Posts Tagged ‘science’

Peggy Noonan against Science

July 20, 2006

Sometimes I wonder how apparently dumb people get to be in positions of such influence.  Take, for example, this column by Peggy Noonan, an editor at the Wall Street Journal:

During the past week’s heat wave–it hit 100 degrees in New York City Monday–I got thinking, again, of how sad and frustrating it is that the world’s greatest scientists cannot gather, discuss the question of global warming, pore over all the data from every angle, study meteorological patterns and temperature histories, and come to a believable conclusion on these questions: Is global warming real or not? If it is real, is it necessarily dangerous? What exactly are the dangers? Is global warming as dangerous as, say, global cooling would be? Are we better off with an Earth that is getting hotter or, what with the modern realities of heating homes and offices, and the world energy crisis, and the need to conserve, does global heating have, in fact, some potential side benefits, and can those benefits be broadened and deepened? Also, if global warning is real, what must–must–the inhabitants of the Earth do to meet its challenges? And then what should they do to meet them?

You would think the world’s greatest scientists could do this, in good faith and with complete honesty and a rigorous desire to discover the truth. And yet they can’t. Because science too, like other great institutions, is poisoned by politics. Scientists have ideologies. They are politicized.

This is a sickening attack on science and the human intellect. 

There is no great scientist who is not also completely honest and rigorous.  Intellectual honesty is at the core of science; you cannot have one without the other.  Richard Feynman, one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century, talked about this at Caltech in 1974:

It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty–a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid–not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked–to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

To paraphrase a similar idea from the same speech: science is essentially the long history of humans learning not to fool themselves.  Politics, on the other hand, is something approaching the exact opposite.

Science is just facts.  It doesn’t have an ideology.  It’s you, Ms. Noonan, who have become politicized.

The Statistical Baby

July 13, 2006

Ruby’s now at the age where numbers matter.  Not to her, of course — she’s not that gifted — but to me.  Any time she eats, sleeps, or poops, I want to know when, for how long, and how much.  When Kate and I come back from an evening out, we immediately grill the babysitters for all the relevant data.

There’s a constant calculation going on in my head that’s tying together all these numbers to assess (and, more importantly, predict) her mood.  It goes something like this: “she’s crying but she ate just an hour ago and it was a big meal but she’s been eating a lot lately but then again she hasn’t slept for a while but it’s only 10am…”

Now that Kate is back to work full time we’re really hitting a strong, predictable schedule.  Ruby naps three times during the day: 8:30am, 11:30am, and 4:30am.  She sleeps for 45 minutes.  Optional catnaps are at 2:30pm and 7:00pm.

Ruby eats at 10am, 1pm, and 4pm.  She eats 5oz per meal.  Of course, Kate also breastfeeds her in the morning and the evening.

Knowing that Ruby has settled into this routine makes spotting her moods much, much easier.  If she’s even slightly fussy and it’s after 11am, it’s naptime.  If it’s 10am, it’s meal time — I don’t even give her a chance to get fussy.

Also, knowing that I have those three breaks during the day really helps me relax about what I’m trying to get done around the house or for work.  I know there’s always another opportunity coming up in a few hours.

It’s now 12:20pm, and, just like clockwork, I can hear that Ruby’s awake from her mid-day nap.  I had time to have lunch, put the groceries away, do some prep work for dinner, and write this blog post — all of it calmly, thanks to the statistical baby.