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23 April 2008

The wane of reason...



It started innocently enough. The enlightenment began when humanity began to question the accepted doctrines and dogma of faith. A few learned people started to realize that without facts or evidence, a belief was simply an opinion. And thus that belief was subject to dispute and discussion. In the latter days of World War II, the age of science entered its golden period. Atomic energy was harnessed (for good and ill), air travel became the joining connection for the shrinking globe and science was rigorously applied to the combat of disease and medical maladies.

That wonderful period continued until the turbulent era of the 1960s. Prior to that, every movie had a hero scientist. The scientist was someone to whom everyone looked to for the answers to the challenges of their predicament. But that changed in the 1960s. The tremendous cultural changes which swept the United States also carried over to the rest of the world. Science became suspect. It’s reckless application as the solution to all problems (it was once suggested that atomic weapons be used to stop hurricanes) tarnished it when it failed to live up to the promise. Rachel Carson’s work Silent Spring brought attention to the risks of science applied without adequate safeguards.

Regrettably, rather than reinvigorate debate over process and validation, a wholesale rejection of science began to form. Our space program, once the object of rapt admiration of a hopeful world, withered and faded into salacious stories of astronauts in diapers and metric to English conversion catastrophes. Individuals appropriated science for their own agendas. Greenpeace, beginning with some grounding in ecology has wandered far afield into the realm of pure politics and the philosophy of luddites (Why I left Greenpeace). Al Gore, once a simple politician from Tennessee has emerged as the high priest of climate paranoia. Various new age (or New Wage – courtesy of Cosmic Connie) folks have assigned all manner or scientific attributes to their pet theories, cure alls or philosophies. Oprah Winfrey, purveyor of pop psychology, has embraced the beliefs of Eckhart Tolle, a post-modern nihilist and expounded them through a brilliant webcast program – complete with globally connected callers (all sponsored by Skype, Chevy, Post-it, and others).

Science remains at the core of our modern lives. And yet few people understand the scientific method, the development of scientific principles or the basis for our technological world. Thus, lacking any firsthand knowledge or critical thinking skills, often science is glorified or demonized by the very beneficiaries of its application. In the case of desperate parents of autistic children, they are conned into believing that somehow mercury, heavy metals or other “unnamed toxins” are at the heart of their children’s condition. It is, to some degree, understandable. There is a powerful desire in the heart of parents to cling to hope for their children, no matter how irrational. It underpins the behavior of the parent who speaks to the media, after their own son or daughter commits an unspeakable criminal act, describing them as “the nicest child you would ever meet”. This said in the face of the fact that their child is 27 and has just stabbed fifteen people to death with a spork.

Setting deep emotion aside, it is the lack of understanding of scientific principles that permits the abuse, misuse and ignorance of science in all parts of our lives. Most damaging is when this occurs in the development of policy. We see the detrimental effects in the rush to manage climate change – based partly on incomplete science which has yet to prove causality between. This is not to say that reducing the amount of emissions into the environment should not be a goal – but the CBA (cost benefit analysis) must be weighed with real facts, not rhetoric and half truths.

Some years ago beta carotene was touted as the next cure all for cancer and a host of other maladies. With little supporting data, our irresponsible media trumpeted it as the next great thing. People began consuming this in supplement form across the United States. A little while later, several significant studies revealed that high doses of beta carotene may actually increase cancer risk in certain populations!

We see this ignorance of reasoned debate play out in the present political campaigns. Individuals simply make up their own facts, deride and abuse those who challenge their preconceived notions and make no effort to become educated on the issues at hand.

There is no arbiter of truth.

The best we can hope for is the continued use and growth of the internet as a source for verification and validation. There are ways to determine if the individual you are debating is playing from a position of integrity or emotion. I hope that we will continue to support reasoned discussion and action.

I am concerned that those people who are the true subject matter experts will shrink back from such discussions, leaving a vacuum to be filled with empty air.

05 April 2008

The line...


At what point does society intervene in the practices of individuals? It is well understood that people who seek to harm others will be dealt with by society. Even animals display this behavior, although humans have evolved to refrain from isolating the sick (where possible).

Today it was reported that Texas authorities removed 52 girls from a fundamentalist Mormon ranch (enclave). The cause was reported child abuse. Some would argue that this is interference in the freedom of religious practice. Others would argue that society (the state) has an obligation to the common welfare.

I am not a person of faith. I am a person of fact. I appreciate and respect the need of people to have faith and I recognize my own potential for being completely wrong. And yet we are faced with a world where irrationality has intruded into the critical world of fact.

Where is the line?

04 April 2008

Placeholder...


Crikey!


It's been a long time since I posted. Not that there isn't a lot to talk about. There is. I have been busy conducting operations for my civilian employer and have just finished with that task. Now, on to some R&R across the water.


But for some topics of interest.


1) Argentina's president declares Malvinas inherently Argentine! - UK beefs up defenses on Falklands


A very interesting revisit to the last major naval engagement of our time. Argentina is facing a serious political and economic crisis, a similar circumstance to the environment in the 1980s. The problem is that there is nowhere near the military capability to execute their national will. Likewise, England is summarily tied up in Afghanistan.


2) Haditha Marines exonerated


In November of 2005, a company of Marines came under attack in Haditha. Their resulting combat included a number of civilian casualties. Rep. John Murtha and TIME magazine went on a witch hunt accusing the Marines of a Mai Lai type massacre. The official court of inquiry has found the bulk of the enlisted Marines innocent. Typical AQI tactics include mixing in with civilian crowds in order to escape detection and create "humanitarian" crises.


3) Hilary "misremembers"


I think this will be the final chapter of her political career. This is more significant the Ronald Reagan's confusion of his experience in a movie and real life. Senator Clinton took a minor event and generated the benchmark for her credibility.


All for now...