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ALTERNATIVE FACTS CAN KILL YOU: My family's 300-year history with fake news

Posted in News Last updated on: Tuesday, 07 February 2017

fake newsThe year was 1950.  As a lark, the tiny magazine that my father wrote for published this photo of an alleged 27-inch alien who was said to have crashed outside Mexico City.

The picture had come from a flying saucer fanatic and was so obviously faked that the staff thought no reader would take it seriously.  Instead, the issue sold out and the story went national.  The office phone rang off the hook.  People called in confirming they’d seen the craft.  The magazine had inadvertently discovered the future readership of Weekly World News, the tabloid that revealed the location of the Garden of Eden (it’s in Colorado) as well as the 43 entrances to Hell.

That same audience has bequeathed us the dreamscape we all now inhabit, a place where no claim is too ludicrous to be bandied and believed.  Perhaps you took heart at the defeat of the candidate for the Texas State Board of Education who declared that Barack Obama had worked as a gay prostitute and that climate change is a hoax started by Karl Marx.  Consider, though, that she pulled in 41% of the vote.  What’s going on?

CRITICAL THINKING: More critical than ever. So are teachers.

Posted in News Last updated on: Tuesday, 15 November 2016

It's 1:00 am, election night 2016.  Teachers, do you know where your critical thinking module is?

FOOTBALL AND FOSSIL FUELS: Vested interests in action

Posted in News Last updated on: Monday, 06 February 2017

A climb to dominance, disruptive discoveries, a fight for survival...

Football and fossil fuels might not be connected but they've followed similar arcs. Both give us a classic look at vested interests and the binds that big money creates.

THE LATEST NEWS:

The NFL admits there's a link between hits and CTE.

Ken Stabler and Tyler Sash are the latest deceased NFL players whose brains showed CTE.  Two promising players in their early twenties retire out of concussion concerns. Pop Warner youth football is sued by the family of a player who later committed suicide.

The NFL isn't the only organization worried about concussions: U.S. Soccer has outlawed heading the ball for youth soccer players 10 and under; see story here.  Women's soccer star Brandi Chastain has announced she'll donate her brain for concussion research.

BROWN IS THE NEW GREEN: Lessons from the California drought

Posted in News Last updated on: Monday, 06 February 2017

I live on the California coast, where a company will dye your brown lawn green for $100.  Where weather reports contain lines like "accumulations of up to two-tenths of an inch"--words that actually excite us.  But what happens if we zoom out from the particulars and look at the wider principles playing out? 


  

THE LATEST NEWS:

California received average or better precipitation in 2015-16, especially in the north where most of the rainfall is stored.  This was welcome but not enough to erase the effects of the drought.  The latest predictions for 2016-17 suggest a return to low rainfall, but predictions of a major El Nino-fueled deluge last winter turned out to be wrong, so stay tuned.

 

STOP, LOOK, THINK: Eyes wide open on meat

Posted in News Last updated on: Sunday, 11 September 2016

STOP, LOOK, THINK: Eyes wide open on meat

 

You probably eat meat once or more a day without giving it a thought.  Socrates' response: "The unexamined life isn't worth living."  What about the unexamined diet?

Instead of mindlessly swallowing, many are looking closely at the meat on their plates.  High meat-eating levels, like high energy use, are woven into Western culture, a point of pride.  That diet is now spreading worldwide.  What could be the problem with something so widely eaten?  The issues fall into two main categories.

NOW I GET IT: The power of the big picture

Posted in News Last updated on: Saturday, 18 June 2016

NOW I GET IT: The power of the big picture
Seeing behind things--the coal mine behind your light switch, the downed forest behind your burger--is central to solving the environmental crunch and a major focus of Eyes Wide Open.  But looking down from high above might be even more important.  Looking behind gives us added information, but looking down tells us what it means.  It does this by zooming out so we can see much more space and time, putting our facts in a larger context.  The big picture is a bolt of lightning, starkly illuminating issues and giving us sudden clarity.

MEDIA LITERACY: Don't vote without it

Posted in News Last updated on: Monday, 11 July 2016

MEDIA LITERACY: Don't vote without it

The months before an election turn us into four-year-olds trying to get through a funhouse: slanted floors, lying mirrors, screams. It's harvest time for the public relations industry, working overtime to override our rational minds and get us to vote for the interests who've hired them. The means: ancient, underhanded, and effective.

If the picture painted in Eyes Wide Open of the fossil fuel lobby's PR campaign seems exaggerated, check out the quotes from the book followed by those in bold from prominent Washington consultants Richard Berman and Jack Hubbard touting their techniques to oil and gas executives, their talk recorded by a disgruntled exec and printed in a story in the New York Times.

VESTED INTERESTS: Naked and unafraid in Wyoming

Posted in News Last updated on: Monday, 11 July 2016

VESTED INTERESTS: Naked and unafraid in Wyoming

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) call for the no-bones-about-it teaching of evolution and human-caused climate change. States can choose whether to use them or not. In Wyoming, a committee of science teachers spent eighteen months studying the standards and voted unanimously to adopt. But in a state dominated by the oil, gas, and coal industries, the legislature voted them down. The surprise was the naked explanation offered by the Board of Education's chairman, Ron Micheli: "They're very prejudiced in my opinion against fossil-fuel development."

AIRPLANES: SUVs of the sky?

Posted in News Last updated on: Monday, 11 July 2016

AIRPLANES: SUVs of the sky?

We didn't used to know that flying's environmental downsides are so huge--but now we do. Will flying eventually become like driving a Hummer, a mode reserved for the unevolved? Just how bad is it? What fixes are in sight?

How big is the problem?  Take all the West's greenhouse gas emissions--from industry, power plants, cars, agriculture, etc--and flying's portion works out to 10 percent. That's a startlingly high number. It got so big in part because planes release their CO2, water vapor, soot, and nitrous oxide into the upper atmosphere, which multiplies their ill effects. The average American generates 19 tons of carbon per year, but a single coast-to-coast round trip weighs in at 2-3 tons. What's to be done?

FALLACY WATCH: "The science isn't settled."

Posted in News Last updated on: Monday, 01 August 2016

FALLACY WATCH:

This is the go-to statement for politicians defending fossil fuels when climate dangers are raised. It has the ring of reasonableness: the speaker is no ostrich hiding from the facts but simply maintains a threshold for belief that hasn't been met. And it's certainly true that science is constantly changing its mind. So where's the fallacy?

CROWDSOURCING SCIENCE: You're Invited!

Posted in News Last updated on: Wednesday, 22 June 2016

CROWDSOURCING SCIENCE: You're Invited!

Data points are to science what donuts are to Homer Simpson's diet: the building blocks. The more data we have, the more pixels in our view of the world, the more accurate our theories of what's going on.

Enter crowdsourcing. Suddenly huge new flows of data are arriving thanks to citizen science projects. No lab coat? No problem. If you're interested and conscientious, you could be contributing valuable data that would otherwise go uncollected for lack of funds. Some programs take you into the field. Others can be done in bed with a laptop. Some require a day or more of training; others just a quick online tutorial. Here's a sampling of what you can do: