Posts from the ‘Politics’ Category


Todd Akin and the Anti-Science House Science Committee

Aside from the sheer biological ludicrousness of Todd Akin’s ideas on female physiology, one unsettling subplot to the debacle is his presence on the House of Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

That’s right: A moron who, to put it gently, ignores what science tells us about how babies are made, helps shape the future of science in America. It would be shocking, but for the fact that many of the committee’s GOP members have spent the last several years displaying comparable contempt for climate science.

Now, there’s no question that climate change is less well understood than human reproduction. The rate at which warming permafrost will release methane is open for debate, whereas it’s a long-settled fact that women can become pregnant from rape. But in both cases, there exists a factual proposition that can be studied through observation and hypothesis-testing — and it’s the scientific method itself that’s ultimately under attack in the House science committee.

The committee’s chair, Ralph Hall (R-Texas), lumps “global freezing” together with global warming, which he doesn’t believe humans can significantly impact because “I don’t think we can control what God controls.”Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA) thinks cutting down trees reduces levels of greenhouse gases they absorb. Mo Brooks (R-Alabama) still trots out the debunked notion that a scientific consensus existed in the 1970s on “global cooling,” which he portrays as a scare concocted by scientists “in order to generate funds for their pet projects.”

Dan Benishek (R-Michigan) strikes that climate-scientists-as-charlatans note, dismissing contemporary research as “all baloney. I think it’s just some scheme.” Paul Broun (R-Georgia) says that “Scientists all over this world say that the idea of human-induced global climate change is one of the greatest hoaxes perpetrated out of the scientific community.”

Broun, who likens the CDC’s encouragement of fruit and vegetable consumption to “socialism of the highest order,” is also seen by some people as anti-scientific for asserting that an embryo is a human being, though that criticism is unfair: When life begins, and whether and how to value the existence of an embryo, are moral questions, and science can’t answer them except to contrast the properties of embryos with people.

Also tarred as anti-scientific are votes against funding certain types of research, from studies on embryonic stem cells to sociology, government support of which has been recently attacked. Funding, however, is ultimately a political decision. It’s possible to reject support for certain scientific endeavors without denying the fundamental validity of science itself, just as it’s possible to think climate change isn’t a terrible problem while respecting the science describing it.

But when it comes to climate and the House science committee, the rhetoric shows that it’s about the validity. And whatever Ralph Hall purports to support when he says, “I’m not anti-science, I’m pro-science. But we ought to have some believable science,” it’s not science.

In-depth look at what’s wrong with our House science committee. Stay informed, and you can be more effective in spreading science literacy!

From The Maddow Blog: Doing some research recently on African-American voting patterns, I came upon this map of American ancestry from the U.S. Census (pdf): And it reminded me of a mindblower of a political explanation that I meant to share here. This is long, so meet me after the jump… Looking at the map above, you notice the swath of African-Americans (purple) running through the southeast. Something I hadn’t heard of but is apparently relatively common knowledge is that that pattern in the population is referred to as the Black Belt. That may seem a little coarse, but it actually refers to the color and richness of the soil. I looked for maps of soil color, but if such a thing exists, I wasn’t able to find it. The clearest picture of soil distribution matching that pattern was this map of “soil orders“ suggesting ultisols and/or vertisols having something to do with that color: This National Science Foundation lesson on soil orders offers a more detailed version and settles the question. Vertisols are definitely black. (pdf) (Ultisols, not so much (pdf).) Our friend, the google, shows how that pattern manifests today in the form of farms making use of that rich soil that comprise that lighter colored swirl. View Larger Map Farms are actually the point, because while Black Belt may have been a reference to black soil, that’s not to say the Black Belt doesn’t also have racial meaning. Pretty much every source one checks cites this explanation from Booker T. Washington’s 1901 autobiography Up From Slavery:
…The term was first used to designate a part of the country which was distinguished by the color of the soil. The part of the country possessing this thick, dark, and naturally rich soil was, of course, the part of the South where the slaves were most profitable, and consequently they were taken there in the largest numbers. Later and especially since the war, the term seems to be used wholly in a political sense—that is, to designate the counties where the black people outnumber the white.
That “political sense” Washington refers to includes an electoral sense as well. Slave-descendant voters in Black Belt counties leave a blue Democratic voting stripe through otherwise red states, seen especially vividly in this New York Times county map of the 2008 election results: I also ran into this voting pattern described as “the cotton vote.” As data became available from the 2008 election, aligning a map of the blue strip of Obama-voting Black Belt counties with a map of cottom production from 1860 (!) revealed a remarkable correlation: I already think that’s mindblowing, but that’s not even the mindblowing part. The mindblowing thing is that what’s really responsible for this phenomenon of modern politics is the still-forming North American coastline of 100 million years ago. From Deep Sea News earlier this summer:
“During the Cretaceous, 139-65 million years ago, shallow seas covered much of the southern United States. These tropical waters were productive–giving rise to tiny marine plankton with carbonate skeletons which overtime accumulated into massive chalk formations. The chalk, both alkaline and porous, lead to fertile and well-drained soils in a band, mirroring that ancient coastline and stretching across the now much drier South. This arc of rich and dark soils in Alabama has long been known as the Black Belt.”
Behold! Your late Cretaceous coastline and future Democratic strongholds: Oh, what? You’ve still got some unblown mind left? I have a little more. The map above represents 75 million years ago. Dr. Ron Blakey of Northern Arizona University actually offers us several maps in the late Cretaceous range. But why would that time period be particularly relevant? I find two explanations. One is that the Cretaceous was a boom time for the sort of plankton that would eventually become the Black Belt.  The other explanation is that the Cretaceous ended when, 65 million years ago, an asteroid (or asteroids) slammed into the earth, right across the future-Gulf of Mexico at the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. Not only did the impact and resulting fallout from that asteroid kill the dinosaurs, it also wiped out huge quantities of marine life, including many of the “tiny marine plankton with carbonate skeletons” (I’m guessing some version of Coccolithophore? Anyone?) that would become the rich soil that slaves would farm on land their ancestors would inhabit in voting districts that would favor Democratic candidates around the turn of the second millennium of the Common Era. Below is a map of the Chicxulub Crater, the crater left by the asteroid 65 million years ago, showing its location at the end of the Yucatan Peninsula. It looks like a topographical map, but actually it’s a Bouguer gravity anomaly map. The best explanation I could find for gravity anomaly maps is from this Earth Observatory page from NASA. I think the idea is that the impact created ridges of higher density, which show up as gravity anomalies. As ever, any insights and expertise you can offer on anything in this post is greatly appreciated. Also, the more I researched this, the more I ran into people who’d already done portions or variations of it. I tried to include as many links as I could to previous work. Credit also to Allen Gathman for the cotton vote connection. Article By Will Femia
This has to be one of my favorite posts in a long time. It encompasses such a variety of fields, from politics to history to several fields of science. All of them interesting, and each important as much individually as to the whole. A bit of a long post, but every bit of it interesting and well worth the read! 

Paleo-politics: The really long view



Congress’s Science Committee Doesn’t Get Science

I’m not in the business of injecting unnecessary political controversy into the science world, but let this serve as a reminder that entrusting the future of science to people with no understanding of science can lead us nowhere but backwards.

It’s in your hands. Envision a future full of wonder, created by science, and then demand that it comes to pass.

Are we curious humans or fearful ostriches?

This is embarrassing. It’s not the job of science to meddle in politics, as they tend to put bias toward proving one thing or another. 

However, when the head legislative group is made up of people who directly dispute well established scientific thinking..something needs to change.

First, cast doubt on the science. Second, question the personal motives and integrity of the scientists. Third, magnify genuine disagreements among scientists, and cite nonexperts with minority opinions as authorities. Fourth, exaggerate the potential harm caused by the issue at hand. Fifth, frame issues as a threat to personal freedom. And sixth, claim that acceptance would repudiate a key philosophy, religious belief, or practice of a group.

Six tactics used by denial campaign. Keep them in mind so that you’ll be able to distinguish denial from legitimate scientific debate.Flavors of Uncertainty: The Difference between Denial and Debate (via scipsy)

Call me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.

This was a — wait for it — Koch-funded study that finally reached the same conclusion as 97 percent of the scientific community. 

Actually, it even found the the current findings underestimatedthe rate of warming. 

Remember that time the Koch brothers funded a study to disprove man-made climate change and accidentally ended up proving it?

Science, when applied correctly, tells no lies.

(via jtotheizzoe)


Science Query for the Presidential Candidates

I wonder when will the public start demanding scientific literacy among their governing officials, including presidential candidates. We were not a country founded on religious beliefs yet it floods our country’s interest for some odd reason. Would it be too much to ask these people have at least a basic, well-rounded sense of the scientific method, much like we require the same level of expertise from our doctors, scientists, teachers, etc.?.

Here’s a nice article via SciAm that reiterates a similar concern:

3 Science Questions to Ask U.S. Presidential Candidates

“As you may already be aware from my previous posts, The Guardian U.S. and NYU’s Studio 20 journalism lab have teamed up to push a project called The Citizens’ Agenda into the media discourse surrounding the U.S. presidential 2012 election. The idea: find out what you–the citizens–want the candidates to be discussing over the next four months – usually meaning questions of substance about policy rather than horserace and gotcha questions so pervasive in mainstream media.”

Continue to Full Article

The nature of politics is such that science is irrevocably caught up in it. If we are to not just maintain a level of scientific dominance but expand it, then our head policy makers need to openly support and embrace scientific evidence on certain topics. Climate effects are visible the world over, the US has a number of states trying to teach creationism instead of evolution, and our education system is rejecting the proper remedies that, as a scientific leader, we need. I don’t expect to see many/most of these questions answered by either candidate, but we can always hope! More than that, if we can push to show that scientific reasoning and data has a place in our important government policy-making, that makes it all the more likely that it will be so!

The four words that will define this century: The Earth is full.

@paulgilding at TED (via kateoplis)

The other issue toward the end of the century is going to be declining birth rates in developed countries. As raising a child becomes more expensive, and countries enact laws that limit population growth (similar to China’s), the birth rate in the developed world will drop below 2.1 per family. After that, the population the shrinking and causes a whole host of problems, not to mention issues with immigration needing to be encouraged.