Super-secret things going on here

I’ve managed to confuse a lot of readers with my password-protected “Super-secret stuff” post earlier today, and people are now asking for the password. It’s just an article that’s being vetted by a colleague, and I couldn’t figure out another way for him to see it with all of the formatting intact. I figured I could fool y’all by back-dating it to last year, but WordPress is more clever than I am, and sent subscribers a notification that I’d posted something.

Anyway, you’ll get to see the article soon enough. Hopefully tomorrow.

It’s back!

After a lengthy absence, the Six Days of Genesis slide show is finally back. It’s been updated and refined, and is on a new hosting service. It looks to be working on most browsers, but please let me know in the comments if you have any problems viewing it.

[Permanent link here.]

Your default position with the media should be skepticism

I’ll never forget my first experience with the media. When I was an undergrad, a reporter for the local newspaper came to our little university to cover a major event — our physics club was hosting a public lecture and Q&A event with an Apollo 13 engineer. I eagerly read the newspaper the next day to see how the reporter had covered the event, and was struck by how much he’d gotten wrong. The reporter had attended the event, taken pages of notes, and interviewed a few of us physics students, and he still managed to bungle many of the facts.

A few years later, I was interviewed by the Discovery Channel’s printed news outlet for an article about an extremely massive black hole. Unlike the newspaper reporter, this one managed to get all the scientific facts right; however, I was taken aback by the article. The quotes that were attributed to me were not verbatim. I realized the reporter had taken our 20-minute interview and condensed it into two quotes she had written herself that captured the essence of everything I’d said. Perhaps this is standard journalistic practice, but in my opinion, when you put quotation marks around something, it ought to represent exactly what someone said.

I’ve had other experiences with the media, ranging from mild to ludicrous, where I recognized that the media were either inept with the facts or deliberately misrepresenting them. After the first couple of times, I realized I was criticizing how the media were reporting events on which I had expertise, but was blithely accepting their reporting on events about which I knew little. The late popular author, Michael Crichton, described this as the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect:

Media carries with it a credibility that is totally undeserved. You have all experienced this, in what I call the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. (I refer to it by this name because I once discussed it with [Nobel laureate physicist] Murray Gell-Mann, and by dropping a famous name I imply greater importance to myself, and to the effect, than it would otherwise have.)

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect works as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward–reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story–and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read with renewed interest as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about far-off Palestine than it was about the story you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. I’d point out it does not operate in other arenas of life. In ordinary life, if somebody consistently exaggerates or lies to you, you soon discount everything they say. In court, there is the legal doctrine offalsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, which means untruthful in one part, untruthful in all.

But when it comes to the media, we believe against evidence that it is probably worth our time to read other parts of the paper. When, in fact, it almost certainly isn’t. The only possible explanation for our behavior is amnesia.

Readers have a tendency to forget that the media are not coldly objective entities or benignly omniscient beings, but people. And to be blunt, people are crappy. What I mean is, people are rarely objective, because we all suffer from at least some of these things:

  • emotions and personal biases that color our views
  • limited knowledge
  • a tendency to make inadvertent mistakes
  • agendas
  • desire for money
  • desire for power
  • desire for attention.

While some of us are better at recognizing and minimizing these things than others, it’s impossible to eliminate them entirely. This means everything you consume from the media — including anything I write on this blog — has been run through one or more of these filters. This is why your default position with the media should be skepticism. It’s annoying and tiresome, but it means you can’t just be a passive consumer of media — you have to be diligent and judicious in deciding what’s truth and what isn’t.

Not dead, just in a coma

The blog, that is. I’m busy working on several projects, the biggest of which will be, well, BIG. Once that’s well in hand, I very much plan to revive the blog with a few new features.

Meanwhile, I’ve re-opened the comments so that those of you who want to say hi or ask questions or whatever can drop me a line.

Stuff for this week

Just a note that I’ll be posting here again soon. I experimented with posting daily, but that doesn’t suit me or my schedule. The next experiment will involve posting “approximately whenever I feel like it.” When something interesting comes up, and I have the time, I’ll write.

There are a couple of speaking engagements coming up in September, the announcement of which will occur in the next day or so. If you’re in the Austin, TX area and are interested in topics of science and faith, consider attending. One will be for the monthly Reasons to Believe meeting, which is free and open to the public, the other will be at an apologetics conference that requires registration.

I’ll also be answering a question that came up about Gerald Schroeder’s reconciliation of an old universe with a literal interpretation of scripture, hopefully this week.


Updated update

In spite of the lack of activity here, there’s a lot going on with SixDay. We’re working furiously to complete the Astronomy & Astrophysics curriculum and getting started on the Physics curriculum. We are looking at options to create an online community for those using any of the curricula so that we can interact with instructors and students and provide a platform for them to interact with each other. By this time next year in 2015, we’re hoping for a lot of activity on this site.

The planned roll-out date for the curricula is May 2014 2015.

Update: After a discussion with our publisher’s liaison, we’ve decided to push back all of the curricula to the spring of 2015. Sarah and her husband are expecting a baby in January, and there’s simply too much to be done to roll out the curricula by next spring—we’d rather offer high-quality products a little later than something that’s rushed to meet an arbitrary deadline. The good news is that the physics course will be more substantial, and we are also planning to create an elective course for modern science and the Bible. See here for more information.

Our year from heaven

What follows is a reflection on personal events of 2012. It also serves to explain why not much blogging has taken place in the last several months. After a little more time to rest and recuperate, I plan to resume regular posting in the new year.

My husband and I have lived through what most people would think of as a year from hell. First, I found out in late 2011 that I had early-stage breast cancer. I’m part of the roughly 2% of women every year who are diagnosed with breast cancer under the age of 40. I had to have surgery to remove the nascent tumor, and starting in January of this year I had to endure weeks of daily radiation treatments. When I finished the treatments in the spring, and all signs of cancer were gone, my husband and I rejoiced, thinking the worst was behind us. Even better, we found out three months later we were expecting our first child. We felt utterly blessed. 

With everything seemingly okay, my husband decided to take a summer trip to his native Finland to visit his father and do some fishing. I made the decision to stay home, since I was experiencing morning sickness and significant fatigue. About halfway through his vacation, my husband began to manifest flu symptoms. He didn’t think much of it, but when, a few days after coming home, he became incoherent and developed a life-threatening 106-degree fever I took him to the hospital.

There we discovered he had what is referred to in Finland as Kumlinge disease, a rare tick-borne virus that results in meningo-encephalitis in 20-30% of those who are exposed to the virus. For days, my husband was in and out of consciousness (mostly out) as his physicians monitored him. All they could do was mitigate the symptoms and try to prevent the fever from rising to the point of causing permanent damage or death. Once my husband emerged from the fog of encephalitis, it was not clear whether he would have partial paralysis from the nerve damage and/or permanent problems with his memory and thinking. Fortunately, and owing a great deal to his strong constitution, he made a good recovery in about two months and was able to return to work and playing hockey. Again, we thought the worst was behind us.

By November we were starting to prepare for the arrival of our baby. We discovered we were having a girl, and chose a Swedish name for her — Ellinor Kjerstin — to honor our mutual Swedish heritage. It was a perfect name: Ellinor means “shining light,” which she certainly was for us, and Kjerstin means “follower of Christ,” which we hoped she would be. During all this time, I had been reflecting on how lucky we were in conceiving a child so quickly; it was obviously ‘meant to be.’ The pregnancy had gone very well until we found out at five months, during a routine screen, that our baby was no longer growing. 

We were referred to a perinatologist, who told us that our little girl had a fatal chromosomal abnormality and was not expected to live. We were devastated. A week later she passed away. I gave birth to our precious daughter the morning following her passing, and we held her all day. We finally had the little family we wanted, brief as it was. My husband, who has seen firsthand the agony written on the faces of those who suffer terrible deaths, had found his peace in the serene countenance of our girl; she had gone to her heavenly Father without suffering. However, I found no peace at all. I had bonded with the little body I had held for those precious hours, and now she was gone. For a while, tormented by the loss, I wondered how I could go on.

What saved me was the peace I found in the idea that Ellinor was in the arms of God. We know she was sent to us for a reason, and while I will not reveal here what that reason was, those who are closest to us know it has been lovingly fulfilled.

These were horrible experiences to live through, but they have turned out to be tremendous gifts that I am thankful for. First, because they have taught me and my husband how precious life and love are. Holding our baby daughter for the few hours we had her has taught me more about unselfish love than all the previous experiences of my entire life. Second, because, as my husband has observed, each of these trials has actually strengthened our marriage. I feared that these experiences, particularly the loss of our child, would tear us apart. We had heard of people who suffered similar tragedies and lost their marriages as well. Our faith has sustained us, and I have never felt closer to my husband, and he to me. Third, it has shown us the unbelievable love of our family and friends. We are truly humbled by the outpouring of kindness and sympathy we have received in the wake of our trials. But, most of all, I am grateful because these experiences have brought us both closer to our Creator. I finally understand what it means to experience God’s protection and provision.

People often wonder why bad things happen to those who seemingly don’t deserve them. While I cannot claim to have any knowledge of who does or does not deserve such trials, I do know that those who truly understand the principal tenets of the Christian faith don’t wonder why these things happen. Ours is a fallen world, and we will all suffer because of it; but one of the blessings of our faith is to know that it is not for nothing. The great Christian apologist, C. S. Lewis, observed that a loving, compassionate God would not prevent his earthly children from experiencing pain, but would allow them to suffer in order to prepare them for the perfection of spiritual life. Through our earthly suffering we are all allowed to share in the experience of Christ, who suffered to ultimately save us all from the imperfection of this world.

This year has been a time of anguish for my husband and me. But we have passed through the fire and I know we are better people for it.  For that reason, I will not think of 2012 as the year from hell, but as a year in which we drew closer to heaven.

Bloggus hiatus, part 2

Wrapping up a research project, trying to publish a journal article, and creating an astronomy homeschool curriculum are keeping me real busy. Alas, not much time to devote to the blog. Also, I’m thinking of changing things around, i.e. what kind of stuff I’m posting. Less news, more … something else. Not sure yet. I’m planning to resume posting sometime this summer. Hope to see you then!

The not-so-brief hiatus

I realize the brief hiatus has turned into a long hiatus. This was due to a convergence of several factors, or what is more aptly termed “the perfect storm.” Now that things are settling down, I plan to resume posting in the next week or two.

One exciting development is the we’ve officially started work on a home school curriculum for modern astronomy, which will be offered for a very reasonable price. More on this later, but our goal is to have it available for the 2012-2013 academic year.

Meanwhile, Happy New Year, and see you back here soon!

Brief hiatus

Just a note to let y’all know that there won’t be much posting here for a while as I finish up the analysis on my latest research project and write the paper.