Friday, February 12, 2010

Cranking it up

About two years ago, when I still was an editorial page editor, I received a letter from a fellow who had figured out why releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere not only doesn't cause global warming, but in fact cools the planet. He explained that carbon dioxide happens to be what dry ice is made of - and dry ice is COLD!

I later mentioned the claim, not using the guy's name, in an editorial suggesting the value of clear thinking about matters of importance. He quickly mailed me another letter offering to participate in a public debate in which I easily would be demolished. Displaying an appalling lack of professional courtesy, I failed to reply.

A couple of years earlier than that, I was on the phone with a woman trying to talk me into printing an op-ed offering proof that the world was only 10,000 years old (or 6,000, or whatever the number was.) She rattled off the familiar "evidence," but threw in one - "dust on the moon" - that was new to me. "Wait a minute," I said, "dust on the moon?"

The woman, who later visited the office and turned out to be a striking, well-dressed lady in her 30s, explained that prior to the first moon landing, scientists had worried that the moon lander might sink so far into the dust that had collected on the surface over four-plus billion years that the spacecraft wouldn't be able to take off again. But that didn't happen! Ergo ...

I have plenty of empathy for these people. Cranks always have totally convinced themselves of their ideas, and it isn't hard to understand the lengths most of us are willing to go to defend our most strongly held beliefs. And I get the frustration. My design for a lawn mower powered by the life energy of grass never sold, either. None are so blind ...

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