Tag Archives: Science

Science Deniers Are Freaking Out About “Cosmos”

Chris Mooney writers at Mother Jones:

Denying evolution: Sunday’s episode of Cosmos was all about evolution. It closely followed the rhetorical strategy of Charles Darwin’s world-changing 1859 book, On the Origin of Species, beginning with an example of “artificial selection” by breeders (Darwin used pigeons, Cosmos used domestic dogs) to get us ready to appreciate the far vaster power of natural selection. It employed Darwin’s favorite metaphor: the “tree of life,” an analogy that helps us see how all organisms are living on different branches of the same hereditary tree. In the episode, Tyson also refuted one of the creationist’s favorite canards: the idea that complex organs, like the eye, could not have been produced through evolution.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

My Book Review at Esquire: The Sixth Extinction

At Esquire’s culture blog I review a new book by Elizabeth Kolbert called The Sixth Extinction. It’s about Darwin, Carbon and the Earth’s extinction events, past and present.

If this sixth extinction event is to be our legacy, will the most influential humans bother to seriously address the affect they’ve had on the Earth’s biology? Based on the latest UN climate summit, the one held in Warsaw where 133 developing countries and many green groups walked out in protest, the answer is a Cretaceous-ending-fireball-sized no. Industrialized nations have opted to do next to nothing, clinging to the illusion that their wealth will shield them from the food shortages and drought already seen in the Global South. Those most culpable and best equipped to handle emissions, are instead preoccupied with the righteous thrill of blue recycling bins and high-efficiency washing machines, praising the small gestures of ethical consumption, which from the perspective of developing nations, must sound like a demented lullaby.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Evgeny Morozov And The Tech Press

Once again, Morozov indicts the tech press. Do we want a horde of gadget reviewers or critical thinkers? Read his “How to Stop a Sharknado” on Internet ideologies, public intellectuals and politics at the German site Zeit Online.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Of Mice And Men And Chance: Cognititve Development And Fate

In the biological conception of nature and nurture, we tend to think that the dueling forces of genetics and environment shape and predict one’s personality. In a new study involving 40 genetically identical mice–all exposed to the same precisely controlled and measured environment–researchers are revealing the hidden importance of random chance on brain growth.

Writing on the New Yorker’s Elements blog, Gary Marcus explains the findings of the experiment:

Kempermann’s new mouse study shows that chance plays a role in cognitive development. For reasons as yet unknown, possibly having to do with intrauterine environments or randomness in the process by which individual genes are switched on, some mice became more active, others more passive; those that explored to a greater degree subsequently grew more neurons in their hippocampus. In an environment that rewards exploration, the more active mice would presumably thrive; with a simple follow-up it should be possible to prove that luck can mediate success in a carefully controlled environment.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Take My Leg To Save My Stride

Courtesy NYTimes

Prosthetic limbs have come a long way. Newer bionic models facilitate natural human movement and help amputees regain their active lifestyles. As the New York Times reports, the advancement of artificial limbs has led many amputees to elect to lose more of their healthy flesh so that they can be fitted with newer models.

Instead of doing everything possible to preserve and live with whatever is left of their limbs, some are opting to amputate more extensively to regain something more akin to normal function.

Citing the research of a prosthetics start up, iWalk, the article states:

The goal is to build artificial limbs that resemble human arms in dexterity, strength, size and weight — and that veterans one day may control with their brains. The scientists plan to insert a small array of electrodes into the cortex, the brain’s top layer, or into peripheral nerves.

Controlling an artificial limb with thought instead of lifting a metal extension with existing muscle seems both futuristically bizarre and wonderfully intuitive.

Tagged , , , ,