Edge 219 —August 9, 2007
HERETICAL THOUGHTS ABOUT SCIENCE AND SOCIETY
My first heresy says that all the fuss about global warming is grossly exaggerated. Here I am opposing the holy brotherhood of climate model experts and the crowd of deluded citizens who believe the numbers predicted by the computer models. Of course, they say, I have no degree in meteorology and I am therefore not qualified to speak. But I have studied the climate models and I know what they can do. The models solve the equations of fluid dynamics, and they do a very good job of describing the fluid motions of the atmosphere and the oceans. They do a very poor job of describing the clouds, the dust, the chemistry and the biology of fields and farms and forests. They do not begin to describe the real world that we live in. The real world is muddy and messy and full of things that we do not yet understand. It is much easier for a scientist to sit in an air-conditioned building and run computer models, than to put on winter clothes and measure what is really happening outside in the swamps and the clouds. That is why the climate model experts end up believing their own models.
Every year Edge publishes a Summer Postcards edition. For the 2007 edition, here are photos (mine and those of other Edge contributors) from SciFoo Camp—the unclassifiable O'Reilly/Nature/Google meeting of the minds now in its second year. — George Dyson
Every hour there was at least one session I wished I could have attended, but the one I will single out here is "Give us your Data! Google's effort to archive and distribute the world's scientific datasets" by Noel Gorelick (formerly of NASA and now at Google). For a conference on the future of biology, technology, and science, meeting at Google's global headquarters, this was a rare session that focused explicitly on how Google is changing the landscape. Rather, Google now is the landscape, and the success of SciFoo offers ample demonstration of that.
Many Edge contributors and/or event participants were in attendance, including Larry Brilliant. Sergey Brin, Philip Campbell, Geoff Carr , George Church, Chris DiBona, Carl Djerassi, Eric Drexler , Esther Dyson, Freeman Dyson, Danny Hillis, Steve Jurvetson, Dean Kamen, Vinod Khosla, Jaron Lanier, Oliver Morton, PZ Myers, Tim O'Reilly, Larry Page, David Pescovitz, Stuart Pimm, Martin Rees, Michael Shermer, Clay Shirky, Charles Simonyi, Lee Smolin, Linda Stone, Yossi Vardi, Frank Wilczek, and Anne Wojcicki.
Edge 219 —August 9, 2007
THE THIRD CULTURE
THE NEED FOR HERETICS
EDGE IN THE NEWS
THE CHICAGO SUN-TIMES
THIRD CULTURE NEWS
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE SUNDAY TIMES
[This essay was first posted at Edge (www.edge.org) and is reprinted with permission. It is the Preface to the book What Is Your Dangerous Idea?: Today's Leading Thinkers on the Unthinkable, published by HarperCollins.]
The "traditional intellectual" is out of a job; scientists now tell us who and what we are, argues John Brockman, the literary agent and founder of the website Edge. Each year Edge poses a question to the leading "thinkers in the empirical world". In 2006 Steven Pinker suggested "What is your dangerous idea?" - not the secret of a doomsday device, or some fiendish theory, but an idea that is dangerous "because it might be true". There are more than 100 responses in this volume and they make fascinating and provocative reading. ...
Dangerous idea is ‘the idea that ideas can be dangerous’
On the contrary, to Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University, the only dangerous idea is, ‘the idea that ideas can be dangerous’. We live in a world in which people are beheaded, imprisoned, demoted, and censured simply because they have opened their mouths, flapped their lips, and vibrated some air, he rues. “Hateful, blasphemous, prejudiced, vulgar, rude, or ignorant remarks are the music of a free society, and the relentless patter of idiots is how we know we’re in one.”...
Recommended read to detox a tired mind.
Charity is just as “selfish” as self-indulgence
GEOFFREY MILLER is a man with a theory that, if true, will change the way people think about themselves. His idea is that the human brain is the anthropoid equivalent of the peacock's tail. In other words, it is an organ designed to attract the opposite sex. Of course, brains have many other functions, and the human brain shares those with the brains of other animals. But Dr Miller, who works at the University of New Mexico, thinks that mental processes which are uniquely human, such as language and the ability to make complicated artefacts, evolved originally for sexual display. ...
LEADING ARTICLE: Divine inspiration
How else to explain the top position among Labour MPs of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion? Of course, the choice of this volume may simply reflect a kind of subliminal revolt against the ghost of Tony Blair who - even if he did not pray with George Bush - certainly advertised his godliness. It might therefore be seen, paradoxically, almost as a form of exorcism, a way of saying "Blair begone! "...
After Blair, Labour MPs opt for 'God Delusion'
... “In the past few years we have been seeing a network revolution,” says Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, a physics professor at the University of Notre Dame. “People sensed that networks were out there, but they never had large enough data sets to start understanding them in a quantitative fashion.”
For example, he said, sociologists would go into a classroom and ask students to list their friends. That, he said, can be useful, but social networks are huge, and they evolve over time. They involve you, your family, your friends, your friends’ friends and your friends’ friends’ friends ...
The gullible age
For him there is little more glorious than pure knowledge. “I regard the current backlash against science as a betrayal of the Enlightenment.” He deplores the slide in science in British universities. Could it simply be that modern science is too hard for most people, and that superstition and religion have always been a way in which the wonders and vicissitudes of the natural world have been made accessible to the masses? I can see it does not come easy for Dawkins to sympathise with the truly ignorant. ...