Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Science Links

Sock Thief points to an interesting (but brief) Steven Pinker article, How To Think About The Mind:

The disconnect between our common sense and our best science is not an academic curiosity. Neuroscience is putting us in unfamiliar predicaments, and if we continue to think of ourselves as shadowy users of our brains we will be needlessly befuddled. [...] In Galileo's time, the counter-intuitive discovery that the Earth moved around the sun was laden with moral danger. Now it seems obvious that the motion of rock and gas in space has nothing to do with right and wrong. Yet to many people, the discovery that the soul is the activity of the brain is just as fraught, with pernicious implications for everything from criminal responsibility to our image of ourselves as a species. Turning back the clock on the ultimate form of self-knowledge is neither possible nor desirable. We can live with the new challenges from brain science. But it will require setting aside childlike intuitions and traditional dogmas, and thinking afresh about what makes people better off and worse off.

Panda's Thumb exhibits a cool photo from the Cassini Mission:

"In a splendid portrait created by light and gravity, Saturn’s lonely moon Mimas is seen against the cool, blue-streaked backdrop of Saturn’s northern hemisphere. Delicate shadows cast by the rings arc gracefully across the planet, fading into darkness on Saturn’s night side."

ScienceBlog relates how MRI could be used for lie detection:
When people lie, they use different parts of their brains than when they tell the truth, and these brain changes can be measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), according to a study presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. The results suggest that fMRI may one day prove a more accurate lie detector than the polygraph.

Ophelia Benson pulls apart some of John Gray's odd claims about science and atheism, including the following one:
[Science] is an immensely powerful social institution in which authority is as important as critical discussion, if not more so. As the ultimate arbiter of our beliefs about the world, contemporary science has more than a passing resemblance to the Church in its heyday.

Such hyperbole is addressed in Phil Mole's excellent article, Nurturing Suspicion: what college students learn about science:
What happens when students never learn about the historical development of science--when they never comprehend the significance of the scientific method? They leave their science classes with a highly idealized, intellectually impoverished view of science that is highly vulnerable to attack. When they encounter modern cultural criticisms of science in "science and society" classes, they have no larger perspective to balance against these claims. They never learned that great scientists have often been fantastically wrong and never learned about the role of bias in developing scientific theories. As a result, any evidence that scientists do have bias, or that they sometimes make mistakes, causes them to question the validity of the entire scientific enterprise. In Christopher Hitchens's memorable phrase, "utopia becomes the subconscious enabler of cynicism." If students initially learned anything about the complex social history of science, they would have some intellectual armor against the ideologically charged claims of modern science critics.

Update 2/12: I've just got to include a link to Fafblog's latest:
Yknow science hasn't been real popular lately. What with Congress cuttin the National Science Foundation budget an nobody believin in evolution anymore an the president not carin about global warming, maybe it's time we switched to a New Science that everyone will like better! [...]

# ASTRONOMY! In older times scientists thought that the stars an planets rotated around the earth on fixed spheres in the sky. Silly scientists! Now New Scientists know the stars an planets rotate around the earth on fixed spheres in the sky pushed by angels. The rotation of these stars an planets determines critical elements of your destiny, such as whether today is a lucky day for love, or whether you will attract interest in yourself and your ideas.

# CLIMATOLOGY! Is the earth gettin warmer? Maybe but it sure isn't the fault a greenhouse gases! The earth just has a fever caused by an imbalance of the four humours. Pump a little more yellow bile into the atmosphere an it should be all set.


  1. Of course getting most students to learn any science can be a chore, let alone getting them to learn the complexities.

    I'd also question the term "postmodern relativism" but I've more or less decided to give up on the term since so many make postmodernism a synonym for relativism. (Which of course then makes that phrase redundant) Anyway, I think a lot of people considered postmodern are really just pointing out many complexities and the historic situatedness of science.  

    Posted by Clark

  2. Sounds like Phil Mole is describing an instance of the reverse of slippery slopes, what you might slippery pinnacles or precarious pinnacles. It's a much better example of a precarious pinnacle than the one that I had come up with, too. You need to come down from the idealized pinnacle of textbook science in order to be inoculated against the imperfections and instabilities of the scientific edifice. Otherwise, the slightest slip could send you tumbling to the anti-science bottom. 

    Posted by Blar

  3. Ah yes, nice spotting! (I always did like that novel metaphor of yours. The new name is definitely an improvement too.) 

    Posted by Richard


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