Science vs. Engineering

Civil engineering professor Henry Petroski makes a useful distinction:

“We will restore science to its rightful place,” President Obama declared in his inaugural address. That certainly sounds like a worthy goal. But frankly, it has me worried. If we want to “harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories,” as Obama has decreed, we shouldn’t look to science. What we need is engineering.

To be fair, Obama’s misconception is a common one. Most people who aren’t scientists or engineers seem to think that science and engineering are the same. They’re not. Science seeks to understand the world as it is; only engineering can change it.

That’s not what most high-school teachers or even college professors tell their science students. But the truth is that full scientific understanding isn’t always necessary for technological advancement. Take steam engines: They were pumping water out of mines long before a science of thermodynamics was developed to explain how they worked. The engines were what prompted researchers to look into the nature of steam power in the first place.

This may make me a heretic, but I’ll take the argument a step farther: Science can actually get in the way of technology. In the 19th century, some scientists were convinced that even the largest steamship couldn’t carry enough coal for transatlantic trips. Only when skeptical engineers designed ships that made this supposedly impossible task possible were the naysaying scientists forced to reconsider.
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And think about the Wright brothers, who refused to believe that only birds were meant to fly. If Wilbur and Orville had waited for the publication of a sophisticated textbook on aerodynamics, they might never have left their bicycle shop in Dayton for the dunes of Kitty Hawk. Engineering, not science, enabled them to develop propellers that worked in the air the way a ship’s propeller spins through water. . . .

Some of our greatest energy challenges require engineering breakthroughs, not scientific discoveries. The principles that explain how a battery works, for example, are old news. But a lightweight and cost-effective battery pack with enough juice to power a car over long distances remains an elusive goal. . . .

The president and his green team — particularly Energy Secretary Steven Chu — appear to understand the urgency of the world’s energy problems. I’m not so convinced that they accept that science, for all its beauty, is not the best place to seek practical fixes.

Kids do best in intact families that go to church

OK, this is one of those social science research projects that proves the perfectly obvious, but it’s still good to find evidence that children raised by both parents in a family that goes to church have fewer problems. From Kids from Religion, Intact Families Fare Better, Study Says
:

Children living with both biological parents or adoptive parents who attend religious services regularly are less likely to exhibit problems at school or at home, a new analysis of national data shows.

The study by psychologist Nicholas Zill, the founder of Child Trends, and statistician Philip Fletcher found that children in such a situation — when compared to children not living with both parents and not attending religious services regularly — are 5.5 times less likely to have repeated a grade and 2.5 less likely to have had their parents contacted by the school because of a conduct or achievement problem.

Additionally, intact families who have regular religious participation (defined as at least weekly or monthly) are less likely to report parental stress and more likely to report a “better parent-child relationship,” the analysis, which focused on families with children ages 6-17, says.

The study, co-released by the Family Research Council and more than 30 state family councils as part of FRC’s Mapping America project, was based on interviews in 2003 with parents of more than 100,000 children and teens by the National Center for Health Statistics for the National Survey of Children’s Health.

The data “hold[s] up after controlling for family income and poverty, low parent education levels, and race and ethnicity.”

“An intact two-parent family and regular church attendance are each associated with fewer problem behaviors, more positive social development, and fewer parental concerns about the child’s learning and achievement,” Zill and Fletcher wrote. “Taken together, the two home-environment factors have an additive relationship with child well-being. That is, children who live in an intact family and attend religious services regularly generally come out best on child development measures, while children who do neither come out worst. Children with one factor in their favor, but not the other, fall in between ….”

The authors said that children in an intact religious family “are more likely to exhibit positive social behavior, including showing respect for teachers and neighbors, getting along with other children, understanding other people’s feelings, and trying to resolve conflicts with classmates, family, or friends.”

Darwinism’s pygmy in the zoo

In the movie “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” the protagonist befriends an African pygmy who says that he was once exhibited in a zoo. That is an allusion to something that actually happened to a pygmy named Ota Benga. In 1906, he was put in a cage in the monkey house at the Bronx Zoo. This was the bright idea of the distinguished conservationist and naturalist William Temple Hornaday. He was the great-great-great-uncle of Washington Post journalist Ann Hornaday, who writes about her relative and the sad story of Ota Benga in A Critical Connection to the Curious Case of Ota Benga. In the course of her account, she reminds us that Darwinism is not just a scientific account of the origin of species, but that it has profound worldview and ethical consequences:

It was most likely in the spirit of both Barnum and Darwin that Temple hit on the disastrous idea of putting Benga in the cage. The display, marketed with the right mix of sensationalism and pseudoscientific pretense, would have the double benefit of bringing in throngs of visitors to the zoo and advancing Darwin’s theories, with Benga cast as the missing link. Ironically, it was on both those counts that black church leaders expressed outrage upon hearing of Benga’s captivity. “Our race, we think, is depressed enough without exhibiting one of us with the apes,” one minister wrote to New York’s mayor, George McClellan (son of the Civil War general). Furthermore, he added, “the Darwinian theory is absolutely opposed to Christianity, and a public demonstration in its favor should not be permitted.”

That black minister knew the logical consequences of Darwinism. Yes, materialists CAN treat other human beings kindly, but the point is, there is no basis for doing so. To use the words of Thomas Jefferson, if there is no Creator, we are not created equal, and there is no one to endow us with inalienable rights. Rights no longer have a transcendent foundation; instead, they are “alienable,” something changeable and arbitrary, equally capable of being granted or taken away.

The year the Earth stopped warming?

British columnist Christopher Booker of the London Daily Telegraph proclaims that 2008 was the year man-made global warming was disproved:

Easily one of the most important stories of 2008 has been all the evidence suggesting that this may be looked back on as the year when there was a turning point in the great worldwide panic over man-made global warming. Just when politicians in Europe and America have been adopting the most costly and damaging measures politicians have ever proposed, to combat this supposed menace, the tide has turned in three significant respects.

First, all over the world, temperatures have been dropping in a way wholly unpredicted by all those computer models which have been used as the main drivers of the scare. Last winter, as temperatures plummeted, many parts of the world had snowfalls on a scale not seen for decades. This winter, with the whole of Canada and half the US under snow, looks likely to be even worse. After several years flatlining, global temperatures have dropped sharply enough to cancel out much of their net rise in the 20th century. . . .

Secondly, 2008 was the year when any pretence that there was a “scientific consensus” in favour of man-made global warming collapsed. At long last, as in the Manhattan Declaration last March, hundreds of proper scientists, including many of the world’s most eminent climate experts, have been rallying to pour scorn on that “consensus” which was only a politically engineered artefact, based on ever more blatantly manipulated data and computer models programmed to produce no more than convenient fictions.

Thirdly, as banks collapsed and the global economy plunged into its worst recession for decades, harsh reality at last began to break in on those self-deluding dreams which have for so long possessed almost every politician in the western world. As we saw in this month’s Poznan conference, when 10,000 politicians, officials and “environmentalists” gathered to plan next year’s “son of Kyoto” treaty in Copenhagen, panicking politicians are waking up to the fact that the world can no longer afford all those quixotic schemes for “combating climate change” with which they were so happy to indulge themselves in more comfortable times.

What will you do with your extra second?

Today will have a “leap second.” From Tick tock … tick: Extra second added to 2008 :

The world’s official timekeepers have added a “leap second” to the last day of the year on Wednesday, to help match clocks to the Earth’s slowing spin on its axis, which takes place at ever-changing rates affected by tides and other factors.

The U.S. Naval Observatory, keeper of the Pentagon’s master clock, said it would add the extra second on Wednesday in coordination with the world’s atomic clocks at 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds Coordinated Universal Time, or UTC.

That corresponds to 6:59:59 p.m. EST (23:59:59 GMT), when an extra second will tick by — the 24th to be added to UTC since 1972, when the practice began.

The happiness contagion

A study has found that happiness really is contagious. Unhappiness is not.

I’m tempted to make fun of the study, but I won’t. It does illustrate in yet another way that God designed us to need other people and so why Christians need to be part of a church. It also shows what we should realize by experience that getting involved with people who are suffering is not inherently “depressing” but is good for us. (Some of what I just said is my extrapolation rather than from the research itself, which is working with an oddly banal definition of happiness. But still.)


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