The paradox of uncertainty
primacy of doubt: From quantum physics to climate change, how the science of uncertainty can help us understand our chaotic world
by Tim Palmer
Basic Books, 2022 ($30)
Certainty is the currency of politics and social media, with complex issues now being reduced to simple nuggets of small scale. In his new book, primacy of doubt, Climate physicist Tim Palmer argues that the science of uncertainty is sadly underappreciated by the public even though it is fundamental to almost every field of research. He says embracing uncertainty and harnessing “chaos science” can help us open up new concepts for the world, from climate change to emerging diseases to the next economic meltdown.
The first section is an extensive discussion of key questions and concepts in physics that shows how, among other things, systems can go from a steady state to a massively chaotic state with little caveat, but the book moves on quickly as Palmer becomes limited by accessibility, everyday examples . The sharpest chapter is a crash course on how to forecast weather, a process that Palmer helped update. It explores the history of forecasts, starting with the first public storm warning in 1861 which used data from telegraph stations from across the UK and took us to ENIAC, the first programmable electronic computer.
These efforts paved the way for the probabilistic forecasts in use today, which predict the chance of rain at a given hour and provide a “cone of uncertainty” for hurricane tracks. This background wallpaper puts our weather apps in a new light: if we asked for certainty to make choices, these tools wouldn’t exist.
Palmer is also a major contributor to improving climate models and is among the researchers who won the 2007 Nobel Prize for authoring the IPCC reports. However, his chapter on this topic is a mixed bag. It excels at explaining cutting-edge areas of research where reducing uncertainty is vital to knowing how bad things can go, such as whether clouds will speed up or slow down warming. Palmer suggests some interesting ways to make the most of — and in some cases resolve — uncertainty, notably the call for “CERN Climate Change” that focuses on modeling how rising carbon dioxide and natural shifts in climate interact at the regional level over the next two decades ( Not globally over the century). Doing so could help predict, for example, long-term droughts in the Sahel region of Africa, giving governments and humanitarian agencies a strong start to stave off famine.
But Palmer struggles to frame both the uncertainties of climate change and the severity of its effects. It tested the chapter (titled “Disaster or just lukewarm?”) by abandoning the approach of both sides: Are the “extremists” right in suggesting that we are in an emergency and should decarbonize as much and as quickly as possible, or are the “minimalists” right? In pointing out that uncertainty is a reason to delay action? He writes that the truth is somewhere in the middle. Palmer notes that a doubling of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere alone would warm the planet by one degree Celsius. (That’s without taking into account the feedback loops it might cause, such as loss of ice sheet or more water vapor in the atmosphere, which could lead to overheating.) That, he says, “is probably not something that can make much of a problem. From.”
But look at a planet that is already one degree warmer today than it was in pre-industrial times, and the view is very disturbing. This gradual shift has set off unprecedented heat waves on every continent, set the American West on fire with fierce intensity, and led to deadly floods in regions that had not experienced such intense successive rains. Moreover, the latest IPCC report, which Palmer urged his readers to refer to, paints an increasingly dire picture that appears to support a more hardline view. “We are seeing more widespread and negative adverse effects than had been anticipated in previous reports,” Camille Parmesan, an ecologist at the University of Texas at Austin and one of the lead authors on this report, said in February 2022.primacy of doubt It makes a compelling case to either reduce uncertainty or act with confidence in the “reliability” of the remaining uncertainty. But it can obscure the much bigger picture of the climate a job. It is impossible not to think of how such nuances can be overlooked with readers who roam for reasons of de-emphasis on new climate policies.
Scientific American Columnist Naomi Oreseks and science historian Eric M. Conway suspicious traders Along with extensive journalistic and academic investigations, it has shown how the fossil fuel industry, conservative politicians, and a small cadre of scientists have played up uncertainty with the intent of delaying meaningful carbon regulation in the United States. We must be just as wary of amplifying uncertainty as attempts to make predictions more certain than can be justified.” In doing so, he inadvertently ignores the fact that uncertainty is often used against society rather than in its favour. – Brian Khan
Brian Kan Award-winning writer and editor. He is the Climate Editor at Protocol Tech website.
Female future! vol. 2: The Seventies: More Classic Women’s Science Fiction Stories
by Lisa Yazek
Library of America, 2022 ($27.95)
The first volume of Library of America’s “Future Is Female” series collected science fiction stories crafted by women from the age of Milky Fantasy to the year of the moon landing. It was closed by a 1969 knockout with the story of Ursula K. Le Guin who dared suggest that the future of our space age might be a drag solo. Le Guin’s “Nine Lives” investigates loneliness in astronauts and clones alike, suggesting that advanced technology and interplanetary adventure could make actual human contact even rarer. I imagined not only what the future would look like but how we might feel.
This framework is doubled in the second volume, also edited by Lisa Yazik, which finds women writing science fiction in the 1970s exploding on themes of sex, power, the normal routines of home life, and whether civilizations can achieve true equality. While Nine Lives still focuses on men and delivers thrills, the explicitly feminist stories here (including Le Guin’s classic about the aging leader of a chaotic revolution looking back and her movement paying off) focus on women whose choices are determined by societies. . which are distinctly similar, or not conspicuously similar, to our own.
The results are still a jolt, 50 years later. Set in the year 2021 as humanity faces a terrible overpopulation problem, Doris Piserchia’s “Pale hands” is narrated by the cleaner of government masturbation booths. Nebula Prize winner Joanna Ross “When I Changed” discovers a planet where women have thrived without men for 30 generations and suddenly reintroduces what a newly arrived astronaut calls “gender equality.” (“Seals are harem animals,” he says, “and so are men.”) In the opening story, “Bitching It,” Sonya Dorman imagines the boredom of housewives in a world where women act like alpha dogs in the heat and men have to take it passively.
Other works in this gritty collection delve into the erotic appeal of what we now know as influencer culture, as in “The Girl Who Was Plugged In” under the pseudonym James Tiptery, Jr. From High” and “Nobody Said Forever” by Cynthia Phyllis detailing everything a woman must give up to be free to set off on old school adventures. Through a dramatic representation of the science fiction author’s efforts to write a story that gets richer as it draws from her own life, Eleanor Arnason explains “The Warlord of Saturn’s Moons” These authors’ mission is to demand this kind of emotional self-expression. In their hands, the future isn’t just female, it’s personal.—Alan Sherstoll
A traveler’s guide to the stars
by Lees Johnson.
Princeton University Press, 2022 ($27.95)
What would it take to explore a distant star in 100 years? To shed light on the importance (and ethics) of sending humans light years from home, NASA scientist Les Johnson helps us digest mind-boggling numbers — the distance between stars, and the energy required to travel that far — while outlining the opportunities and limits of current technologies. And whether we get there by solar sails, ion thrusters, or nuclear bombs, the advances we make in the pursuit of interstellar travel are also likely to change the way we live on Earth. After all, we wouldn’t have had electricity or cell phones “if our ancestors hadn’t run science for science’s sake.” –Fiona MD Samuels
Nineteen ways to look at consciousness
by Patrick House.
St. Martin’s Press, 2022 ($26.99)
This book, thank God, does not attempt to explain what consciousness is, how it arises, or why. Instead, neuroscientist Patrick House maps out how we view our identity from the inside out through artfully presented observations from neuroscience, quantum mechanics, and beyond. Frequent examples – such as the bizarre case of a teenager’s laughter during brain surgery – provide a sense of questions that may help us understand how our cells collectively evoke ourselves. As befits a phenomenon that still eludes a unifying theory, the House collage forms an image to our minds that is more accurate and confusing than the sum of its parts. –Sasha Warren
Darwin’s love of life: A unique case of biophilia
by Kay Harrell. Columbia University Press, 2022 ($26)
In these sweet and poignant essays, writer Kay Harrell happily personifies Charles Darwin with “a unique case of vital intimacy,” or the deep love of life, which engenders empathy, creativity, and an intuitive sense of truth. Harrell posits that biophilia is the root of Darwin’s genius and the influence behind everything from his love of dogs and his fascination with eating insects. Dorsera Manufactured for his rejection of mind-body dualism and his feeling that estimates of Earth’s age will one day align with the time period of evolution. Harrell’s focus on the confluence of Darwin’s life rather than its struggles provides a refreshing look at his legacy. –Dana Dunham