Are you getting bummed out reading about doom and gloom predictions? Edge asked 160 'thought leaders' to share with us their answers to this years question, "What are you optimistic about? Why?"
The 160 responses to this year's Edge Question span topics such as string theory, intelligence, population growth, cancer, climate and much much more. Contributing their optimistic visions are a who's who of interesting and important world-class thinkers.
Edge asked its hand-picked list of 'thought leaders' to reassure each other and the rest of us that we have reason to be optimistic. Edge.org
Kurzweil, who authored The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, explains how when things keep doubling at a regular rate they approach infinity or zero. Computer's increasing ability to "figure things out" will lead to answers for our many problems. The cost of solar energy, like the cost of calculators, will drop to levels cheaper than oil. Our new mastery of biology will allow us to "turn off" diseases and aging.
I'm Confident About Energy, the Environment, Longevity, and Wealth; I'm Optimistic (But Not Necessarily Confident) Of the Avoidance Of Existential Downsides; And I'm Hopeful (But Not Necessarily Optimistic) About a Repeat Of 9-11 (Or Worse) Ray Kurzweil
Please consider reading some of the 160 contributions.
The British charity Sense About Science is encouraging celebrities to make sure they have their facts straight before they go talking about scientific issues. A lot of people enjoy reading and hearing what celebrities have to say. Unfortunately, a lot of what they say is nonsense.
Sense About Science has issued a list of especially silly celebrity statements. And while most of these stars are British, I don't think we'd have any trouble putting together a list of Bad Science spouted by American celebs -- or any country's, for that matter. Any nominations?
On Wednesday the Make It Team from the museum's Youth Science Center talked about research using animals.
The teens watched four short videos:
After watching the videos, teens used the Democs Game to talk about the pros and cons of animal testing. Democs is a role playing activity where teens are assigned different view points and then asked to debate issues from those view points.
On Wednesday, the Make It team at the museum's Youth Science Center talked about stem cell research and the election season.
Recently, Michael J. Fox appeared in ads for candidates who support stem cell research. After one of the ads aired, several people commented on Fox's appearance in the ads. Katie Couric interviewed Michael J. Fox where he commented on the original ads and the press they received.
The Make It team watched video clips of one of the ads with Michael J. Fox, the First Lady's reaction to the ads, and Katie Couric's interview with Michael J. Fox which includes a clip of Rush Limbaugh's comments.
Afterwards we talked about what stem cell research is, why some people want the government to fund stem cell research, and what reservations people have about how stem cells are used. You can check out the teens reactions to the discussions on the Make It Blog here, here, here and here.
According to recent Washington Post articles, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is close to approving the sale of milk and meat from cloned animals, perhaps by the end of this year. Stephen F. Sundlof, the FDA's chief of veterinary medicine, was quoted: "Our evaluation is that the food from cloned animals is as safe as the food we eat every day." However, this pending approval has drawn criticism from both consumer and certain religious groups. The potential approval was a topic at a Washington conference sponsored by Michigan State University and the nonpartisan Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology. Speakers with expertise in biology, philosophy, ethics, and theology said that scientists must be part of an "implicit social compact" to use ethical means to solve societal problems. Paul Thompson, W.K. Kellogg Endowed Chair in Food, Agricultural, and Community Ethics at MSU, provided an overview of animal ethics to conference participants. Besides the impending authorization of cloned milk and meat, the topic of whether these products will carry a label designating them as such is an issue of current debate. Barb Glenn of the Biotechnology Industry Organization was quoted in another Post article:
"We feel like the average consumer is going to accept this technology as we move forward. There will not be a label that will indicate this is anything other than healthy meat and milk."
To view the Post articles, see the links below. (You may have to register with the Post to view them.)
What do you think of cloned milk or meat? Would you buy these products? Should they be labeled as originating from cloned animals?
"Religion a prominent cloned-food issue"
The Hubble constant, formulated by Edwin Hubble in 1929, has remained fairly constant since the 1950's. Kris Stanek, associate professor of astronomy at Ohio State, and his coauthors are publishing a paper that may change the accepted value of the Hubble constant and also the accepted size and age of the universe.
They studied two of the brightest stars in M33, which are part of a binary system, meaning that the stars orbit each other. As seen from Earth, one star eclipses the other every five days.
They measured the mass of the stars, which told them how bright those stars would appear if they were nearby. But the stars actually appear dimmer because they are far away. The difference between the intrinsic brightness and the apparent brightness told them how far away the stars were -- in a single calculation.
To their surprise, the distance was 15 percent farther than they expected: about 3 million light-years away, instead of 2.6 million light-years as determined by the Hubble constant.
This new method took 10 years to develop. To make such a drastic change to the accepted view of the universe will require additional experimentation.
"Our margin of error is now 6 percent, which is actually pretty good," Stanek said. Next, they may do the same calculation for another star system in M33, to reduce their error further, or they may look at the nearby Andromeda galaxy. The kind of binary systems they are looking for are relatively rare, he said, and getting all the necessary measurements to repeat the calculation would probably take at least another two years.
Soure article: Ohio State University Research Archive
Connections between politics and science were clear during the State of the Union address on January 31, when President George W. Bush outlined his priorities for the nation. "We see great changes in science and commerce that will influence all our lives," Bush said, expecting the United States to "lead in oppportunity and innovation for decades to come."
A visitor to this website recently posted this question:
How is evolution proved right? How is there proof of this "chance?" There are many other ways people say the earth was created; which is right? Is there a God that created the world? Or did everyone simply evolve? Whatever you believe, how do you prove yourself right?
That said, "proof" is really the crux of the issue.
All explanations of the Earth's creation other than evolution basically say that life is too complicated to explain by natural processes; something outside of nature must have created it. The only way to prove or disprove an idea like that is to look outside of nature. And once you go outside of nature, you're no longer doing science.
Science is a way of looking at the world, asking questions about nature and looking for answers in the natural processes around us. It works on one simple rule: show us the evidence! Show us an experiment in the lab or an observation in nature, but you have to point to something real that can be seen or measured. And then you have to come up with an explanation for what you've seen. You have to test your explanation by doing another experiment or making another observation that supports you. And if the results don't match, you know your explanation was wrong.
In science, a theory is an explanation that accounts for all the evidence. Atomic theory explains how matter works. Gravitational theory explains how gravity works. And evolutionary theory explains how life has changed over time.
Evolution is both a fact and a theory. The word has two meanings. First, it means "the history of life on Earth." And there's no denying that life has changed over the last 500 million years-go to the Dinosaurs and Fossils Gallery and see for yourself. But evolution also means "the explanation of HOW those changes have occurred." Scientists use the word theory for explanations that account for all the evidence.
And there is a lot of evidence for the theory of evolution. Every fossil that's ever been found; every animal that ever lived; every cell in your body-all of these support evolution. Scientists have been poking and prodding and testing the theory for 150 years, and have written tens of thousands of papers on the subject. Evolution is the best explanation we've ever had for the history of life on earth. (In terms of experiments and observations, it has been said there is more solid evidence for evolutionary theory than for atomic theory-and no one doubts the existence of atoms!)
Evolution happens every day, all around us. The bird flu that's been in the news is an example of evolution in viruses. New breeds of farm plants and animals are examples of evolution. And every baby that is born today will inherit traits from its mother and father, and so also be an example of evolution in action.
Science is really good at explaining WHAT and HOW: what our bodies are made of, how they work, how we evolved. But one thing science cannot do is explain WHY. Why are we here? What is our purpose? What is life's meaning? For that, you need religion.
OK, so what is evolution?
Evolution, by the most basic definition, is the profound, ceaseless change in life forms through time.
Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace were the first scientists to call this change in life over time "natural selection," although many others have contributed to the idea. (Changes in the theory of evolution have been made since Darwin's original proposal, yet his main theory stands firm.)
The theory of natural selection is based on three principles:
Generation by generation, organisms that are better adapted to their environment in some way survive to pass on their advantageous qualities.
Evolution is not purposeful: it does not work toward a specific end or create better or worse organisms. Species evolve by adapting to particular niches in their environments, but the genetic mutations that lead to these adaptations occur by chance. An organism cannot will itself to mutate in a beneficial way. If its niche disappears, the species may become extinct or it may adapt to new conditions, but the failure to do so does not imply some kind of defect.
Evolution does not occur "for the good of a species." It operates at the level of individual organisms over many generations. A whole population does not simultaneously evolve a new trait; instead, the new trait evolves in one or a few organisms, which pass it on until the population is dominated by organisms having that trait.
Even more evidence of evolution
As humans, we share features with all living life forms, past and present. The more specific these features are, the more recently scientists think they evolved. For example, fingernails-a feature we share with all primates-evolved 30 million years ago. We have the same basic anatomical plan as all other vertebrates, which evolved 500 million years ago. And our cells'ability to use oxygen goes all the way back to our relationship with plants, fungi, and bacteria, which evolved over 1,000 million years ago.
Here are other examples of evidence for evolution:
The US Postal Service will release 4 new stamps this month to commemorate important American scientists of the last century.
One of my favorite science thinkers, Richard Feynman, will be featured on one of the stamps. Feynman was famous for his discoveries about Quantum Electro Dynamics, which allowed us to understand more about the very strange properties of light. While Feynman was a ground breaking scientist he also excelled as a remarkable teacher. To get a sense for his teaching abilities and to learn more about light, you should watch one of his lectures on Quantum Electro Dynamics
The stamps will also feature:
Do you think you will buy stamps because they have scientists on them? I will, but I'm kind of a nerd.
In January, Harvard President Lawrence Summers created quite a stir when he suggested that one reason why there are fewer women than men working in math and science is that there are inherent differences between male and female brains. (Summer's full speech can be found here.
The comments created quite a controversy. Enter "Summers Harvard women math speech" into Google and you'll get about 28 thousand hits. Many people are reluctant to accept the idea that men and women are inherently different.