Conservatives Love Science More!

So I've been thinking a lot about the charge that conservatives are bad because they hate science.  But it's just not true.  Here's a beginning of my explanation why.


We conservatives say that the middle-class college or university of the libertarians doesn’t respect science for what it is.  In some immediate or obvious sense, there’s no one less productive than the theoretical physicist or mathematician, no one who cares about money less, no one who has less respect for the descriptive pretensions of the libertarian economist. We conservatives, no strangers to popular culture, love and respect the incisively witty portrayal of Sheldon Cooper on TV's The Big Bang Theory.  The caricature Sheldon highlights in neon letters something true and good about being human.

For the young, natural-scientist Socrates (not to mention the more mature conversational Socrates), the economist is nothing but a sophist.  Sophists know some useful stuff, and so they often deserve the money they command.  But they know a lot less than they think they do, which is why their theory of education reduces each of us to less than who we really are.  The biggest threat to higher education in America today is the sophist—the expert.

But we conservatives also think physicists know a lot less than they think they do.  As Walker Percy observes, the physicist might well understand everything but himself.  His mind might well be at home in the cosmos, but the trouble is he's more than a mind.

Sheldon is also more than a body or some combination of mind and body.  The real mind-body problem is that the persons for whom it is a problem are neither minds mor bodies.

So Sheldon Cooper mistakenly understands himself as a mind trapped in an alien body.  As long as he can't get over thinking and feeling that way, he'll think he was made to love string theory and not his girlfriend Amy, quite "the piece of work," a unique and irreplaceable person.

Physicists these days often become “new atheists” because they can find no room for persons—including a personal God—in the cosmos they can impersonally or deterministically comprehend. But that's because they've made the mistake of forgetting to wonder whether there's even room for themselves.

As Tocqueville says, there’s nothing more strange and wonderful and genuinely mysterious than the being who truthfully understands himself to be caught for a moment between two abysses.  More wonderful than what the physicist can know through his science is the physicist—the real person—himself.  We wonder not because we’re minds, but because we’re whole persons.  Our eros and willfulness, our fears and our anxieties and our singular pride, animate our minds.  As our philosopher-pope Benedict reminded us, logos is personal, as far as we know it can only be found in persons.

The young natural-scientist Socrates, many physicists have forgotten, changed his “method” because he saw there was truth in the poetic criticism of his self-forgetfulness.  His new method was the dialectical or conversational inquiry into who we are as beings in particular places facing predicaments unknown to the other animals or, of course, the stars.  Once he changed the focus of the wonder, he knew that he no longer could claim to know enough to live in atheistic certainty.  He even knew that he didn’t know enough to develop a comprehensive theory of education that corresponding to the whole truth about who each of us is.

So for us conservatives liberal education or the highest part of education is the search for who we are as more than technological or deterministic beings.  We begin with the thought that a determined being couldn’t be a technological one.  The determined beings—the other animals who live by instinct alone and so are perfectly content with the lives they’ve been given by nature—don’t use their freedom to change—to impose their (free?) wills on—nature.

We add that we can’t pretend to be indifferent to and be ignorant—or at least wholly ignorant—about what our freedom is for.  We know we’re not only free but relational and truthful beings, and we can’t live either authentically or happily in “relativistic” denial of what we can’t help but know.

A still from the film "We Became Fragments" by Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller, part of the Global Oneness Project library.

Photo: Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller / Global Oneness Project
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
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  • Before the hurricane season even started in 2020, Arthur and Bertha had already blown through, and Cristobal may be brewing right now.
  • Weather forecasters see signs of a rough season ahead, with just a couple of reasons why maybe not.
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Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.

NOAA expects a busy season

According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.

Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.

What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.

This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.

Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:

  • The ocean there is warmer than usual.
  • There's reduced vertical wind shear.
  • Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
  • There have been strong West African monsoons this year.

Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:

But wait.

ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.

First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.

Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.

Image source: NOAA

Batten down the hatches early

If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.

Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."

Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.

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