Posts tagged Politics
… some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth. And for two and a half thousand years, the ring passed out of all knowledge…
— Galadriel, from the Walsh, Boyens, and Jackson screenplay of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Last week, I discussed the rift that exists in Western society between our culture and our dominant religions. The rift matters, because it means the those religions can’t perform the functions in our society that a religion historically performed. This has given rise to a misunderstanding of the purpose of religion, and a misuse of religion within our national conversation.
It is vital to understand this. For reasons I alluded to last week, and will expand on here, it may be impossible to banish religion from the public sphere. If this is true, then understanding what religion is supposed to do can help us prevent it from being used inappropriately. (more…)
Being a political platypus, Pauly spends a lot of his time puzzling over political problems like…what exactly is Sarah Palin’s appeal? And why are there no bald politicians? And is Mitch McConnell human, or android?
But Pauly also enjoys purely political puzzles.
And in that vein, he is pleased to share with you this astonishing little gem, which Will Shortz, famed puzzle-meister extraordinaire, calls “the most amazing crossword puzzle I’ve ever seen.” It was the New York Times crossword puzzle the day before the 1996 election. If you look at the solutions and the clues, those of you who are crossword fans…and politics buffs…will fully understand why Will Shortz found it so amazing.
I have to confess, when I got married, I had a really hard time with the concept of an eternal relationship. I finally gave up thinking about how long it would last when I projected our relationship five years into the future, so I convinced myself I was good for five years and took the plunge. We’re at 26 years and counting.
The human mind is just not very good at imagining large numbers. When we get to numbers like the National Debt, we end up having to use analogies that frankly leave me cold. (Lining up dollar bills from here to the Moon just piles the innumerate on the innumerate, in my opinion.) A recent NPR piece that imagines $14.3 trillion covering the State of Illinois with dollar bills comes closer, but it’s still hard for me to imagine.
I honestly believe that much of the resistance to the concept of evolution, and particularly the spontaneous generation of life, comes from the human mind’s inability to conceive of what five billion years is, and what can be accomplished in that time. (more…)
This week brought two more “shocking” revelations of sexual offenses by prominent politicians.
Former California Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger admitted to an affair with a member of his house staff, which produced a now-14-year-old child. He and Maria Shriver had just celebrated their 25 year wedding anniversary April 26 when the news came out. Rumors of infidelity and sexual harrassment had dogged Schwartzenegger for years; Shriver famously defended him in 2003, calling him “an A-plus human being”.
In more serious allegations, International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn has been charged with rape of a hotel maid (along with accompanying charges of forced oral and anal sexual contact and false imprisonment charges) and is now awaiting trial on Riker’s Island. Strauss-Kahn had challenged Ségolène Royal for the leadership of the French Socialist Party prior to Nicolas Sarkozy’s eventual 2007 election as French President and was widely expected to run again in the next election cycle. In an ironic twist, it was revealed that Strauss-Kahn predicted “le fric, les femmes et ma judeite” (“money, women and my Jewishness”) would be his undoing as a candidate for President.
Should we be surprised? (more…)
Jordan Ellenberg has a great article up on Slate on “The Mathematics of Narcissism.” There are two related themes running through it.
One theme surrounds the overhaul of the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition Revised (DSM IV-R), the “Bible” for psychiatric professionals. The DSM is the way in which psychiatrists and psychologists classify mental disorders into clumps so that we can use a common language in talking about patients and diseases. The other is about the ranking of graduate programs. Finding the commonality between these two themes is a great reason to read the article, which I highly recommend.
The overhaul of the DSM is an infrequent and important event in psychology and psychiatry. In the immortal words of Vice President Joe Biden, “It’s a big fucking deal!” Basically, the revisions in the DSM codify and standardize the current models of how the mind works. In order to standardize the classification and treatment of psychiatric disorders, we need a book that describes to the best of our current ability what is wrong and what is right.
In the olden days of yore, science was taught as a guild craft. Knowledge about essential procedures, and about the interpersonal politics of science, were passed down from advisor to student in much the same way that ancient guilds passed down knowledge from skilled practitioner to apprentice.
That’s the way that I learned science. In this system, there were a number of received truths. Since I’m now one of the Auld Ones, I pass them along to you.
“In science, your score for ability is a zero or a one. Your score for how well you get along with others is a zero or one. Multiply the two scores together.”
This, of course, means that a lot of skill is nice, but if your personality or interpersonal ethics are lacking, that it’s all for naught. Literally.
“Two people is about sex. More than two people, it’s about politics.”
This blog is about politics. Today I want to blog about the politics of science, using the recent NASA press conference and paper on arsenic biology as an object lesson.
NASA will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. EST on Thursday, Dec. 2, to discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life.
Well, it didn’t take long for this to turn sour. First, the predictable response of the blogging community was to blow this statement out of all proportion and turn it into a discovery of life on other planets. Personally, I had hoped for life on Saturn’s moon Titan.
Some points about science. Not all scientific journals are created equal. Journals with wide circulation, such as Nature or Science, or in medicine, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), New England Journal of Medicine, or Lancet are perceived as more “valuable” in terms of publication. Most scientists (including me) have gone through an entire career without publishing anything in these journals. Publications in these journals are expected of junior faculty (to grossly oversimplify, let’s say scientists between 30 and 40) at major universities like Harvard or Yale or Caltech.
So you can see that the competition for these rare publication slots is quite intense. Because the scientists who publish in these journals are, by definition, quite competitive, the journals have imposed something called an embargo which puts a tight lid on release of the research results before the publication date on the paper. In medicine, this can cause problems if a scientist feels she has a cure for some disease that is killing people, and wants to save lives by getting the word out as soon as possible. This rarely happens, but when it does is a quite intense tug-of-war between one’s professional ethics and duty to society. I’m only personally aware of one such finding, the discovery of STI571 (now called Imatinib or Gleevec), a true “miracle drug” that now cures certain types of blood cancer, or leukemia. My uncle died of chronic myelogenous leukemia just weeks before then-STI571 could be approved for use, so I’m keenly and personally aware of the conflicts involved.
This represents what Thomas Kuhn called a “paradigm shift,” a now-overused term. Most scientists like me are doing what Kuhn called “normal science”. A paradigm shift turns science’s worldview upside-down by a new method, or new way of looking at the world, or in the case of STI571/Imatinib/Gleevec, a new way of treating cancer. Paradigm shifts are, by definition, exceedingly rare.
Still, scientists will try to make their work into a paradigm shift. That’s what’s happened here. We were promised a paradigm shift (“life on other planets!”). What we got was normal science. That makes people mad.
Really mad. As in, multiple blog posts attacking the authors, the journal, and the agency that supported the work. Carl Zimmer in Slate summarized many of the controversial points surrounding the work.
Why do we feel cheated? Well, the embargo process was manipulated. Wolfe-Simon and her collaborators either deliberately oversold their findings, or allowed them to be oversold, presumably because of the need for publications in so-called “high quality” journals.
In the comments section of last week’s article, the day before the announcement, I said:
I was pretty jazzed too, but it appears that we’ve got the situation where yet another group is fighting for funding in a very restrictive environment and is trying to make an impression on peer reviewers.
It’s impossible to know who’s responsible for overblowing this. As you can see in the Zimmer article and blogs like io9 and Wired, blame is accruing to Wolfe-Simon, NASA, and scientists in general in about equal measure. I think there’s plenty of blame to go around, and it’s not helped by NASA saying things like “you scientists need to discuss things like this in the journals and not in the blogs.”
Science has always involved more than two people, so it has always been political. Science now is more political than ever, to the point where people are openly asking whether scientists are advancing a Democratic agenda. It’s sad, but a natural extension of what I was taught, and what Kuhn was writing about in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.