Poll Shows Giant Gap Between What Public, Scientists Think

Feb 3, 2015

Image credit: Pressmaster/Shutterstock

By Seth Borenstein

The American public and U.S. scientists are light-years apart on science issues. And 98 percent of surveyed scientists say it’s a problem that we don’t know what they’re talking about.

Scientists are far less worried about genetically modified food, pesticide use and nuclear power than is the general public, according to matching polls of both the general public and the country’s largest general science organization. Scientists were more certain that global warming is caused by man, evolution is real, overpopulation is a danger and mandatory vaccination against childhood diseases is needed.

In eight of 13 science-oriented issues, there was a 20-percentage-point or higher gap separating the opinions of the public and members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, according to survey work by the Pew Research Center. The gaps didn’t correlate to any liberal-conservative split; the scientists at times take more traditionally conservative views and at times more liberal.

“These are big and notable gaps,” said Lee Rainie, director of Pew’s internet, science and technology research. He said they are “pretty powerful indicators of the public and the scientific community seeing the world differently.”


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75 comments on “Poll Shows Giant Gap Between What Public, Scientists Think

  • ” Ninety-eight percent of scientists say humans evolved over time, compared with 65 percent of the public. ”

    This is the one stat that concerns me naturally. Those 2% should be stripped of any and all scientific credentials at the least and, if I had my druthers, impaled!

    The 65% of the general public percentage will change when religious bafflegab loses it’s power.



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  • 2
    Light Wave says:

    Well not all scientists know what each other are talking about either as their fields are so diverse….but none of them doubt each others evidence based validity…



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  • Why are science and the public so at odds? Why do people believe such absolutely nutty things?

    It is so common, it seems likely we must have evolved this trait for good reason.

    My observation is people believe information that comes from their own “tribe”, not from outsiders. Scientists are thought of as outsiders. They have a different language, customs and values. Any negative story about outsiders is believed (Jews eat babies) and any good one discounted (witches have herbs that can be useful).

    In a purely tribal society, if someone tells you a well is safe to drink, better to get this information from a kinsman than from some outsider plotting to kill you and take your lands.

    Americans tend to think of themselves as temporarily embarrassed millionaires. The rich are their tribe, (or soon will be). So they do what the rich tell them.

    A bank of scientists who are reasonably objective, rational and informed is very new to human evolution. We treat them as we would a group a shamans, with not nearly the trust scientists as a whole deserve.

    If I am correct, science needs to stop acting so self-indulgently weird (I mean you Bill Nye, Hank Green, vsauce2, Aronra and that old English guy with the Afro) avoid jargon, and stop assuming your audience hold the same scientific values as you. Science presenters have to create the illusion of being in the same tribe as the listener.

    One of the best people at this is Neil deGrasse Tyson. He explains why he trusts science from an everyman point of view. He also uses self-deprecating humour to create rapport. Brian Cox is good too. Unfortunately, Richard Dawkins’ upper crust accent marks him as outsider, while at the same time conferring authority.



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  • From the point of view of Americans, Richard is a double outsider, one for being a scientist and one for being an atheist, and anti-religious one at that. That takes a big bite out of his credibility. Those who speak for science may have to be closet atheists or at least people who refuse to talk about religious beliefs.



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  • In the most dramatic split, 88 percent of the scientists surveyed said it is safe to eat genetically modified foods, while only 37 percent of the public say it is safe and 57 percent say it is unsafe.

    There are plenty of people here at RichardDawkins.net who fall into the latter anti-science category. They should be ashamed.



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  • Making comparisons between scientific evidence and public opinion is just silly.

    Lousy, or lack of, science education, and the gutter press don’t help.

    Genetic modification of food has been going for twelve thousand years.

    I’m put in mind of expressions such as: scientists playing god, and, scientists keep changing their minds; both of which stem out of ignorance.

    If scientists played god they’d be creating diseases not working to cure them, and scientists don’t change their minds, they discover new evidence.



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  • In that case, shame on those 12% of scientists and all such scientist dissenters.

    Expressing an informed and nuanced view is not compatible with crass yes/no questionaires.

    There are scientists here too.



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  • Having seen some movies (therefore I’m an expert on american culture) I can concur that scientist are generally evil, manipulative and power hungry, and many don’t even speak with an american accent.

    contrast that with politicians and religious leaders in america, who do at least get the accent right



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  • I think I can see 3 different strands to the split between scientists and public opinion.

    1 Public opinion diverging from what has been positively proven (as in rejecting evolution in favour of creationism).

    2 Public opinion not backing the use of something.. ie. all accept that GM food is scientifically possible, but a significant percentage don’t accept the evidence that it’s safe. I think that this is an emotional rejection of science.. if we end up damaging a part of the eco system, there’s no going back. If my child, against overwhelming evidence, does in fact get autism from having a multiple vaccine, then it is my child that suffers. For some, depending on the level of ignorance of the facts, or on what is at stake, they would vote against a particular application of science, even if there was only 5% room for doubt.

    3 There are significant proportions of the public who have had an experience that they don’t feel can be accounted for by current scientific evidence. It might be an NDE or an After death contact, or telepathy, precognition.. whatever. The fact that science doesn’t have evidence they exist is fine, but what often turns people off science is when some scientists say it categorically doesn’t exist and these people are delusional etc. All the people who have had or known someone who has had some kind of strange phenomenon, can probably not ALL be delusional and for the people who have experienced something that science refutes, they may feel pushed out of scientific debate, and seek answers elsewhere.. thus the gap widens even more.

    I may be someone on this site who ought to be ‘ashamed of myself’ (I’m sometimes guilty of paragraphs 2 and 3.. but never no1), but to be honest that kind of language just helps to widen the gap.



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  • 12
    mechtheist says:

    The large gap separating the US public’s beliefs and reality is hardly limited to science. The US is probably second only to N. Korea in how thoroughly propagandized its citizens are. The major skeptics organizations refuse to tackle this, they won’t even admit it is a problem, rendering them credulous, NON-skeptics. If the overwhelmingly larger issue of the general disconnect from reality, the fact that the US population lives in a virtual reality, created with the aid of the corporate media, where the various religious fantasies are mere subsets, isn’t confronted and eliminated, we will never see progress on the narrower issues of science denial.



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  • The black and white photo in the Newsletter, for this article, is one I recognize and thought some of the other readers might like to know also. That is Professor Robert W Holley, with his research staff at Cornell. It was taken at the time that Dr. Holley received the Noble Prize for the discovery of the structure of a soluble RNA — the first one worked out. I was doing my masters degree at Cornell, at the time, and Dr. Holley was on my degree committee.



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  • There are very many people who study the science of ecology and who are concerned about biodiversity that have clear concerns about GMO technology. One clear example is that the Monarch Butterfly is now subjected to a petition under the Endangered Species Act because its migratory population is being wiped out due to its food being destroyed as a result of glyphosate use as a result of GMO glyphosate resistant crops being planted.
    The problem with GMO technology is that people just look at the crops outside their ecological and environmental contexts. We treat the earth as if it was created for us ns us only by a benevolent god at our peril.



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  • Please define what you mean by “the latter anti-science category”, because it’s my experience that the public is far more informed than the scientific community. And the reason is pretty simple: WE have everything to lose and nothing to gain from this quack technology, and we’re FOAMING-AT-THE-MOUTH-ANGRY-AND FED-UP-WITH-THE-BULLSHIT. I’m a proud atheist and supporter of this movement, but I’m also an extremely educated anti-GMO activist, fully armed with the CORRECT scientific knowledge that genetically-engineered food-like substances (they don’t qualify as food fit for consumption) are and have been scientifically proven unsafe, so I welcome any debate. But I’ll only discuss the subject with people who have at the very least fully studied the matter. Clearly, you have not, as it’s common knowledge that most of the scientists you speak of as supporting this quasi-technology are in some way being bankrolled or threatened by the Big Chemical/Processed Food lobby—of course they’re going to say they support it. I’ve witnessed dozens of these capitulations over the years, and all I have to do is follow the money. Wake up.



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  • Scientists are far less worried about genetically modified food, pesticide use and nuclear power than is the general public, according to matching polls of both the general public and the country’s largest general science organization. Scientists were more certain that global warming is caused by man, evolution is real, overpopulation is a danger and mandatory vaccination against childhood diseases is needed.

    Their views are hardly surprising given that scientists tend to gain their livelihoods from developing gm foods, pesticides, nuclear power etc and dealing with the problems resulting from global warming, overpopulation etc.



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  • Ninety-eight percent of scientists say humans evolved over time

    I’m curious about the 2% of scientists that say humans didn’t evolve over time. What kind of scientists are they? Creationists infiltration our scientific community?



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  • Billions and Billions Feb 4, 2015 at 2:16 pm

    I’m curious about the 2% of scientists that say humans didn’t evolve over time. What kind of scientists are they? Creationists infiltration our scientific community?

    The examples who come to this site are often creationist engineers who know nothing about biology except what their YEC preachers or church dogmas have told them.
    That content probably scores around minus 200 out of ten!

    There is also the “professional YEC” who went to college to gain some scientific qualifications to help them promote YECery with a badge of authority! They passed on the basis of:- “I ticked the right boxes to pass, but don’t believe it!” They are often also anti-science conspiracy theorists.

    The USA has YEC nut-houses which are accredited as universities!

    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Liberty_University
    Some of the most highly “coveted” classes one can take at Liberty University include classes that teach creationism[12] and, particularly, Young Earth Creationism in lieu of evolution or actual biology.
    The university, itself, has a “Center for Creation Studies,”[13] which, similar to the Discovery Institute, seeks to create evidence supporting creationism out of thin air.

    Science Degree Programs

    Undergraduate Degrees-

    Zoology (Including Pre-Vet minor)
    General Biology
    Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
    Biomedical Science
    Cell and Molecular Biology
    Chemistry
    Zoo and Wildlife Biology
    Environmental Biology

    Graduate-

    M.S in Biomedical Science

    The Pre-Trib Research Center is based at Liberty University:

    “”PTRC Mission Statement The Pre-Trib Research Center is a “think tank” committed to the study, proclamation, teaching and defending of the Pretribulational Rapture (pre-70th week of Daniel) and related end-time prophecy.[14]



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  • Liberty students visited the school I teach at several years ago ( a singing group out to promote the college). I had just finished teaching about climate change in my environmental chemistry unit. The Liberty students ate lunch with my students, and my 8th graders asked them what they believed about climate change? To a person, the students replied that anyone who believed in global warming was an idiot. I’m a popular teacher. My students said they would never consider going to the college.

    Moral of the story? Good teaching (and positive relationships with students) can trump idiocy.



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  • 24
    Robert says:

    “they discover new evidence”

    I think at the heart of this problem lies an inability to distinguish between an opinion amended due to the introduction of new evidence and changing one’s mind because it better suits one;s feelings. The general public in America makes no epistemological distinction between emotional appeal and factual accuracy and emotional appeal is far more valued by most people.



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  • Science is a tool. Tools can me misused. Powerful corporations with vested interests fund research and publish statistics, which can be “massaged”. I have seen very contradictory statistics about issues such as water fluoridation, vaccination, GMO crops, pesticides etc. As I don’t know what to believe I rather avoid substances which might have long term harmful effects. It has happened more often than not that medications and/or pesticides had been declared safe and later turned out to be harmful.

    Pure science is hopefully different; I think one can rely on climate change being real and caused by humans as well as evolution being true though there are vested interests against.



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  • 27
    Robert says:

    As a former member of the corporate news media I can tell you from first hand experience that the media int the US isn’t fundamentally competent enough to propagate the idea that bacon and eggs make a good breakfast.



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  • Nordic11 Feb 4, 2015 at 4:29 pm

    All credit to you for giving your students a good scientific grounding in the subject and resistance to stupidity.

    BTW: There are several discussions here with details of climate issues and new technologies if you are looking for any.



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  • Excellent analysis. Couldn’t say better !

    I loved the “poisoned well” demonstration…

    Never thought about that (brilliant) explanation for the origin of all our ‘modern’ mistrusts…..



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  • ……..And on the other hand, atheists shouldn’t talk about scientific facts and knowledge ?????

    How do you manage with that ?

    Science has always intrinsically been tied to the “materialistic” approach. Remember Laplace’s most famous reply to Napoleon… Only the heavy lead blanket that ALL christian churches have cast, centuries after centuries, upon researchers and scientists, prevented them to ”come out of the closet” and clearly claim that, in reality, all of them were working on such materialistic basis.

    Now today, it would be just about time, maybe, that the average folks realize that every single thing they hold in their hands — smart phones, computers, antibiotics –you name it— are the result of a godless mindset, wouldn’it ?

    Even if, at first, it outrages some of them.

    Evolution in Zeit Geist is a long process, but someone has to get started…



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  • What do you mean, “antiscience” category ???

    Just as people who fight against civil nuclear plants or overwhelming use of chemical pesticides, people who object to spread GMO seedings on huge scale are generally well acquainted with scientific mind and processes (except, of course, “New Age” loonies).

    If they act against these practices, it is for extra-scientific reasons.

    Reasons on which Science has nothing to express per se.

    For example, they don’t want to leave deadly radioactive rubish, produced by OUR generation, to thousands of following ones, just because of our selfishness and our ‘after-me-I-don’t-give-a-heck’ way of thinking.

    For GMOs, again, it is outside the domain of science to argue about the fact that these bloody transnational giants grab ‘property’ on living things by patenting or copyrighting seeds, even sueing for ”patent violation” neighbouring peasants who’s crops contain traces of their sh*** *because of dissemination !

    So… Think twice before ”cursing” everyone that don’t comply with what (some) scientists tend to ”dictate” to civil society.

    Doing so, they surpass their role, and transform true scientific mind into scientism —a thing that we all want to avoid, don’t we ?



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  • To Stafford Gordon :

    Genetic modification of food has been going for twelve thousand years.

    No.

    You’re wrong.

    Accelerated evolution of cattle, plants or home pets has been going on. Nothing else.

    When you select individuals in a given species and give them preference for reproduction, discarting all others, you just do what nature has been doing for billions of years — except you do it in an “accelerated” manner, for agricultural, dietetic (or aesthetic) reasons. Period.

    That has nothing to do with taking the DNA of a specific organism, “stretching” its nucleosomes, artificially cutting segments of it with ”molecular scissors” (!), and artificially ”pasting” into it DNA segments coming from somewhere else…

    Do you understand the difference ?

    In the first case, we just let ‘natural processes’ to act (for our benefit, of course). In the latter, WE act by ourselves on to the innermost biological program of life itself… without previous secure knownedge of what would be the long-term consequences for the extraordinary and intricated complexity of the ecosystem in which these organisms are thereafter (re)introduced.

    Well… This might not be ”sorcerer’s apprentice” job, but it bloody well looks like it.



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  • 35
    Stephen says:

    I share your concern about the question of who funds research and whether any particular piece of peer-reviewed research is in the public interest or intended to hide the issue from the public.

    Moving on, I have another concern, although still about motives. When people enthusiastic about science and technology overlook the political, economic and moral aspects of problems, and instead always hope for a technological solution and always believe that “scientists” have good motives, then they are virutually treating engineers/scientists as gods, the rest of us as powerless; “science” adopts the worst aspects of religion. Science is a tool.

    Whereas, in fact there are so many scientists who are generous and want to share their knowledge to “empower” ordinary people. I am amazed at the quality of many science blogs and the patience of their authors. State education often makes children lose interest in science. It was only in the past few years that I started following popular science and I find it very satisfying.



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  • Liz – You say :

    There are significant proportions of the public who have had an
    experience that they don’t feel can be accounted for by current
    scientific evidence

    The problem is not that “they don’t feel that it “cannot” be accounted for by science”…. Their main problem is that most of them don’t even try to look around, just to enquire if —by any chance— science hasn’t already explained the ”incredible” phenomenons they personnally experienced !

    This turns back to the subject of the present article : people’s lack of basic critical mind and scientific reactivity. Many thanks to the lousy educationnal system in all our countries (I live in Europe, and it’s almost as bad as in the States).

    I have the (unfortunate) privilege to have experimented 2 (two !) ”NDE” in my life. So I think I know pretty well what it looks like. Thereafter, I began to file through the latest (serious) scientific communications on that topic at the time. Back then already, neurobiology was advanced enough to confirm what I already suspected before : the sensations, visions, memory-scanning and breathtaking experience I went through… were just the result of a whirlpool of endorphins, norepinephrines and few other neurotransmitters, simply triggered on a massive scale by the well-documented rush of blood toward the brain when you die, so this organ would be the last to ‘collapse’

    Nothing supernatural in that.

    The same processes probably apply in the other so-called ”ESP” feelings.

    Wait : I’m not saying that science ”knows everything”, and that there is nothing more to understand !

    Of course neurobiology is just at the stage of infancy, and has yet thousands of things to discover. What I’m saying is that people should have a more down-to-earth mind, and inquire about the present ‘state of the art’ instead of cocooning in delusive tales.

    They would live a better, more fulfilled, and much more rewarding life…



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  • I can’t believe what I read !

    What is that load of crap ??? Does that really exist, really ? In OUR reality ?

    And what is a ”Pretribulational Rapture” ? Is it when you reach extasy with your mate in uptown TriBeCa… before going ‘tribulating’ out for cigarettes in a risky area ?

    I hope at least that they are pretribulating well… Poor chaps…



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  • Let’s see: the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Medical Association, the British Royal Society and the European Food Safety Authority all say that GMO foods are no less safe than conventional food products. The European Commission (!!!!!) said in 2010: “The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research, and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than conventional plant breeding technologies.” In Italy, scientists did a meta-analysis of over 1700 research studies on GMO between 2003 and 2013 and their conclusion? “The scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of genetically engineered crops.” I could go an and on, but I doubt this appeal to science and scientists will put the slightest dent in your faith-based antipathy to GMO science. No, only Susan has “examined the evidence” and the rest of the scientific community, those 88% in the random sample, are “bankrolled by the Big Food lobby.” Well, Susan, I am also tired, tired of your bullshit and your self-righteous anti-science stance. I recommend a rabies shot for that frothing at the mouth problem.



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  • Oh, X-bone, I think you have a bone to pick with Susan! She clearly feels GMO foods aren’t even foods! Bad news, the patents on Round-Up Ready crops are running out. ANYONE will be able to use and store such seed without paying Monsanto a cent. I guess you will become a big advocate of GMO-use once the patents expire, am I right?



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  • without previous secure knowledge of what would be the long-term consequences

    Well, let’s just never try anything new, forget about doing science, forget about marrying someone, I guess we can never make another decision for the rest of our lives, because we can’t have “previous secure knowledge of long-term consequences” about anything…

    GMO is so highly effective because we CAN CHOOSE which genes we want to splice into an organism’s DNA. Waiting for nature to do it takes much longer. The millions of people dying of vitamin A deficiency in poorer countries need Golden Rice right now, they can’t wait for nature. This hysterical anti-GMO movement which is preventing the FREE distribution of Golden Rice seed is directly responsible for millions of deaths and 100s of thousands of cases of blindness. Shame on you!



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  • X-bone, These are just examples of 3 ways in which the public may have a split with science.
    So people should just pick from the science we already know to explain things we don’t understand?

    That would probably mean that the multi-verse and string theory physicists can go home..

    BlockquoteThey would live a better, more fulfilled, and much more rewarding life…

    There’s a lot of patronising and aggressive stuff on here today. But I do think with GM foods that it slightly more affects the rest of us than two people ‘getting married’ prietnul. (she says, cowering)



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  • Ewan Feb 4, 2015 at 1:30 pm

    Their views are hardly surprising given that scientists tend to gain their livelihoods from developing gm foods, pesticides, nuclear power etc and dealing with the problems resulting from global warming, overpopulation etc.

    They also gain their knowledge from peer-reviewed journals and articles based on peer-reviewed journals, whereas the the public gets much of its “knowledge”, from scientifically illiterate sensationalist journalists.

    Of course narrowly specialised scientists, who don’t keep up with other fields of science, are just as ignorant of those, as the general public.

    However, arguments between the change-phobic ignorant, and the recklessly enthusiastic supporters of untested, or under-tested, scientific innovations, are rarely productive.



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  • Stephen Feb 4, 2015 at 8:11 pm

    Moving on, I have another concern, although still about motives. When people enthusiastic about science and technology overlook the political, economic and moral aspects of problems, and instead always hope for a technological solution and always believe that “scientists” have good motives, then they are virutually treating engineers/scientists as gods, the rest of us as powerless; “science” adopts the worst aspects of religion. Science is a tool.

    One of the key problems, of science applications, is that objectives and operations, are often decided by corporate managers and politicians, who having messed-up then use the media to blame the scientists and the science for THEIR errors.

    Nuclear power generation is a classic example.

    We could have had safer, thorium molten salt nuclear reactors, which cannot melt-down or explode, which produce vastly less waste which persists for a fraction of the time of Uranium waste, and which cannot be used by terrorists or rogue states for bombs.

    That unfortunately is its weakness!! –
    As war-mongering cold-war governments cancelled its research funding decades ago, BECAUSE IT HAD NO MILITARY APPLICATIONS, and chose instead to develop dangerous Uranium reactors, because they could be used for clandestine production of weapons-grade plutonium.

    In the light of climate change, the Chinese are making a belated effort to develop this technology.
    http://www.itheo.org/thorium-energy-conference-2012



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  • Catmentality I thought you might find the articles below of interest. They demonstrate the problems that science encounters from commercial interests and policy makers. Admittedly this is a European view. but I read the problems are similar in the US?

    The problem I think arises from the different objectives of Science, Commerce, and Government.

    http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/2014/11/good-science-bad-science

    http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/2014/11/public-health-bottom-line

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/eu/11229774/Jean-Claude-Juncker-sacks-EU-scientific-adviser-over-her-pro-GM-views.html

    Might I suggest that ‘Science’ at its best requires a rigour of thought and an on-going re-appraisal of data in light of new findings, that commercial and political interests find inconvenient. They prefer instead clear cut conclusions; so does the wider public. Is this perhaps the appeal of religion? It offers clear cut ‘truths’ to those either don’t understand or don’t wish to understand the Scientific Method.



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  • On another front: –

    The US, having spent an estimate $6trillion on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – the Iraq wars allegedly, because – “Saddam had chemical weapons of mass destruction”, and more recently flapping about chemical weapons in Syria, I see the USA is now destroying its own chemical weapons!
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-31134932
    .The US is set to destroy its largest remaining cache of chemical-laden artillery shells, bringing it closer to complying with an international treaty.

    The Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado will begin neutralising mustard agent in 780,000 shells in March.

    The 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention set a 2012 deadline to eradicate chemical weapons

    Russia, Libya and Iraq are the only other countries with chemical weapons that have missed the deadline.

    I don’t think the decisions to fund and manufacture these were taken by scientists, but no doubt scientists were employed in the process!
    We would also have to ask, “Who sold this technology to be kept in insecure areas” and, “Who undermined the state security systems guarding these dangerous substances”?

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-31070249
    *.A chemical weapons expert with the Islamic State (IS) militant group in Iraq has been killed in a coalition airstrike, the US military has said.

    Abu Malik’s training provided IS with “expertise to pursue a chemical weapons capability”, a statement said.

    Islamic State controls large areas of Syria, where the government has been destroying its chemical weapons, but not all the stockpiles have been accounted for.



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  • I’m in agreement with this, the small amount of reading I have done in this area seems to confirm that GMO food is perfectly safe. Other people have done the hard science and I can read their results. Susan is hopelessly incorrect ! Ignorance with Wings…..in fact…



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  • Each of these public scientists has a different set of people they relate to though. Richard Dawkins may not resonate well if you’re still in the early evolutionary stage of believing what your christian parents told you about the universe. Mr. Tyson fills this roll very well by showing you the majesty and wonder of science in the poetic way your used to from bible study.

    When you reach the cro magnon stage of scientific learning, Bill Nye can help push you to the next level through child like polka dot bow tie antics, because you’re not ready for hard science yet. This is the stage where you are between “There is a book” Ken Ham and “Change the World” Bill Nye.

    When one reaches the neo-atheistic science stage we have Richard Dawkins to keep us from devolving back to the depths from which we came. We can just now start to understand his jokes and accept the actual explanation of evolution. No longer believing evil-lution means we come directly from apes, or that a new creature would spawn from its mother.

    Sadly, we no longer have the master atheist stage of Christopher Hitchens, may his biomass be redistributed in a natural way.



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  • Wrong — they all “doubt” each others evidence! That’s part of the scientific method which all scientists follow. First, they doubt the evidence that proves a theory, then they find proof to back up their doubts. If their proof is shown to be strong enough, then the theory is discredited and a new theory replaces it. If their proof is not shown to be strong, then their doubts are ignored.



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  • I have some strong question marks in what you say above. In particular, “authorit(ies) all say that GMO foods are no less safe than conventional food products.” This statement does not provide a measure of conventional food safety and, thus, does not really alleviate concerns about GMO foods. The area I am most concerned about is whether GMO foods as well as conventionally produced foods are changing or eliminating micronutrients from the food that is important to our health or embedding into the food items that will have detrimental effects far into the future (ie. like mercury in fish).



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  • David Feb 5, 2015 at 6:59 pm

    In particular, “authorit(ies) all say that GMO foods are no less safe than conventional food products.” This statement does not provide a measure of conventional food safety and, thus, does not really alleviate concerns about GMO foods.

    I do not think there are serious concerns about the nutritional safety of most GMO crops, although each should be evaluated on its merits.

    I think the serious concerns about GMO crops are about herbicide resistance, any insecticidal properties, and environmental impacts. Especially the leakage of genes such as herbicide resistance, into related weed and crop species, and the effects on beneficial insects and food chains.

    Some of these issues were covered in the related discussion I linked from my earlier comment.



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  • @Prietenul… Are you that naïve, or you’re just masquerading ? What is that argument ? I’m talking about the fact that agro giants (like Monsanto, to name but one) keep patenting living organisms and behaving like gangsters… and you’re telling me about the peremption of one patent ?

    Do you really believe that those chemical tycoons stopped registering patents forever after the Round-up, and just stayed around mourning their defunct R U ”legal” protection ? Are you kidding me ?

    Meanwhile, you failed to address the topic I was raising in my post, i.e. : there are other considerations than purely scientific ones to take into account when thoughtful citizens have to take concrete decisions for themselves…..



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  • Oh oh… After the denial of any eventuality of ”bad” consequences deriving from scientific choices, here comes now the typical, christian bigotry-based attempt to make one’s contradictor….. feel guilty.

    Nice try, prietenul. Though a bit of a misfire…

    So you think that the multicentennial problem of hunger in the world waited impatiently for the ”messianic advent” of the marvelous GMOs to be solved ???

    Don’t you think that it is a social and a political problem, rather than a pure techno-scientific one ?

    As for the ”chemical gangsters” behaviour topic back in the previous post, you keep thinking that material, social and cultural problems can only be solved by scientific implementation.

    Well….. Shortsightedness can pretty quickly lead to complete blindness.

    Didn’t you know ?



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  • To liz

    Yes – I was just reacting to the ”Part 3” of your post.

    Then, you say :

    So people should just pick from the science we already know to explain
    things we don’t understand? That would probably mean that the
    multi-verse and string theory physicists can go home

    Why ?

    When I assert that people should inquire about what science has to say about the ”experiences” they go through, I added, in the very next paragraph, that of course science has yet thousands of things to discover !

    That includes confirm ( …or invalidate !) strings theory, multiverse option, ”big bounce” perspective, etc…

    Where is the problem ? Who says that, because something hasn’t been sorted out yet, we should stop researching on it ?

    But as the (seemingly) ‘supernatural’ phenomena question goes, I much prefer to wait, with serenity, until rational research has found out what it’s all about in the real world , rather than pretend to ”explain” it, in a hurry, with unsubstantiated fairy tales.



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  • catmentality Feb 4, 2015 at 4:57 pm

    Science is a tool. Tools can me misused. Powerful corporations with vested interests fund research and publish statistics, which can be “massaged”.
    I have seen very contradictory statistics about issues such as water fluoridation,

    On fluoridation:- the anti-fluoride nutters are putting cherry picked information around, claiming there is little difference in teeth between areas with added traces of fluoride in water and areas without.
    Honest figures would include the levels of use of fluoride toothpaste in areas without it in the water.

    vaccination, GMO crops, pesticides etc. As I don’t know what to believe I rather avoid substances which might have long term harmful effects.

    That is the doubt-mongering plan of the conspiracy theorists: – or sometimes the disinformation plans of rival commercial interests.
    At the same time valuable science is made dangerous by reckless corporate management, and governments failing to effectively provide regulation.

    An example of this, is NASA.
    NASA and its contractors have some of the best scientists in the world, but they managed to burn 3 astronauts in Apollo 1, because the test crew failed in the school-level science, that inflammable material next to hot wiring, burns fiercely in 16psi pure oxygen normal atmospheric pressure.

    The accident happened not because it could not have been made safe, but because is was not made safe as people pressed on regardless.



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  • Hi X-bone,
    Sorry.. I should have said that I realise you’re not saying that science ‘knows everything’.
    In quoting the last part that people would lead ‘more fulfilling lives’ if they stopped

    cocooning in delusive tales

    I’m more taking issue with the language used against the public who have had an unexplained experience who look for answers outside knowable science, compared with the respect paid to physicists who look beyond knowable science. Apart from the dismissive language, I tend to agree with you about preferring to

    wait, with serenity, until rational research has found out what it’s all about in the real world

    As you know from your unfortunate experiences, we can come to personal conclusions, and you have given yours thought and feel they can be explained through the brain. I wouldn’t argue with you at all, as i haven’t experienced that. For my part, I have experienced what comes under the umbrella of ‘after death contact’ with my son who died 2 years ago. The experiences are meaningful coincidences, but are also exceptionally improbable and have a theme of continuing on whilst also relating to him very specifically. For my part I’ve thought about them, and can say that they actually help me to live a ‘more fulfilled life’ now. I can choose who I share them with, while I wait serenely for science to keep revealing the nature of reality.

    There is I hope a middle ground between an unhealthy credulity in all things ‘supernatural’ on the one hand, and the labelling of unexplained phenomena that have actually been experienced by someone as ‘fairy tales’ of the deluded, on the other.



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  • actually, that is incorrect. Science is always inquiring in its effort to improve, enhance and even discard failed methods and reasonings…doubt is the epicenter of science. Without doubt, without wondering with skepticism the machine of science won’t churn. Doubt is the beginning, philosophy provides a system of thinking and science organizes and paves the way in resolving any issue at hand…at least it tries and keeps trying.



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  • Tayaba Feb 6, 2015 at 8:52 am

    Science is always inquiring in its effort to improve, enhance and even discard failed methods and reasonings…doubt is the epicenter of science.

    While this is true, we should bear in mind that the fundamental objective measurements are not subject to significant doubt, and that strongly evidenced theories, are only likely to have minor adjustments and extra factors, added in some special circumstances.

    We should avoid being drawn into the doubt-mongering which pretends, that as science does not know everything, it knows nothing, or that all opinions are equal.

    There are very high probabilities that much of modern science will at most have a few adjustments and additions made to what is known and confirmed by multiple testing.



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  • I don’t respond to your anti-GMO talking points because they are so hopelessly out-of-date. The US Supreme Court already ruled in 2013 that naturally occurring genes cannot be patented, only synthetic DNA.

    there are other considerations than purely scientific ones to take into account when thoughtful citizens have to take concrete decisions for themselves…..

    This is the typical call of the quack anti-science set for people to engage in bio-terrorism. When you don’t have a scientific or legal leg to stand on, just say citizens have to take concrete decisions for themselves… like attacking research facilities and tearing out GMO plants from research fields.



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  • I suggest you inform yourself about Golden Rice and what it is supposed to do. It has nothing to do with alleviating world hunger. When your actions directly or indirectly condone an action that has cost millions of lives and caused countless cases of blindness DUE TO VITAMIN A DEFICIENCIES, yes, shame is the very least that is called for. Shame: “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.” Are you saying atheists can never feel shame? You are obviously shameless.



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  • More than four out of five scientists thought the growing world population will be a major problem, but just less than three out of five members of the public did.

    See, Phil and Alan4, I told you so.



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  • I think it’ll be a major problem. Not as bad as a few others and more to the essential point I was making, if you recall-

    It is not the readily pullable lever to make the necessary systemic changes we desperately need. As I explained about time constants associated with the need for change, if you recall-

    The time constants for curbing population growth (we’re talking mostly Africa here) without the use of brutal dictatorships and huge political backlash is something like 40years. Introduction of problem solving technology given existing economic ramps is something like twenty years. Making the political changes to change casino banking to favour stable cash stream sustainable technologies might take the life of a presidency. This could get our timescales for technology ramps down to five years, ten in total. With money from African west coast wind, huge solar initiatives elsewhere, African behaviours can be more willingly bought and the population bulge that will still occur may be better mananged. (Imagine if its agricultural productivity could be lifted a little of that 600% increase needed to match US levels.)

    Questionaires with yes/no answers can feed a nation of strawmen.



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  • 65
    Adrian says:

    He/she did not say “none of them doubt each others evidence” as you have erroneously implied, she/he said “none of them doubt each others evidence based validity”.



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  • The time constants for curbing population growth (we’re talking mostly Africa here) without the use of brutal dictatorships and huge political backlash is something like 40years. Introduction of problem solving technology given existing economic ramps is something like twenty years.

    Some wit has observed that “predictions are hard to make especially about the future.” Neither Phil nor I know what is going to happen based on extrapolations of wish fulfillment 20 years, 40 years, 60 years into an opaque future. Given what is happening on the ground today taking precedence over “what we know,” the prospect for remediation of carbon dioxide emissions in 20 years seems unlikely. Optimum alternative energy and innovative financial practices hold promise but “existing” barriers could retard or even reverse progress in coming decades. We can argue but we can’t pretend to know.

    Humans are members of a primate animal species. If we flatter ourselves that our large brains will save us from the consequences of overbreeding we are buying into an implicit illusion of transcendence. If we destroy the ecosystem we depend on for survival whether by resource depletion, pollution, global warming or intraspecies mayhem, then some, most or all of us are headed toward a nasty and terminal fate.

    Stabilizing and then reversing global population growth does not require draconian measures. The greatest challenge is for sovereign governments to acknowledge the problem, set goals, then provide comprehensive family planning programs in combination with prenatal, infant and child medical care.
    Universal access to contraception backed up by elective abortion would be a good start. Under such a regime, taking account of childless and single-child mothers, any other woman could easily have two children and many could elect to have a third.



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  • 67
    Nathaniel says:

    I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I could use some help.
    Our energy techniques have begun a transformation of the planet that was not intended.
    In the reality-based community, the likelihood of this was known 40 years ago, the certainty of it, 20 or so years ago.
    At the time, the 70s, there was a sort of referendum. Did we want to be sissy bleeding hearts like Jimmy Carter or cowboys like Ron Reagan?
    We wanted to be cowboys, and cowboys don’t need science. Scientists, and this was one of the smaller ironies, are only init for the money. In that period the latent contempt for prudence based on fact became part of the revived Americanism, the triumph of myths of progress.
    By the time we get to G.W. Bush, the war on science was in the open.
    I understand that Rush Limbaugh is only a minor source of greenhouse gas in his pronouncements.
    But highly distilled nonsense like “you can’t be a Christian and believe in global warming” suggests a bench mark in the marooning of the public in a helpless state of confusion.
    We have done this to ourselves. The decision to do nothing about the fossil fuel problem, was, a Sagan would say, an experiment. The results are coming in now, and as the effects of altering the planet become visible and real, out there, the lying goes on, through the Murdoch Empire, the dupes of Congress, the wholly unqualified people who assure us that the industry is self-regulating. And in 2015, if you look around you, every single thing you see including the sky and oceans now depends on that experiment turning out well.
    But it isn’t going to.
    We did this.
    Is there anything more subversive?



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  • Melvin Feb 7, 2015 at 3:48 pm

    More than four out of five scientists thought the growing world population will be a major problem, but just less than three out of five members of the public did.

    See, Phil and Alan4, I told you so.

    True – but we told you Global Warming wasn’t a single issue problem, and that technology and consumption rates, had to considered in addition to bare population figures.



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  • predictions are hard to make especially about the future.

    How utterly disingenuous. It may be hard but we must do it.

    You base your calls for action on the predictions of UN demographers (Africa 1 billion to 4 billion flat-topping in 2100. Rest of the world 7 billion to 9 billion flat topping in 2050, both followed by slow declines.) In real life we have to work with merely the best data we can find.

    The reason it’s already too late to avoid much of these figures is the well known phenomenon of the two generation health run-on we must sustain because it is the moral thing to do. We must continue to curb infant mortalities and eliminate killer diseases, though, before Ewan’s demented God overly builds the African Character. (Or perhaps Ewan’s God knows the African character is hugely deficient. Darn we might screw up his plan. Tricky call.)

    A way to avoid this predicted African catastrophe is to impose draconian measures. One child or no child per family, applied to a billion with still high eye watering child mortality rates. 54 countries, none of them ours. 54 social dictatorships up-ending every persons’ current future expectations amongst populations that are still the least educated and accessible. But 54 countries cannot be made to act like Mao’s China. (And to re-iterate here the twenty years prior to “one child” did at least a third of the work.)

    The only possible route is the decent one of lifting them into a healthier, more secure life, with all possible speed, get education, money and jobs into the hands of women, so they will want to make the family size decisions in line with those urged on them by their governments and health providers. Yes there will still be a significant African population bulge, but if we work hard at health and education provision and provide the investments needed, these people may be the first to show us how to crack sustainable, off-grid, grid-edge living and this continental population bulge (our last as a species) may become one of the most manageable.

    Neutralising the corrosive nature of the RCC and radical Islam , the former contraceptive terrorists the latter women’s-educational terrorists will speed things greatly. These “well intentioned” faithful folk are the closest I know to some kind of evil. Would that we could turn them into Quakers and Sufis.



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  • Phil has a point about including UN population projections in the category of “predictions about the future.” Such projections are based on numbers, simple mathematics, unlike projecting the growth of the solar power industry, or the British economy out to 2050. All predictions involve variant scenarios. In cases where mathematical variables can be easily applied, like total fertility, the predictable range will probably be far more accurate than postulating how multiple variables from complex fields of scientific, technological and social projects will play out on a global-longitudinal scale. The UN estimates that 2050 world population will fall between 8 to 10 billion. Based on current trends in global fertility 9.6 billion will be most likely and the 8 billion scenario is becoming a more remote possibility with each passing year. Reviewing the numbers, that’s pretty accurate.

    Nowhere did I argue that overpopulation is the only challenge facing our species or that achieving population stability then manageable decline will solve all the problems of humankind. We are of a mind that much needs to be done from closing coal-fired power plants to providing access to clean water from education to conservation. The priority of population reduction is clear as the easiest way to reduce both per capita and collective consumption and pollution, the demands that we make on our environment.
    We might want to assess quality of life issues also. Imagine the UK with a population of say 126 million. imagine your beloved London with a population of 20+ million, and navigating the city at rush hour with twice the number of cars on the roads.

    I suspect that behind the resistance to limits on fertility is the emotionally grounded fear that no one should interfere with the most sacred private decision that men and women make: how many children to have. The fear strikes from many places – from the core of our respect for human rights; from our mutual respect for privacy; from the revulsion toward some Big Brother trying to control the intimate spaces in our lives. Simply put, it is awkward and distasteful to talk about and “none of our business.” So we don’t.

    The darker side of the coin has seen obedience to the religious, or secular grow-the-economy imperative: “be fruitful and multiply,” and religious bans on artificial birth control fortified with the excoriation of abortion as murder. Attempts to reduce fertility fortunately favored by the vast majority of women worldwide; women who want access to birth control currently denied, will be met with considerable opposition from institutions and customs.

    We who care about Darwin and biology should find the concept of reproductive rights for any animal species troubling when it implies either infinite population growth or sustained sub-replacement fertility to the point of extinction. We who know better have bought into the traditional (and understandable) bias that we are a special creature, imbued with Godlike powers of Science and Reason granting us dominion over the earth and utilitarian dumb animals. We have been divinely ordained or cerebrally ordained to transcend the ecosystem. Unlike others species we can over-breed as suits our whims or mandates. SCIENCE or GOD will provide for however many billions we add to the planet. At base it is an old, old fairytale and we should lose it in favor of an evolutionary-ecological narrative.



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  • Nathaniel Feb 8, 2015 at 3:34 am

    I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I could use some help.
    Our energy techniques have begun a transformation of the planet that was not intended.

    I suggest you Google some of the following:

    Solar thermal power towers, solar thermal parabolic troughs, Atlantis Tidal turbines, East River tidal turbines, Rance tidal barrage, wave power, geothermal electricity, heat storage and ventilation systems, solar cookers.org , Thorium nuclear generation, wind turbines, building insulation improvements, zero-carbon buildings photovoltaic electricity. hydrogen fuel-cell cars Japan, LED light bulbs.



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  • It is important to examine issues in human population growth, stressing qualifications where the debate wanders into misleading mathematics or incendiary claims.

    World fertility rate on average has been cut almost in half since 1970 (44%) down from about 4.5 lifetime live births per woman to 2.5 in 2014. Further declines in birth rates could drop to replacement level by 2050 but recent findings indicate that fertility worldwide has spiked enough to render this projection dubious. Replacement fertility settles around 2.1 in developed nations but reaches 3+ in some least developed nations, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, because of atrocious infant and child mortality, and high mortality among females before reaching childbearing age of 15.

    The ambiguous demographic trends of our times generate a “good news-bad news” scenario. Optimists have declared that the population problem will be solved by mid-century with birth rates falling to replacement levels. By 2100 there will be no cause to worry about the prospect of population growth or over-population. Pessimists point out that demographers are starting to waffle on projections. Growth in absolute numbers are likely to tally very closely to those of the 20th century. World population in 1900 was 1.76 billion growing to 6 billion by 2000. By 2100 if population hovers around 10 billion, the comparison of the two centuries growth will be: 20th century + 4.24 Billion – 21st century +4 Billion. Ten billion people -not “good news” no matter how you slice it. Even worse, residual fertility exceeding zero growth rates will be catastrophic over time. An extra one tenth of a child per woman will add over a billion people to the planet about every 60 years because the tiny rate will be operating on such a huge base of 10 billion.

    Phil is right to emphasize the outsized role that Africa will play and the special multiple crises that must be addressed in health, care, malnutrition infrastructure, government reform and many other areas in that uniquely dysfunctional continent. Why not address family planing (foreign aid-to-Africa organizations have) with a redoubling of efforts that include policies and programs that publicize goals for population stabilization and reduction that reaches each and every citizen no matter what squalor they live in? Providing unmet need for birth control for each and every African woman, can go hand in hand with medical care to fight malaria, infectious diseases, and malnutrition which carry off so many children needlessly.

    Phil and others have dismissed population growth from serious concern primarily because population momentum will defer stabilization for several generations and therefore “take too long” to be helpful. The phenomenon should be clarified perhaps pertinently using the example of sub-Saharan Africa. If fertility rates drop from say 4 to replacement somewhere between 2 and 3 children per woman depending on infant, child and other mortality rates from 2015 to 2050, a period of 35 years, the population in absolute numbers will continue to grow during that period because of intergenerational survival. In other words large cohorts of children coming into their child bearing years will produce large cohorts of children. Their children will be living side by side with their young mothers, living side by side with young grandmothers, living side by side with young great grandmothers. Intergenerational survival will bulge the population for about 30 years. The opposite phase will set in as fertility reaches replacement level. Then populations will shrink in absolute numbers because the once young mothers, young grandmothers, etc. will die off leaving only cohorts and their offspring practicing zero-growth reproduction. Is 40 to 60 years “too long?” Given the time frame necessary to solve global poverty, hunger, medical care, education, pollution, climate change and catastrophic conflict, 40 to 60 years should be expected as the norm.

    Finally a word about draconian measures. Even if such a thing were possible on a global scale, there is no need for anyone to entertain it. Family planning allows all women to have 2+ children on average.. Because a certain percentage will opt to remain childless or have one child, a significant portion may opt for a third child and a small minority for a fourth child. Nothing inhumane or coercive here. Women with choice in developed nations indeed more than reflect this distribution, collectively registering sub-replacement fertility. (A problem for another discussion). No one needs to default to infinite population growth from reluctance to talk about it; from rationalizations “it will take too long,” or from fear of draconian measures.



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  • 75
    Nathaniel says:

    That’s a lot of homework and I look forward to it, and I hope I come out less pessimistic. My guess is that as the real state of the US oil industry emerges from its PR shield which is that it has entered a dangerous period of decline, the denial industry will move quickly to geoengineering schemes. One of their basic problems is not how to geoengineer the atmosphere, which is fear fetched to say the least, but how to un geoengineer the entire planet. That’s gonna take some real fiery speeches to the bagmen of Washington., and stirring up patriotic passion.
    What I am trying to get at is, the statement I made above which was quoted and approved is one of the most enormous meaning, which we don ‘t get. I think that the nature of the catastrophe which is taking shape is intellectual, and I don’t actually think it is obscure, the reason why science can’t make itself heard anymore. A large part of society has been mobilised against fact.



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