“Last week, the Department of Education reported that science aptitude among 12th-graders has declined across the last decade.” Anthony Bradley explores some of the root causes for why science education continues to falter in schools across the country. Bradley asserts that the typical American now views education as a means for a comfortable lifestyle rather than a means to knowledge about the world. The purpose of education, instead of producing knowledge and insight into the workings of nature and society, is now to teach everything you need to know in order to enter the work-force. The results of this distortion of the purpose of education is the decline of interest in less “practical” fields including science.
I have to admit I was skeptical myself of Gregg Easterbrook’s self-proclaimed “long record of opposing alarmism” regarding global warming. To be sure, a bit of my own research showed that Mr. Easterbrook has long opposed alarmism, just not of the global warming variety.
In this June 2003 Wired magazine article, “We’re All Gonna Die!,” Easterbrook debunks a number of apocalyptic myths, including the dangers of germ warfare, runaway nanobots, supervolcanoes, and shifting magnetic poles. He does include “Sudden climate change!” (#9) as a myth, but in this Easterbrook doesn’t disagree with the many scientists supporting the notion of manmade climate change. Such scientists were among the first to decry the alarmism of The Day After Tomorrow and the attribution of increase in strength and quantity of hurricanes to global warming, for example.
To the question, “Could an abrupt climate change really happen?,” the Pew Center on Global Climate Change answers, “Scientists have just begun to study the possibility of an abrupt climate change. But when scientists talk about abrupt climate change, they mean climate change that occurs over decades, rather than centuries. It’s too soon to know for certain whether abrupt climate change could occur, but if it does, it’s not expected to happen within the next several decades.”
In this article Easterbrook is really addressing the idea that a sudden climate flip “could happen as rapidly as over the course of a few years.” He himself acknowledges that “it’s reasonable to expect that global temperatures will get warmer, owing at least in part to artificial greenhouse gases.” That doesn’t sound like a skeptic to me, and that’s from a piece written almost three years ago.
If Easterbrook was a skeptic regarding climate change on a relatively lengthy time scale, then he was a rather private one on this point. The Commons Blog has picked up and expanded on this skepticism regarding Easterbrook’s supposedly “long record.”
According to published reports, market mechanisms, and specifically competition, are accomplishing what many decriers of the “digital divide” have long contended only big government could do. The AP, via LiveScience.com, reports, “Middle- and working-class Americans signed up for high-speed Internet access in record numbers in the past year, apparently lured by a price war among phone companies.”
The study, provided by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, found that broadband subscription “increased 40 percent in households making less than $30,000 a year. Among blacks, it increased 121 percent.” The “digital divide” is beginning to close, as market forces help divergences in broadband access to collide: “Among the $30,000-$50,000 households, 43 percent now have broadband, compared to 68 percent for those making more than $75,000.”
This has been accomplished despite the barriers to competition that have traditionally existed. In many areas, including my own, only one cable company offers its services in a particular area. This means that the competition is coming not only from within a single form of telecom service, but also from among various methods of delivery, such as DSL, cable internet, and satellite/wireless.
The Pew study also references the dominance of higher wage earners, particularly among whites, who are responsible for the majority of user uploaded content to the Web. This points to a fundamental truth about the creation of wealth and technological innovation: it allows for leisure and productive activity that otherwise would be spent simply laboring. Filming, editing, and uploading digital videos, for instance, is a time and labor-intensive activity, and one that can only be undertaken by someone with the time away from work and luxury to afford both the necessary time and equipment.
But these recent developments point to the potential for a digital collide, in which internet access and the leisure time necessary to take advantage of the Web become a reality for more and more Americans. And these trends point to a measure of this already becoming manifest, as people who don’t have time or energy to surf the Web, for example, are unlikely to voluntarily pay for broadband access. In this way, the digital collide is the result of increasing wealth and prosperity across the economic classes of American society.
I have argued on this site that the last thing America needs is European style government-by-demonstration, and that the massive street demostrations over illegal immigration perhaps were a sign of the Left’s intention to import exactly that style of guerilla theater politics into America. Now Mexico seems poised to illustrate that point: the free market candidate for president is leading the pack. According to the WSJ, but the two leftist parties are threatening to disrupt society and dispute the election if he wins:
On July 2 Mexico will hold the most closely contested presidential election in its history. That in itself wouldn’t be a problem if all the candidates were committed to the democratic process. But in recent weeks two of the three main campaigns have jointly pledged to challenge election results in the streets with massive unrest if their candidates don’t win. If that happens, Mexico will be thrown into chaos and Mexicans will be the losers.
A poll by Zogby International last week gave Felipe Calderón a five percentage point lead over Andrés Manuel López Obrador and 12 points over Roberto Madrazo.
That’s good news for Mexico. Mr. Calderón of the National Action Party offers the best chance to deepen the market-oriented economic reforms necessary for strong growth and job creation and to ease the exodus of Mexicans abroad. Mr. López Obrador of the hard-left Revolutionary Democratic Party, on the other hand, would return the country to nationalist populism and a closed economy. Mr. Madrazo of the Institutional Revolutionary Party is marketing a mixture of both, publicly siding with the left while privately pledging support for centrist reforms.
Yet even if Mr. Calderón can hold the lead, Mexico may be heading for trouble. The PRD and the PRI have announced that they are forming a united front to reject the election results if neither one wins….
This situation would weaken the country’s institutions, raise uncertainty and fears of anarchy, with potentially serious financial instability and economic disarray. Emigration would mushroom. The long awaited Mexican miracle of fast growth and job creation — stemming migratory outflows — would be lost for at least another six years, if not for much longer.
This would be a disaster for the entire hemisphere. Americans can only hope and pray that Calderon wins by a wide margin. As Hugh Hewitt is wont to say, "If it ain’t close, they can’t cheat." Let’s hope it isn’t close.
In a recent interview with Giant magazine (June/July 2006, “Citizen Gore,” p. 56-57, text available here) about his new movie “An Inconvenient Truth,” former Vice President Al Gore answered a few questions. When asked what he would say to President Bush about climate change if he could:
I’d say that this climate crisis is really a planetary emergency, and that he ought to take it out of politics altogether. The civil rights issue really took hold when Dr. King defined it as a moral and spiritual issue, and this crisis must be redefined as a moral and spiritual issue because it involves who we are as human beings. Do we care about our children and grandchildren? Are we content to just look the other way when 100 years of science overwhelmingly points to the destruction our current pattern is causing? Most people, when they finally open their eyes and look at the truth of this, say, “We’ve got to change.” To make it a political issue is wrong and the current White House is doing that.
Of course, Mr. Gore’s campaign to popularize his message about global warming has everything to do with turning this into a political issue. This goes a long way in explaining what Heather Wilhelm calls a “strange bedfellows” phenomenon. When Ms. Wilhelm asks NAE Vice President for Governmental Affairs Richard Cizik about whether “evangelicals concerned that they’re putting too much faith in government,” he responds, “You know, I don’t hear that very often. I don’t think that’s a huge concern among most people. I think they’re enthusiastic about the progress we’re making.” Those evangelicals who have been “converted” to the global warming cause are providing that veneer of moral authority, which helps make this into more than a “political issue.”
When asked why some people still won’t accept the scientific evidence, Gore replies:
A lot of people don’t want to accept the truth so that they won’t have to take on board its moral imperatives. You may already know this, but there is an interesting way that the Chinese write the word crisis. They use two characters side by side, but the first character standing by itself means danger, and the second character by itself means opportunity. When you put them together, they mean crisis. In English, crisis means a sense of alarm or danger, but it doesn’t automatically communicate a sense that in danger there is always a sense of opportunity. I try to make a point when I talk about global warming that there really is a lot of opportunity. There will be new jobs, new technology, new improvements in our lives, and more importantly, there will be an opportunity to have a shared moral purpose. We would be able to speak to our grandchildren and tell them we did something on their behalf that was tough but we found a way to accomplish it.
Victor H. Mair, professor of Chinese language and literature at the University of Pennsylvania, explodes the myth about the Chinese words for danger, opportunity, and crisis. But that may not be the only fiction that Mr. Gore is peddling in this interview.
Since Mr. Gore is engaging economic concerns to buttress his argument, let’s have a look. His basic economic argument is that political intervention into energy policy, specifically with regard to climate change, will have positive economic benefits, because of the opportunities provided by new research and technology. This is the same basic argument that Andy Crouch makes in a Christianity Today piece. It’s somewhat ironic that one of the major economic arguments against radically preemptive action against climate change is that of opportunity cost. This is a point made by Vernon L. Smith, a Nobel laureate and professor of economics and law at George Mason University. He speaks of a “rule of optimality,” and argues:
If we ignore this rule of optimality and begin abatement now for damages caused by emissions after 100 years, we leave our descendants with fewer resources – 100 years of return on the abatement costs not incurred – to devote to subsequent damage control. The critical oversight here is the failure to respect opportunity cost. Each generation must be responsible for the future effect of that generation’s emission damage. Earlier generations have the responsibility of leaving subsequent generations a capital stock that has not been diminished by incurring premature abatement costs.
The government could create “new” jobs by having people dig holes and fill them in again. The mere creation of jobs is an ambiguous phenomena. We have to ask whether these new jobs contribute something greater to the common good of society.
Mr. Gore and Rev. Cizik emphasize the moral and especially religious aspects of environmental stewardship, and in this they are right. And a basic element of Christian morality is a commitment to the truth. Rev. Cizik contends, “For those of us who oppose the hegemony of the naturalistic worldview, we should strongly consider spending less time debating one another over who is right about climate change and collaborate together to conquer the real enemy.” But who is right about climate change is of the utmost importance!
Gore is right (and Rev. Cizik is wrong) in recognizing that the truth about the reality, cause, and solution regarding global warming has a foundational significance for the shape of the debate. It’s not just about Christians versus naturalists. But Rev. Cizik is right in this sense: the truth about global warming should not obscure our commitment to the One who is Truth.
Seven years after the United Nations assumed control of the Serb province of Kosovo, talks are underway about its future. Orthodox Church leaders for the minority Serb population, which has been subject to attacks for years by Muslim extremists, are hoping to forestall mounting pressure to establish an independent state. Is the Church headed for extinction in Kosovo?
The researchers report that "latent heat loss from the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean was less in late spring and early summer 2005 than preceding years due to anomalously weak trade winds associated with weaker sea level pressure," which "resulted in anomalously high sea surface temperatures" that "contributed to earlier and more intense hurricanes in 2005." However, they go on to note that "these conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean during 2004 and 2005 were not unprecedented and were equally favorable during the active hurricane seasons of 1958, 1969, 1980, 1995 and 1998." In addition, they say "there is not a clear link between the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation [of temperature] or the long term trend [of temperature] and individual active hurricane years, confirming the importance of other factors in hurricane formation."
CO2 Science concludes "the 2005 hurricane season was not as unique as many people have made it out to be, and that there is no compelling reason to ascribe whatever degree of uniqueness it may have possessed to recent global warming."
This isn’t news. USA Today, quoted at the US Senate’s Environment and Public Works page:
USA Today reviewed what several scientists and economists have said recently about hurricanes and hurricane intensity, and the overwhelming majority believe there is no link. In fact, the only opinion in its story favoring a link between global warming and hurricane intensity was that of a Wesleyan economics professor, Gary Yohe – not a climate scientist. Every scientist quoted disregarded any link.
Scientists like William Gray of the Tropical Meteorology Project at Colorado State University, Robert Sheets, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami from 1987 to 1995, and Christopher Landsea, a researcher meteorologist in the hurricane research division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
MP Scott Brison is being tagged in the Edmonton Sun as two-faced over Kyoto in his attacks on Canada’s new environment minister. And so it goes.
There are reasonable concerns over CO2 pollution, and there should be interest in responding to climate changes as they occur, naturally or otherwise. But wielding Katrina and global warming as a political tool will eventually backfire on climate change advocates, and is likely to be counterproductive to getting man-made CO2 emissions rolled back.
[Originally posted at The Evangelical Ecologist on 5/24/2006.]
A couple years ago I wrote a commentary that didn’t exactly defend outsourcing, but did recognize its benefits and argued that it could be done morally if done correctly. I won’t pretend that my writing is read widely enough to generate voluminous responses of any sort, but that piece did elicit a significant number of responses, many of them negative. Several correspondents, who had no personal connection to me, ostensibly knew a great deal about me, including my salary and the type of vehicle I owned. The salary estimate was high by about 250 percent. The car model guess was closer: I’ve never owned a Lexus but I did drive a Lincoln at the time (ten years old, it cost me $3500).
All this by way of introducing an interesting piece by Martin Davis on NRO today. The source of the rancor from some of my outsourcing critics was the assumption that my job as an academic was “safe” and that I, therefore, had the luxury of looking at the issue from a position insulated from the competition that beleaguered manufacturing and tech workers confronted. As I thought at the time, it’s shortsighted to think of any kind of job as “safe.” After all, who would have thought 20 years ago that American computer programmers would be threatened by the advances of Indian tech workers?
As Davis’s article suggests, it turns out that education jobs are vulnerable to foreign competition as well (when not artificially protected, of course). And yet, my view of outsourcing remains unchanged. Good thing I don’t have payments to make on a Lexus.
Steve Wozniak, famed inventor of Apple I, Apple II, and the original Apple software, has a new autobiography coming out. Here is a snippet from a Businessweek interview where he gives a nice, Actony take on creativity and education.
Are there larger lessons that you have drawn about creativity and innovation?
That schools close us off from creative development. They do it because education has to be provided to everyone, and that means that government has to provide it, and that’s the problem.
An interesting followup: according to a 2002 Census report, 76% of American business owners do not have a college degree, (24% have a high school equivalent or less).
I am certainly not anti-education, but the point is this: there is something other than education that drives people to create. We must begin (again) instilling in our children the old-fashioned-American-ingenuity-Do-It-Yourself mentality, the kind of thinking that encourages entrepreneurialism and creativity. These sorts of people are the ones who make huge differences in the lives of everyone (i.e. personal computers).
This Live Science article, “How Children Learn About God and Science,” by Robert Roy Britt, summarizes a new survey of scientific studies about the way children learn. It seems that an interesting conclusion has surfaced from these studies: “Among things they can’t see, from germs to God, children seem to be more confident in the information they get about invisible scientific objects than about things in the spiritual realm.”
There’s no conclusive explanation for why this is the case, but there are plenty of speculative options. Let me add my own theological proposition: as fallen human beings, our noetic apparatus for the perception of spiritual realities is naturally impaired. There’s a problem here both of intellect and will, although the greatest determining factor may well indeed be that of willful ignorance. In Calvin’s words,
Bright, however, as is the manifestation which God gives both of himself and his immortal kingdom in the mirror of his works, so great is our stupidity, so dull are we in regard to these bright manifestations, that we derive no benefit from them. For in regard to the fabric and admirable arrangement of the universe, how few of us are there who, in lifting our eyes to the heavens, or looking abroad on the various regions of the earth, ever think of the Creator? Do we not rather overlook Him, and sluggishly content ourselves with a view of his works? And then in regard to supernatural events, though these are occurring every day, how few are there who ascribe them to the ruling providence of God—how many who imagine that they are casual results produced by the blind evolutions of the wheel of chance? Even when under the guidance and direction of these events, we are in a manner forced to the contemplation of God (a circumstance which all must occasionally experience), and are thus led to form some impressions of Deity, we immediately fly off to carnal dreams and depraved fictions, and so by our vanity corrupt heavenly truth. This far, indeed, we differ from each other, in that every one appropriates to himself some peculiar error; but we are all alike in this, that we substitute monstrous fictions for the one living and true God—a disease not confined to obtuse and vulgar minds, but affecting the noblest, and those who, in other respects, are singularly acute (Institutes, 1.5.11).
He goes on to note that it is only in faith that we can come to true and saving knowledge of God: “In vain for us, therefore, does Creation exhibit so many bright lamps lighted up to show forth the glory of its Author. Though they beam upon us from every quarter, they are altogether insufficient of themselves to lead us into the right path. Some sparks, undoubtedly, they do throw out; but these are quenched before they can give forth a brighter effulgence. Wherefore, the apostle, in the very place where he says that the worlds are images of invisible things, adds that it is by faith we understand that they were framed by the word of God (Heb. 11:3); thereby intimating that the invisible Godhead is indeed represented by such displays, but that we have no eyes to perceive it until they are enlightened through faith by internal revelation from God” (Institutes, 1.5.14). It is entirely understandable, therefore, why human beings in such a state would feel less certain about spiritual and divine realities.
This does not necessarily determine, however, whether Christian faith is objectively less warranted than belief in the invisible conclusions of the empirical world. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “Faith alone is certainty; everything outside of faith is subject to doubt. Jesus Christ alone is the certainty of faith. I believe the Lord Jesus Christ who tells me that my life is justified. So there is no way toward the justification of my life other than faith alone.” But indeed, the reality of the fall into sin does give us some reason to expect a relatively less sure subjective sense of certainty, also known as doubt. (See also John 20:29, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”)
Even more reason, therefore, to take seriously the apostolic dictum to care for the education of our children in the truth of spiritual realities, that is, to “bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4 NIV).