Saturday, April 11, 2015

The sky is blue, therefore no vodka on transatlantic flights

Consider a truthful proposition, say "the sky is blue." In this hypothetical, imagine that for historical reasons a majority of the people are indoctrinated to believe that the sky is red; a minority of the people know it's blue.

Now imagine that there's a subgroup of those who believe that the sky is blue who organize and attend conferences, write articles and blog posts, and publish books, all dedicated to making fun of people who don't know that the sky is blue.

Most of the minority who know that the sky is blue find these conferences, articles, and books (like "The Red Delusion" and "Red is not Great") both trivial and mean-spirited: trivial because they don't actually elaborate on the blueness of the sky as a phenomenon; and mean-spirited because when you scrape the thin veneer of interest in the truth, what's left is a group of people mocking those to whom they feel superior.

Imagine that you meet, possibly on a discussion forum, some of these "the sky is blue" activists who are very vocal about the blueness of the sky, but don't know that the color blue maps into a specific range of wavelengths, how the eye senses color, or that the color of the sky results from the scattering of sunlight in the atmosphere. Instead, when topics like these surface, the activists quickly move the discussion to the topic of some other person who believes the sky is red and should be mocked or punished for that. Or ban you from the forum.

Now, imagine that at one of these conferences, or in the articles by some of the least competent writers, you find clearly wrong statements, such as "the oceans are yellow and made of butter" or "golf turf is grass made of little Burberry umbrellas." Or prescriptive non-sequiturs like "because the sky is blue, Absolut vodka should be forbidden on transatlantic flights."

Possibly you'd learn to avoid these people, their conferences and forums, and their books, articles and blog posts.

Possibly. Probably. Maybe definitely.

On a totally unrelated subject, a few friends are puzzled that I don't belong to, or support, any atheist or skeptic organizations, given my lifelong interest in science.

Yeah... mysteries of the universe.