Links and Comments: Reality as a Common Ground

“Common ground,” false balance, reality and science, coronavirus evolution, Heinlein on facts, Tucker C still spreading alarmist lies.

There’s been hand-wringing in recent weeks, by Republicans, who think Democrats should be able to find “common ground” across the aisle, by just forgetting about all the horrible things T**** did and that many in the party are still doing. The bigger issue is, isn’t there a zone of compromise, a common ground, between the two parties?

This issue aligns with the issue of “false balance” in media coverage, how TV news especially should try to to present “both sides” of an issue — as if both sides are always equally respectable. Increasingly, both sides are not. If one side says white, and the other side says black, the answer is often not the common ground of gray. Sometimes things really are black or white, with nothing in between. There is a true reality that, in principle, everyone should be able to agree on.

Should the news media give equal credence to Flat Earthers, as to the NASA scientists who landed a rover on Mars this week?

So how about reality as a common ground?

Salon, Avi Loeb: From astronomy to immunology, it’s time to restore confidence in evidence-based science, subtitled “Immunology and alien-hunting require the same scientific methods. Scientists aren’t articulating this very well.”

The widespread availability of an FDA-approved vaccine for COVID-19 will not ensure its consumption by the public. This is reflective of a broad cultural problem — there is a deep undercurrent of mistrust, especially of elites, running through American society today — but it also echoes a cultural problem in the world of science, specifically.

Americans of all stripes have come to regard scientists as part of the elite, in part because they have sequestered themselves in an ivory tower, saturated with ambition for academic honors and consumed with sterile intellectual gymnastics. Much of current scientific culture focuses on nuances whose sole purpose is to garner their researchers higher academic status by impressing colleagues, rather than serving the public’s interest or carrying any practical relevance for our daily life.

The essay focuses on the author’s controversial take on the object that passed through the solar system, dubbed Oumuamua, in October 2017, but speaks to more general issues as well.

Science is a never-ending work in progress. We show integrity by entertaining multiple possible interpretations of evidence to the public. The new generation of innovators should not be held hostage by the mistakes of the past. After standing in line at the bank, I never hear the cashier saying that I am not allowed to cash my check because the customer ahead of me had an overdraft. We should examine each case based on its own merit.

Scientists could regain the public’s trust by being straightforward about the inevitable roller-coaster of trial and error associated with innovation — whether it be the search for a vaccine for COVID-19 or the search for technological signatures of other civilizations. Rather than pretending to know the outcome in advance, we should admit what we do not know and study all possible interpretations, so that the public will believe our robust conclusions when new evidence brings clarity.


Greg Mayer and Jerry Coyne, on the latter’s site: The coronavirus and some basic evolutionary genetics; i.e. how the mutations of the coronavirus illustrate principles of evolution (which so many people don’t “believe” in).


And then this passage from Robert A. Heinlein’s novel STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND, which illustrates how scientists, and science fiction writers for the most part, address the world.

Again and again and again – what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what ‘the stars foretell’, avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable ‘verdict of history’ – what are the facts, and to how many decimal places?   You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue.  Get the facts!


Yet the conservative right is ever intent on spreading lies, in spite of evidence.

We’ve already established that you can’t believe anything Tucker Carlson says. Yet here we are:

Green energy companies encouraged to sue Tucker Carlson over lie that Texas power grid is ‘totally reliant on windmills’ .

This seems to be the strategy of the Republican governance in Texas. Carlson’s defense will be that everyone knows you can’t believe anything he says. That’s how he won a previous defamation lawsuit.

News sources anchored in reality have responded.

NYT: No, Wind Farms Aren’t the Main Cause of the Texas Blackouts, subtitled “The state’s widespread electricity failure was largely caused by freezing natural gas pipelines. That didn’t stop advocates for fossil fuels from trying to shift blame.”

The bigger issue here, of course, is how burning fossil fuels causes climate change, how this may ruin the planet’s liveability within the next few decades, and how conservatives don’t care, preferring to maintain the status quo of, in this case, fossil fuel industries. This is an aspect of human nature that instantiates in many people (who therefore become conservatives): prioritizing short-term goals over long-term planning. Do conservatives not realize that wrecking the planet’s climate will affect their grandchildren? Apparently not, or apparently it’s too inconvenient to bother to change habits.

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