Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Science is Your Friend!

2005 was a really big year in terms of "acts of God." No, I'm not getting all religious on you. I'm talking about the wealth of natural disasters in the last...let's say 18 months, so we can include the Almighty trying to wipe Orlando off the map in 2004.

Yes, we've had a huge--no, recordbreaking--hurricane season. Last year was bad and next might be as bad or worse. Global Warming to blame? Um, no. According to Bloomberg. com, "The Atlantic Ocean is about a decade into a naturally occurring 30-year cycle of warmer-than-normal ocean temperatures and increased tropical cyclone activity that began in 1995, Stewart said. The ocean is at least 1 degree Celsius above average this year, he said.

Winds were stronger this year because there was no disruption from the west-to-east winds of an El Nino system in the Pacific Ocean -- blowing against the direction of waves in the Atlantic, he said."
[emphasis mine]

Sharply increasing global warming vs. naturally occurring 30-year cycle = not our fault

What about the tsunami? That's got to be our fault, right? It is, according to a Reuters report that came out two days after the huge wave swamped south-east Asia. "A creeping rise in sea levels tied to global warming, pollution and damage to coral reefs may make coastlines even more vulnerable to disasters like tsunamis or storms in [the] future," wrote Alister Doyle, an environmental correspondent for Reuters, who attributed the opening paragraph of the story to "experts." writes Managing Editor of David Thibault in his article Media Linking Killer Tsunami to Global Warming.

This is utter nonsense. As my fifth-grader can tell you, tsunamis are caused by underwater earthquakes. Seismic activity has nothing to do with global warming. Don't believe me? How about Daniel Sarewitz, a professor of science and society and director of the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University? As quoted on "[T]ying the tsunami and other natural disasters to human induced climatic change "is both scientifically and morally unsupportable."

Or Patrick J. Michaels at "There is plenty of quantitative evidence on sea-level rise and historical tsunamis and it all paints [this] argument in a bad light." He then refutes each part of the argument. It's a great read.

Why am I complaining about this nearly a year after the fact? Because I saw a crawl on Fox News last night that claimed "American scientists find last year's tsunami moved the sea floor 39 feet." Obviously, they mean the earthquake which caused the tsunami moved the sea floor 39 feet.

And because pseudoscience like this points to the basic lack of scientific literacy in the American public as a whole.

For example, let's take all the hype about vaccinations being bad. Yes, a very, very small number of children have a bad reaction to certain vaccinations. But the media outrage about it has led many otherwise intelligent people to not have their children vaccinated, either because they don't understand the meaning of the statistics involved or they don't understand why or how vaccinations work. And because so many children of otherwise well-meaning and intelligent parents have not been vaccinated, there is a whooping cough outbreak in our local middle and high schools.

Let me repeat that: There is a whooping cough outbreak in the school two miles from my house.

This is not some imaginary, long-dead virus in a galaxy far, far away that we're talking about. I live 100 miles from the nearest urban center in an Upper Midwest, upper-middle class, small to medium-sized town with two large hospitals, surrounded by tiny towns and farmland. If whooping cough can spread here, it can get to your children, too.

Please, please do not just accept what the media tells you about scientific issues. They are more than likely twisting facts to make the message interesting. Or they don't understand it either. Don't let them think for you.

And please, please, please vaccinate your children. Whooping cough, and those other diseases we vaccinate against, kill children. Your children and other people's children. The way to eliminate these diseases forever is for everyone to be immune. That's what vaccinations do. We can save them; we have the technology. Please use it.

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