When Science Gets Political
August 7, 2011
The classic view of the scientist as an unbiased observer of nature was shattered with the development of the atomic bomb. Suddenly, it became apparent to the physicists working out the equations of nuclear fission could not absolve themselves completely of responsibility for the political uses of their research. Yet since the days of the French Academy of Sciences in the 17th century, kings and other rulers have called on natural philosophers to inform their decisions. These days, scientific institutions state political opinions at will. Some recent news items show them inserting their opinions beyond what the data alone might indicate.
Brave New Chimeras
July 31, 2011
Tampering with human embryonic stem cells has been at the forefront of ethical debates for a decade. Behind it, though, lurks an even more alarming prospect: the creation of human-animal hybrids. As with embryos, the appeal has been to improve human health. But ethicists ask if there is any benefit worth blurring the line between humans and animals. Pro-chimera advocates admit there is a certain “disgust” factor that could arouse public anxiety, and agree that experimentation would need to be regulated. But who would regulate the regulators, and on what moral grounds?
Weird Evolution Tales
July 27, 2011
Evolutionary theory leads to some fantastic tales. Since evolution is often presumed to be a fact that explains everything in biology, and is itself not subject to testing or doubt, everything in biology must be viewed through an evolutionary lens. This hard-core stance on evolution often leads to assertions and explanations that appear contrived, if not preposterous, to Darwin doubters. Here are some recent examples of weird evolution stories that made it past the logic inspectors simply because evolution is unquestioned.
Evolutionary Psychology Is So 1980
July 19, 2011
Evolutionary psychology, popular in the 1980s, has been criticized by some evolutionists as flawed in its basic assumptions. In practice, evo-psych explanations were often so speculative, they amounted to little more than “evolutionary storytelling,” according to an article on PhysOrg. Popular articles still arise from time to time telling us that our minds evolved to cope with hunting and gathering, not the stresses of modern city life (see for instance, “Evolutionize Your Life” from the 07/14/2011 entry). A team now admits that the foundations of evolutionary psychology were always questionable. But never fear, they say: new evo psych is coming!
Science Can Be Wrong for Decades, Centuries
July 18, 2011
The history of science shows some wrong theories being accepted by leading scholars for long periods of time. Ptolemaic astronomy, unquestioned for over 1200 years, is a prime example. Not all examples are old, though. In modern times as well, scientists are finding that theories unquestioned for decades, even centuries, were wrong. That being so, what confidence can we have that today’s scientific beliefs will stand the test of time for the next decade or century? A recent spate of science articles shows some long-held theories being questioned – others being tossed overboard.
Body Language Says Design
July 17, 2011
Your body is speaking to scientists. Some of them hear it saying evolution. Others think it says intelligent design. What characteristics would each side expect? Most people intuitively know design when they see it. Here are three recent scientific papers that may help interpret body language.
Can evolutionary theory explain terrorism?
July 2, 2011
In military strategy, it is vital to know what the enemy is up to. Can evolutionary theory help? An interdisciplinary team at the University of Miami got their heads together and appealed to an evolutionary notion called the “Red Queen” hypothesis, and claimed it provides a “Pattern in Escalations in Insurgent and Terrorist Activity” that is neutral regarding the good guys and the bad guys. It resembles, they argue, how pedators and prey evolve in nature. They offer their model as a way military planners can have the ability “to estimate not only the number of fatalities but how often attacks that result in fatalities will take place.” They applied their pattern prediction to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. How robust is this notion, and should evolutionary theory take credit for it?
Avoid Confusion: Disbelieve Paleoanthropologists
June 28, 2011
If you care about the true history of the human race, don’t believe paleoanthropologists. They are clueless and confused. Every solution they come up with creates new problems, and their boastful announcements are likely to be overturned. That’s the gist of a commentary in PNAS by Bernard Wood, who wrote, “The origin of our own genus remains frustratingly unclear.” He ought to know; he’s an eminent paleoanthropologist himself.
NOMA Still Isn’t Working
June 26, 2011
Science journals and websites continue to act as if religion is a subcategory of the science department. If Stephen Jay Gould thought that NOMA was a good idea to keep peace between science and religion (see 11/05/2006), nobody paid any attention. Scientism has taken over the world. Teen religion: In “Teens Maintain Their Religion,” Medical […]
Follow the Leader: Nature
June 21, 2011
Ever since biomimetics (the imitation of nature) gradually emerged around 2002 and really took off in 2005, it has not slowed down. Over 90 previous entries in these pages have reported teams all over the world seeking out natural designs for ideas. The reports have accelerated in recent years to the point where there is only space for short summaries that give a taste of the wide variety of engineering work taking inspiration from plants, animals, and even cells. You yourself might inspire some inventor. Here are a few more highlights from recent adventures in biomimetics.
Biological Information Symposium a Success
June 4, 2011
Friday morning June 4, participants were on their way homes across America and in Europe from a successful conference entitled Biological Information: New Perspectives. They had come to hear leading lights in the Intelligent Design movement deliver 27 scientific presentations on a variety of subtopics under the umbrella theme of information in biology. From all appearances, everyone had a great time of fellowship, encouragement and intellectual stimulation. No protesters or critics detracted from the event—partly because it was not widely advertised, in order to protect the identity of those wanting to take part without jeopardizing their careers.
Appreciate Your Gifts
May 29, 2011
We like to showcase stories of amazing animals, but humans are special, too. What animal can boast some of the qualities that science has recently reported?
A Little Knowledge Without Ethics
May 28, 2011
A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. When is knowledge enough? And can a lot of knowledge be a dangerous thing, too? Whether little or much, knowledge without ethics empowers evil.
Does Science Belong Here?
May 19, 2011
Scientists continue to insert their particular methods and viewpoints into every aspect of life, but questions might be raised about the validity of their findings and the propriety of scientists acting as advisors on moral and political questions. Happiness science: Advice found online: “the best way to increase your happiness is to stop worrying about […]
Humans As Guinea Pigs
April 27, 2011
Some scientists like to examine everything except themselves. Human beings are natural objects, they think; why not apply the scientific method to the study of other human beings? It’s a perfectly natural inclination; the question is whether the findings have scientific validity, or result in understanding of human nature better than the explanations offered by […]