Social Sciences

Did you ever read a textbook on economic history, or an in-depth article on the relative value of goods over the centuries expressed in current US dollars? Have you ever encountered a graphic that shows long term trends in rainfall patterns or other climate variables, using a couple of simple lines, designed to give a general idea of relative conditions during different eras? Here are a few examples of what I'm talking about. This is a graphic made by a major investment firm culling information from dozens or perhaps hundreds of sources into a single graphic. This is the graphic as it was…
Yes, it has become a trilogy. The two Twitter rants I recapped here sparked more angst and anguish in me, prompting me to write a third rant. As it became ready for Twitter publication and approached 800 words, it also became clear that this particular rant was fast outgrowing what I could reasonably expect people to follow on Twitter, easily over 40 tweets worth of text. As many epic fantasy series can attest, these things can get out the control of the author quite easily. At least I'm not pulling a GRRM and taking 6 or more years in between installments! I did sent out a tweet last…
"Even if a small fraction of the Arctic carbon were released to the atmosphere, we’re fucked...We’re on a trajectory to an unmanageable heating scenario, and we need to get off it. We’re fucked at a certain point, right? It just becomes unmanageable. The climate dragon is being poked, and eventually the dragon becomes pissed off enough to trash the place." - James Box The climate crisis is serious, no doubt about it. Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth from nearly a decade ago was a kind of rallying cry for the reality-based community but it appears that we might need another rallying cry as Gore…
The ‘Nifty Fifty (times 4)’, a program of Science Spark, presented by InfoComm International, are a group of 200 noted science and engineering professionals who will fan out across the Washington, D.C. area in the 2014-2015 school year to speak about their work and careers at various middle and high schools. Meet Nifty Fifty Speaker Dr. David Brin Welcome to the world of David Brin -- a realm of science, adventure and imagination. David is a scientist, speaker, technical consultant and world-known author. His novels have been New York Times Bestsellers, winning multiple Hugo, Nebula and other…
The New Yorker has a fascinating article on Vandana Shiva, a crusader against GMO crops. I'd never heard of her before, but apparently she has charisma and cult-like followers who hang on her every word, and her word is a rather religious opposition to scientific agriculture. Weirdly, I can agree with some of it. At each stop, Shiva delivered a message that she has honed for nearly three decades: by engineering, patenting, and transforming seeds into costly packets of intellectual property, multinational corporations such as Monsanto, with considerable assistance from the World Bank, the…
About five weeks ago a month ago, I finally wrote the post I had been promising to write for months before about medical marijuana. At the time, I also promised that there would be follow-up posts. Like Dug the Dog seeing a squirrel, I kept running into other topics that kept me from revisiting the topic. However, recently the New York Times gave me just the little nudge I needed to come back and revisit the topic, first by openly advocating the legalization of marijuana, then by vastly overstating the potential medical benefits of pot (compare the NYT coverage with my post from last month…
A new paper advances our understanding of the link between anthropogenic global warming and the apparent uptick in severe weather events we’ve been experiencing. Let’s have a look at the phenomenon and the new research. Climate Change: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. It is mostly bad. Sometimes it is ugly. I was looking at crop reports from the USDA and noticed an interesting phenomenon in Minnesota, that is repeated across much of the US this year: Fewer acres are in crops but among those acres that are planted there is a high expected per-acre yield. The higher yield will make up for the…
I've been reading a 1974 edition of Sigfrid Steinberg's 1955 classic Five Hundred Years Of Printing. Overall I've found it interesting and instructive, with a fine touch of sarcastic humour. But I came across a few paragraphs on the value of universal literacy that are so alien to me that I almost had to rub my eyes. Compulsory and free education on the elementary-school level was achieved, at least on paper, in most civilized countries in the course of the nineteenth century … At the same time … there is the basic question of the purpose of educating the masses. What use is the knowledge of…
As prolific as I am, I have actually slowed down. Long time readers know this, as I used to have a post up seven days a week and sometimes two or more in a day. These days, I’ve made it a rule that I don’t post on weekends (except if something really catches my eye and I can’t control the blogging itch until Monday), and I almost never post more than once a day on weekdays. Heck, of late I’ve even been known to miss a weekday every now and then without even recycling posts from my not-so-super-secret other blog. It’s good, as I was a bit insane back then. What I’m talking about is an…
LATEST UPDATE HERE It is true that this particular outbreak of Ebola has taken health officials somewhat by surprise. It is impossible to know, but I suspect that if you had asked a few ebola experts, a year ago, if there could be an epidemic that would spread across three or four countries, infect a couple thousand people, and last with no sign of letting up for a few months (that is the current situation, more or less), most would say no, probably not, though it is within the range of possibilities. Does the fact (assuming it is true) that this particular Ebola outbreak is unprecedented…
If there’s one characteristic of supporters of dubious medicine, it’s that they detest criticism. Whereas your average skeptic might not like criticism—sensitivity to criticism being a human trait and all—science- and evidence-based criticism tends to drive dubious medical practitioners (and, I might add, promoters of various other forms of woo) into paroxysms of anger. Not infrequently, because they can’t refute such criticisms with science and evidence, they respond by lashing out, by going on the attack. That lashing out can take many forms, from simply writing abusive posts about their…
There's plenty of science and religion stuff out there, but I think talking about anything else right now would be to ignore the elephant in the room. There's a basic moral principle that I subscribe to that goes like this: When your neighbor is relentlessly firing rockets at you in an attempt to kill as many civilians as possible, or barring that to make life unlivable for civilian populations, then you have carte blanche to do whatever is necessary to make it stop. I have no patience for bloggers who sit in perfect safety on the other side of the world, and, with steepled fingers and…
Dr Gijsbert Stoet thinks we should stop trying to correct gender disparities. Speaking at the British Education Studies Association conference in Glasgow on Friday, he argued: "We need to have a national debate on why we find it so important to have equal numbers. Do we really care that only five per cent of the programmers are women? "Well, actually, I don't care who programmes my computers. A wealthy, democratic society can afford to let people do what they want. "What is better? To have 50 per cent of female engineers who do not really like their work but say, 'Yeah, well, I did it for the…
Our regularly scheduled post will go live later this morning. In the meantime, this is a public service announcement...with GUITAR! (Oh, wait.) As you recall, last week, the FDA inexplicably decided to lift the partial clinical hold on Stanislaw Burzynski's bogus clinical trials of antineoplastons, which he's used since the 1990s as a pretext to charge huge sums of money for "case management fees" to patients for a treatment whose efficacy he has never demonstrated. Yesterday, the Center for Inquiry laid in, and has sent a letter to legislators: “We are frankly stunned to hear that the…
I'm always interested in the present and future of libraries. There's a steady stream of reports from various organizations that are broadly relevant to the (mostly academic) library biz but they can be tough to keep track of. I thought I'd aggregate some of those here. Of course I've very likely missed a few, so suggestions are welcome in the comments. I've done similar compilations recently here and here. MOOCs: Expectations and Reality: Full Report Trends in Digital Scholarship Centers Sustaining the Digital Humanities Supporting the Changing Research Practices of Art Historians A Guide…
It's hard for me to believe that it's been almost three years since I first started taking an interest in the Houston cancer doctor and Polish expat Stanislaw Burzynski. Three long years, but that's less than one-twelfth the time that Burzynski has been actually been administering an unproven cancer treatment known as antineoplastons (ANPs), a drug that has not been FDA-approved, to patients, which he began doing in 1977. Yes, back when Burzynski got started administering ANPs to patients, I was just entering high school, the Internet as we know it did not exist yet, just a much smaller…
Today we get to the science and the issues surrounding it. Karl Deisseroth gave the first keynote lecture. For anyone who's been asleep the past few years, Deisseroth's lab at Stanford is at the cutting edge of a new kind of brain research. They invented optogenetics -- turning brain circuits on and off (in mice, at present) with fiberoptic lasers. Their lab is putting out new methodology at an astounding rate. Their latest is Clarity: a way of making the brain tissue clear, so you can see all the neurons at once. In other words, you can get an image of the whole brain. I know I am not the…
I don't even… I have roused the furious slap-fighting anger of the HBD crowd, that's for sure. They have now come up with a priceless argument to refute everything I've said, and are accusing me of being a creationist. This image is priceless. Yes, @pzmyers, by definition, is a creationist. Why does PZ hate Darwin so? This must be a doozy of a refutation, encapsulated in a single image. And here it is. The Cultural Marxist War against Darwinism Creationists: evolution is a social construct, not biologically real. Liberal Creationists: race is a social construct, not biologically real.…
I previously posted a summary of the water-related conclusions from the new National Climate Assessment, recently released after three years of writing, review, and analysis. The following “findings” are a broader summary of the results from the newly released National Climate Assessment (NCA). They are by no means a full summary: far more detail can be found in the chapters and the regional syntheses, but these are noteworthy conclusions. (Note, thanks to Tim Smith – Sustainable Water Resources Coordinator – for highlighting these. The page numbers refer to the NCA Summary) 1. Global climate…
  “I got a headache before. It was horrible. It felt like there was something in my head trying to eat it.”  Those are the words of a 12 year-old boy who works in the tobacco fields of eastern North Carolina. His words are just one of many from other young seasonal workers who work on U.S. tobacco farms in KY, NC, TN, and VA. Their experiences are catalogued in Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) "Tobacco’s Hidden Children: Hazardous Child Labor in US Tobacco Farming.” The report was released last week. Credit: Human Rights Watch The 139-page report was also the subject of editorials appearing on…