American unreason

Catching up on my podcasts after two weeks dominated by my prelims (I passed!): last week’s Bill Moyers Journal features Susan Jacoby, whose new book, The Age of American Unreason contends that much of what is wrong with U.S. politics stems from the rise of anti-intellectualism in American culture. My reaction is pretty much the same as it was to Lynn Truss’s grammar manifesto Eats, Shoots & Leaves – I’m always sympathetic to fellow nerds’ disgust with the inability of the unwashed masses to comprehend how important [insert my interest here] is, but I worry that complaining about it sounds a little crank-y.

For instance, I could care less about Jacoby’s carping over the increasing use of the term “folks” to mean “people” in politicians’ speeches. Language and usages change, especially in English. But I do think she makes a valid point about the importance of an informed citizenry for democracy. I often wonder whether the current debates about judicial power, Presidential authority, &c are shaped by public ignorance of the Constitution and the way government is supposed to work. Or maybe I’m just a snotty liberal who assumes that everyone who disagrees with me must be stupid or misinformed or both.

Caucused tonight

Just got back from the Latah County Democratic presidential caucus – it was packed with people despite impending snow. Lots of college students, lots of everyone – a line out the door just before the cutoff time of 7:00pm. I left early because my candidate, Barack Obama, was leading strongly – upwards of 70% – which meant I didn’t have to worry about making a second choice. Hillary Clinton was flirting with the “non-viability” limit of 15%; a few stubborn souls also showed up for John Edwards. According to NPR, Latah County is a good microcosm of the state as a whole – Obama 75%, Clinton 24%.

Caucusing tonight

Tonight, I’m spending my evening at my first-ever presidential caucus, for the Idaho Democratic Party. It’s open regardless of party affiliation, which is cool. Between Moscow’s generally weedy liberalism and his heavy advantage with lefty U of I students (including yours truly), Barack Obama probably has Latah County wrapped up, but I really have no idea who’ll win the state as a whole. Democrats in southern Idaho tend to be more blue collar (mining and manufacturing-associated union folks), which is supposed to favor Hillary Clinton. But she’s never even visited the state – whereas the big O stopped in at Boise State U over the weekend.

Hey! I know that tree!

Tonight’s All Things Considered hits a long overdue topic as part of NPR’s ongoing “Climate Connections” series: the fate of Joshua trees in a warming world. I say overdue, of course, because two chapters of my dissertation will be on the population genetics and phylogeography of Joshua tree, and it’s hard to spend much time with Joshua trees and not wonder about how they’ll hold up under global warming.

I’ve spent two spring flowering seasons in Joshua Tree National Park, where much of the story centers. The Park is right at the southernmost boundary of Joshua tree’s current range, where (all else being equal) you’d expect to see the impact of warming earliest. As the NPR story points out, there does seem to be low recruitment (growth of young trees to replace old ones as they die) in the southern populations. On top of that, drier conditions are contributing to more frequent wildfires across Joshua tree’s range, and sprawl from Las Vegas and Los Angeles is rolling right through Joshua tree woodlands. The Park staff I’ve talked to (including naturalist Joe Zarki, who’s interviewed for the story) are seriously considering that they may have to take drastic measures to prevent Joshua Tree National Park from losing its namesake trees.

Cutting-edge creation “research”

Via Wired Science: the good folks at Answers in Genesis, who brought you the Creation Museum, are now launching the Answers Research Journal, an attempt to coat six-day Creationist dogma with a thin veneer of peer-review and slick web design. The premier volume contains a whopping three papers, one of which is the proceedings of a forum from June 2007. Topics include

  • Granite can form really fast! Therefore, Earth is six thousand years old.
  • Microbes are cool! What day they were created on? and
  • Mutation can’t possibly create new adaptations (given the author’s definition of “new,” “adaptation,” and “can’t”), so evolution is impossible!

The “peer-review” at ARJ is as laughable as the content: two contributers to the “forum” do so under pseudonyms, because, says a footnote,

The writers, who hold PhDs in fields related to the topics of their abstracts, are scientists at prominent research facilities in the eastern part of North America. They prefer to keep their creationist credentials hidden for the moment until they achieve more seniority.

In other words, ARJ‘s editor(s) are asserting that it is more important to help their contributors lie to tenure committees than to provide the journal’s readers with information necessary to evaluate the content (authorship, that is). That’s just scummy.

The most positive thing I have to say about ARJ is that they don’t ask you to pay to read their nonsense. It’s all free for download in PDF form, just like a real journal! But, in a move that probably says a lot about the journal’s producers and their intended audience, there’s no citation manager import.