Ah, science!

Paul Greenberg
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Posted: May 15, 2007 2:01 PM
Ah, science!

Dear Colleague,

It was wholly a pleasure to hear from a fellow editorial writer over there in beautiful North Carolina. Thanks for letting me know that a letter to the editor we published here at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette was being cited all over the Internet. I'd gathered as much from the flood of e-mails wondering if that letter was for real.

I only wish our editorials were as popular, but right now we're just trying to expand our influence in growing metropolitan areas here in Arkansas like Hogeye, Smackover and Standard Umpstead. Not to mention Ralph, Waldo and Emerson, Ark. (Although there is apparently no truth to the rumor that one of our country routes goes from Tinker to Evers to Chance.)

To only slightly modify a line from Stephen Vincent Benet, I have fallen in love with Arkansas names-the sharp names that never get fat. But if I ever did aspire to expand our circulation across state lines, Hot Coffee, Miss., sounds nice. Especially early in the morning.

But where was I? Oh, yes, the letter in question ("Daylight Exacerbates Warming," Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 16, 2007) drew attention from Juneau to Timbuktu. It was the work of the Sage of Hot Springs, Ark., Connie Meskimen-a lawyer there who keeps his powder dry and tongue firmly planted in cheek.

There's no need to go into the scientific details, but the burden of his missive was that by, moving Daylight Savings Time up a month this year, thus providing an extra hour of sunlight in March, Congress had thoughtlessly brought summer on in spring.

Well, sure. It makes as much sense as anything else Congress does. Personally, I don't buy it. My own theory is that global weather patterns have been out of sync ever since those softies in Washington cut out nuclear testing in the atmosphere.

Scientific theories abound, and you're welcome to your own favorites, including proofs that turn out to be spoofs. When I was growing up, it wasn't global warming that was going to wipe us all out but a new ice age. Time Magazine said so. Or maybe it was Newsweek-as late as 1975.

I am sure, however, that it was Paul Ehrlich-who is to scientific prediction what the New York Times' Paul Krugman is to economic analysis-who warned that social chaos was unavoidable because the world's population was exploding. ("The Population Bomb," 1968.)

I can recall writing a more than slightly hysterical editorial on the subject at the time for that leading scientific journal, the Pine Bluff (Ark.) Commercial. It would be remembered to this day if I'd had the wit, or maybe just merchandising savvy, to head it "An Inconvenient Truth." Nobody ever went broke overestimating the American public's capacity for panic.

Naturally, the Heinz Foundation would later give Paul Ehrlich and the Mrs. a Lifetime Achievement Award or some such, complete with a check for $250,000. The disaster-predicting business does have its upside. I expect Paul Krugman to get his Nobel in economics any year now.

As for whether Connie Meskimen meant his letter to the editor to be taken seriously, I suspect he-not she, as so many of those who reacted to the letter assumed-was out have some serious fun.

Counselor Meskimen is said to conduct these Rorschach tests for the depths of American gullibility from time to time, and he hasn't hit bottom yet. We seem to have an oceanic capacity for mistaken assumptions.

I've lost count by now of the oh-so-serious inquiries from graduate students and members of science faculties, including one or two at Ivy League universities, who have asked whether the letter writer was serious. These people wouldn't be able to detect satire if it showed up under their microscopes.

Then there were the folks here in Arkansas, image-conscious as ever, who were infuriated that we'd publish such a letter, fearing it would leave the impression that Arkies are a bunch of scientific ignoramuses. As opposed, I guess, to all those literal-minded, sober-sided, absolutely humorless scientific twits who were appalled by the letter and eager to set the writer straight.

Inky Wretch