Harper government intentionally suppressing inconvenient truths

Remember how rules changes in 2007 basically muzzled climate scientists in Canada from providing interviews with journalists about evidence-based climate research? Remember also how a troll on this blog suggested it was really just the public losing interest in, you know, being “guilt-tripped” by the media about the current state of today’s climate?

Documents were recently obtained by Postmedia News proving these policies are in fact governmentally mandated. Apparently, climate scientists are not allowed to discuss floods or the last ice age without special clearance either.

The documents say the “new” rules went into force in March and reveal how they apply to not only to contentious issues including the oilsands, but benign subjects such as floods that occurred 13,000 years ago.

They also give a glimpse of how Canadians are being cut off from scientists whose work is financed by taxpayers, critics say, and is often of significant public interest — be it about fish stocks, genetically modified crops or mercury pollution in the Athabasca River.

“It’s Orwellian,” says Andrew Weaver, a climatologist at University of Victoria. The public, he says, has a right to know what federal scientists are discovering and learning.

Scientists at NRCan, many of them world experts, study everything from seabeds to melting glaciers. They have long been able to discuss their research, until the rules changed this spring.

These policies are squelching legitimate studies based on legitimate scientific evidence, out of some misguided fear that they may be used against Harper’s politics. To translate: reality might have political ramifications that are detrimental to the Conservatives’ platforms.

NRCan scientist Scott Dallimore co-authored the study, published in the journal Nature on April 1, about a colossal flood that swept across northern Canada 13,000 years ago, when massive ice dams gave way at the end of the last ice age.

The study was considered so newsworthy that two British universities issued releases to alert the international media.

It was, however, deemed so sensitive in Ottawa that Dallimore, who works at NRCan’s laboratories outside Victoria, was told he had to wait for clearance from the minister’s office.

Dallimore tried to tell the department’s communications managers the flood study was anything but politically sensitive. “This is a blue sky science paper,” he said in one email, noting: “There are no anticipated links to minerals, energy or anthropogenic climate change.”

But the bureaucrats in Ottawa insisted. “We will have to get the minister’s office approval before going ahead with this interview,” Patti Robson, the department’s media relations manager, wrote in an email after a reporter from Postmedia News (then Canwest News Service) approached Dallimore.

Are you outraged yet?

Beyond Possibilianism: Why I Am a Maybetarian (Reformed)

This will probably be considered completely uncivil of me (perish the thought! Get me my fainting couch!). Nonethless, I can’t help but laugh at this misguided attempt by David Eagleman at reframing the debate between the faithful and us heathens as being between two extremes, with true-agnosticism — redefined with a pithy neologism — is the only rational point of view.

When there is a lack of meaningful data to weigh in on a problem, good scientists are comfortable holding many possibilities at once, rather than committing to a particular story over others. In light of this, I have found myself surprised by the amount of certainty out there.

And whose absolute certainty is getting David’s goat? The religious folks going door to door? The people who argue that because some small aspect of the universe is not presently accounted for and understood by science, the whole scientific endeavour must be wrong and their very narrow definition of a deity must be right?

Nope! Of course, he’s talking about those DAMN DIRTY NEW ATHEISTS!

Take, for example, this decade’s books by the new atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. Their books are brilliant and insightful, but sometimes feed a widespread misconception that scientists don’t have the capacity to gambol around beyond the available data. Some readers walk away from these books with the impression that scientists think they have the big picture solved – if not in detail, at least in outline.

Never mind that these “new atheists” are saying basically the same thing as atheists throughout the ages have said. They’re also backing up their assertions with science that disproves fundamental aspects of specific dogmas, and by uncovering those dogmas’ falseness, have convinced themselves (and rightly so, in my opinion) that none of the gods postulated by today’s religions are correct. Meanwhile, Richard Dawkins proclaims himself a mere 6 (well, 6.9) on a seven-point scale of certainty, where 1 is certainty that there is a specific deity, and 7 is certainty that there are no deities whatsoever. That is not… IS NOT… a 7. That is not “certainty” in the same sense as a religious believer’s certainty in their particular deity, the vast majority of whom would immediately peg their meter at a 1 without reservations or a second thought.

But good science is always open-minded, and the history of science is one of surprises and overturnings. Science is nothing but careful thinking, and careful thinking encourages an appreciation of the complexity of the world. The complexity encourages us to maintain several possibilities at once. In a single lifetime, we may have no way to remove the ambiguities from these possibilities.

Science is the only way to objectively observe this universe and winnow out how it actually works. This assertion is not an article of faith — it is in the definition of science, because science IS the objective observation of events and experimentation to prove or disprove the hypotheses that humans make to abstract reality and gain understanding of its inner workings. This includes how reality came to be. And it is in diametrical opposition to the specific claims of specific dogmatic institutions that require — no, DEMAND — that science, scientific progress, and the scientific understanding of the mechanisms by which this universe works, must be false. In toto. Because dogmatic faiths require every article of faith to stand, lest the house of cards comes down, they demand that science operate the same way, trying to have well-evidenced phenomena like evolution swept under the rug because those phenomena are antithetical to some core value of theirs. And because that well-evidenced phenomenon is offensive to them, science must defer, because to do otherwise is just being mean to those with religious sensibilities!

I often refer to myself as an agnostic atheist, because gnosticism defines belief that a deity’s existence is knowable, while theism defines belief in a specific deity. I do not consider the existence of a deity, as defined as possibly outside the scope of this universe, to be knowable with one hundred percent certainty. And yet, I still call myself an atheist.

Why is that? Because it is a strong improbability — very nearly an impossibility, in fact — that this universe, with its natural processes, was created in an unnatural manner by a supernatural being. Even if you wedge the door open to that minuscule possibility, there are enough truth-claims proven false in every single religion ever invented by man, that I can safely say that there is absolutely no religion represented on Earth, in all its six billion plus iterations (one for every human on the planet) that represents reality any better than the true open-mindedness that comes with the scientific pursuit.

Calling yourself a “Possibilian” is beyond ludicrous, David. Not only because there already exists a word that defines exactly the position you’re staking — hint, it’s called “agnosticism” — but because the word agnostic is not mutually exclusive from, and does not address, your atheism. Because you do not explicitly believe in a god or gods, you are an atheist. It is that simple. This isn’t linguistic prescriptivism, this isn’t verbal legerdemain, this isn’t a matter of opinion — it is the agreed-upon definition of the word atheist. And you’re one. You’re living it. Own it.

And while you’re at it, please do us all a favor and drop the “New Atheist” canard. They’re just plain atheists. That’s all. Well, that, and scientists, and far better and more prolific authors than you or I could ever hope to be.

I want to believe… BUT…

Floating around the interdumb: UFOs are real zomg!!!

Senior government officials and lifelong UFO researchers are pretty difficult to ignore, aren’t they?

Except, no, they’re quite easy to ignore, because all they’re presenting is anecdotal evidence. Where’s the alien body? The piece of alien technology? The actual hard physical evidence that proves that these as-yet-unexplained anecdotes are anything more than anecdotes? Until something concrete is forthcoming, it’s easy to dismiss this nonsense as nonsense out of hand. The burden of proof is always — ALWAYS — on the extraordinary claimant.

If there are sentient aliens capable of interstellar travel, that would be wonderful news. To know that we are not the only sentient life forms in the universe would turn dogmatic religions on their ear, open whole new avenues of physics research, and provide humankind a chance to show its true stripes. While we still don’t know what those stripes are — we as a species are still in our infancy — I have faith in humankind enough so that the majority of us will do the right thing and act the right way in the face of such a momentous event as First Contact. I recognize, at the same time, that some of our intellectual backwash will consider aliens an automatic threat, or a chance at spreading their particular dogmatic religion virus to another race of beings; and I strongly hope that these elements will be quelled before an interstellar political incident has us cordoned off as dangerous by the other sentient beings in the galaxy.

But all of this is mental masturbation, without evidence. I want to believe in alien life, especially in sentient life that could pay us a visit. I really do. It would mean so much to the development of the human race, and it would mean there are aspects of physics we have as yet not learned to unlock. It would mean the world of Star Trek is actually, legitimately possible. But you can’t make that kind of assumption based on anecdotal evidence!

Human brains can be easily fooled in any number of ways, and we’re exceptionally good at fooling ourselves into seeing agency where there is none (again, look no further than the dogmatic religions I’m worried will give us a bad name). Just because a small subset of all the anecdotes ever made about UFOs can NOT be explained by weather balloons, swamp gas, etc., doesn’t mean the de facto, null hypothesis, fallback position is that the phenomenon is an alien spacecraft. That is a reach too far for me. The null hypothesis is that if you can’t prove definitively what it is, you should assume it’s natural, because every other event we’ve ever seen (in basically every field of human inquiry) has turned out to be natural. Every mystery throughout history has turned out to be not magic.