Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

'45's Null Hypothesis & the Future of Planet Earth


Last week I attended - via teleconference - a daylong medical ethics workshop held at the University of Kentucky.  The topic for this year's gathering was "Human Subjects Protection: Changes." It was a phenomenal, mentally challenging day.  The first speaker was Dr. Craig Kundrot, a Yale-trained molecular biophysicist who is currently Director of the "Space Life and Physical Sciences Research & Applications Division" at NASA.  In other words, he's the person in charge of figuring out the long-term physical and psychological effects that long-term space flight has on the human body. Currently, NASA is working on our Mars venture, which will take astronauts away from planet Earth for a minimum of 18 months. The case study Dr. Kundrot presented dealt with our only set of twin astronauts, Scott and Mark Kelly.  Because the Kellys have virtually the same genetic material, NASA can study how long-duration space flight affects the body and mind, using Mark - who is now retired from NASA -  as the control.  

Needless to say, Dr. Kundrot's presentation had all those in attendance flying high with thoughts of Mars, the vastness of the universe and the courage and brilliance of those charged with turning this fabulous dream into an even more fabulous reality.

And then, 24 hours later, '45's announcement that he was pulling the United States out of the Paris Accord brought us all down to his version of reality.  In '45's view, the historic, non-binding 195-nation accord was agreed to for one reason and one reason only: to stick it to the United States. Or, as he described it, "The agreement is a massive transfer of United States wealth to other countries."  In his mind, the Paris Accord has nothing to do with saving the planet from the ravages of climate change; it is all about money, lost jobs and his "America First" brand of isolationism.  This should come as no surprise, and for two reasons:

  • Our President sees reality through dollar signs, and
  • He contends that climate change (global warming) is a hoax.

In the words of my former boss, California Governor Jerry Brown, " . . . Trump is the null hypothesis; he's demonstrating that climate denial has no integrity and no future.  And the exact opposite, that climate activism is the order of the day."  Governor Brown is, without a doubt, the best-educated, most philosophically adroit office holder I've ever worked for.   I mean, who else could use the term "null hypothesis" as if he were speaking about today's grocery list? [n.b. During his first stint as governor back in the 1970's, I worked in his Office of Planning and Research where I specialized in environmental ethics.]

Now, just to keep us up to date, a "null hypothesis" is  a commonly accepted fact that researchers work to nullify or discredit. Of course, what is the "commonly accepted fact" today, might become tomorrow's universally rejected twaddle.  That which nullifies or discredits a null hypothesis is referred to as "the alternate hypothesis."  

An example:  In centuries past, several scientists, including Copernicus, set out to disprove their contemporaneous "null hypothesis" that the earth was flat. This eventually led to the rejection of the "null" and the (almost) universal acceptance of the "alternate" - namely, that the earth is round. Most people accepted the alternate — the ones that didn’t created the Flat Earth Society! What would have happened if Copernicus had not disproved it but merely proved the alternate? No one would have listened to him. In order to change people’s thinking, scholars first had to prove that their thinking was wrong.  

In retrospect,  believing  the world to be flat way back when, was about as inane as the "climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese" lyric constantly chanted by '45 during the 2016 campaign.  

Today, although the vast, vast majority of scientists have thoroughly discredited the null hypothesis (that pernicious climate change is a hoax), there are still those (apparently including our POTUS) who think the vast majority of scientists are full of it.  (Never forget that more than 8 years ago, the future '45 and 3 of his children signed a letter to President Barack Obama calling for a global climate deal. Today,  no one working in '45's White House will answer the question "Does the President believe there is global warming?"  Oops!

Over the last several days, numerous "fact checked" transcripts of the president's climate change speech have appeared on the web. The number of untruths, misstatements and outright whoppers are numerous, to say the least.  But then again, the audience before whom the POTUS was speaking in the Rose Garden that day, was predisposed to believe that everything he says  is a pearl of truth.  Among the alternate bits of reality which escaped the fact checkers' attention were  the dire predictions of an organization called "The National Economic Research Associates" [NERA], whose chilling statistics and "what-ifs" of economic catastrophe '45 used to bolster his case for pulling out of the Paris Accord. To listen to '45, his decision was based on economics, his love of coal, and strong desire to keep the world from "laughing at us."   Turns out, NERA, an economic consulting firm founded by the neo-conservative Hudson Institute's Irwin Stelzer (known as "Rupert Murdoch's right-hand man) has long been a shill for the coal industry. Its statistics and warnings of doom have been used by climate change deniers for years . . . including the densest of all deniers, Senator James Imhofe (R-OK).  In other words, '45's null hypothesis - that climate change is a hoax - is itself a hoax backed up by "facts" and statistics which are full of - as Granny would have it- "canal water." That is to say, one hoax backed by yet another.

While '45 was correct about not wanting other countries "laughing at us anymore," his resolve was misplaced: they are laughing . . . at him.  This has been '45's modus operandi from the moment he entered politics: to convince a certain segment of American society that we are victims; that the world hates us, is taking advantage of us. and we should all be afraid. This is what an aged British friend of mine used to refer to as "the Poor Pitiful Pearl syndrome."

Despite all the negativity and predictions of doom the president used to justify pulling out of the Accord (and potential ceding of international leadership to the Chinese),  we are happy to report, that 45's political tone-deafness could actually prove to be a boon for both democratic activism and the future of planet Earth. Again, we return to Governor Brown and  the State California, which has the planet's 6th largest economy (just ahead of France).  The day after '45's speech in the White House Rose Garden, Governor Brown announced that he was leaving for China, where he would work with high-ranking Chinese officials to work on joint carbon-reduction projects.  Moreover, Governor Brown is already putting together a coalition of countries, states, cities and corporations that will work together towards the creation of new energy-efficient projects, millions of renewable energy jobs, and a universal lowering of greenhouse emissions.  He has more knowledge and experience about what we used to call the "theology of ecology" than any elected official in America. 

Already, some of America's most populous cities and states, most profitable corporations and countries around the globe, have shown a deep and abiding interest in joining this movement - regardless of whether or not '45 and the federal government will be a part of it. This is the living, breathing definition of "people power" - a force which has historically disproved more than one null hypothesis.  

Fear ye not. Do not give up.  For together we, the residents of Earth can and will save our planet from degradation. One day soon, humans will land on Mars, thus creating an alternate hypothesis:  that when people of good will, high ideals and abundant creativity work together, dreams can become reality.

138 days down, 1,319 days to go . . .

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone.