The Scientific Method

“It’s Sunday evening, I’ve worked all weekend, and just when I thought it was done I’m hitting yet another problem that’s based on the hopeless state of our databases. There is no uniform data integrity, it’s just a catalogue of issues that continues to grow as they’re found.”

This email, one of many stolen from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, gives us reason to reflect on the scientific method and the (all-too) human researchers that might (or might not) use it.  For climate change skeptics, such as Patrick Michaels, a Cato fellow and former Virginia state climatologist, these emails constitute “not a smoking gun” but “a mushroom cloud” indicating fraud and deception.  For others, Continue reading “The Scientific Method”

Judge cites Russell in protecting philosophical beliefs

Earlier this month, Mr Justice Michael Burton ruled that employees holding philosophical views based on science and reason should be afforded the same legal protection from discrimination as those with religious beliefs. The case concerned Tim Nicholson, the former head of sustainability for Grainger, the UK’s largest listed residential property company. Nicholson claimed that he had been sacked due to his environmental beliefs. But Grainger’s lawyers contended that environmental views are political and a “lifestyle choice” which cannot be compared to religion or philosophy.

Mr Burton ruled that Nicholson’s views were entitled to the same protection as religious views and that the case should go before an employment tribunal. The written ruling, which looked at whether philosophy could be underpinned by a scientific belief, quoted from Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy and ultimately concluded that a belief in climate change, while a political view about science, can also be a philosophical one. Interestingly, Mr Burton ruled last year that Al Gore’s environmental documentary An Inconvenient Truth was political and partisan as he assessed whether it should be shown to schools. (You can read about the case here and here.)

Continue reading “Judge cites Russell in protecting philosophical beliefs”

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

Virtual Conference Report: Day Five (23 Oct, 2009)

800px-L-Assemblee-Nationale-Gillrayby paulabowles

The first week of the conference has come to an end, and the final day has included two exciting papers, as well as a publishing workshop. The first paper entitled ‘Full Disclosure of the “Raw Data” of Research on Humans: Citizens’ Rights, Product Manufacturer’s Obligations and the Quality of the Scientific Database’ was presented by Dennis Mazur (Oregon Health and Sciences University). In his lecture, Mazur highlights the difficult and contentious issues involved in human testing, particularly the tensions between participants and drug manufacturers.

The second paper also takes an interdisciplinary approach to medical matters. Eileen Smith‐Cavros (Nova Southeastern University) lecture entitled ‘Fertility and Inequality Across Borders: Assisted Reproductive Technology and Globalization’ looks at the emotive issue of assisted reproduction. By surveying existing literature, Smith Cavros is able to look in detail at some of the many issues which impact upon reproduction.

Together with these two papers, Duane Wegener’s (Purdue University) publishing workshop: ‘Top 10 mistakes New Scholars Make When Trying to Get Published’ marked the end of the first week. Enjoy the weekend and we look forward to seeing you next week.

The end of the university

Harvard_Museum_of_Natural_History_050227Kevin Carey thinks universities will soon go the way of the newspaper:

Colleges are caught in [a] debt-fueled price spiral… They’re also in the information business in a time when technology is driving down the cost of selling information to record, destabilizing lows.  In combination, these two trends threaten to shake the foundation of the modern university, in much the same way that other seemingly impregnable institutions have been torn apart.  … Students will benefit enormously from radically lower prices… But these huge changes will also seriously threaten the ability of universities to provide all the things beyond teaching on which society depends: science, culture, the transmission of our civilization from one generation to the next. Continue reading “The end of the university”

No “God spot” to be found in the brain

Phrenologychart(Cross posted in Religion Compass Exchanges)

Reuters have reported the recent publication of How God Changes Your Brain. This book takes a neurotheological – ‘the study of the brain’s role in religious belief’- approach to prayer and meditation in an effort to understand the biological processes involved. The writers, Andrew Newburg and Mark Robert Waldman have used brain scans on individuals who were either praying or meditating, to identify what they describe as “God circuits”. Continue reading “No “God spot” to be found in the brain”

The Crow and The Pitcher

The_Crow_and_the_Pitcher_-_Project_Gutenberg_etext_19994 What is the relationship between narrative and philosophy? Can story-telling prompt us towards new ways of understanding? Or, do myths only serve to muddle an already difficult path?

French philosopher Paul Ricoeur offers one possible entryway into the above problem. The late phenomenologist suggested that separating ‘the story’ from the human experience is nearly impossible. The ideals of our myths inevitably seep into social mores and laws. Narratives help to mark the limits of human action, drawing the line between ‘heroes’ and ‘everymen.’ And, story-telling fundamentally shapes how one’s ‘history’ is remembered and re-told. In this way, Ricoeur presents the relationship between narrative and philosophy as the task of recognizing the impact of a phenomenon already-present.

Recent headlines reveal another candidate similarly influenced by the already-present role of story-telling: modern science. Inspired by one of Aesop’s fables (The Crow and the Pitcher), university scholars Christopher Bird and Nathan Emery experimented to see if the story might be empirically ‘true.’ Continue reading “The Crow and The Pitcher”