Science & Society

The encouragement (or requirement) of diversity sometimes gets labeled reverse racism, under the assumption that encourgaing diversity is only about somehow making up for past injustices by discriminating against today's white men who may never have themselves committed such injustices.

I'm not trying to step into the touchy issue of Supreme Court politics (nor am I arguing that quotas are always a good thing), but I've run across this interesting observation in several contexts recently:

"Participants push themselves to formulate better arguments when they know they will have to justify them."
Chicago O’Hare Incident
Speculation continues about the crash of Air France jetliner flight 447 on its transatlantic journey.  A University of Indianapolis international relations expert says recent events point to the possibility of terrorism.

Although there have been no claims of responsibility or specific indications of sabotage, the disappearance of a large airliner without warning is extremely rare and investigators say no potential causes have been ruled out. Today, aviation authorities revealed another Air France flight from Buenos Aires to Paris was grounded temporarily May 27 because of a telephoned bomb threat.
In these days of jaw-dropping trillion-dollar budgets and deficits along with current retirement obligations 7X the size of our economy, $6.3 billion may not sound like much.  But, hey, a billion here and a billion there, and pretty soon you are talking about real money.  

$6.3 billion what the United States potentially could save on each group of adolescents who enter foster care every year - and get better results.

An indignant letter in this month's Chemistry World has drawn my attention to a forthcoming ban on the use of dichloromethane, except by the most professional of professionals. EU sidesteps Reach to ban paint stripping solvent goes the relevant article, Reach being an acronym for Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals.

Which of the following Latin American countries has the highest murder rate?

a. Nicaragua
b. Mexico
c. Venezuela
d. Jamaica

If you answered "Mexico", you made a very reasonable choice. In the past year, violence has been so rampant there that murder numbers have often exceeded 100 per week. But Mexico does not have the worst problem in the region - that distinction goes to .... Venezuela. Venezuela's rate of 48 violent deaths per 100,000 people is double that of Mexico.
I’m fascinated by the contributions of researchers outside of the mainstream— the monk whose bean garden seeded modern genetics, the bicycle mechanic brothers who built a flying machine in their garage, and all of those amateur stargazers who found supernovae in their favorite corner of the sky.

Modern indie researchers, often called "grassroots scientists" or  “citizen scientists”, make especially good food for thought when grad school is at its most frustrating. It’s comforting to remember that at its heart, science is still open to anyone with a bit of curiousity and good observation skills.
"Somebody's got to stand up to experts," cried the creationist head of the Texas State Board of Education, Don McLeroy. McLeroy's lament is nothing new in American culture - we love to lionize the artless hero who conquers the world through clean living and common sense, and without resorting to elitist expertise. (Although some see the pendulum swinging the other way.)
Many parasites depend on their host’s behavior in order to successfully reproduce. Instead of leaving this behavior to chance, some parasites actively manipulate their hosts to produce the desired behavior. For example, after infecting a rat, the taxoplasmosa gondii parasite needs to be transferred to a cat’s belly to reproduce. To do this, the sneaky parasite rewires its rat host to actively seek the smell of cat urine. When the rat gets eaten, the parasite completes its necessary transfer.

Cordyceps fungi infect insects and steer them to higher ground where, when the insect dies and the fungus bursts forth, the fungus spores will be more effectively dispersed by wind.
If you watched "Angels&Demons" recently, you may have thought particle physics was just about scary science that could do real harm on the chance it may do future good.  

Not so, though most people don't realize the impact particle physics has had on society.   Particle physics saves lives, connects continents through new channels of communication and generally helps us understand the world around us.   In many ways it inspires tomorrow’s leaders.

While the perils associated with particle physics, from Earth-gobbling black holes to Vatican-destroying amounts of antimatter, gain news headlines, it’s easy to overlook the large economic and societal benefits of particle physics research.