Science & Society

DuPont Pioneer, the seed company that sells corn, sorghum, alfalfa, etc. and was considering expanding Kaua'i operations just a few years ago, has decided instead to close its Parent seed operations there. Like with astronomy, seed operations have been in Hawaii since the 1960s without issue.

Can scientists learn from listening to public reaction to the products they develop? And should they?

As a philosopher by training (and as a science journalist by profession) I am delving into ethical questions surrounding genetic modification. My reflections were triggered by an article by my friend Alle Bruggink, a professor in industrial chemistry at the University of Nijmegen in The Netherlands. He explored why the public remains suspicious about biotechnology – a surprise to many biotechnological researchers.

An open letter to the office of the president of Boston University
 Dear Sirs!

Organic products would seem tailor-made for shoppers seeking foods and beverages that are healthier for them, their families and the planet, but a new analysis reveals that most Americans perceive the organic label as nothing more than an excuse to sell products at a premium. 

71 percent of consumers don't even think that organic products have a labeling standard. 51 percent believe that labeling something as organic is just an excuse to charge more. 72 percent do believe that the products are probably healthier.

The benefits of music education are widely reported. Playing an instrument has been shown to have significant cognitive benefits.

Creative thinking, social and emotional intelligence, coordination, memorization and auditory processing are all thought to improve in school-age children who learn music.

This makes it hard to argue with the fact that learning music is a good thing. But, when it comes to the type of music to teach, things get less agreeable.

In 1989 Ellen Stohl, who had become a wheelchair user after a car accident, appeared in an eight-page spread in Playboy magazine. She had pushed to do so, she explained later, because it was important for her to express her right to sexuality. “Sexuality is the hardest thing for a disabled person to hold on to,” she said in a TV interview. “I am a woman more than a wheelchair.”

Regarding Playboy owner Hugh Hefner, she added: “He believed that I could have the same sexual voice as women without disabilities.”

Like with car pool lanes, the rationale for more bicycling infrastructure is that if they are built, more people will use them, and it will save the environment, public health, etc. but like with car pool lanes, the reality turns out to be different. In actual usage 25 percent of highways or more get blocked off for vehicles with multiple occupants while 7 percent of occupants use them, which leads to higher traffic, and the stress and accidents that go with it, and worse emissions due to slower cars.


Dating apps like Tinder offer a quick look at a potential connection, with a simple swipe to either decline or accept a potential match, so it follows that some people will try to game the system by using an old picture or one that is enhanced using a tool like Photoshop.

So many people do it, at least according to common belief, that is must work. But does it?  

People assume some pictures must be fake and they don't want to be "catfished" (slang for a romantic hoax, because less reputable seafood restaurants will serve catfish as something more expensive) so alarm bells ring when something looks too good to be true, or in this case "too hot to trust."


Once again, your resident tellytraveller has turned his gaze to the Southern Hemisphere, this time with second series of Coast Australia.  Episode 8 took us to New South Wales, and most spectacularly to Jervis Bay, a little under 200 km south of Sydney.


California Senator Dianne Feinstein recently declared war on homemade soap in order to placate her corporate donors, so it is no surprise the public holds her in rather poor regard. Yet it is not just her, U.S. Congress approval ratings are at record lows across the board and a new study speculates that this may be partly due to a decline in the use of warm, agreeable language in the House.

The analysis found that the use of prosocial words -- language such as cooperate or contribute -- by lawmakers predicts public approval of Congress six months later.