Science & Society

The television docudrama Cosmos: A Space-time Odyssey is in free-fall, having dropped in the ratings for the third straight week after a somewhat tepid debut. TV By the Numbers reports that only 3.91 million people watched the fourth episode of the series, down from (an already mediocre) 5.77 million who watched the pilot.

A decade ago, a well-orchestrated political campaign against Republicans in general and George W. Bush in particular turned everything into an anti-science issue. Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), which is run by a former Democratic staffer, was front and center in that effort, even drafting a popular 2004 petition saying Bush "has continued to distort and suppress science" which was dutifully signed by a bunch of people who were never going to vote for a Republican anyway. 

20 years ago there was widespread concern about the impact of video game violence. "Mortal Kombat" created a gore filter so parents could turn that off, "Postal" had, unsurprisingly, someone committing mass killings emulating the rash of government union workers shooting people, which gave birth to the 'going postal' idiom. "Night Trap" was banned due to its use of full-motion video related to the murders.

In what they are calling the most thorough analysis to date of studies on school bullying, the psychologists who authored a review on the topic in Annual Review of Psychology say that K-12 schools' efforts to curtail bullying are often disappointing and that, unlike public perception, bullying tactics like verbal aggression and exclusion are used by boys as often as girls

The authors say that the most comprehensive programs are effective but they require substantial commitment and school resources to be successful. An assembly once per year does nothing at all. Instead, other studies have found that school programs are teaching bullies how to avoid being caught.      

There are recurring calls to make scientists more social. Scientists have already accepted government control of academic research and now fellow academics and some in the bureaucracy want to task them with communications and outreach also. A few even want to make their science outreach rather than their science output a factor in promotion and tenure.

People who have worked in both academia and the corporate world claim that the bias in academia is worse - which sounds odd, given the nature of academia. But statistics bear that out. Undergraduate representation of political views and handicapped people, for example, matches the general population, but once you reach the graduate, staff and faculty levels in colleges, diversity for people who are outside the political super-majority or who are handicapped disappears.

But even if you are part of the in crowd, it seems being a parent can take you right back out. 

America has seen a 30 percent rise in autism since the last estimate in 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

That's a big jump, an epidemic even. Mainstream media is going to have a field day and everyone will be looking for ways to demonize their favorite societal targets.

Before we start writing to Congress, we need to keep a few things in mind.

(1) It's an estimate based on diagnoses

There is a belief that online social behavior related to video gaming replaces real life but scholars found that is not so; instead of making the social circle smaller, it expands the social lives of gamers.

The authors traveled to more than 20 public gaming events in Canada and the United Kingdom, from 2,500-player events held in convention centers to 20-player events held in bars. The researchers observed the behavior of thousands of players, and had 378 players take a survey, with a focus on players of massively multiplayer online role-playing games such as EVE Online and World of Warcraft.

Generations are generally useless, aside from marketing plans. The Baby Boom happened in 1946, after soldiers returned home from war (the occupying soldiers came from a different, supplemental draft so they often already had kids) and it was later that marketing groups changed them into a generation stretching to 1964 and even 1965.

Norman Borlaug would have been 100 years old today. He has been called "The Man Who Fed The World," and "The Father of The Green Revolution."

Norm Borlaug was the first plant pathologist to be awarded a Nobel Prize (1970) - for contributions to world peace. For all of use who are fellow plant pathologists, his work has been particularly inspiring.

It is a good time to look back at how the challenge of feeding the world population was met during Borlaug's career, because we have a similar challenge ahead of us.

The chart below shows global population from 1950 with a projection to 2100.