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Newt Gingrich: Amateur Paleontologist (really?) [Jan. 1st, 2012|09:53 pm]
[Current Mood |awake]

Hey, I didn't have to make this up.  He said it himself while campaigning in Iowa.   Why is he sure global warming isn't real?    “I’m an amateur paleontologist.  I spend a lot of time looking at the Earth’s temperature for a very long time. I’m a lot harder to convince than just looking at a computer model.”

Now right there you have proof of the Newt's mental status: ignorant and confused and not entirely honest.

Although the mental image of the Newt poring over fossils with a hand lens and reading geology books is kind of endearing--there's the little boy, wide-eyed with curiosity about the world--what the Newt actually spends a lot of time doing is sucking up to the rich and right wing, with the aim of getting more power, making speeches, running around the country campaigning, etc.  Any knowledge he has of "the Earth's temperature for a very long time" he got from someone else's chart, glanced at quickly. 

If the Newt  knew anything much about paleontology, he would know that data from paleontology are only part of the data used by climate scientists (a different discipline) to figure out how this planet's climate works. 
Yes, they're interested in ancient climates, and yes, some of their data are used to illuminate ancient climates...but they are not climate scientists per se, and relying on paleontological data alone for information on what the physics and chemistry of climate are...is stupid.  Like relying on a plumber to tell you how nuclear fission works.  An amateur plumber at that.

His claim to be an "amateur" paleontologist is laughable in another way.  Anyone who's ever gone "Gosh wow!" over a fossil and can tell one fossil from another--or who was a dinosaur enthusiast at some point in their life--can call himself an amateur paleontologist.   Presumably, the Newt can tell a dinosaur skeleton from an oyster shell from a petrified tree...(maybe.  I'd really like to see him demonstrate some paleontological knowledge...)  But most people know that it's only the exceptional amateur anything who's as good at it as the professional anything.  Mystery books aside,  the neighborhood amateur detectives aren't usually as good as professional ones;  many an amateur plumber has to call in the professionals; the accident rate for amateur pilots is higher than for professional ones.  So what does this "amateur" actually know about paleontology?  Anything really relevant?   Or did he just throw out a big long word to impress people he figured wouldn't know any better?

His snide remark about "computer models" is typical of the right, which continues to pretend that global warming exists only in the models rather than--very obviously--in current observations.    There's ample data now--current data--but the right don't want it known.  (For instance: Rick Perry quashed the part of a report from Texas A&M on the future of the Texas Gulf Coast that indicated how much of the coast would be under water over the next fifty years.   Republicans in Congress have refused to let the National Weather Service discuss climate change in ways useful to farmers, fishermen, coastal communities, etc.)  I read the original papers in the 1970s and have followed the scientific evidence in those journals (not the popular media) for almost 40 years now.   As predicted by the much maligned early computer models after the carbon dioxide hypothesis was published, global warming started bumping out of the "within normal limits" in the early 1990s, and was clearly out of the starting gate by 2001. It doesn't take a computer model to show the retreat of glaciers around the world, the rise in sea level, the increase in ocean temperature, the changes in rainfall patterns, the changes in vegetation (at all latitudes, but very, very obvious in the Arctic),  the changes in migration patterns, etc, etc, etc.  

So is the Newt really that stupid, or just that greedy for power?  Or both?  And--more of concern--why the dickens does anyone believe him?    Or the others who say the same thing in different words (most of them won't claim to be amateur paleontologists, because their constituencies are opposed to the whole idea of fossil evidence and geologic timespans.) 


(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2012-01-02 03:47 pm (UTC)
It's not just reading levels. (In fact, some of the hardest books to read I ever ran across were written for kids with reading difficulties to learn from.) One of the errors I see in education (and yes, I've been in it--as a math and science tutor, designing a class in first-response for a rural high school) is conflating "reading skills" with "learning skills." I'm sure you know this, but wanted to make it explicit for any discussion here.

When I was in high school, we had a simple book for plane geometry. It was all about the geometry. The logic of geometry was laid out clearly--what the axioms were, what was needed for a proof, and then bit by bit, the entire structure built up. Decades later, a friend's daughter was having some problems with geometry, and since I had tutored geometry, her mother asked me to help. This girl's modern "improved" geometry book was so cluttered (it was at least twice as "fat" as mine had been) with pictures, with little stories, with suggested projects, with wordy explanations (not all that well-written) stuffed in between the really rather simple basics, that the logic of the topic itself was buried. The girl has (and has as a marine biologist now) a very logical mind--her father's an engineer; she's been around engineers and software developers all her life--and all she needed was permission to go back to the basics of geometry, ignoring for the time being all the distracting non-geometry in the chapters. She caught on quickly to a method for finding the underlying structure, and after that was fine.

I would not argue that every student would find my old textbook easier to learn from than her newer one. It also takes what I had--a clear-headed teacher who is thoroughly master of the topic. But watching this intelligent girl--who had no previous fear or math or dislike of science--struggle with a textbook that had added baroque frills to a simple structure--made me aware of the dangers of using language (at least in the hands of those who aren't really good at it) to "make it more relevant" or "make it simpler."

Back to Gingrinch. He's not "making things easier to understand"--he's deliberately presenting misinformation, the easy (but wrong) answer people want. Telling them they understand something...that isn't true. It's as if he'd said "Pi = 3.1415....is too complex, so just tell people the diameter of a circle is three times the diameter. Close enough. And don't worry your pretty little head about the multiplication table...a guess is as good as a mile." Yes, it's scary. And evil.
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