Here, Let Me Help with Your Science! Headline:

What you said:

Alien ‘Super-Earth’ Planet May Be Habitable, Astronomers Say

What you meant to say was:

Astronomers Think Maybe They’ve Found a Nearby Planet that Can’t Be Immediately Crossed Off as Uninhabitable, Although that’s the Way the Smart Money is Heavily Leaning

Here’s what’s up, according to published sources: Astronomers looking for planets outside the Solar System took another look at ‘nearby’ (in the sense of utterly unreachable unless we come up with, you know, warp drive) system HD 40307g (which is curiously the model number of my brother-in-law’s Samsung wide-screen) and discovered wiggles and anomalies that might be a planet 4 or 5 times the size of earth – AND might fall in the theoretical Habitable Zone – far enough from its sun to not boil off all water, yet close enough to not be a frozen ball.

An inquiring mind would want to know: Well, is it a rocky planet with a metallic core (and magnetic field) covered by liquid water, or just a mini gas giant? And isn’t 4 or 5 gs a lot of gs? Could any complex earth life thrive in 4 or 5 gs? My knees hurt just thinking about it. And even if it is a solid planet with liquid oceans (unlikely – check this out), what kind of atmosphere should we expect? Shouldn’t we get a much better look at this thing before we start hyperventilating and phoning ET and all that?

But I’m a hopeless fuddy-duddy that like my science with observations and rigorous theories and a gauntlet of reviews and challenges and stuff. No. Fun. At. All.

“You Just Don’t Get It” and the Death of Reason

Started to write an essay on how ‘You just don’t get it’ as used in modern discourse (to use the term loosely) is among the scariest and most dangerous phrases you’ll hear. That effort got totally out of hand, metastasizing into several thousand words on the Death of Reason, with side trips through my meager understanding of the history of philosophy, theology, the Reformation, Descartes, Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Marx, Freud as well as science, modern politics and education and, well, frankly, what I think about just about everything. Came to three conclusions: The ‘You just don’t get it’ essay deserves another (shorter) shot; that the other stuff I wrote I can maybe refashion into a series of posts on the death of reason; and that Marx Freud would be an OK name for one of those ironic alternative bands.

So, here’s the short essay on ‘You Just Don’t Get It’ ™

Continue reading ““You Just Don’t Get It” and the Death of Reason”

Election Day!

Get out the Prayer:

Heavenly Father, Holy is your Name!

We pray for our nation, that we may be first of all children in Your Kingdom an thereby become good stewards  of the nation you have entrusted to us;

That we acknowledge our sins and repent: even the least of my sins is enough to open the door to all the evil that assails us and to require the sacrifice of the Lamb for redemption;

That we treat our brothers and sisters with love, patience and civility regardless of their political views;

That we hope not in the princes of this world, but in the one true Prince of Peace;

That Your will be done in the voting booth and in everything we do in our lives;

That whatever the results, we rededicate ourselves to being open to Your Grace and becoming the saints You created us to be.

Through Christ our Lord, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Seperation of Science and State

Been reading the endless and inescapable  STUPID claims that Sandy PROVES that we need to do more right now about global warming or we’re DOOMED!

A single weather event proves nothing, as all even slightly saner heads admit. Global warming may be happening – seems to be, although not over the last decade. But a decade or even a century is a pretty brief time frame, climate-wise.  We are still coming out of an ice age, geologically speaking, so it has clearly been warming up over the last 10,000 years or so. And, man may be contributing to this rise by dumping carbon dioxide into the air. Could be, although the chain of reasoning and the data upon which that reasoning is based is remarkably difficult and treacherous: how reliable are the temperature measurements made by different people over many years  at stations that used to be out in the countryside but have since come to be surrounded by cities? We’re talking about tiny fractions of a degree, here. How reliable are computer models incorporating multiple tricky-to-determine variables (and omitting many others) of uncertain independence from each other? I’ve built comparatively simple financial models, and even they are prone to being influenced by what the builder would like to see. If the result seems ‘reasonable’ – it is what I expected to see – I dig a lot less diligently through all the assumptions and caveats than if the result seems ‘unreasonable’ – not what I expected. That’s how people tend to work. That’s not how science works, however.

But today’s thought is more about gullibility and arrogance than technical discussions that can quickly devolve into hair-splitting and on which I am, in any event, largely unqualified to comment.  (I’m perfectly qualified to critique Science! in general, but not qualified to answer the kinds of questions I’ve mentioned above. You’d need to be an expert in statistics, model building and the calibration of scientific measuring devises – Mike Flynn, for example.)

Eisenhower famously told us all to beware the military/industrial complex. And many of us do – BS warning klaxons go off whenever a military supplier and the generals and admirals who will get the cool new toys start telling us we HAVE to have these weapons to counter the growing threat of mumble mumble shuffle shuffle. Do we waste billions on useless military hardware and redundant military bases? Is this even a question? (answer: no. it’s a rhetorical devise.) Once you add in the aspect that voting for military projects is an ideal way for elected officials to send jobs and money back to their districts, our democracy is all but doomed to buy enough nukes to blow up every conceivable opponent a hundred times over, and so on.

In the same speech, a few lines later, Eisenhower also said (and it was enlightening and disheartening to read this speech to see how far political rhetoric has fallen in a mere 50 years!):

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity [my emphasis]. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded [my emphasis].

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific technological elite.

It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system — ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.

OK, so: do the same BS warning klaxons go off when suppliers of Science! to the government start pitching their wares? Do we turn a gimlet eye toward political officials who stand to benefit if the government spends more money on Science! in their districts? Do we demand equal time for those who would dispute the claims?

Or do people even less qualified to judge the particular science than I am – Bloomberg? Rosanne Freakin’ Barr? Al Evil Mr Rogers Gore? – get to call other people stupid and tools of da’ Man for, you know, insisting on actual science? For insisting that the claims do not get out in front of the headlights? The fundamental complaint: our self-appointed betters find us cats just exasperatingly difficult to herd.