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Wind Power and Society February 28, 2009

Posted by sdavis20 in Science & society.
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Hey everybody,

I’m sure you all remember most of the factual information from my presentation so rather than recap those I would like to take this opportunity to really get into the reasons behind the differences in European and American attitudes towards wind power, but first I’d like to begin with the best wind power ad ever.

I posted this ad mostly because its just awesome and funny but also because it somewhat alludes to a difference in international opinion regarding wind power in the US and Europe. In Europe wind power may not be viewed as as being more useful necessarily but rather as more of a necessity given the issue of global warming. For example, in clear and direct contrast to the United States the populations of nations like Denmark hold it as their national responsibility to do everything in their power to create and use only clean energy. There are several different reasons for this but one I would argue is the direct impact from global warming which is felt more by Europeans than Americans. For instance if this picture from the Netherlands was a very real possibility of what your town would look like in the near future given rising water levels you would be more likely to feel like you had a personal stake in the well being of the environment.

Town under water

Town under water

That sense of urgency, coupled with a very distinct difference in social and political philosophies between America and Europe are the root causes for the extreme gap in clean energy production. Europe as a whole I would classify as having a largely collectivist philosophy, with nearly every country having some policies which we Americans would classify as socialst I feel that this is a fair claim to make. The collectivist philosophy that is very prevalent in European society, with the majority of European nations employing some amount of socialist ideals and principles in their national policies and decision making stands in stark contrast to the US. The US, which was founded entirely on individualistic principles, as can be seen when looking at the documents from our nations founding like the bill of rights, set up a society whose focus is the promotion of individual rights as well as protecting the individual from society as a whole. This focus on individual rights has created a social and political culture that has a very narrow focus on just the individual and national world with little to no regard for anything that happens outside its tiny sphere that has no direct influence on its world. Unfortunately the issue of global warming has remained outside the American national sphere as there have been very few direct imapacts from global warming on daily American life that can be understood by the average citizen. This fact has hindered any sense of urgency that American scientists have tried to give the issue.

In conclusion it is my opinion that America will never be at the forefront of scientific issues like global warming as long as the national focus of the government and its people are on economics and social issues within its own national sphere and not on global issues instead.

Informational Links:

Study on Danish wind power

Case study on rising Dutch sea levels

Environmental Policies of the European Union

Wiki on individualism

Wiki on collectivism

Mad Science ! February 25, 2009

Posted by Chris in Medicine, Science & society.
5 comments

First off let me just give a brief over view of what I’d like to accomplish via this blog.
I’m going to talk about animal testing though out the majority of this installment.
Then I will follow up with a second post about human testing (as per my comment in class about the pregnant mothers being subjected to radiation/uranium tasting on their unborn children)

My goal is not to gross you out, though in honesty – I hope I do.
My goal is for you to walk away from this blog, your computer..
and some time, maybe 5 min.. maybe 5 days from now think back to what I say.
Think back to the videos and pictures I’ll post and really ask yourself – at what cost..

If you don’t feel a connection to animals – I understand, well I don’t really understand, but I know some people don’t like animals. The next installment will deal with human testing – primarily Japan,Russia, Germany and USA.
Maybe you will connect better with seeing 1/2 dissected mothers, while their unborn children lay next to them.

.. anyways enough of that..
on to Mad science !

In my class presentation I showed you experimentation video from the 50’s, 60’s and even as recent as the mid 70’s. The cold war acted as a catalyst for mad science to take place. We were looking for anything to beat the Russians at/with and vice-verse.  It only stands to reason that median would be on the list. This begs the question, how does one show their medical superiority? The answer is easy, perform the most outrageous experiments on humans and animals. The more extreme the experiment the more press it gets and thus the only saying goes, no press is bad press.
Ok you might be thinking that’s all good and dandy, but why did this continue into the 70’s ?
It’s because the idea that the most extreme experiments win you the publicity still holds true today. The difference is today many “scientists” try to conceal their experimentation as best as possible, allowing only enough proof to show in order to secure grants. This happens for many reasons: fear of someone else coming along and doing the same experiments, fear of protest from the general public… the list really does go on.

Is animal testing morally right?
Yes No
Human life has greater intrinsic value than animal life Animals have as much right to life as human beings
Legislation protects all lab animals from cruelty or mistreatment Strict controls have not prevented researchers from abusing animals – although such instances are rare
Millions of animals are killed for food every year – if anything, medical research is a more worthy death Deaths through research are absolutely unnecessary and are morally no different from murder
Few animals feel any pain as they are killed before they have the chance to suffer When locked up they suffer tremendous stress. Can we know they don’t feel pain?
1: http://www.animalport.com/animal-testing/animal-testing-facts-figures.html

Compelling arguments on both sides. I am really torn between 2 mindsets. The first is if this is what it takes to continue the ‘evolution’ of our species then so be it! The second state of mind is, basically how I connect with the animals. It’s strange that I have less of a connection to people who willingly go into human testing than those animals who are forced into it.

You might be thinking – well, yes we test animals, but we have ethics boards to prevent cruelty and unusual/unneeded experiments.  You would be right, “institutional review board (IRB), also known as an independent ethics committee (IEC) or ethical review board (ERB)” are there to protect animals! Except they don’t apply to government or industry work. For government or industry work the only requirement they need to meet when testing or running experiments is that they not break the law.

Here are some videos that I hope resonate with you, in what way I don’t know.
Maybe you will be sickened by them, maybe you’ll just brush them off as a part of life.
I just hope they effect you in some way. –
Please watch at least the first video, it will only take a few min of your time.

In this day and age, do we really need animal testing?
Is this science or is this cruelty to animals?
If its both science and cruel –
should we accept the results, and by accepting the results are we paving the way for more mad science to take place ?

Climate Change – skepticism and scientific consensus February 24, 2009

Posted by avk8704 in Climate science, Science & society.
3 comments

I will recap what I discussed in my presentation with a bit more information. I picked this topic with a strong interest in how our society views climate change as a major environmental threat, though I am also interested in whether we are doing enough to address the issue.

The Wikipedia definition of climate change:

Climate change is the long-term significant change in the expected patterns of average weather of a specific region (or, more relevantly to contemporary socio-political concerns, of the Earth as a whole) over an appropriately significant period of time.

Consensus means “an agreement in opinion or testimony or belief.” The climate skeptics hold that the consensus on whether climate change is mostly caused by humans’ activities is lacking in the scientific community. But scientific organizations themselves have repeatedly rejected this claim and agreed that our current climate is undergoing change that can potentially harm humans.

climate-change-1

I found an interesting article written by Naomi Oreskes, Beyond the Ivory Tower: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change, where she detailed the evidence of agreed-upon scientific consensus on climate change. She pointed out that “such statements suggest that there might be substantive disagreement in the scientific community about the reality of anthropogenic climate change” is most likely to be false. Oreskes also detailed that IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), whose role is to study and analyze the state of climate change “as a basis for informed policy action,” reported clearly that there is scientific consensus on climate change. There followed announcements agreeing with this statement from the National Academy of Science, the American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. These professional organizations all share the same belief that global warming causes the rises in global temperatures and elevation of ocean level. To add to the list of agreement, 928 different abstracts published in the last 15 years had shown various agreements with the notion of global warming, presenting various evidences proving their claims.

Another article you might find interesting is Joseph Romm’s The cold truth about climate change. He made an interesting argument that while the threats of climate change is real, he wouldn’t go as far doubting there is scientific consensus. Instead, he doubts that the IPCC has communicated how bad the prospects really are. He detailed plentiful evidence supporting climate change: increases in greenhouse gases over the last 50 years or more, intensive studies of climate models that claimed idea of humans’ activities being the primary cause, rise in sea level in last 15 years, the increase in temperature since 1990 by 0.33 degree Celsius, and recent sea-ice retreat from Arctic being larger than expected.

climate-change-2

Although despite the flood of claims and evidences that there are solid agreements between scientists regarding to climate change, many people still refused to believe it is so. In Holman W. Jenkins Jr.’s article, The Science of Gore’s Nobel: What if Everyone Believes in Global Warmism Only Because Everyone Believes in Global Warmism, he argued that the scientists are humans and are prone to make mistake such as not waiting for proof while funding and studying to seeks evidences for their hypotheses. Also, he disregarded the consensus as a groupthink.

Interestingly enough, the late Michael Crichton brought up his extremely lengthy argument in his blog, The Case for Skepticism on Global Warming, explaining that while agreeing that environmental awareness is especially important, he believed that the approach to studies on global warming and consensus isn’t the correct scientific method for addressing such issues. He also mirrored Holman W. Jenkins’ argument that scientists “are basing our decisions on speculation, not evidence” and that the “proponents are pressing their views with more PR than scientific data.” Crichton also brought up an interesting history that eerily mirrored the current situation: in 1970’s, the scientists made lot of statements and claims that there will be serious threats of global cooling. Even UC Davis’s Kenneth Watt claimed “If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder in 1990, but eleven degrees colder by the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us in an ice age.” While that never happened, it is interesting to note that the “global cooling” situation was possibly behaved similarly to “global warming” as of today. Although, the “global cooling” crisis only lasted for 5 years after barely any evidence backing it, but same could be said for the current crisis if global warming found to be fictional or not very serious as a global threat.

Also, it important to point out that while there’s lot of focuses and concerns about humans’ activities being the cause of global warming, many felt that scientists aren’t focusing enough on other subjects of interests that are possible contributing factors of global warming. The subjects may included plate tectonics that is possible cause of rises in greenhouse gases, solar variation of the sun that cause the rise in sunlight and is possible contributing factor to increases in temperatures, volcanism being another of possible factor which can cause global cooling with its plume blocking out sunlight, and even orbital variation of Earth in which even slight change in orbital path or axis tilt could cause major changes in climate. 

climate-change-3

In conclusion, there’s still serious discussion regarding to the existence and threats of climate change. Also, there are still questions about if agreed scientific consensus on climate change does exist and if disagreeing with accepted scientific consensus is a good method to debate and highlight concerns about other possible factors for climate change. Not to mention that there is concerns about if the current scientific approach to studies, discussion, and consensus on climate changes is the right step for addressing those issues of climate change.

Are Mental Illnesses Natural Kinds or are they Socially Constructed? February 18, 2009

Posted by daw0157 in Medicine, Science & society, Social science.
1 comment so far

This post is coming a bit late after my presentation on mental illnesses way back on 18 Dec 2008.  With the rather large gap between presentation and post, I think it will be worthwhile to recap both the material presented and the flow of the lively discussion we had.

The question that I tried to explore and explain was the notion of mental illnesses, and whether or not they would be considered natural kinds (they happen because they happen) or socially constructed (as a society, they were created to fill some role or need).  This question is important because as we define and categorize mental illness in the United States right now, about 1/4 of the population(*1) over 18 years old suffers from a diagnosable mental illness.  Having a better understanding of these mental illnesses is beneficial to many different aspects of our life, from how we understand them, to how we treat the illness, to how we treat the person afflicted with the illness.

I started the presentation by asking the class if anyone had ever heard of depression.  The unanimous decision was that the class had heard of it, and was under the assumption it was truly a natural kind of mental illness.  Next I asked if the class had heard of Drapetomania, and of course no one had, because Drapetomania is no more than Louisiana’s attempt at scientific racism.

The example is a little ridiculous and in the debate of mental illnesses and their validity as natural kinds, depression is very well understood to be natural and something like Drapetomania could not be any more socially constructed. I used this example for the sole reason of drawing two lines in the sand to show the great range between illnesses that would be discussed.

There are a few unique positions that have been well researched and documented. These “sides” of the argument have proven to encapsulate the general opinions of people who have attempted to propose solutions to the problem.

The first opinion would be that of Thomas Szasz. According to Szasz the mainstream view in the West is that the changes in our description and treatment of mental illnesses are a result of our increasing knowledge and greater conceptual sophistication. On this view, we have conquered our former ignorance and now know that mental illness exists, even though there is a great deal of further research to be done on the causes and treatment of mental illnesses.

The strongest opposing view of mental illnesses being natural kinds is led by the philosopher Dominic Murphy. According to Murphy mental illness is a concept like pest, weed, and vermin. Weeds and vermin are not natural kinds, but they are made up of natural kinds that can be explained empirically. Furthermore, whether something counts as a weed or a vermin depends on human interests in a way that allows the class to grow over time, or vary across projects. Concepts that are sensitive to human interests in this way are open-ended — things may fall into them (or drop out of them) as human interests change over time. Folk thinking does not determine in advance whether a species is a pest, nor does it make scientific investigation of a species of pest into a normative endeavor. (*2)

Classifying mental illness has proved a continued problem, because of the vague understanding we have of their affects on a person. There are certain controversial disorders that have proven to be difficult to classify such as: homosexuality, psychopathy, personality disorders, and attention deficit disorder. Currently we diagnose mental illnesses by their symptoms rather than their causes. This led to some questions for discussion:

– Is it possible for any classification scheme of mental illness to be purely scientific?
– Do our classification schemes in psychiatry always rest on some non-scientific conception of what should count as a normal life?
– Why aren’t neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s classified as mental illness?

Some interesting websites and readings that I found are listed below. They are rather impartial and more concerned with delivering information.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Dominic Murphy’s book “Psychiatry in the Scientific Image” reviewed
The Social Construction of Mental Illness and its Implications for the Recovery Model

 

*1 – Cool Nurse is Cool
*2 – pp. 98-99, Psychiatry in the Scientific Image

The Large Hadron Collider and its Relation to Cosmic Rays February 18, 2009

Posted by bmwcarey in Philosophy of physics, Science & society.
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The Large Hadron Collider is considered an impending catastrophe by some people.  While it is a milestone of scientific achievement and a portrayal of humankind’s resolute endeavor to compose ourselves of a greater knowledge and understanding of the nature of the universe, the LHC experiment is neither new nor infrequent in nature.

The concept behind this immense experiment is to provide an adequate replication of the nature of matter shortly after the Big Bang, a time in which particles propagated and collided at astonishing kinetic energies and, consequently, considerable velocities.  The scientists behind CERN mean to collide two high-energy particles and observe the underlying mechanisms.  Speculations pertaining to the possible materialization of microscopic black holes and other disastrous scenarios instill fear in some people.  Though matter already behaved in this fashion 13.7 billion years ago, we require more compelling and currently observable evidence to justify the safety of the LHC.  Adrian Kent explains that counterarguments of catastrophic mechanisms, “show that the existence of the catastrophe mechanism is highly improbable, either because closer analysis shows that the proposed mechanism does in fact contradict well established physical principles, or because its existence would imply effects which we should almost certainly have observed but have not.”

Betelgeuse, a star of approximately 20 solar masses.  Image courtesy of NASA/ESA.  Image found through Wikipedia.

Betelgeuse, a star of approximately 20 solar masses. Imaged in ultraviolet. Image courtesy of NASA/ESA. Image found through Wikipedia.

Consider a massive star of more than eight solar masses.  Stars spend most of their lifetime in the main sequence, a period in which hydrogen fusion is active in the star core.  Massive stars are also capable of fusing heavier nuclei, such as helium into carbon, carbon into oxygen, and so on.  However, once these stars develop an iron core, they are incapable of conducting further core fusion; iron does not generate nuclear energy.  The degeneracy pressure of the core cannot sustain itself against the gravitational force of the star’s outer layers.  The inert iron core eventually collapses, releasing an overwhelming amount of energy and disseminating the outer layers in a supernova.

The Crab Nebula, a supernova remnant.  Courtesy of NASA/ESA.  Image found through Wikipedia.

The Crab Nebula, a supernova remnant. Courtesy of NASA/ESA. Image found through Wikipedia.

Within the hot remnants of supernova explosions, particles collide with each other until they escape at relativistic speeds.  These particles, identified as cosmic rays, may have kinetic energies greater than 10^20 eV, a figure of much greater magnitude than the maximum energy of LHC particles, 7 x 10^12 eV.  Earth’s atmosphere is bombarded by cosmic rays on a regular basis; occasionally, they even penetrate the atmosphere and reach the surface.  Despite this frequent occurrence, we have yet to witness the destruction of Earth, or other astronomical bodies, by means of microscopic black holes emerging from collisions between cosmic rays and other particles.  However, this does not undermine the LHC; it is a feat to be able to observe high-energy particle collisions in controlled experiments.

It is worth mentioning that the scientists behind CERN are also ordinary people.  They too have families, friends, and other attachments to the world around us.  While they are not immune to conducting mistakes, it would be erroneous to think they disregard the safety of others.

Through the LHC, scientists hope to uncover the elusive Higgs Boson, a theoretical particle recognized as the origin of mass.  Other aspirations include breakthroughs for String Theory and a more concrete understanding of dark matter.  CERN suffered a setback when an incident befell the LHC on September 19, but they currently intend to see the collider operational by late spring or early summer.

And now, the LHC rap!

Sources:

Bennett, Jeffrey O., Megan Donahue, Nicholas Schneider, and Mark Voit. Cosmic Perspective: Stars, Galaxies and Cosmology. San Fransisco: Benjamin Cummings, 2007.

Adrian Kent. “A Critical look at risk assessments for global catastrophes” (pdf). 

CERN – The Large Hadron Collider.” CERN – European Organization for Nuclear Research.

Crab Nebula.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 

Betelgeuse.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Ethical Issues Surrounding Human Cloning February 11, 2009

Posted by bmielenhausen in Medicine, Science & society.
2 comments

Ever since Dolly the sheep was cloned back in 1996, cloning became a hot button issue with many people concerned about what we can do with new scientific advancements. Many of the fears people have from cloning come from a lack of knowledge about the process.

When human cloning first became a concern, Hollywood made many movies about armies of Hitler’s and the like coming to get normal Americans, when the truth is not only would that be the most expensive army on the planet, the clones would be unlikely to trained in time before they die, not even mentioning the fact that clones do not possess the same mind as the donor, that is a product of setting and circumstance. There are, however, many issues with human cloning that do pose ethical and physical questions that need to be answered if we are ever to conduct human cloning.

Technical and medical safety: This is the prime, number one reason trials of human cloning have never taken place. The success rate of an implanted egg coming to age is less than 1,000 to 1. At these rates no clone would be worth the hefty price tag that would come with it. Also, in clones of other types of animals (Sheep, cats, etc) birth defects are much higher than that of natural birth. LOS or Large Offspring Syndrome causes the clone to grow too large inside the womb of the host, causing birthing difficulties or death. Along with the increased risk of birth defects, clones would also suffer from “old age”, meaning symptoms normally associated with the elderly like hip and joint problems and even senility, much earlier in their lives. Some scientists estimate a human clone would have to have their hips replaced in their mid teens. Even Dolly died early at 4 years old, most sheep live to at least 10 years.

Undermining the concept of reproduction and family: These issues become more of a problem in a physiological sense, disrupting the normal family unit to include clone “children”. Some people believe that clones will disrupt the normal human mating process because everyone will want an exact copy of themselves, not just passing on half their genetic information.

Ambiguous relations of a cloned child with the progenitor: Again this has more to deal with the relationships that would occur between the clone and the progenitor, or genetic donor. In my mind I cannot think of any reason, other than perhaps medical benefits of having a genetic copy lying around, why anyone would clone themselves just to have, and if the clone was made for medical purpose, is that truly fair for the clone, should they have a say as to if they even want to donate whatever they were created for.

Confusing personal identity and harming the psychological development of a clone: Most people seem to think that clones would be all messed up, both physically and mentally. I could only Imagine if the only reason I was created was not because my parents loved me and wanted to raise me, but because somebody needed a new organ or other donor part. And if you were a clone that was made to be raised as a normal child, knowing that you are the exact same as another human could be damaging. Every aspect of life would be compared to your donor, and chances are you would be nothing like your donor, at least as far as your mind and what you think.

Concerns about eugenics; Promoting trends towards designer babies and human enhancement: As soon as you start talking about cloning, people bring up genetic testing and super babies. I doubt we will ever clone a human being, even if we eventually have the technology to make it a viable option for most people because it would open a huge can of worms. If we eventually have the technology to pick out exactly what we want our kids to look like, exactly what traits we want to hand down to our children, we would create a caste system where you would have these “super babies” competing for the same jobs as “regular” people. I believe that we will get to a point where we eradicate the chance of all potentially harmful genes (cancer, Alzheimer’s, etc) just like we have for other such medical problems like polio.

 

Thanks for reading,

-Ben Mielenhausen

Science in the Courtroom February 6, 2009

Posted by C. Steves in Science & society.
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Has the U.S. legal system been improperly relying on forensic evidence in it's judicial practices?

Has the U.S. legal system been improperly relying on forensic evidence in it's judicial practices?

Hello everyone! I just saw this article on a website I frequent and I thought it was quite fitting for our discussion a few weeks ago on the Haack article we read. Please disregard the referance to “lol-cats” in the image, I swear the site is usually displays maturity in it’s postings.

Anyway, it’s a brief blurb about educating judges on what “scientific” evidence is, with a mention of the Daubert vs. Dow case from thae Haack article. It also includes a link to a New York Times article that recently broke discussing some problems with the current practices in forensics and the use of D.N.A. evidence. It’s nothing revolutionary but was a nice update on how the quest for good science in the courtroom is progressing.

Environmentalists vs. Environmental Scientists February 3, 2009

Posted by Eban in Science & society.
7 comments

Tony, this post goes out to you my friend. Take no offense to it, as I’m always down with listening to the insightful things you say in class, you’re a smart guy. I’ve just gotta say something about the “environmentalist” comment made during our discussion last thursday.

Environmentalists are activists and extremists trying to achieve the common goal of spreading the word about conservation and general improvement of the environment. While I do not doubt their intentions, they are far from being scientists. Often statistics are taken, many times from unreliable sources (but who could blame them, they aren’t scientists how could they know whats reliable and whats not) and fudged to scare people into believing that the world will end tomorrow if they don’t start recycling or something crazy like that. They often employ the use of “charismatic mega-fauna”, or cute fluffy animals, to gain the hearts of potential supporters. While using bogus statistics and adorable animals can help gain support for the cause, many smart people (like you Tony) see right through the lies. These people become very skeptical of environmentalists, which, in many cases, turns into skepticism for environmental science.

So while my colleagues and I are out collecting real data and attempting to find out the truth, we are faced with an almost impossibly high hurdle to jump before we can even tell anyone what we’re finding from our studies. We have to overcome the mass amounts of skeptics out there, but who could blame anyone for being skeptical when environmentalists are running around stuffing false numbers and pandas down their throats.

All I’m saying Tony, classmates, fellow human beings, is that there is a huge difference between environmentalists and environmental scientists, and the word “environmentalist” has no place in a science class, or debate, or anywhere, don’t even think about them…unless we’re totally makin’ fun of ’em, then its cool.

If thats not convincing then maybe telling you that many PETA members are environmentalists will do the trick…crazies…At least now you can see why I, as an environmental scientist, I cannot allow it to be confused with environmentalism.