From deities to data - "For thousands of years humans believed that authority came from the gods. Then, during the modern era, humanism gradually shifted authority from deities to people... Now, a fresh shift is taking place. Just as divine authority was legitimised by religious mythologies, and human authority was legitimised by humanist ideologies, so high-tech gurus and Silicon Valley prophets are creating a new universal narrative that legitimises the authority of algorithms and Big Data." [more inside]
In his follow-up to Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari envisions what a 'useless class' of humans might look like as AI advances and spreads - "I'm aware that these kinds of forecasts have been around for at least 200 years, from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and they never came true so far. It's basically the boy who cried wolf, but in the original story of the boy who cried wolf, in the end, the wolf actually comes, and I think that is true this time." [more inside]
World After Capital by Albert Wenger [Work in Progress; GitHub; GitBook; PDF; FAQ] - "Technological progress has shifted scarcity for humanity. When we were foragers, food was scarce. During the agrarian age, it was land. Following the industrial revolution, capital became scarce. With digital technologies scarcity is shifting from capital to attention. World After Capital suggests ways to expand economic, informational and psychological freedom to go from an industrial to a knowledge society." (previously)
By comparison to what it could have been, it’s a miracle. By comparison to what it should have been, it’s a disaster. - A historic deal has been struck in Paris to reduce carbon emissions and reduce global warming, with a ceiling of 2 degrees centigrade and a goal of 1.5C. 2015 has been the hottest year on record.
The Weight of the World: Can Christiana Figueres persuade humanity to save itself? by Elizabeth Kolbert [New Yorker]
Of all the jobs in the world, Figueres’s may possess the very highest ratio of responsibility (preventing global collapse) to authority (practically none). The role entails convincing a hundred and ninety-five countries—many of which rely on selling fossil fuels for their national income and almost all of which depend on burning them for the bulk of their energy—that giving up such fuels is a good idea. When Figueres took over the Secretariat, in 2010, there were lots of people who thought the job so thankless that it ought to be abolished. This was in the aftermath of the fifteenth COP, held in Copenhagen, which had been expected to yield a historic agreement but ended in anger and recrimination.
Spreading awareness of Artificially Selected Organisms. They have a Facebook page full of images sure to go viral, and even a White House petition. [This is satire.]
Shared Prosperity, Common Wealth, National Equity and a Citizen's Dividend: Nirit Peled takes a look at social experiments in basic incomes for VPRO Tegenlicht, a Dutch public television documentary series. Starting with a German crowdfunded UBI chosen by raffle -- kind of like the opposite of Le Guin's Omelas (or Shirley Jackson's Lottery in reverse) -- the focus moves on to Albert Wenger who wants to disconnect work from income not only as automation progresses but to accelerate the process. Then it's on to Guy Standing who has conducted basic income experiments in India and Namibia (pdf) and is trying to get one off the ground in Groningen (Utrecht apparently is also a go). Finally, a stop in Alaska to ask some of its residents about their views on the state-owned Permanent Fund. This last part brings to mind the question: just what is wealth anyway? [more inside]
Some Paths to the True Knowledge[*] - "Attention conservation notice: A 5000+ word attempt to provide real ancestors and support for an imaginary ideology I don't actually accept, drawing on fields in which I am in no way an expert. Contains long quotations from even-longer-dead writers, reckless extrapolation from arcane scientific theories, and an unwarranted tone of patiently explaining harsh, basic truths. Altogether, academic in one of the worst senses. Also, spoilers for several of MacLeod's novels, notably but not just The Cassini Division. Written for, and cross-posted to, Crooked Timber's seminar on MacLeod, where I will not be reading the comments."
The Singing Sailor Underwater Defense System - the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society sends out a message of peace, love, understanding and respect to Russian submariners cruising through the Stockholm archepelago
For years, politicians wanting to block legislation on climate change have bolstered their arguments by pointing to the work of a handful of scientists who claim that greenhouse gases pose little risk to humanity. [more inside]
Ted Cruz, Senator from Texas, global warming denier, and (attempted) NASA funding slasher, has been appointed to chair the Senate subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness. In other words, he will be overseeing NASA. [more inside]
Neither Thucydides, Gibbon, von Ranke, nor Braudel ever cited a paper appearing in Geophysical Research Letters. They did not worry themselves about fluctuations in the Siberian High or the Southern Oscillation. The vast majority of more recent historians also remained untroubled by such concerns. However, in the past five years, a handful of highly distinguished historians have come out with new books that put climate at the center of historical explanation. What on Earth is going on? [more inside]
In its December 5, 1994 issue, Time Magazine picked 50 people who would be leaders in the future. They decided to revisit what happened to each person on the 20th anniversary of their predictions.
On Thursday, NASA released the names and designs of three vehicles that could replace the space shuttle as means of sending our astronauts into space. [more inside]
- Welfare economics: an introduction
- The perils of Potential Pareto
- Inequality, production, and technology
- Welfare theorems, distribution priority, and market clearing
- Normative is performative, not positive
The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States (PDF); prospectus (PDF); press coverage (YT) - "The signature effects of human-induced climate change—rising seas, increased damage from storm surge, more frequent bouts of extreme heat—all have specific, measurable impacts on our nation's current assets and ongoing economic activity. [The report] uses a standard risk-assessment approach to determine the range of potential consequences for each region of the U.S.—as well as for selected sectors of the economy—if we continue on our current path..." [more inside]
UN Climate Report: We Must Focus On 'Decarbonization', and It Won't Wreck the Economy - "The basic message is simple: We share a planet. Let's start acting like it." [more inside]
The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution - "[Charles Percy Snow] was pleading for a more adequately educated ruling class so that the suffering of the poor might be ameliorated... Snow wanted to believe something like this: political decisions in the modern world often concern how to deploy science and technology, so people well-trained in science and technology will be better prepared to make those decisions. But that's a syllogism without a minor premise." (previously) [more inside]
Climatologist Michael E. Mann, known for introducing the famous "hockey stick" graph, has filed a defamation suit against the National Review and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. [more inside]
The Nazi Anatomists. "How the corpses of Hitler's victims are still haunting modern science—and American abortion politics."
The data analysis group that used Facebook and set top TV data to help Barack Obama win the latest election is taking its talents to the private sector. (SL NYTimes)
How The Economic Machine Works by Ray Dalio actually makes a case against austerity and for redistribution, but also for money printing (and, arguably, for bailouts), while stressing the need to keep making productivity-improving public and private investments. However, it could be equally entitled: How The Industrial Age Political-Economy Doesn't Work Anymore, viz. Surviving Progress (2011)... [more inside]
Scientific American reports: "An isolated population of Arctic foxes that dines only on marine animals seems to be slowly succumbing to mercury poisoning." Though a definitive causal link is difficult to establish, an isolated population of arctic foxes on Russia's Mednyi Island is believed to be collapsing due to mercury contamination as a result of its seafood-heavy diet. Where does all that mercury in the environment come from anyway? Why, it's another biproduct of burning fossil fuels, of course, and predictably, rates of mercury pollution are only expected to increase. In some places in the US, even rainwater is showing high levels of contamination. [more inside]
seaQuest: what if we could learn to live on/underneath the oceans (or in orbit)? [previously(er)] [more inside]
Unha-3, Pyongyang's first successful orbital launch vehicle, dropped her first stage into the Yellow Sea after December 12's launch. Analysis of debris salvaged by the South Korean Navy suggests the scud-derived, crudely assembled rocket is actually an ICBM with enough range to theoretically reach the U.S. (should North Korea somehow manage to miniaturize their nuclear weapon technology and develop re-entry ability).
Global Trends 2030 Alternate Worlds is the latest quadrennial report from The US National Intelligence Council (NIC). (Report: PDF / Talking Points: PDF.) Similar to its predecessors, '2030' attempts to predict 'alternate visions of the future.' An official blog discusses their speculations. The Atlantic Council has published a "companion publication": "Envisioning 2030: US Strategy for a Post-Western World." [more inside]
Revelations From Running For Congress Steve Packard writes a blog called "Depleted Cranium," which debunks bad science in the media. Last spring he decided to run for Congress on a "Science-based" platform. It was ultimately a heartbreaking experience for him and he had to quit, as he'd run out of money for food. He has a pretty great post up summing up his experiences now. And at this point probably wouldn't mind if you donated a couple of cans of beans.
"Speaking for many scientists and engineers who have looked carefully and independently at the science of climate, we have a message to any candidate for public office: There is no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to "decarbonize" the world's economy. Even if one accepts the inflated climate forecasts of the IPCC, aggressive greenhouse-gas control policies are not justified economically." Link. [more inside]
Researchers at the New England Complex Systems Institute say they've uncovered a pattern that triggers riots wherever it's found. What is that pattern? The price of food. When it rises to a certain level, social unrest & violence are soon to follow. According to their calculations the food price index is due to peak in August of 2013, assuming no corrective action is taken. The original paper is here.
Right Wing astroturfing A non-scientific analysis of the patterns in forum board discussions on a variety of topics. The gist: discussions of issues in which there's money at stake (like climate change, public health and corporate tax avoidance) are often characterised by amazing levels of abuse and disruption by rightwing libertarians who are pro-corporate, anti-tax, anti-regulation. Discussions of issues in which there's little money at stake tend to be a lot more civilised than debates about issues where companies stand to lose or gain billions.
An opinion piece in Slate argues that the scientific agenda would benefit from increasing the paltry six percent of American scientists who identify as Republican. (This statistic previously on Metafilter.) Knight Science Journalism Tracker offers peer review of this point.
A handful of US scientists have made names for themselves by casting doubt on global warming research. In the past, the same people have also downplayed the dangers of passive smoking, acid rain and the ozone hole. In all cases, the tactics are the same: Spread doubt and claim it's too soon to take action.
Investigative reporting continues to attack the credibility of the IPCC reports on climate change, as well as vicious personal attacks. These stories gain wide coverage in the denialist echo chamber, yet several months down the track, after thorough independent investigation, they are found to be false. Weak retractions are published in newspapers, but the damage is done.
With the passing of Executive Order 13505, Removing Barriers to Responsible Scientific Research Involving Human Stem Cells, in 2009 President Obama expanded federal funding and rescinded George W. Bush's policies that eliminated most federal funding and restricted human embryonic stem cell research to the use of existing, contaminated cell lines. On Monday, federal judge Royce C. Lamberth blocked this new order after protestations from James L. Sherley, a former scientist with the Boston Biomedical Research Institute, and Theresa Deisher, who operates the Ave Maria Biotechnology Company, which aims to do "pro-life" therapeutic research without the "taint of embryonic or electively aborted fetal materials". [more inside]
40 Things You Need to Know About the Next 40 Years For it's 40th anniversary issue, Smithsonian magazine asks experts in various fields for insights into our future and compiles a list of 40 predictions about the future of science, nature, the arts and technology. The feature essay is by President Obama, in which he explains why he's optimistic about America's future. (VIA) [more inside]
Merchants of Doubt is a new book that reports how a small group of scientists committed to an extreme free-market ideology have been employed by large corporations over several decades to cast doubt on such different environmental issues as the risks of tobacco smoke, the dangers of DDT, the effectiveness of the Strategic Defence Initiative, the regulation of CFCs, and the causes of global warming. A review in the Christian Science Monitor calls this "one of the most important books of the year. Exhaustively researched and documented..."
Dr Andrew Wakefield's 1998 Lancet study caused vaccination rates to plummet, resulting in a rise in measles - but the findings were later discredited. The General Medical Council ruled he had acted "dishonestly and irresponsibly" in doing his research.[more inside]
"Then I see how they treat Ronald Reagan—he needs to get credit for saving the world from communism and for the good economy over the last twenty years because he lowered taxes."
Revisionaries: How a group of Texas conservatives is rewriting your kids’ textbooks.
Smoke and Mirrors: The Subversion of the EPA. "This four-part series details how the Bush administration weakened the EPA. It installed a pliant agency chief, Stephen L. Johnson. Under him, the EPA created pro-industry regulations later thrown out by the courts. It promoted a flawed voluntary program to fight climate change. It bypassed air pollution recommendations from its own scientists to satisfy the White House." [Via Reality Base]
This isn't exactly the scarlet letter, but it might be a sign of something we've seen before (or maybe not, depending who you ask.) Still, you should probably get yourself one of these [see also] if you're planning to cry wolf! (You can also make your own.) [more inside]
Barack Obama has responded to the 14 questions posed by ScienceDebate2008 (discussed previously). The Martian Chronicles has outlined some key points of his response. John McCain has not responded to the questions, but has indicated that he will respond.
Andy Grove on Our Electric Future - "Energy independence [viz.] is the wrong goal. Here is a plan Americans can stick to." Perhaps some infrastructure spending1,2 is in order? [etc., &c., cf.] [more inside]
Rehabilitating Carson: "Why do some people continue to hold Rachel Carson responsible for millions of malaria deaths?" [more inside]
The Stupidity of Dignity: Conservative bioethics' latest, most dangerous ploy. Steven Pinker reviews Human Dignity and Bioethics, the latest report from the President's Council on Bioethics. [more inside]
An unprecedented five consecutive years of stagnant funding for the National Institutes of Health is putting America at risk - a few prominent research institutions get together to voice their concern over flat funding of the National Institutes of Health over the past 5 years, in their report The Broken Pipeline (pdf). Bloggers comment [1, 2, 3].
'Race' graphically illustrated - "most Europeans" vs. Ashkenazim (previously; see also IQ & Gladwell, viz. ;) [more inside]
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