Wednesday, May 12, 2004

So... what is Bush going to do about it?

Last night Favorite Husband and I were watching a Nova program on PBS about the Earth's magnetic field. The program first explained how magnetic fields work, then how pottery can be used to tell us about the Earth's magnetic field at the time the pottery was fired. They showed a very interesting graph of the strength of the field, based on the pottery data. And then it started to get ugly.

First I started yelling calculus instruction at the television, because the entire graph was being interpreted with the spin that for the last 300 years the Earth's magnetic field has been declining. The program seemed to be completely ignoring the fact that it was on its way down from a peak head and shoulders above every other reading. Of course it is declining. (That was one of the true/false questions on the last calculus exam I gave: the first derivative of a continuous function is, by necessity, negative on the right-hand side of a relative maximum.) And that this is a relatively recent development seemed to loom a little too large. The program seemed to beg the question, "Didn't the evil Industrial Revolution start accelerating this awful decline in the magnetic field??" The more rational question to ask, upon seeing the graph, was "Why did it peak? and what did that peak mean?", not "Omygosh, IT'S ON ITS WAY DOWN!!!!!!"

But it just got more sensational from there. The Earth's magnetic field is switching direction! Cataclysm will result! What, oh what, is the government going to do about it? (Like there's anything the government could do about it!) There was lots of hand-wringing, but not much action. To its credit, though, the program stopped short of condemning President Bush for policies that are inducing the Earth's magnetic field to collapse, or demanding an apology from him for magnetic field anomalies.

Honestly, I don't know why I'm surprised; it was, after all, PBS. I wish we could afford cable so that I could watch the History channel, but it was cable or DSL and we chose the DSL.