Letters to the Editor

Hyperbole can't drown data

One of the mysteries of this beautiful state with its gifted and generous residents is why intelligence so often seems under-valued. Would we knowingly choose a surgeon who graduated last in his class over one who graduated first? How about an auto mechanic, investment advisor, plumber, computer repairman or bridge designer? Clearly almost anything that can be done can be done better by intelligent, educated people.

That doesn't mean that the smartest person is always right - just that that's a good way to place your bet most of the time.

Yet the opinion pages of this and other S.C. papers are rife with the name-calling of those who believe their gut is a better source of information on how the world works than more thoughtful people's intellect and experience. One example: (In "Eco-alarm leads to financial gain," an Aug. 27 letter, John Milyo), a retired earth sciences teacher living in Myrtle Beach, recently referred to scientists as "arrogant elitists," "dishonest" and "sloppy" merely because, as far as I can tell, their analysis of the facts on global warming differs from his own.

He attempts to buttress his point by citing predictions of "the end of humanity" related to "overpopulation," "SARS," "mad cow disease," etc. I read extensively on each of those subjects and can't recall an instance of a scientist prophesying doomsday. Perhaps that's because those who report on these subjects don't typically rely on their emotions, and, because they are presenting serious topics with far-ranging consequences, they aren't given to irresponsible forecasts as some would have us believe.

The engineering community agrees that systems - even planetary systems - subject to pressures they are not designed to handle are prone to failure. Ask any New Yorker about overloaded electrical networks or anyone from New Orleans about overloaded levees if you need an introduction to systems behavior. On the chance that the scientists who warn us about the potential impacts to our tiny planet of a set of unforeseen stresses have a point, perhaps we should spend some time reflecting - systematically.

If you choose not to listen, that's your right. But be aware that by indulging in adolescent name-calling, setting up straw men that you flippantly knock down, and disdaining serious discussion of issues, you eliminate any possibility that you might be taken seriously and cheapen the debate on subjects demanding responsible consideration. Despite your apparent belief to the contrary, intelligence and data weren't put on Earth just to deceive you.

The writer lives in Pawleys Island.

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