Dumbing Down the Science Reading Public

first_imgIn their rush to grab attention-getting headlines, are reporters doing more harm than good?  An essential part of science education is critical thinking.  Some headlines and articles state ideas that far outstrip the meager data on which they are based. Fingers do the walking:  Science Daily blindly reproduced an audacious claim from the University of Liverpool that Neanderthals were promiscuous on the basis of – what? – their finger bones.  “Neanderthals Were More Promiscuous Than Modern Humans, Fossil Finger Bones Suggest.”  The thinking was that a thick finger bone suggests larger amounts of male hormone during development, which in turn suggests that the men were more masculine, therefore aggressive, therefore promiscuous.  Not only that, the same scientists concluded that Australopithecus was monogamous, and Ardipithecus was promiscuous.Cometary omens:  Charles Q. Choi in Live Science took the occasion of Deep Impact’s flyby of Comet Hartley 2 (see JPL for photos) to tell a story: “How Earth May Owe Its Life to Comets.”  The origin of earth’s water and the origin of life are major unsolved problems for secular scientists, and comet impacts could inflict more damage than aid, but for the purposes of reporting, comets make nice objects that “suggest” benign effects on earth history, though seeing a cyanide jet coming out of Hartley 2 causes a minor problem.Axe-ing a question:  Observation: some stone tools in a South Africa cave show that the inhabitants had pretty good craftsmanship.  Conclusion: “Our ancestors had to grow bigger brains to make axes,” said Catherine de Lange at New Scientist.  She took the word of scientists at Imperial College London that “putting together more complex language requires you to have more complex structured thoughts, in the same way that making more complex tools requires more complex actions” – true enough, though she left it unclear how the need to grow a bigger brain led to the correct sequence of random mutations to bring it about.  Perhaps it was a decision by the cave council.Universal warming:  Live Science announced, “Black Holes Gave Our Baby Universe a Fever.”  PhysOrg followed up with a trendy headline, “Astronomers find evidence of cosmic climate change.”  Let’s hope they don’t blame humans for that.  The focus of the articles might have been on the quandary facing cosmologists for detecting anomalous heat in distant galaxies, and for invoking unobservable black holes to account for it.Lively Mars:  Is it even possible for a science reporter to write about Mars these days without using the L-word life?  Maggie McKee at New Scientist couldn’t break the habit.  The mere presence of hydrated silica on the sides of a Martian volcano was enough to set off the hallucinations: “Silica deposits on Mars could entomb possible life.”Missing blink:  “Missing link” is second only to “survival of the fittest” as a phrase capable of conjuring up the bearded visage of Charles Darwin.  The missing link in PhysOrg’s story, though, was not an apeman, but a chemical element: phosphorus.  It was apparently enough floss for us to be told, “Phosphorus identified as the missing link in evolution of animals.”  Just add phosphorus, and presto: animals.  According to a geochemist at the University of Alberta, who claims he divined a rise in phosphorus in the world’s oceans 750 million years ago, “That establishes our link between phosphorus and the evolution of animals.”Radical conclusions are not neutralized with wiggle words that the data “suggest” the conclusion.  The data could suggest many other conclusions – even opposite ones.    One of the few paleoanthropologists willing to chastise his colleagues for unscientific notions is Professor John Hawks at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and he does it with alacrity.  On his John Hawks Blog entry for today, he pointed out an inherent circularity in the argument that human mutation rates can determine the time when the human-chimpanzee lineages diverged.  After providing details from published literature, he exclaimed, “So much of the literature in this area is ultimately circular, I’m pulling out my sparse hair reading through it.  It’s turtles all the way down!” (see humor page).Since mainstream science reporters have proven themselves utter dupes of the Darwin Party, drunk on Darwine and acting like court jesters gulping toads in the Darwin castle, it’s up to us readers to do the critical thinking.  The ultimate irony in all this is that these very reporters and Darwin-worshipers think of themselves as heirs of the Enlightenment, rationalism, science, and free speech.  If the town drunk fancies himself the reasonable man, what are the truly reasonable to do in a town run by the drunks?(Visited 13 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0last_img read more

Could a Trade Dispute With China End the U.S. Solar Boom?

first_imgA complex case of tangled loyaltiesThe International Trade Commission (ITC) has already made one statement about the Suniva petition — that, within the meaning of trade law, it is “extraordinarily complicated.” About that, no one disagrees. For starters, Suniva is majority-owned by Shunfeng International Clean Energy, a Chinese company that opposes Suniva’s petition, and SolarWorld Americas is a subsidiary of an insolvent German firm. Yet both are taking a stance against imports into the U.S.How can that be? In Suniva’s case, the petition is being driven by SQN Capital Management, a New York-based asset manager that made $51 million in loans to Suniva and spent another $4 million on legal fees. In a letter to the China Chamber of Commerce for Import & Export of Machinery & Electronic Products, SQN offered to drop the petition if a buyer could be found for Suniva’s manufacturing equipment, which SQN says is worth $55 million. The Chinese declined to make a deal, and the issue became moot when SolarWorld Americas entered the case and the ITC decided to investigate.This isn’t the first time that U.S. solar manufacturers have sought trade sanctions. In 2012, the Obama administration imposed modest tariffs on Chinese imports after finding that the Chinese government provided illegal export subsidies to its manufacturers. Two years later, it extended the tariffs to Taiwan. Those moves were prompted by cases brought by SolarWorld Americas.Nevertheless, solar imports to the U.S. continued to surge — from $5.1 billion in 2012 to $8.3 billion in 2016, according to Suniva — as Chinese companies built factories in Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia, which were unaffected by the tariffs. Last year, the U.S. imported $520 million in panels from Thailand, up from almost nothing in 2012, and another $514 million from Vietnam, up from less than $1 million in 2012, according to Suniva. Incentives for U.S. firmsStill, U.S. firms that complain about subsidies run the risk of being called hypocrites. Suniva, for instance, enjoyed state tax incentives for its Michigan plant, and “many other U.S. solar manufacturers have received tax, grant, and loan guarantee incentives,” says analyst Hugh Bromley. SolarCity, a unit of Tesla, is building a $900 million factory in Buffalo, New York, to make solar panels, with major subsidies.Other solar manufacturers headquartered in the U.S., including SunPower and First Solar, have located a majority of their manufacturing offshore and so would be affected by any tariffs. In fact, SunPower has joined with the Solar Electric Industries Association to oppose the tariffs. SunPower, First Solar, and SolarCity all declined to comment on the trade issue.Some analysts believe that the industry will be able to adjust to the tariffs. Setting a floor price for panels will lead developers to choose higher-efficiency, higher-cost panels that will enable other price reductions along the supply chain, says Roberto Rodriguez Labastida, an analyst with Navigant Research. “There will be some shake-ups and adjustments,” he says, but nothing like the meltdown being forecast by some.The ITC will decide in September whether U.S. manufacturers have been injured. Shara Aranoff, a former chair of the commission who is now a corporate lawyer, says the nonpartisan ITC commissioners will be guided by the law and the facts. “It is one of the most independent agencies in the federal government,” she said.If the commission finds harm, the issue moves into the political arena. Already, Daniel Kildee, a Democratic congressman from Michigan, and Rob Woodall, a Republican congressman from Georgia, have called for trade remedies. The solar industry is arguing that tariffs will kill many more jobs than they will save, and that there are better ways to protect U.S. manufacturing.In making any decision, the Trump administration would be free to take anything into account — jobs, the impact of higher solar prices on consumers, and, at least in theory, the environment. Few would expect the environment to be high on the administration’s priority list here. But what will the president do? As with so many issues in Washington these days, that’s anybody’s guess. An Atlanta manufacturer cries foulThe trade investigation began in response to a petition filed by Suniva, a bankrupt manufacturer of solar cells and panels based in suburban Atlanta, with factories in Georgia and Michigan. Suniva, the second largest U.S. solar panel maker by volume, has been joined in the case by SolarWorld Americas, the largest U.S. solar panel manufacturer, which has a factory in Oregon.U.S. solar manufacturers “simply cannot survive” in a market where foreign imports “have unexpectedly exploded and prices have collapsed,” Suniva said in its petition. SolarWorld Americas said it decided to join with Suniva because “massive overproduction” of Chinese solar cells and panels has “led to the near-destruction of remaining solar producers in America.”The domestic solar firms have asked the Trump administration to impose steep tariffs on all imported solar cells, which are the devices inside solar panels that convert sunlight into electricity, and to set a floor price on solar panels containing imports. Those measures would roughly double the cost of imported panels, analysts say.Some industry analysts say higher costs for solar will slow the industry’s growth. According to a report from analyst IHS Markit, demand for U.S. solar photovoltaics could be reduced by 60 percent over the next three years if the trade commission grants Suniva’s petition.Hugh Bromley, an industry analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said in a note to clients that Suniva’s accusations are “riddled with holes and hypocrisies.” Still, he adds, “Those may not matter if the case makes its way to President Trump’s desk.”As a candidate and as president, Trump has vowed to enforce U.S. trade laws as a way to strengthen the nation’s manufacturing base. Slapping tariffs on imported solar panels would benefit not only domestic solar manufacturers but traditional energy producers, including the coal industry, that compete with solar. RELATED ARTICLES Cheap Chinese solar cells have powered a boom in the U.S. solar industry. They have helped drive down the cost of making electricity from sunlight by about 70% since 2010, leading to double-digit growth rates in rooftop and utility-scale installations, according to the industry. Last year, for the first time, solar added more generating capacity to the electricity grid than any other fuel, including natural gas. That’s welcome news to those who worry about climate change.Now, though, the solar boom may be in jeopardy. The U.S. International Trade Commission, an independent federal agency, has begun an investigation that could lead to sweeping trade protections against the imports that would raise the costs of solar power and could bring a halt to solar’s rapid U.S. growth.If the trade commission finds that imports caused serious harm to U.S. solar manufacturers, it will recommend trade remedies, which could potentially include tariffs on all imported solar products. President Donald Trump, a champion of U.S. manufacturing, would get the final word on any action — a prospect that has the solar industry in a tizzy.The prospect of global tariffs “poses an existential threat to the broad solar industry and its 260,000 American jobs,” says Abigail Ross Hopper, the chief executive of the Solar Electric Industries Association, the industry’s largest trade organization. Most solar jobs in the United States are in sales and installation, not manufacturing, but tariffs could drive up the cost of solar and make it less competitive.center_img New Tariffs on Chinese Solar PanelsSolar Thermal Is Really, Really DeadLarge-Scale Solar Power Is Spreading Across the U.S.Solar Beats Utility Power in Many CitiesSolar Jobs Are BoomingGreen Building in the Cheap Energy EraBatteries for Off-Grid Homes This post originally appeared at Yale Environment 360 and is republished here with permission. Marc Gunther writes about foundations, nonprofits and global development on his blog, Nonprofit Chronicles. The goal is global tariffsThat’s why Suniva now wants tariffs imposed globally. “Without global relief, the domestic industry will be playing ‘whack-a-mole’ against [solar cells] and modules from particular countries,” says Matthew McConkey, a lawyer for Suniva, in the petition to the ITC.Trade experts agree that China has subsidized its giant solar manufacturers. Beijing and provincial governments provided free or low-cost loans; artificially cheap raw materials, components, and land; support for research and development; and a demand that was artificially driven by domestic regulation, according to Usha C.V. Haley and George Haley, wife-and-husband authors of a 2013 book, Subsidies to Chinese Industry: State Capitalism, Business Strategy and Trade Policy.“Production in China is still heavily subsidized,” says Usha Haley, a professor of management at West Virginia University. “There is little doubt in my mind that it is going to become a monopoly producer — and then, of course, they will raise prices.”What’s more, a solar industry dominated by a handful of Chinese companies will have little incentive to innovate, argues Stephen Ezell, a vice president at the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a Washington think tank. The U.S. industry, which invented solar photovoltaics and still leads the world in solar patents, simply will not have the resources it needs to invest in research.“These industries are fundamentally about generating the next-generation product,” Ezell says. “We’re getting locked into a lower level of technological development.” In the long run, that would make it more difficult for the global solar industry to dislodge its fossil-fuel competitors.last_img read more

Free to call ourselves Muslim in India, say minority Ahmadiyyas

first_imgTayyab Ali, 92, lies on a rusty cot in a large house with a courtyard full of plants. Clad in an off-white kurta, he peers intently through thick glasses as he says, “I moved here in 1946 to protect our heritage. I am still doing the same thing.”Tayyab Ali Bengali, as he likes to be called, had migrated from what is now Bangladesh. He was one of the 313 Ahmadiyyas who, at the time of the Partition, had chosen to stay back in Qadian in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district. It was here that the sect’s founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, had established a religious community in 1889. The Ahmadiyyas believe that their founder was the “promised messiah” of the Muslims, meant to propagate the teachings of Prophet Mohammad. But the majority Sunni Muslims believe the Prophet to be the last messiah. This fundamental difference in religious belief has meant that the Ahmadiyyas are a persecuted minority in every Islamic state.In Pakistan, where over 4 million Ahmadiyyas reside, an ordinance passed by the government in 1984 declared them as “non-Muslims”. It also made it a criminal offence for members of this community to practise Islam or claim to be Muslims.As for the Ahmadiyyas, they call themselves a “revival movement in Islam”, one that rejects “terrorism” and believes in the “jihad of the pen” as opposed to a “jihad of the sword”.Mr. Ali is proud to be a ‘Darvesh’, the title given to each of the 313 who chose to stay in India after the 1947 Partition, leaving their families in Pakistan. He recalls attending a few sermons given by Ahmadiyya leaders in 1945, after which he decided to join the sect. He moved to Qadian the following year.“My parents were Sunnis. They stopped me but I didn’t listen to them. After Partition, my father sent me a money order and asked me to come back. But I sent the money order back,” he says. He last travelled to see his family over 50 years ago, in what was then East Pakistan, but returned in four days. “The environment was hostile. My parents didn’t treat me well. I came back,” he recalls. In India, he says, he wakes up for fajr, the first of the five prayers through the day, rests, eats, and goes to watch kids play football in the evening.The only tough time, he recalls, was the year following Partition. “We lived like prisoners, with a bare minimum of food, for over a year. We couldn’t get out of Qadian. A year later, I started playing football and volleyball, and that became a reason for me to get out of Qadian sometimes for tournaments,” Mr. Ali says.India’s Ahmadiyya population is about 1.5 lakh, About 6,000 of them live in Qadian in a settlement spread across 1,500 acres. It has a residential colony, two mosques, State board-affiliated schools for both girls and boys, a religious college, a few manufacturing units, including a chapatti-making unit, playgrounds, community halls, and religious monuments.Self-sustaining communityModelled as a self-sustaining township of sorts, the community enjoys its own administration, known as the ‘Secretariat’, with separate departments for expenditure, construction, audit, general affairs, information technology, waseehat and jaidaat. All the department heads are appointed by the ‘Khalifa’, or fifth successor of the founder, Mirza Masroor Ahmad. The Khalifa is based in London, which has now become the headquarters of the community.“Most of the money to run the community comes from donations by our members across the country. A significant part of it is generated by a system wherein those who pledge allegiance to the community donate 10% of their property and monthly salary to the administration,” says Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat’s (AMJ) spokesperson Tariq Ahmed. Many members of the community live in houses owned by the sect, pay a nominal rent, and work at the Secretariat.Nasir Waheed, who handles accounts at the Secretariat, says that he gets a salary of just ₹7,000 a month but is grateful for the peaceful life. “My children study in the community school where the fees are low. And because I work for the community, there are a lot of benefits,” he says, adding that his father was a Darvesh. “He worked for free in the initial years and started with a salary of ₹5”.Mr. Waheed’s wife, Swalehah Waheed (37), says the women are mostly occupied in religious programmes scheduled through the year. The entire settlement is divided into 13 sub-areas, each headed by a woman who is responsible for the ‘religious guidance’ of the women of her subdivision. “They give us books of our Khalifa to read and there are regular discussions around it. Every now and then, religious programmes are organised where women and minor girls share what they have read,” says Ms. Waheed, who has a master’s degree in political science from Panjab University.While there are many like Ms. Waheed, there are also women like Tahira Maqbool. Ms. Maqbool is now an Indian citizen but was a Pakistani until two years ago. The 34-year-old mother of three recalls life back “home” in Faisalabad and the pain of living there.‘Home’ truths “I was born in Faisalabad and stayed there till I got married in 2003. It’ll always be home because I’ve spent my childhood there. But in Pakistan we are treated worse than animals,” she says. Recalling an incident, she describes how her brother was once stopped on the street for particular reason, slapped around, and asked to change his faith.Tehmida (29), also a Pakistani born and brought up in Karachi, got married in India in 2013. She, too, has experienced persecution. “I was a bright student in college and my teachers loved me. But the day they came to know that I was an Ahmadiyya, their attitude towards me changed completely. They even asked me to leave the college. I said I’ll only leave if you make a formal complaint.”Unfortunately, for the married Pakistani women in Qadian, the ordeal doesn’t end even after they leave their home country. In India, life without citizenship is not easy either.“Sometimes, I feel like a prisoner because I have to renew my visa every year. I got married here and my four-year-old son is also an Indian. But I can’t leave Qadian. To travel out of this town, I need a No Objection Certificate from the Indian government. This remains a huge problem,” says Ms. Tehmida, adding that her friends from Pakistan often ask her if she has visited Mumbai or the Taj Mahal. “What could I say?”Slow citizenship process Tears roll down the eyes of Ms. Maqbool as she recalls the time her father passed away, in April 2012. She could not go and see him one last time as she had submitted her passport to the Indian government as part of her citizenship application process. “It is a very slow process,” she says. “I received the citizenship certificate only in April 2016.” Rukaiyya Khalam (52), from Pakistan’s Rabwah, has a similar story. She came to India in 1994 and started her citizenship process right then. “My mother passed away in 1996. But there is a requirement that in order to get citizenship, I should not leave India for seven years after I come here. So I didn’t go. Now, more than 20 years later, I am still not an Indian national,” she says.Ms. Tehmida, however, is happy in one respect. “I am free to practise my beliefs the way I want”.Mr. Ahmed, too, dwells on the relief in being able to freely call oneself a Muslim.In September, the Pakistani government had removed Princeton economist Atif Mian, an Ahmadiyya, from the newly set up Economic Advisory Council because of opposition from the Sunni majority. “In Pakistan, we can’t keep the Koran. We can’t celebrate Id. We can’t publish any of our books or periodicals. We can’t greet with Assalamu alaikum. There is not a single month when our people are not martyred. How would they accept one of us in the national Economic Advisory Council? India and most of the 211 other countries where our people live are extremely tolerant in this matter as compared to Pakistan,” he says.Members of the community say that they can lead a normal life In India, like any other Muslim, so long as they don’t show that they’re Ahmadiyya. Mansoor Ahmad, a local who often visits his relatives in Delhi, says that his nieces and nephews go to a private college and none of their friends really care what community they are from. “But it’s not always like this. There have been instances when hardliners in Ludhiana have created a ruckus because of our presence during religious programmes. But even on those occasions things never escalated to violence,” he says.last_img read more

Zendaya Celebrates 18th Birthday By Raising Funds To Feed Hungry Children

first_imgDisney star and Hollywood Records’ multi-platinum artist Zendaya will celebrate her 18th birthday on Sept. 1, 2014 with a campaign to help feed at least 150 hungry children in Haiti, Tanzania and the Philippines through feedONE, an initiative of Convoy of Hope.From Aug. 25 through Sept. 9, 2014, fans of the pop star can help her reach her goal by visiting feedone.com/Zendaya and making a donation. Every $10 raised will feed a child for one month. Fans may also text ZHOPE to 50555 to feed one child.“Too many kids will go back to school hungry this year, but we can do something about that,” said Zendaya. “My generation has the opportunity to change the world. With Convoy of Hope, I’ve raised my voice and am using it to give people hope.”International, humanitarian-relief organization, Convoy of Hope brings help and hope to those who are impoverished, hungry and hurting. A Convoy of Hope initiative, feedONE currently feeds more than 146,000 children in 11 countries. The organization welcomes help from people like Zendaya to feed the tens of thousands more children on its waiting list.“We’re so grateful that Zendaya is using her platform to raise awareness for those in need,” said Hal Donaldson, president and co-founder of Convoy of Hope. “We look forward to continuing to partner with her in the future.”Zendaya has been an advocate for Convoy of Hope since Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of New York and New Jersey in 2012, promoting disaster response work by the organization. The singer urged her fans to text a $10 donation to help.Since then, Zendaya has offered her voice and influence to tell Convoy of Hope’s story to her millions of followers on social media. In 2013, Zendaya also encouraged fans to support Convoy of Hope after tornadoes ravaged Oklahoma and when Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines.Zendaya also recently released a cover of John Legend’s “All of Me,” the proceeds of which will benefit Convoy of Hope.For more information and to view a message from Zendaya visit feedONE.com/Zendaya.last_img read more