One does what one can to give science, religion, art, and culture a good name, but sometimes all you get is a load of Bovine Excrement (and if we didnâ€™t laugh, weâ€™d crack!):
1. Australian catastrophist Tim Flannery has argued that a good way to fight global warming is by pumping sulphur into the atmosphere. The idea would be to promote â€global dimming.â€ I think dim is too gentle a word for this specific â€œplan,â€ which would turn the sky red all day. In fact, sky color is perhaps the most benign consequence of this scheme. As the article reports:
He [Flannery] conceded there were risks to global dimming via sulphur.
â€œThe consequences of doing that are unknown.â€
Yet Flannery claims, â€Itâ€™s the last resort that we have, itâ€™s the last barrier to a climate collapse.â€ Soâ€¦we donâ€™t know what pumping sulphur into the atmosphere will do, but we somehow know that it is the last resort. We donâ€™t know what to do, but letâ€™s do something. Note that the article never questions Flannery about any of this.
By the way, hereâ€™s a note from Wikipediaâ€™s entry on sulfur (or sulphur):
The burning of coal and/or petroleum by industry and power plants generates sulfur dioxide (SO2), which reacts with atmospheric water and oxygen to produce sulfuric acid (H2SO4). This sulfuric acid is a component of acid rain, which lowers the pH of soil and freshwater bodies, sometimes resulting in substantial damage to the environment and chemical weathering of statues and structures. Fuel standards increasingly require sulfur to be extracted from fossil fuels to prevent the formation of acid rain.
So, weâ€™ll die of acid rain rather than global warmingâ€¦.
2. There have been reports about the decline in reading of late. Kenneth Goldsmith is not going to help matters one bit. Heâ€™s against writing, at least writing as weâ€™ve alway known it (i.e., writing). An article on Goldsmith on Bookforum reports that instead of writing, say, an essay
heâ€™d turn in a piece of found art that had nothing to do with anybodyâ€™s book collection, or heâ€™d transcribe our conversation, with all the ums and uhs (mostly mineâ€”heâ€™s on the Oscar Wilde end of the articulateness spectrum), or heâ€™d plagiarize some other column and transform it into a sound poem by singing it and then post it to UbuWeb, the onÂ¬line repository for the avant-garde arts that he founded in 1996. His position on writing is as follows: Modernism and postmodernism are over, and the literary arts have entered a new technology-driven paradigm. Originality is out the window. â€œWriters donâ€™t need to write anything more,â€ he says. â€œThey just need to manage the language that already exists.â€
The author of this laudatory piece on Goldsmith, managing editor of Paris Review, Radhika Jones, writes (I guessâ€¦):
There is something utterly intoxicating about this idea. At least, thatâ€™s how I felt hearing it from Goldsmith on a recent visit to his Chelsea loft, where he lives with his wife, the video artist and painter Cheryl Donegan, and their two sons. Perhaps what sold me was the realization I had, in the midst of Goldsmith explaining his monumental tome Day (2003)â€”for which he retyped an entire edition of the New York Times, including all the ad copy, cover to coverâ€”that to be Kenneth Goldsmith is to have vanquished writerâ€™s block, because there are countless texts just waiting to be retyped. Itâ€™s just as reassuring to hear that Goldsmith doesnâ€™t actually expect anyone to read Day or his recently completed American trilogy, Weather (2005), Traffic (2007), and Sports (2008)â€”transcriptions of, respectively, a yearâ€™s worth of radio weather reports; a twenty-four-hour traffic cycle, every ten minutes from 1010 wins; and the radio broadcast of a long and dull Yankees game, ads included. â€œYou canâ€™t read these books,â€ he says, with ebullience. â€œI canâ€™t read them. People tell me they do, but theyâ€™re absolutely impossible.â€ He just wants us to think about them. â€œThese are the things we donâ€™t think about,â€ he says, â€œand theyâ€™re very profound when we do.â€ In Goldsmithâ€™s projects, the conception of the work also inscribes its meaningâ€”together with the way each time-consuming endeavor changes him. He imparts similar lessons in his Uncreative Writing class at the University of Pennsylvania, where students are directed to transcribe, plagiarize, thieve, and appropriate, all in the name of learning to write. â€œIf we retyped Kerouac,â€ he says, â€œweâ€™d learn much more about Kerouac than by writing in the style of Kerouac.â€
Bovine Excrement! More signs of global dimming of another sort.
3. And who can resist a headline like this: â€œReligion is a product of evolution, software suggestsâ€œ? This first line is:
God may work in mysterious ways, but a simple computer program may explain how religion evolved.
Well, it mayâ€“in the sense of not being logically impossible; it wonâ€™tâ€“in the sense of having anything whatever to do with reality.
Now I like the New Scientist magazine a lot, and Iâ€™m a subscriber. But this piece is more Bovine Excrement. You have to read it (if you still can readâ€¦) to (not) believe it. Hereâ€™s my (okay, slightly churlishâ€¦) interlinear critique of James Dowâ€™s efforts:
To determine if it was possible for religion to emerge as an adaptation, Dow wrote a simple computer program that focuses on the evolutionary benefits people receive from their interactions with one another.
â€œWhat people are adapting to is other people,â€ he says.
To simplify matters [UH-OHâ€¦simplifying complex matters can lead to significant trouble], Dow picked a defining trait of religion: the desire to proclaim religious information to others [This is a DEFINING TRAIT of religionâ€¦religion is defined by the trait of conveying religious information? But what is religion/religious? Doesnâ€™t sayâ€¦], such as a belief in the afterlife. He assumed [UH-OH] that this trait was genetic.
The model assumes [UH-OH] , in other words, that a small number of people have a genetic predisposition to communicate unverifiable information [here he refers to â€œunverifiable informationâ€] to others [WHY?]. They passed on that trait to their children, but they also interacted with people who didnâ€™t spread unreal information [here he refers to â€œunreal informationâ€â€“so â€œunverifiableâ€ equals â€œunrealâ€? So I would guess all his assumptions, qua unverifiable, are unrealâ€¦].
The model looks at the reproductive success of the two sorts of people â€“ those who pass on real information, and those who pass on unreal information [ â€œrealâ€ vs. â€œunrealâ€â€¦no bias here, right? ].
Under most scenarios [simpleâ€“simplisticâ€“computer model scenarios, designed from thin air by the programmer], â€œbelievers in the unrealâ€ went extinct. But when Dow included the assumption that non-believers would be attracted to religious people because of some clear, but arbitrary, signal, religion flourished.
â€œSomehow [ â€œSomehowâ€ â€¦but how? Why? Maybe what gets communicated is not, contra the assumption, â€œunreal.â€ ] the communicators of unreal information are attracting others to communicate real information to them,â€ Dow says, speculating that perhaps the non-believers are touched by the faith of the religious.
It is rubbish to take any of this as science, new or otherwise.
And what does it say about the state of global dimming that we have to go to Cracked! to get a healthy does of critical thinking? Iâ€™ve long been hooked on Cracked! (please, please quote that with precision!). Cracked! magazine was my favorite by-flashlight reading when we kids camped out. We can only be grateful for the enlightenment provided by their recent â€œ6 Most Frequently Cited Bullsh*t Statisticsâ€ to help scrape some of the Bovine Excrement off of us. For each “statistic,” the article explains why it is a load of crap, who started it, and whoâ€™s been fooled by it. Itâ€™s great stuffâ€¦donâ€™t miss it!
But sometimes, it is easy to see why we might get fooled by some of this flapdoodle. For example, #5 is: â€œWe only use 10% of our brains.â€ The article traces the error to inferring from the fact that humans can survive even if missing some parts of their brain to the (mistaken) idea that we only use parts of our brain. But I think there is even a better explanation for thinking humans only use 10% of their brains: Clearly, as from the stories reported above, some humans are using only 10% of their brains (if that). We simply generalizeâ€¦.