Science & Society

One of the biggest concerns about president Obama's government health insurance plan is that both quality and waiting lists will suffer in return for broader access.    It turns out patients in the UK, where they already have government-run health care, are willing to sacrifice the former if it will reduce the latter.

75% of surgical patients would consider allowing an unsupervised trainee junior doctor perform their entire operation if it meant they could have it done more quickly, according to a survey published in the September issue of BJUI.

80% of those facing minor surgery believed that would be fine and even 68% of those facing major surgery saying they would consider it. 
There is little doubt that, in modern times, scientific knowledge is at a peak from any other period in human history.  

However, there are also other factors that need to be considered.  50.3% of Americans believe in angels while 49.7 % believe in aliens.   

In another review, 55% claim angelic protection, 16% claim they've received a miraculous healing, 8% say they pray in tongues, and one-fifth claim God speaks with them.
I ran into an interesting linguistic stumbling block.  I'll call it the "It's science, so it must be hard" frame of mind.  I wrote to some friends and family about this project, saying:
I'm launching a satellite for fun, to make music from space.  It's called Project Calliope, and I'm writing about it up at:
It's pretty much just me, with some friends helping with different parts of it, and a couple of sponsors helping cover costs (hopefully). I'll be the first to admit it's unusual, but I've always wanted to be part of the space race.
And I received one particular reply of:

Image from AP/Cornell University via Yahoo! News

A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in citizen science was certainly not on the minds of 6-year-old Alyson Yates and her mom, Kate, when they stepped out into their back yard one day to scout for ladybugs.

Apparently, for a week in 2006 the UK newspaper The Guardian gave away wallcharts (=posters) as a promotional gambit to drum up readership. It seems the charts were all nature-themed, with a strong marine component and significant cephalopod representation! I found out about this phenomenon from a Guardian reader:
I have never quite managed to understand who at the Guardian thought those posters about nature would be a good idea – the ones with drawings of trees and birds and the like. I seem to remember one particularly baffling one that detailed species of squid and cuttlefish. Which demographic did they think would be interested in this?
One of the favorite themes in transhumanist discussions is considering the melding of human intellect with "machine intelligence" to arrive at superhuman abilities.  

Right from the beginning we have a few problems.  We don't really know what human intelligence is and we aren't capable of building intelligent machines.  However, lest that obstacle prevent us from moving forward, let's consider what such a thing really means.
As a relaxing Friday treat, here are two science-related webtoons from occasionally NSFW  Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.  Fortunately, these two are appropriate for all ages.  We are given the true shape of the universe, and learn deep truths about melding cybernetics with flesh.

Shape of universe

Cybernetic rats

Have a nice weekend and join us next week for our hard-hitting science feature articles!

Alex, The Daytime Astronomer

I've been trying to figure out why "transhumanists" and their predictions irritate me so much.  Perhaps it's seeing humanity reduced to a simplistic engineering problem to be solved.  Or maybe it's the love affair that appears to be happening between them and technology.  Or maybe it's the fact that they all sound like psychics, except that their subject is the human race instead of an individual. Back in July, Massimo Pigliucci addressed some of the problems with transhumanism, however it seems that this is a rather persistent idea.

What's the quickest way to get scientists and serious science writers to quit coming on your show? Invite the creationists. Discover bloggers Sean Carroll and Carl Zimmer explain what happened:

Sean says:
More reality programs, less hard science coverage, and when they do cover hard science it's watered down.  This is all true as the production values of the programs have increased while the science value has decreased.  
When the science channel started many years ago here are some of the shows they had. 
  • Skeptical Inquirer  - Cold hands off debunking of things like acupuncture.
  • Understanding - in depth hard core exposition of physics, chemistry, or biology.
  • A number of documentary series