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In this post: the large versions of the Humanities & Social Sciences and Education & Health channel photos, comments from readers, and the best posts of the week.


Humanities & Social Sciences. From Flickr, by Fevi Yu


Education & Careers. From Flickr, by dboo

Reader comments of the week:

On the Humanities & Social Sciences channel, Razib of Gene Expression insists that Science is rational; scientists are not. It is not the “acuity of any given individual” that enables scientific insight and achievement, he argues, but rather “the intersection of the communal wisdom of tens of thousands of individuals over decades with the nature of the subject at hand.”

Reader Milan had quite a lot to say on the matter:

The other day, I was trying to ‘science’ and it became evident that the term has a stack of meanings. Those at the top arguably have the most day-to-day relevance, whereas those at the bottom are arguably more fundamental to the nature of science:

At the highest level, science consists of the people and institutions generally considered to be undertaking scientific work. This includes today’s physicists, chemists, biologists, and so forth. In an earlier era, it would have included alchemists. It also includes universities, research centres, funding bodies, and the like.

At the next level, science consists of a collection of theories that explain aspects of the world. Contemporary examples include special relativity, quantum mechanics, and the germ theory of disease. Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions is an enlightening text largely about how these emerge and change.

At the next level, science is a set of key beliefs. Basically, these are that the universe operates in a manner that is consistent and comprehensible. In addition, it is at least theoretically possible to come to understand its workings through observation – using the mechanism of formulating and evaluating hypotheses.
The first two are very much affected by general trends in society and thought. The third is essentially assumed in the way through which our minds access the world. While we certainly cannot always understand the causal relationships involved (and random chance may always play a role that makes complete solution impossible), our mode of thinking fundamentally requires the assumption that things cause other things according to certain rules and that in the same conditions the same rules hold. We may never be able to track the course a hurricane will follow (or the hallucination a brain will have) on the basis of what atoms were where beforehand and what laws apply to them. Even so, a basic assumption of science is that such things are theoretically knowable, within the limitations created by random chance.

When it comes to the universe as a whole. it is quite possible that the collection of governing laws exceeds the human capacity to understand and/or discover. That becomes especially plausible if we accept the possibility that ours is just one of several universes, or that it is itself embedded in something far more complex.

On the Education & Careers channel, John Wilkins of Evolving Thoughts continues the ongoing conversation about framing, with Spin versus framing: the tragedy of PR. After a lifetime of careers in public relations, Wilkins is dismayed to see that it has come to be the predominant—perhaps the only—method of mass communication in use; it is impossible, now, to even “frame” a scientific topic without having it reduced to “spin” by the media channels available. An effort to inform the public honestly on even the most basic of issues is largely wasted.

Reader Eamon Knight shares his disillusionment:

In my darker moments, I sometimes feel that the prospect of a critically thinking, mostly-rational (at least where it counts), knowledgable populace is an impossible goal; that the best we can hope for is to make sure the propagandists are driven by rational and humane considerations, and that the rest can therefore be manipulated into courses of action that are at least benign.

Some other Humanities & Social Sciences posts we thought were cool this week were:

This Just In: Feminism Is A Religion!

Where are the seculars?

Alliteration improves memory performance

How kids use social networks

Things to avoid when speaking publicly – the video.

And from the Education & Careers channel:

On Doing It All

What are teachers for?

What makes it OK

Obama on Science and Technology

Drug information for ordinary people in PubMed

Look for highlights from other channels coming up!