Of Evolution and Bison, Climate, Scientific Method and Tornadoes

Filed in Gather Politics News Channel by on March 7, 2010 0 Comments

There are a couple of areas in which science is argued by non-scientists, as if what one believed were somehow equal in value in discussion as observed data and the results of generations of evaluation and experimentation. There is a very real disconnect between scientists and the non-scientist general public, whatever their level of education… that disconnect looks something like this:

Umlaut: “Hunting Leader, there is no snow, no ice… there are no Auroch (a giant relative of Bison).” (The word “Auroch” is an error, corrected by Chris W. in the comments, but I will leave it since I have no other word.  The “Super-Bison” of which I was thinking did exist at this time)

Hunting Leader: “Umlaut, you’re a fool. There is snow and ice in those mountains. We will find Auroch.”

Umlaut: “Many of our hunters have gone toward the mountains. They say many Auroch are dead there, and the few left are dying of lack of food. We will die of lack of Auroch.”

Hunting Leader: “Some of them exaggerated how many were dead to each other. They are all liars. Snow will be here. We cannot AFFORD for there to be no Auroch! Auroch will be here!”

Umlaut: “We will have to eat smaller game… deer, horses, perhaps even Bison.”

Hunting Leader: These animals are too small. We cannot afford to chase them. There are not enough of them. The Auroch eat all the grass.

But, of course the snow and ice WERE gone. And the Auroch were gone. It did not matter whether Hunting Leader needed there to be Auroch, or would die without Auroch. There were no more Auroch. Bison, deer, elk… these animals slowly filled the niche abandoned by the Auroch. And the summer came…

Evolution works like that. Species diversification takes no note of belief. Species arise, conditions change, species change… or not. If the species changes (adapts), the change may ultimately be so dramatic it can no longer interbreed with members of the original version. It has become a new species. The original species may continue to exist, but not in that location. Galapagos finches are the most often cited example of this. If the answer is “not,” the original species ceases to occupy that niche, and something else moves in. The original species still exists, but its range and numbers are reduced. Eventually, if the change is extensive enough, and especially if there are other pressures (hunting, lack of water, inter-species competition) the original species may die out entirely. The Auroch – Bison exchange is a pretty good example of the latter condition.

Matilda: “George, the sky is pea-green and the clouds are moving in a circle. A tornado is coming.”

George: “There’s no tornado, and there’s not gonna BE a tornado!”

Matilda: “Sure there is. Why would you say there isn’t? You KNOW what that sky means.”

George: “There CAN’T be a tornado. We don’t have any homeowners’ insurance.”

Well, of COURSE there can be a tornado. George is a fool. A denialist, if you will. Tornadoes will cost him too much, so… tornadoes do not exist. Well, wall clouds and anvil-base super-cells don’t care whether he has homeowners’ insurance or not. I can attest to that first hand.

And Climate Change/Global Warming has no interest in whether we can “afford” to do what’s necessary to reduce its impact. Denying its existence in the face of data, simply because something called “Cap and Trade” will cost too much won’t make it go away. Insisting that humans have nothing to do with it, and cannot affect it, will not negate our impact and responsibility. There are more than SEVEN BILLION humans on this planet, and that is only possible because we CAN and DO directly and dramatically affect our environment. It’s absurd to say otherwise. I work at a plant that burns more than a thousand TONS of coal an HOUR! That’s a lot of carbon to put back into the atmosphere. But it pales in comparison to the world-wide burning of gasoline, diesel fuel and natural gas for transportation, heating, cooking and power generation. We need to… what’s the new expression? Ah, yes… “Cowboy up” and face front. The light at the end of THIS tunnel IS a freight train… and it’s a high-speed rail.

Student: “How do I prove that I’m right about something?”

Mentor: “You try to prove yourself wrong about the obverse. The obverse is called the “null hypothesis.”

Student: “I have a theory. You grade pretty girls higher.”

Mentor: “That’s not a theory. That’s an assumption based on an observation that pretty girls get higher grades in this class. Your assumption is that the two facts are related. So, we’ll call your assumption a hypothesis. Your null hypothesis would be that the pretty girls in this class are the best students, and THAT is why they get the best grades.”

Student: “Why would I try to prove myself wrong?”

Mentor: “Because if you try to prove yourself right, you probably will.”

Student: “Seems like a lot of work.”

Mentor: “It’s called the “Scientific Method,” son. And it IS a lot of work. But if you don’t do the work, nothing you propose as a fact (scientific theory) has any support.”

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...but I'm a WAY better listener than most people think, and a better advisor than anyone knows.

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