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Gadzooks - Marauding Woolly Mammoths!

April 9, 2012 - Roughly thirty years ago, I lived a little bit north of Dallas, Texas.  I'd been married for only a few years, and my husband had been offered a transfer with his then-employer.  We were given the choice of living in L.A. or Dallas.  Dallas was the winner, because we didn't think we could afford to live in Los Angeles (we were moving from the Chicago suburbs, which is where both of us grew up).

Anyway, I found a job, and began carpooling with someone who lived up our way.  One day, on the drive into work, the conversation wandered to our memories of the first moon landing.  We shared our pride in the country's accomplishment, and talked about how moon exploration had affected life here on earth.  My co-worker then remarked, "That's unless you don't believe it ever happened."  I was at a loss for words, and probably said something like "huh?"  He went on to explain that his neighbor, a lady of advanced years, did not believe that men had ever landed on the moon.  Her reasoning, he said with a chuckle, was that TV commentators had asserted that the temperature on the moon was minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit.  Native Texan that she was, she stood firm in her belief that God just wouldn't let it get that cold!  Therefore, it was pretty obvious to her that they had made the whole thing up!!

Dumbfounded, I scarcely knew how to respond.  Had anyone acquainted her with the fact that it gets that cold on earth, I inquired.  That hadn't gone over too well, said my driving companion.  She was nobody's fool, and she knew truth from falsehood.  And that's all there was to that.

At which point, the only thing left to do was to decide whether to laugh or to cry.  Do you recognize that feeling?  Does it resemble the way you felt when you heard that the state of Tennessee will mandate the teaching of climate change denial?  When there are two sides to the story, by all means, teach them both.  The problem is, there can't be two sides to a fact.  Facts are established with supporting evidence.  If contradictory evidence is discovered, scientific experiment can eliminate one "fact" or the other.  This is the way facts are established, especially in cases where the evidence of sight is not possible.

For instance, we know that over half a million square miles of ice has melted in the Arctic.  Pictures of the Arctic, both recent and historic, exist, allowing for comparison.  As a result, there are now huge dips in the jet stream from time to time.  One such dip caused the record-breaking March we just endured.  The truth is, I've never been to the Arctic, and cannot compare what I once saw with what I've recently seen.  I am willing to take the word of NASA and the NOAA.  My tax dollars support these agencies, and I don't pay them to do research just so that I can ignore a reasonable deduction based on the evidence (hmmm, lots of ice is gone - did it blow away? - I don't see it anywhere else - the temperature has increased - ice is sensitive to temperature increase, therefore it must have melted).

Let's suppose, as a kind of thought experiment, that you and I live back during Neanderthal times.  Families had once lived separately from one another, but had discovered that with more pairs of eyes, accidents and injury were less likely to happen.  They banded together into villages.  One day a hunting party of several men returns to our small village and reports (in Neanderthal language, I guess) that a marauding woolly mammoth is headed toward the village!  Would you and I insist that we had to see the marauding mammoth with our own eyes before we believed we were in danger?  Or would the likelihood of placing ourselves directly in the path of imminent catastrophe be sufficiently alarming for us to accept the hunters' warning?

I have the audacity to believe most of us would opt for the latter.  So why were we so smart then, and why are we so dumb now?


  1. As far as I'm concerned, there are way too many people like the lady mentioned above, who "decided" god wouldn't let it get that cold.

    There seems to be an increasing hobby in this country of not just climate change denial, but of denying any science that you don't like.

    Is "Science Denial" next on the menu?


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