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A discussion on the responsibility of the scientific community.

 

Since the dawn of time man has sought solutions to problems of all kinds. This is a fundamental aspect of human nature, to seek solutions to problems. We humans are an inquisitive group as beings go. Using facts and figures, rigorous theoretical and experimental methods to help us understand the world and its issues. Often in the hopes of being able to use this understanding, to combat problems in our world.

One such issue which is plaguing our life as humans in the modern day is the energy crisis. Global warming, overpopulation, what have you. There are dozens of different ways and permutations of speaking on the same issue. The issue is to simply put, that we have too many people in this world, and this causes issues of not enough food to go around or other factors. However, one of the major issues is that to keep so many people alive and in a decent lifestyle requires quite a large amount of energy. Now of course one may suggest the obvious albeit very immoral solution of culling the herd. Lowering the population or what have you. However, one of the most common things which is brought back to you is that simply the way in which we generate energy in this world is not efficient enough. We are using non-renewable sources, we are burning fossil fuels which is causing an enhanced greenhouse gas effect causing, well I wish I could say, untold damage but unfortunately recent studies by the UN have shown us exactly how telling and dire the results of our current global energy consumption is.

Because of this, we hope to do better. We wish to make a world in which we can survive, and we don’t cause too much damage and with this. We see people focusing on plastics the trash islands in the sea. We see many people scramble and scrape to have individual power sources in their house wind turbines to power themselves so they may be “off the grid” in the hopes of making actual personal changes to help combat this issue, when any scientist worth their salt would tell you that having a larger production plant with more people to manage and more ways to deal with the issues and inefficiencies would be far more environmentally.

Additionally, people talk about non-renewable resources as if they are the devil. Something to be absolutely avoided and although certain non-renewable resources are certainly not great with many being fossil fuels which contribute to the enhanced greenhouse gas effect to say that non-renewable energy sources are inherently bad, or evil is simply untrue.

An excellent example this is the fact that people seem to forget that renewable resources aren’t entirely eco-friendly. Their carbon footprint certainly isn’t a 0 because the simple construction of anything. Involves, for example, the refining and machining of raw materials. Even the breaking down and replacement of certain pieces in the machinery. This all has a carbon footprint this, it has an effect.

It is clear to see that this is a simple example of what would be unfair to call misinformation, but certainly an oversimplification of the issue at large. A great example of the dangers of a misleading oversimplification of this topic. Would be for example that nuclear energy is demonized as it is a non-renewable source.

Which by this simplification should be terrible, however, nuclear energy is clean, although like all things there is an inherent carbon footprint required to create nuclear power plants. But instead let us talk about the dangers, the lack of safety which this source of energy generation poses.

When this topic is raised people will talk for days on end about the dangers of nuclear energy. Speaking of Chernobyl, a truly terrible incident. However, I implore any individual who is truly scared of such things, to look into the current safety of nuclear power plants. They are, for all intents and purposes, highly unlikely to ever meltdown if they’re built to the legal specifications which day are required by in the modern day.

Now historians who may be aware of such things may turn to me and say, “That’s an excellent point however Chernobyl was not build to the specifications they required they took short cuts and in turn it melted down”. I would call this an excellent case of what-about-ism. If you were to assume that nothing in this world was built to the safety specifications given? Well then on ships should be imminent the dangerous all cars be imminently dangerous. Things in this world if they’re not built to specification may well be extraordinarily dangerous.

But if we are to assume that’s safety specifications will be upheld for every single instance of an object’s construction in this world except for one well that’s a very simple way of identifying bias to put it frankly.

But if one were to discuss the benefits of nuclear energy, is it truly making a difference? I would ask for you to look at a very practical and tangible example. Since the unfortunate war which has begun in Europe, people have been talking about the rise in gas prices in Ireland specifically. People have been discussing that in Ireland petrol has increased in price a shocking amount. However, I would ask for you to compare this to perhaps another country which has utilized different energy sources for power generation, specifically nuclear energy. For this example, I chose France.

France is a country which unlike Ireland generates a large degree of it’s energy via alternative means to gas. Notably nuclear energy. One could argue that since Ireland does not import natural gas from Russia that this would not be an issue for Ireland, however Electric Ireland, one of Ireland’s larges gas and electricity supplier’s “plans to increase residential electricity prices by 23.4 per cent and gas prices by 24.8 per cent with effect from 1 May 2022” tell a different story. This is not a large an issue in France once again due to a lesser dependence on natural gas to produce energy compared to nuclear energy.

Nuclear energy which notably unlike oil doesn’t have a primary supplier who is currently going to war and thus for moral reasons people will not purchase oil off of.

 

Graph for representation of point

Figure [1] Energy Generation by fuel source in France

 

Graph for representation of poin

Figure [2] Energy Generation by fuel source in Ireland

 

However, from this example an interesting question arises. Why do we have situations where we as scientists have for lack of better phrasing the correct way to go about things aren’t listened to? Why do we know of the safety and benefits of nuclear energy to the point where there are organizations across the world and Irish example being 18for0, who are essentially campaigning against people such as the Irish Green Party in an attempt to make progress in nuclear energy being introduced in Ireland?

Why do we have it that are Green Party, those who focus on having less fossil fuels, less a carbon emission and a better environmental impact on the world. Why are they against a solution which is entirely viable it is simply because there is a large contingent within that party who are not sufficiently educated on the topic.

In the scientific community today, it would be unfair to say we haven’t made great strides and ideas for the betterment of the world. We have found ways to do good.

However, it appears as though even items as comprehensive and accessible as the UN climate report is not being taken seriously. These things are not being seriously considered and we must ask why.

Why? Why do we have situations where the answers are clear and yet people will not take them. A very recent example of this is the large contingent of anti-mask anti-vax people who refuse to wear masks or take vaccinations for the coronavirus.

This unequivocally caused damage and further spread of this virus. This ignorance killed people. We had individuals, we had scientists, members of our community who went out and attempted to sway the masses attempted to prove to them that these solutions that we knew worked, actually did something to help.

I understand that it is deeply frustrating to know what the right choice is and see many people not make it. That is deeply frustrating, and, in that frustration, it is very simple to throw off your hands and say “I give up because we tried our best and they just wouldn’t listen to us, so it’s their fault not mine that we are in the bad situation we are”. That the misinformation the “Facebook facts”, if you pardon the phrasing, are too much and we cannot seem to go a day without seeing. We have done studies we are aware that false information spreads faster than correct information.

Does false information spread easier because it is more eye-catching, because it is easier to understand because it is not phrased in complicated scientific language.  The answer is simple.

It does not matter.

The answer does not matter because the simple fact is that we are not getting through to a large amount of people. That there will be a contingent who do not listen. We pushed hard for vaccinations and mask wearing during Covid but how many other issues are there which are just as complicated and have been oversimplified, such as renewable energy good non-renewable energy bad, or have not been simplified enough to be understood. How many issues do we have which we have the solutions for? Problems with answers which we just say, “people won’t listen we do not have a way to get them to listen” and now we can stand on the side-lines and continue to complain and shake our fists as the world constitutes to worsen.

I am a deeply practical person and because of that I will use a practical example here.

Imagine your individual with a group of friends are going camping. You have a manual for how to set up a tent you all must sleep in. You have read it and you know exactly how to set it up.

However, it is the large tent, and you cannot put it up by yourself. Each year you go, each year you ask people to read the manual but it’s too complicated and they don’t have time.

Each year you continue to complain that nobody is reading your manual. That’s excellent, you’re right. But when you go to bed at night when you are camping the fact that you were right doesn’t stop the water from spilling in on top of you. It doesn’t stop your clothes from being soaked, your camping ruined.

So, when you continue, each year, sitting there, being correct, with the same unfortunate result. Are you going to just keep being right? Or would you attempt to teach your friends have put up the tent, try make a manual with diagrams which are easier to understand. You might do something else entirely. But you certainly wouldn’t go back each year using the same strategy knowing that it doesn’t work.

We as scientists, as a community, as a people, we want to solve problems, we want, to discover things.

However, it is clear that we won’t make the necessary change we need to change the world for the better unless have everybody else come in and contribute. We need everyone else to work with us to make a difference.

Say, for example, the entire scientific community comes together and makes a master document which solves of all problems in the world in 50-years. It’s complicated but it will work. This miracle solution does not matter if we cannot get others to read and implement it. Or if we do not accommodate for those who will not read it. If we cannot get them to, we must at least find a way for them to do their part, by understanding the benefits of this miracle plan and the benefits of the parts that they are contributing to said plan.

What is the solution to this? I wish I knew. As if I knew I could put in an overly complicated document that nobody would read.

Now I am being a bit coarse. This is a deeply complicated matter as all matters of people are. Especially people on a large scale and a perfect solution is not known. At the very least not known by me. However, there are several things which can be done. If politics is what changes the world, perhaps more scientists should go into politics. Or at the very least be someone who would inform and attempt to educate not only politicians but the masses and the people around them.

Try to teach them try to help instead of simply assuming that everybody has had the privilege of the long-standing education and the choice of education which we as a community have chosen.

Will it be difficult? For sure. Will it be slow? Absolutely. Will it be worth it? There is no doubt, if we truly want to begin changing the world.

I believe the great minds of the scientific community may well be able to figure out how to change the world. But that means nothing if we do not first strive to add the rest of the world into our community. To educate and help them so they know what is going on, what we are striving for. To have an idea of what must be done so they may help us, and we may all help each other towards the better tomorrow, and a better world.

 

REFERENCES

[1]Our World in Data. 2022. Electricity production by source. [online] Available at: <https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/electricity-production-by-source?country=~FRA> [Accessed 12 May 2022].

[2]

Our World in Data. 2022. Electricity production by source. [online] Available at: <https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/electricity-production-by-source?country=~IRL> [Accessed 12 May 2022].

 

By now we’re all aware of the crazed hubbub surrounding the slow rollout of 5G technology around the world. Hundreds of people on facebook are protesting the installation of new antennae and making very bold claims about how this is a plot to take over the world, or make everyone sick, or control everyone’s minds. But what is 5G really? And what makes it different to our existing mobile network? Is it really as harmful as they say?

5G stands for fifth generation, meaning it is the fifth widely spread internet sharing technology on the mobile cellular network. Currently 4G is widespread in Ireland, with some areas still dependent on 3G. All of these technologies function similarly, by broadcasting and receiving specific wavelengths of light from the cell antenna to and from your phone.

All of our information technology today works by using light to our advantage. Light comes in a spectrum of energies, and each application of light can benefit from a particular wavelength being used. One of the earliest applications of radio waves on a huge scale was RADAR in the second World War.  Radio waves of a known frequency are blasted out in a particular direction, with a detector waiting to see what bounces back. After several pulses of waves, if the bounces are getting faster, something is coming towards you!

5G can currently be used in three separate frequency bands: low band,  medium band and high band frequency, with the frequencies used for low band overlapping with the 4G bandwidth that has been passing through us harmlessly for years. Other bands are the mid band, boasting frequencies of 1.7-4.7GHz, just stepping into the microwave domain. Finally, the high band operates between 24-47GHz.

All different frequencies of light mean how many times the light swings back and forth each second (Hertz just means per second). For light, this is related to its wavelength, which is the length of the actual “wave” pattern that repeats over and over. As the wavelength gets smaller, the frequency gets higher, and so does the energy!

This is most likely where the conspiracy theorists find the need to alarm themselves. While very high energy photons can certainly be dangerous to life (let’s just say the Hulk got lucky with his exposure to gamma rays), the frequencies used in 5G are nothing to be concerned about. What is more, is that these frequencies don’t travel for as far as the lower radio frequencies used in previous generations. As such, antennae need to be placed close to each other to ensure an even coverage. This allows theorists to come up with ideas like the New World Order is infecting everyone with something in the process.

The clear benefits of 5G are faster download and upload speeds, which are close to rivaling cable, and will no doubt improve as technology advances. So we can all get back to reading our conspiracy theories that bit faster.

 

Bob McLarnon

Class of 2023