Can science inform our use of animals?

This week’s debatable falls on Canadian Thanksgiving, when a large helping of friends, family, and pets gather to enjoy the autumnal colours, mild weather, and symbolically buttered turkey. For the vegans among us (baking the kale in the corner), Thanksgiving is not only a time for family and friends, but a time for awkward questions and strategic mealtime maneuvers.

For the scientifically-minded vegan, this is also a time to be quizzed on the nutritional science of plant protein, the evolution of human omnivory, and the carnal instincts of end-of-the-world culinary scenarios (would we eat a turkey to survive the apocalypse?). Around the dinner table, Science faces-off against Morality in a fight where most of the punches miss. Arguments invoke scientific facts and folklore between moral imperatives and utilitarian calculi. And Science has a strong left hook: global climate change, human nature, and agribusiness are almost always drawn into the ring. But lets leave those fights for another time.…

Weekly Roundup

It has recently been uncovered, and admitted, that US researchers purposefully infected Guatemalans with syphilis in the 1940s.  The US government apologized almost immediately.

The Guardian got two pairs of very public scientists, Attenborough/Dawkins and Hawking/Cox, to weigh in on everything from the proper aim of science to their pet peeves about the public. Can you guess who said “People think I’m a Simpsons character”?

CERN creates huge mural of the LHC’s ATLAS detector

Filmmaker Charles Fergusun, whose financial crisis documentary Inside Job made a big splash at Cannes this year, has a provocative look at economist Larry Summers and other economists multiply-connected to economic policy.…

The Science and Politics of Daylight Savings Time in Israel

In Israel, the starting date of daylight savings time is a matter of fierce political controversy between its religious Jewish and its secular Jewish citizens. Religious Jews and their political representatives want daylight savings time to end early in the year before Yom Kippur. The Yom Kippur fast ends with sundown, and without daylight savings time it ends an hour earlier. It also enables observant Jews to have sunrise morning prayers before the start of the workday. Secular Jews, by contrast, resent the loss of an extra hour of light and the energy waste it causes.

Daylight savings time used to change according to the political views of the minister of interior affairs, but a few years ago, secular and religious members of the Israeli parliament reached a compromise and enacted a statute that sets a fixed mechanism for determining the length of the daylight savings period. This year, daylight savings happened to end particularly early in the year, and the public controversy heated up again.…

Review: “The Most Powerful Idea in the World” by William Rosen

[amtap amazon:asin=1400067057]

William Rosen’s book is an intriguing look at the history of the steam engine. While he would agree with those who argue for the importance of the steam engine in developing the modern world, that’s not the “most powerful idea” of his title.

Instead, Rosen is interested in the idea of patents – specifically whether patents foster or hinder innovation. Rosen comes down firmly on the pro-patent side of this debate, and while he makes a good argument in the case of the steam engine, an equally good one can be made that patents stifle innovation. The many patents owned by the Wright Brothers famously retarded development of airplanes in America until the U.S. Army stepped in during World War One. (As someone once wrote, the patent system is the “smother of invention”. That someone may be me. I can’t be bothered to Google it …)…

What control should the state have over its science?

What role should politics play in science? In North America many scientists are employed by the state as researchers. These scientists have competing obligations to the state, their fellow citizens and the scientific community because of their roles as public servants, citizens and scientists. Over the past month there has been an increasing dialogue about these competing obligations of Canadian scientists employed by the federal government.

The story begins in February 2010 when Nature accepted a May 2009 submission that was authored by Julian Morton, Mark Bateman, Scott Dallimore, James Teller and Zhirong Yang. The paper fills a gap in the previous research surrounding the flooding from Lake Agassiz to the Arctic Ocean and the sudden onset of the Younger Dryas (an abrupt climate change that temporarily returned an ice age in the midst of glacial melt). Teller’s inclusion on the author list appears to be because of his role kick-starting this line of research, but if it weren’t for the inclusion of Scott Dallimore there might not be a story to tell.1

Weekly Roundup

Miranda Fricker discusses the “epistemic injustice” of misrepresenting people’s credibility.

Martin Robbins has a very entertaining parody of science journalism articles. What do you think of current scientific journalism? Surely the topic of a future debatable.

The Mark News discusses the implications of integrating computer technology with our human biology.

Philosophy TV hosts a discussion about Climate Change.

Rebekah Higgitt at Whewell’s Ghost gives a brief history of arguments for and against government funding for “pure” research, starting with Charles Babbage in 1830.

Image courtesy of Erik Charlton.…