Thursday, August 16, 2007

If you can’t stand the heat...

While I was out of town for a week, on an un-deserved vacation, the Great Computer spoke again, about this little bug that keeps chaffing his silicon. In this post, he has decided to compare me to Creationists and Practitioners of Alternative medicine. The reference of course it that we’re all ignorant fanatics, who shun Science. In other words: Guilt by Asscociation. He was surprised to learn that some of our arguments are similar. It’s amazing to him, that people prefer, to live their own lives, make their own decisions, and not be dictated to by scientists.

There is a certain kind of person in this world. Most of us, when alerted by another driver, that we have a flat tire, will pull over and inspect it. There is that other type of person that will continue driving, and wonder why all these jerks on the road, keep telling him that his tire is flat. If I were told by several people, that I was being arrogant and controlling, I might take another look in the mirror, before I start accusing and generalizing.

Let me point out once again: I am not opposed to science. There is nothing wrong with information. A link between smoking and cancer? Great, let me know about that so I can alter my lifestyle. The earth is getting warmer, and the ocean might rise a few inches by the time I die? I’ll remember that when I buy my beach-front retirement home. (Make certain it’s in the North, and at least a block from the beach.)

What I oppose, is when Science is confused with legislation. Orac himself makes that error when he suggests:

"It's the personal against the cold, unfeeling scientific. In the case of global warming, it's portrayed as science saying that human industry and automobiles are causing a problem on a planetary scale; in other words, science versus free enterprise. In the case of secondhand smoke, it's scientists telling bar owners and smokers that their habit harms more than just the person puffing on the cigarette and that workers shouldn't have to subject themselves to that risk as a condition of employment; in other words, science versus freedom itself!"

It seems here that Orac is hiding behind Science as if it were Pontius Pilate’s fingerbowl. It’s not the scientists and politicians who are asking for smoking bans and restritive energy legislation, why it’s SCIENCE! You cannot oppose Science!

Science doesn’t legislate, people do. It is wrong headed to suggest that science ever supports any legislation. Science is actually pretty neutral on legislation; it doesn’t ever care whether something is good for society or bad for society. (Think “Manhattan Project.”) Data in data out.

Contrarily, it is how that science is used by legislators, that sets the moral tone. Or let me put it in a way Orac and his buddies might understand better: Science is like a Magic Wand, an Enchanted Sword, or a ring that makes you invisible. It is a power that can be used for good, or it can be used to sneak into the girl’s locker room.

The desire to legislate is the desire to control. The bottom line of all legislation is, that we’ve decided a certain behavior is so repugnant, we must send police to arrest whomever next engages in that activity. It is the consummate position of power. People don’t get into politics unless they have a desire to hold that power.

Where that desire comes from, I don’t really know. What is it that compels people to demand that bars they have no intention of entering, must be smoke free? Why should all light bulbs be replaced with CFLs, and everyone be required to drive a Prius? As someone who thinks people should be allowed to live their own lives as they see fit, I really don’t understand it. I originally speculated, that this need to manipulate fellow citizens was spawned on the dodgeball courts of a pre-Clinton America.

I still haven’t seen anything that would convince me otherwise. If that conclusion bothers some, hey it’s just politics. Ad Hominem attacks, and unsubstantiated arguments have always been the status quo of political debate. Once scientists have decided to commit their lives to politics, they have entered a forum where the rules of science no longer apply. It’s all fair game. So if you don’t like the rhetoric, get back into the laboratory.

And in the political realm, it seems science is used more often, to fog the debate, than to clarify it. Little scientific facts are used to support overwhelming suppositions. Advocates of legislation are allowed to make incredibly hyperbolic statements with little or no criticism from the scientific community.

Take for instance Global Warming: The famous claim by Al Gore that oceans could rise by as much as twenty feet. According to scientists, they could. It has happened before, and it might happen again. But there is no evidence that this is likely within any of our lifetimes. This dubious claim that we are facing a deluge is played out by politicians, and in the media, as if it is inevitable and impending. Al Gore even said we have less than ten years to act if we want to stop it. Carbon emission caps are proposed, and if anyone dares criticize those caps, they are accused of being ignorant, anti science, and will be held responsible for the great deluge.

The truth is, current estimates only attribute 30 - 40 percent of the observed warming to human CO2 emissions. Which means that if we stopped all CO2 production tomorrow, a majority of the warming, melting, and rising would still occur. Since there isn’t a chance we could stop burning carbon within the next ten, twenty, or (probably) even a hundred years, it seems that Global warming is inevitable; just something we should learn to live with. But that’s certainly not the direction the legislation is headed.

Same goes for the risk of second hand smoke. I brought up earlier that the risk of heart trouble from second hand smoke, is less than the risk of heart trouble from drinking a can of pop every day. Orac claims that is a silly argument, because nobody is forced to drink a can of pop every day.

Apparently, he completely missed my satirical point. Most Americans would be surprised to learn there is more risk of heart disease from can of pop, than from sitting in a smoky bar. Smoking has been so demonized, that people assume SHS is nearly as deadly as cyanide gas. In fact, much of the popular propaganda often repeats that there is cyanide in second hand smoke. Scientific fact perhaps, but is it ever mentioned that cyanide is also found in almonds, millet sprouts, lima beans, soy, spinach, bamboo shoots, and cassava roots?

And let me state here and now that I don’t think there is anything in a can of pop that could cause heart trouble. I believe that there is just a commonality between frequent pop drinkers, and those with heart trouble that the experimenters didn’t control out of the study (Lack of exercise? Dietary habits? Propensity to lie about smoking, diet and exercise when questioned by an Epidemiologist?). Which is the point I was trying to bring up. Yes, a risk of 1.2 from smoking Second Hand Smoke might be real, and statistically significant, but it is so small, that perhaps the scientists just aren’t looking at their control group close enough. (or more likely, they don’t want to). I don’t think any of the studies that Orac pointed out screened participants for daily pop consumption.

One of the things that irritated Orac in the beginning, that I made fun of Global Warming, by suggesting a cold February was evidence against it. He missed the satire that night as well. If a hot day in Nevada, is evidence of Global warming, the thirtieth coldest February must be evidence against. If a politician were to trumpet the lack of hurricanes for two seasons, as evidence against global warming, the scientists would come down on him in herds. However, there is very little opposition when politicians and media types use a particularly active hurricane season as evidence of the crisis. This despite the fact that most hurricane experts claim no link between Global Warming and hurricane frequency.

I can’t help but cite some scientists for complacency in the process. Perhaps it is not the motivation of all scientists to head this country in an anti-capitalist direction, but many of them seem to be quite silent. Perhaps don’t realize they are being quite useful to the cause.

And here is a truth that Orac refuses to acknowledge: There ARE socialists within the environmental movement, that want to use Global Warming as a starting point to control capitalism. Do you think it’s any coincidence that former Communist, and admitted Socialist, Mikhail Gorbachev is now the head of an environmental organization? I spent a weekend at a Green Party Convention, and there was a lot more focus on Socialism than Environmentalism. In fact, the delegates, weren’t even using the recycling bins the hotel provided.

The resentment Orac feels from me, is not based on ignorance or antipathy to science, it is antipathy to people who want to run my life. It is not his authority I reject, but his authoritarianism.

The success of this nation, is based on freedom. Freedom of citizens to make individual decisions that contribute to the wealth and prosperity of the entire society. And the freedom to make mistakes is just as important as the freedom to make good decisions. As a committed Darwinist, he should understand that. His latest post suggests that Scientists are jerks, because it takes a real jerk to survive the grant application process, (I probably agree with him there), and Darwinian Law, eliminates non-jerks from the grant industry.

But Darwinism goes beyond Nature and the Science Department. Cultures and ideas must be subjected to the same forces that encourage evolution. Businesses and traditions must have an opportunity to fail. Ideas that don’t stand up will be abandoned, but it is only by subjecting them to the process that we can ever know which decisions were correct. Anybody who claims they can predict the outcome, has let his own intellectal pride delude himself.

If a family wants to raise their child without Darwin, what business is it of Orac’s? I can’t imagine how an ignorance of Evolution will damage a child outside of him getting mocked at a lot of cocktail parties when he grows up. (But that’s probably going to happen to an admitted Christian anyway). And if vitamins, weeds and enemas won’t cure diseases, future generations will be absent of people with that tendency to believe in the healing powers of vitamins, weeds, and enemas. Those of us who discount Global Warming, will buy beach-front property, and those who believe in it, will not. (Check the Real Estate market thirty years from now, and see who was right.)

And finally: if a bar owner wants to let people smoke in his bar; he warns his employees it’s going to happen; he puts a big sign outside the door telling customers that the atmosphere inside is as risky as a can of pop; and warns everyone they will be exposed to the same toxins that exist in spinach; who (outside of a few shills on the Robert Wood Johnson Payroll) should be concerned?

We know we’re not as smart as you, just let us make our own mistakes.


  • It might make sense to take advantage of anti-tobacco sentiments among scientists by pointing out that the main beneficiary of Silent Spring was the tobacco industry. It provided an alternative explanation for the "cancer epidemic" and thus kept the heat off tobacco for a generation.

    By Blogger Joseph, at 2:40 PM, August 22, 2007  

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