Tag: science

Drought Two

“Enchanted Light | New Mexico” by Jim Crotty is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Look up in the sky! Is it a cloud? Is it rain? No, it’s Droughtman! Yes, I’m afraid our blogger is at it again. Our water watchers have raised the advisory level to 2, which stands for dry conditions and the first signs of potential water supply problems. It is the time when some water suppliers might consider asking their customers to begin voluntary water conservation. The snowpack is gone and rainfall is still well below normal, so these are wise precautions. Not for Droughtman, though. To him it’s fear-mongering. Apparently the people we pay to keep watch for us are drought-crazy and they get some kind of mysterious benefit from scaring us unnecessarily.

I think I have gleaned a clue into Droughtman’s thinking now. He points out that the big lakes haven’t dried up. It seems that, to him, as long as we can pump water out of the lakes, there’s no drought. So he defines drought, not by precipitation, but by the availability of water for our use. I guess this means that we could go ten years without rain or snow and, as long as the lakes haven’t dried up, there’s no drought.

He didn’t mention the upper elevation reservoirs, though, where we get much of our water during the dry season. These reservoirs won’t be replenished without rain and snow, but maybe Droughtman would have us fill them by pumping water out of the big lakes.


Drought Conditions

“Enchanted Light | New Mexico” by Jim Crotty is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

In my area precipitation has been below normal for the last few months. This is the time of year when we would normally expect a good part of our annual rainfall, and the appropriate authorities have been warning us of the possibility of drought. The conditions are abnormally dry. If they continue abnormally dry then the criteria for moderate or worse drought conditions will be met, hence the warning. That’s what we pay them to do. We pay people to collect the data and we pay other people to interpret it for us so we can plan accordingly.

It’s not a perfect system. It doesn’t always get everything right. Sometimes the actual amounts of precipitation will differ from the forecasts used in their projections. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s the one we use. They have to work with the available data and this year the data is saying that it’s drier than normal. It would be wrong to criticize them for employing current best practises with an abundance of caution.

We’ve had some rain in the last couple of days. We’re still below normal for the period, and there are dry, sunny days in the forecast, but a local blog operator has made a post mocking the reports warning of possible drought conditions. He thinks it’s clever to sieze on two wet days and mock the efforts of the people we pay to watch out for us. This same blogger has used a cold snap in the winter as an opportunity to say, “So much for global warming, eh?”

What are you supposed to do with people like that?


How Science is Reshaping the Race Debate

I’ve written about racism before. I think I’ve made it clear that I don’t think science can justify dividing us into “races.” The similarities among us are too great, and the differences within the “races” are also too great. As I have said, if you see races, you’re racist. Here’s a link to an article that covers the subject more thoroughly, including the admission that racists are not idiots. Not all of them, anyway. They know about the science too, and they know how to bend it to support their bias.

via How Science and Genetics are Reshaping the Race Debate of the 21st Century – The Seattle Star

Over the last decade, there have been hopes that the US has become a post-racial society, free of racial prejudice and discrimination. However, the most recent months indicate the contrary: race remains an incendiary issue. Race and racism are not new issues, but in today’s 21st century Trump-era, discussions about race are distinct from those of the past in that they possess an entirely new dimension: that of genetics and DNA.

Ancestry test kits are the new “it” item—and with their success is the tacit admission of our belief that our DNA can sort us into categories like the “five races:” African, European, Asian, Oceania, and Native American.

If separate racial or ethnic groups actually existed, we would expect to find “trademark” alleles and other genetic features that are characteristic of a single group but not present in any others. However, the 2002 Stanford study found that only 7.4% of over 4000 alleles were specific to one geographical region. Furthermore, even when region-specific alleles did appear, they only occurred in about 1% of the people from that region—hardly enough to be any kind of trademark.

In the biological and social sciences, the consensus is clear: race is a social construct, not a biological attribute.

… the broader public is not convinced of this. After all, if an Asian person looks so different from a European, how could they not be from distinct groups? Even if most scientists reject the concept of “race” as a biological concept, race exists, undeniably, as a social and political concept.

Despite the scientific consensus that humanity is more alike than unlike, the long history of racism is a somber reminder that throughout human history, a mere 0.1% of variation has been sufficient justification for committing all manner of discriminations and atrocities.

Mounting scientific evidence has shown that humans are fundamentally more similar than different from each other. Nonetheless, racism has persisted. Scientific findings are often ignored, or otherwise actively misinterpreted and misused to further racist agendas of extreme political groups.

If you’re interested in a synopsis of the current state of “race” and the science around it, follow the link to the original article.

via How Science and Genetics are Reshaping the Race Debate of the 21st Century – The Seattle Star


In Defense of Disbelief

“Vierge Marie”by leo.jeje is licensed under CC BY 2.0

How appropriate that right after Laird’s post, On Spiritual Matters, I should come across this Scientific American article discussing belief and disbelief. The author explains how he was initially indoctrinated to believe in a particular theology, found it wanting, explored other avenues and eventually concluded that, rather than finding something he could believe in, he should accept that disbelief is just as valid. Interestingly, at least for me, he included science in the avenues he explored in his search for the answers to his existential questions.

So where does this leave me, in terms of my search for answers? I’ve given up hope that science can give us a single, objectively true solution to the mind-body problem, one true for everyone. Disbelief, I’ve decided, is the only rational stance to take toward alleged solutions, whether religious or scientific.

He understands how this can be unsettling for some people.

Those who yearn for certainty about who we really are might find disbelief unsatisfying, even frightening. You have no ground on which to stand, no assurance that God or science will take care of us, that everything is going to be okay.

But it’s right for him and he thinks it could be right for others as well. It’s a good article. I recommend reading it if these questions have ever occurred to you.

via In Defense of Disbelief: An Anti-Creed – Scientific American Blog Network


Measuring Dimensions

Credit SiBr4 – CC-BY-SA

We live on a rocky ball about 12,750 kilometers through and 40,050 kilometers around its widest diameter. It has a mass of about six quadrillion megatonnes, which is so ridiculously large compared to things we’re used to that it doesn’t really mean anything to us. Our size compared to Earth’s size is roughly equivalent to the size of viruses compared to us.

That is not to imply that humans are like germs living on Earth. It just provides some perspective on where we are. To go a little further, the next level at the same ratio compares the size of the planet Earth to the size of the whole Solar System. Give or take a few billion kilometers. It’s not an analogy that can stretch forever. (Here’s a link to a video that goes from the very small to the very large – 10 minutes)

And it doesn’t imply that humans are merely an unimportant example of a repeating theme. After all, why is our size one of the levels? We could just as easily be included with all of life to fall between the very small and the very large. As in – subatomic particles – living things – planets and stars. But that’s another analogy that shouldn’t be pushed too hard.

We choose humans as a level because we’re human. We tend to look at things relative to what we’re used to, so we don’t think twice about our size being one of the steps on the ladder. Besides, it was necessary to use something familiar as a point of reference in such a wide array of dimensions.

The dimensions of the physical universe are measured by such huge numbers, both hugely big and hugely small, that they don’t convey much meaning on their own. The very large is measured in billions of light years. Light years are trillions of kilometers each. Even a single kilometer is big compared to us. The small is measured in fractions of meters, changing the numbers from positive to negative right about our size. The very smallest things are such small decimals of a meter that we don’t write them out in full, using special mathematical shorthand instead.

In all that vastness, all that range of realities and possibilities, what is most amazing is that part of it is conscious. A narrow band in the middle has produced something that can look out and try to understand the whole thing.

I think we can justify being a little self-centered.

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