Monthly Archives: June 2017
The Left Must Find Its Way Back to Science
And I would add, in the UK, unreasoning rejection of fracking (even by those who support off-shore oil production) to the list here of environmentally damaging Left presuppositions that urgently need replacement by rational discussion.
With President Trump committing himself to reversing most, if not all, of Obama’s progressive environmental policies and having pulled out of the Paris Accords, I think it is imperative that the Left take a fresh, evidence-based look at their boogeymen. The Right may have their climate change and evolution denial, but the Left holds onto their fears of GMOs, conventional agriculture, and nuclear power as if they were afraid to lose them. The civilizational knife-edge we find ourselves atop of, as well the pushing and shoving Trump is adding, demands that the Left right their wrongs. Apparently, the Left is the party of science, and while that has always been a stretch, there’s no better time to make it so.
With the departure of the world’s second largest emitter from the first worldwide accord that attempted to limit climate change to within 2 degrees Celsius above baseline, that means that the rest…
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Michael Gove, the doctrinaire ignoramus now in charge of UK environmental policy
It does not matter very much that Michael Gove mistakenly imagines that Boyle’s law is some kind of a fundamental principle. It matters a very great deal, however, that he saw fit to tell teachers that they should teach it as such. It is a sad reflection on the British educational system that Gove, an Oxford graduate, thinks that Newton wrote the laws of thermodynamics, thus showing unawareness of the difference between 17th-century mechanics and 19th-century molecular statistics; the difference between the age of sail and the age of steam. But again, that need not in itself mattered too much. What does matter at many levels is his wish to have “Newton’s laws of thermodynamics” incorporated into the physics curriculum. In both cases, the shameful ignorance displayed is not in itself the major problem. The real concern is Gove’s willingness to impose his ignorance on those who know better, a willingness that led the National Association of Head Teachers, hardly a group of dangerous radicals, to vote no confidence in him. I have written on these topics before, most recently when he bid to become Prime Minister (“Why Michael Gove is not fit to lead anything”) but thought when that bid failed that I could let Gove lapse into the security that he so richly deserves.
Not so, alas. Gove is now Secretary of State for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs. Not topics on which I am an expert, so I will simply hand readers over to someone who is; Miles King at A New Nature Blog:
Last week I wrote about Michael Gove’s surprise arrival as Secretary of State for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs. There is so much more to write about this, but time is limited and I will not be able to cover everything in one piece.
Gove obviously has achieved notoriety amongst the Education establishment, by driving through unpopular reforms to the National Curriculum and to the testing regime. As these reforms have only recently been implemented, the benefits, or damage they cause will only become clear in the years to come.
As a parent with children in the education system I will see personally what Gove (and his comic-book villain sidekick, Dominic Cummings) has done for the future of my family, aside from his (and Cummings’) leading role in Brexit.
His subsequent stint at the Ministry of Justice was too short for him to have achieved anything, either way. Perhaps…
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UK Conservatives, meet the DUP: extremist, creationist, sectarian
“Our MPs will be the kingmakers, playing a huge role” (R: Gregory Campbell MP, from whose victory speech those words are taken)
Overview: I am assuming as I write this that the Conservative Party will remain in power in the UK for the immediate future. As a matter of arithmetic, this will require the cooperation of the Democratic Unionist Party. All this may, however, change at any time.
Update on the Orange Walk issue: it’s already happening: “Supporters of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) are demanding Theresa May allow a banned loyalist march as part of an agreement by the Northern Irish party to prop up a minority Conservative government.” Independent, Monday 12 June
Kingmakers. There is no doubt that this is how the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) see themselves. And there is no doubt that they aim to exploit this role to the full. Not by formal coalition, the trap into which Nick Clegg so disastrously led his party in 2010, but “confidence and supply”, which will leave them free to make new demands and to threaten to withdraw support at any time. I will not attempt to unravel the complex affairs of Northern Ireland, but with the settlement there more fragile than it has been for some years, the strengthening of one partisan faction must be a matter of concern. Anyone requiring evidence of the DUP’s ruthless political infighting, inflammatory rhetoric, and skill at reopening old wounds is invited to visit their web site at http://www.mydup.com/.
Nor should we fall into the trap of underestimating the DUP intellectually because of the crudeness of their dogmas. Nigel Dodds, of whom much more below, has a first-class honours degree in law from Cambridge University, while Ian Paisley Jr., MP for North Antrim and son of the charismatic Reverend Ian Paisley who founded the party, holds BA (hons) and MSSc degrees from Queen’s University Belfast in History and Irish Politics.
Sectarianism and links to violence: The DUP is a sectarian party, founded by former members of the UUP (United Unionist Party) who considered that party’s leadership too conciliatory towards the large Republican (i.e. Catholic) minority. In the late 1980s and 1990s, there were strong links between the DUP and Protestant paramilitary groups Read the rest of this entry
An indisputable fact?
The age of the Earth is around 4.55 billion years. Is this an indisputable fact? How would you answer a creationist who asked you this? I ask for a reason.
I was recently emailed by a stranger who wrote:
I am a college student taking Geology for the first time and there is a debate amongst the students in class. I am contacting you to assist in settling this dispute regarding the age of the earth.
If given the choice between these two rudimentary statements, would you say that:
(a) It is an indisputable fact that the earth is [around] 4.55 billion years old.
(b) Based on current scientific evidence, the earth appears to be 4.55 billion years old; however, future generations may find evidence that has the potential to either substantiate or refute our current model.
Excellent question. But the answer MUST depend on the threshold for disputability.
Do you think it is an indisputable fact that the Romans invaded Britain? If so, you must say that it is an indisputable fact that the Earth is around 4.55 billion years old.
If you say that this age of the Earth is disputable because, in principle, further evidence might make us change our minds, then you must also say that it is disputable that the Romans invaded Britain.
People often say that this or that scientific fact is uncertain because it is always in principle revisable. But the same is true of ALL our knowledge about the world.
Does this help? Please let me know how this plays out.
I am not satisfied with my answer.
The question uses the rhetorical device of the false dilemma. If I say that the age is indisputable, I am violating the principle that scientific knowledge is open to challenge by new evidence. If I say that it is disputable, the questioner has succeeded in driving a wedge, with scientific orthodoxy on one side, and me on the other, alongside Young Earth creationists. This of course is the entire purpose; people don’t go around asking whether the existence of atoms is indisputable. By refining the issue as I did, I have slipped between the horns of the dilemma. Sound logic, feeble rhetoric; looks like I’m wriggling when faced with a straightforward question.
What else could I have said?
Mosaic, Fishbourne, image by Charlesdrakew – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4755271