Sunday, January 23, 2011

Is truth a myth?

Does anyone really understand what science is? My trusty Webster's Dictionary (sorry, Oxfordians) defines science as knowledge ascertained by observation and experiment, critically tested, systematized and brought under general principles.

In my studies, it was stressed that science goes much beyond mere description of phenomena but seeks to explain, ultimately formulating a set of laws governing the observed phenomena. In simpler terms, the event must be observable, measurable and repeatable in a wide range of locations and circumstances. Science, therefore, puts great emphasis on describing experiments that are intended to verify some great truth.

Thermodynamics, aeronautics, electromagnetism, nuclear physics, all developed over time by someone following the scientific method, are so much part of our lives today, so embodied in the devices we take for granted that we no longer think of them as being important building blocks of our lifestyle.

But that is not the real message here. Science is based on truth. Our society today does not respect truth. Image is more important. Truth depends on evidence. Without evidence anything goes. We are shooting ourselves and society in the foot when we stop teaching people how to recognize the truth.

I have discovered a quotation ascribed to John F. Kennedy, who said, "The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie -deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth -persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Belief in myth allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought."

It has been my observation in recent years to observe various special interest groups choose myth as a position for advocating what is almost always a Not in My Backyard agenda. Such myth is almost invariably validated by the statement "I read on the Internet that (insert peril) is true." Some of this is pure entertainment and keeps certain people off the streets, but it is undesirable and truly unfortunate when drivel results in negative results for the community or lost opportunities for individuals. How about a few examples?:

-- Organic food is "better" for you. Research in England, quoted in the newpaper, indicates no increased benefit. Don't like the answer? Slam the report, ignore the methodology.

-- Windmills are "bad" for you. I have not examined all the evidence, but from the outside, it reminds me of the crt/computer terminal scare of a few years ago.

-- All pesticides are "bad." Evidence shows that table salt is more lethal than the most popular weed killer used in Canada. It all boils down to the dose. Salt is 5,000 times more dangerous.

-- Nuclear power is " evil." This depends on your attitude toward creation, but science has unlocked the miracle of nuclear activity. And it truly is a miracle of some creative process. Man's use of it is entirely another matter. But who can deny the benefits of nuclear medicine?

These examples are technical. Myths are promoted in the social and political spheres as well. The turbulent politics in the USA have the aura of myth about them. There have been examples in history where myths have been created to justify racial atrocities. I do not want to go there.

Turbines issue sails through planning group vote

Invenergy’s allowance to “consult” with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA) instead of “abid(ing) by the agency’s requirements” which include a three-mile setback of windmills near Bishop Hill, was given unanimous approval by the Henry County Planning Committee on Jan. 18.

The committee voted on the matter before a standing-room only crowd in the Henry County Courthouse. Attendees had turned out for a public hearing about Invenergy’s plan to build 266 turbines in the county, with most interest on the turbines which would be built near historic Bishop Hill.

Invenergy plans to build 47 turbines within three miles of Bishop Hill, and six within 1.5 miles of the village.

Several area residents offered their views of the project.

Bishop Hill Mayor Mike Funke voiced support for the turbines.

“I don’t understand; if people are coming to visit Bishop Hill, they’re coming to see Bishop Hill,” Funke said, according to a story in the Jan. 19 The (Moline) Dispatch. “It doesn’t matter what’s around.”

Galva school superintendent Doug O’Riley said Galva schools need the wind farm to be built. If it is, Galva schools could reap $340,000 in tax revenue.

Weller Township Supervisor Mark Nordstrom said a three-mile setback would seriously hurt township finances.

“If this passes, it’s our one opportunity. It’s not going to come back,” Nordstrom said, according to The Dispatch. “If we’re not going to get it, we’re not going to get it. We’ve got to have those dollars, folks.”

Kiev: Golden-domed city of Eastern promise

The Ukrainian capital of Kiev is a riverside city that boasts streets lined with onion-domed churches and lively summer beer gardens.

Founded over 1,500 years ago, it can legitimately claim to be one of Europe's oldest cities -- and it has the monuments to prove it.

Modern-day Kiev is an unusual mix: Part historic Slavic, part Soviet, part Ukrainian-nationalist and part cosmopolitan European. Shiny office blocks mix with medieval statues and examples of bold Soviet-era constructivist architecture.

It is a 24-hour city, bustling with friendly, busy locals. Travelers from the West need to bear in mind that few people speak English, and nearly all the signs are in Russian or Ukrainian script.

Public hearings on windmills set for Monday and Tuesday

Two public hearings will be held in the Henry County Courthouse in Cambridge to discuss issues with wind farms proposed by Bishop Hill Energy, LLC, an Invenergy entity.

One meeting will be held 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 18 by the Henry County Planning Committee and one will be 7 p.m. Jan. 19 by the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Both meetings are being held in Room 102J, to review zoning applications by Bishop Hill Energy, LLC, who is requesting an amendment to remove “Illinois Historic Preservation Office requirements including those for protection of the Village of Bishop Hill.”

Bishop Hill Energy, LLC will also ask to add the following language: “Applicant shall consult with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA) regarding the effect of the project on the Village of Bishop Hill” in six townships, including Galva, Weller, Clover, Burns, Cambridge and Andover.”