Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Science Denial in Political Candidates;The Importance of a Simple but Telling Question

Back in 2008 Republican presidential hopefuls gathered in an on-stage “debate”.  By debate I mean they did what all politicians do regardless of political party- they used the occasion to bend questions to fit their answers and stroke the expectations of smiling partisans counting down to that primary election.

The event was typical and boring.  Stock answers to non-issues and sidestepping issues that truly matter in our country.

But one web-submitted question resonated especially well with me and it should be a mandated question in all political debates from here on out…. “This is a yes-no question… Do you believe in evolution?”

The question should have been, “Do you accept the evidence for evolution,” because we don’t have to believe something when it has been substantiated with overwhelming evidence, but these are politicians, not scientists, so we’ll let it slide.

The question was posed to Senator John McCain, who enthusiastically said, “Yes.”

When asked to the rest of the stage with a show-of-hands, hands were slow to raise, and candidates looked back and forth at each other, thinking quickly of how their answer could be politically expedient.

Gov. Mike Huckabee was the first hand up, followed by Sen. Sam Brownback and Rep. Tom Tancredo.

This was a telling moment.  Here were three candidates willing to ignore evidence and brandish their ignorance in a show to placate a political base.  To me, grounds for immediate disqualification.

This year during the “debates” some pundit mentioned that such questions were useless in vetting a presidential candidate. I could not disagree more.  This is absolutely the best question to ask anyone seeking the highest office in the land, an office where they literally have their finger on the power to annihilate the planet. They also have to make many policy decisions that could benefit from objective scientific validation, and to turn a blind eye to science for political gains is detrimental to us all.

To deny that evolution happened over the last 3.6 billion years (and still happens and is ongoing) means that you have to be willing to ignore evidence.  Worse, you have to be willing to ignore evidence and accept what someone believes in the absence of evidence, but on the basis of faith.

So when an important decision needs to be made (like invade Iraq to take out Saddam Hussein in retribution for 9-11) who do we want to make that decision?  Do we want someone in power that will carefully consider and weigh all points of view, options, and evidence, and then make a decision based on the facts, or do we want someone that will default to the voice in his head, the voice he hears in prayers, the voices of his supporters, the voices of big business, the voices of his party, and/or the voices of contributors? 

Evolution is the basis of speciation and natural selection is the mechanism by which it happens.  That is not a subject of debate among the world’s scientists.  Fewer theories have more support from diverse scientists and avenues of inquiry.  To refuse to accept this evidence to placate the ignorant shows that a politician is either lying or stupid.

Anyone not accepting evolution as an established and supported theory that explains the diversity of life on earth should be immediately disqualified from holding the office of President of the USA.  The next decade will require hard decisions to be made on economic policy, energy policy, foreign policy, and many other areas.  We need leaders that are connected to science and quality information, that can make good decisions when provided with information, and accept reality over influences.

They could instead run for King of a planet that is flat, cooling and in the middle of the universe. 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Never Cried Over Pasta

Until today.

It didn't even occur to me.  Today is Saturday and I finished work a bit early, around 4 pm, allowing me enough time to stop at the store and make dinner- not just put something together, but actually cook. Make real dinner.

I opted to make a big pot of pasta sauce with Italian sausage.

I malliardized the onions, added fresh garlic, then assembled the pasta sauce that my mom taught me how to make years ago.  Then it hit me.  She's gone.  The smell is here, the same thoughtful assembly of ingredients in the right proportions and right order was here, but she's gone.

My kitchen smelled like her kitchen and I crashed.

As a kid I learned how to cook from my mother.  She was really good, good at a gut instinct for what to add and in which proportions. I guess that is where I get it from.  When I was in Cub Scouts part of the badge requirement was to learn how to set a table and how to assist with serving a meal.  I learned that stuff from my parents. Dinner was a formal daily event, and it was always good.

The pasta sauce is not so much a recipe as an assembly. It comes from my mom's best friend's mother, a person I called grandma until she passed away, and for the most part of that time it was unclear why I got to have three grandmothers.  Why argue with that?  She was Greek, but knew how to cook Italian.

My mom borrowed that recipe and at one point showed me how to do it.  My house smells like her house, right now.

At some point I showed this to my nephew and will show it to my niece eventually.  This one is too good to lose.

I have not written anything because I've kept myself packed with business so that I can't think about the grieving process.  If I keep running I can't have the time to break down.

Being in Gainesville, FL I can avoid pictures, I can avoid the topic.  I live 1154 miles away so I can't see her home or think about the places she'd go or the things she'd do.

But I can't hide from the wonderful aromas and the thoughts and memories they carry with them.

I've been blindsided into grief by a steaming pot of simmering tomato goo.  This will be a long process.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Pinball Repair Master Adrift in the Age of Modern Marketing

Florida State Highway 33 is a desolate ribbon of asphalt that connects Polk City to Groveland, two places that are little more than speed bumps and never destinations.   It is an artery we must transit when moving between Gainesville and the USDA labs in Winter Haven, FL, as they do a lot of analytical chemistry in association with our projects.  There are no gas stations, mini marts or scenic stops, just mile after mile of pine and palm, broken up only by a toothless goon here and there, occasionally one rolling a tire.

About six miles out of Polk City and 21 miles before Groveland there is a sign hammered into a naked spot on a tree.  It is about eighteen inches wide and twelve inches tall.  It is unpainted wood and features black block letters that say PINBALL REPAIR, followed by a phone number.

Now, what are the odds....   you see where I'm going.

Imagine the almost infinite alignment that needs to happen here.  First, someone has to own a pinball machine.  Next, it has to be broken.  Next, they have to want to repair it.  Next, they could find nobody to do the work.  Next, they have to be driving north on Florida State Road 33 from Polk City to Groveland, during the day.  Finally, they have to actually spy this rather innocuous sign, then be quick with a pen to jot down the phone number.

WTF?  I think you'd be more likely to find Bigfoot walking arm-in-arm with Jimmy Hoffa in the middle of Disneyland, or the Cubs winning the Super Bowl.

Sadly I picture a sixty-something unkept guy, perhaps missing a limb, sitting near an old rotary dial phone in his home near the modest suburbs of (ahhem) Polk City.  Every morning he dons the coveralls, sits down at his work desk by 9AM, on time, every day, waiting for a service call.  He sits among boxes of flippers, bumpers, plungers and tilt lights, maybe rolling a heavy shiny silver ball across his desk over and over to keep what's left of his sanity.

But the call never comes.  Perhaps once in the middle of the night the phone exploded into its song, leaving him only to find a wrong number.

He might wonder what is wrong.  Is his advertising network not connecting with its market?  Maybe he needs  to modernize his marketing strategy, perhaps a note in the church bulletin or maybe he needs to thumb it up to Groveland and put ads under windshield wipers at the DQ.  Clearly the net he has cast is not reaching his potential clientele in broken-pinball-machine space.

To me it speaks to the ambitions of the human spirit and how well-intended ideas die from poor execution.  Next time I'm down there I'm going to get that number and make the phone call.  Stand by for details.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Cause of Mysterious Bird/Fish Deaths Revealed!

Over the last week there have been numerous reports of widespread avian and fish death.  Apparently large swarms of birds and huge schools of fish give up the ghost for no known reason.  Or so it is thought.

The genius think tank over at Natural News has it all figured out.  In his January 4th column Mike Adams applies his usual less-than-rigorous approach to resolve this mystery.  The column speculates based on zero evidence:

For all we know, these 100,000 dead fish are downstream from a field of GMO corn that mutated into something even more deadly than the GMOs we already know. This may not be so far-fetched, actually:Monsanto has a corporate office in Arkansas(in Stuttgart, Arkansas) that's not too many miles from the Arkansas River.

Let me get this straight.  His hypothesis is that there was a mutation in GMO corn that was specific to the transgene, not the 40,000 other genes, and then this corn was magically transported into water and killed fish, because the Monsanto office is a few miles away.

Is it just me, or does this reek of intellectual emptiness?

Adams makes his usual allegations and conclusions without any evidence supporting them.  In other words, making shit up.  Only the scientifically bankrupt could make such leaps.  In typical Natural News/Anti-GMO fashion, the ignorant choose to dismiss real causes and facts to promote an agenda that feels groovy but is scientifically baseless.  This misdirection leads us away from real causes and eventual, scientific solutions.

Yo Mike, what are the "deadly GMOs we already know"?  From the peer-reviewed literature please. Oh, that's right, you can't find it there because BigFarma owns all the journals and scientists, leaving websites and opinions to do the scholarly heavy lifting.

Sadly, the article was also picked up by Google News.  That's how I found it.  The problem is that Natural News isn't about news at all, it is a website dedicated to promoting the naturalistic fallacy.  There is no science, no rigor, no review, just the opinions of a few whack jobs that make money by promoting junk and junk science.

Of course, maybe if the fish and birds were wearing Kinoki Foot Pads or energy bracelets this stuff would not happen.