Science & Society

Over at Bioephemera, Jessica Palmer agree with Language Log’s Mark Liberman in his admonition against the use of “generic plurals” in science reporting.

Two letters

Two letters

Sep 21 2009 | 2 comment(s)

One sometimes gets frustrated reading our Daily/Sunday Telegraph.  So many of their columnists, and those who comment on blogs, think that "Global Warming" is a man-made political scam, a another appendage to the giant bloodsucker that is the Treasury, and a gravy train for politicians.
On this day of celebration, let us remember and honor the invaluable contributions of squid to pirate lore and culture:

- Davy Jones and the Kraken in Pirates of the Carribbean: Dead Man's Chest. As observed elsewhere, the Kraken's mouth is much more like the Sarlaac than like any cephalopod I've ever seen, which is weird--wouldn't a huge clacking squid beak be more terrifying than concentric rings of teeth?
Ahoy maties, how the time flies. It is "Talk Like A Pirate Day" once again and the science communities be awash in pirattitude.

Or not, perhaps 'tis just me.

But if it's not just me, and the little Buccaneer in you is also seeking others to celebrate with and to find out more information on this important event, abandon all hope ye who blog here because I just don't have a lot more than you could find in 4 seconds of a Google search.

Talk Like A Pirate Day began, so the legends go, in 1995, when John 'Ol Chumbucket' Baur and Mark 'Cap'n Slappy' Summers' were engaging in a friendly game of tenpins or raquetball or whatever it is pirates do and one of them yelled "Arrrgh!" in pain. A holiday was born.

The Economist reported that in early 2007, for the first time in history, more humans lived in cities than in the countryside. We are now a different species, in terms of the environmental niche we inhabit.  One thinks of Isaac Asimov’s Trantor, the planet that was completely covered by buildings.  Is Earth headed for a similar future?

2004 was the first year moved more dollar volume in consumer electronics than in

Freedom of the press is integral to a functioning democracy and respect for human rights, it is said, and a new study tackles the effects of media freedom in countries that lack democratic institutions like fair elections. 

The findings?   By itself, freedom of the press doesn't accomplish much.   Media freedom in the absence of other institutional outlets for dissent is actually associated with greater oppression of human rights, Jenifer Whitten-Woodring, a doctoral candidate in political science and international relations at USC, found utilizing data from 93 countries for the years 1981-1995. 
An article entitled "Can Robots Make Ethical Decisions" was recently published wherein the authors claim that they have successfully modeled difficult moral problems in computer logic, further asserting that morality is no longer solely within the realm of philosphers.

But is this true?

In the first place the "moral problems" selected are uncharacteristically binary in their approach and while they may represent a kind of moral dilemma, aren't particularly difficult to assess.  More importantly, the central question of ethics is precisely that it isn't subject to a simple algorithm to determine the appropriateness of any particular action.
A few days ago there was worry that a British movie about Darwin was too religiously radioactive to find a US distributor. That seemed a little odd - the US has no shortage of movies that offend fundamentalist Christian sensibilities.

Now this week, via The Panda's Thumb, there is now a bidding war in the US for the rights to distribute the film.
A LiveScience article titled "Teen Birth Rates Higher in Highly Religious States", seems to be stretching the bounds of causality and creating linkages where none may exist.

In particular, without seeing the details of the study, it seems that drawing such a specific conclusion is beyond the scope of the data, especially when one considers that only 5 states were common to both lists (1) (each consisting of 10 states).
The idea that if you're rich then you're smarter/more hard working/more righteous than everyone else has a long history in America that begins well before Horatio Alger. From Cotton Mather, to Ben Franklin, to Joseph Smith (who wrote a book about two ancient American civilizations which were rewarded with wealth for righteousness, although wealth proves to be their undoing as well), all the way to Ayn Rand and beyond, wealth has been taken as an indicator of virtue.