Friday, August 12, 2005
Homo sapiens has been around for maybe 50,000 years, but most of
what we've learned about our universe, from how big it is to how
small its pieces are, has been learned in the span of a single
human lifetime. What made it possible was the development of a
scientific culture that is open and conditional. The effect of
homo sapiens on Earth's climate is perhaps the most complicated
problem humans have tackled, and conceivably the most important.
The system is working. We have a consensus on warming; disputes
remain only over the details. One detail was records that were
interpreted by a group at the U. Alabama in Huntsville as showing
that the troposphere had not warmed in two decades and the
tropics had cooled. However, three papers in Science this week
report errors in the Alabama-Huntsville calculations. It seems
that warming of the troposphere agrees with surface measurements
and recent computer predictions. The group at Alabama-Huntsville
concedes the error, but says the effect is not that large.
That's the way it's supposed to work. It's a textbook example of
science in the process of resolving a very complicated problem.
Earlier this year, WN asked a rhetorical question, "Is ABC News
nuts?" (WN 11 Feb 05). There
is new information. Last night, ABC Evening News took viewers to
the Museum of Earth History in Eureka Springs, Ark. Disputes are
different in the Bible world. Genesis says a pair of every kind
of air-breathing animal was taken on board Noah's Ark and in a
world that's only 10,000 years old, that must include dinosaurs.
Or it may be that the reporter, Jake Tapper, went to school in
Kansas. "Religious views of creat
ion that challenge accepted science are gaining support across
the country," he told viewers, "The Kansas Board of Education
this week tentatively endorsed new standards allowing more
criticism of evolution in explaining the origins of life." As
further proof, ABC showed President Bush delivering his
"intelligent design should be taught in schools" remarks. To
balance the President, science had AAAS CEO Alan Leshner, "I have
no problem with people talking about religion as religion or
belief as belief." Hmmm. "It's dangerous to talk about
religious belief as if it were science." So what was ABC's
conclusion? "Science is increasingly on the defensive."
The journey will take seven months, and it will remain in Mars
orbit four years, sending back information on weather, climate
and geology. It's not likely to find a reason to send humans.
An electrical engineer and senior editor of Aviation Week, Klass
offered a $10,000 prize for solid scientific evidence of visits
by extraterrestrials. He himself never uttered a word he could
not back up. His health had been failing for several years, but
there was still fire in his words.