A proposed law in North Carolina would restrict scientists and limit how much science they’re actually allowed to use when doing science.
In case that’s a big vague for you, here’s a quote from the bill being considered, describing the ways in which they’d be permitted to examine and describe the rates at which the sea level is rising:
These rates shall only be determined using historical data, and these data shall be limited to the time period following the year 1900. Rates of seas-level rise may be extrapolated linearly…
Lawmakers seem to share the concerns of Tom Thompson, a spokesman from a local economic development group, who worries about science being done by “nothing but computers and speculation”.
Science which depends on such arcane and incomprehensible techno-wizardry as “computers” is, of course, well known to be less reliable than simply declaring the world to be how you want it and assuming everything will work out for the best.
And the restrictions due to be placed on scientists make perfect sense. Just like how, sometimes, it’s better for everyone if you insist that the defendant in a criminal trial enter a plea without resorting to use of the word “not”. It’s still perfectly fair on them; it just assures that reality lines up neatly with your own desired outcome.
Perhaps canny state legislators noticed how Springfield was never threatened with destruction by a comet again after its residents burned down the observatory.
Also, if NASA had had to assume that gravity decreases linearly as you move away from the Earth, instead of making things all complicated, maybe we would have reached the Moon a lot sooner. I guess we’ll never know.
Anyway, in a spirit of true North Carolinian enquiry, I’ve done a bit of my own research into other trends that can be foreseen, using the same conditions as these oceanographers will be working under, and I’ve discovered some fascinating facts about the world of the future.
Here are just a few examples.
In 1920, the men’s 100m sprint world record was 10.6 seconds. As of 2009, it now stands at just under 9.6 seconds. Having improved by a whole second in just under 90 years, it can be linearly extrapolated that by the year 2873, men will be able to run the 100m instantaneously.
At the turn of the next millennium, they’ll be crossing the finish line a second and a half before the starting pistol is fired.
Oddly enough, running a marathon in no time flat will be achieved by the first man in 2244, even while a much shorter dash still takes several whole seconds. Meanwhile, women will be starting the marathon more than an hour after they’ve already finished it.
In 1900, the tallest building in the world was the Eiffel Tower, at 300m. This has since been surpassed by the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, and numerous others. The current record-holder is a ridiculous half-mile skyscraper in Dubai. Very approximately, then, we seem to be extending an extra 500m skyward each century.
By 2100 the tallest structure will be 1300m high. By around 2160, the toppermost of top floors will be a mile off the ground. That’ll double in a further 320 years. I’m not sure what’s going to motivate us to keep building up and up and up like this, how we’ll keep these things structurally sound against high winds and earthquakes, and whether low temperatures will become problematic as we start nearing the edge of the troposphere – but hey, I’m just extrapolating linearly from the available data.
Alarmingly, if we follow the same trend back in time, then we discover that the only things constructed before the year 1840 were basements and cellars. How this can be squared with the discovery of, say, the Pyramids, I’m not clear – but we’re only using historical data from the past century, so we’re a bit stuck.
But we’re barely scratching the surface of what this new form of science can tell us. For instance: the improvements in infant mortality over the past few decades can only be seen as wonderfully encouraging, but it also produces perhaps the most startling future predictions. Since 1950, the UK’s infant mortality rate has gone from 29 deaths (per 1,000 live births) to 5. That means we’re saving about one more child, out of every thousand, every two-and-a-bit years.
This leads us inexorably to the conclusion that, by the year 2030, for every 1,000 children born in this country, 1,002 of them will survive.
I’m sure I don’t need to explain to you the catastrophic effect this will have on population scientists’ spreadsheets.
Forget whether North Carolina’s going to have any coastline left in a hundred years. Clearly the world has bigger problems on its hands.