More Science Headline Shenanigans…

This article is headed:


OK, thinks I, are we talking about a couple billion years ago, where there is no  evidence of life of any kind? Or is there really a clean gap in the history of life on earth, where life covered the globe for millions of years, vanished, and returned?  Nope. Turns out that after the Permian die-off, earth was still what we would typically call ‘teeming’ with life – just not in the tropics, and just not with big forms of life, like fish and trees.

The problem here, at least potentially, is that someone might be lead by this headline to assume that all life was wiped out and then re-emerged 5 million years later, which would be something. Just not something there’s any evidence for.  A sufficiently dogmatic and uninformed person might even imagine that this total-destruction-of-life, reemergence-of-life thing proves that life arose – and arises – inevitably out of completely natural processes. which may be true, but is not proven or demonstrated by the Permian die-off.

A more biologically sophisticated reader might agree with the headline to the extent that today’s ‘lifeless, barren’ deserts are, you know, often teeming with life – just not the kind (and size) of life you’d find in a forest or ocean reef.  Death Valley blooms with wildflowers; brine shrimp show up on salt flats.

But the article is really only talking about the tropics, leaving the temperate and polar zones to ‘teem’, as it were.

This is a minor and relatively harmless case of lying via science headline, yet it contributes to the whole science-as-belief-system error so damaging to the modern world.


A pox upon both parties, sure, but…

This is cracking me up: two women who are Facebook friends of mine relentlessly post anti-Republican, pro Obama items gleaned from the unchallengeable  wisdom of the Internet, including especially items that show that Democrats are smart and reasonable while Republicans are stupid and irrational.

The hilarious part: one of them also often posts her horoscope; the other links to ‘the Secret’.

The first victim of politics may be the truth; the second is surely any sense of irony.

Education, and all that

Over at the erudite John C. Wright’s blog, a discussion of what science fiction books should be included in a proper 11th and 12th grade curriculum. I blather some there.

My 2 cents, perhaps not worth even that, as I am not very well read in SciFi:

– Canticle for Liebowitz

– Collected short stories of Cordwainer Smith (maybe 3-4 stories – they’re all pretty good, I don’t want to pick right now.)

– Lewis’ Space Trilogy

Those give a taste of the high themes and beauty one can find in SF

– 1984 & Brave New World

But things can go wrong. So very, very wrong.

That’s probably enough. I like Asimov and William Gibson and a bunch of other stuff, but if 16 and 17 year olds could get that list under their belts, that would be a vast step forward.


Headlines versus Reality: Politics Division

Unfortunately, the headline went down the Google News memory hole before I thought to capture it in a link, but I do it justice with:

Stocks Up on Improved Jobs Data

Across from this superficially unremarkable headline on the right margin were that day’s stock market results: the DOW was up 0.26% – noise, essentially. The broader indices were down. Sooo – come again? One narrow measure – the DOW only includes 30 companies – is up an insignificant amount, while broader indices – the S&P track something over 500 companies, the NASDAQ several times that – are down. So, basically, as stated without any caveats, that headline is what we used to call in simpler, more primitive times, a lie.

Then you start digging around. What job data are we talking about? The government calculates employment numbers by doing a statistical projection based on samples of businesses and households. In this latest report, it is stated that businesses reported 110,000 new jobs came into being, yet, in the same report, the number of unemployed dropped by 456,000 – um, did the extra 346,00 die, retire, move to another country? Or just stop looking for work and thereby drop out of the statistics? Inquiring minds would like to know.

But that’s only mildly baffling compared to what comes next:

Total employment rose by 873,000 in September, following 3 months of little change. The employment-population ratio increased by 0.4 percentage point to 58.7 percent, after edging down in the prior 2 months. The overall trend in the employment-population ratio for this year has been flat. The civilian labor force rose by 418,000 to 155.1 million in September, while the labor force participation rate was little changed at 63.6 percent. (See table A-1.)

Okay – so, businesses can add 110,000 jobs, while people find 873,000 jobs… At the very least, this calls into question the methodology used to collect data and calculate numbers. And that kind of gob growth would be expected in a booming economy – which, last I checked, isn’t what we have.

If you read to the end of the linked report, you will also find that the last half is corrections to previous reports – in other words, it is taken for granted that these snapshots for the previous month will get revised once more data is available. Stay tuned.

Further bulletins as events warrant.

Makers and Takers in the Real World:

Makers are those people who marry, stay married and raise law-abiding children with a sense of civic duty and morality, as well as those who support, sustain and defend them.

Takers are those who fail to do any of the above, but rather exploit the society and opportunities living in a world made and sustained by the Makers gives them. The selfishness of Takers is a sort of blindness, and a sort of pillaging – blind to what enables the culture from which they take, and pillagers of the fruits of that culture.

Factories, inventions and profits mean nothing without the proper culture to support them.

Back in the old days…

…people were liable to write stuff down. Important things got written down more often and by more people. This provides for us a fascinating possibility: rather than guessing or making up stories about what happened in the past and what people thought and did abou t it, we can read what the people at the time had to say! How cool is that?

Mike Flynn has done a bit of this. Read and be edified.

Of course, if you like making stuff up and then reacting with extreme umbrage when people point out you’ve merely created a fantasy world untethered to reality – Dan Brown, talking to you – this whole ‘history’ stuff might not be for you. But give it a try, you may like it.

Curiousity Beams Back Rock that May Prove Elvis Was a Space Alien

Or that eggs can in fact only be properly opened from the big end, or that I might already be a winner, or that my baby ate a dingo, or anything at all. But what the headline did say was:

Curiosity  Beams Back Rock that May Prove Microbial Life on Mars

Yea, it might. It might not. In fact, what a rock ‘beamed’ back might or might not prove is pretty open-ended.

Bad Science Writer! Bad! and that’s not even talking about the egregious Star Trek reference: “Cap’n! I canna’ beam the rock to the bridge! The dilithium crystals canna’ take it!” Or something, probably involving inverse tachyon particles.  The article actually has something to do with a little pebble that looks like it might have been in a stream bed at some point, but that’s not going to bake the grits of the readers, so let’s make something up. Sheesh.

Science will not be killed by its enemies (most of whom are imaginary anyway), but by its friends.