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Comment: Re:Would anyone deny? (Score 1) 258

You can bet that if a theory of gravity came out and it threatened the political or economic status quo, it would provoke a political response. When Edwin Armstrong's invention of FM radio started to gain market traction, RCA used it's political influence to have the FCC take the frequency band Armstrong's radios worked on shifted, making all the radios he'd sold useless. And if that had been done today, the next thing you'd have is is an army of PR flacks and FOX selling the public on the idea that FM radio was "tainted engineering".

Climate science isn't politically tainted. That's only PR BS. If you want to see for yourself, use Google Scholar to search for climate science paper abstracts from the early 50s to the 80s -- well before anyone outside the field heard the term "global warming". You'll be able to actually see the scientific consensus shift from global cooling to warming over the course of thirty years, completely outside the public spotlight.

Comment: Re:Would anyone deny? (Score 1) 258

I would.

I've worked in a physics lab (fusion). I've worked in a geophysics lab. Here's the thing about experimental Earth science: you're not working with a idealized, simplified object under controlled laboratory conditions. You are working with something that is immense and messy and which inherently generates a lot of contradictory data. It doesn't make the big picture impossible to put together, it just means it takes a lot of hard to obtain data to shift the consensus one way or the other. It took forty years for anthropogenic global warming to become the scientific consensus; the first papers were published in the fifties and the idea that the world was warming was hotly contested for at least three decades

Contradictory data is something fundamental to empirical science. Empirical science generalizes from contradictory evidence.

When I was in college, "conservative" meant someone who was cautiously pragmatic. Now it refers to someone who adheres to certain conservative axioms -- a radical in other words (radical == "root"). Radicals by their nature prefer deduction from known truths to induction from messy evidence. This is evident in your citing mathematics as the gold standard, despite the utter inapplicability of its methods to geoscience. Mathematics doesn't deal in messy, mutually contradicting truths. Nor does political orthodoxy of any stripe.

That's why "conservatives" latch on to local phenomena -- like the snow outside their door -- that seem to confirm their preconception that the globe is not currently warming. In mathematics the number 9 disproves the assertion that all odd counting numbers are prime. In climate science the medieval warming period in Europe doesn't disprove that the globe as a whole was cooler at that time. To radicals the existence of contradictions in the supporting data is corrupt. To scientists the lack of contradictions in data is fishy.

Left-wing radicals are equally confused by apparently contradictory data points, and likewise seize on the ones that "prove" their universal truths (e.g. that vaccines cause autism).

Comment: Re:Tolkien saw realistic trees in his imagination. (Score 1) 161

by hey! (#49614859) Attached to: Why Scientists Love 'Lord of the Rings'

I'm not sure your information on general psychology is accurate, or appropriate.

I've taught tree identification to scouts and scout leaders. I can say from experience that people do not consciously see details, even if they're looking at a specimen right in front of them. It's as if their conscious perception stops as soon as their brain dredges up the word "tree". You can tell a typical person to look at a tree for a minute, then have them turn their back and describe it. What you get, even after you instructed them to look *carefully* at the tree, isn't much more specific than "green blob on a brown stick", and sometimes the stick is is really gray, not brown.

The power of verbal labels to shut down observation is profound. Anything that isn't broadleaf tends to be a "pine", even though pine, fir, spruce, etc. look a heck of a lot less like each other than a oak and Norway maple. It's like someone could't tell the difference between an opossum and a house cat. Most peoples' sense for the shape of a tree is extremely crude; they'll recall extreme shape like an arbor vitae, but they won't see the shape difference between a red maple (globular) and a Japanese maple (spreading).

You have to train yourself to actually see things. It takes conscious effort at first. Sketching or writing detailed verbal descriptions helps.

Comment: Tolkien saw realistic trees in his imagination. (Score 1) 161

by hey! (#49613635) Attached to: Why Scientists Love 'Lord of the Rings'

By this I mean if you asked a typical person to picture a tree in his mind, he'd picture a green blob on a brown stick sticking up out of flat green space. Tolkien is the kind of person who'd picture an individual specimen of a specific species of tree growing in a place with unique and describable topography. And the concreteness with which he imagines this kind of thing shows in his writing.

When I was young I read and re-read Lord of the Rings for the magic. Forty years later, I re-read Lord of the Rings for the landscape. You can often orient yourself in a Tolkien scene; do a mental walk through imagining the slope of the land and smell kicked up by the damp grass and heather. There's nobody who writes landscape like Tolkien.

If you're a careful reader -- alright, an obsessive reader -- you can correlate scenes in different plot threads in time by the appearance of the sky and particularly by the phase of the moon. So you know what's happening to Merry and Pippin when we're in a Three Hunters scene, or how far along Frodo and Sam are inMordor during the Battle of the Pellenor Fields. That's a degree of attention lavished on detail beyond any reasonable marketing justification; it must have added years to the drafting of the manuscript. It's not even apparent until you've read the book a half dozen times or more.

That sense of exploring the details of a real scene in space and time would be familiar to any naturalist.

Comment: Re:Large herbivores were doomed from the start (Score 3, Insightful) 145

by hey! (#49608019) Attached to: Empty Landscape Looms, If Large Herbivores Continue to Die Out

Err... really? Sixty million American Bison disappeared from the Great Plains because they were big? Then why did the passenger pigeon over the same period go from the most numerous bird in the world to extinct? It's true that the largest baleen whale -- the Blue Whale, is listed as "threatened"; but the smallest baleen whale, the pygmy right whale is either extinct or very close to it.

It's not as simple as big == headed for extinction. Sometimes bigness is a factor in extinction, sometimes it's a factor in survival.

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