September 25, 2013

Popular Science Shutting Off Comments

There was a time I would have begged Popular Science not to shut off the comments feature.

A few years back I encouraged the former editor of the Springfield News-Leader to implement an open comment system. I said at the time — and still believe — that it is the best way to jump-start discussion. But I also said that some kind of control system would have to be created in order to mitigate the usual crap we suffer from trolls, flamers, and the ideologically blind or politically motivated.

The current editor implemented the current system that uses Facebook as the comment engine — a good move, I think.

Popular Science is choosing to give up. And I like the reasons:

A politically motivated, decades-long war on expertise has eroded the popular consensus on a wide variety of scientifically validated topics. Everything, from evolution to the origins of climate change, is mistakenly up for grabs again. Scientific certainty is just another thing for two people to “debate” on television. And because comments sections tend to be a grotesque reflection of the media culture surrounding them, the cynical work of undermining bedrock scientific doctrine is now being done beneath our own stories, within a website devoted to championing science.

Just today on Facebook I saw a meme that read: Only Science can disprove science. Simplistic as all memes are, but there’s a deep truth here: the rhetoric of science, with its rigorous process of invention (i.e. the scientific method), is not open to persuasion from interlocutors employing different rhetorics (i.e. no scientist cares about your opinion of science). The very method of invention employed by scientists to discover and transmit (persuade) knowledge contains the further argument that one can only challenge the knowledge of science on its home field. We can certainly debate the merits of that, but one thing appears clear to me: One does not challenge the findings on, say, climate change, by arguing that it’s a hoax perpetrated by politically motivated geeks in lab coats for the purpose of world socialist revolution.

On that home field that is.

While political steps we might take to fight climate change might indeed have the effect of challenging capitalist assumptions, the purpose of studying climate change is not to have that effect. The purpose is to understand what is happening and why it’s happening.

The persuasive strategy of the “politically motivated” people identified by Popular Science is, among other things, to change rhetorical venues or change the venue that Popular Science provides and, thus, undermine expertise and trust in science and scientists.

Remember: Rhetorical strategy is about winning. Popular Science is taking its ball and going home to prevent the other team from scoring. It remains to be seen what if any effect this has on the popular discourse of science.

In any case, I understand and sympathize with their frustration.

February 17, 2012

Ideology 1, Science 0

Knowledge is what we want it to be for ideological reasons:

The most sensational parts of the documents — and much of what has been confirmed independently — had to do with global warming and efforts to spread doubt into what mainstream scientists are saying. Experts long have thought Heartland and other groups were working to muddy the waters about global warming, said Harry Lambright, a Syracuse University public policy professor who specializes in environment, science and technology issues.

“Scientifically there is no controversy. Politically, there is a controversy because there are political interest groups making it a controversy,” Lambright said. “It’s not about science. It’s about politics. To some extent they are winning the battle.”

A 2010 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences surveyed more than 1,300 most cited and published climate scientists and found that 97 percent of them said climate change was a human-made problem. Yet, public opinion polls show far more doubt in the American public.

December 1, 2011

Get ‘er Done!

Is he stupid, or does he think we’re stupid?

In the Hannity interview, Gingrich also outlined what he would do within the first hours of being president. “We would have about two hours after the inaugural address, we would stop and sign between 100 and 200 executive orders and presidential findings,” he said. “For example, the very first executive order we’ll sign will terminate all of the White House czars as of that moment. So they’ll all be gone. The goal is, by the time President Obama lands in Chicago, we will have dismantled about 40 percent of his government by signing a whole series of extensive orders.

He also predicted an instantaneous economic recovery if President Barack Obama is voted out of office: “The economy starts to recover late on election night, when people realize Obama is gone. Literally that night, you’ll see businesses making hiring decisions. You’ll see investors making investment decisions. You’ll see folks going ahead with new startups who were waiting and with bated breath.”

November 17, 2011

We Do Not Learn From Our Mistakes

Profit before planet; say goodbye to the lungs of the earth:

Brazil did not ban slavery for moral or ethical reasons. It did so because the emergence of capitalist manufacturing made slavery more expensive and inefficient than wage labor. But today, there is no attempt to rethink an economic model based on destroying forests — and emitting greenhouse gases — to produce and export livestock and minerals.

On the contrary, Brazilian agribusiness, thanks to powerful congressional representation and the neglect of the executive branch, is pushing for a new forestry law that would condemn vast areas of rainforest to extermination.

The law, currently under consideration by a committee in Brazil’s Senate, would represent an ecological calamity.

November 15, 2011

Next Up: Dogs and Cats Sleeping Together

As if all ideas are created equal and deserve equal treatment:

Olney is not one to rush to conclusions. And so he embarked upon an exploration of this subject in typical public radio fashion. On one side, he brought in John Ireland, a gay parent and activist, and Sari Grant, a representative from the LA County Department of Children and Family Services. For the other, he brought on Jerry Cox, whose Arkansas Family Council unsuccessfully petitioned the state to ban foster children from entering same-sex-parent homes. (The state Supreme Court unanimously shot down the measure as unconstitutional.) Cox was given a generous platform to preach his particular brand of hate, referring repeatedly to “studies” that proved the “gold standard” for any child was a household headed by “one man and one woman.” He also deftly used Olney’s lead-in of the Sandusky case — if not to outwardly accuse gay parents of being predisposed to pedophilia, to at least align the two topics snugly: “In both cases,” he said, “the children’s rights get put in second place.” And why not? This was how Olney chose to frame this discussion, after all. But never did Olney challenge Cox’s falsehoods or bigotry, or even attempt to establish a delineation between gay parents and pedophilia. In his wildest dreams, Cox couldn’t have asked for a more generous platform — not here of all places, in the supposedly liberal bastion of public radio.

November 14, 2011

It May Already Be Too Late to Change

It’s pedal-to-the-metal:

There are few signs that the urgently needed change in direction in global energy trends is underway. Although the recovery in the world economy since 2009 has been uneven, and future economic prospects remain uncertain, global primary energy demand rebounded by a remarkable 5% in 2010, pushing CO2 emissions to a new high. Subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption of fossil fuels jumped to over $400 billion. The number of people without access to electricity remained unacceptably high at 1.3 billion, around 20% of the world’s population. Despite the priority in many countries to increase energy efficiency, global energy intensity worsened for the second straight year. Against this unpromising background, events such as those at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and the turmoil in parts of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have cast doubts on the reliability of energy supply, while concerns about sovereign financial integrity have shifted the focus of government attention away from energy policy and limited their means of policy intervention, boding ill for agreed global climate change objectives.

November 12, 2011

Politicians and Interests v. Scientists

Denial of climate change? It’s an Anglo-Saxon thing:

The weight of this study would suggest that, out of this wide range of factors, the presence of politicians espousing some variation of climate scepticism, the existence of organised interests that feed sceptical coverage, and partisan media receptive to this message, all play a particularly significant role in explaining the greater prevalence of sceptical voices in the print media of the USA and the UK.