"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 87
"Science is what we have learned about how not to fool ourselves."
-- Richard Feynman
-- Richard Feynman
After spending the weekend and most of Monday trying to force a post that didn't want to be written, I have given up and admitted that it won't kill me to have two Book Club posts one after the other in February. Besides, I really want to start reading further. Don't you? =)
And in case you are way ahead of me and want something else to read . . . Last meeting, Melanie pointed out some connections between our fears about the environment and our fears about the economy. And it was while taking part in a seemingly unrelated discussion on another blog did I realise that there are also connections to our fears about autism and cancer. Read on and weep!
Pages 402 to 476
It seems unfair to Sarah Jones that I've neglected to mention her until this point of the readalong, which includes her least flattering moment yet. Before this, we've seen her as a competent personal assistant, a fit amateur athlete, an adventurer who makes a great "buddy" in an environment as hostile as Antarctica's, and an "extremely beautiful" woman even by Hollywood's inflated standards. But now we see her having jealous second thoughts about a man she recently dismissed as too wimpy for her.
So how do you think this is going to end? For the sake of structure, it makes sense for Peter Evans to end up with Sarah: they've already been through so much together, have worked as a team, and have even rescued each other from danger. But Jennifer Haynes makes a good romantic prospect as well, inasmuch as she and Evans are both lawyers and both went through the same process of questioning the media reality. I really like the scene in which they are filmed for the B-roll footage--and not just because it gives us our first big idea for this post.
"Look: every scientist has some idea how his experiment is going to turn out. Otherwise, he wouldn't do the experiment in the first place. He has an expectation. But expectation works in mysterious ways--and totally unconsciously . . .
". . . hundreds of studies prove again and again that expectations determine outcome. People find what they think they'll find. That's the reason for 'double-blind' experiments. To eliminate bias, the experiment is divided up among different people who do not know each other. The people who prepare the experiment do not know the people who conduct the experiment or the people who analyze the results. These groups never communicate in any way. Their spouses and children never meet. The groups are in different universities and preferably in different countries. That's how new drugs are tested. Because that's the only way to prevent bias from creeping in."
So much for my "scientific" approach to haircare. =P Not only did I have the expectation that it would work, but I also had, from the very beginning, a predisposition to weirdness and a willingness to commit to something inconvenient as long as it closed. Those must have been factors, too. And there's a sad, stultifying sense in which temperature data, which has been collected, tested and analysed by a single research team, is about as good as my "no poo" data.
Now the question is whether it is still possible to get unbiased data. The theory of global warming having been publicised by the mass media so that it is what "everybody knows," can any climate researchers operate in enough of a vacuum to keep their findings from being thrown out of a trial? I don't know, but if the answer is what I suspect it is, then this is one big knife wound that the well-meaning media has just inflicted upon climate research.
In this section, we also get a rebuttal to some of the more lyrical and sentimental "arguments" about why we should be good stewards of nature. And now that Evans has been through his rite of passage and emerged looking like proper hero material, another character gets to play the straight man and buffoon.
It was a pleasant spot, with sunlight dappling the forest floor, but even so the television cameras had to turn on their lights to film the third-grade school children who sat in concentric circles around the famous actor and activist Ted Bradley. Bradley was wearing a black T-shirt that set off his makeup and his dark good looks.
"These glorious trees are your birthright," he said, gesturing all around him. "They have been standing here for centuries. Long before you were born, before your parents or your grandparents or your great-grandparents were born. Some of them before Columbus came to America! Before the Indians came! Before anything! These trees are the oldest living things on the planet; they are the guardians of the earth; they are wise; and they have a message for us: Leave the planet alone. Don't mess with it, or with us. And we must listen to them."
Now, I've been known to personify nature on occasion--but gosh, I hope I never sounded as prosy as Ted Bradley does here! The scene in which he films a nature talk in Sequoia National Park makes even better satire than the earlier B-roll scene. The contrast between Hollywood's manipulation of reality and the forest as it actually is tells us a lot more about the relationship between media talking points and the facts than Bradley's turn having his dogmas dynamited.
But I'm not too easy about Jennifer's setting him straight on the sequoias. In my short life, I have read, believed in, and stopped believing several contradictory theories about the ancient days--and her explanation of what California's landscape was like twenty thousand years ago seems no better and no worse than the ancient astronaut theories, which don't even go back as far. I don't mean to be insulting or mulish about this; but just last meeting I took to heart Crichton's message about not letting what may happen a millennium from today derail our lives, and so it's kind of clashing with any attempt to inform our lives with a theory about what happened twenty millennia before today. Until I can look at something that backs this up (which may happen when we get to the appendices!), let's just do an Ancient Aliens marathon and play a drinking game, okay?
1) If our expectations determine our results, how do we non-scientists know that we're not just stuck in a cycle of confirming our own opinions?
2) What's your favourite story about what the earth was like 20,000 years ago?
3) And just because I can't resist . . . Team Sarah or Team Jennifer? =P