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.