comment, or share -- please scroll down.

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