In 2012, Mike Moffatt, and economist at UWO, wrote a piece called “David Suzuki needs an economics refresher course.” Well, no, actually he doesn’t. Indeed, it’s Moffatt who needs a refresher course – in the ethics of economic decision-making and of public debate.
Scientific consensus isn’t the same as consensus in politics, in business, or in deciding where to go for dinner. The conflation of the scientific and lay senses of the term are, I think, a primary cause of much of the general public’s distrust of the conclusions that scientists draw from their work.
Last year, I wrote a post about the abominable notion of endless growth. The point of that post was to indicate how absolutely delusional it is to think that things like the economy will always grow, and that the bigger a thing gets the more catastrophic the failure when it finally fails.
Today, nearly a year later, I found a blog post – the first on the wonderful Do The Math blog – dating back to just a few days before my own, and that covered the same topic, the absurdity of continued growth, but from a strictly mathematical point of view. It’s a great post that shows that – at our current rate of growth of energy consumption – we will become a galaxy-consuming civilization in a mere 2,500 years.
I tip my hate to Tom Murphy’s excellent blog. If you’ve not subscribed to Do The Math, you’re missing something special.
There’s been a bit of a kerfuffle recently about the relationship between science and philosophy. Though it’s been simmering for a while in some quarters, the latest flare-up seems to have come by way of Lawrence Krauss’s book, A Universe from Nothing, based on his wildly popular lecture on YouTube. The timeline of the conflict is well-documented, with copious links to the original source materials, by Sean Carroll.
In a possibly over-simplified summary: Krauss said some things about philosophers with which some philosophers took umbrage; philosopher David Albert tore Krauss a new one in response; Krauss apologized, sort of; a variety of others have piped up, on one side or the other; and Carroll himself has assumed the role of mediator and tried to smooth everyone’s feathers. A significant part of the argument eventually condensed around the phrasing of the subtitle of Krauss’s book: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing. Specifically, the issue is the apparent implication that Why refers to an explanation of purpose rather than function.
Religious zealots target the weak, the ignorant, and stupid with their arguments. Atheists don’t. This is our mistake. To combat the scourge of religion, we need to communicate in ways that even the weak, ignorant, and stupid will understand and believe.
I’ve written before about the difference between science, the sciences, and scientists. These kind of differences are essential to make if you want your arguments make sense. Confusing science and scientists is like confusing biology and a medical doctor – it’s stupid. Making these kinds of mistakes ends up letting one prove things like 1 = 2 and that the moon is made of blue cheese and that murder is perfectly acceptable.
I disagree with those who think that there is a “debate” about climate change. I disagree so strongly that I’ve decided to dissociate myself from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), of which I have been a member since 1992. For a mechanical engineer in North America, dropping one’s membership in the ASME is a big deal, but I’ve had enough of some of their actions in regard to climate change, and I am compelled to take decisive action.
A recent article at gizmag reported on a new notion for flexible pumps based on how jellyfish work. Such pumps would be very useful for various medical uses because they could be more easily implanted in humans. This is obviously a case of the beginning of a biomimetic design.
More importantly, though, I think this is an excellent example of how science – an understanding of the natural world – can drive design just as well as technology can.
Ars Technica recently reported on a survey carried out jointly by Scientific American and Nature about the level of public trust in scientists and their opinions. The results indicate clearly that people trust scientists. Unfortunately, I’m not sure we can trust these results.
Don’t get me wrong. I am definitely a member of the species Homo Scientificus1 – I know that science works, and that there are no known alternatives that can outperform science as a means of understanding reality. But there’s a problem with this survey that undermines the argument it makes.
In late July, an article was published online in the journal Nature that suggests it may be possible to circumvent Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Big deal, right? Well, yes it is, actually, for two reasons: (1) it may be one of the most significant advances in science in the last 50 years, and (2) it underscores the difference between science, the sciences, and scientists.