Here Thar Be Monsters!

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4.8.13

Destroying Paradigms In 3 Clicks Or Less

"OK, guys, get your tablets out and navigate over to Google, but don't enter anything yet," I was talking to my 8th graders.  Officially, this class is called Conversational English, but really its Critical Thinking 101 - a kind of Aristotelian discussion group.

I continued.  "Now, who believes the Earth is experiencing global warming right now?"

About two thirds of the hands shot up.

"You're wrong," I stated matter-of-factly.  "Who believes that the last ice age ended 150,000 years ago, or so?"

Nearly all hands shot up.  "Well, you're wrong again."

I always enjoy that particular look on a student's face when they are trying to juxtapose new information with dogma.

"OK, type this into Google: Oxygen-18 ratio for the last 500 million years."  Some furious clicking and tapping noises.  A pause while the information downloaded.  Some murmurs.

"What you are looking at is a graph of oxygen-18 isotope ratios in the fossil record as a function of global temperature changes.  Notice anything?"  I was listening for the sound of paradigms crashing.  There is was...

"What conclusion can we draw from this graph?"

There was a pause while they digested the information.  Then a rather timid voice spoke up...

"Earth is in a cooling period right now?"

"Good!  And what else comes to mind while you look at this data?"

"The ice age isn't over?"

"Nice.  And...?"

"The Earth is much cooler than average right now..."  The voice was getting stronger, more certain.

"Excellent!  Don't close Google yet.  Type in: comparison of atmospheres of Venus, Earth and Mars.  And while you're waiting, who can tell me what is the supposed cause of global warming?"

"Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?"  We were back to timid again.

"How much carbon dioxide is there in Venus' atmosphere?  (95%)  And in Mars'?  (95%)  And in Earth's?"

There was a pause.  I love these pauses.  You can smell the smoke of gears grinding.

"0.05%"

"Well done!  Now, if Venus is a hellhole, and Mars is a freezer, and they both have the same amount of CO2, and Earth is in the middle with only 0.05% CO2, what can we conclude?"

"Maybe CO2 isn't the problem?"  I waited.  I didn't want that in the form of a question, but a declarative statement.  "CO2 isn't the problem," said another, more assured voice.

"Exactly.  And looking at the relative positions of Venus, Earth and Mars in the Solar System, what obvious conclusion can we draw regarding global temperatures?"

"Venus is closer to the Sun and Mars is farther away, and Earth is in the middle.  So..."  Pause.

"Go on..."

"So, the closer a planet is to the Sun, the warmer it is," the voice was less hesitant.

"Doesn't that make more sense than a few puny people driving their puny cars and changing the entire climate of a planet?"

"Seems more obvious, I guess," said one particularly bright mind.

"So, when someone tells you that something exists that defies logic and observation, what is the first thing you should do?"

"Check the data!"

They had gotten the idea.  Not that I wanted them to believe any particular thing, but I wanted them to verify for themselves anything anyone tells them...especially if it's a government office of any kind.  Question everything.

There's a whole generation coming up that believes in Easter Bunnies and Santa Claus because every single textbook in every single class spews dogma, rather than facts, and invites blind obedience rather than critical thinking.  As Mickey Rourke said in Barfly, "This far and no further."  We have to stop beating fairy tales into our kids' heads or they will be incapable of dealing with the real world.  In fact, they will be incapable of seeing the real world.

Next topic: GMOs.