Unlearning to Face Facts and Find Truth

9780195117332Rock Creek, Montana    Off-the-grid is a mixed bag. The isolation and lack of interruption provides an inescapable opportunity for serious conversations with my son, which might not be his favorite part of these excursions for example. Sure, I still wake up at 4 AM in the morning processing the list of things that have to be done at work, sorting out problems, real and imagined, and processing deadlines and timelines, but I also get to read, and while the sun is shining, write a bit and do the tedious and endless editing on the book I’ve been working on for more than a decade, including several summers on Rock Creek. Many followers of the Chief Organizers’ Report on the blog, radio, or wherever, are probably ready for me to get back on-the-grid so that they aren’t burdened with too-much-information that is seeping through from my reading, but…what can I say, but I’m sorry, this is some powerful stuff to mull and ponder. Welcome aboard or get off at the next stop!

A book that seemed perfect for Rock Creek, running through Granite County on the Columbia River drainage on the west side of the continental divide powered by the giant Rocky Mountain uplift, was Naomi Oreskes’ The Rejection of Continental Drift: Theory and Method in American Earth Sciences. Heck, in my brief and frequently interrupted stint in higher education, the one science course I took, propelled by my Western roots, had been Geology, so this book I had figured for a pleasant diversion in the right place and with the time to study it fully. Well, it was all of that, and a whole lot more.

Here’s the upshot on the book: pretty much all of the British and European scientists understood that the configuration of the earth and the movement of the continents had been caused by drift caused by magmatic changes in the substrata of the earth’s crust, but the establishment of American earth science resisted for almost forty years. Heat rising, causing folds and uplifts at the rims of oceans, tectonic plates crashing, mountains rising, and you get the picture which all scientists accept as a given now based on the physics, their observations, magnets, and mountains of data. Her many questions were rooted in figuring out why it took the slow learners in the USA so long, when the science in many ways was so clear.

Oreskes is no liberal. She has read it all, admires the scientists, and believes in science like others believe in God. She also has little patience for rationalizations, crawfishing, or career saving for those she has found fiddling with the facts. She calls ‘em, like she sees ‘em, which is rare and refreshing.

But, as you might imagine with all of this, it is hard not to always wonder how often this kind of thing happens, not just in science, where there is at least the pretense of a process, but out in the world where the rest of us are trying to put one foot down after another every day. I know people who are still having folks print their emails because they are not so sure how to handle this internet thing. Are they ready to unlearn what they have done over and over again for years, if they are not even able to get comfy learning something new, or at this point, new-ish? Look at the declining ranks of the labor movement – can new voices and new methods break through, and how would that happen? I could go on, but you get my drift no doubt.

Oreskes draws the line on continental drift. Makes me kind of yearn for similar folks with similar chutzpah who could draw a line in some other areas of work. But, if they did, would we be able to get right and walk a new line? If the answer isn’t, “yes!” then we already know we have work to do, and the people that depend on us, deserve it