The opinions expressed here are well-reasoned and insightful -- needless to say they are not the opinions of my employers

16 December 2009

Who can believe a scientist?

Dave Petley already wrote about Richard Alley's talk on climate feedbacks; aside from reiterating his call for everyone to go to the archive and watch the webcast, I have nothing to add except that I wish I could tell a story half as well as Richard...

I also attended Leo Hinzman's lecture on arctic hydrology and permafrost response to climate change, and an education session this morning on climate literacy and communication with the public. I think it was Steve Newton from the National Center for Science Education, giving a talk entitled Creationism and Climate Change, that threw me over the edge.

OK, I admit it -- I saw 2012. My story (and I'm sticking to it) is that I had several students in my intro astronomy class (and one or two in my geology classes) ask me the "plausibility" question. I told them that there were several factual elements in the movie: people in the United States do, in fact, speak a form of the english language; there are places in the United States called California and Yellowstone National Park (though they seem to be a lot closer together in the movie than in real life -- I would take all of my classes to Yellowstone if the trip out-and-back were as short as it is for John Cusack and his kids); and geologists are, in fact, heroic figures everyone should look up to.

But, I assure them, everything else you see in this movie is fantasy: the idea that the Mayans predicted the end of the world, that neutrinos could evolve into anything other than different types of neutrinos, that a tsunami generated even by a magnitude 9 earthquake could swamp a ship in the middle of the ocean, or that a tsunami generated by any earthquake could swamp the Himalayan plateau. But now all of that seems incredibly plausible to me compared with the biggest fantasy the movie throws at us: that a single scientist (or a few scientists) could come to the world's leaders with news of an impending environmental disaster and the leaders respond with focus and determination. OK, with focus and determination to save themselves and their rich benefactors, but there was not one call for additional study, or an ad hominem attack on the scientists, or lobbying campaign suggesting that the end of the world was "just a theory," etc...

Roland Emmerich has digitally destroyed cities across America (OK, mostly LA, New York and DC) and the world in Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012. But his greatest CGI sleight of hand is creating worlds where people listen to warnings from scientists...

1 comment:

Daily Poops said...

Scientists and Politicians are similar and it is hard to believe everything they say. Things are hidden.

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