Pssst! Climate Change Activists? This Is Why Nobody Trusts You…

Here is Houdini showing the Scientific American panel how spiritualists and mediums made bells ring. See his foot?

I once subscribed to Scientific American. We had to read it in high school, and I often used articles from the magazine in research projects. I also was a fan of its history, which intersected with my long-time love of magic and magic history. It was Scientific American, back in the 1920s, that created the special cash prize for anyone who could prove they had supernatural powers, or that paranormal phenomena was real. After a while psychics and other miracle workers stopped applying for the prize, because SA’s panel of experts always exposed them as frauds. The star member of that panel was Harry Houdini, in his post-performing second career as the enemy of charlatans and frauds

Thus it pains me to see the once great, dumbed-down vestige of Scientific American publish an article with this unforgivable headline, in front of content that is little better:

Climate Change May Have Helped Spark Iran’s Protests

And space aliens may have built the pyramids.

Actually, the article still has educational value, though no teacher is likely to use it properly. It is a wonderful example of poor critical thinking, bad science, the result of mixing science with politics, and how bias makes you stupid.  The author, Scott Waldman, doesn’t even try to hide the article’s weak logic and lame premise, beginning it with this:

The impacts of climate change are among the environmental challenges facing Iran that helped spark protests in dozens of cities across the Islamic republic.At least 20 people have died in the uprising, driven by the sudden collapse of financial institutions, low wages and mistrust of national leaders. Rising temperatures are seen by some experts as an underlying condition for the economic hardships that led to the unrest. A severe drought, mismanaged water resources and dust storms diminished Iran’s economy in recent years, according to experts who study the region. While the protests are largely driven by resistance to the country’s hardline conservative government, such environmental factors might have contributed to the largest protests inside Iran in years.

That tells any objective reader all he needs to know: junk ahead.  The old “some experts” ploy, eh? You can find “some experts” who will say anything, especially on TV. We just went through weeks of unethical speculation on whether the President was suffering from dementia based on “some expert,” a Yale professor of psychiatry who breached the American Psychiatric Association (APA) ethics protocols and was revealed as not to be licensed to practice anymore.You know. An expert.

Waldman himself isn’t an expert on climatology or even science: he’s a reporter, and his degree was in journalism. Funny, I’m so old, I remember when the articles in Scientific American were written by scientists. How quaint. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/31/2017: The Too Many Year Ending Ethics Issues To Handle In One Day Edition

Happy New Year!

1 Arrgh! In an op-ed called “Higher Ed’s Low Moment, Farnk Bruni bemoans the fact that colleges “found themselves on the defensive.” Citing the Pew Center’s findings that I discussed here, he writes of declining opinions about the value of college,

“That’s not so surprising, given Americans’ intensifying resentment of anything that smacks of elitism and given Republicans’ attacks on science and intellectuals. As Ron Daniels, the president of Johns Hopkins University, recently told me, “Even if we were completely unblemished in the way in which we pursued our mission, it would be hard to imagine that in Trump’s America, we wouldn’t be targets for scorn.”

Incredible. (Or, as my late, schizophrenic cousin Trefon would say, “Umba!“, as in “Umbelieveable!” I always found that funny, and I would love to see his slang word enter the popular lexicon. Trefon was a great kid who had a short, empty life, and ended it by jumping off an overpass into an oncoming truck. It would be nice if he left some enduring contribution to the culture, even if it was a silly one.) No, the reason so many Americans no longer think college is a wonderful thing is that they can see and hear. Students aren’t being educated. Graduates have minimal knowledge of history, literature, government and culture. They can’t write, and they can’t argue. Their professors get on social media and issue things that would destroy trust in any institution that employed them.

The campuses are increasingly hostile to free speech, free thought, democracy, capitalism and the United States of America. None of these factors penetrate Bruni’s biases and conventional wisdom. He keeps repeating the mantra that caused me to resign from an education board many years ago: ” a college degree is one of the surest harbingers of higher earnings and better economic security.” That’s how college has been regarded as a reflex for a century now, and the policies that followed that starting point–a degree,  means jobs and money—have created the sick system in which students who are not qualified to attend college are accepted anyway, and tuition has soared to obscene level., all while the actual content of the curriculum and teaching have become an afterthought. It’s the diploma that matters!

No, it’s the education. Bruni says, ” [T]he continued competitiveness of the American economy depends on the skills of our work force, the intellectual nimbleness of our citizens, the boldness of our scientific research and the genius of our inventions. Our colleges and universities are central to that.”  If getting as many people diplomas as possible is the mission, however, seeking “intellectual nimbleness” is obviously an afterthought.

This emperor has no clothes, and hasn’t had for a long time. The disturbing development isn’t that so many conservatives have finally realized that the golden ideal of an American college education no longer comports with reality. It is that so many opinion makers and policy makers hold on to that ideal when it is so evidently false. If college degrees don’t prove that  graduates have core knowledge, writing and critical thinking skills, then they are  just high-priced tickets to be incompetent.

And they don’t. Continue reading