Science & Society

Welcome back to my series of posts on China, written from my point of view, a Westerner working at Nanjing University (NJU). Since China becomes ever more important also for academia and science, I would like to provide some insight into difficulties that are not widely mentioned. The last time I started with the language barrier, and there were many points that need to be explained further.

Is the name Andre Geim familiar to you?  If you are in science, you know him because he just won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on graphene with Konstantin Novoselov at the University of Manchester.

If you instead like to make fun of science, you may know Geim because he received an Ig Nobel prize for levitating a frog with magnets.  No, really, here is his paper Of flying frogs and levitrons.   He probably took the Ig Nobel in stride and had a good time at the dinner, since he said he wasn't even aware it was Nobel season before he got the call that he was the newest Nobel laureate in Nobel's most prestigious category.
A new poll by Nature and Scientific American, out in SA's October 2010 issue, notes that scientists have had a tough year - the "leaked 'Climategate' e-mails painted researchers as censorious," the H1N1 outbreak "led to charges that health officials exaggerated the danger to help Big Pharma sell more drugs," and the Harvard investigation that found holes in a professor's data. Nature and SA wanted to know - does the public1 still trust scientists?

The two polled readers using an internet survey on their Web sites, and more than 21,000 people responded.2 Here are the results:

How much do people trust what scientists say?
I have to be honest, if a casual question arose like 'who would you believe on science topics, Michael Shermer or Lady Gaga?' I would side with Shermer.

I know, I know, that is a vicious stereotype and I haven't read every single thing Lady Gaga has said regarding science, some of which might be correct, and then compared it to every speculation someone might have overheard Shermer say somewhere, which might have been incorrect - and because I have not been able to do that sort of comparison, some fringe pseudo-science apostates will claim it is entirely possible that Lady Gaga knows more about cell phones than Michael Shermer and therefore I am big ol' repressive science media if I do not give them equal time.   So here I go.
It's election season and the biggest schism in American culture come November voting won't be abortion or global warming, it will be the size and role of the U.S. government in the last two years.

But increased government involvement is not new in American cultural debates - nor is it even new in science.   
When you think 'geek', is your first thought 'marry one'?  If so, you may enjoy this 'how to' from blogger Leslie Sobol over at AMD (yeah, the processor manufacturers).  If, on the other hand, you are yourself a geek, at least you can be happy discovering there's a cheat sheet on how to date _you_.  Mostly for your paycheck and job security, I suspect, but hey, this makes us mainstream!

And yet, and yet... I find some of the Cosmo-level advice sadly viable.  Not just for geek-bagging, but for snaring any spouse through faked interest and false intentions.
Our ideal image of the perfect partner differs greatly from the one we have, according to new research from the University of Sheffield and the University of Montpellier in France.

Why would we choose partners with a different height, weight and body mass index than those we would ideally choose?

It may be that we take what we can get.   

The study found that most men and women express different mating preferences for body morphology than the actual morphology of their partners and the discrepancies between real mates and fantasies were often larger for women than for men.
Can crowdsourcing lead to better medicine?   

Crowdsourcing is used in astronomy and protein folding in biology, along with engineering and computer software. But can the 'wisdom of crowds' also help cure disease?

It's certainly possible.  An unheralded clockmaker in England named John Harrison showed that longitude could be determined by using a timepiece, making the study of astronomy by experts overkill and revolutionizing travel by sea

A group at Harvard created The Challenge in February to find out if citizen science could work for diabetes research too, and their results are in.  

A group of scientists say they have conducted a comprehensive study of how different body measurements correspond with ratings of female attractiveness.

Even across cultural divides, women who are young, tall and long armed were considered the most attractive, they found, to little surprise.

According to the researchers, traditional studies of attractiveness used a natural selection framework - an individual will always choose the best possible mate that circumstances will allow (romance of the fitter?).   Those studies focused on torso, waist, bust and hip measurements.
If you are a scientist in any field you have had to deal with a member of the public who did not understand the word theory.  This blog post intends to be a simple explanation for the willing but confused. 
What are theories how are they arrived at? 

The word theory has it's roots in the scientific method.  (In order to divorce this from creationism or the theory that the ancient Egyptians were really black Africans and other emotionally charged topics I shall write in Abstract terms. )

The scientific method has several basic steps.  

  1. Observation of some phenomena.