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It's Earth Day! Choose Evidence Over Environmentalist Emotions.
How a liberal community recently voted for reason over emotion and values-based decision-making on two hot-button environmental issues.
The voters of Concord, Massachusetts, decided a few years ago to ban the sale of single-serving plastic water bottles. This was the result of a couple things; the strong environmental passions in the community, and the fact that Concord has an open town meeting form of government. Issues big and small are put before the public, and any local citizen who comes to the meeting gets to vote. It’s about the purest form of democracy you can imagine. Which makes it, as Winston Churchill said, the worst form of government ever, except for all the others.
The town meeting is dangerously susceptible to decision-making based more on values and emotions than evidence, a worrisome vulnerability in these days of increasing science denialism. But there can still be wisdom in the crowd, objective consideration of the scientific evidence about what would do the most good. The other night, at a Concord town meeting, voters overwhelmingly defeated a call to stop fluoridating public drinking water, rejecting the proposal of a few who denied massive scientific evidence about the net benefits of fluoride and instead promoted excessive and largely unsubstantiated fears. And in another vote even more heartening for decision-making based on the evidence rather than emotions, the town also rejected a move to block the use of artificial turf on playing fields.
The line of speakers in favor of that idea was long, their environmental passions fierce. Standard alarmist tropes like “toxic chemicals” (followed by a long list of scary polysyllabic examples) and “we’re using our children as guinea pigs” were invoked. Simplistic faith in anything natural and demonization of anything artificial could be heard in pleas to “protect our natural environment,” “grass is organic; plastic is not,” and even “What Would [Henry David] Thoreau Do?” (It is not blasphemous to say that, to some in Concord, Thoreau has near Jesus-like status.)
Opponents of artificial turf brushed aside multiple thorough risk assessments that have found that these fields are not a health risk using standard science-denial language like, “There is no proof these fields are safe,” and, “The research hasn’t been done,” and, “If they contain toxic chemicals, it just stands to reason that the fields are toxic.”
Several argued against artificial turf on grounds of environmental sustainability. A leader of the local environmental group charged that “a two-acre artificial turf field generates 55.6 tons of carbon dioxide, and other greenhouse gases, pollutants and chemicals.” This last claim ignored a preliminary life cycle analysis (Environmental and Health Impacts of Artificial Turf, A Review) that found that artificial turf fields are more environmentally favorable than grass fields, which also have environmental costs.
It was a stunning display of environmental values denying science evidence, from an intelligent group of passionate people who were pretty clearly looking at things through their environmental beliefs and ignoring or denying hard facts that didn’t fit with their values. It was similar to the way ideology clouds the objectivity of those who deny the evidence on climate change.
A number of speakers challenged the move to block artificial turf. Many cited the robust evidence that such surfaces pose no health risk. Some introduced themselves as professionals or academics in environmental health sciences, and tried to address generic environmental chemophobia by explaining toxicology and risk assessment and even the basics of chemistry. One speaker even tried to dispel fears of “that chemical smell” from artificial turf. Apparently it’s some form of sulfur.
But these speakers weren’t really defending plastic grass. They were defending evidence-based reason. Most of them were clearly frustrated by the emotionalism of the other side. In the end, this wasn’t an argument about what kind of surface to put on playing fields. This was a deeper conflict between values and reason, about whether we should base our decisions on what our gut says or on what the facts say.
And encouragingly, reason won: 302 people voted for the proposal to block artificial turf. But 454 rejected that proposal, because it seemed to be based more on emotion and less on an objective consideration of the evidence.
Many Concordians are proud that our town has become a national model with our ban on single-serving plastic water bottles, a ban that got worldwide attention. But I suggest we should be even prouder of the vote we took the other night, a vote that demonstrates that open democracy can give fair voice to passionate values and still choose to rely on a thoughtful, objective analysis of the evidence as people try to figure out what will do them and their communities the most good.
Image courtesy NOAA
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Philosophers have been asking the question for hundreds of years. Now neuroscientists are joining the quest to find out.
- The debate over whether or not humans have free will is centuries old and ongoing. While studies have confirmed that our brains perform many tasks without conscious effort, there remains the question of how much we control and when it matters.
- According to Dr. Uri Maoz, it comes down to what your definition of free will is and to learning more about how we make decisions versus when it is ok for our brain to subconsciously control our actions and movements.
- "If we understand the interplay between conscious and unconscious," says Maoz, "it might help us realize what we can control and what we can't."
Puerto Rico's iconic telescope facilitated important scientific discoveries while inspiring young scientists and the public imagination.
- The Arecibo Observatory's main telescope collapsed on Tuesday morning.
- Although officials had been planning to demolish the telescope, the accident marked an unceremonious end to a beloved astronomical tool.
- The Arecibo radio telescope has facilitated many discoveries in astronomy, including the mapping of near-Earth asteroids and the detection of exoplanets.
Bradley Rivera via twitter.com<p>In 1963, the concave dish was built into a natural sinkhole on the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The location was <a href="https://www.space.com/20984-arecibo-observatory.html" target="_blank">picked because it was near the equator,</a> providing scientists a clear view of planets passing overhead, and also of the ionosphere, which is the uniquely reactive layer of Earth's upper atmosphere where the northern lights form.</p><p>Since its construction, scientists have used the Arecibo telescope to map near-Earth asteroids, detect gravitational waves, study pulsars, detect exoplanets and <a href="https://www.seti.org/goodbye-arecibo" target="_blank">search for alien civilizations</a>, among other projects. Here's a brief look at some of the discoveries and accomplishments made using the Arecibo telescope:</p><ul><li>1964: Astronomer <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Pettengill" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gordon Pettengill</a> discovers that Mercury's rotation period is 59 days, significantly shorter than the previous prediction of 88 days.</li><li>1974: Physicists Russell Alan Hulse and Joseph Hooton Taylor Jr. discovers the first binary pulsar, for which they won a Nobel Prize in Physics.</li><li>1974: Scientists use the telescope to transmit the "Arecibo message" to <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Globular_Cluster_in_Hercules" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">globular star cluster M13</a>. The message, when translated into image form, contains basic information about humanity and human knowledge: the numbers one to 10, a map of our solar system, an illustration of a human being, and the atomic numbers of certain elements.</li><li>1989: Scientists use the telescope to image an asteroid for the first time.</li><li>1992: Astronomers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail become the first to discover exoplanets.</li></ul>
The Google-owned company developed a system that can reliably predict the 3D shapes of proteins.