Weekly Roundup

The major science story of the week has got to be NASA’s announcement of a new form of life composed of arsenic rather than phosphorous… or that eats arsenic rather than phosphorous… or that can be trained to do so in the lab…. Matt Nisbet at Age of Engagement documents the hype and speculation that led up to the announcement due to the embargo policies of magazines like Science.

Somatosphere tells us that the executive board of the American Anthropological Society has recently removed all mentions of “science” from its mission statement. This has understandably led to some controversy.

Ilana Yurkiewicz at Science Progress argues that the problems with science journalism can’t all be attributed to science journalists, but also to editorial pressure to “keep things simple”.

Should you be taking vitamin D supplements? A post at Feminist Philosophers points us towards a report that apparently claims that they are unnecessary and perhaps harmful for most people, but (surprise!) upon further investigation it turns out things are much less clear.…

Weekly Roundup

Will Thomas at Ether Wave Propaganda has posted a survey of historical literature on the relation between agricultural practices and science, which should be interested in anyone wanting to understand why modern food production, and modern science, look the way they do.

Feminist Philosophers has a good post commenting on some recently discovered documents that will likely force a reconception of the role of women in science during the early days of the Royal Society.

Comments on NASA’s recent discovery that the world’s lakes are warming.

An Epilog post that connects the problematic aspects of modern neurocognitive technologies up with the problematic aspects of historical forms of psychosurgery.…

Weekly Roundup

Gregory Petsko, a Professor of Biochemistry, speaks out in favour of the humanities, and the unique virtues they can instil in working scientists.

James Ladyman, a philosopher of science working primarily on naturalized metaphysics, has petitioned his fellow academics “to make this website go viral.”  If you are in the UK, and/or you value the humanities, it is especially worth checking out.

A letter in Science (via Age of Engagement, where you can read part of it if you don’t have a subscription) calls for scientists to mobilize to “make concerted efforts to provide people, organizations, and governments with critical information, to address misperceptions, and to counter misinformation and deception”.

Other (?) climate scientists are forming a “rapid response team” with the mission of countering climate disinformation campaigns by aggressively engaging the media.

For those who liked the Atlantic’s article on John Ioannidis, Aaron over at False Vacuum pointed me towards this fantastic article from Science News entitled “Odds Are It’s Wrong“. It covers much of the same ground as the previously-mentioned article, but gives more details on the history of statistics in scientific practice.…

Weekly Roundup

Will Thomas at Etherwave Propaganda is embarking on a new research project broadly to do with 20th century agricultural technology in Britain, and about ideas of “pure vs. applied research, scientific vs. local knowledge, and scientific advice vs. state action”. We’re looking forward to hearing more Will!

Democrats often criticized Bush for manipulating reports from scientific agencies, but they are now being faced with similar accusations, as the New York Times reports. It seems a report that was purportedly due to outside experts was edited to recommend a moratorium on deep-sea drilling, while the experts recommended no such thing.

RealClimate has an interesting post about the image of science in the media vs. how it really is. It will probably strike many here as naive, but it’s always valuable to see how scientists see themselves and their discipline, right?

I missed the PSA session on “ClimateGate”, but there’s a great summary of the session at Scientopia!…

Weekly Roundup

  • Renowned historian of science Steven Shapin writes a lengthy and interesting article for The New Yorker about the history of cancer research, seeing the ‘War on Cancer’ as exposing “an enduring fault line in the nature of medicine itself—is it a future-oriented science or is it a present-rooted, caring practice?”. Shapin continues by asking “How can you balance the need to understand the fundamental mechanisms of a disease, and the need to treat sick patients now, with whatever knowledge and therapies are at hand?”. The article covers a lot of ground, including a revealing analogy between the War on Cancer and the War on Terror – both ‘Wars’ construct a unified enemy out of a heterogenous collection of specific threats. Well worth reading, especially for anyone who has been with a cancer patient through their treatment, or for anyone who harbours an omnipresent oncophobia.
  • Matthew Nisbet at The Age of Engagement details his proposal for engaging the public on climate science in light of the now-divided Washington. Nisbet argues that engagement has to be pursued at the local level, and focus not just on the scientific arguments but the social, institutional, ethical, and economic dimensions of climate debates. His post is based on a more detailed proposal.
  • The New York Times reports that the Republican mid-term election victories could spell trouble for science funding.
  • When a UK newspaper distorted tropical forest expert Simon L. Lewis’s statements regarding possible consequences for the Amazon rainforest from global warming, Lewis decided to take action. In this column from Nature he tells the story of his fight and offers advice for other scientists displeased with their treatment by the media.

Weekly Roundup

Mehrdad Hariri recommends that Canada engage in more science diplomacy, connecting our current lack thereof up with the recent loss of our seat on the UN security council

William Easterly applies some interesting work on “physics envy” in finance to thinking about Third World development. Find the original paper on physics envy in finance here.

Matthew C. Nisbet over at Age of Engagement observes that the mood in the United States is not best described as “mad as hell”, but as “anxious”. Nisbet wonders how this will affect people’s reaction to climate science, given this article from the National Science Foundation. From the latter:

In the study, subjects with individualistic values were over 70 percentage points less likely than ones with egalitarian values to identify the scientist as an expert if he was depicted as describing climate change as an established risk. Likewise, egalitarian subjects were over 50 percentage points less likely than individualistic ones to see the scientist as an expert if he was described as believing evidence on climate change is  unsettled.

In a move that could have huge implications for the biotechnology industry, the U.S. Department of Justice has filed a brief arguing that genes cannot be patented, as they are part of nature.

In an article sure to give Curtis fits, Michael Robinson at Whewell’s Ghost,

just published a short piece in the Journal of Cosmology’s special issue Colonizing Mars: The Mission to the Red Planet. It argues that humans will not reach Mars on the power of peripheral arguments about science, national pride, or technological spin-offs. Advocates of a human program need to articulate the core values of human spaceflight and justify their missions accordingly, even if they are difficult to measure. Although the essay leans towards science policy rather than history of science, it discuss the importance of historical analogies in contemporary debates about spaceflight.

Weekly Roundup

In a must-read article for anyone interested in evidence-based medicine, scientific fraud, or scientific funding structures, David H. Feedman, for the Atlantic, profiles medical researcher John Ioannidis. Ioannidis argues that there is an extremely high rate of shoddy statistical work in the medical literature, not due to incompetence but to funding and institutional structures. An excerpt:

This array suggested a bigger, underlying dysfunction, and Ioannidis thought he knew what it was. “The studies were biased,” he says. “Sometimes they were overtly biased. Sometimes it was difficult to see the bias, but it was there.” Researchers headed into their studies wanting certain results—and, lo and behold, they were getting them. We think of the scientific process as being objective, rigorous, and even ruthless in separating out what is true from what we merely wish to be true, but in fact it’s easy to manipulate results, even unintentionally or unconsciously. “At every step in the process, there is room to distort results, a way to make a stronger claim or to select what is going to be concluded,” says Ioannidis. “There is an intellectual conflict of interest that pressures researchers to find whatever it is that is most likely to get them funded.”

David Goodstein, former vice-Provost of Caltech, has published a new book about scientific fraud. He argues that fraud is more common than thought, he identifies condition under which fraud is likely to happen, reviews several case studies, and discuss the ways in which fraud can be avoided.

David Segal of the New York Times, echoing Mike Thicke’s post about macroeconomics, writes about the difficulty of testing economic theories and one of the major reasons for that difficulty: people are unpredictable.

Cory Doctorow points us towards a new initiative by Canadian public scientists to communicate directly with the public in response to the government’s perceived hostility.

The New York Times reports that every serious Republican candidate for Senate is either a global warming denier or skeptic, and they are using this to avoid any discussion of solutions and to label Democrats as out-of-control taxers.…

Weekly Roundup

Egil Asprem at Heterodoxology gives a nice taxonomy of several different forms of scientism

Obesity is identified as a threat to National Defence

Researchers admit they are still unclear about how many genes there are in the human genome

Will Thomas at Ether Wave Propaganda discusses whether the common argumentative strategies in STS lead to conflicts of interest with the history of science.

This is only about science contradistinctively, but it should be of interest to most philosophers and historians of science: Stanley Fish of the New York Times announces that the crisis of the humanities has officially arrived.

CBC covers a favorite Bubble Chamber issue – Golden Rice and GMO crop regulation

The Atlantic provides some insight into medical science and how the quality of the research question asked affects the quality of evidence produced by randomized control trials.

Abigail Baim-Lance reviews “Science, Citizenship, and Genetic Identities” at Somatosphere

A US court sets a cyber-precedent by ruling that Amazon can patent “one-click” internet shopping

Jai Virdi at From the Hands of Quacks hosts a blog carnival on Visuals and Representation, and gives some great overviews of three recent papers on expertise in the 18th century

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.…

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.…