Weekly Roundup

Partly because of the way the Chinese government provides its citizens with free heating, researchers have been able to determine that coal-fired power plants have led to an average decrease in life expectancy of 5.5 years for those living in affected areas.

Paul Raeburn reports on recent discussions over the value of science blogs, particularly from science blogger Colin Schultz.

Frequentist philosopher of science Deborah Mayo relays some questions about why particle physicists continue to use frequentist analysis when it is, according to Dennis Lindley, obviously bad science? Mayo links to many of her past discussions of this issue.

Alice Bell, a science blogger for The Guardian summarizes a series of posts on the precautionary principle.



Review: Cold War Social Science

Cold War Social Science: Knowledge Production, Liberal Democracy, and Human Nature

Mark Solovey & Hamilton Cravens (eds.)
Palgrave Macmillan (2012)

Cold War Social Science is an edited volume that serves as an ideal entrée into the history of social sciences in mid-twentieth-century America, as well as an argument for its subject matter as a distinct subfield in the history of social science.

The volume is divided into three themed sections: Knowledge Production, Liberal Democracy, and Human Nature. As David Engerman’s chapter shows, social scientists were heavily influenced by their experiences during the Second World War: “They abandoned disciplinary questions in favor of policy concerns; they rejected longstanding traditions of solitary work in favor of collective research enterprises; and they worked closely with the national security organs that sponsored their work”(25). Engerman’s and other chapters in the first section detail how wartime and Cold War institutions such as the RAND corporation, along with technological changes and the perceived successes of mathematical economics, led social scientists to focus on quantifiable, theory-driven research projects.…

Weekly Roundup

Biomedical mega-charity The Wellcome Trust published the results of a survey this week on “public attitudes towards and engagement with biomedical science“. In an editorial for The Guardian, Wellcome Trust project manager for the survey Hannah Baker claims the survey shows that “the public don’t want to be involved in science policy“. Perhaps the first question to ask is whether this matters—are proponents of public engagement advocating it because they think the public wants to be involved with science, or because they think it will improve scientific outcomes?

An unmanned Russian rocket, launched from a pad in former Soviet republic Kazakhstan,  crashed soon after launch this week. The launch area was quickly evacuated, as were surrounding towns. This is because fumes from the rocket’s fuel are extremely poisonous. I’m sure Kazakhs are absolutely thrilled that a foreign government is launching poisonous rockets near their homes.

Scientists have demonstrated a way to date recent skeletal remains by measuring the concentration of Carbon-14, which was produced by atomic bomb tests.

Bastion of quality journalism Fox News recently hosted Eben Alexander as an expert on Heaven. The Heaven you go to when you die, or apparently when you’re in a coma, which he was at some point. He’s also a neurosurgeon, and as we know if you have “neuro” in your job title you can be an expert on anything. Paul Raeburn has a fascinating post about Alexander’s book, “Proof of Heaven” at the Knight Science Journalism Tracker.