UN climate conference in Copenhagen: Yet another case for evidence based politics?

The climate conference in Copenhagen has ended with an accord brokered by President Obama between China, India, Brazil, and South Africa to do something about climate change. What that something actually is supposed to be remains to be determined as it seems. The accord is non-binding and therefore incredibly weak. World leaders, among them Ban Ki Moon, call the agreement a start and a first step in the right direction. To many people, including me, that does sound somewhat cynical. For years already we are aware that our environment is changing. Science is providing us with evidence about that fact. But Science is not giving us results to use as they are, as apparently some politicians hope. Since the science explaining climate change is so highly complex, it is not only bound to produce errors once in a while, it is also only usable to a certain degree as 100% reliable evidence for action. Continue reading “UN climate conference in Copenhagen: Yet another case for evidence based politics?”

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What is to be understood about war!?

In a times on- line article from today, General Sir Richard Dannat claims that Prime Minister Gordon Brown has not understood until fairly recently the significance of the war in Afghanistan. The article states that the General was critical of how the Government had handled war-related questions, like equipment-shortages and other failed forms of financial backing. As irritating as this criticism might seem, it is not as unflattering for Gordon Brown as it migth sound. I can understand that Gordon Brown cannot understand the war. Who ever really does? Theoretically, it is sensible to free Afghanistan of the Taliban. But for many people it is not really logical that so many soldiers are killed. And it is not clear why? For democracy? A greater good? A humanitarian ideal of freedom? Since the war started in 2001, the “why?” question has become manifold and more and more complicated to answer. The wikipedia definition of war is that it is a “reciprocated, armed conflict between two or more non-congruous entities, aimed at reorganizing a subjectively designed, geo-politically desired result.” A definition that probably helps neither Gordon  Brown nor us. War is not a logical behaviour. As much as war historians are trying to argue its logic. Plato’s ideal state was based on the Good. And the beautiful. Not on war and conflict. No wonder Gordon Brown does not understand the sense in war. Neither do most of us. In Antiquity or today.

Related Articles:

$1.99 - small Are Human Rights Essentially Triggers For Intervention
By John Tasioulas, University of Oxford
(Vol. 4, December 2009)
Philosophy Compass

The Power of Wind

Today we live in the Age of Green. Everyone has realized that we use our natural resources carelessly and thereby are not only slowly destroying the Earth but also ourselves, whereby the speed in which that will happen is not yet determined. Energy generated by wind power therefore seems to be a wonderful solution to many of the problems. Wind is a natural resource that we do have in abundance and it seems to be easy to use. But the wind parks we have so far encounter huge problems. The wind turbines in these parks are huge and very tall propellers that frighten human beings and animals alike, and two-thirds of these turbines are not rotating most of the time. So now an article in Science points out that scientists have developed a new wind turbine that is far more efficient and is designed in a way so that migrating birds can circumnavigate the turbines easily and that the wind parks will need much less space then they are using now. That should be exciting news, since it would solve many problems. The question however is if this solution will be looked at at all. The reason for my skepticism is that those companies that have build these giant wind parks have already spent a lot of money on them and are probably very unwilling to change the system as entirely as it would needed to be changed. In terms of evidence based policy making, the wind parks illustrate the problem of the accumulation of evidence. They were a perfect idea in theory but not in practice, as so many scientists had pointed out already at the time. But the quick solution to the energy dilemma won out over the skeptics and now, when new evidence is available, it seems doubtful that something will change, because the financial interest of those involved in the wind parks is probably more important. But if we really want to make changes, should we not be waiting for the right evidence, and maybe newer science, in order to make the right decisions? We live in the Age of Green and we want to save our planet. Hence we should carefully and patiently accumulate all the evidence we can get to achieve that goal.

Related Article:

$1.99 - small Environmental Ethics: An Overview
By Katie McShane, Colorado State University
(Vol.4 May 2009)
Philosophy Compass

The God particle! Or is it?

The_Large_Hadron_ColliderATLAS_at_CERN_CerchiatoThe search for the elusive Higgs-boson is the driving force between the fierce, but allegedly friendly, competition between the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and the Tevatron at Fermilab. Since CERN has decided at the beginning of the month that the LHC will run throughout the winter, an otherwise unusual practice because of the high energy consumption, it probably will win the race, or so they hope.

The reason why it is so important to win that race is that the Higgs boson plays a central role in the Standard Model of particle physics, but is the only particle in that same model that is not yet discovered. The discovery of the Higgs-boson would explain the existence of mass in the universe and the distribution of mass among the particles. It sounds like something of an ultimate explanation for the last open questions in physics.

But what happens then? String theorists argue that the smallest entities in the universe are strings which constitute the particles. In their view the Higgs-boson would not be the ultimate explanation. But should not the question be if we can “ultimately” explain something at all? The Higgs-boson is called the God particle. But what do we mean by that? That God has created that particle? That the Higgs-boson is God? That the existence of the particle proves God’s existence? That God is behind the Big Bang? And if it is discovered, does physics as a discipline all of a sudden stops, because everything is now explained. Of course not, is the obvious answer for most. But why is it then called the God particle? What is that supposed to be telling us?

For those interested in news updates about CERN from the Times, go here.

For an interesting article about science and its relation to religion, read the following:

$1.99 - small Margaret Cavendish on the Relation between God and World

By Karen Detlefsen, University of Pennsylvania

(Vol. 4, May 2009)

Philosophy Compass

Bonus payments: A special form of greed?!

GeizGreed is nowadays most often associated with money and courtesy to the recession, now mainly with bankers. A simple definition of greed is that those who are greedy want more of what they already have. And studying ethics, we know that greed is a vice and therefore wrong.  Since the recession bankers are portrayed as greedy and as acting against their clients, and therefore against society at large. For the past weeks a new “problem” in the world of banking has cropped up: the payment of bonus payments. By definition bonuses are paid for extraordinary work. If employees really outdid themselves, they receive a special reward. Only that this definition does not seem to be valid anymore. Bonuses have become a part of employment contracts and of employment deals. They are seen as something the employee is entitled to. Therefore bonuses seem to bring about a new form of greed. It is not only greed about the money it seems, but also about the gratification. Bonuses are more than sheer payments, they give the employee perceived job-security. But the problem now is that if bonuses are paid to bankers from banks that have received money from the government, that same government de facto gratifies bankers for making mistakes in the first place. The clients that were mistreated are, via their tax money, now rewarding the bankers. The bankers on the other hand claim that they earned the bonuses and will be motivated to work more successfully, which is then beneficial for the client. It is a vicious cycle!?!

A times article dealing with the bailout is here, and a whole plethora of articles about the topic at large is here.

$1.99 - small Business Ethics: An Overview
By Jeffrey Moriarty, Bowling Green State University
(Vol. 3, August 2008)
Philosophy Compass

Are Scientists allowed to have Faith?

The_hand_of_godThe recent debate about Barack Obama’s nominee Dr. Francis Collins as the next director of the National Institutes of Health highlights a problem that is seldom discussed within philosophy of science. One leading opinion within the philosophy of science seems to be that in order for someone to be a good scientist or philosopher of science, one has to be at least an agnostic, if not an atheist. The general idea seems to be that it is absolutely irrational to believe in some higher being whose existence cannot be proven, and to be a good and dedicated scientist at the same time. The deeper reason for that idea seems to be that scientists that do believe have an “easy way out” if they encounter a difficult problem. Continue reading “Are Scientists allowed to have Faith?”

Swine flu – a new case for Evidence Based Medicine

CDC-11215-swine-fluIt is winter now in Australia and what is feared will be happening in the northern hemisphere when winter arrives, is already the case in the southern hemisphere. Swine flu is becoming more virulent and the necessity to test the vaccines that have been developed since the outbreak of swine flu becomes more urgent. Two pharmaceutical companies in Australia have begun human trials and many volunteers have signed up. Among the volunteers are 400 children, some of them under one year old. It seems logical to test the vaccine on children, since they proved to be one of the most vulnerable groups. The question however is, if it is ethical to involve children in such a trial? Continue reading “Swine flu – a new case for Evidence Based Medicine”