Friday, December 11, 2009

My Dad and Einstein

The sun rose in the eastern sky this morning.  I keep noticing this, every single day.  I think it might be safe to say "the sun rises in the east."

"Dummy," says Virginia, "don't you remember Copernicus?"

Ah yes, Copernicus, my dear friend, the fellow who suggested the Earth travels around the sun.  If he's right, then -- um -- I guess the sun doesn't really rise in the east, despite my persistent observations.

My father was a biologist, a scientist unlike me, although sometimes I wonder if I might become one.  What would it take?

Was he a scientist in grade school, high school, college?  I'm sure he was by the time the U. of Chicago awarded him his Ph.D.  (I was there, took a long train ride from Ohio, I think, I could be wrong.)  Yes, he must have become a scientist before then.

I took some science classes in college -- Chemistry & Physics I and Genetics.  I majored in math, which is man-made so that doesn't count.  I'd either have to go back to school or study hard on my own.

Why would I want to become a scientist?  I'm curious.  I think it would be fun to exchange e-mails with other scientists, describing what I've observed and what I'm guessing.  It would be even more fun to get together now and then to share notes.  Once or twice I might get lucky and go out on a limb to suggest something new, maybe true.

Yikes.  Now I remember something my father told me.  I think it was important, very important, something like "a scientist might be able to prove something wrong, but can't prove something is true."  Dad was so smart, I knew what he said was true but I also knew I couldn't prove it.  Later, I read that Albert Einstein said something similar: "No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong."

And so I cringed when I read about the climate change "e-mail gate," although it's not all bad.  The global warming debate has traveled in some strange directions, partly because we've forgotten what someone tried to teach us about the scientific method back in elementary school.  Of course, some people will challenge the "consensus" on the global warming theory.  In a sense, science demands it.  For years, many people didn't like the idea that the Earth isn't the center of everything, but today's consensus is that the Earth orbits the sun.

I've been persuaded, scientist that I am not, that the weight of the evidence indicates human activities have had a warming effect on our climate since the Industrial Revolution -- more accurately, that no other theory seems to explain our melting ice, rising sea levels, and declining species as well as the rise in greenhouse gas emissions since that time.  As indicated in my earlier posting, "Selfishness" (November 23), it may not matter much whether you buy into that interpretation of the evidence because people like Lovins have demonstrated it makes economic sense to change our behavior.

Let me close with a question:  If the chance is 50/50 that humans are contributing to global warming, does it make sense to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the safety of potential future generations, in case the hypothesis is correct?

1 comment:

  1. I think that even if the chances are only 20-80 that humans are contributing, then we should reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Who knows what a little effort could do?

    Your darling sis