Archive | March, 2012

Bites of the Big Apple

28 Mar

Some thoughts on my time in the Big Apple:

The Milford Plaza was a pretty good choice. Close to Times Square, in the middle of a host of theatres, and restaurants all around. It’s got old bones, but is being remade in a hipper, more modern image – a lot like Manhattan itself.

Just kind of skimmed the surface of the town, but really impressed with what I found. Had no idea about the seaport area, and the other historic bits, and was really impressed with Central Park. Lots of beautiful old buildings and some interesting new ones, and always a cool surprise to find a little park here or there. Tons of restaurants, though I suspect separating the wheat from the chaff is a big task.

Heard more German being spoken than Brooklyn-ese, but did overhear one “watch you don’t get hit by a bus” and that made my day.

Times Square, eh, it is what it is. But there’s so much more.


Bones of Contention

27 Mar

So as I’m standing in line at the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, in that grand marble entryway decorated with an impossibly tall dinosaur skeleton (the one with the tiny head and super long neck, I forget the name), I overheard a lady in line behind me say “it’s only a theory, it’s never been proved. It’s just a theory.” From that snippet, and context, I’m guessing the theory was evolution, although global warming would be my second guess.

Frankly, people who really think like that, I just don’t know what to do with them. My first thought was to tell her, ma’am, this is a hall of science, I’m afraid you’re going to have to leave. I mean if that’s your attitude, if you really are a creationist, then what are you here for? Is this just another art museum for you?

Of course barring the ignorant from a place of learning is entirely backwards, the very reason these places exist is to provide access to knowledge, for the common good. So really, the problem is just me, and my reaction to the Face of Ignorance.

Because this is bedrock stuff to me, the foundations upon which long ago people built various thought constructs, which as now as tall and and detailed and thoroughly used and inhabited as any Manhattan skyscraper. To have to go back down to the basement and re-explain what this is built on…

Not that dinosaur bones or global temperatures have anything to do with what I used to do as a chemist directly. It’s more the challenging of the scientific method. Creationists and anti-climate-changers are arguing backwards from a premise, and they assume this is a valid technique that everybody is using (if they think at all about their process, which I suspect they don’t). It’s not, and their approach is the root of what’s wrong.

Science builds outward, from observations, and yes, theories that appeared to explain those observations. Further observations and analysis either establish that framework of theories either as strong enough to build on, or in need of buttressing or even a complete tear-out and re-build. Everyone working as a scientist is working off of, evaluating, and building onto that framework. Individuals may have motives, and agendas, but scientists operate within a large peer network which operates to preserve the process and the structural integrity of the framework. No one wants to build on a crappy foundation and find out later it doesn’t hold up.

People (non-scientists) assume that, for example, global warming is scientists engaging in self-preservation by driving more funding. From a capitalist point of view this makes sense, because there money, in the form of investments and markets, is the engine. But from a scientists point of view, funding is just a necessary evil; the true engine, the core principle that allows us as humans to build an understanding of the universe, is the iterative process of the scientific method. In other words, capitalists assume that scientists think that without funding, they’re out of a job; when what we really think is, without attention to the process, without attention to weeding out the bullshit, what we’re doing is pointless.

So yes, evolution is a theory, but so is gravity and Newtonian physics. All are time-tested, and supported by a plethora of observations. They have been challenged and reviewed and determined to be sound enough to build upon. And the work is published and available for you to review, if you have the time and inclination. As for climate change, it’s not my field and my concern is that it’s a new field (and it takes time for the scientific community to reach consensus and weed out the bullshit), but if the National Academy of Sciences states (as it has) that the science behind man-made climate change is sound, that means a lot to me.

Which is the sort of thing I don’t have time to explain to the (potentially willfully) ignorant person in line at the museum. Larger problem is, however, that our society is at (or beyond) the point where negative consequences will result from our technological society being increasingly at odds with policy decisions that are driven by those who dismiss science as “only a theory”.

Waitress in the Sky

26 Mar

Breaking out the blog again to cover a trip to the Big Apple.

Even the passengers on the flight are a marked change from a flight to Las Vegas. I think I’m the only person on a plane with a collared shirt, and in the non-hoodie minority. Even got some brooklyn sitting behind me; talking to a guy wearing a “” shirt, Brooklyn says, “what izzat, ya website?”

On the plane, I guess now that it isnt Northwest anymore, the “grey box” has gone away, replaced by some more colorful equivalent. Same basic thing: cookies, crackers, some form of cheese, a little bit of deli meat. I usually get these things just to keep myself entertained, it’s something to do on a long flight. When I reach for cash, the waitress-in-the-sky tells me “we don’t take cash, only credit.” Then she adds, “we haven’t taken cash for about two years now.” Really. Brooklyn probably would have said “what’s that to me?”, but I just dug for my wallet, again.