So Let’s Write the Book

It drives me crazy the media trying to teach us to not think, but only respond to their hype like a bunch of Pavlov’s dogs (Wikipedia should have that). We are not so dumb as that. So let’s get started. A book that explains the real facts about biology. Tentative title, “Biology for Voters and Activists and Politicians and Fundamentalists and other Normal People” Facts will be separated from opinions and fairy tales. (Fairy tales includes metaphors.)

Anyone who wants to participate is welcome. You will be credited if your questions or comments (or pictures or videos or drawings) are used in the book. For the videos we will have an online version or a DVD.

We will start the book with a question: What is The Creation (That is, strictly what it is now.)

My definition, which I swiped from Huston Smith (one of our prominent philosophers and scholar of comparative religion) in “Why Religion Matters.”: “Everything, as it is.” I checked with a religious site on the web and it agreed with that definition. So if anyone can provide a better definition and explain why it is a better definition with which to begin a book about the science of biology, please do so.

Bio-Milk, Bio-Ethics

“We had a professor at Stanford who thought milk was manufactured.” Dr. Paul Ehrlich.

(For all you city folks, our commercial milk comes out of cows, and cows eat grass or hay to get the energy they need to stay alive and make milk, and the grass or hay gets its energy from the sun. The important point here is that we can not eat sunlight — all animal life on earth gets the energy it requires to live – that is food – from plants. The number of plants is limited.)

BUT THAT IS NOT THE SUBJECT OF THIS BLURB.

The subject of this blurb is ethics, the ethics of scientists who have not been telling people these important facts, and I want to quote Dr. Ehrlich because I agree with him:

” . . . I prefer to think of ethics simply as shared values, and one of our ethical tasks should be to try to speed the evolution of the values of biologists. I think the vast majority of my fellow scientists already share the value that we should give our fellow citizens the benefit of our best counsel on issues at the interface between science and society. That already fits under one dictionary definition of ethics—“the principles of conduct governing a profession.”

(Some references are omitted here that appear to no longer be available on the web, see modern versions below. LL)

“I’d like to see bioethics evolve further, toward all biologists considering it their duty to report to the public (which supports them) the essential findings of their research—and toward training their graduate students accordingly.”

Additional references:

You can get the entire letter above, in pdf format from Dr. Ehrlich’s web site:
Ehrlich, P. R. 2004. Values and bioethics (letter). BioScience 54: 484. [pdf]

The letter was written to and published by American Institute of Biological Scientists (AIBS)

It was a response to a discussion of “Scientific Integrity in Policy-Making” on the web site of Union of Concerned Scientists. UCS

Ethics in the Blogosphere

090422_dsc0492ssAs you all know, I am taking a course in Political Blogging.  I’m not really into political; I think it’s too much about winners and losers, but I wanted to develop a blog and it’s easy enough to claim that all human behavior is political, so I did.  My goal was to get up a blog, and here it is.  I think the professor’s goal was to arrive at a good discussion of ethics in the media, and he also succeeded.

It is a question, isn’t it, about ethics.  It’s a fine thing for each of us to express an opinion that someone else actually can listen to, rather than to have a few media bigwigs control our communal flow of information.  But it might not be so good for the community that we bloggers, as a group, have no written-down code of ethics to guide us.  The media, especially the long-standing newspaper sources of information, mostly took pride in a code of ethics that prevented a secretive bias of the information.

So I was thinking about ethics and blogging and various scenarios, and I thought of the Huffington Post, that seems to be trying to make itself into a newspaper on line, and its recent creative foray into public information gathering about the TEA parties that were held all over the country on May 15 — and here are my questions:

1.  Was it ethical to send out the word to everyone online that they are welcome to attend whatever local TEA party that caught their interest, and then to contribute pictures and news reports by email to the Post?  Even if the contributors don’t know anything about news gathering or codes of ethics?

My answer is – Sure, why not?  The amateur reporters get to have a lot of fun, they get exposed to ideas that may or may not be different from their own, and they are doing something that couldn’t be done by a reporter.  The Post gets a real bonanza of pictures and stories they can use any way they want without paying anyone for the time and effort.  And the TEA parties get advertising.  It’s a win-win-win.

2.  Is it ethical to sort out these media to represent the bias of the publisher?

I say sure, why not, if the publisher acknowledges its bias from the get-go, but this is only a win-win, which is not as good as a win-win-win.

3.  Is it ethical to claim that you have posted all the photos and then selectively edit which photos that you post — or don’t post?

I say No.  Honesty (or as one of the speakers at my TEA party said) “honor!” is a bottom-line essential component of a media code of ethics, no matter your bias.

Furthermore, as it is obvious there are no either/or answers to these sorts of questions, I say we should evaluate them according to the “win-win-win” system.  I’m really tired of hearing from politicos that everything in the world is a “win-lose” emergency. Almost nothing in the world is a win-lose emergency, and I say anything less than win-win doesn’t fly. If we care about our community.

(And besides, my pictures were better.)

If God Created Life

earthI was an Assistant Professor of biology.  It was interesting to watch the generations of students through the doors, it was sad to see the change of our country from one based in (at least from my perspective) science, religion and ethics to one that favored instead nature study, technology and fundamentalism.  I’m sure that is not fair, but you realize I’m working up to make a point, and the point is not really about religion or ethics.  I just didn’t want to leave them out because our country would be — well, it probably wouldn’t exist without them, and that’s as it should be.  But it’s not what I want to talk about here.

The point here is the difference between science (real science is based in the scientific method and measurable facts) – the difference between that and nature study and technology.  As I watched the students come and go, and more importantly as I saw the changes in the textbooks, I began to realize that science is not taught here anymore (another generalization).  Not in the schools and certainly not on the television, where we do most of our education.

It has come now to the other extreme, that we are trying to solve our problems,that were mostly caused by technology, without understanding the science upon which that technology is based.  Technology is not science.  Technology makes things to use and sell; science studies the fact-based natural law and the physical nature of the created ecosystem in which we live.  There are many realities in this creation; science studies only those that can be measured and studied using the scientific method.

There are people today who do not know that science, logic and religion are different windows on the reality of the ecosystem, and that technology is the child of science and can do NOTHING outside of the natural law that science studies.  There are people today who do not know that there is a difference between an opinion and a measurable fact.

Several years ago I was studying economics using The Teaching Company DVDs, when I realized that they have a plethora of courses on almost every imaginable academic subject except ecology.  I suggested they create a course in ecology, that studies the ecosystem.  Because they declined, and because there is no more important subject in our world today, I have decided to make one myself.  Biology for ordinary people, because it would be a great tragedy to let the benefits of real science just wash right out of our cultural problem-solving kit and then try to solve the problems, that were partly caused by science, using only the tools of logic, ethics, religion and technology.

Trying to solve problems without understanding what caused them or what limits them simply will not work.  If God created life, then the more we understand about the factual realities of life, the better job we can do of it.  The one thing that science does is study the factual realities of the ecosystem using the scientific method.  None of the other disciplines does this.  It is not up to religion or ethics to change reality; nobody can change God’s reality.  The most useful function of religion and ethics is to help us build a compassionate response to reality.

No News is Bad News

It looks like the big news for today is that nobody on the New York Times Caucus is talking about the ecosystem, at least not over the past 25 comments.  I could give you a list of what they are talking about, and I can guarantee to a 100% reliability that those concerns would not exist if there were no ecosystem.

09021521annparty_dsc9020sSeems to me we should be thinking about taking good care of it.  After all, it’s good news with every breath of air that is available.

Getting our Act Together

You know I’m not into jumping up and down and waving my arms, because arm-waving doesn’t change anything. Well, it does change human behaviors, but it has no other impact on the ecosystem. People who really care about other people will find out the facts.

I’m here to give some pointers toward that information. So there is another alert today from Oxfam, via the BBC. Oxfam is worried about our communal ability to deal with the challenges posed by the rapid changes in our world.

Oxfam logo states: “We are thirteen organizations working together to find lasting solutions to poverty and injustice.”

I do not think they will succeed unless you and I work very hard to ameliorate the foundational cause of modern poverty. The modern cause (in additional to injustice and all the other historical causes) is that we are reaching the limits of the earth resources. We all knew we couldn’t go on forever taking more.

But our project is long term. We can not cure the shortages overnight that have been building up for hundreds of years. And in the meantime Oxfam is one of the most effective and highly rated and respected organizations to fill in the gap while we are getting our act together.

Three Cheers for Chip for Recognizing the Problem

Well, y’all, I have only one thing to say today, it is the most important thing I have ever said, and I did not say it:

“Here’s the heart of the matter: We are ecologically illiterate — not just unfamiliar with the necessary scientific vocabulary and concepts, but spectacularly, catastrophically, tragically dumb. Oh yes, some of us now understand that draining those wetlands, clear-cutting the rainforests, and pumping all that CO2 into the atmosphere are self-destructively idiotic behaviors. But when it comes down to how nature itself behaves, we remain remarkably clueless.” Chip Ward on TomDispatch today.