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Over on the Culture of Science blog, the estimable Sheril Kirshenbaum tells a tale that's both very funny and frighteningly illustrative of why the public knowledge of science is so poor.

A TV crew arrived to interview her about something in her specialist area of science, because it related to a topical news story. She expected -- perhaps naively -- that what they wanted of her was an explanation of the science.

No way. The director already had his own -- barmy -- pet theory for what was going on, and wanted her to explain that.

Her tale ends thus:

Reporter: ‘Stop, let’s reshoot. We need you to say something about the sun being a factor. And let’s get you wading into the water. Pretend you’re catching something.‘

Me: ‘Uh, the sun didn’t cause the bloom . . . and you do realize I’m wearing a dress, right?‘

Reporter: ‘You can say your reason too, but name the sun as another ‘theory’. And just look science-y.'

Unfortunately, she doesn't name names; it would be a public service if she did. Even so, go read the whole piece, share it and, the next time someone assures you that some piece of pseudoscientific garbage must be true because they heard it on the evening news, share Kirshenbaum's story with them.

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The Discovery Institute has the reputation of at least aspiring toward rationality in its denial of evolution by natural selection -- to represent the seemingly sober IDeologues rather than the froth-flecked Young Earth Creationists -- and to have a certain measure of integrity in the arguments it offers, no matter how dumbfoundingly wrong they might be.

So I was deeply troubled by their latest "Evolution News and Views" blog entry from Discovery Institute staffer John West. His subject is the recent New York Times article by Leslie Kaufman (in which West himself features) discussing how Creationist pressure groups are attempting to gain traction in their campaign to have the "scientific controversy" over evolution taught in classrooms by tagging onto it an insistence that the similarly spurious
"scientific controversy" over anthropogenic global warming also be taught.

Those who know their history will be reminded forcefully of the technique developed a few decades ago by the tobacco companies, eager to reject claims that consuming their product might conceivably be bad for your health. They knew that trying to sow doubts in the community about those scientific conclusions alone would be all too obvious a publicity ruse -- or "lie", as one might alternatively describe it -- and so they (or rather a PR company they employed) devised the stratagem of making the public distrust all science. In particular, they selected the environmental sciences as a companion area to attack alongside the medical evidence of smoking's harmful effects. The legacy of this cynical promotion of false information into the public discourse is a primary reason why in this country we not only have rampant pollution (see here for a recent, extraordinarily vile example) but also must suffer such a proliferation of astonishing bullshit from self-styled "climate skeptics" . . . who pontificate with all the academic rigor you expect from that loud guy in the pub you do your best to avoid, yet demand equal media time with, ya know, qualified climatologists.

Kaufman's piece on the latest development of this severely dishonest technique is perhaps rather too balanced, but anyone with an adequate supply of brain cells will be able to understand what's going on. However, West's summarization of it in his blog . . . well, I'm not sure if it's one of the most deceitful pieces of spin I've recently come across or if he can really be that muddle-headed and stupid. Here's a sample:

The nationwide effort to protect the freedom of teachers to hold balanced classroom discussions of evolution, global warming, and other scientific issues is highlighted on the front page of today’s New York Times. The article, “Darwin Foes Add Warming to Targets,” contains the usual errors and mischaracterizations one expects from the establishment media. But mischaracterizations or not, the article gets one thing right: It reveals how both the public and policymakers are increasingly dissatisfied with the scientific establishment’s attempt to misuse science to support various ideological agendas, whether it be Richard Dawkins’ scientific atheism or some global warming alarmists’ efforts to push us back to the Stone Age. People want genuine education about scientific topics, and that includes being able to study all of the evidence, not just a few data points cherry-picked for their propaganda value.

Note, for example, the complaint about "contains the usual errors and mischaracterizations one expects from the establishment media" followed just a couple of lines later by the remark concerning "some global warming alarmists’ efforts to push us back to the Stone Age". Could there be a greater mischaracterization of someone else's argument than this? Might West supply us with a list of "global warming alarmists" who're trying "
to push us back to the Stone Age"? Indeed, could West supply us with the name of just one?

As for West's accusations of cherry-picking, either that's projection or mendacity -- and I find it hard to believe it's not the latter, because unless he's in a coma he must be aware that this is exactly a technique of which he himself makes extensive use.

What West is keen to obscure is, of course, that there is no "scientific controversy" over what one might loosely call Darwinian evolution, just as there is no
"scientific controversy" over AGW. There are, however, political controversies; and it's the prevalent tactic of the "climate skeptics" to confuse the two. Shame on West for promoting this dishonesty.

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Into my mailbox this morning pops my weekly delivery of eSkeptic, the sampler from the magazine The Skeptic, journal of the Skeptics Society. And the first thing I see is a very pretty picture of a galaxy, with this caption:

Below: The Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy (discovered in 2003) is the nearest known galaxy to the centre of the Milky Way. Found in the constellation after which it is named, it is about 25,000 light years from the sun and 42,000 light years from the centre of the Milky Way. It is also the home of the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius A.

Clearly someone at eSkeptic has written the caption based on an original supplied by the Strasbourg Observatory (whose pic this is), and clearly that original correctly identified the constellation Canis Major as the "home of" the star Sirius (or, for the pedantic, Sirius A). The difference is a bit crucial: Sirius is about 11 light years away while the Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy is, as stated, about 25,000 light years away. In other words, although the two objects lie in roughly the same region of the sky as seen from here, one is a nearby star and the other is outside our galaxy.

Just a matter of clumsy editing (or possibly translation), one might think. Well, yes . . . and no. The howler betrays a quite astonishing ignorance of basic astronomy -- quite astonishing, certainly, for a society of supposed rationalists, whose staffers are surely expected to have at least a smattering of the sciences. (Or just of plain logic: is it likely the galaxy containing the brightest star in our night sky could have somehow gone unnoticed until 2003?) And if putative professionals at The Skeptic can commit scientific howlers like this, what of the state of scientific knowledge among the public at large?[*]

[* If you'd like to know more about the scientific knowledge and attitudes toward science of the public at large, there's an interesting hot-off-the-presses report here. First, though, depress yourself by completing the quiz here (it takes only a minute) and, once done, looking at the results for all participants. Either you're a genius or 'most everyone else is woefully ignorant; you choose.]

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Jonathan Cowie has nice things to say about the book at Concatenation:

Flat Earths, hollow Earths, geocentricism, Atlantis, faked Lunar landings, spiral time, psychic physics, Charles Fort, ancient technological civilizations, non-existence of the Dark Ages, perpetual motion, the yeti . . . Bogus Science is a wonderfully engrossing tour of misleading exotica. [. . .] This exploration is huge fun as well as an excellent companion to Grant's Corrupted Science: Fraud, Ideology and Politics in Science [*]. Fascinatingly fantastic. And, yes, of course I recommend it.

[* Cowie's link is to his review a couple of years ago of Corrupted Science which finished: "It pains me to say this (as my own climate change book is just out) but if you only get one non-fiction book this year then make it this one!" Yes, since you mention it, references to that concluding sentence have been dropped into conversations from time to time.]

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. . . and this time by Ken MacLeod, no less, on his blog The Early Days of a Better Nation. Here are some extracts:

John Grant's Bogus Science gives much of the genuine pleasure I used to get from Fortean Times, with a far more bracing scepticism, and a harder line on the damage done by indulging credulity. [. . .]

Grant's book ranges widely, from ancient and modern geocentrists and flat-earthers to inventors of perpetual motion machines, promoters of zero point energy, discoverers of Atlantis [. . .] and hunters of Bigfoot [. . .], taking in a lot more along the way. There's something very satisfying in seeing that every design for a perpetual motion machine (weights! magnets! no, wait, water . . .) that I ever scribbled on the back of a physics jotter in high school was anticipated centuries earlier by people much cleverer than myself.

[. . .] Beautifully produced, endlessly entertaining and highly recommended.

Cockahoop, moi?

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Thanks to Wonkette for posting a screengrab of a wonderful pi-chart prepared by Faux News to show the different levels of support enjoyed by the supposed GOP frontrunners for 2012.

Apparently 60% of Americans back Romney, 63% back Huckabee, and a stonking 70% back Palin.


That'll be 193% of the population voting Republican in 2012, then.

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We've been away at Philcon, having quite a lot of fun seeing friends and avoiding enemies -- the usual con stuff. While there, logging on nervously using the hotel's seemingly somewhat dodgy wireless, we discovered cheery stuff about Bogus Science -- including a review from the significant rationalist site The Quackometer. They lead off their "Books for Christmas" feature with . . . but I blush. Here are a few bits Pam begs for you please not to read (insufferable? moi?):

Bogus Science and Other Christmas Gifts

Yes, like it or not, now is the time to start thinking about the perfect gift for the geek in your life. [. . .] John Grant has written a trio of great books cataloguing various forms of pathological science. [. . .] The book is full of the idiocies and obsessivenesses of people who believe in the irrational, from Atlantis to faked moon landing, aliens building pyramids, antigravity devices, werewolves, yetis and quantum nonsense. There are, of course, many themes in common: unquestioning self belief, the allure of the mysterious, special knowledge and a refusal to engage with evidence – the themes we see so often in the world of quackery. [. . .]

But then the reviewer (Le Canard Noir), bless her/him, continues, saying amazingly nice (albeit not immediately quotable)
things also about Discarded Science and Corrupted Science. I don't think I've ever had a three-book review; I've certainly never had a three-book review so glowing!

oh my

Nov. 10th, 2009 10:00 pm
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There's a new review of Bogus Science up at Amazon that's a bit more mixed than the previous one. The reviewer has a couple of things he and I simply disagree about, which is fair enough I suppose (though a bit less certainty in her/his statement of position might have been nice), but it's a thoughtful review and was highly flattering about most of the book. And one quote in particular is likely to be bandied about Snarl Towers a lot:

The author's style is reminiscent of Stephen Jay Gould at his best.

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The blogger skullsinthestars has given an overall very favourable review to Bogus Science -- I say "overall" because s/he spends a lot of time talking about how s/he wishes I'd taken on the anti-vaccination crew and the Creationists/IDiots. (Answer: I decided to leave the former for a future volume and I treated the latter in both Discarded Science and Corrupted Science.) Whatever . . . here are the bits you're aching to read:

The book is very good; as a first statement I can highly recommend it. [. . .] filled with wonderful wry and biting humor [. . .] exhaustively researched, and contains many stories and anecdotes that even a long-time observer of woo such as myself has not heard of [. . .] Grant’s Bogus Science is a wonderfully entertaining and informative book about the insane beliefs of fringe groups. [. . .]

I am also, I discover, a bad-assed writer . . . which I'm taking as a compliment.

I'd not heard of Skulls in the Stars ("Physics, pulp fantasy and horror fiction, and a bit of politics") before my Google Alert picked up the review. It's a pretty good blog, and I've added it to my RSS list. I also found, dating from January 2008, a truly excellent review it had run of Corrupted Science which had somehow slipped through Google's net. I won't extract quotes here because really it's ALL GOOD.

Google Alerts picked up another blog reference to Bogus Science (and generated another addition to my RSS list) -- this time not a review but a mention in Richard Elen's engaging account of his visit to Oxford, with friends, to see the exhibition of Steampunk art at the Museum of the History of Science. The essay ends thus:

Mid-afternoon we ended up at Blackwells’ where we all seemed to acquire a set of John Grant’s series of science books, Discarded, Corrupted and Bogus Science.

What excellent people!

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It's an Amazon reader review, so the four-page illustrated spectacular in The New York Times has yet to come, but it's very pleasing. Grab a chair, make sure you have a long drink by your side, and prepare to thrill to the juicy bits:

John Grant's BOGUS SCIENCE is even more fun than his two earlier books in this series, DISCARDED SCIENCE and CORRUPTED SCIENCE, but it's also an earnest reminder that knowledge and progress, like free speech and freedom of the press, come with a price. [. . .]

Grant provides splendid entertainment as he regales us with accounts of doomsday cults, Bigfoot hoaxes, flying saucers, the Bermuda Triangle, and flat-earthers [. . .] The larger question is what separates bogus science from genuine science? As Grant eloquently illustrates, it's a matter of trying to make the evidence fit the Procrustean bed of predetermined hypotheses, rather than constructing hypotheses in light of the facts. [. . .]

Like the first two volumes, this is a very reasonably priced hardcover, well organized and attractively presented. I intend to read it again and recommend it highly to any curious reader.

realthog: (bogus science cover rough)

How could you (or anyone else) refuse?

Very soon now, and quite possibly on November 3, my book Bogus Science: Some People Really Believe These Things is to be launched in the US with a fanfare of trumpets and an online blurb that bears little or no resemblance to the actual contents. (It's one of those cases where the blurbist worked from a long out of date proposal, and no one bothered to actually check with the editor or myself.)

Whatever, although structurally quite a lot different, it's a companion vol to my books Corrupted Science and Discarded Science. Subjects include such delights as flat earthism, geocentrism, hollow earthism, psychic physics, pyramidology, perpetual motion, cryptozoology . . . A feast of delights, in other words.

My kindly publisher has said I may offer LJ members a FREEEEEEE PDF of the penultimate proof of the book, complete with pix but with the (very) occasional ballsup in situ, so long as they tell me they'll do their best to write a blog/LJ review of the book -- you don't have to promise, because I know that can be a millstone, but I'd be grateful if, having got your copy, you thought about maybe one day someday ya know . . .

If you want to take advantage of this OFFER OF THE CENTURY, please contact me via LJ's service with your e-address (or, of course, direct if you know my own e-address), and I'll send you the PDF pronto. Well, pronto-ish. You know how these things go . . .

realthog: (Darwin)

It was from
Greg Laden's Blog that I got the good news this morning that I'm going to be allowed to see this movie on the big screen rather than having to wait for the DVD, thanks to distributor Newmarket, the company that had the commercial acumen a few years back to pick up Memento.

Laden's writeup referred me to the report on the National Center for Science Education website, which in turn led me to the relevant news report by Hollywood Reporter. The latter claims that it was merely the movie's "period aspects"
that led to its finding a "slightly tougher acquisitions market" -- to which one can respond only by invoking the way US movie distributors have for years timorously declined to plaster our eyeballs with English (and occasionally Scottish) historical pieces, no matter how dire some of them might be.

Yeah, right.

I like the NCSE report's para on some of the reviews the movie has been picking up:

In her review of Creation at The Panda's Thumb blog, NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott described it as "a thoughtful, well-made film that will change many views of Darwin held by the public — for the good." It also received praise from Steve Jones in Time Out London (September 22, 2009), who called it "a great film about a great man and a greater theory" and by Adam Rutherford in his Guardian blog (September 23, 2009), where he wrote, "we should ... be grateful that this film is moving and beautiful, just like the creation Darwin so luminously untangled," adding, "Creationists the world over deserve to see it."

Me, I'm desperate to see it. Movies and novels about scientists and the process of science are right up my street; I may be the only person I know who currently has, near the top of his To Be Read pile, a novel about Alfred Wegener, the first serious modern proponent of what was then called the Continental Drift hypothesis -- and as such flatly rejected by most geophysicists -- and is now called, er, fact.

(An aside: It's largely because of becoming interested in Wegener through my work as one of the editors of the geology encyclopedia Planet Earth that in due course I wrote my early book A Directory of Discarded Ideas, which eventually, a quarter of a century later -- my, how time does fly -- led to me writing books like Discarded Science, Corrupted Science and the imminent Bogus Science. Funny the way these things work out. Had it not been for my thinking that I really should get round to writing A Directory of Discarded Ideas, I might never have read a godawful poleshift novel called The Hab Effect -- whose hero, I years later [re]discovered, is called John Grant!)

Other stuff: I've been quiet here lately because I've been working on a short story -- well, longish story, to be more accurate -- that's been requiring me to actually, well, think. There have been monologues going on around the house not too dissimilar from those you hear from guys on Manhattan sidewalks who use the f-word and point at the sky a lot. Meanwhile I've been declining an anthology invitation and turning my soggy apology for a brain toward a story comp that's worth, gulp, about $40,000.

Trouble is, the story I'm currently working on cannot be done within the wordcount limit of the competition, so . . .

realthog: (bogus science cover rough)

The Discovery Institute, purveyor of pseudoscience to the credulous masses, has an e-zine called Nota Bene to which, for professional reasons, I have just subscribed. Already my very first issue persuades me how wise I was to do so. Its lead article, by one Cornelius Hunter, displays such a blithe disregard for anything that might too frighteningly resemble rational thought that I know I'm going to be in for many happy hours trying to convince people that, no, I'm not making this stuff up.

His article is called Are Evolutionists Delusional (or just in denial)?, and, after a few words swiping at PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne, begins thus:

In one moment evolutionists make religious arguments and in the next they claim their theory is "just science." Their religious arguments, they explain, really aren't religious arguments after all. Gee, that was easy. In light of such absurdity, I don't have much confidence that evolutionists are going to think more deeply about this. But it would be nice if they would stop misrepresenting science.

This is, although Hunter doesn't seem to think it might be honest to let us in on the secret, an almost direct quote -- with just a few obvious words altered -- from an evolutionist about the logical contortions of the IDeologists and other Creation "Scientists". (Maddeningly, I can't offhand pin down the original, which I've read within the past few days. I'll phone you up at the three in the morning when I remember . . .)

Hunter then continues with some eye-poppingly specious logic of his own:

. . . it would be nice if they [scientists] would stop misrepresenting science. And it would be nice if they would stop using their credentials to mislead the public. In short, it would be nice if they would stop lying.

I don't like to think that people are liars. Perhaps evolutionists are merely delusional or in denial. I know they are smart people so this isn't just a case of acting stupidly. Whatever the case, it is a fact that evolutionists engage in substantial misrepresentation of the facts. Here's how Coyne attempts to explain why his religion isn't really religion after all:

the argument from imperfection — i.e., organisms show imperfections of “design” that constitute evidence for evolution — is not a theological argument, but a scientific one. The reason why the recurrent laryngeal nerve, for example, makes a big detour around the aorta before attaching to the larynx is perfectly understandable by evolution (the nerve and artery used to line up, but the artery evolved backwards, constraining the nerve to move with it), but makes no sense under the idea of special creation — unless, that is, you believe that the creator designed things to make them look as if they evolved. No form of creationism/intelligent design can explain these imperfections, but they all, as Dobzhansky said, “make sense in the light of evolution.” [The emboldenings seem to be Hunter's.]

Should we laugh or cry? According to Coyne the design "makes no sense under the idea of special creation" and this "is not a theological argument, but a scientific one." Coyne's misrepresentations and sophistry are, frankly, astonishing.

It's more or less at this point that I gave up taking seriously anything Hunter had to say. He apparently belongs to that school of determinedly irrationalist thought which seems to believe, Humpty Dumpty-style, that anything Hunter wants to call theological actually is. Coyne's "argument from imperfection" may or may not be a valid one, but it most certainly is a scientific one, and most thunderingly it is not a theological one.

What Hunter is trying to do, of course, is perpetuate the old Creationist smear/myth that acceptance of one of the cornerstone theories of modern science -- the theory without which the entirety of the biological sciences would make no sense at all -- is in itself a religion. If you believe this canard you'll believe anything: by such reasoning, gravity is a theological phenomenon.

Does Hunter believe the twaddle he himself is emitting? Who knows? It's hard to credit that anyone capable of piecing together coherent sentences could do so, but stranger things have happened. Or is he just another liar for Jesus, as Chris Rodda so poignantly nicknames those who reckon any sort of dishonesty is acceptable as they covertly advance their Fundamentalist agenda? Again, who knows? But, reading Hunter's conclusion, one begins to wonder if one should maybe hazard a guess:

Whether evolutionists are liars, delusional or in denial is difficult to say. What is obvious is that evolutionary thought is bankrupt. Religion drives science, and it matters.

This is pulpit talk, calling upon the higher power of religion to "validate" an argument that any rational analysis reveals to be full of holes -- in fact, in this instance, Hunter hasn't, despite copious camouflaging verbiage, even bothered to make an attempt at a rational construction for his argument. Perhaps he's relying on the fact that many of his readers won't know the meaning of the word "theory" and may be susceptible to the old principle that, if you claim loudly enough, frequently enough and long enough that the direst bilge is self-evident truth, eventually some of the weaker-witted will believe you.

Yet again, who knows?

realthog: (corrupted science)

Yes, I've been quiet . . . The proofs of Bogus Science have had me at my desk for long hours the past few days, and will do so for another few. So far I've read the proofs, making my marks as I've been going; I've also written the running heads for the right-hand pages. (I thought it'd be fun in this book to follow the model of some Victorian/Edwardian books of having a different header on every right-hand page, rather than just using the modern style of showing the chapter title there. Besides, the book doesn't actually have chapters . . . but that's another story.)

Still to be done: (1) the captions; (2) compiling a list of all my corrections (of which there are many, because I tinker) in a form that I can e-mail to the designer without any possibility of ambiguity; (3) the index.

Task (1) shouldn't take me more than a couple of hours, but the other two are significantly more onerous.

Quite a long while ago I acquired a
complete set of the Haydn symphonies: there are 104 numbered ones plus three unnumbered items. Of course, a Haydn symphony is not quite the same as a Bruckner or Mahler symphony, nor even a Beethoven or Brahms one; still, 107 of them amounts to a fair ol' temporal tract of music, very little of it resembling anything by Jim Steinman. Yesterday afternoon I thought it might be fun to see which lasted longer: the rest of this chore/set of chores, or the Haydn symphonies. At the moment I'm on #36, which is a little more than one-third of the way through (they get shorter as they go, Haydn having obviously worked out he could get paid as much for 18 minutes as he could for 28); as yet I don't know for sure which'll finish first, the job or the symphonies.

But I'm enjoying this as a mode of working. One advantage of Haydn is that all his symphonies sound much the same. I should clarify that statement: even though some of them do sound a bit different, because more like concertos than symphonies, they all sound as if they're part of the same megasymphony. You could probably use the "shuffle" option on them and never notice the difference. In other contexts this could be irritating; when working with the symphonies as background for long, fatiguing hours, it's the other way round -- there's no "Oh, gawd, it's the effing Pastoral abloodygain" problem to cope with.

This is also making me itch to have another set of proofs. There are other consignments of music I own that'd seem ideal to serve in the same role: my complete set of the Beethoven piano sonatas, for example, or the Bartok string quartets . . . although I think I have nothing else of the same extent as the Haydn symphonies. (My pal John Clute has the complete Scarlatti keyboard works on about
1048 CDs, which of course I now covet quite a lot . . .)

On the subject of good music, on Thursday night we're going with some friends to see a Vienna Teng gig -- YAHEY!

realthog: (corrupted science)

To be honest, I'm not 100% sure this falls within the remit of the Science Masterclass as I've been defining it to myself. However, it's concerned with science, and it does indeed refer to scientific idiocy/illiteracy/denial, so I guess my heading's okay . . .

There's a very good article by David S. Bernstein on the Boston Phoenix site at the moment called "Generation Green". Moderately long but well worth perusing in full, it has as its subject the way the current stalwarts of the GOP are essentially driving the Republican bandwagon over the edge of a cliff by promoting anti-scientific, non-reality-based notions concerning climate change. Why? Because the very people who're going to be hardest hit by the consequences of any continuation of the criminal inactivity
on this front (or, even worse, promotion of potentially genocidal junk science) of the Bush years are all too well aware of the hazards of the future that people of older generations have created for them. And those young people represent an already large and (obviously) steadily increasing slice of the US electorate.

As I say, Bernstein's piece is well worth reading in toto; nonetheless, here are some pertinent extracts:

Republicans have a lot to say about the immorality of saddling the next generation with our national debt. But when it comes to leaving them a wrecked, depleted, and rapidly warming planet, they are taking the exact opposite line.

That's especially odd when you consider how important that next generation is to the faltering GOP - and how broadly united those voters, known as Millennials, are in their concern over global warming and other energy and environment issues.
[. . .]

Even the most senior Republican leaders, and the top GOP lawmakers on energy and environment committees, keep shooting themselves in the foot by spewing antiquated, anti-science nonsense.
[. . .]

Global warming, more than any other issue, carries an urgency among Millennials of all backgrounds and ideologies. "That's the scary thing, if you work for the RNC [Republican National Committee]," says John della
Volpe, who studies this generation at the Harvard University Institute of Politics (IOP). "It absolutely cuts across all the demographics."

"For young people, no issue is more important," says Pat Johnson, a Suffolk University student and president of the College Democrats of Massachusetts. "We are going to have to live with the consequences of inaction."

Conventional wisdom suggests that getting bogged down over environmental legislation would distract Democrats from important issues like the economy and foreign policy.
[. . .] To this generation, this fight is not only about climate change - it is about creating green jobs and increasing national security by reducing dependence on foreign oil. [. . .]

In a stance utterly bewildering to most Beltway veterans, Millennials don't necessarily view the environment as a partisan or ideological issue. To them, it's an infrastructure problem, like wanting the New Orleans levees
fixed. That's why even those Millennials otherwise open to the GOP will get turned off if the party opposes climate-change progress.
[. . .]

But the loosest cannons in the GOP - and they are legion - simply cannot stick with the game plan. How can they? Surveys show that solid majorities of Republicans believe that global warming is either a myth or, at most, a wildly overblown media creation. Those warming deniers control the party, and their elected officials can only go along with it.

As a result, prominent Republicans regularly spew inanities on climate change ready-made for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. And it only gets worse when you move beyond the elected Republicans. The most popular conservative talk-show hosts, publications, bloggers, and pundits are almost unanimously dismissive of global warming, from columnist George F. Will, to Fox News superstar Glenn Beck, to bloggers at

After the recent EPA announcement on regulating greenhouse gases, Jonah Goldberg, National Review contributor, Fox News analyst, book author, and rising star of right-wing punditry, fumed on National Review Online, without irony, that "A federal agency has decided that it has the power to regulate everything, including the air you breathe" -- as if, under the Clean Air Act, the federal government has not been doing exactly that for the past four decades.

To almost anyone under the age of 30, all of this is similar to watching cigarette executives insist that smoking isn't harmful. "Younger voters get interested when they can choose sides," says Rasky, and the Republicans are going to make that very easy. "You give them the opportunity, they'll talk about drilling for oil, and how global warming isn't really happening."

To Millennials, that rhetoric makes the GOP nothing more than obnoxious gas.

(It's perhaps a little unfair of Bernstein to cite Goldberg, who's a man of such extraordinary stupidity that any argument he supports becomes ipso facto risible -- at least, this is what I thought on first reading the relevant passage. Thereafter, though, it dawned on me that Bernstein's choice was a bit circumscribed. Had he selected just about any of the alternatives among the rightist pundits he'd have been accused of picking too-easy targets: Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Coulter, Buchanan, Beck, Inhofe, Gingrich, Savage . . .)

My own feeling is that perhaps we're already too late to avert the onrushing climate disaster: even those politicians/political factions around the world who're trying urgently to take ameliorative steps are producing results short of what is necessary; as James Lovelock has said, by the end of this century humanity is likely to consist of at best a few million individuals living in conditions of extreme barbarism near the poles. But words like "perhaps" and "likely" leave open the smallest of cracks in the doorways ahead of us; the people who're so determined to close those cracks, slam shut those doors, are nothing short of public enemies -- as, apparently, the "Millennials" (ugly term) recognize only too well.

And, yes, I've been here before -- notably in my nonfiction Corrupted Science and my mosaic novel Leaving Fortusa, both of which have been subject to rightist vituperation. I wonder if those vituperators realize I wear their smears with pride?

realthog: (corrupted science)

Proofs (in the form of PDFs ready for me to print out and read) will be arriving tomorrow for Bogus Science.

This is always a nerve-racking time with a new book, I find, because it's really the first opportunity I get to look at the text objectively. In theory that opportunity came earlier, when I was polishing the text preparatory to delivering it to the publisher, but of course that was soon after I'd written it: it was all too easy to read not so much the words that were actually there in front of me but the thoughts I'd been intending to express when I set those words down. Now I'll be seeing everything cold, and it'll be revealed to me in a stark, icy light quite how ghastly it all is.

Whatever, since my first warning of the proofs' arrival came this afternoon, and since the corrections are wanted a bit quickish, there's a certain level of ungentlemanly panic going on at Snarl Towers right at the moment.

To add to the sense of rabbits staring into headlights, I've also said that, before the end of what was already looking to be a busy month, I'll write 1500 hellishly witty words -- or at least words filled with a witlike substitute -- about pal Ian Watson for a convention program book. Plus there's a huge ghosting/editing job to finish off, and stuff to get ready for BookExpo America in a fortnight's time. And, oh yes, a couple of anthology editors have very flatteringly asked if . . .

This might be about the right moment for y'all to express sympathies to Pam for everything she's going to have to put up with over the next few weeks. I'm sure she'd be touchingly grateful for this small gesture.

realthog: (corrupted science)

Republican Minnesota Congressperson Michele Bachmann has a fairly fragile grasp on logic, so it's probably expecting her to have anything even that good when it comes to basic scientific principles such as cause-and-effect. Or maybe she lives in her very own little quantum universe . . .

Whatever, she's attempting now to politicize swine flu -- not the way in which the racists are, by blaming it on Mexican immigrants, but in her own unique fashion. The occurrence of epidemics of swine flu is, in the Bachmannian view, perhaps related to the political persuasion of the US President in office at the time.

Interviewed by the rightist Pajamas Media:

I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out then under another Democrat president Jimmy Carter. . . . And I'm not blaming this on President Obama, I just think it's an interesting coincidence.

You can watch the full video of the interview (18 excruciating twaddle-packed minutes) at
Pajamas Media, or you can find the salient moments -- and relevant slice of transcript -- at Talking Points Memo.

The latter points out a historical factoid which it gleaned in turn from the Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages: the swine flu outbreak of the 1970s occurred, to be more precise, in 1976 . . . when the US President was a Republican, Gerald Ford.


They laughed at Galileo, they laughed at Einstein, they . . .

realthog: (corrupted science)

Yes, ladles an' jellyspoons: Last night I e-mailed the text of Bogus Science to the publisher (only to get an out-of-office robot response from him by the time I woke today, but who cares?) and this morning I e-mailed fifty or so pix to the designer. Furthermore, after arduous, infernally brave and, ah, noble cutting of much exquisite, insightful, poetically cadenced and in places well-nigh sensuous prose, the text is about the right length.

So, although there'll inevitably be some pissing about still to do (lock up your fire hydrants, folks!), it's dun, dun, DUN!!

(Of course, somewhat over 75% of the stuff that could have gone into it has now been put into a separate file for use in the next book -- tentatively called Spooky Science -- where it'll sit until, in a year or two, my cautious publisher will give me the go-ahead for that project, by which time I'll have forgotten the plot, as it were, with all the relevant books "tidied" to distant and mutually remote parts of the house while my memories about the stuff in the file will have faded to the point that I'll be wondering why the &%$# I put those items there: "Mesmer? Rhine? D.D. Home? The names ring a bell, but . . .")

I'm planning to celebrate by getting up-to-date with the cataloguing of the video collection -- that's always a wild bacchanalian delight -- and then perhaps, over the weekend, writing a story for an antho whose editor very kindly suggested I might submit something. There's an editorial/ghosting job that'll fill up the next couple of weeks, but this requires nothing like the intense mental slog of the past months. (So, if you have any books you want written . . .)

There will also, of course, be an orgy of reading for pleasure -- it's only in the past month or so that I've stopped devoting all my reading time to Bogus Science research, and said time has anyway been limited by such factors as exhaustion. Expect a catch-up post soon about the goodies and not-so-goodies read so far.

However, if I can persuade Pam to allow it, tonight will, I think, feature some beer.

realthog: (corrupted science)

It's been a while since I've shared any Secrets of the Universe trouvées, but I've been busy. (I've been busier than ever just this past couple of weeks, working flat out in an attempt to get Bogus Science finished before the publisher forgets ever having contracted it, which is why I've barely been peeking at LJ.)

Here's from Alex Chiu's site, which I'm not going to link to because I judge the products he has on sale -- which do things like make you immortal or, in the case of stuff called Gorgeouspil, make you more gorgeous every single day -- to be quack nostra, and I'm not in the business of promoting quack nostra, right? (Well, not unless I get a percentage . . .)

Away from the Gorgeouspil and the immortality rings, Chiu, who's obviously a genius, finds time to answer the question "What is God?" as well as to present his own evolutionary theory, offered as a replacement for Darwinism. Like his immortality rings, it has magnets in it. Part of it goes (pictures omitted but their content obvious):

Now why can animals walk or crawl? I know that their stomach made them craw around hunting for food. But exactly who taought them how to crawl? The answer is no one. The frequency between the animal and its prey made it craw. Below is a picture with two magnets and a metal bar. The metal bar is located near the bigger magnet. The bigger magnet represents the hunter, the metal bar represents the leg of the hunter, and the smaller magnet is the prey.[*]

Now check this out. The metal bar will fly to the middle of the two magnets.

Again, metal bar represents the big magnet's leg. This is how animals start to crawl. Animals' legs and hands are the most conductive parts of their body. Many experiments were done which proved that hands and feet of animals are the most conductive. The more sensitive a body part is, the more conductive it is. My hands are so sensitive that it allows me to play piano and type at extreamely fast speed.

*At this point, dear reader, I had images of those old military buffers using the cutlery and salt cellar to demonstrate the course of battles long gone by . . .
realthog: (corrupted science)

I've been working all day on the section of Bogus Science that deals with people's attempts over the centuries to build perpetual motion machines. After hours of this I've reached the stage where I'm typing these words with, like, my eyeballs.

Sir William Congreve, of Congreve's Rocket fame, devised one of these machines and was so absolutely stonkingly sure it'd work that, though he took out a patent for it, he never actually tried to build it. I don't blame him. Even leaving aside all the usual reasons for not spending money and effort trying to build a prototype of that wizard-wheeze perpetual motion machine your mind conjured up in the bath, just looking at the sketches for this one drives home to you that it won't do the business. Even in dreams it's not going to do anything but sit there transfixing you with a mute glare of deep loathing and accusation, like a cat whose tail you recently trod on.

The device depends for its functioning (or, in fact, nonfunctioning) on the phenomenon of capillary lift, that surface-tension effect whereby water gets from the soil up to the tops of trees. I've been told time and time again that, for snotty scientific reasons I cannot currently recall, "capillary lift" is not the proper term for this effect, and that there's a posh, kudos-laden term I should use for it instead -- indeed, I have often used this very term, feeling all proud and shiny as I do so in the knowledge that I'm thereby bolstering my somewhat spurious scientific street cred. But it's not the instinctive term for me to use: that's "capillary lift", which was what it was called when I first came across the concept at the age of perhaps 7 in the Boys' Bumper Book of Knowledge and Illustrated Encyclopedic World Almanac and was so enthralled by the gravity-defying aspect of it all that I momentarily forgot to suck my thumb.

So can I remember the posh term after hours of flogging out what pass for my brains as I try to comprehend a stack of different knuckleheaded (not always the adjective I have been using for them) perpetual motion machines? In particular, can I do so while I've been trying to explain to readers the basics of Congreve's device, which has to be the most obtuse of the lot?

No, I cannot.

Are my dictionaries any help?

No. In fact, I'm quite astonished how useless they are in this respect. Naughty lexicographers should get smacked.

So I turn to trusty Google.

A search for just "capillary lift" reveals that lots and lots of other people cannot, like me, remember the posh term -- or, if they can, have more guts than I have and just use the popular version anyway.

But I am cunning -- a latter-day Baldrick, or at least Congreve.

I put a new search phrase into Google: "otherwise known as capillary lift".

This turns up -- tarantara!
Well, nothing. However, Google is so flipping helpful it brings tears to your eyes. Instead of just saying "Try something else, loser", Google does the search for me as if I hadn't used the quote marks as indication I wanted this exact wording, none other. It gives me

Results for otherwise known as capillary lift (without quotes):

First up with this new, improved, Google-dictated search is this:

Micro fat augmentation of the butt, otherwise known as the Brazilian butt lift, is performed in our outpatient facility under general anesthesia.

It is at moments like this that you realize you are overdue to have your supper and watch some mindless crap on television, preferably with babes in it, for half an hour before getting back to bloody Congreve . . .

March 2013

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