Stephen Pinker writes about a matter close to my own heart - the apparent and growing distain for science as a way of understanding the world.
Moreover, science has contributed—directly and enormously—to the fulfillment of these values. If one were to list the proudest accomplishments of our species (setting aside the removal of obstacles we set in our own path, such as the abolition of slavery and the defeat of fascism), many would be gifts bestowed by science.
The most obvious is the exhilarating achievement of scientific knowledge itself. We can say much about the history of the universe, the forces that make it tick, the stuff we’re made of, the origin of living things, and the machinery of life, including our own mental life. Better still, this understanding consists not in a mere listing of facts, but in deep and elegant principles, like the insight that life depends on a molecule that carries information, directs metabolism, and replicates itself.
Science has also provided the world with images of sublime beauty: stroboscopically frozen motion, exotic organisms, distant galaxies and outer planets, fluorescing neural circuitry, and a luminous planet Earth rising above the moon’s horizon into the blackness of space. Like great works of art, these are not just pretty pictures but prods to contemplation, which deepen our understanding of what it means to be human and of our place in nature.
And contrary to the widespread canard that technology has created a dystopia of deprivation and violence, every global measure of human flourishing is on the rise. The numbers show that after millennia of near-universal poverty, a steadily growing proportion of humanity is surviving the first year of life, going to school, voting in democracies, living in peace, communicating on cell phones, enjoying small luxuries, and surviving to old age. The Green Revolution in agronomy alone saved a billion people from starvation. And if you want examples of true moral greatness, go to Wikipedia and look up the entries for “smallpox” and “rinderpest” (cattle plague). The definitions are in the past tense, indicating that human ingenuity has eradicated two of the cruelest causes of suffering in the history of our kind.
best Hamlet yet. Yesterday's natinee performance of Hamlet at Bard on the Beach was the best of the three versions I've seen, due mainly to Jonathon Young's interpretation of the title role. From the Strait:
It’s Young’s work in the central role that ignites the evening: in his mouth, every word of the familiar text is new. “Hold, hold my heart,” Young’s Hamlet gasps when he sees his father’s ghost, and you can feel your own heart constricting in your chest. “I have sworn it,” Hamlet says after pledging revenge, and you just know he’s surprised himself and he’s shit-scared that he may have made a pact with the devil. Young’s Hamlet is witty and painfully raw, notably when he dresses down Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, supposed friends who are spying on him for Claudius.
Indeed Young's addition of just enough wit to the weight of the role outdid previous Hamlets who have kept the anger and depression too visible and on the boil. Rachel Cairns' Ophelia was excellent as well, striking the right balance of fragility and strength. Great also to be reminded of the many many quotes from Hamlet that have entrenched themselves in modern culture (e,g, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”). I suppose i should also mention the 'modern' interpretation - guns, cell phones, ipads, etc. I expected to be annoyed and distracted and it to feel gimicky, but it worked.
“Social license” generally refers to a local community’s acceptance or approval of a company’s project or
ongoing presence in an area. It is increasingly recognized by various stakeholders and communities as a
prerequisite to development. The development of social license occurs outside of formal permitting or
regulatory processes, and requires sustained investment by proponents to acquire and maintain social
capital within the context of trust-based relationships. Often intangible and informal, social license can
nevertheless be realized through a robust suite of actions centered on timely and effective communication,
meaningful dialogue, and ethical and responsible behavior.
My co-author, Celesa Horvath, has posted about the paper here. Apologies for the spelling of "licence" - US editors.
In the summer of 1981, the British band Queen was recording tracks for their tenth studio album, Hot Space, at Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland. As it happened, David Bowie had scheduled time at the same studio to record the title song for the movie Cat People. Before long, Bowie stopped by the Queen sessions and joined in. The original idea was that he would add backup vocals on the song “Cool Cat.” “David came in one night and we were playing other people’s songs for fun, just jamming,” says Queen drummer Roger Taylor in Mark Blake’s book Is This the Real Life?: The Untold Story of Freddie Mercury and Queen. “In the end, David said, ‘This is stupid, why don’t we just write one?’” And so began a marathon session of nearly 24-hours–fueled, according to Blake, by wine and cocaine. Built around John Deacon’s distinctive bass line, the song was mostly written by Mercury and Bowie. Blake describes the scene, beginning with the recollections of Queen’s guitarist:
‘We felt our way through a backing track all together as an ensemble,’ recalled Brian May. ‘When the backing track was done, David said, “Okay, let’s each of us go in the vocal booth and sing how we think the melody should go–just off the top of our heads–and we’ll compile a vocal out of that.” And that’s what we did.’ Some of these improvisations, including Mercury’s memorable introductory scatting vocal, would endure on the finished track. Bowie also insisted that he and Mercury shouldn’t hear what the other had sung, swapping verses blind, which helped give the song its cut-and-paste feel.
Genome British Columbia, the Pacific Salmon Foundation and Fisheries and Oceans Canada are embarking on a remarkable partnership to discover the microbes present in salmon in BC that may be undermining the productivity of BC’s Pacific salmon. The project will conduct epidemiological assessments to explore the transmission dynamics and historical presence of detected microbes, with key focus on microbes that are suspected globally to be causing disease in salmon. Researchers will apply genomic technology to identify and verify which microbes are presently carried by BC’s wild and cultured fish.
The project is being managed in four sequential Phases with Phase 1 valued at $930,000. The first phase is taking place over 12 months, concluding mid-2013, and comprises the collection phase of both cultured and wild salmon. While later phases are subject to final funding, Phase 2 involves rigorous analysis of the tissue samples collected in Phase 1 and in previous research. Using molecular and genomic tools, the research team will attempt to determine when and where microbes may have been transmitted. The research results will begin to rank microbes by their potential to cause disease in BC salmon based on relationships with microbes associated with disease in other parts of the world and histological evidence from salmon in BC. Phase 3will focus in on the microbes identified in Phase 2, with an emphasis on microbes that have not been extensively researched and that are thought to be of pathological significance in salmon. Phase 4 will include reporting of research and presentations to management agencies on the potential utility of methods developed and the application of outcomes to future monitoring.
"What this should hopefully do is result in a major upgrade in the quality of writing about Wallace," the historian told BBC News.
"Next year is the centenary of his death. Just like 2009 was the big Darwin year, 2013 will be the big Wallace year. And I hope now that people have access to all of his literature, it will make a big difference to what they say and write about him."
Wallace Online gathers together in one place for the first time all of the naturalist's writings and illustrations.
There are 28,000 pages of searchable documents and 22,000 images. Among the online gems is that first announcement of the theory of evolution delivered to a London scientific meeting 154 years ago.
It remains one of the great coincidences in scientific history that the one person Wallace should choose to approach to share his ideas on natural selection was the only other scientist who separately had come to the same conclusions - Charles Darwin.