Friday, July 09, 2010

We Are All The National Enquirer Now

Thunder rolled by the rolling stars
Simulates triumphal cars
Deployed in constellated wars
Scorpion fights against the Sun
Until the Sun and Moon go down
Comets weep and Leonids fly
Hunt the heavens and the plains
Whirled in a vortex that shall bring
The world to that destructive fire
Which burns before the ice-cap reigns.

That was a way of putting it—not very satisfactory:
A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,
Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle
With words and meanings.

T. S. Eliot, East Coker

I was about to put away my copy of Chris Mooney’s report, and then there was an avalanche of nonsense again this morning. I’ve felt like I have at least two more posts to add to what I’ve said already, so here’s one more anyway.

The BP Blowout seems to be bringing out the worst in numerous people, which is my inspiration for that fragment from the Four Quartets. Not very satisfactory indeed. Here’s something I was sent this morning, from a site that claims it is “where knowledge rules.”

There are so many things wrong with the article, so many holes in the geology, the chemistry, the physics, that I won’t even try to list them. In looking around the site, I see that they are fond of votes on such things as whether beavers should be reintroduced to Scotland and whether hurricanes or tornadoes are deadlier. And here’s how they describe themselves:
Helium is the face of the publishing revolution!

Helium is also a knowledge co-operative where our writers are also our editors who read and rate every article on the site.
Moving right along...

James Fallows offered an apology this morning to some folks who want to sell solar/hydrogen-powered water purifiers. I’ll link Fallows, and if you’re interested, you can link the sales pitch from there. It seems that Fallows quoted a metaphor of the computational cloud as “a dirigible filled with hydrogen.” Which gave the salesmen a hook to hang their pitch on. Hydrogen, they say, is less explosive than propane. Oh, that’s in the absence of air, in which case I have no idea what they can be saying, since both explode with oxygen. They can both, being gases at room temperature, participate in physical explosions, like when a tank is breached. If there were no air, there would be no combustion of either, and the salesmen may be referring to some characteristic related to this, which is utterly irrelevant on this oxygenated planet. They also claim that the famous Hindenberg explosion was not of the hydrogen, basing this on the color of flame on a colorized photograph.

Fallows seems to swallow it whole.

If we take science to be discoverable truths and the methods of discovering them, as I’ve been saying, then whether hurricanes or tornadoes are deadlier is not a matter of voting. The question could be formulated better, of course. A couple of problems are fighting it out in today's examples. One is that the authority of science has been eroded, both by scientists who have succumbed to prostituting their profession and by corporate interests that have chosen to undermine particular scientific findings. The other is that postmodernism has claimed that all knowledge is subjective. That’s made to order for the opportunists, although I doubt that they feel such philosophical justification is necessary.

It seems to me that Mooney’s report, and much of what passes for sophisticated thinking about science, shares this postmodern view. But if science is to be useful, it has to go back to those hard, real-life, discoverable truths, which have no place in postmodernism.

So you may believe whatever you like, Whirled in a vortex that shall bring The world to that destructive fire Which burns before the ice-cap reigns. I guess it’s much easier than that intolerable wrestle With words and meanings.

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