December 2011

Sound Over Substance: Fringe Fundamentalists And The Internet

We're not facing an increase in extremist thinking necessarilly, just an increase in the volume of the extremists.

Tim Padgett’s piece in TIME, Having Faith: What Both Hitchens and Fundamentalists Don’t Get About Religion, is a “can’t we all just get along” critique of fundamentalism in all of its forms. Opening with a messy interview with Evangelical David Canton (the guy that demanded Lowe’s pull their ads from the TV show, All-American Muslim) he characterizes the man as a bigot and an Islamophobe (which he is), but expresses amazement that a huge company like Lowe’s would cave to it. He’s critical of all fundamentalists because they take too literal a translation of religion, proscribing their stigma (stigmata?) on anyone that conveniently carries the label. He’s wrong to be surprised by Lowe’s, Canton, or Christopher Hitchens, the so-called “Angry Atheist”. Here’s why.

New Research Shows Vocal Minorities Unlikely To Sway Democratic Process

Using computer models and schools of fish, behavior scientists test the impact of outspoken minorities in group decision making.

The polarized nature of politics today tends toward noisy, outspoken fringe minorities attempting to influence the voting behavior and talking points of the majority middle. On the right we’ve seen a sustained outspoken Tea Party campaigning for limited government and distrustful of the Federal establishment. On the left we’ve seen a recent groundswell in the form of Occupy Wall Street, people also distrustful of the establishment, but in its cozy relationship with the private sector. The question becomes, “Just how influential are these outspoken minorities in influencing the political landscape?” Recent behavioral science may have the answer.

Scientists Cryogenically Freeze Endangered Species, But Attempt To Clone Extinct Ones

Does anyone else see a perverse sense of priority in this?

Ironically, in the same week that a team of geneticists announced they were going to try to clone a Wooly Mammoth, Australian researchers announced they would begin cryogenically freezing sperm and egg from the coral of the Great Barrier Reef to preserve it from extinction. The reef has been devastated by human activity, from warming waters to tourism and ocean dumping, and it is not likely to survive past 2050. Scientists have been attempting this kind of dramatic preservation since the 1970’s, using everything from bison sperm to actual human beings (volunteers, of course). The results have been a mixed bag, but it does seem to indicate how desperate things are becoming.

Reflections From Above The Swing: Perpetual Motion

There's no such thing as a perpetual motion machine, so don't try to be one.

One thing that has often fascinated people about the pendulum device is its ability to keep nearly perfect time…for a while. The problem is that no device is a perpetual machine, continuing their movement in perpetuum. Movement of mass creates fiction, the movement decreases imperceptibly on every rotation, the machine slows, degrades, and on a long enough timeline, stops altogether. The machine that moves perpetually on its own potential is the perfect machine, and it doesn’t exist. To me, this is one of nature’s more valuable lessons. There’s always going to be friction, there’s always going to be problems, there’s always going to be something that seems to be slowing the movement of your life, degrading the arc of your swing.

Why Is Climate Change Denial Still A Thing?

Science denial is nothing new, it's just never been the ideological platform of an entire political party.

Global warming, evolution, plate tectonics, and helio-centrism; all fairly abstract scientific theories that must be believed without necessarily being seen. Strange, given that fact, that the primary critics of such landmarks in our human understanding tend to be religious. The catholic church murdered astronomers for saying that the sun was the center of our solar system. Christian “scientists” even today refute claims that our planet’s crust migrates, or that we are part of the same broad genetic tree as Chimpanzees. Although a theory may be essentially “fact” whether we like it or not, most scientific breakthroughs as game-changing as global warming are going to have some socio-political birthing pains before the public accepts it. Unfortunately for the U.S., climate change is one that has been too politicized, its denial too mainstreamed, for it to be a quick delivery.

Evolutionary Theory and the Art of Scapegoating

It's OK that men cheat. They evolved that way.

There's no accounting for the benefits to medicine and well-being that have come with advances in genetic science. We've now got the ability to map an individual's entire genome for just under $10,000 a pop (and expected to be around $1,000 in the next five years). We can use stem cells to cure previously incurable disorders, and to clone entire organs or even organisms. The implications for improving human beings' longevity are staggering, with some geneticists expecting average life expectancy to break 100 years old by 2050. Genetics has also impacted our understanding of ourselves and our place in the world. Watch an episode of CSI and genetics is used to break every case in the form of DNA testing. This has created a social assumption that DNA is the magic bullet that will crack any case, incriminate any criminal, and find anyone that doesn't want to be found. However, a more institutionalized version of this "magical assumption" has taken root in the form of evolutionary science, with media outlets and academics playing along. It's the idea that our evolutionary heritage, those genes that have been molded through millennia of natural selection, may be used to define and, in many cases excuse, human behavior.