Skip to main content

Speaking different languages and Climate Change

One of the points I make on my essay on the truth, is that Scientist and Law-makers use different definitions of truth and doubt. But there is a even more obvious disconnect in America between what Scientist talk about and what the average Joe, and average law-maker understands.
Today I heard a story about a paper coming out from a scientist here in Cal-tech about an extinction event 420 million years ago that may be tied to climate change. In the tropical seas of the time a 5 degree change seems to have triggered this extinction that wiped out 3/4 of all species on the planet. Now I listened very carefully and heard it very clearly, he said 5 degree Celsius. But how many people really listen to that? Every other degree temperature said on the radio including the one on the recent snow storm in Dallas that shut down the airport for the first time since 9-11 was on Fahrenheit.
It's a nice and pleasant 54 degrees Fahrenheit in North Hollywood today. But a freezing 12 degrees Celsius if you stand in the shadows. So don't complain Bostonians of your 35 degree (F) weather ok? While in the city I was born in, San Juan, Puerto Rico, it's a low 28 degrees though Friday is supposed to be 29 degrees -- Celsius.
I wonder how many people get, I mean really get, really understand the discussions on climate change when they refer to an increase of 1 degree Celsius and how big that actually is. Puerto Rico is only 16 degrees warmer than LA in Celsius, but is a whopping 30 degrees warmer in Fahrenheit. That's almost a factor of two, almost double or x2. But because the scales are not a 1:1 correlation or a 1:2 for that matter, it can be hard to understand what's going on.
I'm already used to this mental acrobatic from growing up in a country that mixes both the International Standard system and the English System. Roads are divided by kilometers, but the speed limit is in Miles per hour. The weather is measured in Fahrenheit but the thermometers measure fever in Celsius. (I still remember my utter disbelief when in college I heard someone having a fever of a hundred. I had images of blood boiling of, charred skin, exploding eyeballs, and the like running through my head; after all water boils at 100 degrees, Celsius of course.) However, does the average American make that distinction? Does the average law-maker? Or are they hearing scientist and thinking "big deal" what's one degree? What's two? I can't feel the difference between 52 and 50 or 87 and 89. Are they simple halving the problem in their head by not understanding the degrees we are talking about?
People sometimes say scientist speak in their own language, and that they should speak in everyday language. But I think that's wrong. While scientist (and specialists) of every ilk and color these days have an impenetrable jargon (talk to sales people about what a lead, opportunity and contact are and you'll get very different definitions from a lay person would), I think scientist do a good job of navigating jargon out of conversations. I think the problem lies deeper than than that. Trust and truth are involved, but more importantly language is involved. If you hear Celsius but think Fahrenheit, the issue is not clear speech but clear understanding.


Popular posts from this blog

How to configure Ubuntu's keyboard to work like a Mac's

Typing accents on a PC is a complicated Alt + three numbered code affair. One feels like a sorcerer casting a spell. "I summon thee accented é! I press the weird magical key Alt, and with 0191 get the flipped question mark!" For a bilingual person this meant that writing on the computer was a start-and-stop process. With Mac's it a whole lot easier, just Alt + e and the letter you wanted for accents and alt + ? for the question mark. No need to leave the keyboard for the number pad and no need to remember arcane number combinations or have a paper cheat sheet next to the keyboard, as I've seen in virtually every secretaries computer in Puerto Rico.

Linux has a interesting approach to foreign language characters: using a compose key. You hit this key which I typically map to Caps Lock and ' and the letter you want and voilá you get the accent. Kinda makes sense: single quotation mark is an accent, double gets you the ümalaut, works pretty well. Except for the ñ, wh…

Contrasting Styles of Writing: English vs. Spanish

There is interestingly enough a big difference between what's considered good writing in Spanish and English. V.S. Naipul winner of the 2001 Nobel prize for literature publish an article on writing. In it he emphasizes the use of short clear sentences and encourages the lack of adjectives and adverbs. Essentially he pushes the writer to abandon florid language and master spartan communication. This is a desired feature of English prose, where short clipped sentences are the norm and seamlessly flow into a paragraph. In English prose the paragraph is the unit the writer cares about the most.

This is not the case in Spanish where whole short stories (I'm thinking this was Gabriel Garcia Marquez but maybe it was Cortázar) are written in one sentence. Something so difficult to do in English that the expert translator could best manage to encapsulate the tale in two sentences. The florid language is what is considered good writing in Spanish but unfortunately this has lead to what …

Fixing Autocomplete in Github's Atom Text Editor for Ruby

I really like Github's Atom Text Editor. I really like that it's multi-platform allowing me to master one set of skills that is transferable to all platforms and all machines. 

On thing that just burns me of the default set-up in Atom is the Autocomplete feature that seems to change my words as a type them. Because Ruby uses the end of line as a terminus for a statement you usually finish a word with pressing the return button and you get really annoying changes to your finished typed word a la MS Word. I find myself yelling "No that's not what I wrote!" at the screen in busy coffee shops.

I disabled autocomplete for a while but it is a very useful function. Then I found out they changed the package that gave the autocomplete to a new one called "Autocomplete Plus" that gives you more options. All that I needed to change to make autocomplete sane again:

1. Open Atom's Preferences
2. Search the bundled packages for "Autocomplete Plus"

3. Go to t…