Science over ideology, and creation over consumption

In a speech before the National Academy of Sciences today, President Obama said something that I absolutely love.

He said, the “days of science taking a back seat to ideology are over” in the United States.

Vowing to “restore science to its rightful place,” Obama then went on to name to members of his Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. And, he went one step further. He called on the scientists among us inspire the young to solve the problems that face us… Here’s a clip from the New York Times:

…(He) also urged scientists to take steps themselves to engage with citizens and leaders. In the address, he called for scientists to move out of the laboratory into society, essentially becoming emissaries in what he said must be a national movement to inspire and enable young people “to be makers of things, not just consumers of things”…

I know some of you out there don’t think that Obama is moving swiftly enough relative to reversing the policies of his predecessors, but I’d like for you to consider for a moment just how revolutionary his words here are. In 2001, after the al Qaeda attacks on America, when asked how regular Americans could help in the effort to defeat the forces of evil aligned against us, President George Bush said that we should keep shopping. Now, just 8 short years later, we have a leader telling us that we need to realign our society completely so that we, the people of America, create instead of just consume. Granted, it may not have trickled down to legislation yet, but I think this is an incredibly positive development, and I’m willing to give Obama another 100 days to see it translated into policy.

I never thought that I’d hear an American President utter the words, “to be makers of things, not just consumers of things.” I cannot express to you how happy that makes me to see that faint glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

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  1. Rob
    Posted April 27, 2009 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    As a former maker of things, I applaud his words– However it’s too late. Our policies both in the public and private sectors, and a general apathy of the masses have insured the destruction of broad based manufacturing (I assume when he says “making things” he means the development and production of whatever) in this country. Then there is the unfair trade practices by our “partners” — Does anyone remember the story how a twenty thousand dollar Taurus if imported into Japan would cost you over fifty? Tariffs and protectionism can be good — If you fall on the right side of the equation…. But then we’ve been screwed since we let our “native” electronics industry go under– Most UAW workers probably didn’t even squawk about that– So long as they got a deal on a new Zenith….. And who cared if it came from Singapore? It’s late, I’m rambling…. ‘nite all!

  2. Brackinald Achery
    Posted April 27, 2009 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    “Granted, it may not have trickled down to legislation yet”

    In other words, he’s just blowing smoke up your ass. Every one of his bailout and stimulus policies are aimed at priming the pump of consumerism with easy credit — continuing Bush’s basic spend-more Keynesian policies, with a few cosmetic differences and progressive pandering rhetoric.

  3. Brackinald Achery
    Posted April 27, 2009 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of science and the scientific method, is the theory of man-made global warming falsifiable? If so, how, exactly? What would have to happen to disprove it? I defer to those here who are more schooled in such things than I.

  4. EOS
    Posted April 28, 2009 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    The pursuit of scientists is to continually push the envelope of “what can be done”. It needs the societal restraint of “what should be done.” Ideology, or more specifically, morality should always trump science in any just civilization.

  5. Posted April 28, 2009 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    BA, get a graduate degree in climatology and get to work.

  6. Curt Waugh
    Posted April 28, 2009 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    BA, thought experiment: Purge from your mind the whole idea of “global warming” for one second. You, me and many climatologists can argue all day about how much of this and the what and why of that.

    What is indisputable, however, is larger idea of the global environmental shift that humans started thousands of years ago and is accelerating today at an unbelievable pace:

    – Deforestation: ancient people burned prairies and forests to flush out game and cause new seedlings to grow

    – Pollution: you name it (and carbon dioxide does, in fact, count as pollution)

    – Disease: Roaming humans brought all kinds of nastiness with them every where they went

    – De-greening of urban environments: disallows rainwater to absorb into the ground and heats up the local environment

    And on and on…

    So, the debate about “global warming” really needs to be framed as part of the larger issue of human environmental change. There can be absolutely no doubt that human have permanently changed the global environment. Just look around you. But seeing the world this way widens and changes the discussion.

    – We know we did this. Is it even possible to undo it?

    – If we undo it, will we make things worse? We have, after all, had thousands of years of experience with global environmental change

    – How do we uncouple natural changes from man-made? Do we even want to try? Do we have a choice?

  7. Brackinald Achery
    Posted April 28, 2009 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    I really appreciate your comment, Curt.

  8. Swartzman
    Posted April 28, 2009 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    Whether or not it’s man made is irrelevant. If the earth is getting warmer, it’s our job to find a solution, and we think that cutting CO2 emissions will help. Republicans bring up cows farting methane, as if that’s reason to do nothing. It’s a stupid argument. Regardless of its cause, we should stop it before too much harm is done.

  9. Brackinald Achery
    Posted April 28, 2009 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    If it’s not our fault, there might be no solution besides adaptation. I like less pollution, I like wilderness, I like animals not going extinct, I like alternative energy, I like people growing their own food. I don’t like it when a whole lot of people think things that might not be true.

    Please, someone tell me what it would take, theoretically, for the man-made global warming hypothesis to be disproven. I’m not suggesting it would be disproven, I’m saying there must be some event or outcome that could disprove it, were that event or outcome to occur.

  10. Brackinald Achery
    Posted April 28, 2009 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    I don’t like it when a whole lot of people think things that might not be true, and turn to authoritarian means to solve it, I should add. Eugenics being a prime example.

  11. Posted April 28, 2009 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    It would take you studying climatology deeply and gathering enough evidence to make a convincing argument. If you are that convinced, you need to start doing some research and sweating a little. That’s what science is.

    Honestly, I tire of people who seek simple answers to “disprove” man’s role in climate change or the existence of evolution or the extent of the Holocaust. As if hundreds of scientists or historians with PhD’s and years of work in their own fields are going to be one-upped by an art school drop out in Ypsilanti.


  12. Posted April 28, 2009 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    The thing is, it might not be true and you and I might agree on a couple things. I think that non-scientists on the left who argue about the dangers of climate change are as ignorant as the non-scientists (and pseudo-scientists) on the right who argue that man has nothing to do with it. I mean, when I hear my liberal friends discuss “global warming”, I mostly think they’re morons since no scientist I know even uses that term. The globe may be warming overall, but not uniformly and there are more fish to fry than just temperature. Hence the term “climate change”.

    Personally, I believe that we are to blame for climate change. The evidence that I have personally seen is overwhelming in my scientific opinion. I’m not talking about Al Gore’s movie, I’m not even talking about printed leftist propaganda, I’m talking about raw data that I have seen and worked with personally. However, many liberal leaning folks don’t know shit about what they’re talking about and often offer well intentioned yet misguided solutions that, in the end, do nothing except make themselves feel better.

    So, I think, BA, that the solution is not to dissuade people from believing that humans have anything to do with climate change, but to educate and inform constructive policy that is informed by science and evidence rather than impassioned opinions and CNN headlines.

  13. Brackinald Achery
    Posted April 28, 2009 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    Wow, even dude is being 1/2 nice to me on this one. I accept your climate change clarification and respect your experience. Don’t be offended if I keep using the phrase man-made global warming in the rest of my post here, or think I’m not picking up what you’re putting down, because I am and will think about it. Same w/ you, Curt.

    To clarify my motives, though, I’m not looking to disprove it. I’m looking for the potential for it to be disproven by experimentation… like “hey, I can drop these two balls from a tower and see if one hits first. Nope. Guess the theory is right.” The reason I ask is that it seems that no matter what happens, even if it’s contrary to some global warming prediction (I accept your clarification regarding Al Gore as well), people just seem to change the reason why what actually happened was caused by global warming.

    It’s maddening. If the ice melts it’s man-made global warming, if the ice doesn’t melt it’s man-made global warming, if it’s dry it’s man-made global warming, if it’s wet it’s man-made global warming, if it’s hot it’s man-made global warming, if it’s cold it’s man-made global warming, if there are hurricanes it’s man-made global warming, if there are no hurricanes it’s man-made global warming. Well what the fuck could possibly happen to make people think, “hey, this doesn’t match our predictions about our man-made global warming hypothesis, maybe we were wrong?” Anything? I mean like, if somebody found a modern human fossilized skeleton in a dinosaur’s fossilized guts, which isn’t going to happen, that would disprove a lot of theories, making them falsifiable (a good thing). What makes man-made global warming falsifiable?

  14. Posted April 28, 2009 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    A lot. Evidence. Understanding that causality of difficult to prove. Maybe we are wrong. The evidence will surface. Unfortunately, the evidence that is there points the other way, so much so, that the most conservative and skeptical bunch of folks, the science community, is overwhelmingly convinced.

    Most of the problems with what is reported in the papers is the lack of context. That is why it is referred to as “climate change”. Climate, just like economics, is a complicated system. It has it’s ups and downs and does weird things sometimes, but if you fuck it up really bad, then the whole system goes wacko, and not in the same way in all places. Notice how when the economy is shitty how well liquor sellers do? Everybody doesn’t do badly, nor does everyone do badly the same way in all regions.

    In terms of temperature, it gets cold in one place, colder than it ever should, while in another it does the opposite and gets hot to the extreme while in others nothing happens at all. The point is not the incidental local temperatures or that ice melts in one place and doesn’t melt in another or whether more hurricanes happen in florida vs. hawaii, but that the whole system is behaving in a way that it normally does not. It’s gone wacko and that’s where the problem lies.

    The popular press tends to simplify and overstate things because that’s their job. They don’t give any sort of context, nor do they give any level of assurance that the scientists may have about their findings. That’s the difference between a peered reviewed journal and the Weekly World News. It doesn’t make us or anybody else dumb, but it does mean that we need to listen with a critical ear, regardless of our politics.

    Both sides use science as it is reported in the press for their own political gains, often at the expense of the real science. It just pays to be informed. There’s really no more powerful weapon against stupidity.

  15. Brackinald Achery
    Posted April 28, 2009 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    God damn that was a reasonable post. What the hell is going on?

  16. kjc
    Posted April 28, 2009 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    haha. seriously.

  17. Posted April 28, 2009 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    You all have to be nice to each other now because of the swine flu. We’re all in this together, and you never know who you’ll have to comfort, cremate, or repopulate the earth with.

  18. Lab Rat
    Posted April 28, 2009 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

    the most conservative and skeptical bunch of folks, the science community

    Conservative yes we are especially in our attire. ; )

    Skeptical? Of everything but SCIENCE.

    Look, science has a HUGE cult of personality. Most of us started thinking we were the smartest kids in the class, found out we weren’t and spend the rest of our lives with a tonne of insecurity. Most of us are told what the facts are by some science god and spend our lives looking through instruments analyzing things based on those “facts” without ever daring to openly question there legitimacy which would be professional suicide.

    It is always worth remembering that most of the great ideas in science suffered from confirmation bias and did not reach scientific consensus until decades after their introduction. It’s also worth noting that, in reality, scientific consensus is not the based on thousands of scientists’ independent opinions but on a relative few in the upper echelons and the rest following suit.

    But I still drive a Prius.

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