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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Supporting Science, Saving the Planet

I recently engaged in a Facebook exchange with astronomer Reed Riddle and astrophysicist Rebecca Oppenheimer about a widely circulated 4-minute video featuring pop-science superstar Neil DeGrasse Tyson (http://americannewsx.com/sciencetech/neil-degrasse-tyson-shared-important-words-ever-spoken-video/ ) – about the importance of science and how it must be supported. I thought it was a dreadful video: arrogant, condescending, simpleminded, insulting to its viewers, unlikely to do anything other than inflate Tyson’s already well-puffed ego and rub the tummies of those – like me – who already believe that science is vital to our survival. Reed and Rebecca patiently explained that I simply didn’t understand.

In the process of thus putting me in my place, they invited me to advise them about how I’d pitch a 4-minute video to the unwashed masses making the same point. I’ve thought a bit about this, and here’s my outline:

  1. Have the pitch-person be someone who’s more likely than Tyson to connect with the average Trump voter. I don’t know who that would be, because I’ve lost track of the world’s celebrities, but I’m sure such a person could be found.
  2. Make the following points:
    1. The world is in really serious trouble. We’ve got:
                                                              i.      Way too many people, and making more all the time;
                                                            ii.      A changing climate that’s reflected quite objectively in things like sea level rise and shrinking glaciers; we can argue about why it’s happening, but there’s no real question that it IS happening;
                                                          iii.      Far too many weapons of mass destruction, many in the hands of deeply untrustworthy parties;
                                                          iv.      Dangerous levels of social and economic inequality;
                                                            v.      Pollution that’s fouling the seas and land, and killing off our fellow residents on the planet; and
                                                          vi.      On and on and on…

    1. We humans may or may not be entirely responsible for all these crises, but we’ve certainly contributed to them all.
    2. Science bears a fair share of blame, for making overpopulation easy, for providing the comforts that have made it possible for us to add heat to the atmosphere and generate pollutants, for creating weapons of mass destruction and slow suffocation, etc.
    3. If we and our fellow residents are going to survive, we need to take action. All of us.
    4. What can we do?
                                                              i.      If you believe in a higher power, pray; ask forgiveness for what we’ve done, and beg for help.
                                                            ii.      Stop having so many babies.
                                                          iii.      Reduce, reuse, recycle, and
                                                          iv.      In the immortal words of Matt Damon (There’s one celebrity I remember), science the shit out of it. Although there are plenty of dangers in what may be portrayed as scientific solutions (Remember Fukashima and beware geoengineering), we need to put all options on the table and figure out which ones have the best chance for success with the least risk.
                                                            v.      This requires supporting science and science education.


Squeeze that into 4 minutes? I think it could be done, but doing so is beyond my technical capability.

There, Reed and Rebecca; another bit of poorly informed silliness for you to ignore. Though thanks, Reed, for the link to http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2017/04/explaining_science_won_t_fix_information_illiteracy.html?wpsrc=sh_all_dt_fb_bot -- which I think rather makes my point.