Renaissance Rush

Is Limbaugh a science illiterate, or is he just pretending?

I only listen to Rush Limbaugh by accident, but when it happens, it is like a four-car pile-up. I cannot turn away. I might hear three segments in a bad week, none if I am living well. As little as I listen, I heard two egregious scientific proclamations in recent months on the man's show. I wonder how wrong he is, and how often, on matters of science.

When our lander reached Mars, Limbaugh learned that Mars has an atmosphere made mostly of carbon dioxide, like ours is mostly nitrogen. Since carbon dioxide is not even a tenth of a percent of our atmosphere and is making our planet hotter, Mars should be boiling, concluded the anchorman stuck in the sand, preventing America from moving forward.

Mars is 62 million miles further from the sun than Earth is. Any third grader can tell you which planet is fourth from the sun. The scientifically literate know solar radiation diminishes with the square of distance, so Mars gets less than half the sunlight Earth gets. That is why it is icy. It seems more likely Limbaugh knows he is lying than that he actually believes what he said, but I will give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he just has no clue.

In case you care what the scientifically literate think about Mars, they think it was once closer to the sun, a twin planet of Earth. At some point, likely early in our planet's history, Mars bumped into us, knocking off the moon, and hurled into the deeper, colder orbit where it now resides. The fact that the moon's face never changes is the proof that she was once a piece of the Earth. The coincidence of rotation and revolution needed for that to happen is not magic, but mathematical likelihood when a spinning mass breaks into a large and small mass. Moon broke off Earth, this we know, differential equations tell us so. How and when it happened is not clear. Some think the moon broke off when an asteroid slammed into Earth, others think it is an asteroid that struck Earth then got captured by its gravity. But the alternate hypothesis that Mars and Earth collided now seems increasingly likely; liquid water on Mars implies that Mars was once nearer to the Sun.

Science just found reason to believe the moon is the child of a Mars-Earth hook-up. Between that and all the carbon gases, maybe it should be hotter there.

In my next unfortunate encounter, Rush fielded a call from a 16-year-old who explained how the second law of thermodynamics proves solar power will suck all the energy from the sun and make it go out. This is so wrong. The amount of sunlight we get is the same whether we convert it to electricity or heat water or a plant uses it to make sugar. The supply of sunlight is constant. We compete for it with the rest of the planet, but we do not draw it from the sun like water from a hose. It just comes.

Limbaugh praised the child's intelligence, or at least compared it favorably to his own. The sad part is, the boy was clearly intelligent, but had either been given bum information or not enough. Maybe he lacked adults in his life who could set him straight, and Limbaugh came up lacking. I cannot countenance Limbaugh allowing a child to believe such untruths. The boy was more intelligent when he called than when he hung up.

Listening to Rush Limbaugh makes you dumber, and maybe that is what advertisers and broadcasters want. He should not be banned by the government because stupidity is not a crime, but he should be shunned by society. If we slather the lies on too thick, where is the next generation of engineers who understand thermodynamics well enough to send a probe to Mars that can communicate back to Earth going to come from? What if all those Limbaugh-scented dumb rays polluting the void get picked up by aliens coming to visit, and they decide to turn back?