Science & Society

There's a neat piece on tweaking versus invention, written by two law professors (Kal Raustiala of UCLA and Chris Sprigman at UVA) over as a Freakonomics guest blog.  Their bit on Geeks, Tweeks and Innovation talks about how Tweaking is good, but the law is against it.

Pioneering = making something totally new.
Tweaking = making something better.

I liken cognition to a hill-climbing search on the landscape of theories/models/maps that explain/predict reality.  It’s easy to get stuck on peaks of local maximality.  Injecting randomness creates a sort of Boltzmann machine of the mind and increases my chances of finding higher peaks.

But I have to be prepared to be more confused — and question more assumptions than I intended to — because chances are my new random placement on the landscape is initially lower than the local maximum I was on prior.  This part is scary.

As I first mentioned in a previous Science 2.0 post, a month ago I took a walk to Cabot Auditorium at Tufts University to see a presentation by philosopher Daniel C. Dennett, who is also one of the "four horsemen" of New Atheism.

Dennett discussed three of his potential futures for religion, mostly the third possibility:
  1. Religion will sweep the planet.
  2. Religion is in its death throes.
  3. Religion transforms into creedless moral teams (ceremony and tradition, but no doctrine).
“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

The much-revered writers of the Golden Age of science fiction can be quite rough around the edges, even downright embarrassing on occasion. The writing is hurried, the plots of plot-driven books are disturbingly inconsistent, and the characters are primarily stock types and authorial mouthpieces. To top it off, many of these novels are ambitious, earnestly offered as novels of big ideas. These ideas are usually sympathetic (tolerance, freedom, racial equality, escape from religious tyranny), but generally reduced to platitudes expressed in long, somnolent sermons by the your standard pointy-headed philosopher-scientist.
What is science?

Science is application of the scientific method to problems or questions, and then submitting the story to the scrutiny of others. It’s simple. It’s elegant. It’s self-correcting.It’s LOGIC.

BUT. What if your audience was never taught what the scientific method really is? What if want to teach it to a child for the first time? What if the person standing across from you is a dummy??

Duh, you use poop
. Everyone has had experience with poop. People get poop. Poop is universal. (I would use sex, but there’s the thing about the little children and also human behavior is much more complex than poop.)


The scientific process in everyday life OR
I posted an article critical of microwave ovens and nanotechnology. This adds to many posts critical of science and scientists. Am I another enemy of science? That last post told lay persons not to heat Ramen noodles in the microwave oven. She cannot understand why and neither do I know exactly why. Moreover, since most people are too lazy or busy to look into such petty differences as between still internally dry Ramen noodles and watery potatoes, you could charge me with implying that the general population should not use microwaves at all.
I like Nicholas Wade, and think that his latest NY Times piece on basic research is worth reading. However, I take issue with his overly simplistic characterization of how research works:

Basic research, the attempt to understand the fundamental principles of science, is so risky, in fact, that only the federal government is willing to keep pouring money into it. It is a venture that produces far fewer hits than misses....
"Far from being conservative, the Republican stance on global warming shows a stunning appetite for risk", writes Bracken Hendricks in the Washington Post.   
Voter turnout was huge in 2008 - some of that was due to advertising; since Sen. Obama did not limit adhere to campaign finance reform rules the way Sen. McCain did, Obama was able to raise and spend more money than Bush and Kerry did in 2004 combined, spending twice as much as his opponent.    But a large part of that was message also, and it led to 64% of eligible voters showing up, the highest turnout since the 1960s.
Holy crap on a cracker. Here's propaganda and bull handed to us on a platter. You can't dress this up, make it pretty, pretend it to be anything other than an assault on reason and reality.
Mercola and Fisher are a nightmare team: fearmongering run rampant. And the scary thing is that over 27,000 folks have viewed the latest post already. Fisher's attached herself to Mercola's large (on the internet) audience. I wonder if it's to see the money roll in? By contrast, my little blog here and this post will be read by maybe 10% of that number.