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Best and Worst

Entry 920, on 2009-01-06 at 21:56:45 (Rating 4, Science)

I have been thinking that I should do some sort of end of year wrap up to commemorate the end of 2008 so, even though its a bit late, here are my thoughts. I just listened to the end of year episode of the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast and they listed their worst and best for the year from the perspective of skepticism and science, so I'm going to take a bit of a lead from that.

There were two science highlights for they year for me (these were shared with many members of the SGU). The big one was the Large Hadron Collider. If it hadn't been for the fact that the LHC finished the year non-operational I would have put that number one undisputed by itself, but a certain amount of the kudos must be lost because of the fact that its not working! The other highlight was the Phoenix Mars Mission which was very successful - unlike many Mars missions form the past!

If you want further information on these topics, I have mentioned them before. I blogged about the LHC on 2008-09-13 in an entry titled "Extreme Engineering" and I listed some of the failed Mars missions on 2006-05-30 in "God of War".

The LHC deserves to be the science highlight of the year because its just so big and impressive, but maybe even more important is the fact that it exists at all. Its a collaboration between many countries and it costs a huge amount but it is designed to answer some of the most academic, speculative and abstract questions imaginable. Its a real achievement that something so important to basic research but so far removed from any immediate mundane benefit has been built. I just hope it can be repaired and run reliably in 2009.

I also like the way the LHC was built across the boundary between France and Switzerland. This symbolises how a project of this magnitude rises above petty national politics and stands above such minor administrative details like national boundaries. Of course, I'm sure that the reality is that politics might have had a lot to do with that, and other aspects of the LHC's construction.

So that's the best and so we must now come to the worst! Well, if you follow this blog you will have found there are two groups who consistently annoy me because of their failure to accept facts, their lack of integrity, and well... their plain stupidity! The first group is global warming deniers but I can almost excuse them because the science is complex and involves statistical reasoning. The far worse group, which I can't excuse under any circumstances, are the creationists!

Yes, the good old creationists continue to annoy me with their cherry picking, ignorance and pure blind stupidity. And their close friends the Intelligent Design crowd aren't much better. In fact, in some ways they are worse because they pretend that their religious belief is based on science whereas at least most creationists just admit that theirs is based on faith.

So the low point of the year would be Ben Stein and his horrible propaganda piece, Expelled. I haven't seen the movie because I'm not even sure if it was shown here, but I know a reasonable amount about it so I feel I can comment. Depending on who you listen to the movie could be seen as a success or a failure. It did make a reasonable amount of money considering its general genre, but circumstantial evidence indicated it was mainly viewed by people who were already converted to the cause. Most of the unbiased reviewers severely criticised it because they saw it for the mindless propaganda it really is.

I discussed the movie in a blog entry for 2008-04-21 titled "No Intelligence Allowed" and on 2008-04-04 in "Expelled". Yes, I was so outraged by this movie I pilloried it twice!

So it has been a mixed year as far as skepticism and science is concerned but on balance I am feeling fairly positive about it.

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Comment 1 (1848) by SBFL on 2009-01-07 at 08:14:06: (view recent only)

Hmmm, with te exception of the movie, the "worst of the year" just refers to 2 groups you despise, not any actual event that happened in 2008. Why is this...surely not the obvious chip on your shoulder? You´re too transparent sometimes, which means that also your comments on the subjects aren´t objective. You´re so quick to criticise them, but then maybe a mirror would be handy.

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Comment 2 (1851) by OJB on 2009-01-07 at 19:01:43:

I was commenting on trends as much as individual events. Also, I do get a lot of personal contact with creationists. I do have an interest in creationism (in a negative way) but I don't know if that equates to a chip on my shoulder!

Am I transparent because I always criticise creationism? I don't know, maybe I am. All I can say is that in less clear cut situations, eg Israel and Hamas, I often have less predictable opinions.

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Comment 3 (1852) by SBFL on 2009-01-08 at 08:24:35:

What were the trends pertaining to 2008 then?

Transparent in the sense we know what your real motives are, so any guise of objectivity is thinly veiled.

Yes, would be good if you could do a post on the current situation in Gaza.

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Comment 4 (1855) by OJB on 2009-01-08 at 10:32:12:

Trends from the point of view of skepticism would be the increasingly desperate demands of creationists and the new found voice of atheists (Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, Harris, etc). Also science becoming more acceptable: TV shows emphasising science. Interest in science projects: Mars Phoenix (for good reasons), the LHC (for the wrong reasons). This has been happening for a few years now but seems to have reached a critical point last year.

My real motives would be what? To present the truth (according to objective, realistic criteria). To stop people forcing their ignorance onto others. You have a problem with these maybe? I admit I also like a good debate just for its own sake, but I'll only debate issues I think are true.

I'll blog about Gaza in the next few days.

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Comment 5 (1856) by SBFL on 2009-01-08 at 14:11:26:

Wow, that may be your view but none of it was obvious from your post. I am sure you can understand how the average reader would conclude from the original post that you were just manufacuring an excuse to stick it to your two favourite punching bags...and that that was your motive. To me this looks more like a chip on the shoulder than a genuine effort to present the truth. That´s what it looks like anyway.

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Comment 6 (1858) by OJB on 2009-01-08 at 20:03:44:

Well OK, I guess it looks that way to you, and I do realise that it might seem that I spend too much time criticising those groups. I do think its important to fight fundamentalism wherever it exists though. Maybe you aren't quite as aware of the situation in the US, UK and Europe as I am.

I've debated with several fundamentalist and their mindless, unthinking belief worries me. This is not supposed to be a criticism of mainstream religion. I think believing in a god is silly but its not a subject I'm too concerned about.

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Comment 7 (1860) by SBFL on 2009-01-09 at 07:03:53:

No...not just to me, to anyone. Your explanation in comment 4 is in no way represented in the original post.

"I do think its important to fight fundamentalism wherever it exists though. Maybe you aren't quite as aware of the situation in the US, UK and Europe as I am."
I am interested though, why so concerned? I´m no creationist, but I have no fear of those who are. However wrong they may be I fail to see any significant threat posed. And I emphasise the word ´significant´. Be careful your worry doesn´t become xenophobia.

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Comment 8 (1861) by OJB on 2009-01-09 at 09:25:23:

I guess we'll just have to hope someone else notices this thread and comments. You think one thing, I think another, so there's no way to resolve this without input from others.

I'm concerned about irrational belief systems in general. I have found that belief in creationism, global warming denial, 9/11 conspiracies, and others are often linked. Skepticism is one of my interests so I see it as my "duty" to try to educate some of these ignoramuses!

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