Blog : Posts tagged with 'science'

*

Evolving

In which we remember Darwin


Happy birthday Darwin, two hundred today, and probably one of the most important scientists who ever lived. He may not have been the sole person responsible for evolutionary theory – certainly not for modern evolutionary theory – but, as well as being a great scientist, he was a writer, someone who could communicate scientific ideas. That’s more important, sometimes, than the idea itself.

If you’re near Bristol: to commemorate Darwin, Bristol Zoo is offering free entry to anyone who turns up this morning with a beard (real or fake). As I write, there’s about 2 1/2 hours left to claim, so you’ll have to rush.

As it happens, only the other day I was reading a book which reminded me how important it is to remember Mr Darwin, as important as it ever was. Counterknowledge, by Damien Thompson, a short book on a long long subject: how falsehoods such as creationism and pseudoarchaeology are presented as somehow equal to facts and truth. How they are presented by the media as a “debate”, when one side’s evidence greatly outweighs the other.* It’s easy to find people today who believe that evolution is wrong; that somehow, because they find life beautiful, there must be a purpose and a designer behind it. And from there it’s a slippery slope to believing first that species are immutable; and from there, that conservation is unimportant, that God must have given us everything we need, and that Genesis 1:28** gives humanity the right to use up any and all resources that there are.

* as much as the inactive contents of a homeopathic remedy outweigh the active contents, you could say.

** “God said unto [man and woman],*** be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”

*** Not “Adam and Eve”, note. Adam and Eve aren’t in the “six days” story of Creation, which this verse is part of. They’re in the second Creation story, which starts at Genesis 2:4; where God creates Adam from the barren earth and then Eden for him to live in.

No comments yet. »

Keyword noise: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

*

Birth

In which we praise Parliament, a very rare thing


As you’ll have no doubt read in the news, Parliament has voted against reducing the abortion time-limit. I’m pleased and amazed – for once, a political decision has gone by which has been apparently been decided on the basis of fact, not emotion.* That’s been a rare thing for the past few years. Maybe we need to have free votes more often.

In case you missed it, the media debate leading up to this vote went something like this:

Religious fundamentalists:** We need to ban abortion reduce the abortion time limit.

Scientists, doctors, medical charities, and so on: [some facts showing that we shouldn’t]

Religious fundamentalists: [emotional handwaving]

Scientists, doctors, medical charities, and so on: [more facts]

Religious fundamentalists: [more emotional claptrap]

Lots of Conservative MPs [the religious fundamentalists’ surveys and anecdotes repeated wholesale]

Parliament: 190 in favour, 332 against.

Maybe I’m being slightly unfair, in that it wasn’t just the Conservatives voting for the amendment. Ruth Kelly did, of course, although I was surprised that Jim Dobbin, Labour, and leader of the parliamentary all-party pro-life group was nowhere to be seen. He’s a Catholic, and has previously said that he’s against both abortion and contraception. Well, I suppose he’s a better Catholic than Cherie Blair, at any rate. The Tories were the only party whose leadership was pushing hard on the issue, though – K’s MP, a Tory frontbencher for many years, voted with the party line. My own (Labour) MP, I’m pleased to say, voted against.

* This may not be quite true – I’m giving people the benefit of the doubt here. What is true is that Parliament voted for the fact-supported side of the argument; it may be a step too far to say that it was the facts which made them vote that way.

** Nadine Dorries, the apparent leader of the campaign, has claimed that she is not at all a religious fundamentalist. However, she worked very closely with religious campaigners, and admitted that they supplied a lot of the information she used in the campaign. The website run by and for her campaign was set up by and in the name of a group of very fervent religious campaigners, Christian Concern For Our Nation. Ironically, Dorries likes to go on about “the abortion industry” and how it needs to be stopped, when she was formerly a director of BUPA, one of the largest non-NHS abortion producers in the country. One wonders how much anti-abortion campaigning she did in their board meetings.

3 comments so far. »

Keyword noise: , , , , , , , , , , ,

*

Tasty

In which we look forward to a delicacy


Science news of the week: scientists have finally invented an odourless breed of durian, the tropical fruit which is popular in the East Indies, but entirely impossible to obtain in Britain. It smells like a potent mix of vomit and custard, and is banned from the cargo holds of every airline because of that. In Malaysia, several people are killed by durian every year* – my former Malaysian flatmate would send me news clippings. Note to European publishers: start getting those durian recipe books ready now!

* not because of the smell, but because they are large, spiky, and grow up in trees.

No comments yet. »

Keyword noise: , , , , , ,

*

Sense About Science

In which we try to teach


I was intrigued by yesterday’s news story on Sense About Science, the public information charity who has produced a leaflet aimed specifically about celebrities, in the hope of persuading them not to talk rubbish in public. They’re distributing it around celebrity-infested places, but if you’re not a celebrity yourself you can download it from their website.

It’s an admirable attempt by an admirable charity, to reach people who could potentially have a lot of influence but who probably don’t read Bad Science regularly. I can’t help thinking that they would have had more effect distributing it to celebrities’ agents, rather than the celebrities themselves. Moreover, I think that a lot of media organisations overestimate the level of influence that celebrities in particular (and the media in general) have on your average person.

Furthermore, are any celebrities who read the leaflet going to believe it? Apart from being recognisable, they’re generally fairly average people. Not particularly clever, not particularly smart, maybe more charismatic than the average,* but on the whole fairly ordinary at heart.** They’re not scientists, and they’re not going to realise how little they know about science, because, as a general rule, the less you know on a subject, the less you realise just how little you know. The less you know about scientific ideas, the worse things you’re likely to say along the lines of “natural things are chemical-free”, or “green plants are healthy because chlorophyll will oxygenate your blood”,*** and the less likely you are to believe the truth on the topic.

* this is starting to sound like an RPG statsfest, I know

** despite what some of them may think.

*** the first is a common trope; the second is a Gillian McKeith piece of wrongness.

No comments yet. »

Keyword noise: , , , , ,

*

Friday

In which we are doubtful about “science”


I’m just glad I’m away from the office now, and tomorrow. There’s a big risk I’m going to get called in Sunday, but tomorrow I’m going to stay well outside commuting distance – and I’ve made sure everyone knows as much. I’ve told them all it’s long-planned, too.

In other news, Top Scientists have discovered that hungry men like bigger women. I love pointless science. There’s a fun experiment I want to try sometime, to judge just how accurate these experiments are. Give some men a series of flashcards, with pictures of women on, and get them to rate them. Don’t give them very long between each one, just enough time to give a first impression. Then, wait ten minutes, and do it again.* See if your average man can produce consistent results on something like that. I’m sure they won’t do.

* Distract them for a few minutes if you like, to make sure they don’t remember their rankings for any of the pictures.

No comments yet. »

Keyword noise: , , , , , ,

*

Search this site

*

Contact

E: feedback [at] symbolicforest [dot] com

IM: Ask me if you'd like to know

*

Post Categories

Artistic (118)
Dear Diary (349)
Feeling Meh (48)
Geekery (109)
In With The Old (34)
Linkery (37)
Media Addict (164)
Meta (79)
Photobloggery (94)
Political (113)
Polling (7)
Sub category (19)
The Family (31)
The Office (70)
Unbelievable (53)