Science & Society

Peter Doran, Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, wasn't all that happy that his Nature paper(1) was widely used  by detractors of early 2000s global warming theory so he set out recently to find out just how many other earth scientists believe in human-induced climate change.

His research then found that some parts of Antarctica had cooled between 1986 and 2000 so he was lumped in with those disputing global warming, something he did not say.   Doran found out, just as Bill Gray later would when he disputed Al Gore's contention that global warming caused Hurricane Katrina, when you go up against crazy people with an agenda life can get ugly.
Apparently, the Obama administration is taking our votes on what issues matter to us.  It is rare that I feel compelled to vote in a poll that I have to register for but, today, I pulled the trigger on the Change.gov Citizen's Briefing Book. 

We have an opportunity to direct our research and health care dollars toward treatments that have been proven to work.

Vote down the Orwellian "Health Freedom."

OK, here's more commentary on some of the interesting stuff over at Cosmic Variance, this time on the cult of genius:

During high school or college, many aspiring physicists latch onto Feynman or Einstein or Hawking as representing all they hope to become. The problem is, the vast majority of us are just not that smart. Oh sure, we’re plenty clever, and are whizzes at figuring out the tip when the check comes due, but we’re not Feynman-Einstein-Hawking smart. We go through a phase where we hope that we are, and then reality sets in, and we either (1) deal, (2) spend the rest of our career trying to hide the fact that we’re not, or (3) drop out. It’s always bugged the crap out of me that physicists’ worship of genius conveys the simultaneous message that if you’re not F-E-H smart, then what good are you? In physics recommendation land, there is no more damning praise than saying someone is a “hard worker”.


I'm not a physicist, so I don't have any personal experience with how badly physics is infected by a cult of genius. In biology, our geniuses aren't as flashy, partly because brilliant mathematical theories of the type found in theoretical physics don't do much good in biology.
At Cosmic Variance, find out how the once active physicist Frank Tipler now registers high on John Baez's crackpot index:

In science, we tend to valorize (to the point of fetishizing) a certain kind of ability to abstractly manipulate symbols and concepts — related to, although not exactly the same as, the cult of genius. (It’s not just being smart that is valorized, but a certain kind of smart.) The truth is, such an ability is great, but tends to be completely uncorrelated with other useful qualities like intellectual honesty and good judgment. People don’t become crackpots because they’re stupid; they become crackpots because they turn their smarts to crazy purposes.
Imagining aliens helps us think about evolution

If we ever do make contact with an extraterrestrial intelligence, what will it look like?  Hollywood has had no shortage of examples for films and television shows that feature aliens, but they are almost  always bipedal primates who speak English with a funny accent.  This  depiction is more the result of wardrobe budget constraints and the  flexibility of actors than it is the imagination of writers.  
Previously I wrote about "the Science Bubble".  Since then, there has been good news, and bad.
The good news is that apparently Speaker Pelosi has been recorded as noting that Science will be emphasized in the stimulus package.  I do hope that happens, and I hope that if it does happen, it is done in a sustainable and thoughtful way - not just a bunch of "let's throw money at scientists" followed by an even bigger bust later.

A new Commonwealth Fund study says that the United States should adopt the policies of Switzerland and the Netherlands.    Those countries have near-universal coverage, though they have to subsidize up to 40 percent of families since individual health coverage is mandated by law.

The result?  Both countries effectively cover all but one percent of their population, compared with 15 percent uninsured in the U.S.

I am a living, breathing, trudging onward authority on the quest for wellness. I'm not an athlete, my body is imperfect, and sometimes I choose unhealthy indulgence. Yet, no one has worked harder to achieve optimal health. The most important lesson I have learned is that wellness isn't being disease free, it is being dis-ease-free.

Wellness is a balance of mind, body, spirit in peaceful vitality. Good health is achieved by tending to each aspect of our humanness: our mental and emotional states, spirituality, bodily function and design.

Questions I ask myself in the ongoing quest for wellness:

• Do I live with integrity? If I am chasing self-shame I will not be good to myself or others
By carefully selecting which varieties of food crops to cultivate, much of Europe and North America could be cooled by up to 1°C during the summer growing season, say researchers from the University of Bristol, UK. This is equivalent to an annual global cooling of over 0.1°C, almost 20% of the total global temperature increase since the Industrial Revolution. 

The growing of crops already produces a cooling of the climate because they reflect more sunlight back into space, compared with natural vegetation. Different varieties of the same crop vary significantly in their solar reflectivity (called 'albedo'), so selecting varieties that are more reflective will enhance this cooling effect. Since arable agriculture is a global industry, such cooling could be extensive.
Along with a 223-page instruction manual, the NIH offers gems like this to help clear up the confusion:

# What part of the application/award number is the IC and serial number?
NIH's grant application/award numbers consist of the following parts:

* A single-digit Application Type
* A three-digit Activity Code
* A two-letter IC Code
* A six-digit Serial Number
* A two-digit Grant Year (preceded by a dash to separate it from the serial number)
* Additional suffix information that may include the letter "S" and related number for a particular supplement record, the letter "A" and related number to identify an amendment and/or the letter "X" and related number to identify a fellowship's institutional allowance record.