Sunday, December 18, 2016

What's your country's second language?

Fascinating glimpse into the undercurrents of the world - a map of each country's 'second language'. Mexico's is Nahuatl - no surprise there, but Australia's is Mandarin. And Mandarin China's is Cantonese (Hong Kong Chinese). Saudi Arabia's is Filipinx Tagalog, and England's is Polish.
(You have to click on it to get the smaller details.)

From the Indy. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

Turtle goes green

I'm still fuming over being told that alligators have moss growing on their backs, and we know that it isn't pondweed because 'pondweed is not hairy, moss is hairy' (full story here).

So I am pleased to present a turtle with HAIRY PONDWEED growing on its back courtesy of a tweet by Chris Van Wyk.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Trump official defaming science for fun and profit (but mostly profit)

This turkey is Anthony Scaramucci, a member of Donald Trump's Presidential Transition Team Executive Committee. He's just been on CNN propping up the incoming administration's desire to dig everything up and burn it by using the Alt-Right Postmodernism Challenge, which is the straight-faced proposal that no one can know anything for sure, and therefore his ignorance is just as good as your knowledge (to paraphrase Isaac Asimov).

"There was overwhelming science that the earth was flat and there was an overwhelming science that we were the center of the world," Scaramucci added. "We get a lot of things wrong in the scientific community."
Video here:

He later adds he's not a scientist, so you can add the skeptics' Question One to the list of questions raised. ("Who's this 'we'?")

Science has never, ever proposed that the earth was flat, and has never even suggested that 'we' are the 'center of the world'. Even if you correct his idiotic thinko (he must have meant 'center of the universe') science has never stated, overwhelmingly, underwhelmingly or even whelmingly, that 'we' are the center of it.

What we now call 'science' is about as old as America. Until the 18th century, Natural Philosophers, sometimes known as 'men of science', studied Creation by the age-old methods of watching it a lot (or a little, in the case of the Greeks) and thinking really hard about it until blood beaded on their foreheads. The word science was used in this sense in English from the 14th century on. The word is from scientia, to know, and meant both book knowledge and being skilled or expert in something. It derives ultimately from a word meaning to cleave, or cut, which suggests the ability to distinguish, to tell two things apart. (And is therefore related to schizophrenia; take that how you will.)

Science began to break away from philosophy in the 18th century, and it took on its modern meaning of "body of regular or methodical observations or propositions concerning a particular subject or speculation" in 1725 [1]. We still have philosophers. For the new meaning of ‘science’, in 1833 a man named William Whewell called the ones who followed the new paradigm 'scientists' as a sort of joke. [2] (He hit another one out of the park by calling people who study physics 'physicists' since 'physicians' was already taken.)

Lots of things have been proposed by Natural Philosophers over the years. Much of it was rubbish. They proved, for example, that the world's fastest runner can never catch a tortoise if it gets a head start (which also proves that motion is impossible and therefore there is no such thing as change). [3] Even if you only want to consider more modern, European thinkers, you just need to look up a few theories to see that ancient Natural Philosophy clung on until the scientific method made it go away. Phlogiston theory [4], for example, was based on theories of Empedocles (490 BC) that there were four elements, earth, air, fire and water and it lasted until science got going in the 1780s. Or there’s the theory that bloodletting is a universal cure, based on ancient theories that the body needs to balance its contents of  the four humors, black bile, yellow bile, phlegm and blood, as begun by Herophilus in 335 BC and lasting until Dr Pierre Louis in 1866 performed one of the world’s first clinical trials[5].

The theory that the earth is flat is not modern, either. It was generally believed in antiquity - because the earth sure *looks* flat - but support for the theory began declining with the Ancient Greeks and was pretty much gone from Europe by the end of the Middle Ages. For some reason, in the nineteenth century, scholars eager to pick a fight between science and religion attempted to convince people that Columbus and the Church had been at odds over whether the earth was flat - but the truth is, the Church had at that time believed in a Ptolemaic, spherical earth. [6]

It must be obvious to all (except people lying for a living on CNN) that the belief that the earth is the center of the universe is very old and predates any type of science. It even makes perfect sense, as one can clearly see the sun, moon, planets and stars 'going around' the earth, and equally obviously, if your tribe (or all mankind, or all life) is the favorite of your god, then he'd put earth at the center, whether it was a flat one or a spherical one. Although a heliocentric model was proposed in antiquity, it didn't get much traction. Copernicus first seriously proposed heliocentrism in 1543, and Johannes Kepler, between 1609 and 1619, published his work on planetary motion. It showed that the motion of the planets in the sky could best be explained mathematically by assuming all of them, including the earth, were in orbit about the sun. In 1610, Galileo observed that small planets could be seen in front of, and then later hidden by, Jupiter. He had discovered Jupiter's moons, and at the same time showed that not all 'planets' principally revolved around either the sun, or the earth, but could be in motion around another planet. This caused a major firestorm, but as we all learned in school, by the time Newton came along (in the 1680s), this had been proven to many people's satisfaction. The well-ok-then-but-the-SUN-is-the-center-of-the-universe people hung on for a while (because they had not read Newton properly - his math showed the sun was not at the very center of the solar system) but in short order observations showed that the business end of the galaxy (the Milky Way) was on one side of us. The earth was at the edge of the galaxy. Worse, in 1917, people discovered that nebulae were actually other galaxies, and the expanding universe theory came along shortly and declared that nothing was actually central, as the expansion was happening everywhere, rather than coming from a center. By the time the newly-named scientists were doing science, no reputable one believed that 'we' were the center of the universe (or the 'world', as Anthony Scaramucci actually put it).

'Science' has never told us that the earth was flat, or that the earth was the center of the universe. These were beliefs, and parts of systems of philosophy, but science, as in the scientific method ("a method of procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses"[7]) has never tried to put those hypotheses out as theories. To say it did is to attempt to achieve all three pillars of Alt-Right Postmodernism in one outing:

1. To weaken the public's trust in independent science
2. To state that the truth can never be known, in order to destabilize and create alienation
3. To regularly change the meanings of words in order to make rational thought more difficult and leave people adrift, unmoored even by a solid language

We should call out this behavior wherever we see it.

[5] [3]


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