Tag Archives: science

10 Scientific Ideas That Scientists Wish You Would Stop Misusing

From io9:

Many ideas have left the world of science and made their way into everyday language — and unfortunately, they are almost always used incorrectly. We asked a group of scientists to tell us which scientific terms they believe are the most widely misunderstood. Here are ten of them.

When the Scientist Is Also a Philosopher

From The New York Times, by economist, Greg Mankiw. The introductory paragraph:

Do you want to know a dirty little secret of economists who give policy advice? When we do so, we are often speaking not just as economic scientists, but also as political philosophers. Our recommendations are based not only on our understanding of how the world works, but also on our judgments about what makes a good society.

Physics: What We Do and Don’t Know

From The New York Review of Books—the summarized thought:

Physical science has historically progressed not only by finding precise explanations of natural phenomena, but also by discovering what sorts of things can be precisely explained. These may be fewer than we had thought.


Policy: Twenty tips for interpreting scientific claims

Teaching policy-making politicians to think critically about science…good luck with that! Read the 20 tips from Nature—part of the introduction:

In practice, policy-makers almost never read scientific papers or books. The research relevant to the topic of the day — for example, mitochondrial replacement, bovine tuberculosis or nuclear-waste disposal — is interpreted for them by advisers or external advocates. And there is rarely, if ever, a beautifully designed double-blind, randomized, replicated, controlled experiment with a large sample size and unambiguous conclusion that tackles the exact policy issue.

In this context, we suggest that the immediate priority is to improve policy-makers’ understanding of the imperfect nature of science. The essential skills are to be able to intelligently interrogate experts and advisers, and to understand the quality, limitations and biases of evidence. We term these interpretive scientific skills. These skills are more accessible than those required to understand the fundamental science itself, and can form part of the broad skill set of most politicians.

To this end, we suggest 20 concepts that should be part of the education of civil servants, politicians, policy advisers and journalists — and anyone else who may have to interact with science or scientists. Politicians with a healthy scepticism of scientific advocates might simply prefer to arm themselves with this critical set of knowledge.

The Silent Scream of Asparagus

From The Sun Magazine, a 1997 interview with Cleve Backster (February 27, 1924 – June 24, 2013) who “was an interrogation specialist for the Central Investigation Agency (CIA), best known for his experiments with plants using a polygraph machine in the 1960s which led to his theory of “primary perception” where he claimed that plants “feel pain” and have extra sensory perception (ESP), which was widely reported in the media but was rejected by the scientific community.” (Source: wikipedia)

Sometimes it happens that a person can name the exact moment when his or her life changed irrevocably. For Cleve Backster, it was early in the morning of February 2, 1966, at thirteen minutes, fifty-five seconds into a polygraph test he was administering. Backster, a leading polygraph expert whose Backster Zone Comparison Test is the worldwide standard for lie detection, had at that moment threatened his test subject’s well-being. The subject had responded electrochemically to his threat. The subject was a plant.

This reminds me of the “plants rights” movement from a few years ago.

What the idea of the “two cultures” is really about

From The American Scholar, a short essay by William Deresiewicz. The intro:

I’ve written several posts recently (this onethis one, and this one) about the difference between science and the humanities. Rub those terms together, and you inevitably engender a third: C. P. Snow’s famous notion of the “two cultures,” first articulated in 1959 and a commonplace of educated discourse ever since. Literary culture on the one hand, and scientific culture on the other, Snow lamented, are failing to communicate. A scientifically trained civil servant who also wrote novels (rather bad ones, apparently), Snow left no doubt as to who was to blame: “Intellectuals, in particular literary intellectuals, are natural Luddites.” A scientist would be ashamed to admit that he hadn’t read Shakespeare, but where’s the humanist who can explain the Second Law of Thermodynamics?

The breasts have been abeating ever since.

His final recommendation is perfect.

Evolution and Existentialism, an Intellectual Odd Couple

A wonderful piece, from The Chronicle of Higher Education:

They are, in fact, a compatible couple. What they share suggests that science has not completely destroyed our understanding of free will, as so many critics contend. A philosophy of “human meaning” can coexist quite well with a science of “genetic influence.”

And I liked this:

This uniquely human potential to resist our own genes might help explain why people expend so much effort trying to induce others, especially the young and impressionable, to practice what is widely seen as the cardinal virtue: obedience. To recast Freud’s argument about incest restraints, if we were naturally obedient, we probably wouldn’t need so much urging. And yet, on balance, it seems that far more harm has been done throughout human history by obedience—­to Hitler’s Final Solution, Stalin’s elimination of opponents real and imagined, Mao’s Cultural Revolution, Pol Pot’s genocide—than by disobedience.

On the basis of evolutionary existentialism, I would therefore like to suggest the heretical and admittedly paradoxical notion that, in fact, we need to teach more disobedience. Not only disobedience to political and social authority but especially disobedience to some of our troublesome genetic inclinations.

Read the whole thing at the link.

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Is Scientific Truth Always Beautiful?

From The Chronicle Review:

A mathematician says the quest for elegance leads too many researchers astray.


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