Posts Tagged ‘environmentalism’

This post is about Israel but has nothing to do with the Palestine issue

October 5, 2010

… which makes it a rarity as far as blogs in general go, I guess.

OK so there’s this lesson we here in America ought to take from Israel, and that is that we should fire government officials who are in charge of science education and yet oppose the whole idea of science education. We haven’t had much of this at the federal level lately, but under Bush this was part of this drearily¬†predictable¬†pattern of appointing people to head departments who had the goal of undermining said department.

For example Bush’s Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao never had a labor job. She was always on the side of management. The Department of Justice was staffed with Liberty “University” grads who wanted to replace the Constitution with the Ten Commandments. The EPA was stripped of whistleblower protection, which also kind of undermines the point of having an EPA.

But this isn’t about early 2000s America. It’s about Israel in 2010. So I’ll try to get to the point.

Gavriel Avital was Israel’s chief scientist in its Ministry of Education until recently. He was fired for denying evolution and global warming. In other words he was fired for incompetence.

YNet News claims in its headline that he was fired for questioning evolution, which makes it seem as if he were fired for having an open mind. This seems like an injustice since science really depends on scientists having an open mind and being open to having even our most strongly-held beliefs challenged. But then you skim down the article a bit and you get a more accurate representation of his views:

“If textbooks state explicitly that human beings’ origins are to be found with monkeys, I would want students to pursue and grapple with other opinions. There are many people who don’t believe the evolutionary account is correct,” he said.

There are two logical fallacies in as many sentences here. The first is a strawman, since nobody but ignorant creationists claim that evolution means that humans evolved from monkeys. What it means is that humans and other apes share a common ancestor. So since textbooks don’t “state explicitly that human beings’ origins are to be found with monkeys,” it’s safe to presume that he wouldn’t want students to “peruse and grapple with other opinions.” But probably not, I’m guessing.

The other logical fallacy is an argument ad populum. From a scientific perspective (and certainly for someone in charge of science education), it doesn’t matter if there are “many people who don’t believe the evolutionary account is correct.” What matters is the evidence. But creationists don’t like to talk about evidence, so they try to make their weird conspiracy theories seem plausible by focusing on aspects of the discussion other than the evidence.

This is something we ought to learn from. It’s OK to fire someone for incompetence, even when their incompetence results from their religious beliefs. That doesn’t interfere with their freedom to believe whatever they want – it only interferes with their ability to get paid for a job for which they are clearly unqualified.


Have you ever stared at the back of a dollar bill… on South African vulture brains?

January 4, 2010

Vultures in South Africa are in danger of going extinct because gamblers are smoking their brains. They believe doing this will give them visions of the future – like lottery numbers and the outcomes of sporting events.

This is one of those crackpot ideas that should have a short shelf life. If people were rational, they’d see that the people they know who smoke vulture brains then (probably) don’t win the lottery – and then stop smoking vulture brains. But it seems to have become an obsession on its own, kind of like how gambling itself can to some people. Just… a few… more… vulture brains….

From the Guardian article:

Andre Botha, manager of the birds of prey working group at the Endangered Wildlife Trust in South Africa, said: “People believe it’s foresight and this finds fertile ground in people’s imagination. If it worked for the lottery, everyone would use it and we’d have a lot of millionaires walking around today.
“There is a lot of betting in South Africa. So we may see an increase connected to gambling around the 2010 World Cup.”

For some reason the Guardian is calling people who do this “traditional healers” instead of more appropriate terms, like quack. It’s not objective to refer to this as “traditional,” it’s just enabling.

There are parallels to this around the world. The vulture brain story is just the one to become a news story recently. Another problematic area in “traditional healing” is the use of ground-up Rhinoceroses’ horns in China as an antidote to poisons, devil posessions, to keep away evil spirits, to cure typhoid, headaches, fever, dysentery, smallpox, and pretty much everything else. Similar use waste of tiger bones in China has led to their demise in that part of the world.

So people who are interested in preserving a diversity of animal species on Earth are left with what some might approach as a dilemma. They want to protect endangered species, but many of those same people have a misguided but well-intentioned desire to preserve marginalized human cultures – and never mind what those human cultures happen to be doing, even if it’s in direct conflict with the goal of protecting endangered species.

So the obvious solution, at least it’s obvious to me, is to not worry so much about how “OMG IT’S THEIR CULTURE” when that involves doing unnecessary harm. Otherwise you’ll have no reason to use that same principle to defend witch hunts and human sacrifices in the interests of communities which do that sort of thing.

Anyway, the important thing to remember about all of this is that smoking vulture brains will let you see the future.

Pic of the Day

December 21, 2009

The Mayans destroyed themselves, says archeologist

October 8, 2009

PhysOrg has a report on the comments made by veteran archeologist Tom Sever on how the Mayans, contrary to the whole ‘noble savage’ myth of tribal communities living peacefully and in harmony with nature, really were just about as douchey as today’s SUV drivers. They squandered all their resources on building ridiculously elaborate temples for their imaginary gods; and when a drought came, they had little recourse.

“They had to burn 20 trees to heat the limestone for making just 1 square meter of the lime plaster they used to build their tremendous temples, reservoirs, and monuments.”

Using computer models, Sever found that even in the widest possible range of degrees of deforestation, this inefficient waste of resources ultimately led to the drying of Mayan reservoirs which contributed to the fall of their civilization. In other words, “Giving all to God” is simply not a sustainable option. As if you didn’t already know that.

Joey Ratz on atheists and the environment

September 8, 2009

From teh Poep:

Is it not true that inconsiderate use of creation begins where God is marginalized or also where his existence is denied? If the human creature’s relationship with the Creator weakens, matter is reduced to egoistic possession, man becomes the “final authority,” and the objective of existence is reduced to a feverish race to possess the most possible.

President of the UK National Secular Society Terry Sanderson responds:

This is rich, coming from the leader of an organization that has plundered the world to enrich itself. As he sits in his golden palaces, surrounded by unimaginable luxury and material wealth, he lectures the rest of us about restraint and greed. We have nothing to learn about environmentalism from this hypocrite.