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Posts Tagged ‘carl zimmer’

Odds and Ends

Posted by neuralgourmet on July 26, 2008

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to prepare a proper post this week so in lieu of actually thinking and writing I’d like to instead offer up a pot-pourri of articles elsewhere on the web that have, in one way or the other, caught my interest in the past week or so.

However, before I do that I just want to do a little shameless self-promotion and mention my interview with the Phoenix Mars Lander. No, you didn’t read that wrong. I didn’t interview any of the scientists or technicians involved with the Phoenix project, but went direct to the robot herself. Phoenix and I have been pals on Facebook for a while now and I thought it would only be natural to interview her about her thoughts and experiences as well as the important science she is doing some 170 million miles from home.

So, with that out of the way, let’s move on to some of the more headier and serious stuff. First up, Philosophy professor Priscilla Sakezles writing in eSkeptic claims that “the famous words most often attributed to Socrates, “All I know is that I know nothing,” are in fact a misquote. Today’s skeptical movement likes to trace its roots all the way back to Socrates so it’s perhaps a good idea if we get our quotes right.

Speaking of what we know, most skeptics know that determining whether or not our knowledge accurately reflects the real world is problematic at best. While the scientific method is often considered the best tool we have for understanding how the world works, our brains tend to place more value on anecdotal evidence. Michael Shermer explains How Anecdotal Evidence Can Undermine Scientific Results.

And while the way our brains evolved means we’re not naturally very good scientists, nevertheless science continues to inform our understanding of our minds. Carl Zimmer has a particulary interesting article talking about the three ways our brains affect our perception of the passage of time.

One of the reasons, I think, that it’s important to read and understand science, even if one isn’t a scientist, is because how we understand our world has implications for the kind of society we live in. An article in the May/June 2008 New Humanist talks about how a fundamental ignorance of evolution has led to a rise in creationist beliefs in Europe, including a disturbing new phenomenom — Muslim creationism.

And lastly, it would be remiss of me not to at least mention the case of Barbara Nash. Nash is a quack nutritionist who advised 52 year old Dawn Page to go on a special “detox diet”. Nash’s diet led to Page suffering sodium deficiency so servere that she suffered seizures that left her with permanent brain damage. It is easy to call Nash a quack and wallow in outrage at her advice to Page that the uncontrollable vomiting she was experiencing was simply part of the “detoxification process”. However, Ben Goldacre reminds us that the Barbara Nashes of the world do not exist independently of the society and culture that allows them to thrive.


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