Friday, January 07, 2005

Nature is what kills you... a sentence in this great posting on our "frenemy" Mother Nature that I found through Trying to Grok. Here's a tantalizing excerpt:

Nature's vagaries have made extinct 99.99% of the 30 billion species created since life began. The Ordovician and Devonian extinctions wiped out 80-85% of all living species. The Permian extinction (245 million years ago) wiped out 95%. Humans have done their bit too. Estimates of man-made extinctions range from two per month to 600 per week. Yet, even the high figure pales besides nature's own extinctions. Humans have survived only by squeezing through a series of closing doors over millennia.

I definately don't think humans should feel free to blast holes in the ozone layer, because Mother Nature is capable of way worse...but I also think that we have a tendency to overestimate our ecological footprints.

This posting reminded me of another link I found at Trying to Grok a few weeks back on Junk Science written by Michael Crichton.

Oh, and I got a little riled up with the scathing comments left by one of the site's visitors:
This is one of the dumbest articles I've read in a long time. Predicting tomorrow's weather has little to do with predicting longterm climate change. Why don't you try looking up "weather" and "climate" in a dictionary, and note the difference before you endorse this drivel? But hey, a hack author of science fiction knows a lot more about the topic than people who actually, you know, study the subject as their life's work.
Then later follows up with:
Crichton is a NOVELIST, fool. Do you get your information on the tax code from John Updike?

This comment reminds me of one of my favorite authors: Roald Dahl; I have forgotten how many times I have read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
After his infant son's accident, he worked with Stanley Wade, a hydraulic engineer friend of his, and his son's neurosurgeon, Kenneth Till, to develop a better and cheaper shunt for children with hydroencephalitis. In the Wade-Dahl-Till (WDT) valve, the mechanism took the form of two metal discs, one set in a restrictive housing at each end of a short length of silicone rubber tubing. Movement of fluid under pressure from above moved each disc to an open position, but any pressure from below pushed the discs back and prevented retrograde flow. Once it was patented and approved in 1962, they released it to the world and many people still have it in their heads today. Now this is truly a case of someone going way beyond their sphere of learning.

Checking through Crichton's biography I came upon some interesting tidbits: he graduated from Harvard Medical School...okay, so this might indicate some grasp of science, and that he is not just 'merely' a novelist [probably also helps when he wants to pen something for his series ER]. What else? He also ran a company which developed software for motion pictures...which earned him an Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Technical Achievement Award in 1995. Okay, so I guess he has some grasp on computer sciences, too. Let me see...what else? Oh, he also spent one year as a post-doctoral fellow at the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences, La Jolla, California from 1969-1970 and was a Visiting Writer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1988. Yes....that's know the place where all those really smart scientists work.

So you know what? It's not totally inconceivable that Crichton actually might have some sort of grasp on the whole junk science thing.

The commentator's statement is very narrowminded. He represents that portion of society which believes people can only be one thing, and have no business giving their two cents anywhere outside of that sphere. Basically, he is telling us to shut up and know our places.


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