Derrick and I had a good time in Birmingham, but it was definitely time to go by the time we left. I'm not sure why we all got on one another's nerves so much this time, but we really did. The climax of the annoyance was probably about four days before we left, when Derrick tried to explain to his mother why scientists are convinced global warming is happening and why we think it's man-made. Derrick went slowly and made sure that his mom understood what the data were showing, and to make sure she agreed with the interpretation. As a heat flow person his argument was based on boreholes, which are also probably the most difficult to argue with since you're dealing with temperature rather than a proxy for temperature.
I'm rather impressed with Derrick's teaching, as a side note. He took his mom through all the steps at a pace that was very appropriate. I kept interjecting--I love talking about climate science and have a tendency to get ahead of myself. Derrick was much more controlled in his explanation. Something I'll have to work on in the next semester.
Anyway, we've had heated discussions before with Derrick's family. It's no secret that we're more liberal than them. As similar as we are in many of our values, our political leanings are not similar, and are becoming less and less similar as time goes on. Derrick's parents pretty much parrot back the Rush/Fox news view of the world, while we, NPR-listening, quinoa-munching liberals spout off about our liberal views. Most of the time we avoid talking politics, but this year--perhaps because Obama won--there were a lot more subtle and not so subtle jabs at one another's politics which climaxed in the discussion of climate (and taxes, and health care, and welfare--all the hot-button topics made at least a brief appearance). And let's just say it got a bit heated. We avoided saying mean things about one another, but in the course of the discussion it became clear that Derrick's parents completely distrust the government and the scientific community and are pretty much convinced that both are out to take their hard-earned money away from them. Which, of course, we as scientists dispute (at least when it comes to science), but we are incapable of convincing them. They are certain our chosen professions are basically out to hoodwink them. It's more than a little tough to take.
So, it was time to go home sooner than I think would otherwise have been necessary. It's too bad, too--Derrick's mom loved, LOVED having Sylvia around. In the future I'm sure my handling of Sylvia will be what causes the inter-familial friction. But, the experience really got me thinking about belief and the problems unquestioning belief creates, both interpersonally and in the wider world. Over the next few days (yeah, right!) I'm going to try to explore some thoughts on the problem of belief--how do we choose who to believe and how much trust to give self-proclaimed experts. Why are we so willing to believe people who don't necessarily know what they're talking about, and so slow to evaluate the veracity of their claims, and even slower to change our beliefs when something is dis-proven?