Category Archives: Society

Department of Justice poised to ban all non-dog Service Animals

This is your weekend reading – lots of it, some fascinating, some enraging, but perhaps if enough people are aware and scream loudly enough, something can be done:
Assistance Monkeys, Ducks, Parrots, Pigs and Ducks … Should the law protect them?
More Follow Up on NYT Story About Assistance Creatures
More Assistance Creature Follow Up – The History of Service Monkeys, Plus Monkey Waiters
Newsflash! DOJ ADA Changes Leaked — All Animals Set to Be Banned Except Dogs
DoJ’s Rationale Behind Banning Non-Canine Service Animals
DOJ’s Proposal and Rationale for Allowing Psychiatric Service Animals (dogs only)
Service Animals on the Radio, a Horse Fetching a Beer, Plus Blog Maintenance Downtime

Radical Transparency

This article is almost two years old, but it is perhaps even more current today than it was when it first appeared:

Pretend for a second that you’re a CEO. Would you reveal your deepest, darkest secrets online? Would you confess that you’re an indecisive weakling, that your colleagues are inept, that you’re not really sure if you can meet payroll? Sounds crazy, right? After all, Coke doesn’t tell Pepsi what’s in the formula. Nobody sane strips down naked in front of their peers. But that’s exactly what Glenn Kelman did. And he thinks it saved his business.
The Internet has inverted the social physics of information. Companies used to assume that details about their internal workings were valuable precisely because they were secret. If you were cagey about your plans, you had the upper hand; if you kept your next big idea to yourself, people couldn’t steal it. Now, billion- dollar ideas come to CEOs who give them away; corporations that publicize their failings grow stronger. Power comes not from your Rolodex but from how many bloggers link to you – and everyone trembles before search engine rankings. Kelman rewired the system and thinks anyone else could, too. But are we really ready to do all our business in the buff?
“You can’t hide anything anymore,” Don Tapscott says. Coauthor of The Naked Corporation, a book about corporate transparency, and Wikinomics, Tapscott is explaining a core truth of the see-through age: If you engage in corporate flimflam, people will find out.
Secrecy is dying. It’s probably already dead.2 In a world where Eli Lilly’s internal drug-development memos, Paris Hilton’s phonecam images, Enron’s emails, and even the governor of California’s private conversations can be instantly forwarded across the planet, trying to hide something illicit – trying to hide anything, really – is an unwise gamble. So many blogs rely on scoops to drive their traffic that muckraking has become a sort of mass global hobby. Radical transparency has even reached the ultrasecretive world of Washington politics…
All of which explains why the cult of transparency has so many high tech converts these days. Transparency is a judo move. Your customers are going to poke around in your business anyway, and your workers are going to blab about internal info – so why not make it work for you by turning everyone into a partner in the process and inviting them to do so?
Some of this isn’t even about business; it’s a cultural shift, a redrawing of the lines between what’s private and what’s public. A generation has grown up blogging, posting a daily phonecam picture on Flickr and listing its geographic position in real time on Dodgeball and Google Maps. For them, authenticity comes from online exposure. It’s hard to trust anyone who doesn’t list their dreams and fears on Facebook.
The new breed of naked executives also discover that once people are interested in you, they’re interested in helping you out – by offering ideas, critiques, and extra brain cycles. Customers become working partners.3 Kelman used to spend valuable work time arguing why the real estate business had to change; now his customers do battle for him, wading into Redfin’s online forums to haggle with old-school agents.
Nearly everyone I spoke to had a warning for would-be transparent CEOs: You can’t go halfway naked. It’s all or nothing. Executives who promise they’ll be open have to stay open. The minute they become evasive about troubling news, transparency’s implied social compact crumbles.
Which illustrates an interesting aspect of the Inter net age: Google is not a search engine. Google is a reputation-management system. And that’s one of the most powerful reasons so many CEOs have become more transparent: Online, your rep is quantifiable, findable, and totally unavoidable. In other words, radical transparency is a double-edged sword, but once you know the new rules, you can use it to control your image in ways you never could before.
“Online is where reputations are made now,” says Leslie Gaines Ross, chief reputation strategist – yes, that’s her actual title – with the PR firm Weber Shandwick. She regularly speaks to companies that realize a single Google search determines more about how they’re perceived than a multimillion-dollar ad campaign. “It used to be that you’d look only at your reputation in newspapers and broadcast media, positive and negative. But now the blogosphere is equally powerful, and it has different rules. Public relations used to be about having stuff taken down, and you can’t do that with the Internet.”
But here’s the interesting paradox: The reputation economy creates an incentive to be more open, not less. Since Internet commentary is inescapable, the only way to influence it is to be part of it. Being transparent, opening up, posting interesting material frequently and often is the only way to amass positive links to yourself and thus to directly influence your Googleable reputation. Putting out more evasion or PR puffery won’t work, because people will either ignore it and not link to it – or worse, pick the spin apart and enshrine those criticisms high on your Google list of life.

Read the whole thing – all those good examples that I snipped out. Is this how you operate, either as a person or as a company/organization?

Hopebuilding and Storytelling

On the Hopebuilding’s Weblog, Rosemary wrote:

When I was a journalist, many years ago now, it never really occurred to me that we spent much more time on “bad news” than on “good news”. In fact, sometimes people caricatured the “good news” attempts as being Pollyanna-ish; they thought “good” news was not really news.
But these days, as I spend so much time on the web, I really appreciate the “good news” sites. It provides a healthy balance to the daily diet of so much “bad news” in the media – what my friend Jim Lord calls “deficit thinking”, and what he replaces with “appreciative thinking”.

And from that idea, Hopebuilding Wiki was born – a collection of stories from around the world describing how people overcome adversity, or got together and solved a problem:

Hopebuilding wiki was created to share stories of achievement by ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things to make their world a better place to live in, but whose stories are not as widely known as they should be.
You will meet people here who saw a problem as an opportunity to create something new or something better, whether it be a school principal finding a way to use spare land to grow crops for a school lunch program, and thus inspiring dozens of neighbouring schools to do the same thing; a community of slumdwellers setting out to provide water and sewer service to their area, using their own resources and skills; people in large cities creating jobs for, and bringing gifts to, the homeless; or a huge company like Wal-Mart realizing that putting canned fish on the shelves meant doing its best to ensure that the fishing industry was sustainable.
You will meet people who built peace for themselves, even while the rest of their country was in chaos, and people who sustained their communities even in the middle of conflict. You will find people who dreamed of eliminating or reducing the death toll from terrible illnesses, suffering people who reached out to each other to provide comfort and support when others would not, and people who wanted to give others the tools to manage their own health effectively even when no professionals were available. You will find inventive people whose creativity is offering us new solutions to live sustainably on our shared earth.
Hopebuilding includes stories from both the “developing” and “developed” worlds, as they are often called, because I believe that people living in fragile states and in inner cities and aboriginal communities in North America and Europe have a great deal in common, both in terms of challenges and in inspiring ideas and solutions based on their own capacities and resources. Many people living in fragile states think of North America and Europe as being incredibly wealthy, not as places with homeless people and public schools without learning resources. Similarly, many people in North America and Europe have a picture of fragile states as being places where nothing works, because that is what they see on the news, rather than places where people have used their own knowledge and capacity to develop creative solutions to the challenges they face – solutions that may well help people in “developed” states as well. Realizing that we share the same challenges means we can be inspired by each other’s solutions, capacities, and ideas – and for me, that is the essence of a peer-sharing approach to international development.
For me, these stories show why local knowledge, and local capacity, is such a vital foundation for development at every level. New technologies have shown us that our world is an inter-connected place, and our problems are shared. It is not a world in which some people have all the problems, and other people have all the solutions; in fact, some of the most creative ideas are coming from places or groups that were once seen as ‘under-developed’. Sharing our creative solutions widely means local peoples’ expertise and achievements in one country can inspire local people facing a similar problem in another country.
While I live these days in a small village in a relatively remote part of the world, it inspires me daily to be able to find and share such stories of other peoples’ achievement through the Internet. The people in these stories give me hope, and I salute their achievements. I hope you will, as well.

Check out the stories there….

Using science to make roads safer

Duke University’s John Staddon makes the case for less, and more effective, road signage in the U.S – using Durham roads and streets as examples:

ugh, WordPress does not like this format. You can see the video here or here.

From here, which I discovered here because I am fascinated by the science of traffic and driving. If only explaining the mathematical models of traffic flow and the cognitive psychology of driving to the traffic cop could get one out of a ticket….

Scarlett Johansson – Bioterrorist?

You may have heard the story that Scarlett Johansson had a cold when she appeared on Jay Leno’s show the other day. And you may have heard that she got the cold from her ‘The Spirit’ co-star Samuel L. Jackson. And you may have heard that she had to blow her nose into a tissue during the show. And you may have heard that this particular tissue is now up for sale on eBay. And you may have heard that all proceeds of this sale will benefit USA Harvest, the charity of Scarlett Johansson’s choice.
What you may not know is that, due to the content of the tissue being regarded as biohazard (or even bioterrorism), you may not be able to have it shipped to you if you live outside of United States.
Update: sold for $5,300

Co-Researching spaces for Freelance Scientists?

Pawel tried, for a year, to be a freelance scientist. While the experiment did not work, in a sense that it had to end, he has learned a lot from the experience. And all of us following his experience also learned a lot about the current state of the world. And I do not think this has anything to do with Pawel living in Poland – I doubt this would have been any different if he was in the USA or elsewhere.
You all know that I am a big fan of telecommuting and coworking and one of the doomsayers about the future existence of the institution of ‘The Office’. And you also know that I am a scientist, so it is no surprise that I have been also thinking how to connect these two – is there a way to have a coworking (or co-researching) facility for freelance scientists?
If you work 9-5 for The Man, it is understandable that you should strive mightily to sharply delineate work from the rest of your life, and to measure your worth in dollars (or place of employment, e.g., Harvard). But if you are lucky (and work to make it happen), you will do what you like to do, what you’d do for free anyway. Thus, you express your person through your work, you are what you do and your job is you, and it is perfectly fine to completely blur that distinction. If that is the case, your worth is not measured in dollars – you can say you “made it” if you can live wherever you want on the planet (or even off of it if you are adventurous), surrounded by people you like, doing what you like, and having lots of friends. You will be measured by the size of your network – who is your (mutual – it has to be mutual!) friend.
Sure, you can make many mutual friends online, through blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, FriendFeed, etc. But, as a human being, you also need physical proximity to some of the people you really like a lot. What are blogs but means to find each other in order to organize a Blogger Meetup or BloggerCon?
So, if you have that luck and freedom, you will choose where on Earth to live both by the criterion of climate and natural beauty and by unusual concentration of people you really like and want to be surrounded with.
But what about your work – how can you transport your work wherever you want to live? This depends, of course, on the nature of your work. If your job is to think, read, write, communicate, publish or do stuff with computers, you can do that everywhere as long as there is electricity and internet access. You can work at home, or a corner cafe, or a nice local coworking space.
But what if you are a scientist? How can you do that?
Remember World 2.0 at Rainbows End? In that plausible world, which will cease to be Science Fiction in mere years, some scientists obviously work at universities or at institutes that may or may not be associated with universities. They are presumably hired to teach and train the new generations of scientists there. But most of scientific research is apparently happening elsewhere – in the virtual world, on the “boards”.
When I read about those “boards”, I was reminded of sites like Innocentive, Innovation Exchange, Nine Sigma or even 2collab – places where funders and researchers find each other and exchange money for discoveries – a free-market type of funding. As an alternative, it sound pretty good, though big basic science would probably still have to be funded by the government agencies.
But, Vinge never tells where those scientists live and where they actually do their research. They may pick up jobs online, but they still have to do wet work in some lab somewhere. Where? Some may be at universities, supplementing their income in this way. But many are likely freelancers (many of those perhaps without any formal degrees in science, just talented people who learned by themselves and through their thoughts, words and actual discoveries, built their reputations in the scientific community). Where do those freelancers do their research?
Perhaps in a scientific equivalent of a coworking place – perhaps something like a Science Hostel. I have been thinking about this for quite a while, but I did not know that Garret Lisi also came up with this concept. Apart from being on the cutting edge of science publishing, he is also apparently thinking innovatively about the way science in the future will be done. In his interview on Backreaction, Garett says:

I’ve been thinking about what the ideal scientific work environment would be, and the best thing I’ve been able to come up with is a Science Hostel. I envision a large house where theorists could live and work on their stuff alone or in groups while having their meals and living space provided. The idea is to give researchers time, with an easily accessible but undemanding social atmosphere, and as little responsibility as possible. And, of course, it would have to be somewhere beautiful — with good hiking and other things to do outside. For the past year I’ve been living near Lake Tahoe — a great environment for thinking and playing. Anywhere in the mountains would probably be good for a Science Hostel — even better if it’s next to a good ski hill. 🙂

Now that is all very nice if you are a theorist – all you need is an armchair. Or if your only scientific tool is a computer, you can do it there. But what if you need more?
A coworking space has three important components: the physical space, the technological infrastructure, and the people. A Science Hostel that accommodates people who need more than armchairs and wifi, would need to be topical – rooms designed as labs of a particular kind, common equipment that will be used by most people there, all the people being in roughly the same field who use roughly the same tools.
But this is not such a new idea. Remember Entwicklungsmechanik from the late 19th and early 20th century? The winters in Germany are cold, so the developmental biologists spent a lot of their time at Stazione Zoologica in Naples, where they made their discoveries by studying eggs and embryos of sea urchins. That was a Science Hostel. How about Woods Hole? Cold Spring Harbor? Perimeter Institute? Those are all Science Hostels.
But in the modern world, there can be more of those. There will be vast differences in size, type and economics. Some will be built and funded by large, rich institutions. Others will be cooperative projects. Some will be free, but by invitation only. Others will be open, but charging for space and use of the facilities. While most of the past and existing institutes of this sort only cater to people who are already associated with other academic institutions, some of the new hostels will cater to freelancers as well (needless to say, Open Access to literature is essential to development of such spaces).
And people will choose to live where the appropriate Science Hostel is located because this is where they can do their work and live their lives surrounded by like-minded people. There will be a lot of physicists living in the village that has a Physics Hostel. A lot of molecular biologists surrounding a Hostel equipped for them. Perhaps there will be a Hostel specifically geared towards research on whole animals with its own IACUC, facilities and staff.
We’ll wait and see….

Future of the Internet aka Future of Society

Jeff Cohen was one of the people interviewed for this article in Raleigh News & Observer today about the Future of the Internet:

In 2020, powerful mobile phones will rule, privacy will erode further and the line between work and home life will be faint, if not obliterated.
That’s what 578 technology gurus see in their crystal balls, according to a new report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. The survey, “Future of the Internet III,” conducted by Pew and Elon University, envisions amazing advances in mobile devices, virtual reality, voice and touch technology — possibly even communication between mind and machine.
But will the innovation lead to better lives?
Maybe not.
“There is an undercurrent of worry in these experts about whether people will use the technology for good or for ill,” says Lee Rainie, director of the Pew project.
Although cheap, accessible technology will spread throughout the world, it won’t necessarily level the economic playing field or lead to better social understanding, the technologists believe.
In an always-on world, career choice will be key, says Janna Anderson, associate professor at Elon. “If you’re going to be living your work, you need to find something that suits you so well it won’t seem like work.”

Read the whole thing.

The Internet is for Porn

Hmmm, I am wondering if this is connected – adult sites are feeling the crunch so….are they now funding scientific consumer research?

How to organize a Smart Mob

For instance, to protest Creationist bills in state and local legislatures:

What’s an office for?

You build a mine where the ore is. And facilities right next to the mine, to extract the metals from it. And a factory next to it that turns the raw metal into parts and objects. And a train station or a port next to it, so you can move the objects to the stores you built where the people are. And you also build a town where all your employees will live.
That’s how it’s always been done.
You cannot work the land, without living on it and getting your boots muddy. If you are hoarding something valuable, you need to hire night-guards who will actually show up at work. I understand, there are many jobs that require a person to show up at a particular place at a particular time to get the job done. The actors have to actually show up at the theater for the show to go on.
But many of those same companies also have offices and headquarters. Not to mention that more and more companies are dealing with information, education, knowledge, news or entertainment. Why do they still require people to show up at the office?
When the economic times are tough, why do CEOs fire people?
Why don’t they close the offices instead?
And keep the people?
Is it because they hate to relinquish personal micromanaging control?
That’s what telecommuting and coworking are all about. Recognition that the concept of the “office” is something that belongs to the previous millennium. All the office-typical work can now be done online.
If you force people to come to the office every day, they will resent the lack of freedom. They will resent you for being overbearing and controlling. People who rub elbows with each other every day are bound to sometimes rub each other the wrong way, starting animosities, cliques and general sense of disgruntleness. The result can be this. And will be, more and more, as the new generations were not brought up to suffer indignities in silence.
There is a lot of complaining going around the business leaders’ circles about the Millennials being lazy or demanding. No, the kids see an antiquated system and are working to change it from within, demanding that you change the way you do business – it is you who ‘don’t get it’, the kids are fine.
If you close the office and keep the employees, you will get stronger loyalty and greater job satisfaction. The job will get done better. People will come up with creative ideas that can save your company.
Furthermore, you will be able to hire the best – the people who live elsewhere and have no intention to move for the job, people who are aware of their quality and cannot be bullied into uprooting their families just to work for you.
Even better, if your employees are all around the world, this means that they are walking billboards for your company. They go around certain circles wherever they are and answer the usual question “what do you do?” every day. If they are all at the HQ, you need to pay for PR. If they are everywhere, the PR is automatic and free.
But apparently, the CEOs are not even aware how outdated their thinking is. A recent survey prompted some of them to think, for the first time, about the possibilities. It will be too late by the time they moved from “hmmm, interesting idea” to “yes, we’ll do this right now”.
Kevin Gamble asks:

When working with organizations, I’ve heard it said more than once, “People are our most important resource,” and yet how many are downsizing? Do you hear them seriously considering the savings that could accrue from closing unneeded offices? I have yet to hear a single person mention that their organizations are considering closing offices in order to preserve staffing. I have heard a few mentions of consolidation of offices, but that’s different.
Even without an economic meltdown the closing of offices makes total sense. Given our current situation, closing offices is a no-brainer. Seriously, unless you are selling or producing a physical product what function does your office serve? Make a list– yes, I am challenging you to justify why you keep your offices while at the same time downsizing your work force. I’ll wait… go make that list. Now which of those functions could be satisfied in some less expensive, and perhaps better manner by a co-working facility, hot-desking, or virtual meeting space?

National Day of Listening

StoryCorps is declaring November 28, 2008 the first annual National Day of Listening:

This holiday season, ask the people around you about their lives — it could be your grandmother, a teacher, or someone from the neighborhood. By listening to their stories, you will be telling them that they matter and they won’t ever be forgotten. It may be the most meaningful time you spend this year.

Nudity? On this blog?

Paul Sunstone: Why Bother to Promote A Healthy Attitude Towards Nudity?

On the other hand, there are at least two, broad reasons for somewhat caring how nudity is viewed (shameless pun intended). First, the notion that nudity is scandalous, immoral, and even dangerous contributes to all sorts of socio-political absurdities.
Perhaps another reason we should be a little concerned about how nudity is thought of are the many studies that suggest a more healthy attitude towards nudity has profound benefits — especially for women. Here are the results of just three such studies:

Public Intellectuals R Us – Discuss….

Daniel Drezner: Public Intellectual 2.0:

“…..The pessimism about public intellectuals is reflected in attitudes about how the rise of the Internet in general, and blogs in particular, affects intellectual output. Alan Wolfe claims that “the way we argue now has been shaped by cable news and Weblogs; it’s all ‘gotcha’ commentary and attributions of bad faith. No emotion can be too angry and no exaggeration too incredible.” David Frum complains that “the blogosphere takes on the scale and reality of an alternative world whose controversies and feuds are … absorbing.” David Brooks laments, “People in the 1950s used to earnestly debate the role of the intellectual in modern politics. But the Lionel Trilling authority figure has been displaced by the mass class of blog-writing culture producers.”
But these critics fail to recognize how the growth of blogs and other forms of online writing has partially reversed a trend that many cultural critics have decried — what Russell Jacoby called the “professionalization and academization” of public intellectuals. In fact, the growth of the blogosphere breaks down — or at least erodes — the barriers erected by a professionalized academy.
Most of the obituaries for the public intellectual suffer from the cognitive bias and conceptual fuzziness that come from comparing the annals of history to the present day……
….The proliferation of blogs reverses those trends in several ways. Blogs have facilitated the rise of a new class of nonacademic intellectuals. Writing a successful blog has provided a launching pad for aspiring writers to obtain jobs from general-interest magazines. The premier general-interest magazines and journals in the country either sponsor individual bloggers or have developed their own in-house blogs.
For academics aspiring to be public intellectuals, blogs allow networks to develop that cross the disciplinary and hierarchical strictures of academe. Provided one can write jargon-free prose, a blog can attract readers from all walks of life — including, most importantly, people beyond the ivory tower. (The distribution of traffic and links in the blogosphere is highly skewed, and academics and magazine writers make up a fair number of the most popular bloggers.) Indeed, because of the informal and accessible nature of the blog format, citizens will tend to view academic bloggers that they encounter online as more accessible than would be the case in a face-to-face interaction, increasing the likelihood of a fruitful exchange of views about culture, criticism, and politics with individuals whom academics might not otherwise meet. Furthermore, as a longtime blogger, I can attest that such interactions permit one to play with ideas in a way that is ill suited for more-academic publishing venues. A blog functions like an intellectual fishing net, catching and preserving the embryonic ideas that merit further time and effort.
Perhaps the most-useful function of bloggers, however, is when they engage in the quality control of other public intellectuals. Posner believes that public intellectuals are in decline because there is no market discipline for poor quality. Even if public intellectuals royally screw up, he argues, the mass public is sufficiently uninterested and disengaged for it not to matter. Bloggers are changing that dynamic, however. If Michael Ignatieff, Paul Krugman, or William Kristol pen substandard essays, blogs have and will provide a wide spectrum of critical feedback…..”

Robert Cottrell: Isaiah, chapter 100:

…….The term “public intellectual” gained currency 20 years ago, describing a writer or academic who commanded public notice, especially when accepted as an authority in many fields. There was nothing new about such “brand-extension” in the humanities. Like Plato, Goethe or Berlin, writers and philosophers had long drifted in and out of public view, holding forth on life in general. But when nuclear weapons, environmentalism and genetics began to perturb Western public opinion in the 1960s, so more scientists followed Albert Einstein out of the academy and into the public arena. Richard Feynman, James Watson and Jacob Bronowski produced bestselling books without diluting their reputations. Freeman Dyson and Steven Weinberg wrote regularly for the New York Review of Books. Noam Chomsky’s left-wing politics eclipsed his scholarly work in linguistics……….
……But the rise of blogs has greatly enlarged and confused the market. A disparager would say that anybody can be a blogger, and anything can be a blog: is this not proof of low standards? And yet, top bloggers include academics and commentators whose work would qualify them as public intellectuals by any traditional measure–for example, Tyler Cowen, Daniel Drezner, James Fallows, Steven Levitt, Lawrence Lessig and Andrew Sullivan. Indeed, it seems fair to say that if you have the quick wit and the pithy turn of phrase traditionally needed to succeed as a public intellectual, then you are one of nature’s bloggers. If you cannot quite imagine Berlin posting to Twitter, then think how well he would put, say, Hannah Arendt in her place, on……
….Whatever their provenance, the public intellectuals of 2009 will want to be fluent in the obvious issues of the moment: environment and energy, market turmoil, China, Russia, Islam. On that basis it looks like another good year for established stars such as Thomas Friedman, Martin Wolf, Bjorn Lomborg and Minxin Pei. But a rising generation of bloggers is terrifyingly young and bright: expect to hear more from Ezra Klein, Megan McArdle, Will Wilkinson and Matthew Yglesias.

Daniel Drezner: Trapped in a recursive loop on public intellectuals:

Of course, the really funny thing about this is that Klein, McArdle, Wilkinson and Yglesias all dwarf my traffic flows.

How rumors spread….


Eliminating daylight time would thus accord with President-elect Barack Obama’s stated goals of conserving resources, saving money, promoting energy security and reducing climate change.

Eugene Sandhu:

In order to conserve energy, President-elect Barak Obama should eliminate daylight saving time.

Boing Boing:

President-elect Obama wants to get rid of daylight saving time in the United States to conserve energy.

The game of broken telephones? Or lack of reading comprehension, or just wishful thinking? I though we were the Reality-Based Community.

Perhaps they should ask Ted Stevens about a series of tubes…

The geriatric leaders of the government of Italy are making fools of themselves by trying to regulate bloggers, i.e., get them to register with the government, pay taxes, be liable for what they write, etc.:

The law’s impact would turn all bloggers in Italy into potential outlaws. This could be great for their traffic, I realise, but hell on the business aspirations of an Italian web start-up, not to mention any tech company that wants to sell its blog-publishing software in Italy, or open a social network here. In addition to driving out potential tech jobs, the stifling of free speech also can have a dramatic chilling effect on all forms of free expression, the arts and scholarship.

Or, to keep it simple:

Only someone who is utterly clueless on how the internet works, or even what it is, could come up with such an idea.

Imagine a paperless world (and all the saved trees)!

Will Richardson is noticing an addiction to paper and he looks at himself:

Now I don’t know that I’ve ever thought of no paper as exciting, necessarily, but I continue to find myself more and more eschewing paper of just about any kind in my life. My newspaper/magazine intake is down to nearly zero, every note I take is stored somewhere in the cloud via my computer or iPhone, I rarely write checks, pay paper bills or even carry cash money any longer, and I swear I could live without a printer except for the times when someone demands a signed copy of something or other. (Admittedly, I still read lots of paper books, but I’m working on that.)
Yet just about everywhere I go where groups of educators are in the room, paper abounds. Notebooks, legal pads, sticky notes, index cards…it’s everywhere. We are, as Alan November so often says, “paper trained,” and the worst part is it shows no signs of abating.

Me, too, to a great extent.
But how close we are to a paperless society, really?
Remember my question about the ‘paperless house’?
Speaking of educational settings, we went to a parent-teacher conference last night and, when there was a question of how to coordinate some information among a larg-ish number of people – the first suggestion (immediatelly agreed on by all in the room) was, of course, a Google Doc. What else?
There’s hope.

My picks from ScienceDaily

‘Voter-Verifiable’ Voting System Ensures Accuracy And Privacy:

Approximately two-thirds of Americans voting in the November Presidential election will cast their votes on paper ballots. How can voters be assured their votes are counted and kept private?

Victorian Manchester Home To First Youth Gangs:

A historian at the University of Liverpool has uncovered extensive archive material detailing the activities of the ‘scuttlers’ – one of Britain’s earliest youth cults.

Youth From Poor Neighborhoods 4 Times More Likely To Attempt Suicide:

Youth in their late teens who live in poor neighbourhoods are four times more likely to attempt suicide than peers who live in more affluent neighbourhoods, according to a new study from Canada’s Universite de Montreal and Sainte-Justine Hospital Research Center, as well as Tufts University in the U.S. The researchers also found youth from poor neighbourhoods are twice as likely to report suicidal thoughts.

Information vs. Knowledge vs. Expertise

There is an interesting post (and comment thread) on Kevin Kelly’s blog about the exponential growth of available information. It is quite thought-provoking, but there are a couple of issues I have with it.
First issue is that Kevin took the old adage that “every answer leads to at least two new questions”, perhaps tongue-in-cheek (I hope), as if it was true:

Yet the paradox of science is that every answer breeds at least two new questions. More answers, more questions. Telescopes and microscopes expanded not only what we knew, but what we didn’t know. They allowed us to spy into our ignorance. New and better tools permit us new and better questions. All our knowledge about subatomic particles derived from the new questions generated after we invented an atom smasher.

This was probably necessary for the point he was trying to make, but it is of course not true – just a quip that scientists like to say to each other every now and then. Most scientific papers, for instance, do not attempt to answer questions, just like many scientific questions do not test hypotheses. Some are making observations, some are tabulating surveys, some are sequencing genomes, some are following hunches. There is much more to the scientific method than just question-answering or hypothesis-testing. This does not stop people from, in their grant proposals, shoehorning everything into the hypothesis-testing mode, e.g., silly stuff like “we will shoot all our heavy artillery into this dark void of the Unknown and we hypothesize that we will discover something useful” – which is not hypothesis-testing, but a brute force approach that comes before hypothesis-testing, a method to provide enormous amounts of information that can then be looked at in order to formulate hypotheses or, yes, ask questions.
And even when a scientific paper answers a question, sometimes it just closes the book on it without generating any new questions. Sometimes it generates one or two or more. But there is no mathematical or empirical proof of the saying as it stands.
My second issue with Kevin’s essay is the blurring between the concepts of information, knowledge and expertise despite his effort to differentiate them:

The fastest growing entity today is information. Information is expanding ten times faster than the growth of any other manufactured or natural product on this planet.
We see the expansion of information everywhere. Less visible, harder to track, but exploding the same is the expansion of knowledge. The number of scientific articles published each year has been increasing in a steady rise for more than 50 years. Over the last 150 years the number of patent applications has increased. By this rough metric, knowledge is growing exponentially.

Perhaps I’m wrong, but for me information is something that just sits there, in computers or on the Web or in scientific papers, pretty useless on its own. It is when humans take a look at that information, filter it in an organized manner, and make sense out of it, that the information becomes organized and useful – which I think of as knowledge.
Furthermore, even this definition of knowledge is fuzzy, as it describes our collective knowledge. Collective – as in ‘collection of individual knowledges’. But some knowledge resided in individuals who make that knowledge widely available, while others do not. Thus some knowledge is more strongly integrated into the fuzzy global knowledge, and some is more or less hidden from most of us. Not to mention that not all knowledge is correct, either, or useful for anything for that matter (e.g., theological treateses come under both of those headings).
But, is individual knowledge the same as ‘expertise’? What does expertise mean?
Is it possessing knowledge or having the abilities and skills to apply it? Knowing where in the brain the pineal gland resides, or being able to surgically remove it?
Is it having a PhD (or equivalent) in the subject, or is it being recognized by others as an expert?
Is it knowing everything there is to know about a subject? Or is it knowing more than most other people about it?
Are we all experts on breathing, eating and sleeping? What is so expert about that kind of expertise if it is shared by everyone?
If it is knowing something that most other people don’t where is the cutoff point – what percentile are we talking about? I can say that I am an expert on circadian rhythms in quail – something I share with about a dozen other people in the world – as I have read the entire literature on the subject, did my own experiments and published papers on the topic. I guess I am still an expert when it comes to my field as a whole – a couple of thousand chronobiologists – although I could not possibly read all the papers or pay attention to all the sub-field research directions.
But am I an expert on blogging just because I am one of the 20 million bloggers out there? It is still a pretty small proportion of the planet’s population, after all. Am I an expert on Serbia just because I am one of 10 million or so people who was born there?
I surely write on this blog about many things, not too atrociously, I hope: politics, religion, science, technology, food, etc. I do not think of myself as an expert in any of this, but some people may think of me as one: because they know less than me about some of these topics, or because I have a blog on, or because I appear to be a nice guy.
The question is, once we agree on a definition of expertise, does it matter? Is my expertise in avian chronobiology useful to me? To the rest of the world? Or is my thinking (and then writing) about various other subjects better?
Victorian scholars knew everything about everything. With the growth of knowledge, we swung in the opposite direction, rewarding very narrow expertise. Are we now seeing the pendulum swing back? There is too much knowledge available for anyone to be able to know everything, so we cannot all become Victorian scholars. But perhaps we can all choose a range of subjects in which to become semi-experts – knowing a lot about it but not worrying about how many other people know LESS about it than we do.
The Stupid Blogger says it nicely:

Unfortunately, there’s a very simple fact in life, and it’s the knowledge that not everyone is going to be an expert.
What so many people fail to realize is that being an expert is in many ways overrated.
The other option, of course, is a breadth of knowledge rather than depth of knowledge. Obviously, breadth of knowledge is knowing a little bit about a lot of things, and it’s more useful than you might think.
Having a breadth of knowledge can make living in the real world easier, not to mention more enjoyable, but it is only useful so long as you’re aware of the limitations of your knowledge and you know where to turn for more information.


Lawrence Lessig for Copyright Czar!

Peter Suber, James Love and Glyn Moody have already blogged about this, but we need to make sure this spreads far and wide:

The AAP and Copyright Alliance want to prod the next President of the US to tilt the unbalanced US copyright law further toward publishers. According to a letter the AAP sent to its members (thanks to James Love and Glyn Moody), the two organizations are trying to identify the positions “that will influence intellectual property policy”, and will then “offer suggestions regarding appropriate candidates for these positions to both presidential campaigns.”
But first they want to blackball one potential nominee:
…AAP is concerned, for example, that based on their past academic relationship, Senator Obama might choose among his appointments a divisive figure such as Larry Lessig – a law professor and leading proponent of diminished copyright rights….

Yup, those are the PRISM arguments – black is white, up is down, and Lessig is anti-copyright!@#$%^&*
So, how can we help push Lessig to get appointed Copyright Czar in the Obama administration? After all, nobody in the world knows more about it than him and he would be a perfect person for the job.

Smoke Signals, Blogs, and the Future of Politics

Smoke Signals, Blogs, and the Future of PoliticsThis I first posted on June 24, 2004 on, then republished on August 23, 2004 on Science And Politics. I love re-posting this one every now and then, just to check how much the world has changed. What do you think? Was I too rosy-eyed? Prophetic?

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Emerging Nanotechnology: A New Risk Factor for Lung Diseases?

From Sigma Xi:

Greetings everyone. We meet again at noon on Wednesday, Oct. 15 in RTP to hear NCSU associate professor James Bonner discuss “Emerging Nanotechnology: A New Risk Factor for Lung Diseases?” As you know, the commercial use of nanomaterials has outpaced scientific assessments of any potential health or environmental risks. Jamie Bonner is one of the scientists working to catch up.
Sigma Xi’s Pizza Lunch speaker series is free and open to science journalists and science communicators of all stripes (free to forward this message to anyone you would like to be included). RSVPs are required to cclabby AT amsci DOT org.
Directions to Sigma XI:

From Telecommuting to Coworking

Great article in Carrboro Commons today – I know because I’m in it! The concepts of ‘work’ and ‘office’ are changing and those in the information economy are starting to adapt to the new world:
Creative Coworking offers a new dynamic:

“People left the office and cubicle and they say, ‘OK, I’m going to break out.’ … So you start doing that. You work at home. You want to get something better than the couch, so you get a table. … You start creating an office in a spare bedroom. That works great for a while,” Russell said.
“Then you get a little bored, and your spouse is like, ‘Why haven’t you gotten out of your pajamas in the past five days?’ And so they go and get dressed and take their laptop and bag and go to a coffee shop.”
“They do that for a while, but then the music starts to bug you. There aren’t enough electrical outlets. … You get frustrated, so you go back home. …”
Ultimately, all those public places with social potential don’t have all the things you need, Russell said.
“There’s a big gap between working at a coffee shop and owning your own office.”

Then, a little further down the page, you can see a familiar name …. 😉 Doing this interview was actually tons of fun!

The hook-up culture

Amanda is in the middle of reading Michael Kimmel’s Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men and has posted the first, preliminary review, with some very interesting explorations by the commenters as well (I guess the MRAs did not get there yet to ruin the discussion). The review is focusing on the societal gender roles as the cause of the hook-up culture as well as the perception of it as being negative.
Much younger, sarahmeyers looks at the setting for the hook-up culture and identifies her own – highly urban, career-oriented, highly-connected (online and offline).
Possibly related:
Hooked on Hooking Up, Or What’s Wrong With Conservative View Of Marriage
Teen Sex, ‘Hooking Up’, Gay Marriage, Femiphobia and Bush Victory Are All Interconnected
Stephanie Coontz On Marriage
What is the Future of the Institution of Marriage?
Books: ‘The Sex Lives Of Teenagers’ by Lynn Ponton
Teen Parenthood for the X-box generation

Femiphobia and Race

Femiphobia and RaceThis provocative stream-of-consciousness post was first posted on April 17, 2005.

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Stephanie Coontz On Marriage

Stephanie Coontz On Marriage You probably know that I am quite interested in the history, current state, evolution and future of the institution of marriage, mainly because it is an important indicator of societal attitudes towards sex and towards gender-relations, which is the key to understanding political ideology. Between May 29, 2005 and February 23, 2006 I frequently mentioned Stephanie Coontz and particularly her latest book – Marriage, A History, e.g., in New History Of Marriage, Stephanie Coontz On Marriage, Op-Ed on the ‘End of Marriage’, Don’t Know Much About History…. and What ‘traditional’ marriage?. Amanda of Pandagon also wrote two good posts about it: Nothing to it and How to save your marriage (or at least give it a fighting chance). While I never really reviewed the book, here is a post with some thoughts and several good links to other people’s reviews as well as her own articles:

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Why Is Academia Liberal?

Why Is Academia Liberal?When I posted this originally (here and here) I quoted a much longer excerpt from the cited Chronicle article than what is deemed appropriate, so this time I urge you to actually go and read it first and then come back to read my response.

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Assault on (Higher) Education – a Lakoffian Perspective

Assault on (Higher) Education - a Lakoffian PerspectiveThis post was first written on October 28, 2004 on Science And Politics, then it was republished on December 05, 2005 on The Magic School Bus. The Village vs. The University – all in your mind.

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This may just be the right time….

…to revisit this discussion. Keep the current election in mind as you read all the posts.

Moral Order

ClockWeb%20logo2.JPG This was an early post of mine building upon George Lakoff analysis of the psychology underlying political ideology. It was first published on September 04, 2004 (mildly edited):

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Book Review: George Lakoff “Moral Politics” and E.J.Graff “What Is Marriage For?”

This was first posted on forums on July 10, 2004, then republished on Science And Politics on August 18, 2004. That was to be just the first, and most raw, post on this topic on my blog. It was followed by about a 100 more posts building on this idea, modifying it, and changing my mind in the process. You can see some of the better follow-ups here. Also, I have since then read Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage by Stephanie Coontz, which is a much better and more scholarly work than E.J.Graff’s book. Below the fold is the article with mild edits (e.g., omitting the pre-election hurrays!):

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The Challenges of Innovation

In Business Week:

That is why isolating people in organizational silos is one of the biggest obstacles to innovation. Companies that are serious about innovation do everything possible to break down silos and encourage communication and collaboration across the organization and beyond.

But read the rest of the article as well. Sound familiar to any of you?

Court win for Fair Use

Judge Rules That Content Owners Must Consider Fair Use Before Sending Takedowns:

A judge’s ruling today is a major victory for free speech and fair use on the Internet, and will help protect everyone who creates content for the Web. In Lenz v. Universal (aka the “dancing baby” case), Judge Jeremy Fogel held that content owners must consider fair use before sending takedown notices under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”).

To those who do not like the democratization of knowledge

[Comic strip taken from Unshelved]
The anti-technology curmudgeons are back. Not just worrying about technology in classrooms (for which Dave has a great response), but culture in general.
Nice to see a couple of good responses to the doom-and-gloom crowd.
First we: DIGITAL_NATIVES by Jonathan Imme:

There used to be a time when we would be called ‘nerds’ or ‘techies’. Strange people with a near-obsessive compulsion to embrace new technology, and who’d rather communicate with their friends online than offline. People for whom the Internet itself was the ultimate source of information for solving any kind of problem whatsoever.
However, society is now slowly coming to terms with the fact that a whole generation is growing up that has only ever known the ‘digital age’, and has therefore entirely accepted the digital way of doing things. We call ourselves the Digital Native generation.
Then again, we Digital Natives are not only characterized by our self-sufficient attitude to new technologies. We also have a different concept of the culture of information, communication and entertainment. We listen to music and watch films online. The fact that we also use file-swapping sites comes from the simple fact that we’re not about to pay for content on principle – no matter how exciting it may be.
Looking to the long-term, and in the light of our contemporary grasp of copyright law and our extensive recommendation and exchange activities among our friends, industry moguls would be better off sending us not to prison but to the business development units of the entertainment companies.

Then, in WIRED (also in print, I hear): The Critics Need a Reboot. The Internet Hasn’t Led Us Into a New Dark Age by David Wolman:

When in doubt, blame the latest technology. Socrates thought the advent of writing would wreak havoc on the powers of the mind. Christian theologians denounced the printing press as the work of the devil. The invention of the telephone was supposed to make letter-writing extinct, and the arrival of the train — and later the car and plane — was going to be the death of community.
Now comes a technological bogeyman for the 21st century, this one responsible for a supposed sharp uptick in American shallowness and credulity: the Internet and its digital spawn.
Or consider the Public Library of Science: By breaking the publishing industry’s choke hold on the circulation of scientific information, this powerful online resource arms scientists and the masses alike with the same data, accelerating new discoveries and breakthroughs. Not exactly the kind of effect one would expect from a technology that’s threatening to turn us into philistines.

Why teaching evolution is dangerous

It is so nice teaching biology to adults when there are no (obvious) Creationists in the classroom. It does not always happen that way – I have had a couple of cases in the past – but this time it was really nice as I could freely cover all topics deeply within an evolutionary framework (not always seen in my public notes, though, as I try to gauge the class first and then decide how overtly to talk ebout everything in evolutionary terms). It is always a conundrum. If there is a potential resentment of my lectures, I have to thread carefully. I have to remember that I am not trying to turn them into biologists, but that I am trying to make them think for themselves and to understand evolution even if they do not want to ‘believe’ it for religious reasons. Thus, I first teach about cell, heredity and development, which gives them (and me) tools for coverage of evolution. Then I explain evolution using insects as an example before ending with a “humans, of course” as well. Then I cover Origin of Life, evolution of diversity and current diversity. But I do not leave evolution behind when I move on to ecology, behavior and physiology either. More easily this time, but sometimes a little more ‘sneakily’ if I know I have Creationists in class.
So, I know exactly how difficult it is to teach even younger students – they are more likely to act rebelliously (adults will go along in order to get the grade and move on) and they are still more under the influence of parents and do not have enough world experiences. I admire high school teachers who teach Biology in areas of the country in which Creationism is rampant and most of the kids are likely to be a priori biased against it.
A week after the nice column by Olivia Judson about the necessity of teaching evolution in school, NYTimes once again visits this question, with a very nice article about Mr.Campbell, a biology teacher in Florida, one of the people who was involved in the latest science curriculum battles in that state this year.
Like a game of whack-a-mole, Creationist get defeated in court in one state, just to resurface in another state and start the process all over again. As they keep losing in courts, they are forced to dilute their message, and adopt the language that may, on the surface, seem OK, unless you know exactly what THEY mean by that language and how that language is supposed to be a wedge that lets religious instruction into public school science classes.
The NYTimes article was brought to my attention by Jonathan Eisen, Tom Levenson, Kent and Mike Dunford and then I saw that many other bloggers have picked up on it since.
Ed Darrell points out the competitive advantage this gives the rest of the world and how local the problem of Creationism is.
David Rea sees that the NCSE responses to Well’s “Ten questions to ask your biology teacher about evolution” (also accessible at the NYT site next to the article) are far too nuanced and likely to go over the heads of most Americans, and suggests to use them to teach the meaning of words, and the meaning of evolutionary concepts – they cannot stand for themselves but can be useful as a starting point for a classroom discussion.
Peter Dawson Buckland responds to one of the frequent misrepresentations of evolution that shows up in the article (voiced by a Creationist teacher in the same school as Campbell) and gives a vote to pragmatism over philosophical accuracy. PZ Myers disagrees and insists on absolute accuracy. John Hawks points out that the Mickey Mouse is not an example of evolution – with which I agree: like Pokemon (and perhaps Spore), it is an example of gradual metamorphosis, in this case exacerbated by the fact that change is not induced by the natural environment but by human marketers.
As of this writing, the article has 342 comments on the NYTimes site, mainly by people who liked it and who – some clumsily, others with more expertise – try to explain the difference between scientific and colloquial usages of “theory” and other answers to those age-old questions that Creationists have been asking for a century or more already (and bored everyone to death, including myself, as the answers are readily available online, in books, etc.).
One comment that I particularly liked was this one:

I second comment #3. Bless Mr. Campbell. He was my high school biology teacher, and this article only begins to illustrate all the ways in which he is an amazing teacher. He constantly challenges his students to think for themselves, to analyze, and to test hypotheses rather than simply accept things at face value. He was the first teacher who ever taught me how, not what, to think, and Mr. Campbell is the reason I am now a biologist, studying evolutionary biology. Thank you, Mr. Campbell, and all biology teachers like you, who, in teaching evolution well, nurture the natural curiosity in young minds.
— Natalie Wright, Gainesville, FL

But some of the best commentary is right there in the article – words of Campbell himself. See this:

“If I do this wrong,” Mr. Campbell remembers thinking on that humid spring morning, “I’ll lose him.”

Mr. Campbell knows how tricky this process is. You cannot bludgeon kids with truth (or insult their religion, i.e., their parents and friends) and hope they will smile and believe you. Yes, NOMA is wrong, but is a good first tool for gaining trust. You have to bring them over to your side, gain their trust, and then hold their hands and help them step by step. And on that slow journey, which will be painful for many of them, it is OK to use some inaccuracies temporarily if they help you reach the students. If a student, like Natalie Wright who I quoted above, goes on to study biology, then he or she will unlearn the inaccuracies in time. If most of the students do not, but those cutesy examples help them accept evolution, then it is OK if they keep some of those little inaccuracies for the rest of their lives. It is perfectly fine if they keep thinking that Mickey Mouse evolved as long as they think evolution is fine and dandy overall. Without Mickey, they may have become Creationist activists instead. Without belief in NOMA they would have never accepted anything, and well, so be it. Better NOMA-believers than Creationists, don’t you think?
But for me, the key quote of the article is this one:

“If you see something you don’t understand, you have to ask ‘why?’ or ‘how?’ ” Mr. Campbell often admonished his students at Ridgeview High School.

Education is a subversive activity that is implicitly in place in order to counter the prevailing culture. And the prevailing culture in the case of Campbell’s school, and many other schools in the country, is a deeply conservative religious culture.
There are many ideals or “values” that conservatives and liberals share. Freedom, strength, honesty, generosity, courage, responsibility, etc. are equally valued by people of all ideologies. The conservatives and liberals may define or understand them a little differently, they may order them differently according to importance, and they may deduce some very different policy proposals out of them, but in general they all agree that these are good human values.
But there is one human trait where the two ideologies differ. That is Obedience. For conservatives, this is a positive human trait. For liberals, it is viewed quite negatively. Why?
Because the two ideologies view time and history differently.
Conservatives see history as a story of decline from some mythical Golden Age which, depends who you ask, may be the Garden of Eden, or middle ages when Church and State were one and the same, or late 19th century USA with robber barons in charge, or 1930s Italy and Germany when Business and State were one and the same (and kept all the “Others” down), or 1950s when women were sent to the kitchen. They feel like the future is bleak and that their duty is to slow down and stop the decline, or reverse it if they can.
Their belief that world is dangerous is a part of this mindset – they always think that the world is more to be feared now than it was in the mystical past. Corporate media help them in this – switch off the TV and tell me: how many violent crimes, tragic accidents, horrific natural disasters, and war terrors, have you personally witnessed today in real life? Yesterday, the day before, throughout your life? How come you are still alive? Oh, but the media wants to deliver you to the advertising so you will buy whatever will alleviate your fears today and make life worth living yet another day.
For us (liberals), the history is seen as an arrow of progress: every generation has a better life than the previous one, every generation puts some work and effort, and if needed fight, to make the world a better place for the next generation. We want to foster and continue this trend. For this to happen, each generation needs to break with the parents’ worldview to some extent. What is considered “normal” part of life for one’s elders, may not be so for the youngsters who take a serious look at it. Most importantly, each generation brings in another level of equality, bringing up a group that was institutionally pushed down during history, be it women, gays, blacks, etc.
Now, the word “equality” is understood differently by the two ideologies. It does not mean handicapping everyone to have the same no matter what their talents and hard work should earn them. It does not mean preventing people from attaining success. It means allowing people to go to the top regardless of who their parents were. If you made it, your kids should not get a leg-up because of that – they need to start from zero and try to make it as well. Or fail. But more importantly, it does not matter if your parents are rich or poor, white or black, US-born or foreign-born, religious or not, if you are male or female, straight or gay – you should have the exact same social and instititutional support in your strivings toward success.
Also, the measure of success in dollars is a pretty conservative notion – you can be dirt-poor yet be successful, consider yourself successful and be regarded by others as successful along other criteria, e.g., generosity, skill, talent. And the accidents of your birth should not be a factor.
In a worldview which sees everything as a zero-sum game, equality is anathema. If one goes up, this means someone else is going down. If women are gaining, this means men are losing. If Blacks are gaining equality, this means Whites are losing. If you see the world as hierarchical this is the inevitable outcome of your worldview.
Thus, the most essential thing that conservatives want to conserve is the social organization, including all of its power relationships, with the white, American, Christian, (officially) straight, rich, adult, male humans on top of everyone else. If that is your worldview, of course what normal people consider progress will look like doom to you. After all, we measure progress by how big strides we have made in eliminating the old power structures that used to subdue groups of people under others.
Another way to call this is authoritarianism, in which one group asserts authority over others and does whatever it takes to keep it that way.
An important aspect of the conservative hierarchy is the authority of old over the young. The stereotype of an Old Wise Man Who Remembers The Golden Age of Yore. He who can bring that Golden Age back. The top of the hierarchy. Thus, obedience to His authority is essential for preservation of the hierarchical power structure. Thus, conservatives do not like education, they prefer “training”. They start early by training little kids, by methods bordering on abuse, to unquestioningly obey their elders.
The school should be a place to instill obedience (measure of success in rolling back progress) as well as to train for jobs that bring in the money (monetary measure of success). Thus, conservatives tend to fight against the liberal academia and hate to be told that Reality has a Liberal Bias. And most importantly, they fight against science education as it directly undermines the obedience.
See what Mr.Campbell is doing? Kids who were taught obedience know they are supposed to unquestioningly obey their elders, which includes their parents, priests and teachers. But Campbell puts them in a mental bind – they want to obey him but he is telling them things opposite from what their parents and priests are saying. Who to listen to? As a result of this exercise, they unlearn obedience. A red-flag danger for the conservatives. Their kids have been corrupted – they were, gasp, taught to think for themselves. And we all know what independent thinking brings about – progress! We can’t have that, can we?!
This is why Creationism is such an important plank in the conservative political strategy – it undermines the teaching of independent thinking. The asking of How and Why questions. All the stuff that each generation needs in order to analyze and reject their parent’s generation’s regressive worldview. Doom!

Carrboro Creative Coworking – the pricing list released

You know I am excited about Carrboro Creative Coworking. Looking at the pricing list which was released today, I think there will be a place for me there I can afford….

Looking for the mouse…

Watch what Clay Shirky said at Web 2.0 Expo SF 2008 (transcript here):

The quote that everyone likes, for a good reason, is the following:

I was having dinner with a group of friends about a month ago, and one of them was talking about sitting with his four-year-old daughter watching a DVD. And in the middle of the movie, apropos nothing, she jumps up off the couch and runs around behind the screen. That seems like a cute moment. Maybe she’s going back there to see if Dora is really back there or whatever. But that wasn’t what she was doing. She started rooting around in the cables. And her dad said, “What you doing?” And she stuck her head out from behind the screen and said, “Looking for the mouse.”
Here’s something four-year-olds know: A screen that ships without a mouse ships broken. Here’s something four-year-olds know: Media that’s targeted at you but doesn’t include you may not be worth sitting still for.
It’s also become my motto, when people ask me what we’re doing– from now on, that’s what I’m going to tell them: We’re looking for the mouse.

Kevin Kelly likes it. Bjoern Brembs says:

Most scientists have not made the transition of this four-year-old, yet.

The thing is….it’s not just screens. I keep looking for the mouse and the “post comment” button whenever I read a book!

The 21st Century Workplace is wherever you and your laptop happen to be

12 New Rules of Working You Should Embrace Today. As you know, point #4 is one of my pet peeves:

4. People don’t have to be in an office. This is the one I wish most businesses would get, right now, right away. It’s so obvious once you get away from the traditional mindset. Traditionally, people worked in offices (and of course most still do). They go into the office, do their work, go to meeting, process paperwork, chat around the watercooler, clock out and go home.
These days, more and more, that’s not necessary. With mobile computing, the cloud, online apps and collaborative processes, work can be done from anywhere, and often is. More people are telecommuting. More people are working as freelancers or consultants. More businesses are allowing people to work from anywhere — not just telecommuting from home, but literally anywhere in the world. People are forming small businesses who have never met, who live on different continents. People have meetings through Skype or Basecamp group chat. They collaborate through wikis and Google apps.
If you are stuck in the traditional mindset, think hard about what things really need to be done in an office. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons for working in an office, but often those barriers have other solutions you just haven’t explored yet.
The advantages of a decentralized workplace are many. Workers who have more freedom are happier, and often more passionate about their work. They enjoy collaborating with others who are smart and talented, and work is no longer drudgery. Flexible schedules work well for many people’s lifestyles. Mobile computing is actually good for many types of businesses where people need to be on the go. And what really matters isn’t that the worker is present, but that the work is being done.

Drinking Age?

Yup, I’ve been hearing about this Amethyst Initiative about lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18 and wondered if I should blog about it from my perspective. Then I saw that Jake wrote a good post about it (and also see his older post on the topic and good comments by his readers) and decided to chime in.
I grew up in a country with no drinking age laws at all. When I was very young, perhaps as young as five, one of my regular chores was to go to the corner shop to buy things like bread, milk, yoghurt or whatever else was needed. Sometimes that meant I would get some beer or wine or liquor. And it was fine to sell that to me at that young age (though the bottles were heavy!).
Also, at pretty young age, my brother and I were given bevanda (watered-down wine) or beer in a tiny little glass to sip with the Sunday family lunch. Then we would take a nap. Perhaps a sip of wine at the moment the New Year strikes in.
Later, in high school or so, we experimented a little more, at parties and during summer vacations, with our friends. But it was very, very rare that anyone got really drunk. I have never in my life had so much alcohol that I could not walk home in a pretty straight line, carrying my guitar without breaking it, climbing up seven floors, unlocking the door sufficiently quietly not to wake up the rest of the family, and putting myself to bed normally (i.e., undressing, putting on my pyjamas, etc.).
Then I came to the USA. Once, early on, a bunch of us (including the future Mrs.Coturnix) went to one of those places where people dance the Electric Slide. The age limit to enter was 21. I was 25, everyone there was my age or older. And everyone was binge-drinking some excuse for beer. And behaving in a more infantile way than my friends and I ever did when we were 15. We never visited such a place again. I sometimes go for months without a sip of alcohol. But then I enjoy a glass of really good wine, or beer or liquore every now and then as well.
Now, it is easy to say: America bad, Europe good. But how does one improve the situation in the States? I don’t think lowering the drinking age would do any good on its own. In most European countries there is a culture of drinking, a respect for alcohol, and even a degree of snobishness about kinds of drinks one imbibes (not a bad thing in this case, I say) – none of it existing in the States.
Lowering the drinking age would only change the timing – the binge-drinking parties would happen at the 18th birthday parties instead of 21st. How does one change a culture? From Miller Lite binge-drinking culture to a society of enologists and connoisseurs of local microbrews? I don’t think asking parents to teach the kids would make any difference, as the parents and grandparents are equally missing that component of early childhood education. The drinking problem here is not occuring just among the college crowd, but at all ages.
I would completely eliminate drinking age. But before that, perhaps a year before that, I would:
1) enforce the drunk driving laws better. Once people start getting tickets and losing licences, they would think twice next time.
2) eliminate the laws that prevent people from moving good wines and beers across state lines.
3) elminate lwas that prevent sale of booze on Sundays
4) start a huge educational campaign through all media outlets and all communication channels: TV, radio, newspapers, street posters, roadsigns, pamphlets left in bars, blogs, etc. actually explaining how to teach kids to drink responsibly and to have a healthy respect for alcohol. Having free classes offered. Wine-tastings. A year of such all-out campaigning (similar to the anti-smoking one that was pretty successful) would probably make enough of a difference to make it safer to carefully eliminate the drinking age laws, then monitor the effects and reinstate or alter the laws as needed.
Every country has its alcoholics. But in most countries, most of the people are knowledgeable about drinking. It can be done in the USA as well if a lot of thought and planning is put into it. And money.
Oh wait! The prime candidates for funding such a thing, e.g., the producers of Miller Lite, might not like this scheme after all….because educated public would not drink their crappy product any more.

Will the rich save the planet?

Save the planet? Buy it:

Millionaires are purchasing entire ecosystems around the world and turning them into conservation areas. Their goal? To stop environmental catastrophe.

But will they know how to do it well? Will they inject some of their own incorrect ideas into their projects? Who will they listen to when designing these? Will their kids continue?

Rage 2.0

Why Rage? Because Henry inspired me (though Mrs.Gee made him edit out the ‘excessive’ language). Why 2.0? Because I am all gung-ho about everything 2.0. So there!
So, like Henry, I will now proceed to rage about something….
I’ve been traveling a lot lately, often staying in some very top-of-the-line hotels around the USA and Europe. Lovely hotels. Very comfortable. Very clean. Great service. Good food. Lots of cool amenities. More and more environmentally friendly. Nothing really to complain about. And I certainly do not want to single out Millennium UN Plaza hotel just because something that irks me very much happened there. Something that reminds me that the hotel industry as a whole has not entered the 21st century yet.
So, let me collect my thoughts and start with my own premises as to what a hotel needs to provide. At a minimum, every hotel room in every hotel in the world should provide these four essentials:
1) Bed. Hopefully a bed that is comfortable, does not squeak, and will not break down under my puny weight.
2) Bathroom. Hopefully a clean one with cold and hot running water and a decent pressure in the shower head.
3) Electricity. It is pretty essential – for lights and for recharging cell-phones, camera batteries, blackberries and laptops.
4) Online Access. Free (well, included in the room price), fast and reliable.
Most hotels are really good at providing the first three:
If your bed breaks, you call the reception and in 5 minutes your bed is either fixed or you are moved into a beautiful large suite for the rest of your stay.
If something in your bathroom leaks, you call the reception, and their plumber will be up in your room in no time, and if it cannot be fixed in 5 minutes you are moved into a beautiful large suite for the rest of your stay.
If your power goes off or a light-bulb burns, you call the reception, and their electrician will be up in your room in no time, and if it cannot be fixed in 5 minutes you are moved into a beautiful large suite for the rest of your stay.
But, if your online access does not work, you call the reception and they have no idea how to help you. They cannot send their internet technician to your room because they do not have one. Last weekend, when I called the reception to inquire about a sudden loss of online access, the receptionist forwarded me to tech support. I was naive – I thought it would be a hotel employee. Nope – the first question:
– Where are you?
– Room 3424
– Which hotel? (Yikes! Not in my hotel?)
– Millennium UN Plaza.
– Which city is that? (OMG, this one is continents away!)
Anyway, it was not my job to talk to the tech. Hotel should have taken that call and figured that out. Part of their hotel service. What they are paid for. I have already figured out that my computer is OK and that the problem is with the hotel network (soon I learned that the entire hotel lost it, not just me). There was nothing that the nice person in India could do remotely and I knew that from the start. When I was forwarded to the tech, I expected a hotel employee who could actually physically come up and check the network.
I checked at the desk a couple of times, politely. As the day progressed, I saw more and more people, more and more agitated, asking the same question “When the hell are you going to fix this!?” To which the poor receptionist could only shrug her shoulders – it is not something she was taught to deal with. The hotel had no way to deal with it. They do not understand yet that Internet is one of the Four Basic Essentials of a hotel room. They do not even use it on their own computers (how do they run a hotel? how do they provide up-to-date travel/weather/shopping/tourist information to guests without the Web?!).
As Henry notes:

Actually, I do know the reason for all these things. It’s because the people at the other end of the phone, or across the desk, are often powerless to address the problem in hand, because they are too dim, or haven’t been trained, or that the systems with which they are meant to be dealing are so distributed and fragmented so that any one person in the company feels no sense of responsibility.

That is exactly right – nobody there could do anything, or cared to try anyway. Even with a potential riot at hand, with dozens of red-faced guests shaking their fists at them. “We are aware of the problem”. Shrug.
Wifi was working in the lobby, as someone soon discovered, which soon was packed by busy travelers furiously typing on their laptops. People doing their work. Work for which constant online access is a must. Kind of work that most busy travelers these days do (most people never travel more than 100 miles from their birthplace/home and then do not stay in hotels, but those who travel tend to travel a lot and are highly connected people – the clientele of this hotel for sure). The hotel industry has to wake up to this reality.
Then I checked their ‘internet cafe’ in the basement. A tiny, ancient PC, with a tiny screen, the only browser being an old version of Internet Explorer, access through dial-up modem and all that for 50 cents per minute! No thanks.
24 hours later, the hotel was still internet-less. I checked my e-mail once I got home the next day.
Over my recent travels, I noticed several different continua in the hotel industry concerning the Internet.
Some only have an “office” just like the one I described above, but more and more do provide either wifi or cable or both in each room.
Some provide crappy access, some are decent, and a rare hotel provides a really good, fast, reliable access.
Some provide access for free as they should (and many savvy travelers now consciously pick such hotels, which should be a hint for the rest of the industry), some charge relatively low prices ($5-10 per day), and some charge exorbitant amounts of money (hundreds of dollars for a few hours, e.g., the hotel in Trieste I stayed in back in April).
The three continua do not necessarily overlap – free wifi can be crappy and an expensive one can be good, and reverse.
But what is common to all of them is that this is all outsourced and if they have a problem they do not have a person on staff who can fix the problem, someone who is intimately familiar with the particular hotel’s network.
I went back to my room and looked around. There were several objects in the room that, if there was a problem, hotel would fix quickly, yet they looked so quaint, so 20th century, so useless in today’s world.
There were alarm clocks. Why? Mrs.Coturnix and I are not gadget-happy folks, yet between us we had at least 4 or 5 “things” that have the alarm clock function on them (two cell phones, a blackberry, two laptops).
There were radios. Who listens to the radio (except locally, when at home – that’s different)? If I want music, I do not want to depend on some local DJ and his taste. I will go online and find exactly the music I want to hear at any given moment (and put it on my iPod if I want to). If I want news, I do not want to depend on the scheduling and choices of the radio news team. I will go online and find exactly the news and information I need at that moment. Even if I overhear some piece of news on the radio, I will have to go online to check if it is true, because Corporate Media is not to be trusted – it is unreliable.
There was a TV. I have not turned on a TV in a hotel in years! What for? For entertainment, TV is crappy – there is so much more and better stuff online. And anyway, I am traveling, my entertainment is likely happening outside of my room – sightseeing, meeting bloggers, participating in a conference…. As for news and information, TV is even less reliable than radio. The Web rules.
There was a telephone. A land line. Why? Because that is the only way to call the reception desk until they adopt a more modern technology. When was the last time you used your room land-line phone to make a call out? To a friend? A decade ago?
I’ll be perfectly happy to get a room without an alarm clock, without a radio, without a TV and without a telephone if I am guaranteed flawless perfect online access included in the price of the room.
Which brings me to my second Rage of the day….
I love Olympics. It is one of the most exciting equestrian events in the world. Oh, there are other sports there as well, some really cool to watch as well. Even the exotic, strange sports with unfathomable rules, like baseball.
As a kid, I watched the Olympics every four years. Belgrade TV was very good at it. We had some good sportscasters who knew when to shut up and let the athletic drama unfold itself in silence. We watched all the sports in which Yugoslavia had representatives (especially if they had a chance at a medal), e.g.,. basketball, handball, waterpolo, shooting, kayak/canoe, tennis, table-tennis, long jump, even soccer. And we watched a lot of other events because they were exciting, and had exciting personalities from other countries. And yes, we got to see the equestrian events, at least an hour for each of the three disciplines. In real time. We rooted for the good ones, or for the underdogs, or for whoever was neither Russian nor American. And we had great fun watching together, with good food and drinks.
In 1980., we hated the Americans for boycotting the Moscow games, for undercutting the very idea of the Olympics, the time when politics is supposed to be pushed aside and people around the world enjoy the achievements of the best athletes no matter where they come from and under which flag they compete. Yet the Games were fun to watch. The basketball tournament was legendary – Yugoslavia, USSR and Italy had incredible battles between themselves for the three medals, unforgettable matches. And without Americans, a lot more athletes from smaller countries got into the spotlight and won medals. It was almost more fun because the Americans were not there – more diversity.
In 1984., we hated the Russians for boycotting the Los Angeles games, for the same reasons as four years earlier. We hated them even more because this led into the Games becoming an American self-love-fest like we never saw before. It was boring. American nationalism in our faces hour after hour….
If the Games were given to Belgrade for 1992 (lost them in the last round of voting to Barcelona), there may not have been a war there. We would have something to strive for, something unifying, and something that would potentially bring jobs and money (and yes, national pride for the whole country, not its little parts). We were so excited about the candidacy alone. Darn!
The 1992 games were the first for me here in the USA. It was the pay-per-view year. I was working at the barn at the time. We got some money together and one of the guys bought the pay-per-view for the entire equestrian package and taped it all. We gave him the blank tapes and he made copies for all of us. I watched the entire equestrian program like that. And I watched some of the other events on TV and was sick of the way it was made: mad American nationalism, 100% focus on US athletes and on sports in which those athletes were meant to win a gold (otherwise it was a Satanic unfairness, or the referees were biased America-haters, or whatever excuse could be found except the idea that some athlete from another country could actually be better and on that day luckier than the American one).
Since then, I did not watch the Games.
This year, I am not watching either. And no, I am not boycotting. If I did not boycott the 1980 and 1984 games, why boycott these ones? How are they different? Every government in the world does stuff some of us don’t like. The purpose of the Olympics is to inspire progress in international relations. For people of different nations to see and get to like the people from all other nations, by watching their athletes, seeing they are human, identifying with their agonies and triumphs. Games are supposed to undermine the politics of bad governments. Some are a little better than others. But Reagan’s USA, Brezhnev’s USSR and today’s China – not much different even in degree. I will not let politics intrude into the Games ideals. If governments want to boycott, they have the right to do so, but they are idiots if they do. Individuals – whatever anyone wants to do for whichever reason. I have none.
But the main reason I am not watching this time is because I am incapable of watching them on my own terms. I do not want the NBC coverage. I want to watch events I want to watch. I want to watch them when I want to, how I want to, where I want to.
I see that danah thinks along the same lines:

I want an Olympics where the “best” is broadcast on TV, like now. But I also want an interactive version. Take gymnastics. I want to know on each apparatus who is up live. And I want to be able to switch between different cameras and choose my own view through the stadium so that I can watch whichever competitor I want. I want to be able to watch live, all day, on ALL sports (even judo and the other weird ones where Americans are not so present). I want interactive live and I want to be able to pull down and follow any individual Olympian or team through their events at a later point. I want the Olympics to be treated as a bunch of spliceable objects that I can remix live for my own viewing pleasure. And I want to be able to see it ALL. Is that that hard to ask for? Hell, I’d be willing to pay for such interactive watching options. And I’d certainly be willing to watch ads to see things LIVE. But boy does it annoy me to watch a “live” NBC broadcast that is already well reported on in the NYTimes.

Is there any way the next Olympics can be done like this? With no exclusive media rights given to anyone? I want to read the athletes’ blogs. I want to see the amateur movie clips from the events (and behind the scenes, e.g., in the horse stables at the equestrian venue) on YouTube. I want to listen in on press conferences live. I want it all on my computer live, the way I want to see it. Not the way some 20th century, dinosaur-age TV producer thinks I want to see it.
End of Rage.

The Human & The Humanities

From The National Humanities Center:

The National Humanities Center will host the third and final conference on “The Human & The Humanities,” November 13 – 15, 2008, once again attracting scientists and humanities scholars to discuss how developments in science are challenging traditional notions of “the human.” Events will begin on the evening of November 13 with a lecture from noted neurologist and author Oliver Sacks at the William and Ida Friday Center in Chapel Hill, NC.
This event is free, but guests must register in advance to guarantee seating.
Other speakers and special guests confirmed for Friday and Saturday’s sessions at the National Humanities Center include:
Anthony Appiah, Princeton University
Patricia Churchland, University of California, San Diego
Michael Gazzaniga, University of California, Santa Barbara
Michael Gillespie, Duke University
Katherine Hayles, Duke University
David Krakauer, Santa Fe Institute
Jesse Prinz, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Peter Railton, University of Michigan
Robert Sapolsky, Stanford University
Raymond Tallis, University of Manchester
Holden Thorp, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Mark Turner, Case Western Reserve University
The entire conference is open to the public. A registration fee of $30 provides admission to all sessions along with meals during Friday and Saturday’s events.
To register for either the Oliver Sacks lecture or the ASC conference, please click here or visit to learn more about the ASC initiative.

The Horse Exhibit at the AMNH

One of the cool perks of being a scienceblogger and going to a meetup this year was the opportunity to go and see the Horse Exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and to recieve (as we were not allowed to take pictures in there) a CD with some of the pictures. You can also see a lot more text and pictures, pretty closely following what is on the exhibit itself, on the excellent Horse Exhibit wesbite.
So, on Saturday afternoon, after the Meet-the-Readers event, several of us got on the subway and went up to the Museum. And I was not disappointed. You know I love horses and have been voraciously reading about them all my life. Yet, I still learned a thing or two new to me at the exhibit. The first thing one sees when entering the room is this huge and beautiful diorama, with various species of now-extinct equids:
The exhibit itself put a lot of effort into dispelling the old textbook notion of a linear progression (from Eohippus to Equus caballus) of the horse evolution, the ‘ladder’, and tries to present the more realistic way of thinking about it as a ‘bush‘ (I am surprised Brian never moved that post to his new blog) with many twigs, and with many species of horses living simultaneously in many parts of the word.
The video (featuring, I think, Ross MacPhee) next to this part of the exhibit, explained how scientists figure out these things, like ages of fossils and genealogical relationships between extinct species – a good antidote to the inevitably static nature of the exhibit, i.e., the Facts, as opposed to the Process.
A similar video about the way scientists study the early domestication of horses serves the same function – it shows the method by which we get to know what we know, not just what we know. The portion of the exhibit about domestication, as well as the one on the natural history (evolution, behavior, extinct and living relatives, etc.) were very well done – there were no usual factual errors that often creep into such exhibits, books etc.about horses.
The rest of the exhibit was devoted to the relationship between horses and humans – how the two species affected and changed each other over the past six millennia. From the use of horses for food, bones, hair and milk, through domestication, riding, driving, warfare and work and today – to sport and the protection of the horses. How horses were bred for different purposes at different times, for instance for large size and carrying ability:
…or for high speed needed to deliver mail from East to West Coast:
It was great fun, especially seeing this together with some knowledgeable SciBlings like Brian, Grrrl, Josh and others who will probably write their own reviews soon. If you can come to NYC before January 4th 2009, make sure you take some time to see this exhibit. Perhaps it will go on a tour of other cities afterwards. In the meantime, peruse the Horse Exhibit wesbite for more information.

Green Sahara Cemeteries

ResearchBlogging.orgI’ve been saving this picture for more than a year, not showing it to anyone or posting it anywhere online, not wanting to break the embargo:
This was a picture I took of one of the fossils brought to SciFoo’07 by Paul Sereno and Gabrielle Lyon, together with the skull of Nigersaurus.
Apparently, while digging for dinosaurs in Niger, Paul and the crew discovered an enormous and fascinating archaeological site – Gobero. They teamed up with anthropologists and archaeologists and spent two digging seasons analysing the site. The first results of this study are now finally published in my favourite journal – PLoS ONE:
Lakeside Cemeteries in the Sahara: 5000 Years of Holocene Population and Environmental Change

Approximately two hundred human burials were discovered on the edge of a paleolake in Niger that provide a uniquely preserved record of human occupation in the Sahara during the Holocene (~8000 B.C.E. to the present). Called Gobero, this suite of closely spaced sites chronicles the rapid pace of biosocial change in the southern Sahara in response to severe climatic fluctuation.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Two main occupational phases are identified that correspond with humid intervals in the early and mid-Holocene, based on 78 direct AMS radiocarbon dates on human remains, fauna and artifacts, as well as 9 OSL dates on paleodune sand. The older occupants have craniofacial dimensions that demonstrate similarities with mid-Holocene occupants of the southern Sahara and Late Pleistocene to early Holocene inhabitants of the Maghreb. Their hyperflexed burials compose the earliest cemetery in the Sahara dating to ~7500 B.C.E. These early occupants abandon the area under arid conditions and, when humid conditions return ~4600 B.C.E., are replaced by a more gracile people with elaborated grave goods including animal bone and ivory ornaments.
The principal significance of Gobero lies in its extraordinary human, faunal, and archaeological record, from which we conclude the following:
1. The early Holocene occupants at Gobero (7700-6200 B.C.E.) were largely sedentary hunter-fisher-gatherers with lakeside funerary sites that include the earliest recorded cemetery in the Sahara.
2. Principal components analysis of craniometric variables closely allies the early Holocene occupants at Gobero with a skeletally robust, trans-Saharan assemblage of Late Pleistocene to mid-Holocene human populations from the Maghreb and southern Sahara.
3. Gobero was abandoned during a period of severe aridification possibly as long as one millennium (6200-5200 B.C.E).
4. More gracile humans arrived in the mid-Holocene (5200-2500 B.C.E.) employing a diversified subsistence economy based on clams, fish, and savanna vertebrates as well as some cattle husbandry.
5. Population replacement after a harsh arid hiatus is the most likely explanation for the occupational sequence at Gobero.
6. We are just beginning to understand the anatomical and cultural diversity that existed within the Sahara during the Holocene.

You can see more pictures and the background story on the Project Exploration site.
Greg Laden has already posted about it, and I hope other bloggers will as well.
I am not an expert on human evolution, but if I understand correctly, the information gathered at the site shows that Sahara was going through cycles: being very dry for some time, then having lakes and forests for some time, then getting dry again, etc. During dry periods, no humans lived there. During wet periods, this place was inhabited by humans – but not the same kinds of humans!
The earlier group, if I understand this right, were large, strong humans who subsisted on large game hunting and harpooning huge Nile perch. They are direct descendants of early human ancestors, i.e., they have evolved in Africa, and only their later descendants went out of Africa to Middle East, Europe and beyond.
The latter group came to the site about a 1000 years later. They were smaller and more gracile, made tools, ornamented their pots in very different ways, they kept animals, did some fishing, perhaps some agriculture. They buried their dead on beds of flowers. They may have, but I am not sure about this, be descendants of Eurasian humans, i.e., they may have come back from the Middle East or Europe into Africa and settled there.
The National Geographic story about the finding is a riveting read – I strongly suggest you read it whole. And I hope you read the paper itself (it is NOT a tough slog through highly technical lingo) and see all the additional information about human remains, artefacts, animal and plant remains, and new methods of analysis. And I hope you post comments, ratings and notes on the paper and, if you blog about it, send trackbacks.
Lakeside Cemeteries in the Sahara: 5000 Years of Holocene Population and Environmental Change by Paul C. Sereno, Elena A. A. Garcea, Helene Jousse, Christopher M. Stojanowski, Jean-Francois Salieege, Abdoulaye Maga, Oumarou A. Ide, Kelly J. Knudson, Anna Maria Mercuri, Thomas W. Stafford, Jr., Thomas G. Kaye1 , Carlo Giraudi, Isabella Massamba N’siala, Enzo Cocca, Hannah M. Moots, Didier B. Dutheil and Jeffrey P. Stivers. PLoS ONE 3(8): e2995. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002995
Update – more coverage: The Kiffian & Tenerean Occupation Of Gobero, Niger: Perhaps The Largest Collection Of Early-Mid Holocene People In Africa
Greg Laden: Stone Age Graveyard Reveals Lifestyles of a Green Sahara
Pharyngula: I wish I was a Paleontologist
Sociolingo’s Africa: African archaeology Niger : Saharan cemetery dig report and paper
Ontogeny: Burial site offers rare glimpse of daily life in the stone-age Sahara
Pro-science: Stone Age graveyeard found in Sahara
Knight Science Journalism Tracker: AP, Chicago Trib, New Scientist, NYTimes, etc: Dino hunters find, instead, an ancient human graveyard in the Sahara
L.A.Times: Archaeologists get a glimpse of life in a Sahara Eden

Next thing, they outlaw cooking at home: it’s chemistry, after all….

Robert Bruce Thompson is the author of Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments, a book I have and like, but cannot really use as it is hard to get the chemicals. Thompson now writes a guest popst on MAKE blog: Home science under attack

The Worcester Telegram & Gazette reports that Victor Deeb, a retired chemist who lives in Marlboro, has finally been allowed to return to his Fremont Street home, after Massachusetts authorities spent three days ransacking his basement lab and making off with its contents.
Deeb is not accused of making methamphetamine or other illegal drugs. He’s not accused of aiding terrorists, synthesizing explosives, nor even of making illegal fireworks. Deeb fell afoul of the Massachusetts authorities for … doing experiments.

So, even if you can find chemicals, you can have the cops coming and confiscating them?!
As NNadir says, It Must Have Been Beautiful to Do Science In Those Days, but not any more. I used to have a decent chemistry kit, and a good little microscope, and bought some additional glassware from a lab store downtown. Can’t get any of that any more:

These days science involves heavy duty – and often expensive – instrumentation, software programs with arcanely programmed guts – LIMS systems, speed, speed, speed, dense arrays of information, and all too narrow focus.
But all this was brought here on the shoulders of giants well after Newton, giants who labored maybe in more obscurity.
Some of what I was looking at today was science from the 50’s and the 70’s, the men and women of the time who first moved beyond this planet’s atmosphere and gravity. And I was struck by the beauty of their jury-rigged lives, where they built stuff from scratch.

Or, as John Wilkins says:

Kids today have emasculated chemistry sets that do precisely nothing interesting. And if Mythbusters has taught us anything, it’s that kids love explosions. That is the route to an educated population of science loving psychopaths. But we didn’t turn out to be psychopaths, we turned out to be lovers of science. We have lost something important. If a frigging chemist, who knows how to work safely, cannot do science at home, the west can pretty well forget about the next few generations of kids ever learning anything useful.

Which now feeds to the entire question of amateur science – can people outside science institutions do science any more (apart from Christmass bird count, I guess)? Janet has written two posts recently that touch, in a way, this question: Peer review and science and Objectivity and other people. Who is a scientist? Who are the peers, and what forms peer-review can take? If you play with a chemistry kit at home, and discover something new, and post it on a blog, and other chemists come by and read your detailed descriptions, and replicate the findings – was that peer-reviewed? How many people would negate this is science because it was not peer-reviewed in a formalized fashion in a scientific journal? How many would understand that peer-review can have many forms? See the comment thread on Chad’s post on this topic.
But if you cannot even do science in the basement, the whole question of peer-review of home-made science gets murky.

The myth of the creative class

Jeff Jarvis – The myth of the creative class:

Internet curmudgeons argue that Google et al are bringing society to ruin precisely because they rob the creative class of its financial support and exclusivity: its pedestal. But internet triumphalists, like me, argue that the internet opens up creativity past one-size-fits-all mass measurements and priestly definitions and lets us not only find what we like but find people who like what we do. The internet kills the mass, once and for all. With it comes the death of mass economics and mass media, but I don’t lament that, not for a moment.
The curmudgeons also argue that this level playing field is flooded with crap: a loss of taste and discrimination. I’ll argue just the opposite: Only the playing field is flat and to stand out one must now do so on merit – as defined by the public rather than the priests – which will be rewarded with links and attention. This is our link economy, our culture of links. It is a meritocracy, only now there are many definitions of merit and each must be earned.
I’ve long disagreed with those who say that copyright kills creativity, for I do believe that there is no scarcity of inspiration. But I now understand their position better. I also have learned that when creations are restricted it is the creator who suffers more because his creation won’t find its full and true public, its spark finds no kindling, and the fire dies. The creative class, copyright, mass media, and curmudgeonly critics stop what should be a continuing process of creation; like reverse alchemists, they turn abundance into scarcity, gold into lead.

Science vs. Britney Spears

Last week, most of the attention of the media, Old and New, revolved around the question if it is McCain supporters or Obama supporters who are more likely to think that Britney Spears is teh hawt (dunno what the answer is, but I recall seeing some statistics about the overwhelming lead by the Red States in porn consumption, TV watching, numbers of adult establishments and number of visits to such establishments per capita, and this may or may not correlate with the perception of Britney Spears as attractive to certain subsets of the male population).
But her name has also been mentioned a number of times recently in discussions of poor scientific understanding by the American public, the role of scientific reporting, and the role of science blogs.
For instance, for the longest time, the most visited post on the entire network was a post about Britney. It was one of those throw-away posts, with a silly title, a one-liner, a picture and a link. Something that takes no thought and about two minutes to post. Something almost all of us post sometimes, just to fill the page. For fun. Not a post that requires hours of research and writing. The success of that post (I have not checked the site-wide stats in ages, but perhaps the Expelled and Crackergate posts have beat it down to third place now) is sometimes invoked as an example how the general public is much more likely to search the web for “Britney+Spears+naked+picture” than to search for scientific content (watch my sitemeter go wild after posting this!).
At the second Science Blogging Conference (the content of the wiki will find a new online home soon), Britney Spears was again invoked in a similar role in the ‘Framing Science’ session. She is what the media serves, and she is what the masses want to see. No room for science.
But how would the modern American media look like If Scientists Were Tabloid Fodder? Notice, again, the mention of Britney in that post. Notice also how Sara Aton is deemed as famous as Stephen Hawking and Neil deGrasse Tyson. A quick search of my blog found these two posts that mention Sara Aton, so you know who she is – brilliant, for sure. Makes me happy that my colleague gets such attention!
Then, in a recent post, Trey goes back to the ‘Framing Science’ session at SBC’08 and gives a different analysis of the problem than what Jennifer proposed at the time (read the whole Trey’s post – it is very informative and thought-provoking).
Victor, in the comments, makes it even more clear – the difference between now and then, now being 2008 and then being, let’s say, 1958, is in the distribution. With three TV channels, a local paper or two, a local radio station or two, everyone got the same serving of both news and entertainment. This was a “push” – the information is pushed onto the audience, who has to take it or go live in a cave.
Today, the media reality is that it is a “pull” model – there are so many outlets, hundreds of cable channels, increased numbers of magazine, millions of blogs, satellite radio, that everyone searches for information and entertainment they are interested in. And ignore the rest.
So, if NBC served 15 minutes of science every day in 1958, everyone got to see 15 minutes of science every day. And could talk about it around the water-cooler the next day. Today, even if NBC still gives its 15 daily minutes, this means that most people get zero minutes of science news by not choosing to watch NBC, while those who are particularly interested know where to go to get their daily fill which is probably measured in hours per day (just try reading every single post on every day and following every link – it’s a full time job, ask the Overlords: they are paid to do it and still cannot manage to!).
It is now like that about every topic imaginable: a small number of people particularly interested in a topic have MUCH more sources today than ever. But it is also possible to ignore everything else. Thus, most people ignore most topics. Thus, most people ignore science.
Yet we agree that, at this day and age, a certain level of scientific understanding is more important than ever for general population. So many decisions one makes in personal life, in health-care choices and in political choices, require better understanding of science than the general population ever had in history. The general ignorance of science is nothing new – as Trey points out, the surveys indicate that the levels of scientific understanding and knowledge have been holding steady for decades in the USA (and probably also everywhere else in the world).
How do we increase scientific knowledge and understanding of the general population? No matter how good we are at science reporting and science communication as a whole – and I wrote a lengthy post recently claiming that we are – this will not matter as long as this is a “pull” culture and most people will never get to see any of that science communication anyway, be it good or bad.
The only way to do this is to somehow revert to “push”. But that is impossible in the current media ecology. Reversal to three TV channels is impossible, not to mention a really bad idea.
So, the media is not the way. While the science communication in the media, Old and New, has to be there, and has to be good, it will not be the venue for increasing science literacy in the general population.
The only venue I can think of, the only place where “push” still works and people are literally forced to listen to things they personally don’t care about – is school.
But science education in the USA is abysmal. What little there is of it is taught in a horrendous way – memorization of seemingly useless factoids. Solving puzzles. Learning Latin names for body parts. It is hard, it is boring, and it makes no sense.
The only way to make a scientifically educated population is to completely rethink science education – to make much more of it compulsory for graduation from middle and high schools and colleges, to make it interesting and relevant, and to put stress on the process and method and the historical context rather than on the factoids. To make the kids interested in science (they are born interested, then lose interest later – let’s see how we can keep them interested instead). To teach the kids how to remain interested in science, how to find and WANT to find relevant scientific information for the rest of their lives.
But this takes a lot of political muscle, especially since we are facing a ridiculous educational system in which the schooling is run by local boards, often filled with total incompetents. I guess all of us who got out or lucked out of the tenure-track trajectory should run for local school boards and start the revolution from within….
Unless you have a better idea?

The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule? By eliminating Free Market, of course

Thomas Frank, the author of the popular book What’s the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, has a new book out – The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule – which sounds even better. He was the guest on NPR’s Fresh Air tonight (listen to the podcast – it’s worth your time) and I have to say I agree with him 100%.
Heck, I wrote about this many times before, and especially focused in this post and this one – conservatism is antithetical to Free Market.
As conservatives tend to do, they say one thing and think the opposite (you know, black is white, up is down, clean is dirty, war is peace, ignorance if power…). They say they are all for Free Market. And many people believe them. And when they get in power and screw up, everyone says they “abandoned their conservative principles”. No, they did not – they did exactly what conservatives do. Free Market is a danger for their ideology. In a free market economy, they feel insecure because it is not a hierarchical system they like. It is a system in which they can potentially lose. It is a system in which they cannot succeed because the only way they know how to get to the top is by ruthlessly stepping on others. What they like is a hierarchy, a state without government in which conservatives rule through their own corporations, a system in which they have monopoly. And that is exactly what they do when they grab the levers of power.
I’ll be buying that book tomorrow…
One thing that irked me in the interview was a moment when the interviewer (whoever was sitting in for Terry Gross) chided Frank for using “bloggers’ language” in his book. As if that is a bad thing. Eh? Using bloggers’ language is a badge of honor – that indicates that your writing is honest.
Frank responded by saying that he is influenced by the language of the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s. That is – the language of pamphlets. And as there was no Internet at the time, pamphleteers were the bloggers of that age. Or, bloggers are modern pamphleteers, some as good at it and clear-eyed as Thomas Paine was.

In which I agree with Shermer on something….

Michael Shermer – Toward a Type 1 civilization. Ignore the nutty libertarianism – read only this sentence:

Globalism that includes worldwide wireless Internet access, with all knowledge digitized and available to everyone.

Thought-provoking reading of the Day: White Denial

White denial: Obama, race and America’s selective memory by Hal Crowther:

A lot of Americans are like German tourists, who never harmed or perhaps even met a Jew, and are amazed to find a chilly reception in Tel Aviv. Though Jim Crow was considerably more recent than Adolf Hitler, lapel-pin patriots and insulated media hypocrites experience acute shock–or feign it–when they hear the heated rhetoric of black pride and empowerment from people like Rev. Jeremiah Wright. I’m still shaking my head over a Wright-bashing column by Time magazine columnist Joe Klein, invoking “liberal masochism” and “liberal self-laceration” to condescend to Bill Moyers, a journalist worth several hundred Joe Kleins. I hope Klein is always remembered for this grudging micro-concession, inserted parenthetically into his predictable denunciation of Wright: “He surely does have a historical beef.” A “beef,” Wright has? Play that over a couple of times, if you’re not an African American. Would four centuries of enslavement, murder, rape, intimidation, segregation and humiliation entitle your people to a “beef”?

Do you understand the mortgage crisis?

Apparently, even journalists reporting on it learned the details (and how to properly frame it) from this episode of This American Life. Worth listening to (or reading the transcript).