- An attempt to bring 'Colorado common sense' in Congress from Senator Michael Bennet
- A call for stories of Vail's ghosts and haunted houses
- Was it an alien ship, a UFO, or God who evaporated Air France flight 447?
- Part II: Large Hadron Collider will likely spell end to String Theory
- Part I: Don't expect CERN's Large Hadron Collider to reveal new dimensions of space and time
- Vail Mountaineer vs. Vail Daily Starbucks-gate: no wonder newspapers are dying
- Report: Hasan's moderate views catch conservative confab off-guard in D.C.
- The presidential politics of skiing: Did snow sports get the right guy?
- Happy New Year … but wait a second: scientists turn back time in 2008
- Happy trails to the valley's greatest weekly paper: The Vail Trail
- All Real Rhetoric Articles
September 11, 2008 — It is now seven years after the September 11 attacks, and on this day every year Americans take time to reflect upon the consequences of that grim and historic day. Seven years later we have yet to be successfully attacked by terrorists, but we are constantly under attack from ignorance.
September 11, 2008, is also one day after the Large Hadron Collider at Lake Geneva came online – a moment which, in the scientific world, ranks among the most exciting in a decade. There is little doubt that the NEXT most exciting event will also come from the LHC – when it begins making discoveries about the most fundamental structures and elements of the Universe.
Why would the Hadron Collider enter into our thoughts on September 11? Answer: because the events have in common that both are surrounded by huge amounts of misinformation, conspiracy theories, and myths.
The same goes for creationism vs. evolution and the debate over global warming.
Various groups have made claims on each of these issues which purport that the science on the issues is categorically wrong, and all four of these issues make excellent representations of how ignorance is successfully challenging science in America today. If you’re not familiar with the counter-science arguments each of these issues, here’s a quick synopsis:
Large Hadron Collider: Walter L. Wagner and Luis Sancho are among those who filed lawsuits to try and shut down the LHC because they feared the collider would create black holes that could destroy the Earth.
September 11: In 2004 a CNN poll indicated that 89 percent of Americans believed there was a government cover-up involving 9/11. Other polls indicated that as many as 14 percent of Americans at some point have believed that the 9/11 attacks were perpetrated by the Bush Administration so that America could go to war in the Middle East.
Creationism vs. evolution: Vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has recently been catapulted to the forefront of the American political debate on this issue, and is now the most widely recognized supporter of teaching creationism – the biblical belief that God created the world approximately 4,000 years ago (correction: 6,000 years ago) – in schools. Creationism is a belief which is severely at odds with the theory of evolution.
Global warming: Radio personality Rush Linbaugh is a leading proponent for the belief that global warming is a hoax, that “left-wing nut jobs” have corrupted the science on the issue, that the globe is not getting warmer, and that human beings have had no impact on the global climate.
There are usually small bits of truth in each counter argument, but nonetheless their proponents are either misunderstanding the science or ignorant in large degree of how science works and what research has done to develop and support the current theories.
I’m not here to re-argue the truths behind the facts that the LHC is safe, September 11 was not an inside job, that creationism is myth, or that global warming is an actual phenomenon caused, in part, by human activity. That has already been done for me, thousands of times over, by engineers, biologists, physicists, doctors, and other educated experts in their field.
This column is designed to buoy the spirits of rational people who love learning and enjoy the search for truth. There is a massive wave of ignorance, coupled with vitriol, which seems to be washing over us now, around the world, but particularly in the United States.
I’d hate to see good people metaphorically drown in this deluge.
Simply so that people understand, here are the quick explanations which support the science behind each of these issues, with links to more in-depth rejections of the insurgent ideas marshaled by Wagner, Sancho, Linbaugh, Palin, and others.
Large Hadron Collider: The LHC may in fact create subatomic “black holes,” which bear relation to their cosmic cousins in that they represent an event horizon: a place where the normal laws of physics don’t apply. Contrary to public opinion, however, Black Holes do not suck up everything around them in a kind of runaway, exponential growth (thank you Stephen Hawking). The LHC black holes, if they appear at all, would be smaller than an atom and exist for an almost infinitesimally short period of time (think nano-seconds). Even if the black holes did somehow manage to stick around and grow, it would take about a billion years for them to reach the size of a golf ball.
September 11: Popular Mechanics did an excellent job of putting each and every one of the September 11 conspiracy theories to rest, one-by-one, in an article and follow-up book called “Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can't Stand Up to the Facts.”
Creationism vs. Evolution: When someone claims that the Devil put fossils in the ground to fool us, it’s not about arguing anymore, it’s about knowing that religious belief, applied in such a manner, will always keep ignorance alive. The wisdom behind Bible stories can live side-by-side with evolution, but it’s only when people in power begin to take the Bible literally that we are in danger of tremendous harm. Evolution isn’t just a theory, it’s the foundation for everything in biology and much of medicine, from paleontology to molecular biology. Sarah Palin should dwell on this each time she goes in to have her children inoculated or, in fact, each time she visits a physician.
Global warming: It’s true that global warming has been highly politicized, which leaves little doubt that interpretations of the science are being skewed both left and right. At the core of the debate, however, is the indisputable data, which clearly indicates that the Earth is heading toward a climate much like the one in which dinosaurs thrived.
Does that mean we’re headed toward the end of the world? No. In fact, Al Gore may have done a disservice to scientists when he stretched the truth here and there in his movie, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Despite what critics say, however, it is beyond dispute that the planet is warming, that human beings have contributed on some level to this warming, and that warming could have negative consequences. Those consequences are sometimes unknown and largely exaggerated by politicians and the media at large.
However, the point is moot: The economic, health, and national security reasons for finding cleaner renewable energy soon are well-known and stand on their own with or without global warming to drive them.
OK, now that I’ve set the stage, I’d like to get to the main point of this column. So grab another cup of coffee, adjust your monitor, and prepare to reclaim your sanity in a world where millions of people seem to be incapable of rational thought on these four issues.
It’s true that crazy conspiracy theories sometimes gain national attention. It’s true that people like Sarah Palin might... CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE READING...
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