Climate Change, Founding Fathers, UFOs and Scientific Literacy

Topics today:

    • Insurance companies, whose business depends on understanding risks, are taking steps to acknowledge climate change and its threats, even if many ordinary people still don’t “believe” in climate change;
    • How the “founding fathers” were woke, compared to the modern-day GOP;
    • How NASA’s latest response to “unidentified anomalous phenomena” (colloquially UFOs) is significant for its discussion about scientific literacy (thus, no Oxford comma in the title above);
    • And some music: early Philip Glass.

Those who still dismiss climate change as a hoax, or real but not a problem, consider how insurance companies — who need to manage risks! — are changing their policies in reaction. (There have been similar stories about the US military taking actions to protect bases in low-lying coastal areas.) Pay attention to those have financial stakes at risk.

Vox, 2 Jun 2023: Climate change is already making parts of America uninsurable, subtitled “‘We’re steadily marching toward an uninsurable future.'”

Including how State Farm, and now Allstate, have suspended writing new homeowner policies in California. Among examples in other states. Those of us who have been paying attention have seen this coming.


Conservatives seem to project their current preferences and prejudices onto the ‘founding fathers,’ just as they do onto God. (It’s funny how God always supports their own biases.) But the founders were the progressives of their era.

Salon, Kirk Swearingen, 1 Jun 2023: Were the founding fathers “woke”? Well, compared to the modern-day GOP — definitely, subtitled “Jefferson, Hamilton and those other guys come with well-known baggage. But compare them to Republicans, please”

It is, of course, deeply ahistorical and borderline offensive to call the founding fathers of the American republic a bunch of “woke” liberals. Yes, I can hear the objections coming in from all directions, and we’ll get to those — but let me explain.

It’s all relative, and if the relative standard is the troglodyte ideology of Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis and their various followers, hearkening back variously (and incoherently) to the Jim Crow era, the Confederacy and even medieval Europe, then the comparison is easy. With ideas gleaned from reading Greek and Roman philosophers and from the Enlightenment that surrounded them, the men who founded the United States were, given their era and their backgrounds, as “woke” to the themes of justice and equality and universal human rights as could possibly have been expected of anyone.

Swearingen links to another of his pieces, on, and invokes Heather Cox Richardson.


This one pivots, to a subject I haven’t addressed very often. In brief: the yearning of UFO buffs for evidence of aliens far exceeds any kind of actual evidence to support that conclusion. It’s a case study in wishful thinking and lack of scientific literacy.

OnlySky: 1 Jun 2023: NASA’s quest for scientific literacy around so-called UFOs

The piece responds to the NASA meeting on May 31st to discuss the latest findings on “Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAPs).” Rather than any kind of definitive answer about UFOS,

What instead emerged from this four-hour deep dive was a clear attempt at improving scientific literacy: by outlining actual UAP incidence rates, highlighting technological limitations, calling attention to social and political limits on research, and discussing the very nature of the data under evaluation.

I’ll quote the writer’s “broader takeaways,” in three concluding paragraphs:

The key scientific literacy question here comes down to confidence intervals. Scientists will err on the side of caution, noting that from the data they have on hand (often grainy, and often ill-defined in contrast to the object’s backdrop) there is a limit to how much they can rule definitively on any given UAP’s origin. Calibration between different data sets is also still a work in progress, especially when dealing with sensory equipment that only has a military/defense objective, and thus has not undergone the same rigor of scientific testing needed for researchers to rule out other possibilities from a well-established normative baseline.

But in a culture of widespread scientific illiteracy, the mere implausibility of ever ruling with a high degree of confidence on many cases in past data sets creates room for imaginative possibilities. The unscientific nature of those alternatives, though, comes from the very fact that many will leap from a low-confidence assessment of a possible weather balloon (for example) to a much more definitive assumption that it “must be aliens”. Such leaps of logic are detrimental to more comprehensive scientific study: both on the surface, and for what they yield in the way of ensuing harassment for active researchers in the field.

While we work to improve a general understanding of statistics and probability, though, this NASA-based research team is doing something equally ambitious: laying down a foundation of serious study into UAPs, which by outlining the weaknesses in current data collection methods might offer us our best chance at far more comprehensive data sets going forward. We may never be able to resolve all the anomalous data presently on file, but in keeping with the ever-self-correcting nature of the scientific method (as evidenced in public meetings like these, and in the promised report to follow later this summer), we might just be able to hope for a more empirical resolution to these pressing human questions down the line.

Those cynical about scientific caution, i.e. the ‘believers’ in the notion that UFOs must be alien visitors, and all sorts of evidence is being hidden by scientists and the government, will dismiss such qualifications. Note the second paragraph.

I wrote about UFOs a couple months ago in this post, about my brief fascination with them as a teenager, until I read more and snapped out of the obsession that still consumes so many. (An underlying theme is the realization that the idea that things we don’t understand must be analogous civilizations like ours, is a deeply simplistic, parochial way to dealing with the unknown.) I linked an article by David Brin, who has commented on the UFO phenomenon many times.

And one of Brin’s key points, which remains as true as ever, is that all the current photos of UFOs remain as blurry as they were in the 1950s. And in the recent photos where we see dots of light tracked by jet fighters — they seem so precisely aligned with the cameras that surely they are artifacts of the camera equipment. And another obvious key point is that no physical artifacts of alleged alien visitors have *ever* been discovered.

And I’ll repeat a point I’ve made before. Many people assume that science fiction writers, and readers, must surely “believe” in UFOs, and other supernatural phenomena. This is not true. SF writers and readers are more informed about science and standards of evidence, and are far less credulous about these things than the average population.


Music: what YouTube is feeding me now. Early Philip Glass.

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