The NYT’s John Tierney might be the worse science writer to ever make a six figure salary. In this piece – Doomsayers Beware, a Bright Future Beckons – he drools over “The Rational Optimist,” by Matt Ridley. It’s not that Ridley’s book does not have merits, but Tierney acts as though he has found a holy grail. His seems to fear, fear itself or at least that many people – many of them scientists – are not optimistic enough about the future of life on this planet with all their cautions about taking some serious steps toward preserving our natural resources and atmosphere.
The first school despairs because it foresees inevitable ruin. The second school is hopeful — but only because these intellectuals foresee ruin, too, and can hardly wait for the decadent modern world to be replaced by one more to their liking. Every now and then, someone comes along to note that society has failed to collapse and might go on prospering, but the notion is promptly dismissed in academia as happy talk from a simpleton.
John T’s straw men are a testament to intellectual laziness. Felix Salmon, a financial writer, does a little better in his review, The Great Reset and The Rational Optimist
Ridley’s book is a useful corrective to prevailing pessimism, and should certainly be read by anybody of an apocalyptic bent, or anybody who is convinced that renewable fuels and organic food are obviously better for the environment and for humanity than the alternative. Still, Ridley is himself an interesting example of what can happen when someone is too optimistic: he was chairman of UK bank Northern Rock, which, when it failed in 2007, became the first bank in the country to suffer a bank run since the 19th century, and had to be taken over by the government. Sometimes, a bit of precautionary pessimism can be decidedly useful.
Ridley is very quick to dismiss massive extinction in humanity’s recent past as a bump in the road toward progress rather than history to be learned from. We all grew up hearing the warning that you don’t know what you’ve got until its gone. You also don’t know what humanity or how humanity may have benefited from animals and plants we never had a chance to study. Ridley’s vision of the future is based on the premise that science and technology will save us, but does not appear to grasp where science originates. It might be and admittedly no one knows for sure, that we’re near our peak for the amount of abuse the planet will take and still support over 6 billion people and growing; in way that we’re all relatively well housed, clothed, fed and have access to good health care. Such reliance on science or happy talk is a crap shoot and psychologically a place where the Tierneys retreat to in order to reassure themselves that they won’t have to make even small sacrifices or adapt to a slightly different lifestyle. His six figure salary and lofty soapbox at the NYT also mean that he never has to entertain the possibility or give credit to those downer pessimist who might be concerned that he, people like him and their grandchildren have a sustainable economy in order to continue their pleasant and in some instances, unearned lifestyle.
Carl Zimmer is a very good science writer who also works at NYT and Discover. The Brain The First Yardstick for Measuring Smells
Smell is a powerful and evocative sense yet also a deeply enigmatic one. So scientists have invented a more concrete way to pin down what our noses are telling us.
For now the closest we come to having instant transport and time travel is the sense of smell. And it can also save your life.
Credit where due – Maya plumbing, first pressurized water feature found in New World
“Water pressure systems were previously thought to have entered the New World with the arrival of the Spanish,” the researchers said in a recent issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.
The Maya in the Palenque created a sophisticated series of aqueducts around the Classic Maya period 250 to 600.