Archive for the ‘science’ Category

in June, Shirky is publishing Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, which mines adjacent territory. He argues that the time Americans once spent watching television has been redirected toward activities that are less about consuming and more about engaging—from Flickr and Facebook to powerful forms of online political action.

via Cognitive Surplus: The Great Spare-Time Revolution | Magazine.

Well thank Christ for that- it’s the best news I’ve read in weeks.  Maybe there is some hope that Citizens United won’t signal the end of this grand experiment in democracy.

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another link from Wired this morning: pro bono group’s challenge to patent on naturally-occurring genetic material allowed to proceed:

U.S. District Judge Robert W. Sweet of New York, in ruling that the case may proceed to trial, noted that the litigation might open the door to challenges of a host of other patented genes. About one-fifth of the human genome is covered under patent applications and claims.

Allowing patents on genes isolated from living things is bad policy, because it delays and imposes costs on important research even while it raises administrative costs by promoting speculative land-rush patent filing. The patent act was never meant to encompass natural phenomena, and the last 20 years of biotech patenting can only be explained by the fact that 20 years ago, patent examiners and judges didn’t understand the science well enough to reject these claims on the grounds that the claimed “invention” was occurring on its own, naturally, without human intervention.

Hopefully this is just another sign of an ongoing rollback in the scope of patentable subject matter. If Bilski ends the era of business method patents, it will probably have the collateral effect of putting a stake through the heart of software patents at the same time. If this case about gene patents is also carried through effectively, we’ll have come a long way back towards sanity in the US patent system.

And, incidentally, created a lot of work for patent litigators specialized in challenging business method, software, and gene patents on behalf of new market entrants.

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BBgadgets points out this lovely Obama chia pet.

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I bet 50 years after Galileo, 40% of Europe still believed that the sun orbited the earth.  Funny the church was on the wrong side of that one too.  At least some of the kids are willing to think it through for themselves:

nearly two-thirds (63%)of Gen Nexters believe humans and other living things evolved over time, while only 33% say all living creatures have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.

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Apparently there were some primary/caucus events yesterday.  Obama swept all three states that held contests on the Democratic side.  The Republican side was a little more complicated.  Unelectable reality-denier Mike Huckabee won Kansas (by a 60% landslide) and Louisiana.  It’s encouraging that more folks turned out to vote for Obama than for all of the Republicans in Kansas.  And since Huck’s Kansas popularity seems to be based in large part on his plan to pretend that the past 70 years of scientific progress just didn’t happen, it’s laughable to imagine him repeating this local success on a national scale.

But the really interesting contest was in Washington state, as TPM reports: (more…)

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This might just be the biggest understatment of the campaign season:

There’s also a palatable hunger in the scientific community for a government that bases its policies on science, after years of decisions from the Bush Administration

Ya think?

Perhaps this is one facet of the only positive social influence to emerge from the disastrous injury that Republican leadership has  inflicted on the United States over the past 20 years.  George Bush’s willful disregard for consensus reality has inspired a new generation of Americans to take political action.  After years of inactivity characterized by a disdain for politics, even ivory-tower scientists are now clamoring for their voices to be heard.

The Businessweek article above deserves some credit for not headlining the popular narrative that there is an inherent conflict between science and religion.  After all, that’s not what this is about- everyone, including religious funamentalists, has a right to demand that government represent their interests.  The folks behind Science Debate 2008 aren’t trying to suppress religion or discourage speech.  But the fact is that we are witnessing a campaign where over 50% of people in a recent Wall Street Journal poll stated that they would not vote for Willard “Mittens” Romney solely because his religious beliefs suggested that he is incapable of rational thought.  Maybe, just maybe, the American people are ready for a leader who is willing to acknowledge problems and then try to fix them, instead of someone who acts like the only plan he needs is a firm belief that God (or Daddy) will bail him out when he screws up.

It is long past time for us to have a more concrete basis for selecting the leader of the free world than a subjective feeling about whether or not your Jesus can beat up his Jesus.

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Go read Tristero.  At its very core, faith has power because it is a choice.  If you’ve never questioned what you were told to believe, that’s not really faith- it’s just obedience. If you believe in something because you were forced to believe it, that’s not really faith either- it’s just submission.    If you have questioned, but you never bothered to consider evidence that might contradict your beliefs, and you failed to consider alternatives, that’s not faith- it’s ignorance.

But if you have questioned your beliefs, and you’ve heard all the evidence, and you’ve thought long and hard, and you have arrived at the wrong answer, that can’t be faith- because it’s idiocy.  And I think we’ve had just about enough of idiots in the white house.

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