The entire universe in blog form
Posted Wednesday, May 22, 2013, at 8:00 AM
Photo by NRC, modified by Phil Plait
Last week, I wrote a post saying the Canadian National Research Council (NRC)—an agency that supports and performs scientific research and development—was “selling out science,” moving from supporting basic research to concentrating on supporting industrial, business-based research. That situation is still true, and as I’ll note in a moment, still a cause for great concern. But an official of the Canadian government has contacted me to dispute elements of the story.
I quoted two men who made statements at a press conference announcing the agency’s shift in focus: Gary Goodyear, the Canadian Minister of State for Science and Technology, and John MacDougal, President of the NRC. After I posted the article, I received an email from Michele-Jamali Paquette, the director of communication for Goodyear, who said I had misquoted MacDougal and misstated the case about the agency’s shift in focus. She provided me with transcripts of the press conference as evidence.
I read the transcripts, and assuming they are accurate, let me be very clear: Yes, the literal word-for-word quotation I used was incorrect, and one point I made was technically and superficially in error. But the overall point—that this is a terrible move by the NRC and the conservative Canadian government, short-changing real science—still stands. And, in my opinion, Goodyear’s office is simply trying to spin what has become a PR problem.
First, let me clarify the quotation by MacDougal. I could not find a transcript of the press conference at the time I was writing, so I quoted the Toronto Sun, which itself quoted MacDougal as saying, “Scientific discovery is not valuable unless it has commercial value.”
Paquette told me that statement does not appear in the transcript, and she is correct. The closest line was MacDougal saying, “A new idea or discovery may in fact be interesting but it doesn’t quality [sic] as an innovation until it’s been developed into something that has commercial or societal value.”
It seems clear the Sun reporter had a transcription error in the quotation, which I then propagated on my blog. For that I apologize. But let’s look past the word-for-word quotation and listen to what MacDougal was actually saying. The NRC is shifting focus from supporting basic research on its own merits to supporting research that has direct commercial implications. And that being the case, the point in my original post still stands.
I’ll note that in her email to me, Paquette quoted my own statement:
John MacDougal, President of the NRC, literally said, “Scientific discovery is not valuable unless it has commercial value”
Paquette took exception to my use of the word “literally,” emphasizing it in her email. (The link, in both her email and my original post, goes to the Toronto Sun story with the garbled quotation.) Apparently MacDougal did not literally say that. But the objection strikes me as political spin since the meaning of what MacDougal said at the press conference is just as I said it was in my original post.
As I pointed out in my first post: Science can and should be done for its own sake. It pays off in the end, but that’s not why we do it. To wit …
In my original post I used the example of James Clerk Maxwell to show that it’s not possible to know beforehand what viable commercial applications will come from scientific research. I said that if Maxwell were to apply for funding at the NRC today, he would be “turned down flat.”
Paquette pointed out that the NRC is not a grant funding council, and that there are other organizations under the Canadian government that perform this task. That was my error, and I apologize for being imprecise in my language.
However, again, I’ll note this is something of a technicality. The NRC does perform research, funded by the government, and is shifting its focus from basic scientific work to that which is “commercially viable” (a direct quotation of MacDougal from the transcript). So yes, Maxwell would not apply to the NRC for funding, but were he to try to pursue that research while employed by the NRC, his research would currently be in danger.
Unfortunately, despite these errors, the overall meaning remains the same: The NRC is moving away from basic science to support business better, and the statements by both Goodyear and MacDougal are cause for concern.
Science for Science’s Sake
I can’t help but note what Paquette did not dispute in my article.
For example, I quoted this statement by Goodyear: “There is [sic] only two reasons why we do science and technology. First is to create knowledge ... second is to use that knowledge for social and economic benefit. Unfortunately, all too often the knowledge gained is opportunity lost.” Like the (corrected) quotation from MacDougal above, I got this from the Toronto Sun, and checking it against the transcript shows some minor transcription errors that don’t change the statement in any meaningful way. And I still stand by my claim that this is an appalling statement.
And I’m not alone. Chemistry World has this, from Cathleen Crudden, president of the Canadian Society for Chemistry:
“If we can involve new industrial and especially international partners in Canadian research, that will definitely be an advantage.” However, she believes that research will no longer be about doing the best and biggest science. “This is always a mistake,” she says. “If we want to succeed in science and technology, we need to always strive to answer the biggest, highest impact questions. If we don't take the lead on answering the big questions, then we will be the ones buying technology, not selling it.”
Science magazine has this from New Democrat science and technology critic Kennedy Stewart:
“They [the conservative leaders in Canadian government] don't want research driven by researchers themselves or public funding for science going towards actual scientific advancement. Their short-sighted approach will in fact hurt economic growth in the long run because it shuts the door on the long-view fundamental research that truly leads to scientific breakthroughs.”
Physics Today has a pretty good article discussing this whole situation as well, and I highly recommend reading it all the way through, as well as the blog at Physics World and this article at Canada.com.
And I’ll note that Paquette also had nothing to say about the current Canadian government’s muzzling of scientists—documented in the BBC, the National Post, MacLean’s, and the Canadian Science Writers’ Association, to name just a few media sources—which is the point I started off with in my original post. That, to me, is still a grave and shameful matter.
To be fair, the NRC is not the only arm of the Canadian government working on scientific R&D. There are many agencies supporting science, but the current government has been making pretty big cuts across the board. I have long maintained that even in times of financial slowdowns, investment in science is critical. Otherwise, you’re eating your seed corn.
And that is the heart of the matter: The action of the NRC is indicative of the current Canadian government’s attitude toward science, which in many ways mirrors what I see in the politically conservative side of the United States government. David Ng at Discover Magazine has an excellent roundup of this. So does Unmuzzled Science. John Dupuis, who writes the Confessions of a Librarian blog, has a timeline of what he calls “The Canadian War on Science”, which is damning indeed.
So I stand by the overall message of my original post. Moving away from basic scientific research is a mistake. Focusing on corporate-profiting science may have some advantages, but not at the cost of taking away basic science. It is trading the future for more immediate and mid-term profitability, and that is a mistake.
Posted Tuesday, May 21, 2013, at 2:00 PM
This weekend I’ll be in Tucson, Ariz., for Spacefest V, a fantastic convention featuring scientists, astronauts, and space artists. This will be the fourth time I’ll have attended, and it’s been great every time. If you’re a space enthusiast and in the area, you really should come.
Speakers include Carolyn Porco, Brian Cox, Emily Lakdawalla, Meteorite Man Geoff Notkin, and a whole lot more. Even me! A lot of Apollo astronauts will be there, as well as other space travelers and scientists.
Sorry about the short notice here, but if you can, please come. I always wind up leaving more energized and excited about space than when I arrived. What more can a science evangelizer ask for?
Posted Tuesday, May 21, 2013, at 11:59 AM
Poster by Start Motion Pictures
This summer, a different kind of science fiction movie, Europa Report, is coming out. I saw some buzz about it last year, and it looked interesting—it's a science fiction movie about a crew going to Jupiter's moon Europa to look for signs of life. Europa is known to have an ocean of liquid water below its surface, and is one of the better bets in our solar system to look for life.
The trailer was just released, so see for yourself!
You can watch it in higher resolution on the Apple Trailer site.
As it so happens, I've seen the whole flick, because of reasons (fine, I can divulge this much: In the near future I'll be doing some work with the team that created it—and no, I can't say just what for the moment, but I will say I'm not in the movie, nor did I help with its production in any way). It's really good! Like I said before, it's different: It's done half documentary style, half movie narrative. The format works very well, giving the movie a heightened sense of suspense.
The special effects are fantastic, and the cast is excellent (for example, it stars Sharlto Copley from District 9. Bear McCreary did the music, too (he scored Eureka, Defiance, Battlestar Galactica, and much more). I wasn't sure what to expect sitting down to watch it, but I was impressed. The science is very good, which is no surprise since they had JPL scientists as advisers on it.
It'll be available for download on iTunes on June 27, and in theaters on Aug. 2.
Posted Tuesday, May 21, 2013, at 7:45 AM
The storms that swept through Oklahoma yesterday left astonishing devastation in their wake. The live video and photos taken from the ground are horrifying, grim, and heart-breaking.
Whenever there is some sort of terrible weather event, one of the first things I do is check the satellite imagery to see what the system looks like, and how wide-spread it is. And every time, I forget how different things look from space. The contrast is shocking, even when you expect it.
That’s a Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) infrared image of the Oklahoma area taken on May 21, 2013 at 00:15 UTC (May 20 at 7:15 p.m. local time), shortly after the region was being slammed by a monstrous tornado. This wavelength of light emphasizes water vapor at an altitude of about 6 – 10 kilometers (4 – 6 miles), and is a good tracer of high-elevation winds, the jet stream, and of course storm activity.
From this height—the GOES satellites orbit at 35,800 km (22,300 miles) above the Earth’s surface—the terrible effects of this violent system are not only invisible, but replaced with a kind of serene and delicate-looking beauty that is one of the biggest ironies of which I know. It’s even more so for hurricanes, which possess a symmetry and frightening majesty.
[Update (May 21, 2013 at 15:30 UTC): The MODIS instrument on NASA's Aqua Earth-observing satellite took this much higher-resolution visible-light image at 19:40 UTC, just as the tornado was getting started.
The full-resolution version makes the case for the contrast between horror and beauty even more vivid.]
Satellite images like these have been and still are helping meteorologists get a better handle on dangerous weather, and even though it is not yet an exact science, it’s far better than it once was, and will get better yet. I hope that there will come a day when we will know precisely where and when violent weather will hit, and be able to give people enough time to seek shelter so that tragedies like yesterday will be avoided.
My heart goes out to all those affected by this weather. If you want to help, the Take Part website has a list of organizations that are in the area giving support.
Thanks to my friend Jessica for the link to Take Part.
Posted Monday, May 20, 2013, at 11:51 AM
Galaxies, on the whole, are very pretty. I find that interesting, actually; we didn’t evolve to see galaxies with our naked eyes, and they exert no selective pressure on us to breed, so when we find them so attractive it must be coincidence. Their shape, color, and structure just so happen to fit our definition of beauty. Appreciating the art of the Universe is a collateral benefit of evolution.
And then there’s this galaxy, prosaically named J125013.50+073441.5 (after its coordinates on the sky). I have to admit I’m admiring its strange appeal.
Photo by ESA/Hubble & NASA, M. Hayes
What an odd thing! It's located about 500 million light years away, and has clearly suffered a massive collision—while it does have spiral arms, the overall structure is a mess, indicating some large disturbance happened not too long ago. Most likely another galaxy came along, and the mutual gravity of the two drew them together, creating chaos in their structures. There’s no other nearby galaxy in the image, so I suspect the two wound up merging, and we’re catching it a few hundred million years after the event. The ring in the center and the small straight spurs around it are relatively common features seen in the aftermath of collisions as well, formed by the gravitational interaction of one galaxy as it plunges into another.
The image, taken using Hubble Space Telescope, is rather unusual, spanning a wide range of wavelengths of light. It’s a composite of three observations, one in the ultraviolet (shown as blue in the image), one in visible light which accentuates normal starlight (shown as green), and near-infrared which highlights dust (red).
Ultraviolet light is emitted by young, massive, hot stars (and the gas surrounding them, lit by the intense radiation), and those tend to be born in spiral arms. That’s why the arms look blue. There's so much ultraviolet light being emitted, so much star formation going on, that J1250 is labeled a "starburst galaxy"—again, that tends to be an effect of galaxy collisions, when massive clouds of gas slam into each other, collapse, and furiously form stars. The dust is all over the place, and really does look like it was stirred up by the collision. Dust is actually made of complex organic (carbon chain) molecules, created when stars are born and when they die.
Photo by ESA/Hubble & NASA, M. Hayes
In the Hubble release for this image, they mention this galaxy was observed as part of the Lyman Alpha Reference Sample research; a survey to look at galaxies that emit a lot of a special kind of ultraviolet light called Lyman Alpha. As it happens, I wrote about this survey recently when Hubble released a spectacular image of another targeted galaxy, which I think should be called Cinderella’s Slipper.
The survey is helping astronomers understand galaxy formation and evolution by looking at nearby galaxies that can be used as models for far more distant ones. Closer ones are easier to study, while more distant ones may appear only as dots. The closer ones allow us to separate out various features (like the center of the galaxy versus an extended halo of gas) that are unresolved in the more distant galaxies. It’s a clever idea, and very useful for understanding what galaxies were like when the Universe was much younger.
And it does provide us with a bit of eye candy along with that nutritional brain fodder, too. I’m not an evolutionary biologist, so I’m no expert in the whys and wherefores of our appreciation of the beauty of the Universe. But I do know what looks lovely to me, and I also know that the science behind that beauty adds to it, giving it depth and personality. Art is always supplemented by the knowledge of how it came to be…especially when it’s on a grand a scale as the cosmos itself.
Posted Monday, May 20, 2013, at 8:00 AM
A little while back, I got an email from my friend Kelly Weinersmith, a biologist who has a bizarre attachment (ha! Haha!) to parasites. She is part of a group called the SciFund Challenge, and they are trying to increase and strengthen the connection between science and society, as well as raise money for scientific research.
Kelly contacted me because she was asking scientists who do outreach to make a short video answering some questions about how and why they do what they do. I’ve been outreaching (reaching out? Reach outing?) for a long time, and oddly enough I have some opinions about it. So I was happy to help her. I recorded it assuming I was talking to people considering doing outreach, but I suspect there are things in my short video readers of this blog will appreciate.
SciFund Challenge has a lot more videos from other scientists, too. I’ve watched several, and it’s fascinating to see the different takes people have on the work they do. I apparently have cornered the market on smartassery.
I suspect this is all part of some long-term plan on Kelly’s part dealing with parasites that modify their hosts’ behavior. Maybe that’s why I was happy to help her… but in fact, the processes of science and science outreach really are more of a symbiosis. Each has their role, and each supports the other. Science needs to be done, and people need to know about that. I’m pretty pleased to be ensconced somewhere in that loop.
…and if the name Kelly Weinersmith is familiar, you may know her best for looking over the shoulder of her comic-drawing artist husband and glowering at him disapprovingly (hold your mouse over the red button; NSFW language). She’s good people, and it’s an honor to be a part of something on which she’s working.
Posted Sunday, May 19, 2013, at 8:00 AM
It’s been a while since I’ve posted a cool close-up picture of the Moon from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (or LRO), and this one is too nifty not to share:
Photo by NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University
What you’re looking at is a region about a kilometer (0.6 miles) across not far from an impact crater—the actual crater is off the frame, below and to the left. Probably a billion years ago or so, something the size of a house slammed into the Moon, carving out a crater a few hundred meters across.
When it did, several hundred thousand tons of lunar surface were blasted out of the hole. Erupting into the sky, it spread out in all directions, including straight up, forming a huge plume. This superheated material expanded outward, blowing like a wind on the airless surface. When the dust literally settled, it formed hundreds of linear striations, all pointing back to the crater. And now, today, we see an echo of that event, strewn across the surface.
This crater is located pretty far north, so the Sun is low to the horizon. That makes long shadows, and accentuates the topography of the local terrain. You can really see all the bumps and wiggles of the surface, and those long narrow fingers are obvious.
This image is one part of a much longer stripe of lunar surface seen by LRO. While I was perusing it, I actually smiled in delight when I zoomed in and saw this:
Photo by NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University
That white spot is a boulder a few meters in size. You can see its shadow going off to the upper right. But do you see that curved dotted line, a J-shape that ends at the boulder? That’s its track in the surface! The boulder looks like it rolled, moving from the lower left to the upper right, and then took a right-handed hook before coming to rest. If you look carefully, you’ll see that just before it stopped rolling it was on the upper left edge of a small depression, and then rolled into it. The dashed pattern in the track is probably due to irregularities in the shape of the rock as it rolled.
Photo by NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University
I love pictures like this! It shows the imprint (literally) of motion, in a landscape that appears forever frozen in time. Inset here is another such image from a bigger rock, where the track and shadows from other rocks are easier to see as well. The path of the rock gently curves as it follows the local curve of the ground.
All of these scenes can be found in the high-res image from LRO, and I invite you to take a look for yourself and see what you can discover. It’s amazing to think that we can sit in the luxury of our home environment here on Earth, and peruse pictures of the Moon taken by a probe that’s been orbiting our nearest neighbor for the past four years now, pictures which have a resolution of one meter per pixel.
We already live in the future, and it’s brought to you by SCIENCE.
Posted Saturday, May 18, 2013, at 8:00 AM
I know, it was for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but when I saw this I thought it was pretty funny.
Plus, pink is cool.
Posted Friday, May 17, 2013, at 11:51 AM
Photo by Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.
So, Star Trek Into Darkness. The new Trek movie. Big summer blockbuster. Lots of box office, lots of buzz.
Yeah, that. I didn’t like it.
Now, I didn’t hate it. It was fun, and entirely watchable. But, well, I just didn’t actively like it. It was OK for a fast-paced action movie where you can just watch and go along for the ride, but as a Trek movie it fell short. I think this reboot series still has a lot of promise, but this movie, for me, was just marking time.
Here’s why. Obviously, there are big fat spoilers here, and the movie does ride on a lot of the mysteries. So if you don’t want the flick ruined for you, go look at something else for a while. Also obviously, what follows are opinions. A lot of my friends are saying they liked or even loved this movie. That’s great! It just didn’t strike me the same way. Fairly warned be thee, says I.
Cap’n! THERE BE SPOILERS HERE.
Let me take a moment to note that usually I like to point out the science errors of a movie in my reviews. This didn’t have too many, and most were not that important. For example, I don’t think solidifying the lava in a volcano will get it to stop erupting; in fact, it’ll make it explode like a bomb due to bottling up all the pressure inside (retcon: maybe the “cold fusion bomb” prevents that). At the climactic battle they say they’re 237,000 kilometers from Earth, but wind up near the Moon; I suspect someone mixed up kilometers and miles (the Moon is 238,000 miles from Earth, which is 380,000 kilometers or so). Also, do the math: It's 2259, and they say Khan was born 300 years ago. Um, what?
[Update (May 17, 16:30 UTC): A few folks have pointed out that in the original series, Khan and the Eugenics Wars happened in the 20th century, so that birthdate is about right. I will grant you that, but given it's 2013 and the wars haven't happened yet, that was still a weird thing to say. They could have changed it; after all, they changed the way Klingons and their ships look and there's no reason for that in the rebooted timeline of Trek.]
For the most part I didn’t have too big a problem with these booboos. But I did have a problem with some of the internal Trek science, like a transwarp box that can transport you across interstellar space instantly. That was so weird it actually threw me out of the story trying to figure it out; I thought for a moment the villain used it to transport himself to a ship in orbit, which would have made a lot more sense. [UPDATE (May 18, 00:30 UTC): Oops. I forgot that transwarp beaming was established in the first reboot movie. I'm willing to admit this was an error on my part, though the idea of having that capability in a box the size of an accordian seems a bit silly. Also, it still would've made more sense for Khan to have just used a regular ship; it would've avoided the disorientation of the audience. Well, me, certainly.] There were others, but I don’t feel the need to go into too many details, because, honestly, they were secondary to the real reasons this movie didn’t resonate with me.
Stop Making Sense
I think the movie suffered from two problems: things happened which made no sense, and it had something I call “too-much-stuffism”. The latter is why it didn’t work for me as an action movie, and the former why it didn’t work for me as a Trek movie.
Photo by Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.
For example, the movie opens with the crew on a planet (sadly, named Nibiru), where they are sent to do a survey. They find out a volcano is about to explode, which will wipe out the indigenous (and primitive) humanoids there. So they hide the Enterprise under the ocean, use a shuttle to get Spock inside the volcano, and he plants that cold fusion bomb that will freeze the erupting lava in place, saving the planet.
Of course, it all goes wrong. Spock gets stranded, and they can’t beam him back due to interference from the planet’s magnetic field unless they get in a line of sight on him. So they fly the Enterprise over the volcano, and beam Spock out—who protests this, saying it will violate the Prime Directive if the natives see the ship.
This scene was fun to watch, I’ll admit, but the whole thing makes no sense. Why put the ship under water, instead of orbit directly above the volcano? That would give them line-of-sight, and they could’ve beamed Spock there and back safely without being seen as anything more than a bright light in the sky. And why not just beam the bomb into the volcano in the first place? Also, saving those humanoids all by itself was a violation of the Prime Directive, but Spock didn’t seem to have too big a problem with that.
Like I said, the scene doesn’t make any (pardon the expression) logical sense. And the whole movie is like that. I could make a laundry list of examples, but I won’t belabor it.
OK, fine, I’ll belabor one example; I can’t help myself. Near the end of the movie, the Enterprise, crippled and on the edge of destruction, spent a long time falling toward Earth from the Moon, and during all that time not a single ship shows up to help, even though they are at the very heart of the Federation. It’s like no one noticed a ship the size of football stadium plummeting toward the planet.
Things like that draw me out of the movie. It’s easy to forgive one or two of those, but it just kept happening all throughout the flick.
Photo by Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.
And let’s talk about Khan.
It was no surprise to me at all—despite having avoided nearly all spoilers—that he was the surprise main villain (I was pretty sure it was going to be either him or Gary Mitchell). Benedict Cumberbatch did a great job—duh—but I never felt that Khan was menacing. In the original series, with Khan and Kirk it was personal, and that connects with us, the audience. That one-on-one interplay was one of the main reasons why Wrath of Khan was such a terrific movie. It was deeply personal, and we sympathize with Kirk; we hurt when he gets hurt, and we feel his triumph when he wins. The revenge escalates with Khan’s obsession, but every time it does we ride along with it, and we feel the stakes getting higher.
With Into Darkness, that never happens. It’s never personal, and we never get the idea that Khan is a madman bent on revenge. Sure, the timeline changed, and so did his motives, but in the end what that means is that Khan was too distant. I was never invested in him. He was like a generic Bond supervillain, a plug and play bad guy.
I’ll admit, I chuckled a bit when the movie took the penultimate scene from Wrath of Khan and did a role reversal on it, with Spock and Kirk swapping places. But then Spock yelling “KHHHANNNNN!” made my eyes roll back so far in my head I think they went back in time—and any real drama was drained from that scene because we know Kirk won’t die. They had already telegraphed how they’d save him in an earlier scene…with a tribble, of all things. Compare that scene to the one where Spock dies in Wrath of Khan, and tell me which one hits you harder.
You people are all astronauts on some kind of star trek?
[Update (May 18, 15:30 UTC): What follows below is a complaint that the story-telling aspect of the movie was lacking. However, in some aspects I may have been too harsh. My Slate colleague Forrest Wickman argues convincingly this movie is a post-9/11 metaphor that, somehow, I totally missed. Well, not totally, but certainly didn't see some of the deeper aspects he points out. I still think a lot of the movie was weak—I agree with another Slate writer, Matthew Yglesias, in his summary—but I think I'll have to go see the movie again to pick up on things I may have missed. Read what follows with that in mind, please.]
All of this boils down to story telling. There was a real story in this movie, and a good one, but it was never really allowed to bloom. And then it got buried in the too-much-stuffism.
For example, right after Kirk “dies”, Spock has to chase down Khan, who tries to crash his ship into Starfleet HQ, and then escapes, and then is chased by Spock, and then they jump from flying car to flying car, and then they fight, and then Uhura zaps him, and then Spock beats him up, and then and then and then.
I literally wanted to yell, “Stop!” It was too much. It wasn’t Starfleet people using their brains to outwit or out-bluff their opponent, it was just action without any overarching strategy.
Now I know that this will sound like a get-off-my-lawn kind of moment, but seriously: Trek isn’t supposed to be about this kind of stuff. Trek is about the relationship of the characters and the grander theme of exploration. It’s also a meta-story about us. At its best it was a deeply thoughtful mythology about ourselves and our conflicts, an allegory of our modern problems and flaws of humanity—war, greed, bigotry, narcissism—and how we overcome them, told as science fiction. That’s why we’re still telling these stories nearly 50 years later.
This movie wasn’t any of that. To quote the great story-teller Homer (Simpson, that is): It was just a bunch of stuff that happened. Fight scene, battle scene, people running, conversations, then more fighting. It had the elements of Trek, but that signal was shouted down by the noise.
Phot by Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.
A big part of what made the original movies work was the way these old friends interact. In the new timeline they’re not yet old friends, of course, but in this movie there wasn’t a lot of progress made in that direction.
In my opinion—worth what you’ve paid for it, certainly—if and when they make a third installment, they should focus on that. Strengthen the ties that bind this crew together. Over-the-top action movies have diminishing returns, diminishing value with each sequel. But think on this: Star Trek has 13 movies in the franchise. It has that staying power because of the established back story, and because of the characters, because of their history. If these new movies can tap into that, deeply and not just superficially (and rehashing it) like it did here, then it can breathe new life into this grand mythos yet.
Posted Friday, May 17, 2013, at 8:00 AM
Illustration by The Consensus Project
A new study has just come out that looked at nearly 12,000 professional scientific journal papers about global warming, and found that—of the papers expressing a stance on global warming—97 percent endorse both the reality of global warming and the fact that humans are causing it.
Ninety-seven percent. That’s what we call a “consensus”, folks.
The study was clever. They found the papers by searching on the terms “global warming” and “global climate change”. Once they compiled the list of papers, they looked at the abstracts (a short summary of the results scientists put at the top of their papers) to see if the paper itself talked about the causes of global warming. About 4000 of the papers did so. That may seem like a smallish fraction, but most papers analyze measurements and climate effects, not the cause of global warming (like most astronomical papers on, say, galaxies don’t discuss how galaxies form, but focus on their structure, content, and so on—also, because there is such a strong consensus on warming, scientists don't generally feel the need to state the obvious in their abstracts).
Examining those 4000 papers, the study authors determined that 97.1 percent of them endorsed the consensus that humans are causing global warming. And here’s where they did the clever bit: They contacted 8500 authors of the papers in question and asked them to self-rate those papers. They got responses from 1200 authors (a nice fraction), and, using the same criteria as the study, it turns out 97.2 percent of the authors endorse the consensus.
That’s a remarkable agreement! And it’s no surprise. There have been several studies showing almost exactly the same thing. This new one is interesting due to the methodology, and the fact that it’s so robust.
So, the bottom line: The vast majority of scientists who conduct climatological research and publish their results in professional journals say humans are the cause of global warming. There is essentially no controversy among actual climate scientists about this.
Of course, if you read the Wall Street Journal or the contrarian blogs, you might think the controversy among scientists is bigger. But you’ll find that the vast majority of people writing those articles, or who are quoted in them, are not climatologists. You’ll also find many, including politicians so vocally denying global warming, are heavily funded by fossil fuel interests, or lead institutes funded that way.
Because deniers tend to go to the OpEd pages and TV, rather than science journals, the public perception is skewed in their favor; people think this is a bigger controversy than it is. The only controversy here is a manufactured one; made up by people who are basing it on ideology, not facts, evidence, and science. That’s not just my opinion; that statement itself is backed up by facts, evidence, and science.
Global warming is real. Climate change is happening. Carbon dioxide in the air is increasing, and is at a higher level than it has been for the past three million years. That carbon dioxide is increasingly heating us up: we are warming at a rate faster than in the past 11,000 years, and most likely far longer than that.