Thursday, February 2, 2017

Scientific Honesty

Scientists may not be naturally more honest than other people, but the scientific method enforces honesty when it is followed, as it usually is, at least in the underfunded ecological and organismic sciences. Actually, scientists are, on average, more honest partly because the scientific enterprise attracts honest people—that is, people who do not want their reputations tainted by dishonesty. For preachers and presidents, of course, the more taint the better. So keep grabbing that p***y, Trump! And all you evangelical Christians, keep praising Trump for doing so!

One of my major projects is that I have kept records on the spring budburst dates of almost 400 trees (22 species) for the last twelve years in southern Oklahoma. While my data set is not the biggest in the world, it is one of the major on-the-ground data sets (as opposed to satellite imagery), and certainly the best one for hundreds of miles around where I live and work. On January 30 and 31 of this year, almost all of the sweetgum trees (Liquidambar styraciflua, in the Altiginaceae family) burst their buds—that is, the bud scales separated enough that I could see the green underneath. But there was one tree I missed. It was way over across campus, not close to any other trees in my data set. Since it is surrounded by brick walls, creating a warm microenvironment, I assumed that its buds had opened also. This was a statistically valid assumption. But if I wanted to make this tree a data point (datum) in my study, I had to go look at it. I did so—it was a nice 73 degree F day, like many other winter days in southern Oklahoma (itself an indicator of global warming)—and found that, indeed, I was correct. All this, for one datum out of several thousand.

This honesty is in striking contrast to the ruling junta in Washington, where the worshipers of Donald Trump believe that they can just make up “alternative facts”, assertions that God Himself is obligated to accept. My data clearly show that budburst over the past twelve years has occurred about three weeks earlier—more in some, less in other, species. But Trump can just make up an alternative fact, and say that this has not happened, and that simply sweeps aside my thousands of data and the millions of data worldwide not only of global climate change but of organism responses to it. I fear—and I hope I am wrong—that Trump and his junta will force federal research facilities to make up data to prove that global warming is not occurring, and cut off grant funding for anyone who does not agree with Him. This won’t hurt me; I just keep records on the trees I see when I walk to work or drive down to the park. All I need is statistical software, which the university provides (don’t tell Trump). The ascendancy of “alternative facts” or Trump-truths is one reason I believe that the very scientific way of thinking is under assault in America.

Maybe not in France. They have their own political mess right now, but even the right-wingers over there appear to accept global climate change and the importance of doing something about it. There is more than one way of being wrong. You can be in error, or you can be abusively wrong. The former, in French, is se tromper (to deceive oneself) (Trump le trompe), I think. The latter is avoir tort (Trump a tort). Perhaps the best description of Trump is Trump nous trompe—Trump deceives us. He should be ashamed, but Trump n’a jamais honte.

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