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Saturday, March 1, 2014

[Review] Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future, by Donald R. Prothero

I've recently finished this book, and found it extremely helpful in understanding the process and evolution of antiscience. Yes, even creationism evolves, as does any antiscience movement, but the tactics and strategies have the same objectives: to cast doubt on established science for vested interests, emotions, ideology, and personal gain.

O  On to the review!

As a skeptic, I've an interest in pseudoscientific claims in general, and in those of it's evil clone from an alternate universe of anti-reality, science and history denialism.

Why the concern? Because denial of scientific facts that gets expressed as public policy is dangerous, especially in the case of modern medicine rejection, or denial of and inaction on environmental hazards.

Reality Check goes in-depth into antiscience in general, as well as specific varieties of science-rejection.

Prothero's book begins a discussion of antiscience, its strategies and its tactics, moving to a description of science and it's fundamental importance in our modern world, insights into its process and thinking, and then an expose of scientists who've betrayed professional integrity as paid shills of those with a vested interest in attacking science on financial and political grounds.

 Next are the antiscience movements involved in discrediting concern for and action on environmental hazards, anthropogenic climate change, followed by the problems, rampant here in the United States of creationism, intelligent design, and evolution denial in general, and their well-funded connection with fundamentalist religion and business interests.

 Also dealt with in some detail is denial of modern medical science, as with the dangers of AIDS denial, anti-vaccination hysteria, and the rejection of evidence-based medicine through unproven and disproven 'alternative' treatments, themselves often quite invasive and dangerous.

It then moves to astrology, peak oil denialism and it's promotion by scientifically naive economists, and lastly to the threat of overpopulation on a world with finite resources and rapidly increasing human demands.

Finally, there is a warning of how science denial in a world depending utterly on science and technology poses a threat to our very survival as a species -- Oh, sure, the planet and its life may survive in some form, but likely without us if we favor denial over skepticism, and ideology or emotion over facts.

The Author Online: Donald Prothero

"Donald R. Prothero is a Professor of Geology at Occidental College and Lecturer in Geobiology at the California Institute of Technology. He teaches Physical and Historical Geology, Sedimentary Geology, and Paleontology. His specialties are mammalian paleontology and magnetic stratigraphy of the Cenozoic. His current research focuses on the dating of the climatic changes that occurred between 30 and 40 million years ago, using the technique of magnetic stratigraphy...." see full text at http://www.donaldprothero.com/

 Donald Prothero on Wikipedia

 Donald Prothero on Skepticblog

Donald Prothero's Amazon.com page
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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Fiction: A Most Unusual Finding Indeed: Part III

On the final leg of our journey from our expedition, we settle into orbit around the Damendas system's mainworld, used for an orbital military installation for the Exarchate and a munitions testing ground, the perfect place to take our findings.

We've discovered ways to better handle the relics, these 'hypershards' as Ranan calls them, and to access their control systems, using brain-machine interfaces.

Ranan.

He's...highly capable...in our more intimate moments, hardly the stuffy academic I first thought him to be. Our relationship has become our little secret, as it would be ethically unacceptable in University circles. But secret it must remain. I've already been forced to duel a fellow student, Embael Maaga for threatening to report us, 'accidentally' putting her into a coma with a well-placed blow before she could go public with what she found out. That rabid bloodferret had it coming anyway!

I must make sure I show more discretion in future nightly encounters... At least my honor remains unsullied for the time being.

It turned out to be fortuitous, for Embael's comatose brain proved the perfect interface with the relics after we ran a few tests. Or so we thought. The hypershards ghostly quasi-matter will with little resistance pass through flesh and bone into the brain itself, and we are able to set up a means of controlling the relics remotely, sending signals into a 'shard which then controls the brain, which then accesses the 'shard's functions.

Like weaponry. Whatever these things were meant to do, they make powerful weapons, as we suspected the day we found them. They have incredible defensive and offensive systems, and would be perfectly suited for a new breed of elite soldiers.

"Emisse maatan porangas, Embael Maaga" -- "Embael Maaga, in service even in endless sleep"
About an hour into testing, poor Embael's brain had burned out from apparent sensory overload and a power surge caused by a faulty connection in brain wiring.

Dead because her brain wasn't so perfect after all... Oh well. At least she still proved useful.
There must be something maddening about getting raw sensory data along ten or more spacetime axes, even in a permanent dreaming state.

Surely there's a solution...

Our time at the outpost, Warstation 43758, has still been productive, and we've learned much of the relics. While we were together last night, I ran the idea past Ranan of using aliens for the 'shard receptacles, other species of humans, specifically a new daughter species we've discovered on Sacred Terra.

A nascent species, on the Motherworld of us All, with just the right brain architecture to handle the relic's input and energy levels without burning out, according to computer models. There are only three we've found and identified, all of them relatively young, and all unaware of their status.

We call them 'Wavetouched,' and they are special indeed, for they are what the Terrans may yet evolve into. Not that silly 'ladder of evolution' fallacy, just a new sidebranch on the tree of human descent, which may or may not supplant their parent species in time.

They have potential...the potential to become gods...gods of Terra. They must be watched...watched and controlled.

I must close this journal file. Ranan is on his way to see me, he says for something *special* tonight.

No one must see what I've recorded.

[quantum file encryption complete: eyes-only log saved as ordered]

To be continued...

Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Quote

Friday, February 7, 2014

Fiction: A Most Unusual find Indeed: Part II

“Samdru, what’s that?” Our team leader, Instructor First Rank Ranan Dumogga Batar, gestured to a display of an odd reading taken from the ground beneath our feet. Odd, for we had just scanned this area before landing, no signs of anything worth looking at below ground but our finding.

Just moments ago, we dispatched courier drones to a Kai’Siri outpost in the next system following the funeral of our friend and teammate young Khamudraht Vaasa, dead on his twentieth birthday, or so we thought… Seemingly destroyed, caught in a flash of Dunar radiation with no apparent remains, not even ashes to spread across the stars in mourning.

 Ignoring the Instructor’s casual and improper use of my dimunitive, I look where he points, at a display showing an odd formation six meters below us — Fossils? Odd. Why didn’t they show up before? — The more I look, the stranger things get. That’s a human skeleton, in strata indicated at over 50 million years of age. That’s impossible, as our earliest human ancestors were transplanted from Sacred Terra only 200,000 years ago.

 What on Sirug’s majestic glaciers is a human skeleton doing here at that date?? I get a chill down my spine as I look, and punch in a command to the ground scanner. I have a bad feeling about what I’ll find, perhaps just my grief over young Khamud’s sudden death only an hour ago, but I must find out. I order the scanner to match biometric data against the members of our team. Numbers flash across the screen, and stop where I was afraid they would.

The bones are the fossilized remains of Khamudraht Vaasa, dated along with the strata now at 55 million years or so. I let that sink in. For a moment, both the Instructor First Rank and I are speechless, then after several more tests of alternative hypotheses we conclude that Khamud must have been somehow shifted in time by the relics, and suddenly killed on this landmass in the distant past before he traveled too far on foot, or perhaps displaced just under it, tens of millions of years ago. My heart sinks with despair. So young, so handsome and full of life. And now gone…I barely knew him.

Then I think of what this implies… “Instructor First Rank…” My voice quavers, “…the relics…If they can do that, they must be powerful weapons… They could be put to our service, even end the war with our enemies, end the stalemate of this conflict. We could win this!” Ranan touches my shoulder as I stare at the readings, but I ignore the familiarity, even welcome it. He ranks above me, after all, and is not an unhandsome older man. In a moment of nationalistic pride that I’d come to regret the rest of my days afterward, I whisper, “We must use them, to overwhelm the Giants and cement our place in galactic affairs!” Ranan looked on at the relics, held in their Dunar field containers, slowly rotating in and out of spacetime, to us almost as intangible as ghosts and potentially giving us the powers of the gods themselves…

He nods, and begins giving orders to the rest of our team. The others have so far been kept unawares of our plans for these relics as weapons, as we’ve convinced them that young Khamud was killed by ancient security systems. In a way, that’s true.

We haven’t told them about the fossils we found — in an oddly fortunate turn of events, our funding has permitted us only one groundscanner system, and by tradition, only the Instructor First Rank and I as his assistant researcher have full access to its data. Oh, others may use the device, but the data on Khamudraht’s multimillion-year old remains is kept quantum-encrypted as classified information, our eyes only. Only the two of us know the secret of his demise.

We oversee the loading of the relics onto the shuttle for our craft in orbit. Once docked, we set coordinates and starfold to an outpost three systems out, a frontier military base where our discoveries will be kept and studied. They are now state secrets. It is difficult to keep the true nature of the relics from the others, and they cannot help but suspect that we are doing just that. None of us are stupid, and their insistent curiosity, so much a part of their scientific outlook, is not helping with keeping things quiet.

We Kai’Siri are an aggressive lot, though our social evolution has permitted us to outstrip that and survive as an interstellar species. Still, tensions run high, and we strain even our culture’s evolved safety mechanisms at keeping relations civil.

There is resentment, and jealousy…I fear now that I was too unskilled at hiding my feelings for Khamud when he lived, nor now for the Instructor. The others have noticed, and that may bring shame upon my family line. I must take steps to ensure the secret of these relics, which Ranan has called ‘hypershards,’ even if I must eliminate others to do it.

I think a prayer to my family’s household gods that it does not come to that. We Kai’Siri are a civilized people! Please, let it not! What have I gotten into?

To be continued…