“So senseless,” said Darling Spouse, returning from this morning’s walk with the Rolling Peke. Neighbors had provided details of a tragedy that occurred the other night just up the street. “Two educated people. What a waste!”
The storm that raged through our well-appointed, upper middle class neighborhood the other night knocked the heat out magnificently. Unfortunately, it also knocked out our electric power overnight, along with the many trees it knocked over. After the worst of it, I’d gone out walking with the Nestling and saw cameramen representing each of the three major networks producing meaningless footage of horizontal trees, including the one that landed on a rocket scientist who wanted to finish cutting his grass before the rain started. (He broke his leg; that was a bummer, not a tragedy.)
The next day, though (yesterday morning), a fourth-grade teacher didn’t show up for the last day of school, which included the “Moving Up” ceremony for her class into the Middle School. At the house — just up the street from me — the police discovered that she and her husband had hooked up a gasoline-powered generator to run their refrigerator while the electric was out. They set it up INSIDE the house. The windows were closed.
He’s dead. She’s in critical condition.
For anyone who doesn’t know, it’s called carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide (CO) is produced whenever hydrocarbon fuels are burned. It competes with oxygen for binding sites on hemoglobin, but it holds on far more tightly. That means that once the CO is attached to the hemoglobin, it ain’t about to dissociate at usual physiologic temperatures and pressures. It also means that those hemoglobin molecules can’t carry any oxygen. In other words, it kills you. (More info here and here.)
So why did DS’s comment about their having been “educated people” send me for a loop? Because what passes for education in this country is obviously skewed. Reading and writing; literature and history; social studies and civics. Why does science get such short shrift?
No offense to CrankyProf and her ilk, but no one ever died of a comma splice. On the other hand, science illiteracy can kill you.