Saturday, March 27, 2010

Three Easy Pieces

1. Lamarck may have been right after all. It's starting to look like acquired characteristics can be passed on to one's offspring. But it's not quite as radical as it sounds: apparently, experiences have some effect on which genes are unlocked and which are not, and they are passed on in this form to descendants. Since the genes that express the acquired characteristic were there before the trait was acquired, in unlocked form, it's not a pure Lamarckism. But it's still pretty interesting.

2. I (Jim S.) strongly suspect global warming is true, so I've been very frustrated by the unethical conduct of so many climate scientists since it makes it difficult to take them at their word. So when I learned an island had disappeared and scientists were blaming it on global warming and rising sea levels, I thought, "Aha! Proof!" But then my less gracious self thought, "Wait a minute, the article says the island is close to the mainland. Wouldn't the nearby coastline have been greatly altered if the sea level had risen enough to cover an entire island?" I can't find anything addressing that point. But when I do a Google search on the island in question (New Moore Island or South Talpatti Island, depending on who you're talking to), I discovered that the island only appeared 40 years ago. Well, if it only formed recently, maybe it wasn't exactly stable, so it's disappearance wouldn't be due to rising sea levels. But that wouldn't bring in the funding.

3. First Things has a great essay on religion in science-fiction, which mentions Quodlibeteer Michael Flynn among others. In a similar case, Michael Weingrad, a professor of Jewish studies, wrote an outstanding essay on the dearth of fantasy literature written from a Jewish perspective entitled "Why There Is No Jewish Narnia". He received some criticism, which Elliot sums up at Claw of the Conciliator, and which prompted Weingrad to write an excellent follow-up essay.


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30 comments:

TheOFloinn said...

Global warming is certainly true. The globe has been warming for 400 years, coincident with the ramp-up of the sun in to a Solar Grand Max.

What is more doubtful is that Evil Western Technological Civilization is to blame for this 400-year long trend.

Temperature responds to CO2, but the response is logarithmic. That is, additional increases in temperature become smaller with additional increases in CO2. Thus the computer modelers had to depend on positive feedbacks to "amplify" the signal, and these feedback mechanisms are often doubtful. Some which the modelers claim as positive feedbacks are thought by other scientists to be negative. It is also likely that a great many other factors [and feedbacks] have been omitted or overlooked by the models.

If the prime driver turns out to be Old Sol, the recent change in solar behavior, esp. the decrease in the solar magnetosphere, may herald another era of plunging temperatures. Perhaps to Dalton Minimum levels.

PontiusP said...

Just to check on your logic, how does the recent appearance of the island nullify rising sea levels and climate change?

To TheOFloinn's comment; the magnitude of our impact is unncertain, but as you say, there's a direct link between CO2 (which we emit) and global warming. The models, of course, are built on uncertainties. No man knows the future. However, the question is similar to this; if there's a 50/50 chance that a flight you put your children on chrashes, do you put them on it anyway? Would you be willing to pay 1 % of your income to make the flight safe? Personally, I would. It's only a wealth transfer from the rich (over-emitters) to the poor (under-emitters) who will suffer the most from climate change.

Humphrey said...

The island was formed by a massive cyclone 40 years ago and was never more than 2 meters above sea level; so hardly stable. But nevertheless it did meet it's demise at the hands of sea level rise along with about 5 other small islands. Not very significant ones but it could be a sign of things to come. On the plus side the disappearance of New Moore island did resolve the long standing dispute between India and Bangladesh who have been arguing over it ever since it appeared.

Jim S. said...

Just to check on your logic, how does the recent appearance of the island nullify rising sea levels and climate change?

It doesn't. I'm not claiming it does. A --> B doesn't imply ~A --> ~B.

svein said...

As a 70s-80s activist (stop acid rain) I don't see the problem with assuming - and acting upon - that global warming is a fact. What can we lose?
The debate about acid rain was the same: Scientists are not sure, so we can go on with the emissions till they are.

Ilíon said...

This islet was a silt-mudbar ... in middle the out-flow of a major river ... in a region frequently best by typhoons.

So, yeah! The frightening rise of the sea-level did it in!

Suburbanbanshee said...

The second Jewish Narnia essay misses the point as badly as the first one. It all boils down to this: "I haven't read very widely in the fantasy field, there weren't any big 'Jewish' stamps on most of the books I read which were by Jews, so now I'm going to cover up my ignorance with BS." Again and again, he fails to mention the works by famous writers which would most closely answer his criteria, in favor of picking some other work that's very far away.

The real question is: 1) why a Jewish guy would be so unaware of the huge numbers of Jewish fantasists, and 2) why isn't there enough openly Jewish fantasy out there that even ignoramuses like this guy would know it was about Jewish people. You might argue that a lot of Jewish writers are very secularized or are atheists, and thus have a vested interest not writing what he wants. Or maybe they have outdone Lewis in writing their books in code, so that stuff like Chabon's Summerland has all kinds of secret Jewish subtext that is so secret even Jews don't get it.

Then again, a guy who never read The Last Unicorn and thus never met the wizard Schmendrick is not what I'd call 'familiar with the fantasy genre'. Sheesh.

Nate said...

As a 70s-80s activist (stop acid rain) I don't see the problem with assuming - and acting upon - that global warming is a fact. What can we lose?

Ummm... other than a devastating blow to the economy that would make the great depression seem like a mild case?

Let's assume for a minute that it's all 100% true. Are you sure global cooling is going to be any better for humans than warming? Considering the claims of it from the 70s, I doubt that.

Matt said...

@svein

The real question, then, is how much can you force someone to accept the costs (including opportunity costs) of fixing something that might not be a problem. Should there be a graph of cost to likelihood? What are some other things that might not be real but acceptable to force people to pay for? Should we fund an alien-invasion repulsion army with taxpayer money?

Granted I think there's a WAY greater likelihood that AGW is real than that we will be invaded by aliens. But when it comes to issues that involve forcing people to assume and act upon them I would hope that there's more to it than "what can we lose?"

svein said...

Sorry Matt, I must have missed the forcing part. Where do you see it?

Nate: If this world is the best possible, and the world economy as it is right now a necessary part of that, and not acting against global warning would stop future recessions and depressions, I would sit happily ever after in my electricity-heated villa and enjoy all my consumer-goodies transported over half the world by CO2-emitting containerships.

I certainly hope this is the case, but sadly I don’t think so.
Am I permanently damaged by the 70’s?

svein said...

Sorry, I forgot:
Is global cooling the only alternative to global warming?
Don't we all go for "happy as we are"?

Ilíon said...

"Sorry Matt, I must have missed the forcing part. Where do you see it?"

Simply amazing, the things people will assert!

svein said...

People never cease to amaze me neither!:)
But it would be nice if you might deign to answer my question.

Nate said...

Hey! are the comments working again? (bad google ate my earlier work)

Anyway, I meant to show Jim earlier this proof of Lamarckism. ;-)

I certainly hope this is the case, but sadly I don’t think so.
Am I permanently damaged by the 70’s?


...Nah I'm not going to go for the obvious hippie joke. =D

Is global cooling the only alternative to global warming?
Don't we all go for "happy as we are"?


Well... every thermometer I've see so far has only two directions on it. /\ and \/

And well, up and down is how the world's climate gone... pretty much forever, even long before we got here.

But really, ask yourself: how are we going to keep the temperature where it is now? (other than voting for C.O.B.R.A. in 2012) Do we cut back for temperatures to drop and then, if they start getting too low, tell everyone to bring back out their SUVs and get CO2 back into the air?

Never forget the first check of ANY environmental claim: What is the end goal? Hole in the ozone layer? Easy: no more hole. Considering that more and more they're calling it climate change instead of global warming... um... is the goal to get the climate to stop changing? How likely do you think that's going to be?

Ilíon said...
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Ilíon said...
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svein said...

Andit would still be interesting to be enlightened about this force thing.

Ilíon said...

Not one of which you will ever read, much less contemplate.

svein said...

Wow again! Too much wisdom for me! Could I please hear the obvious hippie-joke? Maybe I might understand that?

Ilíon said...

OK, let's try to finalize this post (sorry for the posts and deletions)
............
Svein: "As a 70s-80s activist (stop acid rain) I don't see the problem with assuming - and acting upon - that global warming is a fact. What can we lose?

The debate about acid rain was the same: Scientists are not sure, so we can go on with the emissions till they are.
"

Matt: "The real question, then, is how much can you force someone to accept the costs (including opportunity costs) of fixing something that might not be a problem. ..."

Svein: "Sorry Matt, I must have missed the forcing part. Where do you see it? ..."

Ilion: "Simply amazing, the things people will assert!"

Svein: "... But it would be nice if you might deign to answer my question."

Svein,
I try to make it a habit to not waste my time with pseudo-questions. And I *never* imagine that I must answer to intellectually dishonest persons -- in this circumstance, that is a reference to you.


For other readers, please allow me to explain:

There are three -- and only three -- general categories of explanation for why a person believes and/or asserts that which is not true (or, alternately, fails to believe and/or assert that which is true). In broadest terms, these three categories are:
1) inability to know/understand the truth of the matter (i.e. non-correctable, or “invincible” ignorance);
2) correctable ignorance (i.e. “honest/innocent ignorance”);
3) disinclination either to learn/know or honestly to state the truth of the matter.

In the particular context of Svein's "question" to Matt (and me), these three categories resolve to:
1) stupidity;
2) honest/innocent ignorance;
3) willful ignorance and *refusal* to know (or to state) the truth of the matter; which is to say, intellectual dishonesty.

There *are* no other options.

Since I don't believe that Svein is too stupid to know/grasp the fact that the Global Warm-mongers are indeed advocating force and compulsion, I must rule out that option. And, in any event, I must rule out the option on principle, since I don't believe that any of us are ever in a position to ever know that another (or we ourselves) are truly too stupid to understand something or other.

But, in this particular case, to believe that Svein's question is *purely* the reflection of simple innocent ignorance, would be to effectively believe that he is too stupid to know what he's talking about. So, again, and on principle, that option is ruled out.

That leaves only the third option: That for whatever reason, Svein declines to know (or, at any rate, to honestly state) the truth of the matter. However, Svein is not *merely* declining to believe (or state) the truth or the matter, but is actively asserting and implying statements contrary to the truth of the matter -- and, among other things, he is himslef (at least) implicitly asserting that Matt (and I) is either unbelievable ignorant, or intellectually dishonest.

Ergo: reason compels me to conclude that Svein is intellectually dishonest ... and thus, there is no *point* in attempting to engage him; for, the intellectually dishonest person does not merely lie about some fact or other, but rather lies about the very nature of reason ... and of truth.

svein said...

There must be something wrong with the comments here, I only get juvenile static...

Nate said...

Wait... I've lost track. Who's talking to who?

Ilíon said...

I'm talkig to anyone willing to reason ... and Svein is asserting that the unassailable logic I've laid out is "juvenile static."

Ilíon said...

... and, any minute now, we can expect some proponent of "niceness" and "civility" to excoriate me for the “meanness” or “incivility” of that logic.

svein said...

I'd be surprised if anyone bothered. But it was fun.
Thanks boys! ;D

Ilíon said...

No doubt Svein is also amused by trying to needle others ... even when it clearly isn't having the (apparently) desired effect.

Nate said...

Here you go Svein.
http://verydemotivational.com/2010/01/05/hippies/

Svein said...

Ilion:
It irrefutably isn't.
Nate:
The link is incomplete.

Svein said...

Thanks Nate!
So much for being against "force-mongers".
Sorry - that was Ilion! :0

TheOFloinn said...

About the forcing thing:

Climate scientists, for some reason, have invented a new word: "forcings" to describe factors which they believe drive temperature. That is, the "force" temperature up or down. Statisticians roll their eyes a bit at this; but climate scientists are neither statisticians nor (on the evidence) computer programmers.