Sunday, August 23, 2009

Science, Media, Books, The Rock of Ages --

By Paul K. Haeder

We’ve seen on this blog a plethora of resources and books to help engage in intellectual reasoning and forward thinking. Not just about climate change. But about education, about narrative framing, about the subtexts of how science, technology, and social change can influence economics in a sometimes runaway competitive marketplace called capitalism. No matter where one might fall on the political spectrum, it’s still the duty of all citizens to grasp reality, knowledge, science, and the systems around them and those influencing them.

Here are two books that help us frame the conversation about problem solving, global tipping points and the regional systems that are under stress that effect not only humanity, but the entire ecosystem James Lovelock devised as the Gaia Theory. We need to look at the realities of the so-called Superpower’s educational grounding, and that of the folk already out of school making decisions after consuming the so-called "fair and balanced" news of the day tied to peak energy, water, food, and climate change. Here are some startling facts about North Americans:

More than 46 percent of Americans think the Earth is around 7,000 years old, and they not only reject evolution even as HIV as a species of virus exhibits grand evolutionary techniques, as do those amphibians "going asexual" after years of exposure to toxins, but they mock it, fabricate ideas behind it, and turn their world of superstitions and half-truths into the book of the dead for their offspring. These adult Americans who are part of the public polarizing climate change have never met a scientist (only 18 percent of all Americans have) and more than half can’t name a living scientist role model.

More than 55 percent of polled Americans believe they have personal angels protecting them: And, in a Pew poll, the researchers found that more than 68 percent of Americans believe that "angels and demons are active in the world"; 20 percent say they've had an encounter with an angel or a devil.

The media, the blogs, the general conversation in America have gotten more and more disconnected from the realities of science and natural history and nature and astrophysics, even medicine. We are becoming a culture of a general population that doesn't know how things work, how the world works, and those select few who do.

We have to blame the messenger, and in their new book, Unscientific America : How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future, Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum give us a look at the realities of our digital age, Marshall McLuhan's "the medium is the message" part of today's consumer media illumination: for every five hours of cable news, less than one minute is devoted to science. And we know what the majority of that news encompasses.

Here’s an excerpt from Mooney and Kirshenbaum’s book:

Rethinking the Problem of Scientific Illiteracy

As Mark Twain put it, “The trouble with the world is not that people know too little, it’s that they know so many things that just aren’t so.” Take the army of aggrieved parents nationwide who swear vaccines are the reason their children developed autism and who seem impossible to convince otherwise. Scientific research has soundly refuted this contention, but every time a new study comes out on the subject, the parents and their supporters have a “scientific” answer that allows them to retain their beliefs. Where do they get their “science” from? From the Internet, celebrities, other parents, and a few non-mainstream researchers and doctors who continue to challenge the scientific consensus, all of which forms a self-reinforcing echo chamber of misinformation.

The anti-vaccination advocates are scientifically incorrect; there’s little doubt of that at this point. But whether they could be called “ignorant” or “scientifically illiterate” is less clear. After all, they’ve probably done far more independent research about a scientific topic that interests and affects them than most Americans have.

The same goes for other highly informed, and deeply wrong, groups—the global warming deniers, anti-evolutionists, UFO obsessives, and so on.

Ignorance isn’t their problem, and neither is a lack of intellectual engagement or motivation. Anyone who has ever discussed global warming on national radio—as Chris has done countless times—can expect to be besieged by callers who don’t accept the prevailing scientific consensus and have obviously done a great deal of research to back up their prejudices. If anything, such individuals want to make a show of their erudition and proceed to rattle off a mind-boggling string of scientific-sounding claims: Global warming isn’t happening on other planets; urban heat islands (cities) thwart global thermometer readings; the atmosphere’s lowest layer, the troposphere, isn’t warming at the rate predicted by climate models; and the like.

Or consider the late Michael Crichton. He was a brilliant science fiction novelist, screenwriter, and movie producer who backed up his best-selling narratives with considerable scientific research. Yet in his late-life novel State of Fear, he penned a wholly misleading and revisionist attack on the science of global warming. Faced with such people, intellectually driven and empowered as never before by the profusion of “science”—good, bad, and awful—on the Internet, one soon recognizes that the lack of scientific knowledge probably isn’t our real problem.

Almost inevitably, improvements to our educational system are put forward as the primary solution to the problem of scientific illiteracy. It is a lofty goal, of course, and nobody is against improving K-12 science education. But to look to education alone as the silver bullet is to write off as unreachable anyone who has already graduated from the formal educational system. That includes vast stretches of the population, including most voters, our political and cultural leaders, and the gatekeepers of the media.


Ahh, if that book isn’t enough to turn Teddy Roosevelt or Aldo Leopold and John Muir and Rachel Carson in their graves, let’s look at Larry J. Schweiger’s Last Chance: Preserving Life on Earth. Schweiger taps into the same issues covered in Unscientific America – denial and head-in-the-sand fear.

Look, James Hansen, America’s climate change expert with NASA, spoke about this big intellectual gap between science and policy makers. On June 23, 2008, twenty years after he first warned Congress about the earth’s warming tied to human activity, Hansen said that “a wide gap has developed between what is understood about global warming by the relevant scientific communities and what is known by policymakers and the public.”

Schweiger brings up the reality of our superficial consumer-driven sound byte world. An important paper published in the September 2006 issue of Nature by Katey Walter

warned that melting permafrost in Siberia – we’re talking about 10 million square kilometers – is releasing five times the amount of methane previously estimated. Walter led a US-Russian team of scientists to study this area and the frozen methane thaw. She likened it to a ticking time bomb waiting to go off. That is, threatening the world’s climate.

Mainstream media did not cover this report, but did cover the supposed killer of JonBenét Ramsey with TV trucks in Boulder, Colorado and bouffant hair dos probing the police officials about this or that fluid.

Two good books for our shelves, but also for the empowerment of citizens to get it right and hold accountable county commissioners and school board reps and city councilwomen who see the earth as flat and the heavens filled with water. Here’s an excerpt from Schweiger’s book:

In the Absence of Light

A few years ago, we invited a group of low-income children from urban Pittsburgh to visit a distant natural area in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, for an owl watch. As night fell, the children became startled as they got their first glimpse of the myriad bright stars set in a clear, black sky. These kids had never seen a night sky in the absence of ambient light. Urban haze and light pollution had completely blocked their view of the heavens and dimmed their sense of the magnitude of creation.

Shallow news coverage causes most Americans to underestimate the urgency of the threat of global warming. Television’s failure to adequately cover the climate threat, along with the deliberate opacity created by massive oil and coal advertising, masks the vivid realities of the situation, much like the haze and light pollution blocked out the reality of the night sky for those urban kids.

The television has been described as a weapon of mass distraction. On hearing about the methane leaking from the Siberian Sea, one Canadian blogger mockingly wrote, “Runaway climate change? Massive methane release off Siberia? Nah, let’s talk about Wall Street instead!” Meanwhile, on “the upper decks of our ‘Titanic,’ everyone is worried stiff about a crisis on Wall Street.”

Denial is a too-common human tendency, especially around global warming. On June 23, 2008, twenty years since he first warned Congress that human activity was causing the earth to warm, James Hansen warned that a “wide gap has developed between what is understood about global warming by the relevant scientific communities and what is known by policymakers and the public.”

I have often wondered why so many media outlets have developed an excessive and endless fascination with fallen stars, kidnappings, rapes, and other violent crimes to the exclusion of news that we can actually use. Perhaps it is because Americans en masse watch that mindless stuff over and over again, thus supporting it and demanding more of it. Besides, that type of “news” is simple and cheap to produce and does not take a rocket scientist to present. Tabloid journalism, replayed continuously for days, weeks, and months on end is apparently profitable. “Infotainment” is not journalism. Networks and cable channels focus on making news shows more entertaining to pump up ratings that link to greater advertising revenues. Former vice president Al Gore described this in his book The Assault on Reason as “a new pattern of serial obsessions that periodically take over the airwaves for weeks at a time.”

This excerpt was reprinted from the book Last Chance: Preserving Life on Earth by Larry J. Schweiger with permission from

Fulcrum Publishing

Finally, we have a glimmer of hope in the upcoming PBS series on the National Parks systems and the people and ecosystems behind and within them. Maybe this Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan series can rekindle some of the spirit in the American mindscape to propel us as a citizenry to rethink how grand the scape of time is, how that rock at the bottom of the Grand Canyon is more than a blip in time.

But before we end this blog with the Ken Burns-PBS series information and links, let’s look at the underpinning of much of what we will see in the two books featured above – Science versus Junk Science: The edges of knowledge being pushed with new technology, and then the Creationist view of the world:

University of Colorado at Boulder Grand Canyon may be as old as dinosaurs, says new study
Study by University of Colorado at Boulder, California Institute of Technology pushes back assumed origins by 40-50 million years

The Grand Canyon may be as old as the dinosaurs, according to a new study by the University of Colorado and the California Institute of Technology

New geological evidence indicates the Grand Canyon may be so old that dinosaurs once lumbered along its rim, according to a study by researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder and the California Institute of Technology.

The team used a technique known as radiometric dating to show the Grand Canyon may have formed more than 55 million years ago, pushing back its assumed origins by 40 million to 50 million years.

The researchers gathered evidence from rocks in the canyon and on surrounding plateaus that were deposited near sea level several hundred million years ago before the region uplifted and eroded to form the canyon.

A paper on the subject will be published in the May issue of the Geological Society of America Bulletin. CU-Boulder geological sciences Assistant Professor Rebecca Flowers, lead author and a former Caltech postdoctoral researcher, collaborated with Caltech geology Professor Brian Wernicke and Caltech geochemistry Professor Kenneth Farley on the study.

"As rocks moved to the surface in the Grand Canyon region, they cooled off," said Flowers.

"The cooling history of the rocks allowed us to reconstruct the ancient topography, telling us the Grand Canyon has an older prehistory than many had thought."

The team believes an ancestral Grand Canyon developed in its eastern section about 55 million years ago, later linking with other segments that had evolved separately.

"It's a complicated picture because different segments of the canyon appear to have evolved at different times and subsequently were integrated," Flowers said.

The ancient sandstone in the canyon walls contains grains of a phosphate mineral known as apatite -- hosting trace amounts of the radioactive elements uranium and thorium -- which expel helium atoms as they decay, she said. An abundance of the three elements, paired with temperature information from Earth's interior, provided the team a clock of sorts to calculate when the apatite grains were embedded in rock a mile deep -- the approximate depth of the canyon today -- and when they cooled as they neared Earth's surface as a result of erosion.

Apatite samples from the bottom of the Upper Granite Gorge region of the Grand Canyon yield similar dates as samples collected on the nearby plateau, said Caltech's Wernicke. "Because both canyon and plateau samples resided at nearly the same depth beneath the Earth's surface 55 million years ago, a canyon of about the same dimensions of today may have existed at least that far back, and possibly as far back as the time of dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago."

One of the most surprising results from the study is the evidence showing the adjacent plateaus around the Grand Canyon may have eroded away as swiftly as the Grand Canyon itself, each dropping a mile or more, said Flowers.

Small streams on the plateaus appear to have been just as effective at stripping away rock as the ancient Colorado River was at carving the massive canyon. "If you stand on the rim of the Grand Canyon today, the bottom of the ancestral canyon would have sat over your head, incised into rocks that have since been eroded away," said Flowers.

The ancestral Colorado River was likely running in the opposite direction millions of years ago, she said.When the canyon was formed, it probably looked like a much deeper version of present-day Zion Canyon, which cuts through strata of the Mesozoic era dating from about 250 million to 65 million years ago, Wernicke said. From 28 million to 15 million years ago, a pulse of erosion deepened the already-formed canyon and also scoured surrounding plateaus, stripping off the Mesozoic strata to reveal the Paleozoic rocks visible today, he said.

The prevailing belief is that the canyon was incised by an ancient river about six million years ago as the surrounding plateau began rising from sea level to the current elevation of about 7,000 feet. The new scenario described in the GSA Bulletin by Flowers and her colleagues is consistent with recent evidence by other geologists using radiometric dating techniques indicating the Grand Canyon is significantly older than scientists had long believed.


The National Science Foundation and Caltech funded the study

Versus the other view, the earth as less than 10,000 years old view --
Did Noah's Flood Cover the Himalayan Mountains?

by John D. Morris, Ph.D.

Few doctrines in Scripture are as clearly taught as the global nature of the Great Flood in Noah's day. Genesis clearly teaches that "the waters . . . increased greatly . . . and the mountains were covered" (Genesis 7:18-20).

Through the centuries, few Christians questioned this doctrine. The Bible said it, and that was enough—until the late 1700s that is. For the first time the globe was being explored—the extremely lofty Himalayan Mountains were surveyed, capped by Mt. Everest at 29,035 feet in elevation.
Did the waters cover them? Is there enough water on the planet to do so? The questions seemed so far-fetched that many European churchmen dismissed the idea that the Flood was global, adopting the local flood concept which still dominates Christian colleges and seminaries today.
Like dominos, other doctrines soon began to fall—the young age for the earth, the special creation of plants and animals, and the inerrancy of Scripture.

We now know, of course, that the earth has plenty of water to launch a global flood. It has been calculated that if the earth's surface were completely flat, with no high mountains and no deep ocean basins, that water would cover the earth to a depth of about 8,000 feet. But is there enough water to cover a 29,035 foot mountain?

The key is to remember that the Flood didn't have to cover the present Earth, but it did have to cover the pre-Flood Earth, and the Bible teaches that the Flood fully restructured the earth. "The world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished" (II Peter 3:6). It is gone forever. The earth of today was radically altered by that global event.

That Flood accomplished abundant geologic work. Eroding sediments here, redepositing them there, pushing up continents, elevating plateaus, denuding terrains, etc., so that the earth today is quite different from before. Today even mountain ranges rise high above the sea.

Mt. Everest and the Himalayan range, along with the Alps, the Rockies, the Appalachians, the Andes, and most of the world's other mountains are composed of ocean-bottom sediments, full of marine fossils laid down by the Flood. Mt. Everest itself has clam fossils at its summit. These rock layers cover an extensive area, including much of Asia. They give every indication of resulting from cataclysmic water processes. These are the kinds of deposits we would expect to result from the worldwide, world-destroying Flood of Noah's day.

At the end of the Flood, after thick sequences of sediments had accumulated, the Indian subcontinent evidently collided with Asia, crumpling the sediments into mountains. Today they stand as giants—folded and fractured layers of ocean-bottom sediments at high elevations. No, Noah's Flood didn't cover the Himalayas, it formed them!

Thus we find the Biblical account not only possible, but also supported by the evidence. A pre-Flood world with lessened topographic extremes could have been covered by the Great Flood. That Flood caused today's high mountains and deep oceans making such a flood impossible to repeat. This is just as God promised, back in Genesis.
"New museum says dinosaurs were on Noah's Ark"
More discussion about creationism and the age of earth:

******************************************************************************* For a look at Intelligent Design's proponents and others who disagree with Creationism as science, read this interesting forum:

For more scientific consensus on the age of Earth, go to the US Geological Survey:

And the book, The Age of Earth, by G. Dalrymple


Coming to PBS September 27, 2009

Filmed over the course of more than six years at some of nature's most spectacular locales — from Acadia to Yosemite, Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon, the Everglades of Florida to the Gates of the Arctic in Alaska — The National Parks: America's Best Idea is nonetheless a story of people: people from every conceivable background — rich and poor; famous and unknown; soldiers and scientists; natives and newcomers; idealists, artists and entrepreneurs; people who were willing to devote themselves to saving some precious portion of the land they loved, and in doing so reminded their fellow citizens of the full meaning of democracy. It is a story full of struggle and conflict, high ideals and crass opportunism, stirring adventure and enduring inspiration - set against the most breathtaking backdrops imaginable.

The National Parks: America's Best Idea is a six-episode series directed by Ken Burns and written and co-produced by Dayton Duncan.


  1. It never ceases to amaze how the simple mention of global warming in a news story sets off a tsunami of rhetoric. It generally comes from a very vocal minority that would go to its grave swearing that the sum total of climate science is a liberal plot to enrich Al Gore. Alternately, we are told the Martian ice caps are melting, proof that solar radiation and sunspot cycles — and not greenhouse gases — are the cause of planetary warmups.

  2. It never ceases to amaze how the simple mention of global warming in a news story sets off a tsunami of rhetoric. It generally comes from a very vocal minority that would go to its grave swearing that the sum total of climate science is a liberal plot to enrich Al Gore. Alternately, we are told the Martian ice caps are melting, proof that solar radiation and sunspot cycles — and not greenhouse gases — are the cause of planetary warmups.


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