Thursday, June 2, 2011

He Asked For It

Breaking news! God uses atheist cosmologist Lawrence Krauss to prove that He exists! In a dramatic display of divine power God responded to the challenge issued by Professor Krauss and thereby offered compelling evidence that He does, indeed, exist. Watch for yourself:
Well, if I had any doubts before, they're certainly gone now. How about you?

Thanks to Uncommon Descent for the tip.

Thinking in Herds

William Happer is a professor of physics at Princeton University and one of a tribe that's come to be known as global warming skeptics. He gives us an explanation for his skepticism in an essay at First Things which I commend to everyone interested in the issue, whichever side of it one is on.

Happer examines the mix of scandals, politics, money and science that attach to the issue of global warming, and what he says, to the extent that it's accurate, is very helpful in understanding what's really going on amid all the confusing claims and counterclaims.

Here are a few paragraphs to serve as an appetizer:
Other things being equal, more CO2 will cause more warming. The question is how much warming, and whether the increased CO2 and the warming it causes will be good or bad for the planet.

The argument starts something like this. CO2 levels have increased from about 280 ppm to 390 ppm over the past 150 years or so, and the earth has warmed by about 0.8 degree Celsius during that time. Therefore the warming is due to CO2. But correlation is not causation. Roosters crow every morning at sunrise, but that does not mean the rooster caused the sun to rise. The sun will still rise on Monday if you decide to have the rooster for Sunday dinner.

Let me summarize how the key issues appear to me, a working scientist with a better background than most in the physics of climate. CO2 really is a greenhouse gas and other things being equal, adding the gas to the atmosphere by burning coal, oil, and natural gas will modestly increase the surface temperature of the earth. Other things being equal, doubling the CO2 concentration, from our current 390 ppm to 780 ppm will directly cause about 1 degree Celsius in warming. At the current rate of CO2 increase in the atmosphere—about 2 ppm per year—it would take about 195 years to achieve this doubling. The combination of a slightly warmer earth and more CO2 will greatly increase the production of food, wood, fiber, and other products by green plants, so the increase will be good for the planet, and will easily outweigh any negative effects. Supposed calamities like the accelerated rise of sea level, ocean acidification, more extreme climate, tropical diseases near the poles, and so on are greatly exaggerated.

It is worth recalling now a quotation from the preface of the second edition of Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds: “Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.”
Between these graphs is a lot of very helpful information on how some of the climate change folks have suppressed dissenting views and manipulated data to get the results they want. It's not pretty, but it's important. It would be an historic blunder if fear of a calamity that's not really pending were to cause us to needlessly and severely diminish our standard of living by disdaining the use of fossil fuels.

Restoring Educational Excellence

There's a fine article by Justin Paulette at The Daily Caller in which he contemplates the decline of America's educational system and what can be done to reverse it. The descent into educational mediocrity began in the 60s, Paulette argues, when public education fell under the control of progressive theorists and ideologues:
This trend of scholastic failure has a precise beginning which was preceded by a long history of educational prosperity. In the radicalism of the 1960s, the American left came to dominate a newly emergent education bureaucracy (culminating in the Department of Education), leveraged teachers as collective-bargaining-chips (forming the nation’s largest labor union) and commenced upon a nationwide social-engineering experiment (intent on redefining human nature). This consolidation of progressive authority over education precipitated an immediate and disastrous decline in America’s academic competitiveness.
He might have added that it was in the early 70s that the idea of a school being in loco parentis, a substitute parent, as it were, was dropped and student rights became a major cause celebre of the progressive left. When that happened the authority and ability of schools to maintain discipline began a long, slow collapse. It also precipitated a long, slow increase in the cost that taxpayers would have to bear for schools that became increasingly dysfunctional.

Paulette continues:
Naturally, not every rural American school adopted wholesale the progressive lesson-plan. But the pseudo-social-psychologists constituting state and federal education bureaucracies ensured that all public schools were influenced through federal guidelines, textbook revisions and a leftward lurch in scholastic literature, evaluation standards and political climate. The liberal coup of university faculties and the rise of quasi-substantive degrees in “education” further ensured that all future teachers would be subjected to the crucible of progressive indoctrination.

This centralized education bureaucracy and its misguided reform policies resulted in a gradual replacement of traditional educational values — such as discipline, competition and ethics — with a creed of self-esteem, diversity and relativism. Gifted programs have been abandoned as “elitist,” whereas (in an academic version of blaming the victim) one out of every eight students is now labeled “disabled” and remanded to “special education.” SAT scores had declined so sharply by the mid-1990s that examiners were forced to “re-center” the grading scale by adding 100 points to test scores in order to maintain the 800-point average.

Another aspect of the decline of authority has been the decline of moral authority. With the secularization of schools it has become increasingly difficult for schools to maintain high standards of dress, language or behavior. Any such standards are seen as an unwarranted and needless imposition of an arbitrary standard unrelated to educational performance.
The feeling one gets from reflecting on the miserable state of many public schools today is that the first step in reforming them needs to be to reclaim them from the grasp of the progressive theorists and leftist unions which have dominated American education for the past fifty years.

Paulette goes on to argue that the solution to our nation's educational malaise is privatization and the marketplace and he makes an impressive case. He concludes with an apposite quote from English philosopher John Stuart Mill who wrote in On Liberty (1859) that:
A general State education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another: and as the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the predominant power in the government, whether this be a monarch, a priesthood, an aristocracy, or the majority of the existing generation; in proportion as it is efficient and successful, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by natural tendency to one over the body. An education established and controlled by the State should only exist, if it exists at all, as one among many competing experiments.
Paulette's column should be read by anyone concerned about America's fall from academic preeminence and might well be followed by a viewing of the film Waiting for Superman.