When a Map Would Be Better Than a “Teachable Moment”
By Martin Hackworth
About the most ridiculous thing that I can think of is someone wandering around lost in the middle of the wilderness pontificating on “teachable moments” instead of looking at a map. Believe it or not, that happens right here in these very op-ed pages. Shocking, I know – try to be brave.
First, a confession. Beyond the work of a few consistently intriguing local columnists, I do not pay much attention to the op-ed pages here. I just have better things to with my QTL (quality time left) than squander it on what is at best, uninteresting, and at worst, conceited and ill-informed opinion from columnists who’s topic each week is some predictable variant of “look how smart I am.” Nope, I’d rather be having fun with friends and family. In some cases, I’d rather be having a root canal. In a couple of cases I’d rather be passing a kidney stone.
Nonetheless, I have written a column for this paper for over a decade. I am also a physicist who teaches Astronomy and Meteorology, and who has been involved in research in the physics of the upper atmosphere. So when one decided non-scientist recently opined, at great length, in not one but several columns, on climate change, a subject that he is completely, spectacularly and even seraphically unqualified to offer up anything other than a layperson’s opinion, it ended up being brought to my attention. None of this, I suspect, by coincidence.
The truth is that I could generally care less about what this fellow writes in his column about climate change because only a dingbat would pay any attention to it. But the fact that this narcissist used his position in this paper to disparage my colleague and friend, Dennis Strommen, a PhD scientist very well-qualified to speak about science, requires that I take a break from writing about the things that are really important to me, friends and family, and instead tune someone up. I take my my QTL seriously and I am in no mood for diplomacy. Trolling for attention? It worked.
First, let’s address the “teachable moments” theme that keeps cropping up in this individual’s lectures to actual scientists on how science works. The only thing this muttonhead taught anyone who actually knows anything about science, or even elementary statistics, is that he doesn’t know much about either. Anyone who can’t properly interpret a simple graph, and who boastfully doesn’t comprehend the concepts of variance or regression of the mean, should probably stay very far away from anything more complex than a license plate number. Heaven help us all if willfully ignorant people like this ever were involved in anything of national importance like, let’s say, the financial sector. Think of how badly that could work out.
I have noticed a couple of things about people like this individual who brazenly distort science to justify things like climate change denial, the existence of Bigfoot, weather wars, and 9/11 conspiracy theories: none of them grasp the scientific method in the least bit, and all of them seem to get the bulk of what animates their opinions each Sunday from 10 until noon. What’s up with that anyway? I went to church faithfully as a kid, but never once was I tempted to walk out of Mass and multiply loaves and fishes, or grow up and obtain an advanced degree in science so that I could use archaeometric methods to prove that some lost tribe of Israel actually used to throw down 8000 miles from home in my happy place. I think that is because I spent even more time back then in a place called a library, and in this place called a library they had things called books and journals, and if you read those things called books and journals you could learn about things called scientific facts and how people who are actual scientists arrive at them.
These days of course, you can save yourself the walk downtown and get all the grist for your mill that you can handle from TV, talk radio, and the Internet – all of which have the potential to be good, but are way to often black holes for weak and/or lazy minds. Not that this individual makes this point for me or anything like that.
Another thing that you could learn from afternoons old library, without blinders on, was that a lot of people go to church in a lot of different places and that they all believe different things about the world. From a purely statistical standpoint, your odds of being in sole possession of all the wisdom in the world, based on faith anyway, are a little low.
Whoops, I forgot that numbers are just not this sage’s thing.
Associated Press and Idaho Press Club Award-winning columnist Martin Hackworth of Pocatello is a physicist and the editor of MotorcycleJazz.com.