Via Dorte Toft bliver jeg opmærksom på denne triste statistik. Pigerne står af matematik - og ad den vej praktisk taget alle naturvidenskaberne - meget tidligt. Det gør det lidt svært at tage kvotesnak alvorligt, når forudsætningerne for at komme ud på arbejdsmarkedet senere, i den grad bliver skudt ned allerede i folkeskolen.
Når der hvert år er Ada-dag for at fejre kvinder i de tekniske fag, dukker der altid en masse lister op med kvinder på, der ret beset ikke er aktive i de tekniske fag, men i stedet i en masse af de støttediscipliner, der omgiver de tekniske fag.
Det er dejligt at internettets altomfavnende almindelighed har gjort at teknologi ikke er et lukket maskinrum uden forbindelse med andre kompetencer end ingeniørens, men det er lidt skidt at det er det bedste vi kan stille op med på en dag, der ellers skulle prøve på at finde nogle rollemodeller i teknologiens verden. Det er rigtigt nok at teknologi er mere værd, når det kommer ud i hænderne på folk - men vi kan ikke leve af at formidle alle sammen.
Det er lidt af en tragedie, i disse for hvor fremtid så trange tider, at det er så gængst bare at give op.
Så næste Ada-dag, så giv dig selv en udfordring: Hvor er inspirationen til at lade være med at droppe tingenes verden på gulvet? Hvor er inspirationen til faktisk at beskæftige sig med at undersøge verden, med matematik og med andre midler?
(vi får se om jeg når op til konferencens 15 inden den slutter)
Mens de taler, så må man jo dykke lidt ned i materialet. Der er flere spørgsmål at undersøge.
Vil det virke at gøre noget? Her er Paul Krugman om hvorvidt de markedsmidler man har er istand til at fungere overhovedet. Indsatsen mod syreregn tilbage i 80erne brugte de samme midler, og det endte faktisk med at virke. Det vi har at satse på i den forbindelse er, at det kræver højtudviklede og meget regulerede industrisamfundt at bruge energien også - det vil sige, de regulatoriske mekanismer, der skal være på plads for at styre de klimaøkonomiske virkemidler, er på plads der hvor CO2en primært produceres.
Det der arbejder imod er at opvarmningen er en langt mere sammensat effekt end syreregnen. Alt fra sod på polernes iskapper, til kosmisk stråling og vulkanudbrud, fra sammensætningen af husdyrenes foder til farven af vejbelægningen, spiller ind. Der er så mange effekter, alle belagt med usikkerhed, at nettoeffekten stort set er uforudsigelig, hvad modellerne da også viser.
Er omkostningerne ved indsatsen uspiselige? Jeg kan ikke huske at have læst hos Lomborg nogle studier af den økonomiske effekt af f.eks. indsatsen mod syreregn, eller udfasningen af CFCer. Det er i virkeligheden det vi har brug for, en virkelighedsbaseret vurdering af hvad et kvotesystem gør. Har svovlkvoter f.eks. bare flyttet industrien væk fra vesten? Altså reddet det nordamerikanske og europæiske skove ved at ødelægge nogle andre? Gik industrierne under pga kvoterne. Jeg vil lede efter nogle papers om det.
Tager IPCC i tilstrækkelig grad stilling til konkurrerende teorier om det globale klima? Det svageste ved hele klimadebatten er at den består af politik, baseret på samfundsøkonomiske betragtninger, der henter deres sagsbaggrund i naturvidenskaberne. Rationalitetskrav, sandhedskrav og motivationer er vidt forskellige i de tre verdener. Politisk ræson har desværre ikke plads til naturvidenskabelig ræson. Naturvidenskabsmanden sandsynliggør, men han ved godt at han kun spiller på oddsene.
Det har den politiske logik ikke helt nerver til - og det er der vanskelighederne opstår. Det er helt givet usundt for videnskaben, at klimapolitikken har brug for at der ikke er nogen tvivl.
Men hvad så? Ja jeg er da helt bestemt selv i tvivl. Nogle lægger et absurd Pascalsk væddemål henover debatten, ud fra den idé at JORDEN GÅR UNDER hvis ikke vi gør noget, så en hvilken som helst pris for at undgå undergangen er fin nok. Det gør jorden ikke. Naturen heller ikke. De der har et klimaproblem er os, kun os, og ikke andre end os. Og om vi kan lide det eller ej, så dør mennesker også i dag i milliontal af problemer vi kunne gøre noget ved.
Undergangsretorikken er skinger, simpelthen. Til gengæld, så dukker alle omkostningerne ved en CO2-baseret klimapolitik jo ikke op i år. Hvis yderligere 10 års forskning viser at menneskeskabt CO2 alligevel ikke kan tilskrives så store virkninger som vi troede, så kan CO2-politikken jo rulles tilbage.
Og derfor bliver de ved med ikke at komme herud, det er virkelig for dårligt. Nå, men så kan vi da snakke lidt om klimaet imens.
Måske bliver verden varmere, godt nok ikke i de sidste 10 år, til trods for de ulykker vi ser billeder af rundt om på kloden, og måske er det menneskeskabt CO2 der skaber forandringerne. FNs klimapanel har meget lidt at gøre med den måde videnskab normalt fungerer på. Viden er ikke demokratisk, tværtimod, den er det stik modsatte, arrogant endda. Som Einstein engang sagde, vistnok, da han blev konfronteret med en liste på 100 fysikere, der mente relativitetsteorien var nonsens: "En havde været nok", hvis altså han havde haft noget at have sine indvendinger i.
Den offentlige samtale om klimavidenskaben er helt igennem defekt. Der er blot en samling af anekdoter og appel til autoritet; altid en advarselslampe.
Andre advarselslamper er at klimakampagnen passer for godt med målsætninger, der eksisterede længe før klimapolitikken kunne bære dem ("teknologi og vesten er ond, de fattige i d. 3. verden er gode").
MEN, det er jo også bare mistanker, og måske har de ret klimapanelet. Hvis bare de ikke tager fuldstændig fejl, så kan det jo være at CO2 reduktion hjælper, også hvis det skulle vise sig at man ikke kan tilskrive menneskeligt produceret CO2 hele udviklingen.
Der hvor problemet for alver bliver alvorligt er i tanken om at kontrollen vil virke; at verdensfællesskabet virkelig kan terraforme sig til et temperatur- orkan- og nedbørsniveau vi er glade for. Det er vildt usandsynligt. Der er for mange ting, der bliver bedre ved lige at brænde lidt olie eller kul af og lave mere energi.
Og er det i det hele taget fornuftigt at forestille sig at vi kan regulere verdensklimaet? At have den idé at hvis verden forandrer sig så er vi på den. Var det ikke smartere at gøre vores kulturer bedre, så vi bedre kan tåle forandringerne; at investere pengene der. Måske kunne de investeringer endda hjælpe på nogle af de andre problemer verden står overfor; mangel på rent vand, ørkenspredning osv.
Jeg håber virkelig at teksten på COP15 kommer til at handle mest om det progressive og mindst om at sætte ting i stå.
Placebos are more efficient now than ever. Is this our belief taking over for rational thinking? Are we more tuned to simply believing in medicine - hence the increase in placebo efficiency.
This could be an interesting side story to other examples of a return to a more medieval or even pre-christian world without monotheism, where various stories assume a status of beliefs, becoming narratives outside our control.
I've written about hypercomplexity as a return to greek mythology before. No controlling narrative, no supreme being keeping the stories in check, but rather a fight of ideas, constantly overlapping the same territory, with competing claims.
The real time transcripts of the Apollo 11 mission are proving to be an even better experience than I had hoped. After making the site I found out about all the other sites doing similar things - but they're either leaving out some of the ugly detail - losing the realism - or doing "educational CD-ROM"-like material around it - losing the forced focus of just people in real time. By a happy coincidence, I haven't really found the experience Morten and I did anywhere else.
Growing up I was a full on bookish space child. Did fake meteor craters dropping stuff into pans filled with flour. Me and my brother had a rocket-on-a-string setup made of LEGO for a long time where we staged launches to the moon/ceiling. I read every book I could find with space in it. Reconstructed the scale of things in space in the garden. But the funny thing is that none of that gave any kind of experience remotely like this reenactment. The rigidity, for lack of a better word, of the experience; just having to wait for things to occur, and not skipping the tedious parts mixed in with the exciting bits, really makes the scope of the mission come to life.
Somehow the garden space reconstructions didn't sell the baffling size of space as well as a 3 day cruise to cover one light second of space at 5000 km/h.
It's shocking how manual everything is. Presumably there's telemetry to Apollo - but numbers are constantly being read manually back and forth over the radio to check that the capsule idea of what the status is matches that on the ground - an interface design lesson there, btw. Procedures and manuals for proper operation are being rewritten on the fly dictated over the air.
Kunstig Intelligens er som regel noget med elegante søgealgoritmer. Man har en masse data, og vil gerne vide noget om dem, og så bruger man en af en række af elegante søgealgoritmer; der er forskellige snit - brute force, optimale gæt, tilfældige gæt. Inde i kernen af sådan en algoritme ligger der en test, der viser om man har fundet det man ledte efter.
Det er jo enkelt nok at forstå, når man ikke bare kigger på det magiske resultat. Mere punket bliver det, når testen der er kernen i algoritmen, udføres af en laboratorierobot. Altså af en rigtig fysiske maskine, der arbejder med rigtig fysiske biologiske systemer i laboratoriet.
Sådanne maskiner findes faktisk, ihvertfald en af dem. Og den har lige haft et gennembrud og isoleret et sæt gener, der kodede for et enzym, man ikke kendte den genetiske kilde til.
Wiredartiklen har mange flere detaljer, hvad der gør det ekstra trist at vide at Wired Online lige er blevet skåret drastisk ned af en sparekniv.
Sådan er det ihvertfald ifølge The Economist.
For tiden kan man se Venus og Jupiter rundt om månen - her et nogenlunde fantastisk skud min bror har taget fra sin have i Bamako i Mali.
The slow ongoing dissolution of the soul - a topic near and dear to classy.dk as part of our ongoing Hypercomplex Society coverage - was the subject of this Tom Wolfe essay some 11 years ago. The title of the essay, repurposed by The Guardian to describe more posthuman thinking by Francis Fukuyama six years ago.
There are plenty of non-nightmare futures where the dissolve remains the case.
The famous underwater "black smokers" - home of strange super-heat-resistant bacteria and other exotic lifeforms spew out water that is 400 degrees Celsius. The high pressure allows the water to remain liquid at this high temperature. New Scientist have a story about it here.
Læsværdig beskrivelse af Robert Maxwells videnskabssyn, at verden er større end vores sprog til at beskrive den, og at et stærkt sprogbundet syn på verden, en systemtænkning, nødvendigvis er en fejltagelse.
Det er iøvrigt ikke et anti-videns syn på verden, men bare et moderne netværkstænkende og lingvistisk opdateret syn på sprogets begrænsninger, tilfældighed og betydning.
Landsbytosserne havde ret hele tiden. Jordstråler gør os i dårligt humør!
OK, er denne beskrivelse af hvordan vi lærer immunitet overfor bakterier er korrekt beskrevet som: Find det bedst mulige bud på en opskrift mod sygdommen. Lav to kopier af opskriften - en til brug, og en til dokumentation. Gå i krig, og næste gang, så brug kopien fra arkivet til at lave krigere istedet.?
Hvis den er, kunne man så ikke forestille sig at vi kunne hyperaccelerere processen in vitro og derfor, på en dyr måde, måske, genvinde vores bakteriebekæmpelsesskillz, også for de nye resistente bakteriestammer?
Farma-fabbing, here we come...
Phun ser ud som om at der tilbyder timevis af eksperimentel sjov. Det er en "lær fysik" 2D simulator, man kan bruge til bare at lave vælte-klodser hvis man vil, men den kan også støde ting ind i hinanden og har elastikker og vand bygget ind også, så man kan lave ganske indviklede simulationer. Se f.eks. denne utrolige Storm P-maskine. Phun er lavet som datalogi-speciale af Emil Ernerfeldt.
Sådan vender man indersiden ud på en kugle. Supersej animation af lidt moderne topologi - noget af det mest anskuelige og hjernespinsskabende matematik, der findes.
In what must be a response to the increasing self-publication of preprints, research notes and articles, Nature has started Precedings (as in "not procedings") with pre-peer-review science. Will this turn science into blogger react-first check-later hive frenzy, was that already the case, just not at Nature - or is all well and good and this is just the magnifying glass of the scientific publishers being turned on the real creative phase of science?
Opinions (and source) Wired science blogs.
Wired News har en historie om en ny autonom undervandssonde, der kan dykke til 2700 m mens den måler kontinuert på havets fysik (temperator, saltindhold, etc.). Via et link i artiklen finder man en side med langt mere baggrundsinfo. Det viser sig at den slags undervandssonder har været i brug siden slutningen af 90'erne til at lave langdistance, langtidsmålinger af havets tilstand. Maskinerne minder lidt om satellitter. De er enkle, og har meget begrænsede drivmidler, til gengæld kan de klare sig selv i lang tid. Det eneste de mangler for at nå fuld autonomi er en energikilde ombord. Indtil videre kører de på batteri.
En extra-cool ting ved sonderne er hvordan deres autonomi ikke skyldes specialdesignet infrastruktur, men enkle ting vi alle har adgang til: En GPS giver positionen. Sonden kommunikerer med kontrolstationen via Iridium-satelliterne. Det er container-/informations-tidsalderen når den er allerbedst.
Jeg har et par spørgsmål: I lyset af den nylige blækspruttehistorie: Hvorfor er der ikke noget kamera med? Og bare sådan i al almindelighed: Hvor kan jeg købe en til mig selv? Man burde kunne lave en mere low tech selv-drevet version med solceller, GPS og en mobiltelefon.
When human artifacts like robots and satellites start to have accidental encounters on Mars we are clearly at some condensation threshold for human occupation of Mars.
So I was reading this post about an amazing 3D camera, surfed to the Google Video coverage of a talk about it, only to discover an enormous playlist of Google Tech Talks from over the summer. Truly fascinating was this talk from Luis von Ahn, one of the inventors of CAPTCHAs, on other more sophisticated uses of the human brain to do work computers do badly. What he's done is turn a number of tasks into infectious games while at the same time constructing the game so that a lot of useful metadata can be extracted from the answers people give. Fascinating stuff.
When I was just starting out at Ascio where I used to work we had a really tedious job cleaning up a ton of phone numbers that were very badly formatted. We used to dream of pulling a trick like this, but never put the idea together - what I didn't think of then was the two player angle that von Ahn has succesfully used - I couldn't think of a fun and useful way to present the game and be sure that the solution was correct. Of course I still would have the problem of presenting phone numbers as something interesting, but at least the verification angle is solved...
The whole series of talks looks absolutely amazing by the way, and extremely varied in content. A very nice Google envy builder.
“You don’t see what you’re seeing until you see it,” Dr. Thurston said, “but when you do see it, it lets you see many other things.”
Mathematician Wiliam Thurston quoted here.
As we know,—Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing by Donald Rumsfeld, quoted here.
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.
I totally buy the premise of the Hütter prize: I find the idea that compression = intelligence totally intuitive. I can't remember any of the references, but as far as I can recall the conjecture that what dreams are for is compression is quite old. I think it is questionable if the conjecture "compression = intelligence" goes well with the term lossless. I would expect intelligence to be very much about lossy compression instead (oh, they cover that in the FAQ ).
If nothing else this is the best science-book promotion I have ever seen. I'm totally buying that too.
A Pennsylvania judge has cut throught the intelligent design nonsense and identified creationism as religion that cannot be taught as science in schools.
Am I the only one who can't get the General from Dr. Strangelove out of my mind at the news that US Space Command is debating whether to claim the Lagrange points before other nations do it. The Lagrange points are the points in the Earth/Moon system where a satellite or space station could maintain a stationary position relative to both Earth and Moon.
[UPDATE: It just occured to me that it might not be obvious to the nonmathematical reader that this is a joke. Some proofs are this simple - but mathematicians do other things than consider number specialness during working hours (which to many is the same as waking hours)]
There's a delicious nonconstructive proof that all numbers are special (if not, the set of nonspecial numbers would have a least element - but that would by definition be quite special - a contradicton) but not only that, there's also What's Special About This Number - a directory of number specialness. There's a slightly more serious resource somewhere on number series, but I can't seem to locate it.
Also via Rushkoff: A nice thread on quicksand:
What happened to it? When I was a kid, guys on TV - usually cowboys and villains, but sometimes even explorers or Wild Kingdom trackers - would get stuck in quicksand at least once a week. I mean, it was a regular dramatic convention, seemingly as popular as, say, DNA tests on hair strands are in television, today.As usual in blogland comment run all the way from "It's a myth - it doesn't exist" to footage of real quicksand as well as artificially created dry quicksand that will swallow even objects as light as a ping pong ball.
I am unsure whether this is just good news, or if it's a case of British scientists trying to vindicate the drinking of beer through dubious science (much like the hindus and their cow dung studies), but apparently drinking makes you smarter.
An alternative perspective on the fight against creationism: In India hindu fundamentalists sponsors "science" to validate the hindu beliefs in the sacred status of cows. Among the claims: Cow dung protects you from nuclear radiation.
I think this is a perfect match for creationist science. The hindu science is every bit as sound as creationism. If you throw out the basic principles of western, rational, scientific discovery - and start letting the storytelling, that all human endavour is based on, run unchecked - you're left with nothing. Critical reexamination of facts as bare as we can make them is the only thing (we know of) that works for the long haul. Reductionism works. For all the philosophical problems with it, it's still basically true that reductionism wins in the end.
Excellent National Geographic cover. In huge type, it asks all the religious medievalists inside by asking "Was Darwin wrong?" only to answer on the first page of the article in even bigger type.
NOThe evidence for evolution is overwhelming.
Recently here in Denmark, an otherwise forward looking and well balanced modern society, where all the universities are government run and we even have a "state church", promoting a fairly open minded version of lutheranism, we have university theologians questioning evolution on "theoretical grounds". All of these theories of course come back to legalistic arguments completely orthogonal to any kind of sound scientific reasoning. It is shocking and a bit disturbing that the identity-creating force of religion is so powerful that people are willing to turn a blind eye to the coherent body of evidence for the rational understanding of the world that all modern science is part of. It boggles the mind that people are still suggesting that there might be a fundamental problem with the scientific method when society is so full of practical, not theoretical, proof that the method works.
Rushkoff reports that one of the casualties of Pres. Bush's PR in Space campaign is the Hubble telescope. The Hubble telescope has made
real difference, pushing the observable horizon of space significanlt, but now the (aging, granted) telescope has had a maintenance mission canceled because of new priorities (getting reelected). That's just sad.
For the record, the recent review and retraction of a finding by a Danish committee on scientific standards (that "The Skeptical Environmentalist" by Bjørn Lomborg was bogus science) does not in any way make Lomborg's book a better book. He still abuses an absurd agglomeration of statictics with a clear political purpose. I still think what I wrote about it whan the commotion was at its peak is true. Lomborg is making undefensible claims about the quality of his own work in a way completely unfitting for anyone seriously interested in a balanced view of the subject matter he is supposedly interested in.
His book is non-science. That should have been his own position and that should have been the response by the committee. The committee should have refrained from issuing a position on those grounds.
OK, so the attempt to establish a virtual exchange for current events futures was widely ridiculed and the ability to bet on presidential assasinations consequently taken down, you can in fact bet in the same fashion on new technology courtesy of Technology Review. Current futures traded cover the mundane "Will Oracle acquire Peoplesoft?" as well as the more long range questions "When will there be a commercially available electronic device using ultrawideband technology?".
There seems to be some interesting informal link between the fields of usability and neuroscience. Donald Norman (of the Nielsen Norman Group) got his start in neuroscience (psychoacoustics as far as I recall), and Jeff Hawkins - inventor of the palmpilot, and through that one of the real world usability heroes has founded The Redwood Neuroscience Institute - an institution involved in mathematical modeling of cognition.
Obviously there's a mutual interest in behaviour between the two fields - but I find it interesting that this interest in behaviour is as concrete as it appears to be. It is as if the construction of usable objects functions as a concrete test for cognitive theories.
The Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at UCLA has a collection of super cool stills and quicktime movies of the brain. They are either composited from actual measurements or illustrative models. At the more entertaining end is a Cortical Journey with serious Matrix envy as the movie runs from an outside view of the brain through evermore detailed sections until you find yourself in a mesh of green neurons and finally descend along a dendrite into the core (soma) of a neuron and pass along with a merry group of neurotransmitters across the Axon Hillock down an axon towards a synapse.
It may be just for show, but as such it's an awesome animation.
Mitsubishi has developed iGlassware - the glass of beer that automatically tells the waiter that a refill is needed.
It may be a joke, but it seems to be a very seriously executed one at that.
That stable of mail order catalogs, X-ray glasses that let you check out what people look like naked are finally becoming a reality in a new scanner designed for airport security checks
She stepped into a metal booth that bounced X-rays off her skin to produce a black-and-white image that revealed enough to produce a world-class blush.
I can't wait for the portable version.
I've lost my copy of The mathematical experience, but I recently refound my favourite quote from that book, by J. Dieudonne on the realiy of mathematics
On foundations we believe in the reality of mathematics, but of course when philosophers attack us with their paradoxes we rush to hide behind formalism and say : "Mathematics is just a combination of meaningless symbols", and then we bring out Chapters 1 and 2 on set theory. Finally we are left in peace to go back to our mathematics and do it as we have always done, with the feeling each mathematician has that he is working with something real. This sensation is probably an illusion, but it is very convenient.That is Bourbaki's attitude towards foundations
Reference and context here.
David Weinberger is attending and commenting on Stephen Wolfram's Wolfram lovefest accompanying the Wolfram love-book that posed as a tome of scientific discovery.
As previously reported it is not a good book, but at least Wolfram is serious about it, conference and all. Credit is due for that if not for the discoveries.
I can only imagine the conference proceedings. All speakers paying homage to the good Saint Stephen of the Rehashed Scientific Discovery.
Tim Bray comments on Wiki's.
The weird thing about the Wiki work is that successive refactorings appear to produce coherent structure out of chaos via the sum of a lot of independent collective action. Which feels like it ought somehow to be a violation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics
This seem to as good a definition as anything of what life, and consciousness is all about: Living systems are local entropy reversers. Phrase adopted.
UPDATE: Silly me. This was of course already an appropriated phrase. Even in the semi-mainstream literature. Which of course I knew (sort of) but I just liked the fortuituos connection of this fact with my recent posting rampage on consciousness (check the last 4-5 days worth of posts)
In continuation of the strong AI discussion David Weinberger talks aboutSimulated Life - and relates that to the man/machine discussion.
While I completely understand and agree with the hesitation in just accepting that the future doesn't need us, I think it is important for the discussion to distinguish between scientific optimism and scientific positivism.
Personally I am a scientific optimist. What that means is simply that I believe science works, and will continue to work. Science (and its illegitimate offspring, technology) is a vibrant and essential part of the way we understand our world. Understanding is an unconditional good thing. Application of an understanding on the other hand is not always a good thing.
In contrast to this blue eyed - but in my mind thoroughly undangerous - world view, positivism is an 'everything is science' scientific idealism that is as scary as it is ridiculous.
I think Weinberger and the people he agree with are confusing these two ways of thinking a great deal.
The debate has a 'First wave of the third culture' feel to it, if that means anything to anybody: I am referring to the slew of anti-reductionist books that came out in the late 80s and early 90s. Based on concepts such as 'emergent layers of explanation' (the cell, the body, society), chaos, and quantum mechanics all of these titles posited the impossibility of scientific explanation of various phenomena.
While it is true of the underlying scientific theories that they tell us that the world is not a gigantic 6 dimensional pool table, infinitely predictable through all time, what they did not produce is an end to scientific progress. The new theories are not the end of models. They are in fact the start of new and improved models. If the world is probabilistic, then our model of it - and simulations of that model - must be formulated probabilistically. If the cell cannot be explained through reference to lower layers of theory, lets start of life simulation by creating an efficient simulation of cells.
Steve Talbotts newsletter is archived here.
That there's a science of statistics for networks and hyperlinks is not news, but that there's focused social science being conducted on the nature of blogging and 'link sociology' was news to me. Microdoc does just that. There are precise and interesting accounts of memes spreading (includes what I consider a debunking of the Googlewash story) and even an experiment to examine the spread through automated indexers of the term Iranian Robots Invade Google Blogging Space (including metacomments like this).
He also characterises particular blogging styles, and particular posintg types very nicely. And the story anatomy links have nice infographics!
Oh, and while words to that effect have been said elsewhere let me put it bluntly: "Blogging is the new Spam". Everybody is doing it - and the word blogging brings you one of the most AdWord polluted Google searches you can do.
We might be living ina bad 50s sci-fi movie: Indian scientist are seriously comtemplating the possibility that SARS came from space.
Sounds a little too much like an attempt at generating some attention - and the funding, but a lot of science or stuff close to science is succumbing tho mediastrategies like that these days.
...or maybe SARS came from a South Chinese variety of a mongoose.
Just as I was contemplating getting into serious debunking mode myself, I found an extremely thorough Review of 'A New Kind of Science', by a guy named David Drysdale, which does much of what one could want to do of debunking, although it fails in debunking a few of the 'fundamental' claims that need debunking.
All in all the review is good (which the book isn't) but it should point out that some of the new laws of nature Wolfram generously takes credit for are not new and maybe not even surprising - this includes the main Principle of Computation Equivalence according to other reviewers, and certainly includes some of claims of 'groundbreaking' new sources of randomness and complexity from simple rules.
What is particularly great about the review is that it is based on careful reading notes following the text with great accuracy and attention to detail. I particularly liked the dry comments on Wolframs catchall defense for the bloated, overstated, self-aware writing style (under the heading Clarity and Modesty) in the notes.
The debate over whether or not Bjørn Lomborg's book The Skeptical Environmentalist is science or not has been confused for a number of reasons.
First of all , if it is science it is interdisciplinary, and there are different ideas in different fields about what constiututes science. Actually calling it interdisciplinary is wrong. It is a politically charged debate of a social science problem of allocation drawing it's subject matter and notions of cost and utility from the natural sciences.
So it is not really 'inter'-disciplinary in the sense that there are two-way connections between the three subject layers (or there shouldn't be - Lomborg would maybe claim there is, this being part of his criticism of the environmental sciences). There are three distinct layers to the book and each of these - were the book a little better - would be distinguishable and debatable separately.
It is disconcerting that neither the author nor his defenders or his critics carry out this straight forward separation of concerns, since it renders the debate essentially meaningless.
The high profile of the debate is due entirely to the politics of the book, and not the social science or natural science material. The proponents of the book are almost exclusively proponenents of the political or social science discussions, whereas the criticism from the natural sciences has been quite unanimous (of course there is argument about the findings the book draws it's numbers from - that is what open scientific debate is about - but the majority vote as well as most of the arguments presented are against the books findings).
So the debate on whether or not the book constitutes science is an unhappy debate. While there clearly should be no censorship of the political material or even the allocation debates (rendering the verdict on the books scientific standing meaningless) Lomborg should know better than to pass an enormous accumulation of numbers from an uncontrollable number of sources with a complete lack of consistence as a consequence as well as some important factual and methodical errors in the treatment of the natural science parts of the material. The methodical failures are the most damning. Lomborgs book and to a large extent his rebuttals of criticism completely fail to accept that there are methodical barriers to what statements you can sensibly make about the numbers he quote so very many of. Lomborgs reads the material like the devil reads the bible.
So the conclusion remains that Lomborg should take care not to pass off the natural science parts of his book as anything remotely resembling science, and the comittee on scientific conduct should then simply have chosen not to comment on the book.
How nice that would have been. An open debate on the politics of choice and allocation, without accusations of inquisition from one camp and criminal stupidity on the other. If only Bjørn Lomborg had had the character and the conscience to say what Daniel Dennett does in the preface of his admirable book on evolution:
This book is largely about science but is not itself a work of science. Science is not done by quoting authorities, however eloquent and eminent, and then evaluating their arguments. Scientists do, however, quite properly persist in holding forth, in popular and not-so-popular books and essays, putting forward their interpretations of the work in the lab and the field, and trying to influence their fellow scientists. When I quote them, rhetoric and all, I am doing what they are doing: engaging in persuasion.
In fact Lomborg is doubly guilty of not holding to Dennett's view of science. Not only does he not take proper care to distinguish between what he has primary knowledge of himself and what he has only secondary knowledge of. His material itself is not the original science in most cases, but rather numbers drawn from the persuasion - not the science - of others. Much of the material he uses is secondary (UN and other organisations reports prepared for decisionmakers (i.e. lay readers) not scientists) or tertiary (newspaper commentary on such reports).
A short article in the latest Wired summarizes some modern positions in the environment or inheritance debate, i.e. the big question of how much our life determines our selves and how much is predetermined by our genes.
The derogative term for this kind of writing is list journalism - sacrificing form and substance both by simple hoarding on facts without conclusions. But as lists go, this is quite decent. First of all there is a nice off-hand conclusion about the failure of politics in the networked world, broken down in micro-discussion taking in place in 'ever more precise ideological niches' as it is. Secondly the summaries on what some of these micro-discussions mean in terms of really basic questions like this one is well done, tying very diverse questions about freedom, sexuality, economics and technology together by their different attachments to this basic question.
My big brother, who is a sociologist, would probably - taking cues both from the history of philosophy and some empirical work he has done on Bourdieu's concept of lifestyle claim that the rift in the debate is an even deeper one, with fractions why are philosphically materialist on one side and fractions who are philosphically idealists on the other. The idealists would come out in favour of the genetic explanation as some kind of 'destiny' - an externalized source of meaning, whereas the materialists would favour the environmental theory as a source of rationalized behaviourism.
The list Johnson puts forward indicates how the everyday politics of the issues sometimes turn these things upside down: Religious conservatives have a hard time with the science of genetics and say 'nature' - but surely their nature is really much more akin to the genetic explanation with plenty of predetermined moral behaviour only not by DNA but by divine virtue. On the other hand gay-rights activists trying to give homosexuality a grounding deeper than mere behaviour (which one could then debate as more or less 'natural') are embracing genetic predetermination even though you would expect them to favour the argument for personal freedom.
Economists, environmentalists and feminists on the other hand are right on track in their lifestyle niches.
This is good fun. A physicist computes the absolute boundaries on how much computation you could possible get out of matter. Quantum theory of course limits the information that can be contained in matter since there are non zero minimal energies to account for. It turns out that to apply Moore's Law on the doubling in capacity of integrated circuits for another 600 years would consume all available resources in the universe as part of the computation. Finiteness is a humbling thing.
As mentioned, I have just read Linked, which was very nice 'pop science' - even if the science bit was toned a little too far down for my tastes (the notes document everything properly though).
The exposition of network effects should be graspable to everybody and the importance in understanding the dynamics and feel of the networks around us is made very clear. Clearly there are some concepts here that deserve a simple mathematical write-up (as simple as possible) and some nice well known simulation tools to demonstrate the power and universality of these effects.
As mentioned in the discussion of Cluetrain below, the chapters on link density in scale-invariant networks and the notion of hubs is really quite an interesting eye-opener for us hopeless futurists, since it becomes clear that 'natural growth' neithers exhibits the robustness or the flat level playing field we would like. The world is just cruel like that. On the other hand, there are some nice discussion on what features of a network prevents monopoly by dominating some of the information econonmy monopoly generating effects (positive marginal returns in a frictionless information economy).