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Unbalanced Science

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Oct. 31st, 2008 | 07:22 am

For a one-day honeymoon on Monday we explored to the renovated California Academy of Science in Golden Gate Park.

We arrived at 9:30 when the doors opened, snagged our 10:30 am planetarium tickets, whizzed through the Rain Forest, saw the planetarium show, viewed the roof garden, ate, went to the bug show, braved the strollers to walk through the remaining space, and left happy and a bit dazed in the middle of the afternoon.

The Academy preaches environmentalism in all exhibits, floor space, and in nearly every utterance. They have a point of view.

Unfortunately, they promote their view at the expense of science.  Not a good thing for an organization with the "Academy of Science" in its name.

Two examples.

The minor one was the annoying focus on man's environmental evils during the planetarium show.  Instead of whisking us into the night sky or to some celestial wonder, the first minutes were spent in gooshy talk about our interconnectedness with the environment. The video showed us what the nasty clear cutting of forests in Madagascar looks like from space... or maybe it was only a representation of what it looks like.  The entire presentation was oddly imprecise in detailing what was real photography and what was artistic versions of what scientists think something looks like.  In any event, I wanted stars in my planetarium show, and didn't appreciate the continuous drum beat of "Bad Human" instead of astronomy.

The truly bad phony science was the carbon footprint balance teeter-totter on the main floor:
Carbon Balance at the California Academy of Science
As you move the sliders to the left you tilt balance to the good side of carbon footprint.  Left-side things are like using no energy at home or driving a car 0 miles. Right-side things are hours traveling in an airplane or lots of miles in an SUV.

The first problem is that using no energy in one area doesn't really offset, or balance out, what you do in another.  Driving a small car 5,000 miles a year may be environmentally better than storming over 20,000 miles of road in a Ford Explorer.  But, adding a small car to your garage doesn't balance out your SUV.

What really got me snarling about the bias was the next-to-the-top line of Public Transportation/carpooling trips.  The balance beam tilts left as you use MUNI 30,000 miles or so a year whereas their scale has you wrecking the environment (slider on the right) if you don't get on a bus at all.

No, no, no.  Using more public transportation is not environmentally beneficial.  Increasing your percentage of MUNI use may be helpful, but increasing overall consumption is harmful.

Yet, the Academy is teaching its school children visitors that they can save the world by taking a  J-Church ride after they have jetted to Los Angeles for breakfast.  "Remember the display at the Academy of Science we saw when we were kids?  Ten trolley rides balance out two hours of airplane travel. We can go to Rome tomorrow if we spend next week shuttling in the Transbay Tube."

True, many MUNI rides are uncomfortable enough to seem like penance for some horrible sin.  But, it just isn't good science to pass out carbon indulgences with the monthly Fast Pass. It's junk science.

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dr_scott

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from: dr_scott
date: Oct. 31st, 2008 04:43 pm (UTC)
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Well, we haven't exactly entered a new Dark Age yet, but this kind of abuse of science (which I will call by the technical term "crapola") has become more common. There seems to be a gene for piety which is expressed in self-righteous belief free of any attachment to facts, and public school systems have been pushing oversimplified environmentalism for a generation now. This is the result -- the kids who put these exhibits together don't see anything wrong with them. They support Go(o)d!

What to do? Talk to the trustees of the institution? Wait until our society collapses and the new barbarians take over?

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