I work for NASA. Specifically, it is my job to create 321Science! fast-draw videos (think markers on a whiteboard) to explain the science of NASA’s latest asteroid mission to anyone with access to YouTube. I am supposed to be a bridge between the people who do the science and the people who fund the science, and most importantly the kids who will grow up to do the science and fund the science.

I am a very Important Bridge. And there’s a sign posted on an intersection on my way to work that puffs me up even more with the Awesomeness of my Science Bridge.

It’s a sign that someone spray-painted onto a board and nailed to a power-line post. It’s pretty simple, just implores the passers-by to STOP GEO-ENGINEERING. In case any passers-by thought that geo-engineering related to mining technology, there is an accompanying visual: a jet with contrails. Ahem, excuse me: chemtrails.

resized_DSC_2916_edA simple Google search on the term “geo-engineering” reveals that it is related to mining technology. Probing further with “stop geo-engineering” reveals that the trails left behind by airplanes in the stratosphere are not water vapor, they are dangerous chemical toxins designed to change life on our planet as we know it. (Don’t worry, the sites list several detox options, “some more costly than others — and some producing very intense experiences with potentially dangerous side effects.”)

I roll my eyes at the sign and head on my way, on to build bridges between Science and (most of) Humanity.

Because there are some battles that I don’t need to win. Pseudoscience falls into three categories: 1) refutable and harmless, 2) watertight and harmless, and 3) watertight and life-or-death. Battles that fall into the first and third categories are worth fighting: e.g., asteroids are not the same as comets, and global climate change is killing people from crispy California to soggy Southeast Asia. But battles like “stop geo-engineering” fall into the second category — they’re buttressed by blogs and websites and clips of scientists at conferences, yet their call to action only threatens world stockpiles of… cilantro. A superfood with (who knew?) natural detox agents to purge your body of dangerous “chemicals.” (Can you guess how it works? Chemicals. Shh, don’t tell… you’ll spoil it. For now, let them eat cilantro.)

The best way to fight any of the above pseudoscience battles is to fight scientific illiteracy. And the best way to fight scientific illiteracy is to make science readable.

Science has made up its own language. “Positive feedback” means, to a scientist, a vicious cycle that can drive an observable quantity (like the temperature of the globe) upward at an alarming and increasing rate. Likewise, a “theory” is not a hunch or whim; an “aerosol” is a tiny atmospheric particle (no spray can necessary); and “bias” is an offset between model and observation. “Chemicals” are everywhere (try digesting your food without them), and dangerous aerial electromagnetic “radiation” can give you a nice tan.

We need to reclaim, reinterpret, re-understand our science words. We need to let “geo-engineering” be mining again, put our poor abused “chemicals” out to pasture. We need to speak both the language of science and the language of those who fund science, to do our part to avoid perpetuating pseudoscientific conspiracy theories.

Unless… conspiracy theories could be lucrative. Excuse me while I go buy stock in cilantro.

1 Comment

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    Marilynne Robinson meets Randall Munroe. Great post.


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