Portraits of Wildflowers

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Archive for February 5th, 2022

Icicles on southern maidenhair ferns

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Little did I think on January 29th when Robert Parker posted a photograph of ferns in ice that I’d have a crack at the same subject just a week later. Cold rain and sleet came to Austin on February 2nd, followed by more than a full day of continuously sub-freezing temperatures. No way yesterday morning was I not going to head down to Great Hills Park and check for ice formations that the wet and then frigid weather might have created. Not far into the park I found the bulbous head of an icicle partly encasing the southern maidenhair fern (Adiantum capillus-veneris) that you see above. Another location offered up a bunch of icicles hanging from a cliff that also was home to maidenhair ferns.



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In the last post I brought up Alice Dreger‘s 2015 book Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and One Scholar’s Search for Justice, and I quoted some scholars’ praise for it. Now let me quote the book’s conclusion (except for an epilogue).

If—as the investigative press collapses and no longer can function as an effective check on excess and corruption, and people live and die forever inhabiting self-obsessed corners of the Internet, and the government and the ad-selling Google industrial complex ever increase surveillance on us, and we can’t trust people in the government to be our advocates or even to be sensible—if we have any hope of maintaining freedom of thought and freedom of person in the near and distant future, we have to remember what the Founding Fathers knew: That freedom of thought and freedom of person must be erected together. That truth and justice cannot exist one without the other. That when one is threatened, the other is harmed. That justice and thus morality require the empirical pursuit.

I want to say to activists: If you want justice, support the search for truth. Engage in searches for truth. If you really want meaningful progress and not just temporary self-righteousness, carpe datum. You can begin with principles, yes, but to pursue a principle effectively, you have to know if your route will lead to your destination. If you must criticize scholars whose work challenges yours, do so on the evidence, not by poisoning the land on which we all live.

To scholars I want to say more: Our fellow human beings can’t afford to have us act like cattle in an industrial farming system. If we take seriously the importance of truth to justice and recognize the many forces now acting against the pursuit of knowledge—if we really get why our role in democracy is like no other—then we really ought to feel that we must do more to protect each other and the public from misinformation and disinformation. Doing so means taking on more responsibility to police ourselves and everybody else for accuracy and greater objectivity—taking on with renewed vigor the pursuit of accurate knowledge and putting ourselves second to that pursuit.

I know that a lot of people who met me along the way in this work thought I’d end up on one side of the war between activists and scholars. The deeper I went, however, the more obvious it became that the best activists and the best scholars actually long for the same kind of world—a free one.

Here’s the one thing I now know for sure after this very long trip: Evidence really is an ethical issue, the most important ethical issue in a modern democracy. If you want justice, you must work for truth. And if you want to work for truth, you must do a little more than wish for justice.


And that was in 2015, before the onslaught of religiously fanatical unreasoners and cancelers who hit us in 2020 and who have kept up their assaults ever since.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 5, 2022 at 4:24 AM

Posted in nature photography

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