Hi, I’m Rob. I’m a Science Denier

I’m not entering a 12-Step program for science denial, but I feel that way.

I’m a “facts” person. My natural inclination to go with the data is so strong, I don’t understand when others don’t. “If I give them the facts, they’ll agree with me” is so…logical.

Shortly after I decided to bring the UnSpace blog back, I wrote a post on Facebook with a series of statements. One respondent commented that there were no “facts” anywhere to back up what I said. I posted a point-by-point rebuttal. In researching the rebuttal, I avoided Snopes and tried to use conservative sources like Fox News and the Daily Mail1. I also included video whenever possible. The “respondent” replied that they didn’t believe any news sources and that they had their own special personal sources of information on Benghazi and what the Russians are doing and many, many other “special” things.

Well, that person got blocked pretty quickly. What would the point of further discussion be? I wish I’d gotten a screen capture, but I blocked them too quickly. Oh well.

The irony of the interaction struck me, though. Psychologists have known for years that facts alone won’t change peoples’ minds. If someone’s identity and world view contradicts the facts, more facts will harden their beliefs. Simple fact dumps don’t work.

I know that. If asked, I will tell you all about it. But when someone questions something, I dump facts. I’ll even pull out the math, which probably shuts down people who agree with me. My brain doesn’t “get” the idea that facts might make things worse. How could facts make things work? I love facts! I absorb them like a sponge! I’d sing Data’s “Lifeforms” song right now if “facts” weren’t only one syllable. I know fact dumps don’t work, but my actions deny the facts.

A couple years ago, I tried to take a class called “Making Sense of Climate Denial.” It was a free online class and…I just didn’t get it. I read the words, but the way my brain works, I…I couldn’t connect. I’m not sure I really understood. I gave up. I gave up pretty quickly.

If I’m going to restart this blog, I need to understand that facts alone are not enough. If someone is in denial, I need to approach them in a way that makes things better…not worse. I need to accept the facts aren’t everything.

So I signed up for the 7 week course again and, to make sure I stuck with it, I paid $49 to take the class for a certificate of completion. If I don’t complete the class with at least a 70%, I wasted the $49. It’s surprisingly strong motivation for me.

I suspect the class will generate blog posts, so there’s that. Or…maybe I just dump my homework into blog posts. Either way, it’s going to be interesting.

  1. Shudder []

Why Would You Drain a Swamp?

Biologists think of swamps (and other wetlands) as wonderful places.1

Swamps control runoff from rain. Here in Pittsburgh, we’re actually working at constructing artificial swamps and wetlands. These swamplets will be far cheaper than the non-biological catch basins that were proposed. In a town focusing on tourism related to our riverlife, eliminating sewage discharge is a must.

Swamps purify water. The plants and microorganisms break down toxins, collect silt, and remove heavy metals from the water. Swamps purify water better than modern water treatment plants–and often cheaper as well.

Swamps protect against hurricanes. Besides acting as a buffer zone between human habitation and the ocean, swamps and other wetlands tend to rapidly suck energy out of hurricanes. Much of the increased hurricane damage costs is attributable to wetland destruction.

Swamps have great biodiversity. That means the environment people depend on for their survival is made stronger. Biodiversity means the web of interactions between organisms are complex–a great place to go “bioprospecting.” Very often, nature has already solved chemistry and biology questions of use to humans. Antibiotics and many drugs are modified versions of biological compounds. Enzymes catalyze reactions, requiring less energy and produce purer products. Swamps and wetlands hold new antibiotics and chemical pathways that, if we don’t kill them off, we might find and make money off of!

“Draining the swamp” is such a strange metaphor. If someone says that they are “draining the swamp,” they are actually saying they’re going to make the problems worse, make solutions harder, and endanger society.

I would be suspicious of that person. Maybe they just don’t know much about swamps.

Or maybe they do, and they’re hoping you don’t.

  1. WWF: The Value of Wetlands []

They Brought the Penguins Inside…and I Want to Cry

The National Aviary in Pittsburgh brought the African penguins in from their outdoor exhibit because the weather is too cold.

Normally, that would make me laugh.

But I looked up where African penguins live. They’re from around the part of Africa closest to Antarctica. The weather gets as bad—or even worse—than Pittsburgh.

In the wild, the penguins would ride out that cold. A few, mostly the weak and sick, might die. As Steve Irwin used to say, “That’s nature’s way.”

But at the beginning of the 19th century, nature had about 4 million African penguins. Since then, the numbers have been plunging. There are only 55,000 African penguins left in the wild. At the rate it’s going, there won’t be any African penguins living free in 15 years.

The National Aviary wants to take special care of their African penguins, not only because they want to do their best for the animals, but because zoos are the last realistic hope for their species.

Careful records are kept on the family history of the penguins. They do this to maximize the genetic diversity of the species. Some of the birds are over-represented in the world captive population and aren’t permitted to breed. They are traded between zoos to ensure genetic diversity.

And they’re brought in when it’s too cold.

Because of habitat loss and pollution and even global warming, it’s unlikely that the African penguins will ever be reintroduced if they go extinct in the wild. Reclaiming habitat from industry and beach houses and toxic spills is rare. There’s only so much money for reintroduction, and there are species that might be better to spend that limited money on.

The only examples of these beautiful African penguins will be in zoos. And we’ll bring them inside when it gets too cold, because we don’t dare lose one of these remaining few.

Waiting for Part 2? It’s Going To Be a While

I’m creating some graphics for Part 2 of the series on “The Problems with Computer Models.” If I’d thought things through, I would have written the series and begun publishing them, but I didn’t. I’d forgotten about the delays that artwork and research can create in multi-part series. I am working on it as well as working on the interface for the UnSpace website. In the meantime, I’ve been posting articles that I hope are still interesting.

I might need to invest in some graphing software. Creating graphs in the Adobe Publishing Suite is possible but awkward. Maybe I should put up a tip jar…