Greece suffers fire disaster

More than two hundred fires are burning in Greece, encouraged by winds and high temperatures. fires are burning pine forests and olive groves, and have come near to some prominent, and major, archaeological ruins. Burned limestone turns to lime dust. About sixty people have died in the fires: some villages have been surrounded by flames, then burned; and people have been trapped in their cars after crashing while trying to escape.

But so many fires breaking out in forests for no good reason has led the government to think of arson. Some people, it seems, have been setting fires. Cans of paint or solvents and cell-phone detonators have been found in some of the fires. Marine flares were found in another forest where a fire broke out. You know the saying: “Once is happenstance; twice is coincidence: three times is enemy action.”

The national government blames people who, it says, are setting the fires in hopes of disrupting the elections that are set for three weeks hence. There’s no official way to re-schedule the elections. The opposition is calling the national government incompetent at firefighting (and everything else).

But it’s hard to image what any government would do with a tinder-dry countryside and wind-spread wildfires. The government has declared a national emergency.

Teams from the rest of the European Union have come to help fight the fires and to airlift trapped people by helicopter before the fires can reach them. It all sounds quite desperate.

And this, perhaps, is another consequence of climate change: we were warned that dryer weather would make forest fires likelier and more severe.

Stuart Pivar is a classic crackpot

Let’s see… Stuart Pivar, author of Lifecode, claims that his idea overturns an accepted body of science. That, even though it doesn’t explain or correspond with the facts we already know, it’s right. He calls it a “theory,” though it’s really only a wild-assed guess. So he’s a crackpot. But is he a classic crackpot? I think so. He also claims that prominent scientists, who are conveniently dead, secretly agreed with him. And he sues qualified experts who disagree with him. That’s actually funny. He sends a copy of his book to be reviewed; it is reviewed; and then he doesn’t like the review so he sues the reviewer. I think that when you publish a book you leave yourself open to book reviews.

Oh, yes. He quote-mines others’ words by taking quotes out of context, tacking together sentences from different sources or claiming that a quote from one source is talking about a different topic than the one it was actually discussing; or he just lifts part of a quotation from an unrelated topic and fabricates the rest. No, sorry — that’s a classic creationist.

Let’s be systematic about answering the question, “Is Stuart Pivar a classic crackpot?” Commenter Ed Darrell says,

Jeremy Bernstein, the physicist, wrote for The New Yorker some years back about how to tell crank science from true genius… Bernstein said that the true science paper will demonstrate understanding of the prevailing theory among scientists, and while showing that it may be wrong, do so in a manner as to show how reasonable people could have gotten off on the wrong track, innocently. Most papers from cranks will demonstrate no such knowledge of how scientists think the current theory works (see, for example, almost anything cited by the Discovery Institute, which sometimes seems bent on acquiring the reputation as the place where dying crank ideas go to get a decent stipend for their authors and perpetrators).

The second point is probably more obvious: Bernstein says that cranks almost always see a conspiracy to shut down their ideas; true scientists on the other will, as Einstein did, show how honorable people could miss the key discovery, and instead of grousing will suggest ways that the new idea can be tested and verified or disproven.”

Darrell also proposes Robert Park’s test, “Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science” from the Chronicle of Higher Education:

1. The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media.
2. The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work.
3. The scientific effect involved is always at the very limit of detection.
4. Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal.
5. The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries.
6. The discoverer has worked in isolation.
7. The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation.

That sounds about right.

UPDATE: Someone else mentioned that the correct measure is the John Baez Crackpot Index, not the Bogus Science Symptoms.

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