Reactions at Townhall

The following posts appeared from 2008 through 2012 on another site.  They are in chronological order.

Communicating
Posted by Doc Stephens on Saturday, January 26, 2008 10:04:01 PM

Dear Fellow Travelers,

If we’re going on this journey together, I imagine we’re going to want to have a conversation. It might be a good idea to establish some mutual understandings so that our journey and our conversation will be more interesting, civil, and enlightening, and much less confusing, contradictory, or argumentative.

When we communicate, we usually use words and phrases.  When I use a word or phrase, I have a certain intended meaning. When you hear me speak or read what I write, you might not assign the same meanings to the words I use as the ones that I intended.  We could, therefore, have a misunderstanding.   This is human nature and it goes on all of the time—sometimes with very funny consequences, sometimes someone gets hurt or even killed. To further complicate matters, the meanings of words depend very much upon the context in which they are expressed or perceived—the sentence, the paragraph, the environment, and even the audience.   And of course, we must also consider all of the nonverbal aspects of the communication that you might be observing, or reading between the lines, that I may not realize you are perceiving and interpreting wrongly or rightly.  Experts tell us that most of what we communicate is, in fact, nonverbal.

When we write, I believe there is still a nonverbal component to that communication.  Now, I’ve already introduced some confusion. The word “nonverbal” means communication without language.  How can written language occur without language? We may need a linguist to help us here, and, to paraphrase the immortal words of Lloyd Benson, yours truly, is no linguist. Anyway, we all read between the lines. And it is that perception of what is “between the lines” that I consider as the nonverbal communication received but not necessarily sent or intended.

As we travel along this journey together, let’s agree to the following. I’ll do my best to write clearly and succinctly. You do your best to give me the benefit of the doubt as you draw conclusions about what I’ve said or meant. I’ll pay attention to your comments, to the extent I have time, and clarify when it is obvious that I’ve failed to comply with my first rule.  You will always obey my second rule, but will take the time to ask for clarification when you are not sure what I’ve meant.

I’m a life-long educator.  One of the greatest and most important challenges we face as we develop as a society, is ignorance.  I’m passionate about learning, formal and informal, intended and unintended.  That is why I’m writing this.  Through this effort, perhaps I might develop a little more wisdom, and at the same time, give my readers an equal opportunity to gain as much, or more.

Thanks for your consideration.

Global Warming and Climate Change
Posted by Doc Stephens on Sunday, January 27, 2008 1:40:19 AM

What do these words mean?  For some, “global warming” shouts “our planet is heating and it’s entirely our fault.”  For many of the same people, “climate change” is just a slick euphemism invented to convey the same notion—without the emotional or political baggage associated with “global warming.”  Soon, someone will invent another way of saying the same thing, and that will become the code that separates us—liberal versus conservative, knowing versus unknowing, climate scientist versus layman.

It is actually quite complicated.  The planet’s climate is always changing, always has, always will. It’s been warmer and it’s been colder, it’s been wetter, and it’s been drier.  There is lots of evidence for this, and anyone who has looked at this evidence will agree.

Unfortunately, there are those who think that the Earth’s climate was stable, until we came along and messed it up with our burning of fossil fuels.  We may be messing it up to some extent, but the global climate was never some constant state.  There never was a perfect climate that we need to protect and maintain.

There are many reasons why the Earth’s climate is always changing.

  1. The Earth is not always the same distance from our primary source of heat, the sun, and its orbit is elliptical. Because of this, the Earth is closer to the sun at some times of the year and farther away at other times.  To complicate this picture, the Earth’s orbit is constantly changing.  Furthermore, the entire solar system orbits around the gravitational center of the galaxy.  This motion carries us through regions of space with different quantities of interstellar gases and particulates which also affects how much and what kind of solar radiation reaches the Earth.
  2. The tilt of the Earth’s axis is not always the same and therefore, seasonal variations differ as this tilt changes.
  3. The Earth wobbles as it spins, once every 26,000 years, and this causes the northern and southern hemispheres to be more directly facing the sun at different times in it’s orbit around the sun. At the present, it is winter in the northern hemisphere when we are closest to the sun and farthest from the sun in the northern hemisphere summer.
  4. The sun is a variable star.  Its output of solar energy varies over time and in cycles that are fairly well understood.
  5. The Earth itself is a source of heat that enters the oceans and the atmosphere.  This heat is from nuclear fission reactions that occur within the planet where radioactive substances undergo their predictable decay.  The heat released is significant enough to melt rock.  Over time, this heat is released through fissures, volcanoes, and through the Earth’s crust in general.
  6. The atmosphere is constantly changing in composition.  Some components of the atmosphere absorb heat that is radiated from the surface.  Other components of the atmosphere block heat from reaching the surface.  There is circulation in the atmosphere which is influenced by oceans and landforms as well as by the sun and seasons.
  7. More than three-fourths of the Earth’s surface is water.  As water heats, it releases dissolved gasses into the atmosphere, as it cools, it absorbs gases.  Most of the dissolved gasses in the oceans originate from within the Earth’s crust under the oceans.  The oceans also absorb gases from the atmosphere.  Precipitation systems have a significant influence on the transport of gases and heat energy between the oceans and the atmosphere.
  8. The oceans’ currents are constantly flowing and changing. There are well understood annual, multidecadal, and other long-term cycles of ocean current variations.  There are cold and warm currents.  Ocean currents have a profound influence on local climates over all of the land masses of the Earth.
  9. The continents and the Earth’s crust are constantly moving, up and down, back and forth. The crust exists in sections called plates which slide past each other, collide, move apart.  The crust generally rises after glaciers melt and pushes down into the mantle when they accumulate.  Both land elevations, the distance from the center of the Earth, and sea levels are constantly changing all over the Earth. Changes in sea level should be described relative to some frame of reference. Not all oceans are at the same level or changing in the same direction. The Atlantic Ocean is enlarging, the Pacific is getting smaller.
  10. Human activity changes the surface of the Earth and also the composition of the atmosphere.  Other living creatures of all kinds do this as well.  Virtually all of the oxygen in our atmosphere came from green plants through photosynthesis.  Until there were green plants, there was no significant amount of oxygen and there were no air-breathing animals either.

The Earth is currently in an interglacial within an ice age.  Yes, we are in an ice age, perhaps the fourth such age since the Earth was formed.  The planet has been generally warming for about 18,000 years. The last glacial period ended about 12,000 years ago and sea level has been rising ever since. When Columbus discovered the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean in 1492, sea level was several feet lower than today.  The first human activity that had a measurable influence on climate was agriculture which began to affect local climate about 8,000 years ago.

Now, the question remains, how much influence does human activity have on our climate?  That is the great debate.  Some anthropogenic influences cause the atmosphere to warm while others cause it to cool.  Unfortunately, our climate models are not sufficiently sophisticated to answer this question, yet. It is even possible that human activity causing warming might delay our next global cooling period. Wouldn’t that be ironic?  If you get to choose whether you want to get warmer or cooler, pick warmer!  Cooler is a real killer!

The climate is going to continue to change, no matter what we humans do, and it would be changing, even if we did not inhabit this planet.  We need to focus our attention on adapting as well as protecting.

Names and Labels
Posted by Doc Stephens on Sunday, January 27, 2008 11:45:30 AM

A few random thoughts about names and labels . . .

The planet we live on and call “Earth” should be called “Planet Ocean.”

The state of Indiana is named out of respect for an indigenous people who were called Indians because Columbus mistakenly thought he was in India when he visited our hemisphere and found humans who looked different them him.

If anthropologists are right about the migrations of modern humans over the past 35,000 years, we are all “African Americans” although some of our ancestors left Africa much earlier than others, and for very different reasons.

All humans have the same skin pigment (except albino’s who have no skin pigment).  The differences between our skin colors have to do with the amount of the pigment. Darker skinned people have more of the pigment than the lighter skinned people.  The same thing is true about eye color and hair color.

The differences in skin color within the “races” are greater than the differences between the averages of the “races.”

There is no such thing as a “race of people.”  All known living humans are the same species, and the goofy idea of “race” was invented to classify people who appear to be different based upon some visible characteristics, but not other visible characteristics.  Defining a person as belonging to the “white” group is no different than saying a person belongs to the “tall” group of humans, or the “skinny” group of humans, or the “blue-eyed” group of humans, or the freckled group, the curly haired group, the bald group, or any other way of categorizing us humans. The classification based upon “race” took on political and emotional meaning and became part of our language.

Not all Christians agree on what is a Christian.

Not all Conservatives agree on what is a Conservative.

We can more easily agree on what is a Democrat or a Republican–in some states.

There is no such thing as “global climate” but we can certainly argue about how it has changed, and is changing, and might change in the future–it is a concept with many different descriptors and definitions.

Enough of this . . .

Artificial Dichotomies
Posted by Doc Stephens on Saturday, February 02, 2008 9:47:43 PM

Many years ago, actually more than three decades ago, I read an article about “artificial dichotomies” by an author whose name long ago escaped my certain memory.  My uncertain memory recalls that the author was Stafford Beer, but a search of his bibliography online does not verify this hunch. Nevertheless, artificial dichotomies are alive and well.

When we attempt to identify plants and animals we often use a dichotomous key which allows us to classify by making a choice between two alternatives.  For example, we might be able to decide if a large white wading bird is a white morph of the Great Blue Heron or a Snowy Egret by noting whether the legs are yellow or black. Similarly, we can distinguish between a Banded Water Snake and a Water Moccasin by the shape of the pupil of the eye, round or vertical.

More commonly, we decide between two alternatives as if they were the only possibilities, or as if the two choices actually had a well defined difference.  When they don’t, it is an “artificial dichotomy.” Most of the time, this is the case.

Have you stopped to consider the difference between a liberal and a conservative?  Could you walk into a room full of people and classify them as tall or short?  How about black or white?  How about pro-choice or pro-life?  How about rich or poor?  Even such apparently obvious choices as Christian or non-Christian defy agreement, or even consensus. Of course one of the most famous artificial dichotomies is “black” or “white.” Most decisions are nowhere even close to “black” or “white” and skin color is never “black” or “white.”

We argue interminably about such things. At a recent political debate, the participants were quite agitated about who was a conservative and who was not. It is an artificial dichotomy. The differences are usually continuous rather than dichotomous.

Faith, Belief, and Scientific Theories
Posted by Doc Stephens on Sunday, February 03, 2008 3:10:30 PM

The front page of the Sunday February 3, 2008 edition of the local newspaper had an article entitled “School Board to Consider Evolution Resolution.”  The article begins by stating  “With all five school board members believing evolution should not be taught as fact, . . . on Tuesday will consider a resolution opposing the state’s proposed new science standards stance on evolution.”

According to the paper, Highlands Today, The proposed resolution states, “The board recognizes the importance of providing a thorough and comprehensive science education to all students in Highlands County, which the board believes should include the multiple theories of the origins of the universe and life on Earth.”  And then, according to the paper, the resolution concludes, “The State Board of Education is urged strongly to direct the Florida Department of Education to revise the new Sunshine State Standards for Science such that the big-bang theory and evolution shall be presented only as two of several theories in the study of science.”

The school board members obviously do not have any significant background in science.  They are interpreting the language used in the standards as laypersons would interpret those words.  They are drawing conclusions that are unintended by the authors of the standards.  Ironically, a science educator reading this resolution would say “fine” and then go on teaching to the standards without any concern because the science educator does not understand what the lay board members intend by their resolution. They speak different languages and don’t understand each other.

Here are a couple of key words that have different meaning for scientists and laypersons that are used in the state science standards and by the members of the school board to mean different things.

Theory – To the layperson, a theory is a guess that might be arrived at through some logical reasoning.  To a scientist, a theory is a well accepted body of knowledge to explain something.  Scientists pursue truth, but can never know if they have reached it.  Scientific theories are always developing as new evidence is considered and new observations are made.  Throughout history there have been many examples of scientific theories that were once accepted by most or all scientists in the field or discipline, but later discarded or changed significantly as more study, research, thinking, and debate uncovered new and sometimes contradictory evidence that ultimately led to a more plausible explanation or theory.  The scientific method is a rational process for developing and improving scientific theories.

Fact – To the layperson, a fact is the honest truth.  Most scientists do not use this word very often in this context, but never in scientific discourse as a synonym of “truth.” No science educator should ever say that a theory is a “fact.”  That might be an emotional response to someone questioning a well accepted scientific theory, but theories, no matter how well accepted, are not “facts.”  In fact, to a scientist who is careful with language, facts are just pieces of information which may or may not be accurate depending upon how that information was collected and how it was interpreted.  It would be a “fact” that Louis Leakey discovered a bone fragment that had characteristics in common with modern man, but other characteristics in common with great apes or other primates. Dr. Leakey might hypothesize about what might have led to his observation, but his observations and his hypotheses are not truths nor are they scientific theories.  He is using his powers of observation, after observing countless bone fragments from modern and archaic creatures, and comparing and forming judgments about what he sees.  Dr. Leakey and many other scientists over a period of time, perhaps hundreds of years, may formulate a theory to explain what they observe and as a result of testing various hypotheses, but the best they can do as scientists is offer a scientific theory–in this example, a theory of evolution. The theory of evolution is constantly being questioned and improved by scientists.  The early observations, hypotheses, and theories offered by Charles Darwin created a framework, but compared to modern evolutionary theory, his ideas were simplistic and in many cases not consistent with the current science in the field–such is the nature of scientific inquiry.

To further confuse the layperson, the word “evolution” also is used as shorthand for the process of natural selection which is observable.  Yes, it is easy to observe natural selection and “evolution” in a laboratory and in the real world.  It is all around us and all you have to do to see it is know what to look for. Our current concern about Bird Flu is related to the potential mutation of the virus to a form that can more easily be transmitted from human to human.  Scientists even understand what mutation would have to occur, and if it did, the virus would have “evolved” to a new more successfully transmitted strain through natural selection.  Microbiologists observe this process of “evolution” all the time in their laboratories.  In this context, it is a “fact” that “evolution” or more correctly that natural selection is observed.

So, the proposed school board resolution changes nothing. A well trained science educator would not say that the theory of evolution or the big-bang theory is a “fact” or the “truth.”  Frankly, theory is the best that science can do.  And science Educators should always describe competing scientific theories when they are relevant. It would be wrong for our science teachers to omit such theories.  The history of science is full of heated dialogue and competing explanations.  Great thinkers of the past built complex theories to explain what they observed based upon a flat-earth theory.  They created models to explain how the sun and the planets moved around the earth.  We laugh at these notions today, but not because these early philosophers were not intelligent, because they were, but because we have much more information available to us today.  We’ve sent great machines and men and women into space who have observed the earth and moon traveling around the sun and the sun around the center of mass of our galaxy and the galaxy around the center of mass of our local group of galaxies.   We know what our ancestors could not have known.  Such is the nature of scientific inquiry.

Here is the punch line.  The members of the school board, and many in the public, apparently believe that religious traditions and their related origin stories should also be taught in science classes as if they were “other theories.”  There are several problems with this argument. First of all, science teachers are not necessarily qualified to teach comparative religion.  The study of such traditions more appropriately belongs in classes about the humanities, history, religion, literature, or in our churches, temples, mosques, and homes.  These traditions have nothing to do with science–they are not scientific theories.  They are faith based-belief systems which hold a vitally important and most interesting place in a culture.  There are different traditions in just about every culture on earth.  Do we teach the Judeo-Christian version including Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden?  What about some of the eastern religions, or the beliefs and traditions of African tribes or indigenous people of this continent?  Let the humanities and comparative religion professors explore these wonderful and inspirational ideas.  Allow the science teachers to teach science–a very human enterprise, well diminished in comparison to the realm of God.

Pro-Life? Or Pro-Choice?  Where is God in the Debate?
Posted by Doc Stephens on Saturday, February 09, 2008 12:58:32 PM

As I reread my last post, I was struck by the total absence of any reference to God in my arguments. I happen to have a strong spiritual sense, one that I feel deeply—it is a faith in God that surpasses all understanding. I also happen to belong to St. Agnes Episcopal Church, where my wife and I celebrate our own individual and personal religious beliefs and traditions, devoutly, respectfully, regularly and always together. It would seem to most readers of that post that a debate about pro-life and pro-choice should rely upon trust and faith in God to settle.  I believe I did, but I didn’t say so.  It is precisely because of my moral framework that is my awareness of God, that I believe what I believe, but I don’t explain it as “because God said so.”  My God is not a parent, and I’m no longer a child.  Allow me to illustrate.

Recently, I received a political survey in the mail.  Normally, I just throw these away. I threw this one away, but not until after I had scanned it and noticed one of the questions:  “How many times a day do you pray?  One?  Two?  Three?  Four?  Other?  Then there was a blank where you could write an answer or a comment.  I didn’t.  As I said, I threw it away.  I did think about that question and how I might answer it.  I would have had to use the blank space because choosing a number would have been impossible.  I don’t believe the author of that survey and I have the same definition(s) for “pray.”  I don’t believe I could explain in the allotted and very limited space in that box on that page what I believe adequately enough for the unknown person who reads the comment to understand my position.  It would have been a waste of my time, and his or hers as well, and used for purposes I would not support.

What does this have to do with the debate between those who say they are pro-choice and those who say they are pro-life?  Perhaps very little, but it has a lot to do with my relationship with God which affected how I wrote about that debate and about how I would answer a very simplistic and silly question about prayer.

I believe that God is always “listening” to me, and to you, and to everyone who is alive in this universe. I think praying is for us, not for God.  It allows us a chance to “listen” to God. I pray once a day, it is a long prayer which lasts from the moment I awake in the morning until the moment I go to sleep at night–with a possible interruption during an afternoon nap.  Even when sleeping, we can “listen,” or sense God, if we choose to do that by pondering such things when we awaken. So life is a long prayer, a communication with God.  Some of us “listen” to God actively, others might pay no conscious attention, but I believe God is always aware of us, and the word “listen” doesn’t explain it.  It may be an extrasensory experience–something we call a spiritual awareness.

I believe God is always aware of all of us.  I believe we are endowed by our creator with the equal potential to be aware of God, but life and its experiences complicate that awareness.  I believe God gave us the potential to experience life, freely. I believe God gives us free-will to think, act, explore, discover, and all of the other human behaviors and attitudes that fill our lives.  My God is not a puppet-master and I’m not a puppet.  I’m not living God’s plan, God and I are on a journey together, a journey that no one has ever taken before. We are discovering my life together. God is discovering and experiencing every life–I might argue that God is Life!

God, and Life, goes on in this universe and on this planet and in this country, state, community, and home whether I’m alive or not.  I believe that God experiences God’s universe through life and all living entities.  When my lifetime ends, then God will cease to experience my life at least in the sense that my journey through life is over.  It is difficult for me to imagine before or after my life, except through what I’ve been taught by the traditions of my Christian belief system.  I used to think that death might be like before birth–absolute nothingness. As I grew older, and ever closer to the Promised Land, I’ve wondered if life after death might be awareness of a life or of lives with God, which could not exist until life was or is lived. I have the advantage of never having studied theology, so I am free of the boundaries of thinking of many wise thinkers of the past and present. I’m unencumbered by any knowledge of what I’m discussing.  I’m ignorant of these ideas, but, therefore, quite free to ponder.

I don’t believe that science or humans will ever discover God or explain God.  Science and the pursuits of scientists may help us to understand this natural and physical universe that we inhabit, but I don’t believe science should or could dwell in the realm of God.  Pursuing a greater understanding of our universe, natural and physical, is something God gave us the inclination and the ability to do.  It is one way that we might show our love for God.

For those of you looking for answers to life’s mysteries in the Bible, as we find in the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 2, verses 29 and 30:  “The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength:” and of course, in the next verse, Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves. And then he teaches us that no other commandment is greater than these. Loving God with “all thy mind” is pertinent.  Seeking to understand is a power of the mind, which we should use to the fullest. Science is an organized approach to understanding, to using our mind, and to loving our God.

In Matthew, Chapter 5, verses 14 to 16, Jesus tells us: “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”  The “good works” of science should be seen by all, and such works bring glory to God.

Pro-Life? Or Pro-Choice?
Posted by Doc Stephens on Saturday, February 09, 2008 11:03:20 AM

This is an example of an artificial dichotomy.  It is as if we must somehow fit into one or the other of these two undefined categories of opinions and the word will sum up everything you need to know about us based upon our stance on this subject.  Actually, there are many subtle differences of opinion and shadings of meaning that drive us into one or the other of these categories, and 99 percent of us never have to think about or declare which group we choose to join.  Some declarations are based upon which group we wish to accept us with open arms. If you want to be a card-carrying conservative, you had better declare that you are pro-life, or they’ll never let you join the club-­and vice versa for a liberal.  Well don’t ever run for public office without making a carefully crafted declaration for all to read, and then be prepared to suffer the consequences of extreme stereotyping.

Here is where I stand.  I don’t believe a woman or her physician, or anyone else, should ever take the life of an unborn person, solely for the purpose of taking that life.  The taking of a life should never be arbitrary or for the convenience of another life or lives.  In my view, such an action would fit rather nicely in the category of actions we call murder and it should not be allowed in a civilized society.  If a pregnant woman has a medical circumstance that she and her physician believe threatens the life of either the woman or the child, then everything possible should be done to try to save both lives.  I believe it is the right of the woman to choose a course of action in this case, as long as the chosen action is not murder.  So I’m both pro-life and pro-choice.

Now comes the subtleties.  When is a living entity a person?  When does life begin?  How can we know the intent of a physician who takes an unborn person from a mother?  Did the physician try to save the unborn, or just discard it?  Medical science understands the difficulties and very low probabilities of survival of a fetus that is in the first or even second trimester, yet there are situations where a medical procedure is deemed necessary to protect the life of the mother.  Every day, physicians struggle with incredibly complicated and extremely emotional cases where they must decide if and which heroic efforts are appropriate.  Such an effort to save one life might actually result in the sacrifice of another or others in the case of multiple embryos or fetuses. Until we’ve faced such a dilemma, we can’t possibly empathize with those who must make such a life or death choice.  The government, local, state, and federal, should stay out of those cases.

Life doesn’t begin, it continues, but it changes.  Sperms and eggs are alive as are embryos, fetuses, and obviously infants. You can never win an argument about when life begins. You can argue successfully, though, about when “a” life begins.  It is at the moment when a sperm fertilizes an egg to become a zygote.  At some point in time, you have a zygote (a single cell that has the genetic potential to live a life) and that is a new living entity that didn’t exist before.  From that point on, what was that single-celled zygote changes and develops and eventually becomes conscious of self and recognized by others as a person.  I would argue, the single fertilized cell we call a zygote, is a person with some potential to be born and live a life.  As a civilized society, we should do what we can to protect that individual and support it on its journey through life. I believe we should allow the mother, the physician, and the father to choose what to do to save, protect, and support that person.  As long as that is their intent, they should be allowed to choose.

Update on the Evolution Debate: What is a Species?
Posted by Doc Stephens on Sunday, February 17, 2008 7:08:00 PM

Don’t expect me to answer the question precisely, because the classification of living things into species is somewhat arbitrary and mostly for the convenience of scientists.  I’ll come back to this very basic question, but first, for some context, please read my previous post.

At the most recent local school board meeting, several scientists and science educators, along with one local minister, addressed the board.  After listening and asking some questions, the board took no action.  It did not approve the proposed resolution which argued for the inclusion of “alternative theories” to the Theory of Evolution and also to the Big-Bang Theory in the new Sunshine State Science Standards.

Not surprisingly, the debate goes on. Ever since the recent meeting, there have been several letters to the editor. There are multiple arguments going on among people who don’t understand each other. If it weren’t so sad, it would be funny.  If it didn’t make my head spin, I’d just cry, or laugh, and go on with my day.  Writing this blog is my way of stopping my head from spinning. Today’s offering was from a well meaning chap who stated in his letter to the editor that he was

“ . . . sorely disappointed when reading that the Highlands County School Board had backed down after listening to a few speeches by people who were claiming that evolution is a proven scientific fact, and that any other theory had no right to a discussion in science classes!”

He then went on to provide three criteria for accepting a scientific theory:

“It must be observable, it must be reproducible, and it must be predictable.”

He then concluded with this.

“If evolution had those three characteristics, perhaps we could accept it as a viable explanation for what we see all around us; the astonishing complexity of life, the world and the universe. It is my belief that evolution in fact does not exhibit even one of those criteria.  1) Show me a species which is observably changing into a new species.  2) Show me that you can reproduce the change of a species into a brand new and entirely different species.  3) Predict for me what the next new species is going to be like.” In reference to number three, it appears that mankind is at the top of the heap at the present time. What are we going to develop next?  Will it be a living, breathing, thinking, speaking, all-knowing, all powerful, immortal race worthy of the best of present science fiction? Would we then call him God?

“Let us evaluate your prediction.”

“If evolution cannot answer these questions, what would be the harm of allowing our young people to consider other possible explanations of our present existence, such as Intelligent Design, or even creation?  What are you afraid of?”

The author of this letter is surely intelligent and learned about many things, but his letter is illustrative of the lack of scientific literacy among many in our modern society.  Scientists have their own jargon. So do people in almost every walk-of-life.  Have you listened to conversations among nurses? How about trying to decipher a conversation with a group of insurance experts, or computer geeks, or engineers, or fisherman, or carpenters, or sailors?

Scientists, in every field of science, assign their own meanings to the words they use.  In some cases they use words that also have different meanings in common usage by non­scientists. So, when scientists get into arguments with non-scientists about scientific ideas, we have a mess. That is what we have here, a mess!  As my good friend Chuck Dillon says: “It’s goofy.”

Let me analyze this, one point at a time.

The gentleman from Avon Park, the author of the letter-to-the-editor in today’s paper, did not attend the school board meeting and did not hear the “speeches” that he referenced and characterized. Right away, you know he’s going to be in serious trouble because he’s relying on what he read in the newspaper–don’t get me started on that subject–or on what he was told by someone else, or most likely, by what he assumed.  In fact, none of the speakers at the school board meeting opined “that evolution is a proven scientific fact.” They know that the Theory of Evolution is a scientific theory, and that theories and facts are not the same.  Furthermore, they know that scientific theories are never “proven” and can never be “proven” because science seeks to understand and explain, but cannot prove. To “prove” a theory, you would have to conduct every experiment, infinitely many times, and answer every possible question related to the theory–let me know when you’re finished.

Proofs are very helpful in mathematics.  Proof is important in a court of law.  We often look at proofs before approving a portrait, or a book to be printed or published.  In science, it is impossible to finally and conclusively prove a theory, and if anyone argues otherwise, they are arguing from the perspective of someone outside of the realm of, and the jargon of, science-­way, way, way, outside! A “proven” theory would be dogma, and science abhors dogma! Nevertheless, I know many scientists who would claim that a particular theory has been proven–they are flat wrong.  A theory may be very well established, very well supported, or without inconsistent observational evidence, but that does not warrant the claim of proof.  Science seeks the truth, always and objectively, but one of the most important agreements within the philosophy of science, is that theories can, and should always be tested and questioned.  A disciplined scientist never gets too attached to a theory–they should always remain skeptical.  Theories may be supported, or not, by observations and experimentation.  It is the results of scientific experiments that need to be reproducible, not the theories. (The assertion, by the author of the letter, that theories need to be reproducible, is illogical nonsense).  You don’t repeat a theory, you test it, and then you test it again and again. If you get consistent results with each repetition of the experiment, then the theory is still supported. If the results are not reproducible, then, either the experimental procedure was flawed, or the theory is incomplete.  You test theories through rigorous peer evaluated research, one type of which is experimentation, but there are other equally important types of scientific investigation.

Not all observation is direct. It is impossible to directly observe an atom or an electron because of their extremely small size and the limitations of our eyesight, but these very small atoms and electrons are commonly observed indirectly.  It is difficult to directly observe the formation of a mountain range such as the Himalayas because the geological processes involved in plate tectonics are exceedingly slow.  It is easy to observe such geological processes indirectly. Not all observations are direct.

Is a scientific theory “predictable”?  The gentleman’s grammar is, once again, confusing, or wrong. In science we would expect that a “good” theory would reliably predict or explain certain outcomes of experiments.  It is the observations or results that are predictable, not the theories.

Very often, models are developed to test and refine the validity and reliability of theories. Many of the models used by scientists are mathematical, but others are not.  Einstein, was famous for his “thought experiments” which were often visual models we could imagine in our minds eye to help us to understand and explain certain observations or outcomes. There are computer simulation models of climate change, for example, which attempt to predict future climate change.  There are models of the rates of mutation in DNA that attempt to establish the probability of future mutations, or to estimate how long it might have taken for certain changes in archaic DNA to have evolved to their presently observed state. Any model that fails to predict a certain outcome is either an incomplete or inaccurate model or the theory warrants refining.  All scientific theories are open to question and continuous improvement.

Now, please allow me to address the gentleman’s “belief” that evolution does not meet the tests of observability, reproducibility, and predictability.  He apparently does not “believe” it, and that I cannot question.  He is entitled to his “beliefs” as am I.

Can we observe evolution? Certainly we can.  Archaeologists observe evolution, microbiologists observe evolution, entomologists observe evolution, ornithologists observe evolution, and pet owners observe evolution, unfortunate souls who have HIV Aids or Bird Flu observe evolution. All of these, and infinitely more, are observations of the process of evolution. They are not observing the Theory of Evolution, but that theory would explain and predict what they observe. We observe that none of the native species of monkeys (there’s that word) in Africa have prehensile tails, but monkeys in South America do.  We observe that more than 95% of the DNA of a chimpanzee is the same as the DNA of modern humans.  We observe that fossils of primates have characteristics that are in common with modern humans and modern great apes. We are observing evolution, the process, as it is explained by the Theory of Evolution.

Microbiologists have the luxury of working with organisms that evolve rapidly, and they can create new species in a matter of hours or days.  The common domesticated dog and the modern wolf both evolved from archaic creatures over the course of human history and pre­history. Modern dogs and wolves are now separate species, but they had a common ancestor–at least all of the evidence collected so far supports that hypothesis, and no credible evidence contradicts it. Anthropologists hypothesize that dogs and humans coevolved (evolved together) because of the influence that each species had on the other.  Our human night vision is not nearly as good as a dog’s, neither is our sense of smell or the frequency range of our hearing.  Our ancestors relied on dogs for security and hunting, particularly at night, and the dogs relied on us for food and protection from other predators, especially during the day. The dog’s color vision in not nearly as good as ours.  When compared with DNA extracted from modern wolves and dogs, we can see genetic differences that can be explained by their different evolutionary histories.  All domesticated plants and animals have evolved as a result of human intervention and we have historical records to document the evolutionary development of these living things.  Try to find a wild milk cow running around anywhere on Earth. The modern milk cow would not survive without humans.  You won’t find modern corn, wheat, or rice growing wild either.  These plants would not grow without human planting and harvesting.

Is evolution reproducible and predictable?  Very! A Geneticist can tell you precisely what will happen if you change a certain base pair in the gene that maps the amino acid sequence of the polypeptide insulin. They can change that base pair and observe the predicted result.  Individuals who suffer this variation will have a type of diabetes.  The theory of evolution explains how species evolve through genetic drift, natural selection, and gene flow.  The theory explains how changes in an environment can select for different genotypes, and it can predict which will survive and which will become extinct because of an inability to adapt.  Scientists can artificially create mutations and observe the results, over and over again without exception.

Now I’ll respond to the author’s three challenges.

1) “Show me a species that is observably changing into a new species.”  The best response would be that every species is observably changing into a new species, but the observations are mostly indirect because the changes are subtle and very slow for large multicellular organism. The letter writer asked for one example.  The European Honey Bee in North and South America is evolving into a new species as it interbreeds with the African Honey Bees introduced into this hemisphere.

2) You can change one species of bacteria into a new species by selectively changing its environment, perhaps its food source, the temperature, the pressure, etc., and then isolating the succeeding generations which show adaptive characteristics to the new environment.  After several generations, you would have two or more new species.  This same process happens on a much slower scale with eukaryotic and multicellular organism.  The horse and the zebra are different species, but they have a common ancestor.  The chimpanzee and the orangutan are different species but they have a common ancestor.  The bluebird and the rattlesnake are different species but they have a common ancestor, etc.

3) I can’t predict what “the next species” will be like because our theories are not good enough for this kind of prediction. We can’t predict how the Earth will change, how climate will change, how the land will change with any degree of certainty.  We can’t yet know how the sun will change, whether our planet will be struck by a giant meteorite, or if an immense super volcano will erupt and cause a mass extinction of many, or even most species currently living on our planet. We know that such mass extinctions have occurred in the past.  I cannot predict which living things would survive, because I do not know how the planet would change.  I’d place a good bet that humans will survive, and continue to adapt to a new environment, because I “believe” that God gave us intelligence to understand these things.  I believe that “God” wants us to understand so that we have a better chance of adapting, evolving, and surviving.  But these are my “beliefs” not theories, and certainly not scientific theories.

So what is a species?  Species are groups of living things that share genetic traits as defined by scientists. Various criteria are used, but the definition of species has changed and the criteria have changed. Scientists find it convenient to classify living organism into these categories. The classification system includes many levels of categories including: species, genera, families, orders, classes, phyla, kingdoms, and domains.  Within these major hierarchical levels there are sub-levels and variations.  It is incredibly complex.  The distinctions and similarities between different species are hotly contested between experts in each field of biology. Organisms often are reassigned or reclassified as different species as new evidence is found, and as some scientists hold greater influence over others.  Even within our own species Homo sapiens, (Latin for wise man) the debate over whether to include neandertalensis continues unresolved–is it the same species as us, or not?

There is no harm, whatsoever, in allowing young people to explore other “theories” such as Intelligent Design, and Creation.  I hope young people are studying these ideas and perhaps even “believing” them. They just aren’t scientific theories and most science teachers are not qualified to teach them.  They belong in humanities, or literature, or history, or cultural anthropology, or comparative religion, but not science.  Science cannot answer the question of whether some “intelligence” created the universe as it is, all in one moment, or over 13.5 billion years. It is not a scientific questions, it might be a philosophical question and is most certainly an interesting one. I think about it all the time.  But science can only deal with what is observable within our natural and physical realm.  Science is much more limited than the humanities and philosophy, or religion and theology.

I’m definitely not afraid of any of these ideas.

Life is a Journey – Seven Rules for the Road
Posted by Doc Stephens on Saturday, February 23, 2008 7:07:00 PM

Sometime ago, a friend said to me, “Life is a journey.”  Recently, I had an occasion to speak to an honors leadership class at my college, and I decided to expand on the metaphor and share it with the students. We had a delightful discussion which seemed to be well received.  Here are the “rules for the road” as we discovered them together.

  1. In life, there are no shortcuts.  Seek wisdom, knowledge, and competence, and then take on the important challenges along the way.  
  2. A long and difficult walk through a deep and dark valley helps us better appreciate the breathtaking vista from on top of the mountain.  
  3. When confronted by strangers, choose your battles very carefully.  Consider what is best for the long road ahead.
  4. When storm clouds gather along the way, look for the silver-lining—there is always a silver-lining!
  5. Always take the high-road.  Do what is right for the right reasons.   
  6. In life, you only experience one journey.  Appreciate the path you choose, and learn from all of your experiences.
  7. A successful journey is measured by how you have traveled and by where you can go from here.

Every journey is unique. Enjoy! Celebrate!

Global Warming: What is the Hoax?
Posted by Doc Stephens on Sunday, March 02, 2008 8:36:58 AM

The hoax is this: the alarm of “global warming” represents an over simplification and an exaggeration of very natural trends and cycles.  Climate change is normal and it cannot be prevented. The long term health of the biosphere of our planet depends upon constantly changing habitats which select for the most adaptable life.  These are the forms of life that will survive and inherit the earth.  The wisdom of God is inherent in this strategy.

On the other hand, humankind should act as a steward of the planet, respecting the environment, avoiding its pollution and contamination while conserving non-renewable resources. This can be done without destroying our modern way of life and our national and global economy.

The planet has been generally warming during the current ice age and since the end of the last period of glaciation—about 12 thousand years ago.  During this time, the planet has experienced both warming and cooling.  It has been warmer and cooler than the present and local effects are also variable–it might be getting cooler in some places while it is getting warmer in others.

Climate is a construct of science.  It is a description of average atmospheric conditions over a fairly long period of time, and for specific environments or locations–typically, at least 30 years. Whenever scientists describe climate in their research, they explain the statistical measures used, the periods studied, and the locations observed.

It is a hoax to claim that human activity is the primary cause, or even a major cause, of planet warming, and it is a hoax to claim that we can somehow, by government decree, or sheer will, prevent the climate from changing.

Many of the “facts” cited by the alarmists are flat wrong!  Antarctica has actually been cooling during the past 50 years and its ice cover is accumulating. Average global temperatures have been decreasing over the past ten years, not increasing.  Sea levels have been rising for about 18 thousand years, not just since the industrial age.  Land levels also change–some rise after glaciers melt–others subside due to a host of geological processes.

We live on a dynamic planet that we should protect.  We are an intelligent life and we should adapt to the natural cycles and changes we experience.

Faith, Belief, and Scientific Theories – Update
Posted by Doc Stephens on Saturday, May 10, 2008 7:13:48 AM

God gave us the ability to observe and comprehend the world and the universe around us.  Science is a human endeavor that begins with observation and leads us to greater knowledge of the world and the universe that we experience.  Each observation, each discovery, offers another window, another opportunity for ever greater understanding which allows us to manage our lives more effectively, if we choose.

Sometimes, we misunderstand what we see.  Sometimes, the scientific inquiry opens a window into a totally new realm about which we have no frame of reference, no inkling of its meaning or its relevance to our lives and our challenges.  All we have is what we think we have observed.  We can be fooled–this is human nature and we should not let this inhibit our search for greater understanding.

God also gave us the ability to correct our mistakes, to recover from our foolishness, and to change our minds about the things we “see” with our many senses.  God also gave us the ability to change our minds about the things we think, even when what we “see” hasn’t changed.  Furthermore, we have a gift of reflection, an ability to wonder about things we cannot “see” or experience.  We are rendered in God’s image and we can accept on faith, those ideas which are beyond our grasp.

It is not easy to sort through the ambiguities that our various abilities and senses present–to know what is real, or truth, or fact, or not.  Those who can, have wisdom.

The Bald Truth
Posted by Doc Stephens on Saturday, June 14, 2008 10:36:01 AM

At nearly 65, I’m bald, and I’ve been that way for a long time.  My hair noticeably began to thin when I was in my late teens and early twenties just like my cousin’s.  My uncle on my mother’s side, whom I resemble, also began losing his hair at an early age.  I don’t think about it very much because it is the way I am.  I’m not sensitive about it as are some people.  Early in my career, a friend advised me to get a hairpiece or wig if I wanted to progress in my career.  He wore a hairpiece, but I didn’t, and ironically, I progressed and he didn’t. When I see someone with such an augmentation, I snicker to myself and draw conclusions about the obvious vanity or even insecurity.

There are many reasons or causes for baldness in men, and women, but it is interesting to note that the majority of men over the age of 50 are bald, or would be described as bald by others. This is why I cringe when I see advertisements for “cures” for baldness.  Curing baldness would be like curing brown eyes.  If a characteristic is typical or common, then it should not be described as something that should be “cured.”  It would be more accurate to “cure” delayed male hairiness which is the more unusual characteristic of men.  Yet, there is a significant industry that is based on “curing” what is, in this case, normal and healthy.

Baldness is just one of many characteristics that may be the object of subtle or blatant derision or even prejudice.  Deafness, blindness, shortness, tallness, thinness, fatness, darkness and even lightness of skin color are only a few of the countless examples of human variation, some natural–we’re born that way, or it is our phenotype–and some the consequence of events or experiences that occurred in our life. We all know of blind persons who have prospered, even soared to
great heights of excellence in the field of music, or deaf persons who have become great artists.  The brains of these individuals accommodated or developed in different ways because of the difference.  They succeeded because of what some would call a disability.

It is natural to feel sympathy for someone who has suffered a loss of ability, or who has been changed by an incident, accident, or experience.  Perhaps we need to look at it differently. Perhaps we need to feel empathy, realizing that the changed person now has different possibilities yet to be discovered, or that the different person may have other alternatives not open to those of us who describe ourselves as normal–whatever that may be.

The bald truth is that we are all unique–even identical twins are unique although they may share the same genes, but not the same experiences.  What we may call “normal” may just be common.  What we call a disability might allow for an extraordinary ability or a quality of life that the rest of us can not even imagine.

Bias and Exaggeration In Reporting on Climate Change
Posted by Doc Stephens on Saturday, June 21, 2008 1:16:05 PM

The News Scan section of the July 2008 edition of Scientific American includes an article by Editor, Peter Brown, entitled “Climate Change: Polar Express – Ice is melting at the poles much faster than climate models predict.” The article includes a photograph with the following caption “Shattered fragments of ice are all that remain of a 160-square-mile area of Antarctica’s Wilkins ice shelf—dramatic evidence of climate warming around the Antarctic Peninsula.”  The first sentence of the article states: “The accelerating pace of climate warming in the earth’s polar regions is spurring a new sense of scientific urgency.”  What’s wrong with this?  Several things!  And it is quite illustrative.

Scientific American is a well respected periodical that has been around for a very long time–more than 150 years.  I’ve personally had a subscription for more than 50 years.  Obviously, I enjoy reading this publication.  Nevertheless, it provides a nice example of journalistic bias–agenda journalism.  I expect better from a scientific publication of this stature.  I expect balanced reporting, especially in the news section. I don’t expect exaggeration and distortion.

Ice always melts in the summer and no climate models are able to predict the amount of ice melt for a given summer.  During the most recent summer in the southern hemisphere the sea ice decreased to 2.1 million sq-km which was the third greatest amount of summer sea ice in the past 30 years.  And the three years out of the last 30 showing the greatest extent of sea ice during the summer in the southern hemisphere was all in this current decade: 2001, 2003, and 2008. There is as much as 16,000,000 square-kilometers of sea ice in the southern hemisphere during the winter months.  The most ever recorded using satellite imagery over the past 30 years was during the most recent winter.  This is according to data from NSIDC and NASA. There is no discernable trend in the amount of sea ice in the southern hemisphere.  The amount of sea ice in the summer and winter varies each year by as much as a million square kilometers.

Temperature records over the past 50 years in Antarctica have been studied and reported by a number of scientists.  Mohaghan, et al reported in the Journal of Geophysical Research in 2007 that near surface temperatures from 15 recording stations in Antarctica excluding the Antarctic Peninsula showed no statistically significant temperature fluctuations over the continent–which is larger than the United States–with one exception, the reporting station at the South Pole has cooled at a rate of -0.17 K per decade.  The South Pole has gotten cooler over the past 50 years—contrary to implications in the News Scan piece.

There has been warming on the Western Antarctic Peninsula, particularly in the area referenced in the Peter Brown News Scan article–all 160 square miles (414 sq-km).  This area represents less than a thousandth of one percent of the area of sea ice in the southern hemisphere.  It is warmed by a southern oceanic current which oscillates on a multi-decadal cycle— currently in a warm period.  It will get cold again over the next few decades.  The Western Antarctic Peninsula also has experienced increased snowfall over the past 50 years, apparently due to increased moisture from the relatively warm current near the peninsula. Thomas, et al, reported this in Geophysical Letters, 2007.  Even the IPCC, in 2007 reports “Antarctic sea ice extent continues to show inter-annual variability and localized changes but no statistically significant average trends, consistent with the lack of warming reflected in atmospheric temperatures averaged across the region.”

What about the “accelerating pace of climate change in the earth’s polar regions” and how does this compare with recent studies.  This past April, a group of researchers at the TRACE 2008 Conference in Zakopane, Poland, reported on a study of climate variation, cycles and trends, as determined from preserved Scots Pine tree rings in Finland (Mielikainen, et al).  The study covered 7,641 years and focused on summer temperatures on both sides of the present timberline in Finland. The most obvious conclusion from this study is that temperature and other variables of climate are always changing.  Furthermore, the warmest period of the last 7,641 years in this part of Finland was around 7,000 years ago.  Of the past 1,300 years, the warmest 250 year period was from AD 931-1180, the so called Medieval Warm Period.  The coldest 250 year period was from AD 1,601-1,850, the so called Little Ice Age. The 20th century was relatively warm, particularly in the first half.  The study shows that Finnish summers have been cooling since 1994.  Longer range forecasts from this study predict general cooling of summers over the next 30 to 50 years with warming after that, but not as warm as in the 10th through 12th centuries.

Climate is always changing and the pace of change is not accelerating. Ice is not melting at an unusual rate.  Melting of the relatively miniscule 414 sq-km area of Antarctica’s Wilkins ice shelf compared to the +/-  I million sq-km variability in sea ice extent for the hemisphere is not dramatic evidence of climate warming around the Antarctic Peninsula.  In fact, much of what is written in the Scientific American News Scan is incorrect, but typical of biased journalism as it pertains to climate science. This publication should stick to the science reporting and leave the politics to others.

When Does Life Begin?
Posted by Doc Stephens on Tuesday, September 09, 2008 7:45:10 PM

The Sunday morning talk shows have been asking this question, lately.  Both Speaker Pelosi and Senator Biden have spoken to the issue and both were castigated for their answers by the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. If this were a multiple choice question, you’d get an “A” if you chose “at conception” at least according to some unnamed biologists referenced by the media.  Biden got it “right” but Pelosi equivocated. Both profess to be devout Catholics.

The fact is that life doesn’t begin at conception and no one knows exactly when it did begin–billions of years ago on our planet.  Life has been continuous for a very long and indeterminate time.  What does begin at conception is an individual life that did not exist before that moment when two cells came together and fertilization occurred.  But life doesn’t “begin” at that point in time since the two lives that came together as a sperm and an egg were also very much alive.  Two lives created one life–or they created two or more in the case of identical twins, quadruplets, etc.

It is wrong to say that life begins at conception.

It is right to say that a life begins at conception.

It is really more complicated than this because we, humans, are actually multiple individual lifeforms when you consider all of the microorganizisms that are a part of us and actually keep us alive, and us them.  But that’s another story.

It is wrong to call George W. Bush the 43rd President because he is only the 42nd president to serve in that office.

It is right to say that George W. Bush is currently serving in the 43rd presidency.  Grover Cleveland served in two separate presidencies.

Language is often imprecise!

Merry Christmas!
Posted by Doc Stephens on Thursday, December 18, 2008 7:07:00 AM

Somehow, this formerly innocent and well-intentioned greeting has taken on a new life, and a new meaning.  People actually fear saying “Merry Christmas” in public settings, or to acquaintances not well known.  Instead, we hear “Happy Holidays” or “Hope you have a nice holiday season” or some other politically correct utterance such as “season’s greetings” whatever that means.  If you take the time to analyze what’s going on here, you have to be struck by the idiocy of it.  What could possibly be offensive to anyone about wishing him or her a happy day on the upcoming national holiday called Christmas–even to Hindus, Muslims, Jews, or atheists?  On the other hand, “holiday” is a contraction of “holy day” which is not by any means, secular, so why is it more acceptable?  It isn’t, or it shouldn’t be!

At the college where I work, we had a teeth-clenching and hand-wringing controversy develop over a “Merry Christmas” banner carefully and painstakingly created with heartwarming intentions by a thoughtful and kind employee who just wanted to make something nice for the employee “holiday” luncheon.  The committee tasked with organizing this year-end celebration of the “season” was terribly conflicted when they saw the banner.  After a debate, which I’m told became somewhat heated, they sought the judgment of Solomon–that would be me.  I was asked if there would be a problem with hanging the banner.  After hearing the arguments of both sides, I considered suggesting they split the sign in half so that it would just say “Merry” on one side and “Christmas” on the other and have the two halves hung at opposite ends of the hall where the luncheon would occur-­but I didn’t suggest that.  Instead, I said it would be just fine to hang up the banner.  Certain members of the committee actually believed it would be a violation of federal or state law to hang a banner saying “Merry Christmas” in a public place on state owned property.  I assured them I would risk penalty of law, and I reminded them that Christmas was, in fact, a national holiday established by Congress.

If there were a state or federal law that limited my right to say “Merry Christmas” then I suspect that law would be rather easily declared unconstitutional.  Telling someone that you hope they will be happy next Thursday hardly seems like something that would rise to the level of this controversy, but it has. And it is absolutely crazy!

Mythmaking
Posted by Doc Stephens on Sunday, January 18, 2009 9:44:40 AM

An article appearing in the January 17Highlands Today, reported “The liquidation of Circuit City is the latest fallout from the worst holiday shopping season in four decades.”  In an online article, Reuters offered a similar pronouncement attributed to the International Council of Shopping Centers, the ICSC.  Unfortunately, both the Reuter’s statement and newspaper report are completely false.  In fact, the 2008 holiday season was the best holiday shopping season ever!  But you won’t hear that from the legacy media.

According to the ICSC, chain store sales for the 2008 holiday season exceeded sales of the 2007 holiday season by 1.7 percent.   This is true even though the 2008 holiday shopping season was only 27 days long while the 2007 holiday shopping season extended for 32 days.  The 2008 season was nearly 20 percent shorter than 2007 but still experienced a 1.7 percent increase in sales. Actually, chain store sales have increased in every year since the ICSC began publishing their index going back almost 40 years.  The 2008 holiday season was the best ever—not the worst! Furthermore, the ICSC index does not include online sales which early reports indicated had increased by more than 7 percent over 2007.  The current 1.7 percent increase estimated by the ICSC is the lowest annual increase since 2002, one year after 9/11, when November and December sales increased by only 0.5 percent over the previous year, but that was still an increase.

Many economists have claimed that panic contributed to the worsening of the current financial crisis. News stories and hyperbolic political talk during the fall presidential campaign both spread misinformation and resulted in exaggerated concerns about our economy.

We can all agree that the closing of Circuit City is very unfortunate for communities and for Circuit City employees all over the country. Hopefully, a more successful business will come forward as the economy rebounds–as it certainly will.

In the meantime, newspapers and other media should be called “mythmakers” because that is what they do best.

In Search of The Truth
Posted by Doc Stephens on Wednesday, February 18, 2009 10:15:12 AM

What do journalism, science, and theology all have in common? Among other things, the practitioners of these enterprises claim to be searching for truth–whatever that might be.  Indeed!  I would argue that none of these human enterprises could ever know if their search was complete–that the whole truth had been discovered, uncovered, described, or explored.

Truth is sometimes misleading.  Lies are sometimes quite precise.  If I were to tell you that I’m ten feet tall, that would be the truth, but if I said I was exactly 72.0439122358902134718 inches that would be a very precise lie that was closer to the truth than the truth itself.  Wait a minute!  Why is saying that I’m ten feet tall a true statement? Because the level of precision of the statement is so low, rounded to a precision of one significant digit, my height could be truthfully stated as 1 X 101 ft, or ten feet tall.  A more accurate statement would be that my height is between 72 and 73 inches and it varies with the time of day, my posture, and what I’m doing at the moment–and that’s a little more precise, but not yet the whole truth.

So, a journalist writes a story and makes a concerted effort to get the facts straight.  Does that ensure that the story is truthful?  No! Depending upon how the facts are used in the story, and also on what facts might be left out of the story, the article might be perceived as truthful, but actually quite misleading; it might be dishonest if the intent was to mislead even though the facts are accurately stated; and finally, it might be both very dishonest and very imprecise.  Obviously, there is more to this story than we first imagined.

There is no end to the scientific pursuit of truth. No matter how much we know, we can learn more.  Whenever scientists claim they understand something, they eventually discover that the truth has yet to be fully uncovered.

Theologians accept that faith counters the weight of truth.  When there is no human understanding, then faith rules. Scientists and journalist also practice faith, but they label it differently. For scientists, when they accept a theory they are practicing faith. When a journalist publishes a story after striving to find the truth, this is practicing faith in the general acceptance of the report by the reader as evidence of their achieving the truth.

But none of this is really the truth!

“Combating” Climate Change
Posted by Doc Stephens on Friday, April 03, 2009 12:02:22 PM

“Few challenges facing America and the world are more urgent than combating climate change. The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear.”  (President-Elect Barack Obama, November 19, 2008)

I’m also reminded of our President’s promise during his long campaign, that he would somehow stop climate change and lower the seas to their rightful level. I know these were not his exact words, but it is clear from his many utterances that our new president lacks any serious scientific knowledge or even awareness. Like presidents before him, he relies on advisors for guidance, and even words.  Like presidents before him, he panders to his base, obviously with the strong encouragement of his advisors.  There are many people in his base who honestly believe the sky is falling, figuratively of course, and his confident, even arrogant pronouncements play to his enraptured audiences.  The President is obviously unencumbered by the facts.

Climate change is natural.  More precisely, atmospheric conditions are constantly changing over time.  Actually, the notion of “climate” is a statistical invention of man to describe the typical atmospheric conditions of a specific area or region over a defined time period.  In the natural world, there is no such thing as “climate.”  You cannot go out and find one anywhere.  The idea that humans, or even Americans, must “combat” climate change is both ludicrous and an amazingly ignorant statement.

Americans, and all living things, must adapt to changes in the climate, and in the world, as they have in the past, and most certainly will have to in the future.  If we don’t, we will become extinct as have 99 percent of all living species who have ever inhabited this planet.  Adapting is not a passive process, and some attempts at adaptations are unsuccessful.  We need to be wise stewards of our environment and planet.   And this requires education–learning about our environment and our planet.  Our future depends upon our knowledge, and even more upon our wisdom.  Spending our very limited resources trying to prevent the climate from changing, or trying to prevent the seas from rising or falling, is a fool’s venture and maladaptive behavior.

There is nothing particularly “urgent” about adapting to our changing world, unless we are hit by a large meteorite or a solar plasma storm.

Science is never “beyond dispute” and facts may be both “clear” and at the same time quite disputable.

Was there anything in the President’s quotation that makes sense?

“Settled Science” Is an Oxymoron
Posted by Doc Stephens on Friday, May 01, 2009 7:06:35 AM

“There is a consensus . . . The science is settled . . .”

Whenever I hear these notions from journalists, politicians, or scientists, my arms flail and my head explodes.  Virtually every great breakthrough in science resulted from someone daring to challenge the conventional wisdom, discovering something that no one knew.  I understand politicians and journalists missing this point, but when a scientist utters such a claim, it is an admission that no breakthrough has occurred.

Science is never settled!  “Settled science” is an oxymoron!  If it is “settled” it is not science, it is dogma.

Ignorance, Global Warming, and Cap and Trade
Posted by Doc Stephens on Saturday, May 30, 2009 11:30:18 AM

Ignorance is normal.  We’re all ignorant, but we differ from each other in what we know and don’t know. Some of what we think we know, we really don’t know, and sometimes we become so convinced we know something that we become arrogant about it.  Arrogance with ignorance is a dangerous combination.

This brings me to the entire subject of global warming, or climate change, or the greenhouse effect–pick the descriptor you prefer. This is a subject where most of us are found to the left-side of the ignorant-to­-knowledgeable continuum, including politicians, journalists, and even PhD climatologists.  The science is immature, there are many factors and variables involved, and the atmosphere of the earth is an incredibly complex and even chaotic system.  Knowledge of the interactions that occur at the boundaries with the land, the sea, the biosphere, and outer space extends beyond our present scientific grasp. The scientists understand quite a bit, they are learning more all the time, but their knowledge is far from a practical understanding that allows for general explanation and comprehension.  We are very far from the wisdom that nurtures sound public policy.  Furthermore, in science we will never know everything about anything.  Most of us can only repeat what we hear the experts say, and how we choose our particular experts is a whole other story.  We are too ignorant for our crap-detectors to function reliably.

I like to say that someone who is both arrogant and ignorant is unencumbered by the facts.  I stole this notion from someone many years ago and I’ve enjoyed its simple truth.  When we don’t know what we’re talking about, our ability to make fools of ourselves is truly unlimited.  I’ve observed that really arrogant people are often really ignorant–it’s scary.  I also like to say that well-educated persons are those who have learned, very well, to hide their ignorance.  This is a most ironic truth.

Next time a government official, a politician, a journalist, a teacher, a scientist, or a friend makes a statement that includes, or is based upon, an untested assumption, be discerning. Think about it, question it, consider the source, and do all of this before you repeat what you’ve heard as if it were truth.  This takes discipline, but it is a discipline we should all pursue.

Before we commit billions of dollars to prevent something, perhaps we should discover if what we wish to prevent is likely to happen.  If yes, then we should determine if it is a bad thing that we would want to prevent.  If yes, then we should discover whether we have the means to effectuate a desirable outcome.

Our government leaders appear to have skipped all of these basic questions.  They have made certain assumptions and are debating potential laws (i.e., cap and trade) that would reduce our freedoms and “redistribute wealth.”  This is an example of ignorance born of populism married to a frightening arrogance. We have elected officials who don’t really care if what they are doing is the right thing to do. They only care if it is popular and if it can be listed among their accomplishments.

Where is their responsibility to learn?  Where is their responsibility to lead? Where is their responsibility to protect our unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?    Enacting such laws in response to political pressure, and very questionable science, violates the trust.  Governments, at least our government, are supposed to be instituted to secure these rights through the just powers derived from the consent of the governed.  I’m afraid our government has devolved into a partisan mud-wrestling match resulting in a dysfunctional labyrinth of laws and rules. It has become addicted to its own dysfunction.  Heaven help us.

Perspective
Posted by Doc Stephens on Sunday, June 14, 2009 1:07:00 PM

Keeping our sanity when flooded with sound bites, headlines, twitters, and news capsules requires perspective. The challenge seems greater because the sources of this torrent intentionally exaggerate and purposefully distort just to gain our attention.  They are competing for audience and the revenue thus derived.  We just want to understand our world.

So, how do we keep our perspective, and our sanity, when so much of the information about our world comes to us filtered through these imperfect sources?  How do we counter this maelstrom of misinformation? This deluge of drivel profoundly influences each of us and often causes us to draw false conclusions and to make bad decisions that have serious consequences for our families, our communities, and indeed, for the entire world.

Even the labels associated with contemporary issues evolve and devolve into political correctness and special interest persuasion. Every important news story or headline that lingers for more than a day gets a tag that draws vivid associations and fertile assumptions.  These tags create the meme that spreads often like a malicious virus forever infecting our minds with a false reality. Consider the following subjects.

  • Global Warming/Climate Change
  • Bird Flu/Swine Flu Pandemics
  • A Nation at Risk/Failing Schools
  • The Struggle for Civil Rights
  • Bush’s Katrina
  • Health Care Reform/Government Option/Public Option
  • The War on Terrorism
  • Freedom of Choice/Abortion Rights/Right to Life/Anti-Abortion/Pro-Life
  • Evolution/Creationism/Intelligent Design

Each of these issues conjures a complex set of notions and emotions related to our experiences and the information and attitudes we’ve encountered and remembered recently and through the years. Allow me to briefly analyze one of these subjects.

Try this experiment. Ask friends if our public schools are rotten. Chances are they will answer, yes! Ask them how they know and they’ll tell you about the high dropout rates, declining SAT scores, violence in the schools, drugs, incompetent teachers, and any number of other ways they know that public schools are rotten. So, case closed. Our public schools are rotten.

Where did we get these ideas about our public schools? Mostly, they derive from media reports but often from politicians, talking heads, as well as from various friends and family members—it has become the unquestioned truth that virtually everyone accepts. Few of us have ever studied the public schools and made the effort to determine whether the dropout rates have increased or if SAT scores have actually declined, to select just two of the arguments.  We share anecdotes from the experiences of our own children and from our memories of being in school. If we already have a notion that schools are rotten, then we tend to assume greater credence in those anecdotes that reinforce our belief. In reality, none of these memes is correct.

More Americans have high school diplomas than ever before and a higher percentage of adults have high school diplomas than ever before. Don’t believe me?  Go to the U.S. Census Bureau and check it out for yourself. In just one century, the percentage of adult Americans with high school diplomas has increased from only about 10 percent in 1909 to almost 90 percent in 2009, and it has never been higher than now.

Have SAT scores declined?  Average scores declined in the 1970’s and early 80’s because of efforts to encourage college education for more people and also because of increasing access to higher education. More people were taking the SAT. When you compare the mean scores of the populations taking the test in 1965 and 1975 you find a lower mean in the later year, but it was a very different population that was taking the test. If you compare the mean SAT scores of the genders and the different racial and ethnic groups in 1965 and 1975 you find that all of these subpopulations increased their average SAT scores, but that was never reported. Someone, actually several people, thought it wasn’t newsworthy—if it bleeds, it leads, and if it blasts, it lasts.  And the average scores have continued to increase ever since with some very significant gains in certain subpopulations.

Similar explanations exist to refute the other arguments supporting the notion that our schools are rotten. I’ve selected just two in order to make the case for seeking perspective.

There are articles and books, indeed libraries full of books, about this subject and all of the others in the list.  The point—it is very difficult to keep our perspective when what we hear or read is only a very small part of a larger story about which we have little knowledge and limited experience.  How do we keep our perspective when we are deluged with distortions and exaggerations?

On the President’s Remarks to the United Nations Summit on Climate Change
Posted by Doc Stephens on Wednesday, September 23, 2009 11:25:00 PM

These are the opening paragraphs of remarks by President Obama at the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s Climate Change Summit in New York City on September 22, 2009.  Amplifying these opening statements, the remainder of the speech serves to further expose the amazing ignorance of the author and the naïve abetting of a dangerous agenda by the President of the United States.

9:46 A.M. EDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you very much.  Good morning.  I want to thank the Secretary General for organizing this summit, and all the leaders who are participating.  That so many of us are here today is a recognition that the threat from climate change is serious, it is urgent, and it is growing.  Our generation’s response to this challenge will be judged by history, for if we fail to meet it — boldly, swiftly, and together — we risk consigning future generations to an irreversible catastrophe.

No nation, however large or small, wealthy or poor, can escape the impact of climate change.  Rising sea levels threaten every coastline. More powerful storms and floods threaten every continent.  More frequent droughts and crop failures breed hunger and conflict in places where hunger and conflict already thrive. On shrinking islands, families are already being forced to flee their homes as climate refugees.  The security and stability of each nation and all peoples — our prosperity, our health, and our safety — are in jeopardy.  And the time we have to reverse this tide is running out.

And yet, we can reverse it.  John F. Kennedy once observed that “Our problems are man-made; therefore they may be solved by man.”  It is true that for too many years, mankind has been slow to respond or even recognize the magnitude of the climate threat. It is true of my own country, as well. We recognize that.  But this is a new day. It is a new era. And I am proud to say that the United States has done more to promote clean energy and reduce carbon pollution in the last eight months than at any other time in our history.

Listening to this speech requires incredible focus, stamina, and a strong bit in one’s teeth—unless, of course, one is mesmerized by the tone and color of the delivery or otherwise unencumbered by reality.  The President proclaims a litany of accomplishment since assuming office in January that would lead one to believe he surely walks upon the very waters rising all around us. It is obvious that the President is clueless about climate, weather, geology, energy, and even history. Otherwise, he would not allow himself to be so exposed to the entire world.

Allow me to react to some of the malarkey in these remarks.

Climate change is serious, it is urgent, and it is growing.

Actually, climate change is normal.  It is not serious, nor is it urgent or “growing” (whatever that might mean). Climate is always changing—always has and always will.  Humans have been challenged with climate change throughout history—just consider the Norse who inhabited Greenland until the Little Ice Age came along.  Our ancestors successfully adapted while lacking the technology and knowledge that exists today. Surely we are at least as adaptable.  The President, and others of a like mind, seems to think there was some ideal climate that existed before modern industrial society. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Our generation’s response to this challenge will be judged by history, for if we fail to meet it — boldly, swiftly, and together — we risk consigning future generations to an irreversible catastrophe.

Who knows what awaits humanity in the future if we could somehow prevent the climate from changing. We don’t really know to what extent we contribute to climate change. We don’t even understand if the current anthropogenic influences would cause or prevent some catastrophic future, or would have any measurable effect on future climates. How would the President know what might be possible for future advanced generations to accomplish?  Furthermore, what future–ten years, 50 years, 1,000 years, or more?  In the future, the Earth will enter another glacial period and humans in that period may be looking for ways to heat up the planet. They may wish we’d given them more of a head start. Humans are adaptable creatures, and some will ultimately survive almost any possible future.  History judges harshly those who commit to utter folly. Expending our lives in the pursuit of some consensus climate deserves harsh judgment.

No nation, however large or small, wealthy or poor, can escape the impact of climate change.

I agree!

Rising sea levels threaten every coastline.

Sea levels, and land levels as well, are constantly changing at different rates in different locations. Generally, sea levels have been rising relative to the land for 10 to 12 thousand years—since the last period of glaciation. The most accurate estimates from recent research show an average sea level rise of 1.3 mm per year as measured over the past 50 years. This equates to about 5 inches in a century. There is no evidence for any unusual trend over the last century as compared to previous centuries. According to maps created by the early European and Chinese explorers, sea levels were several feet lower during the Columbian age of exploration and discovery.

There are several reasons for the natural rise of sea level. Fresh water from the melting glaciers enters the oceans, thermal expansion of the oceans occurs as the oceans warm, but isostatic rebound of the land also occurs due to the reduced weight of the ice sheet over the land. Wind, currents, solar variability, the position of the moon in its orbit, tectonic plate motion, and orbital and positional dynamics of the Earth all lead to changes in sea level. Furthermore, not all coastlines are experiencing rising sea levels, and not all oceans are even at the same level.

More frequent droughts and crop failures breed hunger and conflict in places where hunger and conflict already thrive.

It is hard to disagree with the statement, but is the President asserting that anthropogenic climate change is causing this? If he is, he is way out on a limb with his friends. Certainly, there are causes of crop failures, hunger, and conflict other than human caused climate change; perhaps natural climate variability would be one of those other possible causes. On the other hand, we have evidence that natural climate change caused crop failures, hunger, and conflict throughout the recorded history of civilizations. In the past, our species learned to better manage agricultural practices, to plant their crops in other locations, to seek food from alternative sources, and to compete with others, human and non-human, for scarce resources. Is our President claiming that if we can stop the climate from changing we’ll eliminate all crop failures, hunger, and conflict?

On shrinking islands, families are already being forced to flee their homes as climate refugees.  The security and stability of each nation and all peoples — our prosperity, our health, and our safety — are in jeopardy. And the time we have to reverse this tide is running out.

Sadly, on our planet human suffering continues as it surely will continue into the future. The absurd notion of stopping the climate from changing or of preventing volcanoes from erupting, blocking tsunamis from scouring the coastlines, lifting sinking islands, and quieting tremors in the earth beneath our feet is a fools folly of extraordinary proportions.  Perhaps it would be more logical to move people to safer locations while feeding, clothing, and educating them. Attempting to stop climate change is crazy.  The futility of the effort would quickly bring us to our economic knees. There is no clock on climate change. It happens!

And yet, we can reverse it. 

Reverse it to what? Does the President have a particular climate of the past that he’d prefer we reinstate, or is he positing a return to some imagined ideal climate state prior to human’s arrival on the scene.  How arrogant can a world leader be?  How ignorant?  How naïve?  Perhaps Congress, in its infinite wisdom, could decide on the climate they’d prefer and then enact a bill to mandate it.  That would keep them busy for awhile, I’m sure.

John F. Kennedy once observed that “Our problems are man-made; therefore they may be solved by man.”  It is true that for too many years, mankind has been slow to respond or even recognize the magnitude of the climate threat. It is true of my own country, as well.

I believe John F. Kennedy referenced specific problems of his time, not all problems affecting humankind, then, now, or in the future.   I don’t believe he considered climate change to be a serious, urgent, or even relevant problem.  The answer to climate change is adaptation.  It is good news that our country has not fallen for the false threat of climate change and instead allocates its scarce and valuable resources to tackle only those problems that are within our ability to resolve, and by the means available to us.

We recognize that.  But this is a new day. It is a new era. And I am proud to say that the United States has done more to promote clean energy and reduce carbon pollution in the last eight months than at any other time in our history.

True, the President has promoted clean energy, at least his idea of clean energy.  Unfortunately, he ignores some of the more plausible clean energy technology. The observed reductions in carbon emissions result from the economic recession and the high cost of energy.

We are in a recession, brought about by too much government involvement in energy management and too much government involvement in the housing and financial industries.  This President vigorously promoted this excess!

When Scientists Become Advocates -The Global Warming Hoax Exposed
Posted by Doc Stephens on Monday, November 23, 2009 11:31:38 PM

When scientists become advocates for their scientific hypotheses, whether for political or self-aggrandizing reasons, they cease being scientists, and they become bullies, or worse. When scientists belittle, deride, condescend, stifle, censure or chastise the contributions of other scientists with whom they disagree, they are nothing less than evil.   We now have evidence of such behavior on the part of a core of leading advocates for anthropogenic global warming. With the release of emails and other documents from the servers of the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit, the destructive mindset is exposed in all its glory. Today, November 24, 2009, The Wall Street Journal offers a good summation.

This global warming hoax perpetrated by a cabal of elitist intellectual snobs should attain legendary status. Consider the potential harm done to our planet, our country, our economy, and most importantly our people by this group of self-centered narcissists who put their own glory, not to mention their own funding ahead of the pursuit of truth—with no concern for scientific integrity. And from their own words, it is obvious they were self-deluded—the worst kind of evil.  They misused science to influence opinion leaders, politicians, the media, and common ordinary people who could not know better.  They used their knowledge and intellect as a weapon to win their spoils.  These are not the first to do so, nor will they be the last, but alas, they have been rendered naked by their own folly.

Climate changes! It always has and it always will! Humans will adapt, just as they have in the past when the planet was warmer and when the planet was colder. We must be smart about conserving our resources and protecting our environment.   But we don’t have to create a mythology in order to persuade others to do likewise. The truth, or the continuous pursuit of it, will indeed set us free.

Climategate versus the Contrarians
Posted by Doc Stephens on Saturday, December 05, 2009 10:44:37 AM

There are many reasons to reduce the use of fossil fuels, but none of those reasons justifies a gross distortion of science for the purpose of political advocacy.

A core group of “scientists” manipulated the data. The manipulation duped the undiscerning media, the politicians, the United Nations, and much of the public.  Some politically motivated personalities saw an opportunity to embrace a cause that would bring them fame and fortune—even a Nobel Peace Prize. The fraudulent manipulation created a partisan divide with liberals arguing that governments must seize control to save the world from anthropogenic global warming, and with conservatives resisting the regulatory excess and the ever-expanding, bloated bureaucracies that threaten the loss of precious freedoms.

Representing the liberal perspective this week was John Rennie, the former executive editor of Scientific American. He published an article entitled “Seven Answers to Climate Contrarian Nonsense” in which he enumerated seven alleged “claims” of the “Contrarians”, as he labels anyone who rejects the notion that global warming is caused by human activities, and specifically, the burning of fossil fuels. He then goes on to explain why he believes those “claims” are nonsense. Mr. Rennie is a science journalist of considerable renown and a university professor. In his rather condescending essay, it is clear he has no clue why many climate scientists disagree with the exaggeration and oversimplification that has become the popular meme of global warming. Mr. Rennie’s ad hominem attacks expose his political leanings but lend no clarity to the scientific debate. He confuses and conflates the uninformed wonderings of well-meaning layman with the important inquiry of legitimate scientific investigators. It is obvious that Mr. Rennie believes in his heart that the activities of man in this modern industrialized civilization caused the global warming observed during the past half-century.

I’ve subscribed to Scientific American magazine for more than 50 years and I hope to enjoy this wonderful publication for the rest of my life, or until it ceases to be published, whichever comes first. As I read Mr. Rennie’s article in the online Scientific American Newsletter, and then when I heard him interviewed on the Scientific American Podcast, I was struck by two things: 1) he does not understand the science, and 2) he does not understand or respect anyone who disagrees with him. Most egregious of all, he belittles and derides those he stereotypes as “Contrarians” and “Deniers”. He has no patience for their arguments or for their “claims”. Wow!

Carbon dioxide is an important component of our atmosphere (currently, about 385 ppm in clean dry air).  There is considerable evidence that the concentration generally increased over the past several thousand years with a more rapid rate of increase observed since the middle of the nineteenth century, following “The Little Ice Age” as it is commonly called.  It is well known that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere absorbs infrared (heat) energy that radiates from the earth and also from the sun.  This causes the atmosphere to be warmer than it would otherwise be if no carbon dioxide were present. Carbon dioxide molecules are linear with a carbon atom in the middle bonded to two oxygen atoms each sharing four electrons with the carbon atom.  A double covalent bond exists between the central carbon atom and each oxygen atom in the molecule. Carbon dioxide only absorbs infrared when the molecule is bent or asymmetrically stretched, and this occurs only when molecules collide with each other, with other molecules, with molecules of surfaces present at the boundaries of the atmosphere, or with particulates present in the atmosphere. The higher the concentration of carbon dioxide and the higher the temperature, the more collisions, the more bending and stretching, and the more infrared (heat) absorbed. This heating of the atmosphere is wrongly called the “greenhouse effect” by virtually everyone. Greenhouses don’t work this way, but that is another story.

Carbon dioxide is not the only component of the atmosphere that absorbs infrared.  In the atmosphere, the total concentration of greenhouse gases varies considerably in different environments. In a warm humid environment, such as tropical oceans and rainforests, greenhouse gases may comprise as much as 4 percent of the atmospheric gases and most of the infrared (heat) from the land and sea is absorbed by these gases retaining heat in the atmosphere.  In a cold dry environment such as the polar ice caps, greenhouse gases may represent only about 4/100ths of one percent of all atmospheric gases, and very little infrared is actually absorbed.  In the warm humid environment, carbon dioxide is responsible for less than 1 percent of the greenhouse effect, while water vapor and the other greenhouse gases absorb nearly 99 percent of the infrared that is absorbed in the atmosphere.  In a cold dry environment, carbon dioxide is by far the most important greenhouse gas absorbing almost all of the infrared that is absorbed, although there is relatively little infrared absorbed in these cold dry environments.  Clouds, aerosols, and particulates play a significant role in regulating heat absorption and the weather patterns that result.

There are many sources of the carbon dioxide that is in the atmosphere, and we could conveniently divide these sources into two categories, anthropogenic (man-made) and everything else (wrongly called “natural sources” – since man is also part of nature). The burning of fossil fuels is an obvious anthropogenic source of carbon dioxide, but it is not the only anthropogenic source. We exhale carbon dioxide as does every respiring, aerobic, life form. We burn trees and other vegetation to clear land for development or because we’re too stupid to put out cigarettes and campfires properly. There is no debate that mankind’s activities add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. There should be a healthy debate about the extent to which this anthropogenic source modifies regional and global climate.

The oceans and volcanoes also release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As the oceans warm, all gases, including carbon dioxide, become less soluble and escape into the atmosphere. This is why the oceans have been releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere since the end of the last glacial period about 12,000 years ago. Much of the increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is caused by the natural warming of the ocean, not vice versa.  Extensive rift zones caused by spreading tectonic plates on the ocean floor extend around the world releasing heat and additional carbon dioxide, among other materials, into the oceans. The Earth cycles through cooling and warming periods as a result of its position, the changing inclination of the axis, and motions relative to the sun, the moon, and the plane of our galaxy. The sun is also a variable star and solar forcing follows a fairly predictable pattern related to sunspot activity.  Most people don’t realize that we are currently in an ice age characterized by alternating glacial and interglacial periods. Earth is now in a warming phase of an interglacial period with global atmospheric temperatures and sea levels generally rising during the past 12,000 years. These natural cycles normally extend for thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and even many millions of years.  Civilization is a late arrival on the scene and its impact is only during the last 10,000 years or about 2-millionths of the age of the Earth. If we compare the age of the Earth to a calendar year, civilization would have begun at 1 minute and 10 seconds before midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Because Earth is an irregular oblate spheroid that spins and wobbles on its axis as it revolves in an ever-changing elliptical orbit around the sun, the oceans also circulate and we refer to patterns of circulation as ocean currents. There are warm and cold currents in the oceans and there are deep as well as surface currents.  The oceans are warmed by the sun and from the heat released into the core and mantle from radioactive decay of materials present in the planet’s interior. These ocean currents circulate and change in periods that generally last decades, and for this reason they are called multi-decadal oscillations or MDO’s. These ever-changing currents affect patterns of weather.  El Nino and La Nino are such weather patterns derived from major currents in the Pacific Ocean. Because of the PDO (Pacific Decadal Oscillation), we are about 10 years into a cooling phase that historically lasts about 30 years. This partially explains why temperatures in North America have been cooling during the last decade, since about 1998. If these weather patterns continue as they have for the past several thousand years, we should continue to experience colder than average temperatures in North American for the next 20 years, or so.  Then, it will most likely begin warming as it did during the seventies, eighties, and nineties—when the global warming alarmists were certain we were heading for catastrophic global warming with rising oceans flooding islands and coastal areas.  Ironically, those of a similar ilk sounded the alarm that we were entering an “ice age” back in the late sixties and early seventies after 30 years of cooling temperatures. It was actually a result of Atlantic and Pacific multi-decadal current oscillations during the present interglacial period.  If you’re looking for trouble, you’ll certainly find it.

Science has not yet determined whether greenhouse gases in the atmosphere contribute to positive or negative feedback or both.  History demonstrates the atmosphere operates with negative feedback because, frankly, we’re still here.  Global warming extremist and most computerized climate models assume a net positive feedback mechanism and that we’re approaching the tipping point–a catastrophic outcome. Negative feedback means that the atmosphere is self-correcting. If we add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, then the warming will cause more water to evaporate and more clouds to form and that will block solar radiation from reaching the surface.  Positive feedback means the atmosphere is not self-correcting–heating causes more heating which causes more heating–a runaway greenhouse consequence.  Clouds play a significant role and only a few investigators have recently begun to understand this mechanism of negative or positive feedback.  There are no long-term records of global cloud cover.  The science in this area of inquiry is immature.

Scientists have not yet determined to what extent human activities contribute to climate change. The extremist at each end of the political spectrum argue either that mankind is totally at fault or that we deserve no blame at all. The liberal politicians and legacy media line up with the extremists on the left where it is assumed to be the fault of mankind. Rennie’s fantasy “Contrarians” are on the extreme right and they allegedly would deny that humans have any influence on the planet, its weather, or its climate. As is often the case, the extremists are completely unencumbered by the facts.  They’re goofy! I resent Mr. Rennie suggesting that everyone who is not a left-leaning extremist must be a “Contrarian” at the other extreme of the continuum. On this point, he is delusional.

The answer for mankind is, as it has always been, adapt or we will not survive.  This planet is dynamic!  It is constantly changing.  Nothing we can do will prevent the climate from changing.  Yes, we should reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. We need to do this for political, economic, and environmental reasons.  But eliminating all fossil fuels will not prevent the weather or the climate from changing.

Global Warming? Not!
Posted by Doc Stephens on Sunday, December 13, 2009 12:54:51 PM

If it weren’t so tragic, it would be hilarious.  They have it exactly backwards!  It is global cooling that should cause us great fear. World leaders and scientist gathering in Copenhagen should be focusing on how humankind will adapt and survive the coming glacial period.

If you inspect the charts displayed in a post entitled “Some Historic Perspective” by J. Storrs Hall at the Foresight Institute Blog, you may have an epiphany, as the author intended. An ice core record of temperatures from the ice sheet in central Greenland shows temperatures at that location over the last 40,000 years–very interesting! To make a very long story (40 millennia) short, all of human history has occurred in a warm interglacial period that began rather abruptly about 12,000 years ago. Furthermore, the last 150 years, including the most recent warming that began during the Nineteenth Century, is rather unremarkable except being slightly cooler than most of the last 8,000 years. It was much warmer in central Greenland between 800 A.D. and 1,200 A.D. and it was even warmer for most of the preceding 8,000 years. The most recent 500 years, has been the coldest half-millennium in the current Holocene interglacial going back about 10,000 years.  The warming of the past century in central Greenland has not brought us back to the average temperature of the entire history of human civilization—not even close!

If you inspect the Vostok ice core data from Antarctica going back 400,000 years, it is obvious that past glacial periods lasted much longer than the warmer interglacials such as the Holocene we’ve been experiencing throughout human history. And the Holocene is already longer, but less warm than the preceding four interglacials.

If you want to worry about climate change, you ought to be worrying about the next glacial period, which may in fact be overdue, and the profound impact that will have on human civilization throughout the world.

Climate Agreement: Crazy, No! Goofy!
Posted by Doc Stephens on Saturday, December 19, 2009 12:08:44 PM

Hundreds, even thousands, of world leaders, scientists, political activists, and media representatives along with various hyperactive ignorati spent the past two weeks in Copenhagen.  They labored mightily to prevent a climate catastrophe of global proportions, to save us all from the worst possible environmental nightmare–Armageddon-­the end of life as we know it!  It was a desperate attempt to cap or even lower the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Unfortunately, they were a smidgen short of their primary goal.  Here is what they achieved:

  1. An agreement to send billions of dollars from rich nations to poor nations;
  2. A pledge to lower concentrations of carbon dioxide so temperatures won’t rise more than 2 degrees Celsius; and
  3. To meet again in the future.

This is goofy!  This is absolutely crazy!  If all of the nations of the world stopped releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by eliminating the burning of all fossil fuels immediately, if we all stopped breathing, if animals and plants stopped respiring, if there were no more forest fires, and we plugged the tops of all volcanoes and oceanic rifts, it still wouldn’t necessarily prevent the global temperature from going up by more than two degrees or down by more than two degrees (or both) in the future. They’re wasting their time and our resources trying to solve a problem they do not understand.  They’re banking on the general ignorance of the public, while assuming they have exclusive rights to wisdom.  In fact, they are completely blind to the problem and obviously to its solutions.

I’ve struggled for an analogy to explain the folly of their passion and their cause, but I’m inadequate to the task.

The average global temperature depends upon many factors, and carbon dioxide is only one very teensy, tiny, miniscule influence on our weather and climate.  So, controlling this greenhouse gas and all others except water vapor, which even the most arrogant world leader admits we cannot control, will not have any predictable impact on global temperature.  Let’s do it anyway, they say.

This is craziness to the extreme!   First of all, we cannot lower the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, nor can we prevent it from increasing.  Secondly, we don’t know if we’d be better off, worse off, or neither with higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Finally, we definitely will be much worse off if we destroy the economies of the developed nations of the world.

Imagine an Illinois farmer with 1000 acres of corn planted in March and he’s very worried it will get so hot and dry in July that his crop will be ruined.  So, he puts an open quart jar of water in his refrigerator to make sure it stays pleasantly warm and appropriately humid in his corn field during the summer.  The farmer is an alarmist.  The refrigerator represents the nations of the world trying to keep the planet from getting too hot.  The quart jar of water represents the carbon dioxide the nations wish to control.  Good luck!

Are these leaders crazy, delusional, ignorant, arrogant, or all of the above?  I think “goofy” sums it up rather succinctly.  God help us!  Please!

A New Decade: What Will the Future Bring?
Posted by Doc Stephens on Tuesday, December 22, 2009 9:25:18 AM

Lost in the holiday season and in the political fever of the times is the realization that we are almost over with the aughts. Are we ready to enter the decade of the teens?

The past ten years brought generally positive and exciting experiences for this humble servant. My terrific and absolutely wonderful wife endured my plentiful peccadilloes without serious complaint. Our four relatively normal college educated offspring entered adulthood—three are happily married and each are making their independent way in the world. We even have a healthy and prospering twelve year old dog named Skye—half Lab and half Chow—who seems happy to see us when we arrive home after a long day “toiling in the vineyards.” Our world includes a beautiful home in a friendly neighborhood on a golf course in rural south Florida where the weather is just about perfect 87 percent of the time. Professionally, we’ve never been more fulfilled. We’re both educators, she teaches kindergarten and I’m a community college president. Current plans call for both of us to retire in a few years and then to begin a new adventure along this journey we call life. Perhaps my greatest fear is of waking from this dream to find an existence rather less comfortable. Counting my numerous blessings while reflecting on the past decade may be personally enjoyable, but such an enumeration offers scant interest to a visitor of this site. Please forgive this narcissistic interlude.

Recently, I’ve caught myself wondering about the future more and more. The teens will be my eighth decade breathing this air. Each breath seems more precious as time pulls me along. For some reason, the passage of time quickens its pace as I age—our days and nights are so full and moments of quietly pondering so rare.

Enough of this self-absorbed context, now please allow me to do some forecasting. Here is my first attempt at predicting some of the developments and happenings of the future. My focus is on the year 2020—what will we see on our planet by then?

  1. The political winds continue to swirl as we end the second term of a conservative President who along with a more supportive congress will have remediated some of the changes implemented by their more liberal predecessors.
  2. International tensions derived from cultural and religious conflicts continue to threaten our way of life as technology further shrinks the planet bringing different perspectives, different intentions, and different means to bear down upon populations struggling to compete and to survive.
  3. The weather is surprisingly cooler as we who live in North America exit the second of three or four decades under the influence of the Pacific multidecadal oscillation.  The global warming alarmists moved on to a different hoax/threat—those who use fear to gain power are exposed, but they fail to comprehend their own folly.
  4. Energy is cheap, abundant, and environmentally friendly since hydrogen derived from a variety of inexhaustible sources supplements and replaces natural gas in older power plants and provides inexpensive electricity for homes, schools, factories, and transportation.
  5. People around the world communicate and interact instantaneously and asynchronously as social networking pervades technologically advanced societies.
  6. The Higgs Boson is known due to remarkable discoveries at the LHC in Cern, and the four forces of the physical universe unite as four manifestations of one.
  7. People enjoy the cleanest air and natural environment since the middle ages as carbon is captured and recycled, and the various and sundry effluents of modern industrial civilization are managed cost-effectively.
  8. Natural gas and oil are found to derive from inorganic processes deep in the earth’s crust and mantle and fears of exhausting the supply of this essential resource have disappeared. The burning of fossil fuels (which are not just from fossils) for the production of heat and energy is rare in advanced societies except for aesthetic and nostalgic applications.
  9. Education of the young and the old enters a renaissance as society embraces variety, individuality, excellence, and technology while gaining a deeper understanding of how and why people learn.
  10. Modern humans in advanced societies embrace spirituality and undergo a transformation from controlling to adapting beings seeking to comprehend their world, their universe, and their creator.

This was fun! I hope I’m around to enjoy this utopian state.

All the Clean Energy We Will Ever Need
Posted by Doc Stephens on Thursday, December 24, 2009 9:26:31 AM

Ever since I learned that Yellowstone encompasses a supervolcano poised, perhaps even overdue, to blow any millennium now, I’ve wondered what might be done to prevent the inevitable cataclysm.  Such an event would certainly destroy much of our country and would cause global consequences not experienced in historic times.  If you question my sanity, look it up.  This is no hoax.  Yellowstone presents a real threat to our way of life and it will blow sometime in the future—next year, 2100, or a thousand years from now.  We just don’t know when.

Underneath this unique and amazing landscape roils an enormous magma chamber influenced by a hotspot in the mantle.  Geologists tell us it has blown about every 600,000 years, or so, for the last 2 million years.  The last time it blew was about 640,000 years ago.  When it blows, say goodbye to much of the lower 48 as we know it.  This is not your average garden variety volcano.  This is one of a handful of known supervolcanoes found around our planet.  The last one to erupt was at Lake Taupo in New Zealand about 26,500 years ago and before that, Lake Toba in Sumatra which released an estimated 2,800 cubic kilometers of ash into the atmosphere.

We have two problems.  Ironically, each might offer an opportunistic solution to the other.

  1. With current technology, we can do nothing to prevent a Yellowstone event from occurring.
  2. We need clean energy for our modern industrial society and to maintain our way of life.

Interesting!  Would it be possible to tap the enormous energy supply in the magma and at the same time reduce the threat of the supervolcano erupting by removing some of its heat?  There is enough energy under Yellowstone to provide for all of our energy needs, now and for as long as we will require energy.  If we removed this heat, the inevitable would be forestalled, or prevented.  Wouldn’t this be worth considering in light of the certain outcome if we were to do nothing?  This is sort of like saving two birds with one feeder!

Such a scientific and engineering endeavor would be very expensive and would require new understanding and new technology, but the means would certainly justify the ends.  Our future truly depends upon it.

Health Care: The Perceived Problems and Their Causes
Posted by Doc Stephens on Saturday, December 26, 2009 10:13:10 AM

First an admission, I’ve not read either of the bills.  Furthermore, I never will.  I find raw legislative text virtually impossible to understand and a waste of my time to read.  Furthermore, it would probably take me a week in a highly caffeinated state to get through either of the two bills passed by the House and Senate.  Therefore, all that I know about the bills derives from the capsulized and soundbitten reports of others—legacy media, various commentators and authors, and members of Congress.  Like everyone else, I select my sources using a filter that reflects my own instincts and perspectives.  I read and listen to all sides, but I form my own opinions—this is normal.

First a disclaimer, I’m not a medical doctor.  I have no particular expertise nor do I have any experience in the healthcare industry except as an occasional client.  With that further admission as context, what are the problems that Congress and our President want to solve through new laws?  From all that I’ve heard uttered from the proponents of this pending legislation, it appears they are focused on three perceived problems.

Perceived Problem 1 – Some people don’t have insurance.

The estimates vary.  During the presidential campaign of 2006-2008 we heard figures as high as 45 million.  Now we hear estimates as low as 20 million.  Whatever it is, it is a big number.  What are the actual causes of this problem?

  1. They cannot afford it.
  2. They don’t want to pay for it.
  3. They choose not to purchase it because they think they don’t need it.
  4. They don’t realize they have access to it—Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP, etc.
  5. They are illegally in the country.
  6. Their employers don’t provide it and one or more of the above.

Perceived Problem 2 – Costs are escalating.

Over the past many years, costs for services, equipment, pharmaceuticals, and insurance experienced double-digit annual percentage increases.  Employers reduce benefits in order to keep costs under control and more people choose to gamble they won’t need insurance because of limited incomes and other priorities.  Why are the costs escalating?

  1. The costs of more uninsured people are absorbed by fewer people and the employers who can and do pay for benefits and services.
  2. Malpractice insurance rates escalate due to more and larger settlements.
  3. There are shortages of primary care physicians and certain specialists in response to increased liability.
  4. There is an increase in costs of services of specialists due to improved medical practices, modern medical technology, liability insurance rates, and government regulation.
  5. Hospitals and clinics have to pay higher salaries for medical and nursing staff due to shortages and competition.
  6. Hospitals and clinics face escalating liability for malpractice.
  7. Drugs are increasingly expensive to invent, manufacture, market, and distribute.
  8. Reductions in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements to hospitals and physicians result in higher costs being redistributed to private insurers and their clients.
  9. Government regulations have unintended consequences.

Perceived Problem 3 – Some people are making a fortune in this industry.

Who would that be?  The biggest winners would appear to be the trial lawyers, but certain industry CEOs, executives, and specialists receive significant compensation for their services.  Congress and the President seem to believe it is politically popular to target some of these so-called “fat cats” while ignoring others.  They feed on the envy and jealousy that their politics creates and they want to take credit for going after these evildoers for commanding multimillion dollar incomes.  As hard as they try, they will have great difficulty controlling compensation of private industry executives.  There are too many ways around their regulatory efforts.  Meanwhile they choose to enable, or at least to ignore, the medical malpractice lawyers and the escalating costs that result from their enormous settlements.  Why do some make a fortune?

  1. Juries tend to award very large settlements when there are no limits to liability or punitive damages, and when lawyers demand high fees and commissions for their services.
  2. The market determines the compensation of CEOs, executives, and other specialists.

Obviously, many in our country and maybe even a majority agree there are problems with healthcare and its related industries.  When solving a problem, it is a good idea to understand the problem and its causes before you craft a solution.  In this instance, it would appear that our political leaders have decided to solve some problems while ignoring others.  It also appears they are willing to create different problems for some people in order to solve some of the problems of other people.  Amazingly, it appears they don’t think we are capable of solving our own problems and they must take control of the situation or the world as we know it will come to an end.  Apparently the pending apocalypse is scheduled for the third week in January.  Action must be taken by then or we’re all going to die!

If you take the time to analyze the many causes of the perceived problems that I’ve outlined, as well as many others that you could identify just as easily, you would conclude that the bills pending deliberation of the Congressional Conference Committee may make matters worse. Do these politicians really believe it is okay to mandate that we purchase something we don’t necessarily want to purchase?  Do they really believe it is alright to create a law that cannot be amended or repealed in the future?  Do they really believe we approve of their rewarding (bribing) congressional colleagues for their support? Do they really believe that citizens of some states should be impacted differently by this legislation than citizens in other states?  Do they really believe taxpayers will support paying for abortions?  Strange as it may be, it appears they believe these things.

What truly galls me is the intent of Congress (and obviously our President and his advisors) to control behavior—my behavior.  What also galls me is taking more of my hard earned money and giving it to someone else, without asking me whether I agree with that redistribution.  It is as if it isn’t mine after all—as if I work for the State.  I am a very generous person, but . . . !

Stereotypes and Caricatures
Posted by Doc Stephens on Sunday, January 17, 2010 12:24:13 PM

We all do it!  We stereotype groups of people.  Furthermore, we develop images of public figures that are actually caricatures.  The media feeds this behavior and helps us mold our stereotypes and caricatures by exaggerating certain characteristics while minimizing others.  We repeat what we hear or see and the meme—an idea that spreads from person to person until it is accepted in a culture—firmly takes root.

When we stubbornly rely upon a stereotype to justify malicious treatment of individuals of a protected group of people, this is illegal discrimination and we are guilty of bigotry.  When we form judgments of individuals based upon caricatures and then utter those judgments in a manner that hurts the individual, this can be slander—false charges or misrepresentations spoken orally that maliciously damage someone’s reputation.  When the individual so harmed is a public figure, we accept and exempt the malicious behavior—for some reason, it goes with the territory.  Obviously, this is serious!  But we all do it!

During the 2008 presidential election, I was struck by the profound differences of opinion among friends and colleagues of the different candidates and of our former President, George W. Bush.   I began paying attention to the how the media created the caricatures of various players in the race for the White House, particularly, Sarah Palin, John McCain, Joe Biden, and of course, Barack Obama.  More importantly, how and when campaigns worked to create caricatures of the former president and of their opposition.  It is not subtle and the influence is powerful.  Furthermore, since so many people barely pay any attention to politics, or the issues and ideologies behind the campaigns, they are susceptible to and easily influenced by these caricatures and the pressures they feel from those that influence their thinking and behavior.

Because our politics is so polarized, we necessarily have two very different views of our former president and of the various candidates.  We also have two opposing views, stereotypes, of the various interest groups vying for influence.  Consider conservatives versus liberals, Republicans versus Democrats, MSM versus talk radio, etc.

I once heard a very well educated person describe all conservatives as ignorant Bible-thumpers who were opposed to science and believed the earth was only 6000 years old.  For this reason, she could never support any Republican candidates for office because conservatives controlled the GOP.  I wanted to set her straight, but I didn’t know where to begin.

Mention the names of conservatives such as Sarah Palin or of Rush Limbaugh and listen to the reactions.  These public figures are seen very differently by those that love them and those that don’t.  I could have suggested Barack Obama and Chris Matthews as examples of liberals that conjure very different notions from those who agree with them and those who don’t.

It is as if we live in different worlds.  How does this happen?  How can we avoid negative and inaccurate images of people and groups?  How do we change our minds?    Like I said, we all do it!

Stereotypes and Caricatures: Rush Limbaugh
Posted by Doc Stephens on Sunday, January 17, 2010 2:46:20 PM

When I log into the digital edition of my local newspaper each morning, the first place I go is the editorial page.  This Sunday’s offering from the Highlands Today was “Robertson, Limbaugh exhibit their true selves”.  This editorial provides a perfect example of how a newspaper contributes to the already established caricature of a public figure.  I wish to speak of Rush Limbaugh in this instance.

Rush is popular and beloved among his regular listeners reported to number 20 to 25 million per week.  He is hated by an equally large number of people; most have never listened to his show and only know him through what they hear about him from others and from reading newspaper and liberal blog accounts such as today’s editorial.  No doubt, Rush is a polarizing figure in our society.

The following is the lead paragraph in the editorial that appeared in Highlands Today.

During times of great trage­dy, as we are seeing right now in Haiti, good people emerge and do all they can to make it better. At the same time, there always are a couple of peo­ple who make fools of themselves, and we have that, too. Rev. Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh have broadcast some of the most ignorant, divisive words imagin­able in the last week. They certain­ly have the right to say it, but we also have the right to call them on it.

Rush has an advantage over the Reverend in that everything he said during the last week is transcribed, word for word, on his website.  If you don’t like reading the transcription you can listen to him say it—every word he uttered along with the emotion, the sarcasm, the humor, and the context.  It is there to examine and one would assume that a newspaper would check it out before they editorialize about it.  In this case, either they didn’t bother to check their sources, and/or they prefer to contribute to the well established caricature of the man that is popularized and accepted among his distracters.  We certainly know where the editorial writer stands on this.

The editorial goes on to state the following.

Rush Limbaugh told his “ditto heads” to not contribute to Hai­tian relief efforts because it would help Obama in some way. He made reference to dark-skinned and light-skinned blacks in his rant. It didn’t make much sense, other than to take an unspeakable tragedy and try to spin it into a political situation.

And after another paragraph, the editorial in Highlands Today concludes with this.

Limbaugh has made himself rich saying outrageous things. Good for him. It stirs the pot and brings him more money. He’s an entertainer but his speech, particularly about things like this; contribute to the suffering felt by millions of people.

How can any thinking person con­done that?

No doubt there are people who agree with Robertson and Lim­baugh. That’s to be expected. They should read their Bible or look in a mirror or even look into their hearts to know they are wrong. It’s common sense and decency. Their way of thinking is hurting people and that’s not okay.

Unfortunately for Highlands Today, there is nothing in these paragraphs that is even remotely like what Rush said or meant during the past week.   Rush did not tell his listeners to not donate to Haiti and the dark-skinned and light-skinned reference was quoting Senator Harry Reid (D-NV).  If someone takes the time and effort to read through the transcript, his arguments will appear quite rational and also quite passionate.  Rush dislikes sloppy agenda journalism and he doesn’t like being misquoted or slandered.  Who does?  Below are the transcripts of everything Rush said about this subject during the past week.  Is the editorial justified?

On Wednesday, January 13th, Rush talked to a caller named Justin.

RUSH: We’re going to start in Raleigh, North Carolina. Justin you’re first today. Great to have you with us.

CALLER: Mega Rush Baby dittos. My question is, why did Obama in the sound bite you played earlier, when he’s talking about if you wanted to donate some money, you can go to WhiteHouse.gov –

RUSH: Yeah.

CALLER: — to direct you how to do so. If I want to donate money to the Red Cross, why do I need to go to the WhiteHouse.gov page and —

RUSH: Exactly. Would you trust that the money is going to go to Haiti?

CALLER: No.

RUSH: Would you trust that your name is going to end up on a mailing list for the Obama people to start asking you for campaign donations for him and other causes.

CALLER: Absolutely.

RUSH: Absolutely right.

CALLER: That’s the point.

RUSH: Besides, we’ve already donated to Haiti. It’s called the US income tax.

CALLER: Rush, my mother was going to be on a missionary trip. She was going to leave at 4:30 this morning to go to Haiti with our church.

RUSH: That’s another point, too. Churches —

CALLER: No government money, Rush.

RUSH: Exactly right. Look, there are people that do charitable work every day in Haiti. It’s not as though — like Debbie Wasserman Schultz, it’s our fault. Reverend Wright, it’s our fault, there’s no excuse for such poverty when there’s a nation as rich as we are so close. There are people that have been trying to save Haiti just as we’re trying to save Africa. You just can’t keep throwing money at it because the dictatorships there just take it all. They don’t spread it around, and even if they did they’re not creating a permanent system where people can provide for themselves. It’s a simple matter of self-reliance. Nobody takes that approach down there because this has always been a country run by dictators and incompetent ones at that.

Then Rush talked to a caller name Carol from California and they had this interchange.

CALLER: No. I wanted to say that I thought that since President Obama said he was going to donate his money from the Nobel Peace Prize to charity, Haiti would be perfect, you know, and he’s calling for us to donate money. This would be a perfect thing for him to donate his charitable money to, which I don’t believe.

RUSH: Did he say he was going to donate the Nobel Peace Prize? What is that, a thousand, 700 dollars or some such?

CALLER: No, it’s a million.

RUSH: That’s right, it’s a million dollars. I wonder if he’s donated it all yet.

CALLER: What do you bet?

RUSH: Well, you know most presidents release their tax returns. We’ll see. We’ll see it at (interruption) what’s so funny?

CALLER: Well, I think he’s phony. When he was over in Hawaii —

RUSH: Let me tell you something. Let me tell you something, Carol. You realize he’s got this brother living in a hut —

CALLER: Yes, I know.

RUSH: — over in Kenya, and this guy makes the equivalent of 50 cents a year. If Obama would give this guy $20, I mean the percentage increase,

$20 would be like giving an average person a thousand.

CALLER: I know.

RUSH: And if he hasn’t given his brother any money or any of his family any money, what makes you think he’s going to send money to Haiti?

CALLER: I never thought he was anyway. I just thought it would be good to call him on it.

RUSH: Well, I’m glad you did and I’m glad you called, Carol. Thanks very much. I had somebody go to WhiteHouse.gov to see what the donation process is. And this is all the guidance you get on donating to Haiti at the White House site. What I’m going to read to you is buried in a very long blog post about what Obama said about the earthquake. You get that first, you gotta read what Obama said, the maximum leader, you gotta read what he says and then you get to the bottom and here’s what it says. “You can also help, immediately, by donating to the Red Cross to assist the relief effort. Contribute online here, or donate $10 to be charged to your cell phone bill by texting Haiti. Find more ways to help through the Center for International Disaster Information.” So that’s all the guidance you get. Now, that’s pretty easy, text Haiti and you’re gonna get billed for ten bucks and that money ostensibly is going to go to Haiti.

The following day, January 14th, Rush had this call.

RUSH: To Paducah, Kentucky. This is April. That is one of my all-time, top ten favorite female names. April, thank you for calling.  Nice to have you with us.  Hello.

CALLER: Thank you, Rush. I’m glad that you chose to have me on today.

RUSH: Yes?

CALLER: This is kind of belated, but I just have a question for you.

RUSH: Yes, ma’am? Yes, ma’am?

CALLER: Where in your right mind do you get the cohunes to just completely – I don’t know, I guess — dismiss a tragedy of possibly a hundred thousand people dead in Haiti? You’re — you’re going around discouraging people to send donations because we already donated to Haiti and it’s called the US income tax; and Obama, the president of our United States — your president as well, whether you like it or not.

RUSH: Where did you…?

CALLER: — you’re saying —

RUSH: Where did you hear that I discouraged donations to Haiti?

CALLER: Uh, I read it in, uh, a news thing called the Huffington Post, but that’s not the point. I was going to finish my sentence if that’s okay with you.

RUSH: Well, but what you just said is a lie. They reported a lie. I did not discourage donations to Haiti.

CALLER: Okay. Well, um, actually the point I was getting to, whether or not you said that — which actually I believe you did. But –

RUSH: No, it’s not “whether or not.” That matters. I mean you call here and ask, “Where do I get off suggesting that we don’t donate to Haiti because we do in the income tax?” and I tell you I said that, but I also said private donations are going to be much better than a government donation. They’re all going, go to the Red Cross, do other things, don’t go through the government. It’s just going to go through hands and bureaucracies and a dollar is going to end up being 30 cents by the time they get through with it. I did not say, “Don’t make donations.” That’s not a “whether or not” thing.

That’s why you called?

CALLER: Calm down.

RUSH: Finish your sentence.

CALLER: Calm down. I planned on it, but actually I… Keep denying that, but what is this you were saying about our president of the United States trying to just basically establish credibility in the black community among white (sic) and dark-skinned African-Americans? And why do you, like… After saying that, why would you call yourself a patriot?

RUSH: All right. Now, this is funny. This was our Media Tweak of the Day yesterday, April. You know, what we do here on this program is, purposely, play the media like violin, like a Stradivarius. And I love tweaking them. I love irritating them, and I love upsetting them and all you do is take words uttered by liberals and apply them to current events. It was Harry Reid who looked at Obama and said he’s a “light-skinned” guy that “doesn’t speak in a . . . dialect.”

CALLER: I’m not talking about Harry Reid.

RUSH: Well, I was.

CALLER: I’m talking about you.

RUSH: I was. You see, this is the point. You didn’t listen to the program. You’re reading people who take what I say out of context precisely to create this sense of outrage that you have.

CALLER: Okay.

RUSH: In fact, I want you to listen to something with me.  Before I said all of this I made a prediction, because this was my Media Tweak of the Day — and it’s getting too easy. I mean, you’re illustrating how easy it is to outrage these people. I enjoy it. This is a great success. When people start squealing like pigs is when I know I’ve hit a home run. This is what I said yesterday.

RUSH ARCHIVE: Before this week is out, I will be the one who uttered the words “light-skinned” and “doesn’t speak the . . . dialect when he doesn’t want to.” I’ll be the one that said it. Before the week is out I’ll be the one that said it, not Harry Reid, and they’ll be asking, “Why have you not condemned Rush Limbaugh for what he said (in repeating what Harry Reid said)?” and Harry Reid will condemn me from the Senate floor!

RUSH: And then I proceeded to suggest that Obama is going to be giving aid to both light-skinned and dark-skinned in Haiti, just designed to get the reaction I got — and it worked. The people that listen to this program laugh and chuckle every day at this stuff, because we’re just needling the media. They talk about me all the time and I can create it any time I want. It’s made you mad, and you believe things they take out of context that don’t completely say what I fully said, and you get mad.

CALLER: Okay, so you’re basically evading the second part of my question. You’re not going to tell me why you decided to go around saying something, like, a tragedy that’s happened to hundreds of thousands of people, who are suffering.

RUSH: No, I’m not evading it at all. If I said it I meant to say it, and I do believe that everything is political to this president. Everything this president sees is a political opportunity, including Haiti, and he will use it to burnish his credentials with minorities in this country and around the world, and to accuse Republicans of having no compassion. I went further than that even. I’ll have to tell you what else I said after the break if you want to hold on.

BREAK TRANSCRIPT

RUSH: We go back now to April in Paducah. I had to interrupt you because we had a hard break and I couldn’t miss it. What is it you were going to say?

CALLER: Well, if I remember correctly I was about to go say, like, I’ve been trying to get you to explain to me, at least — if not the entire country listening to your show right now — what…? Like what… Why…? It doesn’t sound like the president is making this Haiti donation business a political thing. It sounds like you are. You’re just… Uh, you brought up a completely inane, baseless point about establishing credibility in the light- and dark-skinned black communities, and, like, there’s no reason for that. There’s, like —

RUSH: Now, April, I must ask a serious question: Do you ever listen to my program or do you hear about it in places like the Huffington Post?

CALLER: Um… I… When I’m upstairs in the bedroom I’ll have the radio on and I like to listen to some local stations. So, yes, I have heard your show.

RUSH: All right.

CALLER: And I’ve heard dozens and clips and quotes that you’ve said and most of the time I’m absolutely disgusted with you. I’ll be perfectly honest with you.

RUSH: I see. Okay, now that we’ve established that you listen sometimes and you’re absolutely disgusted. Let me ask you a question. Have you ever heard of the Democrat Party and President Obama politicizing a natural disaster?

CALLER: Have I ever heard of them politicizing . . .

RUSH: Yeah, has that ever happened? Has Barack Obama and the Democrat Party ever politicized a natural disaster?

CALLER: Umm, well, this is the — at least if you’re speaking specifically about President Obama, this is the first natural disaster that we’ve had on, uh — on his term.  So . . .

RUSH: We had a natural disaster when he was Senator. It doesn’t matter whether he was president or not. I said the Democrat Party and President Obama, as a Senator, certainly politicized Hurricane Katrina. You see, the difference, April, is that I know these people. I know who they are and I love to tweak them. I love to tweak the media. I predicted yesterday… How come there’s no outrage, by the way, at Bill Clinton suggesting that Obama’s nothing more than a slave when he was trying to get Ted Kennedy to endorse Hillary and he says (doing impression), “Come on!  Come on, Ted. You know, a few years ago this guy would be fetching us our coffee.” You’re not outraged about that because the Huffington Post isn’t outraged about it. They probably don’t write about it but I talk about all of it.

CALLER: Actually… Uh, are you implying that the Huffington Post as the one and only resource that I watch (sic–read)? I even watch Fox News once in a while.

RUSH: No, no, no, no, no. I’m not implying that.

CALLER: Okay.

RUSH: What I’m illustrating here is that you’re a blockhead. What I’m illustrating here is that you’re a closed-minded bigot who is ill-informed. I am being patient and tolerant and I’m trying to explain this to you, and you’re totally closed to it. I’m hitting you with piercing, penetrating logic, and it escapes you — and it is irritating people like you that I revel in. I absolutely revel in it. I’ve got 19 sound bites here today, April, of media people going bat manure yesterday over what they think I said. They didn’t hear me say it, either. They got it from the Huffington Post or they got it from Media Matters or they got it from someplace else. I did not say don’t donate. I did say Obama will use this to help burnish his credentials, ’cause there’s no question he will. I’ll tell you something else I said, April: It took him three days to go out and talk about the Christmas Day Underwear Bomber. It took him less than 18 hours to get out there and start rallying people about this earthquake.

I’ll tell you something else, April. I’m going to make prediction to you, and I’m gonna be right about this. Before the week is out we’re going to have to be stories in the Huffington Post and other places that you read pointing out how fast Obama moved into action versus Bush during Hurricane Katrina. To accuse me of politicizing everything is to be ignorant about what I do on this program. I simply react to the left. They’re the ones that politicize virtually everything that’s happening from health care to terrorism, and I love illustrating absurdity by being absurd. And if you had listened to this program for a modicum of time you would know it. But instead you’re a blockhead. You’re mind is totally closed. You have tampons in your ears. Nothing is getting through other than the biased crap that you read. So I’ve had enjoyment here talking to you and illustrating that it’s impossible to deal in the truth with you. I appreciate your calling and I appreciate your holding on. I grew up not far from Paducah. If I’d known you were there, I might have stayed.

BREAK TRANSCRIPT

On Friday, January 15th, Rush offered the following monologue in rebuttal to the false reports about his comments.

RUSH: I’m gonna respond to this absolute BS that I said don’t donate. But, you know, I do not make this program about me. I try very hard not to make this program about me.  So if I have time to deal with that, I will. I’m confident everybody in this audience knows what I said and what I didn’t say. Even the Washington Post says without the context, “What Limbaugh said is horrible.” All I said was, if you paid your income taxes, that’s how you donate to government for aid, and sure enough, here comes Obama announcing $100 million from the government for aid to Haiti, fine and dandy. But, you paid for it, it’s your taxes. All I said was if you’re going to donate do it outside the government, pure and simple. I was attacked, folks, because I am the leading voice of mainstream conservative views, not for any other reason. And this outrage is totally feigned, just as Tony Blankley said, all this outrage at me is totally faked up. They know exactly what I said, and they know for a fact that I would never tell people not to donate to any charitable cause like this, so it is what it is.

BREAK TRANSCRIPT

RUSH: David Brooks today in the New York Times is basically saying what I said yesterday and was attacked for, that giving aid money to countries does not help them grow. Here it is right here in the New York Times, and nobody’s mad at them. Do I need to read it? Yeah, let me. “On Oct. 17, 1989, a major earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 struck the Bay Area in Northern California. Sixty-three people were killed. This week, a major earthquake, also measuring a magnitude of 7.0, struck near Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The Red Cross estimates that between 45,000 and 50,000 people have died. This is not a natural disaster story. This is a poverty story. It’s a story about poorly constructed buildings, bad infrastructure and terrible public services. On Thursday, President Obama told the people of Haiti: ‘You will not be forsaken; you will not be forgotten.’

If he is going to remain faithful to that vow then he is going to have to use this tragedy as an occasion to rethink our approach to global poverty. He’s going to have to acknowledge a few difficult truths. The first of those truths is that we don’t know how to use aid to reduce poverty. Over the past few decades, the world has spent trillions of dollars to generate growth in the developing world. The countries that have not received much aid, like China, have seen tremendous growth and tremendous poverty reductions. The countries that have received aid, like Haiti, have not.” Oh, my gosh, this is déjà vu, except I’m the one that said it. Using our own war on poverty, how much money have we given to the poor in this country, and we still have the same percentages of poor people – and we’re never supposed to examine the results, right? Only the good intentions of the givers!

And, of course, the givers are us. Our back pockets are looted by our own government, and the money is redistributed — and as Mr. Brooks is saying here, there is no upside to this. “In the recent anthology ‘What Works in Development?’ a group of economists try to sort out what we’ve learned. The picture is grim. There are no policy levers that consistently correlate to increased growth. There is nearly zero correlation between how a developing economy does one decade and how it does the next. There is no consistently proven way to reduce corruption. Even improving governing institutions doesn’t seem to produce the expected results. … . More than 10,000 organizations perform missions of this sort in Haiti. …

The second hard truth is that micro-aid is vital but insufficient. Given the failures of macro development, aid organizations often focus on micro projects. So we have “more than 10,000 organizations performing missions of this sort in Haiti.” It’s exactly what I said: We’ve got charities on the ground 24/7, 365 in Haiti. By some estimates, Haiti has more nongovernmental organizations per capita than any other place on earth. They are doing the Lord’s work, especially these days, but even a blizzard of these efforts does not seem to add up to comprehensive change. Third, it is time to put the thorny issue of culture at the center of efforts to tackle global poverty. Why is Haiti so poor? Well, it has a history of oppression, slavery and colonialism.” Yeeeees, all the things we pointed out this week: Dictatorships! “But so does Barbados and Barbados is doing pretty well.

Haiti has endured ruthless dictators, corruption and foreign invasions. But so has the Dominican Republic and the D.R. is in much better shape.  Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the same island and the same basic environment, yet the border between the two societies offers one of the starkest contrasts on earth — with trees and progress on one side, and deforestation and poverty and early death on the other. “As Lawrence E. Harrison explained in his book ‘The Central Liberal Truth,’ Haiti, like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress resistant cultural influences. There is the influence of the voodoo religion, which spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile.  There are high levels of social mistrust. Responsibility is often not internalized.”

Child-rearing practices often involve neglect in the early years and harsh retribution when kids hit 9 or 10. … In this country, we first tried to tackle poverty by throwing money at it, just as we did abroad. Then we tried micro community efforts, just as we did abroad. But the programs that really work involve intrusive paternalism. These programs, like the Harlem Children’s Zone and the No Excuses schools, are led by people who figure they don’t understand all the factors that have contributed to poverty, but they don’t care. They are going to replace parts of the local culture with a highly demanding, highly intensive culture of achievement — involving everything from new child-rearing practices to stricter schools to better job performance,” and none of these programs are sponsored by government and certainly not by liberal government.

So the things that end poverty are cultural, and they start bottom-up, and they’re done by citizens and real people who can’t take it anymore.  Throwing money at it accomplishes nothing! It’s been demonstrated all across the world, but most near to us it’s been demonstrated in Haiti. I mention all this as a rebuttal to all of the feigned outrage at me, the lying note that I urged people not to give to charity for Haiti. Nobody in their right mind would ever believe that about me or anybody else, for that matter. However, I did say find some way to do it other than giving it to Obama, ’cause I know he’s going to eliminate the charitable deduction. He wants to wipe out individual charitable giving. He wants the government to be the go-to person for all charities. That’s the only reason you wipe out the deduction for charitable contributions.

Hubris: Blind Faith and Arrogance
Posted by Doc Stephens on Sunday, March 28, 2010 1:41:31 PM

Why do we hold onto ideas and assumptions as if they were priceless possessions? Why do we do this even when faced with overwhelming evidence that we are wrong? Why are very smart people just as guilty of this as ordinary people?

I think about this, and I worry that I’m guilty. When I stop to think, I do try to question my assumptions and to consider other possibilities. I’m even hesitant to raise my voice in public settings for fear that I’ve overlooked some obvious nugget of truth and will appear the complete fool that I know I am. As a relatively well educated person, I’ve learned very well to hide my ignorance.

Because time is so precious, I “time-stack”.  I have discovered various strategies for doing two things at once as I’m sure most everyone does. For example, I’m listening to an audio book while shaving and brushing my teeth in the morning, when doing things around the house, or while driving to work. I’ve enjoyed the Winter Olympics in Vancouver and now the NCAA tournament basketball games, but the network commentary drives me crazy, so I listen to Scientific American Podcasts or NPR Science Friday while watching the television. The two activities use different parts of my brain and I’m able to enjoy both the visual and the auditory experiences simultaneously.  My wife thinks I’m nuts, but I never let her know she’s right. Anyway, this is all beside the point.

As I was cleaning the garage yesterday, I listened to Steve Mirsky of Scientific American as he interviewed Thomas Friedman about his new book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded (Scientific American Podcast 9/10/2008). By all measures, Steve and Tom are very smart guys!  Yet, I was struck by their blind faith, their deeply held and passionate belief in an idea that they considered beyond question. It was obvious they had reached their mutually agreed upon conclusions and saw no reason to ever consider they might be wrong. Furthermore, the condescension toward anyone who would disagree with them fairly dripped from their mouths as they uttered these truths they held self-evident. Although they are obviously smart guys, ironically, both are completely ignorant of the ideas they discussed.  Neither has formal education in the relevant subject, and Tom has written this bestselling book partly derived by this strongly held notion.

Tom and Steve both believe that man is the sole, or at least the most important cause of pending catastrophic global warming. Tom and Steve have no clue why other very smart people might disagree with this assumption.

Tom and Steve were blind to the possibility they might be wrong and they were blinded by their stereotype of those who would disagree with them. It was amazing!  They were thoroughly invested in their beliefs and totally dismissive of anyone who would disagree. This is hubris! This is dangerous!  Unfortunately, this is all too common.

School Prayer Mural and Certain Unalienable Rights
Posted by Doc Stephens on Wednesday, February 08, 2012 2:24:31 PM

I am naturally inclined to defiance, especially when confronted by an unreasonable authority. The recent ruling and the resulting kerfuffle over the school prayer mural at Cranston High School West in Rhode Island offers an opportunity for free expression, a right guaranteed in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. But first, some background.

Following a complaint and subsequent lawsuit by a student named Jessica Ahlquist, who was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, a U.S. District Court Judge named Ronald Lagueux ordered the immediate removal of a mural of a school prayer. The mural had been prominently displayed at the high school for almost 50 years. It was a gift of the Class of 1963.

There are three parts of the mural that apparently motivated the complaint and justified the judge’s order, six words in all: School Prayer; Our Heavenly Father; and Amen.

If I were the superintendent of schools, this is what I would do.

1.   Remove the school prayer mural in response to the order of the judge.

2.   Erect a plaque in its place that acknowledges the donation of the Class of 1963 and describes the complete history of the school prayer mural including why it was removed.

3.   Donate the school prayer mural and an identical plaque to the Smithsonian Institution for display.

4.   Install a new mural worded exactly as below—preferably donated from an anonymous source—in a prominent location on school grounds.

OUR CREATOR OF CERTAIN UNALIENABLE RIGHTS:

“. . . GRANT US EACH DAY THE DESIRE TO  DO OUR BEST TO GROW MENTALLY AND MORALLY AS WELL AS PHYSICALLY, TO BE KIND AND HELPFUL TO OUR CLASSMATES AND TEACHERS, TO BE HONEST WITH OURSELVES AS WELL AS WITH OTHERS. HELP US TO BE GOOD SPORTS AND SMILE WHEN WE LOSE AS WELL AS WHEN WE WIN. TEACH US THE VALUE OF TRUE FRIENDSHIP.  HELP US ALWAYS TO CONDUCT OURSELVES SO AS TO BRING CREDIT TO CRANSTON HIGH SCHOOL WEST. . . .”

IN GOD WE TRUST

I’d pay big $$$ to watch the ACLU and Judge Lagueux wrestle with this legal conundrum.

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