Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Whither Science Publishing? | The Scientist   Leave a comment

“As we stand on the brink of a new scientific age, how researchers should best communicate their findings and innovations is hotly debated in the publishing trenches.”

via Whither Science Publishing? | The Scientist.


Posted August 5, 2012 by arnoneumann in Publishing, Science

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Left-Handedness Loses Its Stigma but Retains Its Mystery –   Leave a comment

“Hand dominance (whether left or right) is related to brain asymmetry. And that, Dr. Francks said, “is not at all understood; we’re really at the very beginning of understanding what makes the brain asymmetrical.”

Though brain asymmetries exist in our closest primate relatives, there seems to be general consensus that the human brain is more profoundly asymmetric, and that understanding that asymmetry will show us much about who we are and how our brains work.

Brain lateralization, the distribution of function into right and left hemispheres, is crucial for understanding language, thought memory and perhaps even creativity. For many years, handedness has been seen as a possible proxy, an external clue to the balance in the brain between left and right.

For right-handed people, language activity is predominantly on the left side. Many left-handers also have left-side language dominance, but a significant number have language either more evenly distributed in both hemispheres or else predominantly on the right side of the brain.

via Left-Handedness Loses Its Stigma but Retains Its Mystery –

Posted March 29, 2012 by arnoneumann in Science

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Squabbling while the world burns – Climate change, Science and Policy   Leave a comment

The sceptics aren’t the block to action on climate change.They just wish they were.

When you write about climate change, you get even more angry emails than when you write about Muslims. Last time I tried, one reader berated me for mentioning “fictional pompous Al Gore’s enriching scheme of global warming” in my “ridiculous article”. This man ended with a quote from Einstein: “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.” Another reader, whose sign-off cited his PhD, explained to me that all the international summits weren’t “about man-made climate change ‘science’ … but really about a larger ‘global wealth distribution scheme’.”

It’s tempting to blame “climate sceptics” for the world’s inaction on man-made climate change. (The United Nations’ latest summit, starting in Durban on Monday, won’t save the planet either.) Greens often talk as if the enemy were not climate change itself, but a self-taught band of freelance sceptics. No wonder, because fighting culture wars is the fun bit of politics. However, this fight is pointless. The sceptics aren’t the block to action on climate change. They just wish they were. Instead, they are an irrelevant sideshow.

Sceptics and believers quarrel about the science because they both start from a mistaken premise: that science will determine what we do about climate change. The idea is that once we agree what the science says, policy will automatically follow. That’s why the Nobel committee gave Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change a peace prize.

Mysteriously, though, the policy still hasn’t followed the science. Almost all scientists already agree on the science. An article in the PNAS, journal of the US National Academy of Sciences, last year found that 97 per cent of actively publishing climate scientists believe man-made climate change is happening. Nonetheless, the world hasn’t acted.

Clearly then, science doesn’t determine policy, concludes Daniel Sarewitz of the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes in Washington. Yet the pointless quarrel about science continues.

It’s pointless first of all because what most people believe about climate change has little to do with science. After all, hardly any layperson understands it. Rather, people’s beliefs about climate change follow from their beliefs about the world. “We disagree about climate change because we have different belief systems,” writes Mike Hulme, professor of climate change at the UK’s University of East Anglia.

American sceptics, for instance, are disproportionately likely to be conservative white males, say the sociologists Aaron McCright and Riley Dunlap. Conservative white males don’t like governments interfering with business. They don’t like global co-operation. Nothing will convince them that we need global co-operation to interfere with business and tackle climate change, especially not if Al Gore says so.

Conversely, liberals who do like global co-operation and interfering with business are going to believe in climate change, even though hardly any of them understand the science either. “Climate change has joined gun control, taxes and abortion as a form of social identity marker,” writes Matthew Nisbet, social scientist at American University in Washington. In this debate, and not just in the US, almost nobody is open to persuasion.

Beating the sceptics around the head with the science just gives them attention. It also allows them to roar in triumph whenever the believers get any bit of science wrong, as when the IPCC exaggerated the melting of Himalayan glaciers. The squabble also creates a one-dimensional argument about climate change: do you believe it’s real or not? I’ve found to my cost that many people can only read articles about climate change as statements of either belief or scepticism. This obscures better questions, such as what exactly we should do about climate change.

The quarrel with the sceptics is additionally pointless because they are a small minority – under a fifth of the 35 million Americans who actively engage in this issue, estimates Jon Krosnick, social psychologist at Stanford University. In a poll sponsored by the World Bank in 15 countries in 2009, “in each country the public believed climate change to be a serious problem,” writes Roger Pielke Jr, political scientist at the University of Colorado. He adds: “The battle for public opinion has essentially been won.” Admittedly, he cautions, most people who believe that climate change exists feel only lukewarm concern. However, trying to convince them with even more science is probably pointless too.

The sceptics and the apathetic will always be with us. There’ll never be full consensus on climate change. But if governments could only act when there was unanimity, no law on anything would ever be passed. The US invaded Iraq, bailed out banks and passed universal healthcare with much less consensus than exists over climate change. In short, the sceptics are not the block to action.

Rather, the block is that the believers – including virtually all governments on earth – aren’t sufficiently willing to act. We could do something. But shouting at sceptics is easier.

via Squabbling while the world burns –

Posted November 27, 2011 by arnoneumann in Climate_change, Science

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Motivated research : Article : EMBO reports   Leave a comment

Motivated research

Antoine Danchin1

AMAbiotics SAS, Evry, France.


Three years ago, a senior politician attended his country’s Annual Congress for the Advancement of Science to give the introductory lecture. He asked the attending scientists to make science and research more attractive to young students and the general public, and asked his countrymen to support scientists to address the urgent challenges of global climate change, energy needs and dwindling water resources. It was neither a European nor a US politician, but the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who made this speech about the relationship between research and its practical applications. This is such an important topic that one might think it deserves appropriate attention in Europe, yet we fail to address it properly. Instead, we just discuss how science should serve society or contribute to the ‘knowledge-based economy’, or how ‘basic’ or ‘fundamental’ research is opposed to ‘applied’ or ‘industrial’ research and how funding for ‘big science’ comes at the expense of ‘little academic’ research.

This dichotomy between the research to generate knowledge and the application of that knowledge to benefit humankind seems to be a recent development. In fact, more than 100 years ago Louis Pasteur avoided this debate altogether: one of his major, yet forgotten, contributions to science was the insight that research and its applications are not opposed, but orthogonal to each other (Stokes, 1997). If Niels Bohr ‘invented’ basic academic research—which was nevertheless the basis for many technological inventions and industrial applications—Pasteur developed what we might call ‘motivated’ research.

How is research motivated and by what? By definition, scientists are citizens and members of the general public and, like the public, they are motivated by two forces: on the one hand, in Rudyard Kipling’s words, “man’s insatiable curiosity”; on the other hand, a desire for maintaining and improving their well-being. These are not contradictory to one another; curiosity nourishes dreams of a brighter future and leads to discoveries that contribute to well-being.

Pasteur understood that it is essential to take account of society’s demands and desires; that science must be motivated by what people want. Still, there are severe misgivings about the nature of research. These stem from the mistaken but popular assumption that the scientists’ main task is to find solutions to current problems or to fulfil our desires. Problems and desires, however, are not enough, because finding solutions also requires creativity and discovery, which, by their very nature, are unpredictable. Often we do not even know what we need or desire and it is only through curiosity and more knowledge that we find new ways to improve our well-being. Motivation by itself is, therefore, not enough to lead to discovery. Motivation simply helps us choose between many different goals and an infinite number of paths to gain novel knowledge. Subsequently, each path, once chosen, must be explored using the scientific method, which is the only way to new discoveries.

Motivation helps us to ask relevant questions. For example, why do wine and beer go sour without any apparent reason? Pasteur set out to design experiments that showed that fermentation is caused by microorganisms. A few years later, silkworms were suddenly dying of a terrible disease in the silk factories of southern France. The French government called on Pasteur for help, who eventually found that a parasite had infected silkworm eggs and proposed solutions to eradicate the disease. The original question therefore led to germ theory and bacteriology, helped to develop solutions to infectious diseases, and eventually created the whole field of microbiology.

Motivation leads to conceptual and experimental research, which generates discoveries and new technologies. Discoveries, in turn, are the basic resource for the creation of general knowledge and the development of new products, services and other goods that fulfil public demands and generate jobs. The study of the ‘diseases’ of beer and wine also led to the development of fermentation processes that are still in use today. The same motivation that drove Pasteur in the nineteenth century now enables us to tackle current problems, such as pollution, by studying microbial communities that make compost or thrive in garbage dumps. Motivated research therefore reconciles our curiosity with the creation of knowledge and enables us to address pressing needs for humanity.

Because it is strongly inspired by—even rooted in—society’s demands and desires, motivated research also raises accompanying ethical, legal, social and safety issues that should be compelling for all research. As mentioned above, scientists are members of the public who share the same concerns and demands as their fellow citizens and therefore participate with a general, public intelligence that, too often, is absent from academic research. This absence of ‘common sense’ or societal expectations generates the misunderstandings concerning research in biology and the development of biotechnology. These misconceptions—whether about the purported risks of genetically modified organisms or the exaggerated expectations for cancer therapies—can create real suffering in society and inefficient allocation of limited resources. It is therefore advisable for researchers to listen more to the public at large in order to find the motivation for their work.

via Motivated research : Article : EMBO reports.

Posted October 13, 2011 by arnoneumann in Research, Science, You Tube

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Are You Climbing Hills or Crossing Valleys? « Innovation Leadership Network   Leave a comment






Are You Climbing Hills or Crossing Valleys? « Innovation Leadership Network.

Some scientists, he suggests, are what we might call “hill climbers”. They tend to be highly skilled in technical terms and their work mostly takes established lines of insight that pushes them further; they climb upward into the hills in some abstract space of scientific fitness, always taking small steps to improve the agreement of theory and observation. These scientists do “normal” science. In contrast, other scientists are more radical and adventurous in spirit, and they can be seen as “valley crossers”. They may be less skilled technically, but they tend to have strong scientific intuition — the ability to spot hidden assumptions and to look at familiar topics in totally new ways.

To be most effective, Smolin argues, science needs a mix of hill climbers and valley crossers. Too many hill climbers doing normal science, and you end up sooner or later with lots of them stuck on the tops of local hills, each defending their own territory. Science then suffers from a lack of enough valley crossers able to strike out from those intellectually tidy positions to explore further away and find higher peaks.

Posted June 7, 2011 by arnoneumann in Innovation, Science, Technology

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