Year 4, Month 9, Day 9: The Fool Hath Said In His Heart…

The Baxter Bulletin (AR) features a columnist named Tina Dupuy, who takes on the science-accepting science-rejecters:

We believe as a culture — as a community — that if science, in the form of medical care, can improve and prolong life then we’re required to enable it to do so. People of faith can concede God gave us medicine and we can all forgo the horrors of life before penicillin and aspirin. Zero controversy.

See, the Schaibles and hundreds of parents like them think pneumonia and other illnesses stem from a lack of faith, a life of sin. They’re bacteria deniers. As a constitutional government we don’t care what they believe until they’re culpable in a child’s death (in this case two deaths). Our government believes in science over biblical diagnosis.

So it is therefore not a stretch, not in any way contentious or unreasonable, to simply accept climate change as a reality for one simple reason: It’s science, and we believe in science.

There are two types of climate change deniers: Those who take a faith-based exemption citing God’s divine plan, and those on energy company payrolls.

Good article, but she doesn’t go far enough. Time for some epistemological updating. September 3:

While political and social conservatives have no problem, as Tiny Dupuy points out, with using the products of scientific thinking for their own convenience and enjoyment, this acceptance does not automatically translate into an informed understanding of science itself. The late Arthur C. Clarke famously remarked that, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” and therein lies the key: creationists and their political fellow-travelers are magical thinkers, relying on updated and digitized superstitions to make a confused and contentious world once again orderly and safe. From this perspective, the conservative rejection of climate change, evolution, or other inconvenient facts is no more paradoxical than adherents of one religion denying the claims of another.

Scientific method, by contrast, privileges the search for truth, letting the chips fall where they may. No magic required, only rigorous examination of data and a readiness to admit error in the face of fresh evidence — both of which are impossible for magical thinkers.

In prehistoric times, these modes of thought would have little consequence outside an individual’s own sphere of influence. Now, alas, scientific illiteracy may well be the deciding factor for our species’ future on a climatically-transformed planet.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 6, Day 6: Du da du du, du du du-du du-du…

The San Luis-Obispo Tribune notes Jerry Brown’s principled advocacy with an unfortunate term:

Gov. Brown continues climate change crusade

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Gov. Jerry Brown is set to continue his climate change charge, joining scientists releasing a 20-page call to action on environmental problems including pollution, extinctions and population growth.

Brown plans to address Silicon Valley leaders, as well as climate scientists from University of California, Berkeley, Stanford University and NASA, on Thursday morning at a conference at NASA Ames Research Center.

The governor has repeatedly called for changes in public policy to better address the impacts of the changing climate on the world’s economy and environment.

Berkeley professor Anthony Barnosky, a featured speaker, says the earth is now at a tipping point, and what decisions makers do now “will determine whether or not human quality of life declines over the next few decades.”

Sheesh. May 23:

Unlike the theologically-driven military adventures of the Middle Ages, Jerry Brown’s “crusade” against climate change is based on facts and evidence. The scientific consensus on the human causes of global heating and the dangers it poses is overwhelming. Another difference from the medieval attitude that motivated hundreds of years of pointless violence is that scientific method actively seeks disproof — which means that even in an “overwhelming consensus” there is always room for doubt.

But this fact, which is a feature of science’s epistemology, should not be used as an excuse for inaction. Climatologists are the closest we’ve got to “planetary physicians,” and their advice to us right now is less scientific than practical: don’t wait for the chimera of absolute proof before taking action to fight the accelerating greenhouse effect. When 97 out of 100 oncologists diagnose malignancy, you don’t need the remaining three to agree before starting therapy.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 2, Day 22: More Ultra-Hard Sapir-Whorfianism

More on Heartland Institute, this time from the Boston Globe:

Because Heartland was not specific about what was fake and what was real, The Associated Press attempted to verify independently key parts of separate budget and fundraising documents that were leaked. The federal consultant working on the classroom curriculum, the former TV weatherman, a Chicago elected official who campaigns against hidden local debt and two corporate donors all confirmed to the AP that the sections in the document that pertained to them were accurate. No one the AP contacted said the budget or fundraising documents mentioning them were incorrect.

David Wojick, a Virginia-based federal database contractor, said in an email that the document was accurate about his project to put curriculum materials in schools that promote climate skepticism.

“My goal is to help them teach one of the greatest scientific debates in history,” Wojick said. “This means teaching both sides of the science, more science, not less.”

Googling “david wojik” +epistemologist gets you the self-description in the first sentence of my letter. I am proud of the final sentence in the second graf. Sent February 17:

The Heartland Institute’s point man for climate-change denial in public-school curricula is David Wojik, who has described himself as a “philosopher, engineer and logician.” Note the absence of any training in climate science! Wojik’s doctoral work focused on the history and philosophy of science — surely worthy areas of study, but ones which he’s well paid to misapply in distorting the nature of research on global warming.

While all but a statistically insignificant minority of climatologists agree on the human causes of climate change, many details are yet unresolved: which are the primary forcing agents? How do different feedback loops interact? By highlighting areas of disagreement while ignoring a worldwide scientific consensus, Wojik and his sponsors wrap greed-driven denialism in a cloak of spurious intellectual rectitude.

While Wojik’s employers are no doubt pleased with his work, the laws of chemistry and physics are unaffected by even the glibbest epistemological sophistry.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 2, Day 20: That’s Not Epistemology, That’s Fouling The Wellspring Of Knowledge

The Christian Science Monitor notes the rare rays of sunlight that recently penetrated into the inner recesses of the climate-denial machinery:

Leaked documents from the free-market conservative organization The Heartland Institute reveal a plan to create school educational materials that contradict the established science on climate change.

The documents, leaked by an anonymous donor and released on DeSmogBlog, include the organization’s 2012 fundraising plan. It lists Heartland Institute donors, from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation (established by Koch Industries billionaire Charles G. Koch), to Philip Morris parent company Altria, to software giant Microsoft and pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly.

The climate change education project is funded so far by an anonymous donor who has given $13 million to the Institute over the past five years. Proposed by policy analyst David Wojick, who holds a doctorate in epistemology and has worked for coal and electricity generation companies, the project would create education “modules” written to meet curriculum guidelines for every grade level.

A doctorate in epistemology, huh? That’s like a guy with a doctorate in epidemiology who spends his off-hours shitting in the water supply. Glad this got a bit of sunlight. I’ve been writing to the CSM for years and they haven’t published me yet. Here goes nuttin’! Sent Feb 15:

Between evangelical rejections of Darwinian evolution and petroleum-funded rejections of climatology, it’s amazing that any biology, physics or chemistry gets taught at all anymore. The exposure of the Heartland Institute’s massive investment in fostering climate-change denial in our schools pulls the covers off the continuing conservative effort to undermine our country’s system of science education. David Wojick, Heartland’s paid mouthpiece, has a degree in epistemology, the branch of philosophy which addresses the nature of knowledge. He may not know any climate science, but he’s a virtuoso at clouding the distinction between true and false. Coupled with a complaisant media establishment that has abdicated its responsibility to the Jeffersonian ideal of a “well-educated citizenry,” climate-change denialists have relegated an overwhelming scientific consensus to irrelevancy in the minds of much of the American public. This would be immaterial if the issue did not concern a civilizational threat of unprecedented magnitude and urgency.

Warren Senders

Things I Learned In School, Pt. II

More thoughts on things I learned about teaching and learning…from teachers.

High School:

As a student in a public high school in Sudbury, Massachusetts, I had some friends who were officially my teachers; we talked about life, learning, politics, culture…and if they had to give me a C or a D in class, I really didn’t care. It was obviously a game we all had to play for the benefit of…who?

There was one history teacher, Mr. M_______, who taught a single course: a comprehensive year-long survey of Russian history. A classroom virtuoso, his teaching was part lecture, part dance, part abstract painting (his hyperkinetic scribbling on the chalkboard served as an outlet for an incessant need to move), part arts and crafts. He conceived Russian History not as a body-of-material-to-be-mastered, but as a medium through which students found out about the world and about themselves. At the time I took his course, which was open only to juniors and seniors, he was employing a very unusual grading method:

“In this class,” he said on the first day, “you are granted the symbol A. Depending on your contributions and participation, you will either receive a Large A, for ‘amazing,’ or a small a, for ‘awful.’ In either case you will have the symbol A. I do not want any of you doing work in the class because you crave a symbol. I want you doing the work because you genuinely want to do the work.”

It was a wonderful course. And what I took away from it was a general gestalt understanding of the sweep of Russian history…and a huge practical insight about what effective teaching could and should be. It didn’t matter that in the first semester I got an A and in the second an a. That, if anything, served to reinforce my growing awareness that the grades I got had nothing at all to do with what I learned.

Lesson: The System may require grades, but there are many ways to skin a cat.

From my freshman year in high school, I knew that I wanted to be on the school newspaper. I joined the staff and began writing and participating in the marathon layout sessions. It was my ambition to be the editor of the paper in my senior year; I felt this strongly enough that when my parents got one-year faculty appointments in Toronto for the duration of my junior year, I argued that I had to stay behind, or I would lose my place in the queue. I lived with my grandmother that year, and I kept my place (as “Associate Editor”); when my senior year began, I was the Editor, and I did a hell of a job, if I do say so myself. The paper had a Faculty Adviser, who stayed out of our way and signed forms as required. He was responsible for giving us all grades; everyone got an A. The grade was required by the system, but it was irrelevant to my motivation, which was purely that I wanted to edit the newspaper.

Lesson: You can get a good grade for doing a good job, and it still doesn’t necessarily mean anything.

About Listening and Learning

A few years ago I was talking about Indian pedagogy to a mixed group of musicians and school-teachers in a classroom at New England Conservatory, and I asked for a volunteer. One girl raised her hand, and I enlisted her as a “student” in the Indian sense. With the drone in the background, I sang a short series of notes and looked at her expectantly. “Bonnie” reproduced them, a bit tentatively for all that she was a trained singer with an acute ear and a lovely voice. I tried another set of notes; she was a bit more confident this time around.

I decided to up the ante.

more »

Scientific Method, Scientific Purpose, Scientific Spirit

Just found this quote from Chauncey D. Leake in the most recent issue of Humanist magazine. He paraphrases Edwin Grant Conklin in this beautiful summary of the ways science does what it does:

“The purpose of science, he said, is like that of religion — to find out the truth about ourselves and our environment. The method is one of continual skepticism, self-critical and self-corrective, seeking data which are independently verifiable. The methodology proceeds either by experimental reasoning with logical and consistent coherence as in mathematics, or by observation, tentative explanation, controlled experimentation, and inducible conclusions as in the life sciences. The attitude or spirit of science as a concept, is realization that the findings of scientific effort are tentative and relative, that the validity of scientific conclusions rests on voluntary agreement among those who examine the evidence, and that unwelcome truth is better than cherished error. This is a value judgment, and gives moral significance to the whole concept of science. All of this is based on a concern, in scientific effort, for the welfare of humanity as a whole.”

Chauncey D. Leake — “Humanistic Aspects of the Unity in Science”

All of this is based on a concern, in scientific effort, for the welfare of humanity as a whole.

Let me repeat that.

All of this is based on a concern, in scientific effort, for the welfare of humanity as a whole.

I’m a member of the American Humanist Association. How about you?