Scientists against Trump

As a follow-up to my previous post, Biologists against Trump, I give you this:

70 Nobel Laureates Endorse Hillary Clinton

Here’s the text of the letter:

The coming Presidential election will have profound consequences for the future of our country and the world. To preserve our freedoms. protect our constitutional government and safeguard our national security. and ensure that all members of our nation will be able to work together for a better future, it is imperative that Hillary Clinton be elected as the next President of the United States. Some of the most pressing problems that the new President will face – the devastating effects of debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and cancer, the need for alternative sources of energy, and climate change and its consequences – require vigorous support for science and technology and the assurance that scientific knowledge will inform public policy. Such support is essential to this country’s economic future, its health, its security, and its prestige. Strong advocacy for science agencies, initiatives to promote innovation, and sensible immigration and education policies are crucial to the continued preeminence of the U.S. scientific work force. We need a President who will support and advance policies that will enable science and technology to flourish in our country and to provide the basis of important policy decisions. For these reasons and others. we. as U.S. Nobel Laureates concerned about the future of our nation, strongly and fully support Hillary Clinton to be the President of the United States.

Chemists, physicists, doctors, and even (gasp!) economists are all signatories to this document declaring support for Clinton in favor of, um, whoever the other person is currently running for president. Once again, naked appeal to authority? Once again, the answer is “hell, yes!” You don’t get much better authorities than these, and science matters.

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Biologists against Trump

So I’ve seen these two stories recently and they looked like great things to show your science-minded pals or associates who may, for some weird reason, still be on the fence about the 2016 presidential election (yes, this is a naked appeal to authority):

Trump’s Behavior Similar to Male Chimpanzee, Says Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall is the world’s preeminent primatologist; while this is a bit of a cheesy story, the fact that Goodall actually chose to comment on a forthcoming election shows where she’s leaning.

The ‘Father of Biodiversity’ Fears Trump and Nuclear War More Than Climate Change

“Father of Biodiversity” is the sort of moniker that the mainstream media would slap on somebody because it sounds good. It doesn’t really make any sense. However, the article does go into some detail about Wilson’s remarkable career and why he is viewed as a luminary in the field of conservation biology if not sociobiology.

While Phil Plait is not a biologist, he is a well-known science evangelist (in his words), and this post is also worth a read: To Beat Trump, Clinton Needs to Bring Science to the Debates.

People who feel that science and rational thought should be a major driver of American and global politics face a pretty clear choice at the polls in November between a person with little experience on the world stage and who doesn’t seem to believe in anything in particular if you take his numerous self-contradictory statements at face value and a person who is a serious politician with a long CV and all of the good and bad that that entails. The former has pandered to climate change denialists and anti-vaccine activists because it suits his business interests and gains some votes in the process, while the latter has taken a strong pro-science stand on many fronts. Which one do you want in charge of America?

 

 

Bigoted and isolationist rhetoric reflects a tarnished image of America

The Advocate’s editorial board has a somewhat spotty track record regarding the quality of its columns, but this one nailed it. Recent declarations by 31 governors that Syrian refugees would be denied entry to their states (under dubious legal authority) because one of the attackers in the recent Paris bombings appears to have come from Syria shows the worst and ugliest side of American politics. Sadly, while we normally only see this kind of stupidity on the elephant side of the aisle, the jackasses got in on it too, with Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and our own Democratic gubernatorial candidate adding their voices to the chorus of fear and paranoia. This follows our current governor’s letter to the president demanding more information about the handful of Syrians who have been allowed into Louisiana; it seems that, for once, our current administrator was actually ahead of the game in ramping up the scare tactics about Muslim invaders. Kudos, I guess.

Here’s the problem with all of this absurd hand-wringing: while the U.S. has long had (and continues to have) probably the most rigorous screening process for any migrants in any country in the world, the volume of immigrants fleeing persecution at the hands of ISIS in Europe means that such screening is virtually impossible. Is there a good chance that the attacker in question did indeed come to France from Syria? Yes, there is, but consider this: approximately 10,000 people pour onto the shores of the Greek isles every day trying to escape the violence and destruction in their homeland. 10,000 is the total number of people that the administration has agreed to accept in the U.S.

No other country shares America’s unique heritage of immigration and it is one of the ideals that defines us as a nation that we welcome immigrants, especially those seeking asylum from totalitarian regimes. Now Ted Cruz wants to have a religious litmus-test as a condition of entry to America. Cruz should be ashamed of himself for so many reasons, and this is just the latest of them. Our own state “leaders” should be equally ashamed for their blatant appeals, in this election season, to the very worst demons of our nature.

Something to cheer about

In what will undoubtedly be hailed in future generations as a landmark decision, The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in Obergefell v. Hodges, overturning as unconstitutional state bans on gay marriage, effectively making gay marriage legal across the country. While I’m disappointed in the fact that the decision was so close (5-4) and that the usual suspects are making their typical inflammatory comments (e.g., presidential hopeful Bobby Jindal, take your pick of random religious leaders), this is a bit of genuinely good news in a world that too often provides none. Kudos to the SCOTUS and congratulations to the gay, lesbian, and transgendered folks out there who will finally reap the benefits of equality under the law, at least in this respect. 640px-Gay_flag.svg

Why Republican science isn’t the same as regular science

Why Republican science isn’t the same as regular science

Science is a way of learning things about the world around us. Over the millennia, it’s done some pretty great things for us. It’s taught us how to control the flow of water, how to construct permanent dwellings, how to safely dispose of our own wastes (mostly), what the lights are in the sky, and that was just the beginning. In the last century-and-a-half, we’ve learned about how life evolved on this planet over the course of 4.5 billion years. In the last 50 years, we’ve learned about the greenhouse effect and how rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere, particularly as a result of human activities are wreaking havoc on the world’s climate. Over a slightly-longer interval, roughly the last 80 years, essentially one human lifetime, we’ve developed many of the medicines that treat the afflictions that plague us as a species.

Among those medicines are the vaccines that we’ve used to treat everything from measles to HPV to hepatitis to polio. Many of these diseases have been essentially eradicated from the Western world, thanks to the pervasive use of vaccines to effectively immunize populations and prevent their constituents from getting sick and dying from the illnesses. Well, that was true until recently, anyway. By now, everyone’s heard about the measles outbreak linked to Disney World in Anaheim and believed to be the result of parents refusing to vaccinate their children with the standard MMR triple vaccine according to the prescribed schedule. Vaccine denialists, people who have convinced themselves despite all evidence to the contrary, that vaccines are harmful and cause diseases, are a bipartisan group: liberals who don’t trust “big pharma” and have been duped by listening to anecdotal evidence provided by parents of people with autism spectrum disorder make for strange bedfellows with conservatives who espouse small government and “parental choice” (a phrase which, from what I can tell, pretty much means whatever you want it to mean). However, it is uniquely right-wing Republican politicians who have made bold stands against the idea of mandatory vaccination: presidential hopefuls Chris Christie and Rand Paul have made statements, which they’ve made floundering efforts to walk back to some extent, regarding the need to vaccinate children against deadly threats. Presumed Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and current president Barack Obama, on the other hand, have made unequivocal statements in favor of vaccinations for all. What are we to make of this?

As I said earlier, science is a tool that teaches us about the world around us. It’s a fact-finding construct so its insights are inherently descriptive but not prescriptive. As citizens we have to take the information science provides to us and make a simple calculus: do we accept its truth and adjust our policies accordingly or do we reject it (or cherry-pick it) in the hope of short-term gains despite what science is telling us? The far left and the far right have this in common: for different reasons, they don’t trust science or scientific consensus and are more comfortable with what their religious or alternative-medicine or celebrity authorities tell them. However, the far left is rarely represented in mainstream politics these days (despite what Rush Limbaugh would have you believe), while the far right has gotten louder and more accepted by mainstream right-wing politicians as the old GOP “big tent” seems to get ever tinier.

We are seeing tangible and concrete evidence now of the consequences of cherry-picking science. People are getting sick and dying because they don’t understand the concept of herd immunity and how everyone getting vaccinated who physically is able to be vaccinated protects the entire population of those who may be exposed to a pathogen. Or perhaps they’ve listened to Jenny McCarthy, who insists that vaccines cause autism and that she was able to use a natural remedy to “cure” her child’s autism (if you’re wondering, there is no “cure” for autism). Or maybe they just feel that mandatory vaccinations are a “government overreach,” an intrusion into their private lives and personal choices–and they don’t want Obama telling them how to raise their kids. Ultimately, there are lots of rationales for making bad decisions, but it is a peculiarly Republican trait of prominent politicians to declare their solidarity with what most normal people consider to be fringe lunatics: vaccine denialists, climate change denialists, and creationists.

Lest we forget, one of the newly-Republican-controlled Senate’s first official acts was to pass two resolutions: one that supported the idea that climate change is real and a companion piece expressing doubt that it is anthropogenic. These resolutions have no real meaning other than to give us a sense of the direction that Congress is heading on this issue: nowhere. With prominent climate-change denier James Inhofe (R-OK) now heading the Committee on the Environment and Public Works, there is little to no chance that we will see any significant action from this august body on this grave threat to humanity’s continued survival. The impact of continuing to seek out new sources of fossil fuels in lieu of seriously promoting renewable energy sources that do not boost atmospheric carbon levels won’t be seen in a few days, months, or years like the impact of lots of paranoiacs refusing to vaccinate their children, but the effects will be even more dramatic: mass extinctions, rising sea levels, melting polar sea ice, diseases and pests appearing and thriving further north than ever before are just some of the consequences of inaction that we can look forward to.

Aside from looking like a bit of a relic from the Middle Ages, there aren’t many dire repercussions for not accepting biological evolution. The array of evidence for evolutionary theory is so diverse and compelling that you pretty much have to  toss out all of science as a whole if you choose to dispute it. Nevertheless there is a certain small demographic of true believers that Republicans feel they must cater to in order to get enough votes to get elected. It’s disheartening that in the 21st century we are still standing people for the highest office in the land who reject the scientific foundations upon which our modern society is built.

This story from NPR shows how the Republican candidates in the presidential primary responded to questions about climate change and evolution in 2012. Among this entire crop of presidential wannabes, only Jon Huntsman took the controversial position that evolution and climate change are real phenomena. It seems increasingly likely that we can expect a repeat performance for 2016. While many moderate Republicans have been quick to repudiate the more bizarre and unfounded assertions made in recent weeks regarding the safety of routine vaccinations, these two touchstones of conservative Christian outrage are not so easily dismissed by those who wish to survive the crucible of Iowa and New Hampshire. And so they will try to have it both ways, like our esteemed Governor Jindal, who took a break from releasing self-aggrandizing press releases critical of the president long enough to declare his support for the science behind vaccines; this is of course, the same Jindal who has long supported the Louisiana Science Education Act, which attempts to muddy the waters in public education surrounding the topics of evolution, climate change, and, for some odd reason probably known only to his puppet masters in the Louisiana Family Forum, human cloning.

Indeed, Paul at least appears to be trying to make political hay from his irresponsible statement that he knew of “walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.” He later tweeted a picture of himself receiving a booster shot and remarked snarkily that he wondered “how the liberal media will misreport this,” implying that that eternal Republican boogeyman, the Liberal Media aka The Main Stream Media aka The Lame Stream Media, had somehow mischaracterized his own words. Paul, who loves to tout his credentials as a physician (ophthalmologist) on the campaign trail, knows damn well that his statement above was intended to imply causation not merely correlation and that the average layperson would interpret those remarks in just that way. It’s as cynical and naked a political ploy as anything I’ve seen in some time: he scores points with the vaccine denialists by throwing them a bone about autism and quickly disavows his own remarks by blaming those “misreporting” ne’er-do-wells, the Media, thereby currying favor with the more moderate elements of his party who are all for vaccines but definitely don’t trust reporters.

So all of this brings me to my point: how is Republican science different from science? Well, it’s necessarily incomplete because they hold science hostage to the interests of various factions from whom they are relying on some kind of largesse, be it votes or the money with which to buy more votes. Acceptance of anthropogenic climate change would displease the oil and gas companies that funnel billions of dollars of campaign contributions into the cesspit that is our political system. Acceptance of the fact of evolution would displease the voting bloc of archconservative Christians still convinced that a bearded man in the sky individually crafted them and brought the world into being ex nihilo 6,000 years ago. Acceptance of the fact that vaccines prevent outbreaks of highly-preventable but highly-contagious diseases. . . well, no matter what the shrill vaccine denialists screech about thimerosal and Big Pharma’s price-fixing, it’s getting harder and harder to justify that position in light of recent events.

Here’s the bombshell, once and future kings of America: science isn’t a country buffet, where you can pick what you’re comfortable with and fits with your preconceived notions or those to whom you owe some manner of allegiance. Governor Jindal, how do you think we understand that vaccines work? Use that Brown education. The answer is that we learned about the way that viruses and bacteria evolve in response to changes in their environments (yes, I said two “e” words in one sentence). I agree with one thing you said not that long ago: the Republican Party needs to stop being the “party of stupid.” Perhaps you could start leading by example. It would make a refreshing change.

 

Mid-term stupidity

They say you get the government you vote for. Or maybe the government that Americans for Prosperity pays for. I’m not quite sure how anyone can tell the difference at this point.

Well, congratulations, America. You put a Republican majority in the Senate, giving the Party of No and Fearmongering control of both houses of our bicameral legislature. In case you’ve somehow forgotten, this is what you’ve given a thumbs-up to:

1) More eboli scare-tactics (No, I’m not making “eboli” up; look up Darell Issa.)

2) More “we have to get them over there before they get us over here” scare-tactics pertaining to ISIS in Syria and Iraq (and, yes, in case you’re wondering, that means more pushing by chickenhawks to start a new ground offensive in the Middle East)

3) More meaningless attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act by the same people who brought you lies about “death panels” and skyrocketing premiums

4) More rejection of basing public policy and education on sound, well-supported science like global anthropogenic climate change and biological evolution

5) More promotion of policies based on trickle-down economics bullshit that was discredited 30 years ago when Reagan was pushing it

Here’s the government that you’ve abandoned all pretense of giving a shit about:

1) Prioritizing repairs of America’s aging transportation and utility infrastructures

2) Using #1 as a platform for promoting the growth of high-paying manufacturing, construction, and engineering jobs as opposed to seeing consistent growth of low-wage jobs in the service sector and calling that good economic news

3) Promoting sensible economic reforms to protect and preserve our natural resources

4) Reducing the burden of student loan debt, which is presently a significant drag on our economy and will be even more so in the future

On a local level, Louisiana has once again done a bang-up job of making itself look ridiculous. As a result of today’s Hunger Games, we now have this to look forward to:

1) More constitutionally-protected pieces of the budgetary pie, making hard decisions about fiscal matters even harder and likely to fall on the few chunks that lack constitutional protection (bits of health care and education, mostly)

2) Yet another race between Edwin Edwards and Generic Republican No. 37, in which many Louisianans will probably vote for Edwards because the alternative is another “toe-the-party-line” GOP congressman

3) A failed opportunity to start on the road to creating a financial infrastructure to aid local governments in paying for maintenance and repairs to our actual infrastructure

4) An extra inducement for legislators to create endless tax breaks and loopholes for corporations and special interests, aka more trickle-down BS

So, well done, electorate. Pat yourselves on the back and prepare for two more years of nonsense and non sequiturs.

Memories of Highway 27

Angie and I have been wanting to return to the place we got married, Eufaula, Alabama, for some time and the timing was right to go on the weekend after my birthday this year. Our plan was to stay at a quaint-looking bed-and-breakfast we found on the internet in Blakely, GA and visit some places that held special significance for us.

We took I-10 E for most of the journey, passing through the Mobile tunnel for the first time in quite a while, and exiting at Chipley, location of Florida’s Falling Waters State Park (known for its highly-local-precipitation-dependent waterfall), to begin the leg of the journey that would take us north back to Alabama. In Cottonwood, Alabama, we stopped at the Alabama Welcome Center on Hwy 231, where we were greeted by a giant plastic peanut and a sign declaring that the Wiregrass Area is the “peanut capital of the world.”

From Dothan, we turned northeast on Hwy 52, crossing into Georgia over the Chattahoochee River, which forms the boundary between those two states for most of their length. About an hour’s drive later, we arrived at the Willis Country Home Bed and Breakfast on Colomokee Church Road. This beautiful residence, set on 28 acres of mixed-use property just north of Blakely, is run by Eve and Wendy Willis, a friendly and engaging couple who go out of their way to make guests feel like family. It was late in the afternoon when we arrived and we spent some time getting to know our hosts in the media room before going on a snipe hunt for a local covered bridge (which we found when leaving on Sunday).

After returning from a reconnaissance trip southeast to Colquitt, we found the front of the house covered in green treefrogs. The little guys were all over the front porch area, drawn by the Willis’ sprinkler system and the outdoor lighting, which attracted numerous insects, including a large phasmatodean (walking-stick).

The next morning we returned to Colquitt, site of the Mayhaw Wildlife Management Area where I worked on a field project for Craig Guyer 15 years ago, and where Angie and I spent a lot of time together. Unfortunately, there appeared to be many more trailers located on the property since we were last there and we were unable to locate the ranger station where I spent my nights during that time. Reluctantly, as the day was growing short, we turned northwest towards Eufaula, a town we occasionally passed through on trips from Auburn to Colquitt (or vice-versa). More significantly, the seat of Barbour County is where we got married 13 years ago.

An hour’s travel took us to Eufaula, where we stopped at the courthouse aka our “wedding chapel.” Because it was a Saturday, we couldn’t go in but we took a picture outside, smiling and showing our wedding bands. Eufaula is allegedly the bass-fishing capital of the world and sits on a substantial body of fresh water known (curiously enough) as Lake Eufaula.

We turned northwest again to go to Auburn, where I formally proposed (in The Village Mall) and where Angie went to school. We weren’t able to see much of the campus because a home game was being played at the Jordan-Hare Stadium and massive crowds were present to see the Tigers-War Eagles face off against Louisiana Tech’s Bulldogs. We were amused to see that, just as at a typical LSU home game, various individuals, schools, and businesses selling parking spots close to the university. We walked through The Village and also passed The Wynnsong theater where we watched one of Angie’s favorite movies, Meet the Parents.

We returned to Blakely by the route we usually took between Colquitt and Auburn, passing through Phenix City, Alabama, and Columbus, Georgia on Hwy 27 and riding on its many hills. We stopped at the Chevron station in Cusseta, GA at the juncture of Hwy 27/Hwy 1 and Hwy 280. This was the site of many a late-night pitstop for hot chocolate between Colquitt and Auburn in my dad’s old Ford Ranger. From here, it was a straight shot south to Blakely.

That evening we had dinner with the Willises, who made a delightful feast and endearing company. Sunday morning we reluctantly turned the car westward to retrace our steps home.