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In Promoting New Nuclear Power, Biden-Harris Back Fiction Over Science

In Promoting New Nuclear Power, Biden-Harris Back Fiction Over Science

Nuclear fuel assemblies being inspected before entering a pressurized water reactor in the United States – Public Domain

Although possibly a sad comment on his predecessors, incoming U.S. president, Joe Biden, is offering the most progressive climate policy so far of any who have previously held his position.

As Paul Gipe points out in his recent blog, the Biden-Harris climate plan uses the word “revolution” right in the headline — a bit of a departure from the usual cautious rhetoric of the centrist-controlled Democratic Party.

But ‘revolution’ is proceeded by two words which let us know we are still lingering in conservative ‘safe’ territory. They call it a “clean energy revolution”, which Gipe rightly refers to as “focus-group shopped terminology.” He goes on:

”Clean energy is a term forged by Madison Avenue advertising mavens in the crucible of focus groups. It ‘polls well,’ as they say. It means one thing to one interest group, something else to another. So it’s perfect for politics in America.

“To environmentalists, it means wind and solar energy, often only those two forms of renewable energy, and sometimes only solar. It also means good times to the coal and nuclear industry. (Ever hear of ‘clean coal’?)

“So clean energy is one of those misleading words that party leaders and, importantly, fundraisers can use to elicit money from donors of all stripes. Why say renewable energy, when you want to raise money from the coal and nuclear industries?”

The Biden-Harris energy plan hits all the right notes in its opening paragraphs, focusing on a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 and emphasizing infrastructure, international collaboration and the protection of poor communities of color, who suffer the most harm from unfettered polluters.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Demon-Haunted World

“We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.”

  • Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.

The White Sands Proving Ground sits in the Jornada del Muerto desert, southeast of Socorro, New Mexico. On July 16, 1945, it became the test site for the world’s first nuclear detonation. The Manhattan Project – the race to build the bomb – had started modestly enough six years earlier, but as it gained momentum would go on to employ more than 130,000 people and expend the equivalent of $26 billion in today’s money.

Among the scientists and military men in attendance, there was no consensus as to what the results might be. The physicist Norman Ramsey forecast that the bomb would fail to go off completely. Robert Oppenheimer predicted an explosive yield equivalent to 300 tons of TNT. The Ukrainian-American chemist George Kistiakowsky plumped for 1,400 tons of TNT. The German-American physicist Hans Bethe went for 8,000 tons of TNT. The Polish-born physicist Isidor Isaac Rabi chose 18,000 tons of TNT (he would win the bet).

But the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi proposed a different wager altogether. He darkly suggested two options: given that the atmosphere would ignite, would the blast destroy just the state, or would it incinerate the entire planet ?

Fermi’s prediction was not as outlandish as it sounds today. Earlier in the war, in the spring of 1942, German physicists approached Hitler’s Minister for War Production, Albert Speer, to discuss the possibility of their building a nuclear bomb…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh VII

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh VII

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Pompeii, Italy (1993) Photo by author

Ha! It’s poetry in motion
Now she’s making love to me
The spheres are in commotion
The elements in harmony
She blinded me with science
(She blinded me with science!)
And hit me with technology
-Thomas Dolby, 1982 (She Blinded Me With Science)

Science, it turns outs, is a process not an answer. And, it usually has many answers from various sciences, each having their own methods and standards. When someone tells you, “the science says,” be skeptical. They are usually being paid to say what they are about to say or at least have been thoroughly indoctrinated by others who are paid. There is never just one answer to any supposedly scientific question.
-Kurt Cobb (Why am I feeling so anxious? The end of modernism arrives)

Unfortunately, there are many other misconceptions about science. One of the most common misconceptions concerns the so-called “scientific proofs.” Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a scientific proof…all scientific knowledge is tentative and provisional, and nothing is final. There is no such thing as final proven knowledge in science. The currently accepted theory of a phenomenon is simply the best explanation for it among all available alternatives. Its status as the accepted theory is contingent on what other theories are available and might suddenly change tomorrow if there appears a better theory or new evidence that might challenge the accepted theory. No knowledge or theory (which embodies scientific knowledge) is final.
-Satoshi Kanazawa (Common Misconceptions About Science I: “Scientific Proof”)

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why Hypothesis is no longer about Discovery

COMMENT: The old definition of the scientific method was “In a typical application of the scientific method, a researcher develops a hypothesis, tests it through various means, and then modifies the hypothesis on the basis of the outcome of the tests and experiments. The modified hypothesis is then retested, further modified, and tested again, until it becomes consistent with observed phenomena and testing outcomes.”

The new definition of the scientific method is that you alter your data until it conforms to your hypothesis.

C

REPLY: This is so true and has been used in both the virus as well as climate change. In economics, we have people constantly trying to force the economy to support their equality hypothesis first proposed by Karl Marx. The fact that Communism has failed, they have tried so desperately to adopt Marxism which has been like trying to be a little bit pregnant. They protest about the lofty 1% who own most of the public companies, but nobody looks at the fact that the savings of the individual are seized and put into things like government pensions which then are restricted to invest only in government bonds.

The public fails to understand that the billionaires made what they did from stock investments – not cash salaries. Perhaps they are always left to prevent others from making what they did. Gates goes further and wants to reduce the population as well.

Nobody looks at the evidence anymore. Then the government takes your money, pays you no interest, and you celebrate when you get a refund check with no interest. The government borrows from the poor without interest yet pay the rich interest through bonds.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why am I feeling so anxious? The end of modernism arrives

Why am I feeling so anxious? The end of modernism arrives

A friend of mine quipped that it is one thing to talk about the end of modernism—as the two of us have been doing for over 25 years—and quite another to live through it. It might seem that such notions are far too abstract to account for the anxiety of our fraught times. But underneath all the disorder we see in our pandemic-plagued economic, social and political lives is the crumbling of key assumptions about what we call modernity, a period of “enlightenment” that has supposedly freed us from the past.

First, let me recount what I regard as four key assumptions of modernism—I’ve written about them before—which are being demolished every day right before our eyes with the help of an invisible virus.

  1. Humans are in one category and nature is in another.
  2. Scale doesn’t matter.
  3. History can be safely ignored since modern society has seen through the delusions of the past.
  4. Science is a unified, coherent field that explains the rational principles by which we can manage the physical world.

The next thing I need to remind you is that modernism is as much a religion as any other. In the not-too-distant past, whenever anyone raised questions about its basic tenets—directly or indirectly in one form or another—that person was quickly shushed. If the person persisted, he or she was then shamed. If shaming didn’t work, then that person was shunned or even unceremoniously ejected from the party.

Enter COVID-19.

The very first thing COVID-19 reminded us is that humans and nature are both in the same category, whatever you want to call it. (My favorite living French thinker Bruno Latour proposed the compound term “nature-culture” in his seminal book We Have Never Been Modern.)

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Delaware Just Sued 30 Fossil Fuel Companies and the American Petroleum Institute Over Climate ‘Denial and Disinformation’

Delaware Just Sued 30 Fossil Fuel Companies and the American Petroleum Institute Over Climate ‘Denial and Disinformation’

Flood damage from Hurricane Irene at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware.

Delaware, the home state of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, announced on Thursday, September 10 that it is taking dozens of major oil and gas companies including BP, Chevron, and ExxonMobil to court over the rising costs of climate impacts such as sea level rise and coastal flooding.

Like other U.S. states and municipalities suing the fossil fuel industry, Delaware says that the industry knew half a century ago about the likely climate impacts resulting from the use of its products, but instead of warning the public or changing their business model, the fossil fuel companies engaged in campaigns to attack climate science and downplay the risks of burning coal, oil, and gas in order to stave off policy responses.

Delawareans are already paying for the malfeasance of the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies,” Attorney General Kathy Jennings said in a press release. “Exxon, Chevron, and other mega-corporations knew exactly what kind of sacrifices the world would make to support their profits, and they deceived the public for decades. Now we are staring down a crisis at our shores, and taxpayers are once again footing the bill for damage to our roads, our beaches, our environment, and our economy. We are seeking accountability from some of the world’s most powerful businesses to pay for the mess they’ve made.”

The lawsuit, filed September 10 in Delaware Superior Court, a state court, seeks monetary damages to help pay for costs the state is already incurring and that are expected to mount as climate impacts worsen.

As noted in Delaware’s complaint, the state has the lowest average elevation of any state in the country and more than 22,000 residents are currently threatened by coastal flooding.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

An alternative agriculturist’s guide to science

An alternative agriculturist’s guide to science

To begin, just a heads up on a couple of new things on the site. First, I’ve posted on the My Book page advanced comments about my forthcoming book that have come in from a number of interesting thinkers. It’s nice to get such positive notices. Currently, I’m pretty busy gearing up for the book launch on 15 October (21 October in the USA) and I’ll be devoting some blog posts to the book thereafter.

Also, an interesting comment has come in concerning my house rules on the About page, to which I replied here. I don’t promise to debate my rules with all comers, but I think the issues in this instance are thought-provoking, so I (cautiously) welcome further comments.

And now to work with a few thoughts on science and alternative agriculture, inspired partly by this article and partly by the themes explored in Chapter 16 of my book (“From religion to science (and back)”). I’m not going to engage systematically with either source, but instead just use them as points of departure for a few remarks concerning the need as I see it for many of us in the alternative agriculture movement to develop a more nuanced approach to science.

Let me start by invoking a distinction I made some time ago between what I call ‘science’ and ‘SCIENCE’. Lowercase ‘science’ is the everyday, generally unglamorous work that scientists do in laboratories, field study sites and the like, where they use carefully-formulated techniques to tease out the relationships between entities in the biophysical world. A vital aspect of ‘science’ in this sense is that the people engaged in it – almost uniquely in human discourse – have developed rigorous procedures for conceding when they’ve got things wrong and the evidence doesn’t support their contentions.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Siberian Heat Wave Was Made 600x More Likely by the Climate Crisis, Scientists Say

Siberian Heat Wave Was Made 600x More Likely by the Climate Crisis, Scientists Say

Scientists say that a record-breaking Arctic heat wave was made 600 times more likely by the man-made climate crisis. PBS NewsHour / YouTube

The record-breaking heat in the Arctic saw temperatures soar above 100 degrees for the first time in recorded history. Now, a new analysis has put to rest any notion that the heat was caused by natural temperature fluctuations.

The study found that the record-breaking heat wave was made 600 times more likely by the man-made climate crisis, as The Guardian reported. In other words, the heat wave is nearly impossible without the climate crisis.

The heat in Siberia has produced conditions both strange and awful, with massive wildfires, ravening mosquitoes and shaky permafrost that has caused infrastructure damage, including a burst fuel tank that released about 23,000 tons of diesel fuel into a pristine lake. The wildfires have spread farther north than ever before and have put more greenhouse gases into the earth’s atmosphere than in any other month in 18 years of data collection, according to one report.

To figure out if human actions played a role in the unprecedented heat wave in Siberia, the researchers looked at two recent examples of exceptional heating in the region. The first was a look at the trend line from January through June of this year, when the average temperatures in the region were 9 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the average temperatures from 1951 to 1980. The second was the remarkable heat on June 20 that saw temperatures at the Russian town of Verkhoyansk at a reported 100.4 degrees, which the Russian Meteorological Service said is a record for temperatures anywhere north of the Arctic Circle, as The New York Times reported.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Too Much Faith in Models

Too Much Faith in Models

Too Much Faith in Models

Source: AP Photo/Jae C. Hong 

Between 2 million and 3 million Americans will die!

That was the prediction from “experts” at London’s Imperial College when COVID-19 began. They did also say if there was “social distancing of the whole population,” the death toll could be cut in half, but 1.1 million to 1.46 million Americans would still die by this summer.

Our actual death toll has been about one-tenth of that.

Nevertheless, Imperial College’s model was extremely influential.

Politicians issued stay-at-home orders. They said we must trust the “experts.”

“Follow the science. Listen to the experts. Do what they tell you,” said Joe Biden, laughing at what he considered an obvious truth.

But “there is no such thing as “the science!” replies science reporter Matt Ridley in my new video about “expert” predictions. “Science consists of people disagreeing with each other!”

The lockdowns, he adds, were “quite dangerously wrong.”

Because Imperial’s model predicted that COVID-19 would overwhelm hospitals, patients were moved to nursing homes. The coronavirus then spread in nursing homes.CARTOONS | STEVE BREENVIEW CARTOON

Ordering almost every worker to stay home led to an economic collapse that may have killed people, too.

“The main interventions that helped prevent people dying were stopping large gatherings, people washing their hands and wearing face masks, general social distancing — not forcing people to stay home,” says Ridley.

Even New York Governor Andrew Cuomo now admits: “We all failed at that business. All the early national experts: ‘Here’s my projection model.’ They were all wrong.”

If he and other politicians had just done just a little research, then they would have known that Imperial College researchers repeatedly predict great disasters that don’t happen. Their model predicted 65,000 deaths from swine flu, 136,000 from mad cow disease, and 200 million from bird flu.

The real numbers were in the hundreds.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Infodemic of Fake News in the Era of CoV-19

The Infodemic of Fake News in the Era of CoV-19

In Italy Facebook and Twitter are not the primary social media apps of Italians generally speaking. More than ever WhatsApp and Instagram are the mobile apps of choice for social media messaging and these apps have been the cause of many fake news stories where local gossip is translated into a media story only later to be discovered as fake. There are even fake animal stories in abundance on social media on Instagram and Twitter and filters on Instagram that made claims to diagnose—and even cure—COVID-19.

Remember the ibuprofen scare that was said to originate from a friend of a doctor at the Medical University of Vienna in March? The claim, originally made as a voice recording in German and quickly translated to many other languages in message form, was that COVID-19 was either caused by or aggravated by patients taking ibuprofen. I saw about thirty tweets to this effect in March that many people aimlessly executed without reading any verifiable studies on this claim. Well, it turns out this was a hoax and wildly successful since even today people are still retweeting the fake news for which there is zero scientific basis.

While fake news is not endemic to Italy, it is having an increasing impact in other European nations as WhatsApp has become the primary vehicle for transmitting fraudulent news stories. Now for every rumour on social media, major and independent news is tasked with correcting the fake news reports to include telling readers how to deal with what is now called an “infodemic.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The downfall of ‘Professor Lockdown’: triumphs and failures of science based policies

The downfall of ‘Professor Lockdown’: triumphs and failures of science based policies

Scientists normally think that a scientific theory can be good or bad independently of the moral status of the person who proposes it. But in politics, the messenger can be blamed. That was the probable reason for the downfall of Dr. Neil Ferguson, nicknamed “Professor Lockdown,” whose moral position was destroyed by a petty sexual scandal. For most scientists, Dr, Ferguson’s personal misbehavior has no relevance to the validity of his models, but for politicians and for the public, it does. A lot.

You all read the story of the downfall of Professor Neil Ferguson, aka “Professor Lockdown” trashed worldwide in the media for having had his lover, Ms. Antonia Staats, visiting him during the lockdown period that he himself had recommended for everybody else. It was a blessing for tabloids and there is no doubt that Dr. Ferguson deserved much of the scorn and the ridicule that was poured on him. Yet, there are some elements in this story that make it different from an ordinary story of philandering.

Let’s review what we know: it seems that Ms. Staats and Dr. Ferguson met first over an internet site and then it was Staats who went to visit Ferguson during the lockdown period at his home in London, and the same Staats who told the story to friends who, in turn, diffused it around. Ferguson didn’t deny the media reports and he immediately apologized and resigned from his post of government advisor.
I don’t know about you, but. to me, all this looks like a trap, sounds like a trap, even smells like a trap. So, it probably was a trap. Ferguson fell head first into it and he was neatly skewered.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Authoritarianism in the Age of Pseudoscience

Authoritarianism in the Age of Pseudoscience

Following the court decision in the US to award in favour of Dewayne Johnson (exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer and its active ingredient, glyphosate, caused Johnson to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma), attorney Robert Kennedy Jr said at the post-trial press conference:

The corruption of science, the falsification of science, and we saw all those things happen here. This is a company (Monsanto) that used all of the plays in the playbook developed over 60 years by the tobacco industry to escape the consequences of killing one of every five of its customers… Monsanto… has used those strategies…”

Johnson’s lawyers argued over the course of the month-long trial in 2018 that Monsanto had “fought science” for years and targeted academics who spoke up about possible health risks of the herbicide product.

Long before the Johnson case, critics of Monsanto were already aware of the practices the company had engaged in for decades to undermine science. At the same time, Monsanto and its lobbyists had called anyone who questioned the company’s ‘science’ as engaging in pseudoscience and labelled them ‘anti-science’.

We need look no further than the current coronavirus issue to understand how vested interests are set to profit by spinning the crisis a certain way and how questionable science is again being used to pursue policies that are essentially ‘unscientific’ – governments, the police and the corporate media have become the arbiters of ‘truth’.

We also see anyone challenging the policies and the ‘science’ being censored on social media or not being given a platform on TV and accused of engaging in ‘misinformation’. It’s the same old playbook.

The case-fatality ratio for COVID-19 is so low as to make the lockdown response wholly disproportionate. Yet we are asked to blindly accept government narratives and the policies based on them.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Our climate is like reckless banking before the crash—it’s time to talk about near-term collapse

Our climate is like reckless banking before the crash—it’s time to talk about near-term collapse

Our food, finance, and logistics systems are worryingly vulnerable to climate shocks, Aled Jones and Will Steffen write. These are not distant existential issues raised by uncertain and abstract models of future climatic risk. They are urgent questions that humanity has been ducking for decades, but now demand urgent answers. 

*****

CC.0 :: Nikita Sypko / Unsplash.com

After a quarter of a century of nations from around the world coming together to discuss progress in dealing with climate change, emissions are still rising. The 25th annual United Nations climate change summit is now underway—and for the sake of the planet, it’s high time it changed its approach.

While climate scientists, policymakers and environmental campaigners have been engaged in a decades-long conversation about the future of the planet, most people on planet Earth see no climate emergency. Put bluntly, the science of global warming has failed spectacularly to emotionally connect with much of society, particularly those in the most powerful positions—rendering policy makers ineffective despite repeated warnings.

The science and the warnings focus on curtailing the emission of heat-absorbing gases into the atmosphere that, left unaddressed, may threaten the viability of contemporary society and worsen a mass extinction event already in motion.

But these warnings are not connected with complex human systems, such as food, finance and logistics, leaving them to evolve as if climate change didn’t exist. Terms such as “tipping points” are on their own technical, distant and abstract, while humans are wired to prioritise the short-term.

This failure to connect the dots means humanity has rapidly entered uncharted territory, pumping out carbon ten times faster than at any point since the extinction of the dinosaurs.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Imagination, STEM and Reading Lolita in Tehran

Imagination, STEM and Reading Lolita in Tehran

Azar Nafisi, author of the international bestseller, Reading Lolita in Tehran, explains that the title of her book came from her diary in which she kept track of activities that were no longer allowed in post-revolutionary Iran, but which people engaged in as a form of resistance. One of those activities was reading Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel, Lolita, about a middle-aged professor of literature who finds himself sexually pursuing a 12-year-old girl—a tale that is not exactly consistent with Islamic revolutionary clerical sensibilities.

Nafisi spoke recently to a small gathering I attended at the home of a friend about her life, her writings and her fears for American democracy. She shared her concerns that warning signs are all around signaling the decline of democratic life in her adopted country. She did so in part by invoking a recurrent theme in the academic world to which she belongs. That world contains two cultures which seem forever split, the sciences and the humanities.

The craze over so-called STEM—science, technology, engineering and math—in education policy and practice has devalued the development of individual imagination which Nafisi regards as the cornerstone of an educated mind. Instead, cultivation of the imagination is replaced with the notion of a “race” against the Chinese and other commercial rivals to dominate world markets with new, domestically developed technologies.

No thought is given to whether those technologies will enhance our individual lives. More likely, those technologies—the cellphone was much on her mind—are designed to do our imagining for us. You might say that the STEM crowd is substituting their imagination for ours. (Here and below I mix in my own reactions to Nafisi’s presentation.)

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The birds and the bees

The birds and the bees 

North America’s birds are dying at a rate that’s alarming ornithologists. Since the 1970s, the continent has lost 3 billion birds, nearly 30% of the total, and even common birds such as sparrows and blackbirds are in decline, U.S. and Canadian researchers report this week online in Science. The findings raise fears that some familiar species could go the way of the passenger pigeon, a species once so abundant that its extinction in the early 1900s seemed unthinkable.

In past decades, researchers have documented the decline of particular bird groups, including migratory songbirds. But more recent studies have been broader: covering 529 bird species, about three-quarters of all species in North America, and accounting for more than 90% of the entire bird population.

Skylark numbers have plummeted

Grassland birds have declined by 53% since 1970—a loss of 700 million adults in the 31 species studied, including meadowlarks and northern bobwhites. Shorebirds such as sanderlings and plovers are down by about one-third, the team says. Habitat loss may be to blame.

The familiar birds that flock by the thousands in suburbs were not exempt. Nineteen common species have each lost more than 50 million birds since 1970. Twelve groups, including sparrows, warblers, finches, and blackbirds, were particularly hard hit. Even introduced species that have thrived in North America, such as starlings and house sparrows, are losing ground. Only waterfowl and raptors seem to be thriving, thanks to habitat restoration and other conservation efforts. But the declines in many other species, particularly those living along shorelines and in grasslands, far exceeded those gains.

Pesticides are very probably a factor. Last week, toxicologists described how low doses of neonicotinoids—a common pesticide—made migrating sparrows lose weight and delay their migration, which hurts their chances of surviving and reproducing. Climate change, habitat loss, shifts in food webs, and even cats may all be adding to the problem, and not just for birds.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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