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The Media Science

2003 Edge.org World Question 161

Posted by timothy
from the what-would-sauron-do dept.
murky.waters writes "The responses to this year's Edge.org question have been published; basically, people were asked to imagine they were nominated as White House science adviser and the President asked them what are some important issues in science and what we should do about them. There are 84 responses, ranging in topic from advanced nanotechnology to the psychology of foreign cultures, and lots of ideas regarding science, technology, politics, and education. The responses were written by academics (e.g. Roger Schank, Marvin Minsky), journalists (Kevin Kelly), Nobel Laureates (Eric Kandel), and others (Alan Alda). Some of responses are politically loaded but the majority has either a more specialised proposal, or general remarks about our world. Many are absolutely fascinating: funny, insightful, interesting, hell even informative. ... One of the most public supporters of the Singularity 'religion', Ray Kurzweil, is a regular at Edge, and currently discussed issues range from said transhumanism to early-universe theories, and many other kinds of exciting and novel science."
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2003 Edge.org World Question

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  • by dagg (153577) on Monday January 06, 2003 @05:27AM (#5024176) Journal
    ... to dramatically increase funding for promising new methodologies in the field of "human somatic cell engineering," which bypass entirely fetal stem cells.

    I'm happy that this was brought up. I am getting tired of all the talk about banning this research and banning that research. There are certainly ethical ways to do things that don't necesarilly require banning large areas of research.

  • Ecology! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Maxwell42 (594898) <.olivier.jaquemet. .at. .gmail.com.> on Monday January 06, 2003 @05:48AM (#5024208)
    I know Bush doesn't give too much attention to that, and i wonder if he will ever know what this word means but just give it a try...
    The world won't last long if the US never change its policics on that (Kyoto.. Johanesburg etc...), IMHO...

    I don't agreee with all but have a look at Brian Goodwin suggestions:
    Accelerating the rate of CO2 increase in the atmosphere by profligate use of Iraq's vast oil supplies, together with the continuing deforestation of the Amazon, will not only turn the Amazon basin into a parched desert but plunge the entire mid-West into prolonged drought, resulting in famine in your own land. History would then judge you as an apocalyptic Burning Bush, bringing the scourge of parching fire to your country and its people.
    Read More... [edge.org]
  • by Fantastic Lad (198284) on Monday January 06, 2003 @06:13AM (#5024239)
    people were asked to imagine they were nominated as White House science adviser and the President asked them what are some important issues in science and what we should do about them


    What a dreamy way to spend the day.

    Imagining that some Questionaire Answerer actually knows anything of value which wasn't discovered 50 years ago and subsequently locked away for gradual public release, (or not at all), and better yet, that the power behind the government actually gives the slightest fig about what his/her opinion might be.

    Yes. I'd like to live in that world, too. --You know, the one they still teach to all little kids, where everybody is happy, healthy, wise and caring, we all wear 'vault 13' type outfits, (without the overtones of holocaust, 'natch), we all carry tri-corders and our delicious meat products come from designer plants.

    Sigh.


    -Fantastic Lad

  • Re:I like Alan's (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kha0z (307162) on Monday January 06, 2003 @06:41AM (#5024280) Homepage
    See, on the one hand, people are always saying, "oh, man things are so screwed up." I'm not just talking about the last few years or even the last few centuries. You go back to biblical times and before and there were still people saying how bad it all was. It's a constant throughout the ages.

    Human beings are negative by nature. The constant approach to looking at life is like looking at a glass that is half empty is an inate human characteristic. I can not assume that this has always been the case, however, there are few times that I find people who try look at problems or life as a glass that is half full.

    Perhaps, sometimes it would be beneficial to look at that glass for what it is. Not half full, and not half empty, just a container and the contained.

  • Re:meta-answer (Score:2, Insightful)

    by October_30th (531777) on Monday January 06, 2003 @08:01AM (#5024382) Homepage Journal
    one thing that needs to be fixed is an apparent gender imbalance in science

    Why?

    I've never quite understood the assumption that something must be wrong if there isn't a 50/50 distribution of men and women in a profession.

  • Not Impressed (Score:3, Insightful)

    by superyooser (100462) on Monday January 06, 2003 @08:19AM (#5024422) Homepage Journal
    I read most of the summaries and a few of the responses in full. With all due respect, the typical high school newspaper editorial is more insightful than these. Some of these wouldn't make it beyond +3 here on Slashdot. A lot of it is pretty common knowledge and well-known issues. Some of things they say are downright foolish, and I don't say that just because they're politically at odds with myself or GWB.

    One person mistakes the position of Science Advisor for Science Crusader and embarks to convert Bush to Evolutionism. In TWO paragraphs! Surely he knows that Bush is a devout Christian. He might as well be lobbying for bin Laden to be put in charge of Homeland Security on the basis that he's really a freedom fighter.

    Another person tries to persuade Bush that animals should be considered to have rights as humans and that we should respect the diverse cultures of all animal/human civilizations. Nnngh? [sexcowairlines.com] Bush is supposed to accept this on the basis of Darwinism. Umm, hellooo?? We're talking Bible-thumping Bush here. That line of argument is gonna fly like a dodo bird. In effect, the guy goes on to wield Occam's Razor against any notions of the Creator. His letter is going in the circular file faster than you can say W.

    I don't think these [Over the] Edge people were playing along with the given scenario as they would've if it were real. Knowing who Bush is and what he stands for, it just doesn't seem very bright to even attempt some of the arguments they're making. Besides, you don't make a good first impression with your boss by attacking his most fundamental beliefs in your first correspondence before you even meet him.

  • by Muad'Dave (255648) on Monday January 06, 2003 @08:36AM (#5024454) Homepage
    Mr. Alda says:
    Too many people think cloning cells for the fight against disease is the same thing as creating Frankenstein's monster. Too many people think evolution is the idea that people are descended from apes. And too many people think that genetic modification of plants is a dangerous new idea, instead of something that's been going on for ten thousand years.

    He really means, "Mr. President, too many people reject the liberal left's tired dogma. We've got to make them believe!"

  • by ralphbecket (225429) on Monday January 06, 2003 @09:04AM (#5024562)
    You must be kidding. Perhaps you just read the conclusion?

    Penrose' "The Emperor's New Mind" is a collection of chapters on interesting topics, which have all been addressed far better by other authors also trying to communicate with the layman, each of which ends with an assertion of the form "...and here's a `result', a conving demonstration of which is too large to include in this book." As for the more high powered physics stuff, I can't argue, but for the computation theory and AI philosophy, you could drive busses through the holes.

    A major part of the problem is that Penrose simply does not seem to accept Goedel's Incompleteness Theorems. They are theorems, which means they're a fact of life. The correct answer to the observation that human mathematicians have so far been rather good about working around the problem is that human mathematicians are not perfect reasoners and hence are not subject to the Incompleteness Theorems. The down side to this position is that you can't fully trust human mathematics (but there's nothing new there.)

    It certainly isn't warranted to suggest that the quantum structure of the brain somehow allows us to violate the laws of logic based upon properties that are neither defined nor observed.

    By all accounts Penrose is a first class physicist, but as a philosopher of AI I find him utterly unconvincing.
  • by ratamacue (593855) on Monday January 06, 2003 @09:06AM (#5024574)
    There are certainly ethical ways to do things that don't necesarilly require banning large areas of research.

    The most ethical of which is to keep government out of science completely. Given a choice of whether to (a) force the people to support research, (b) force people to abandon research, or (c) let the people decide for themselves how to spend thier efforts, it should be obvious that freedom is the clearest path to scientific advancement, and the only one which is fair to everybody.

  • Re:meta-answer (Score:2, Insightful)

    by October_30th (531777) on Monday January 06, 2003 @09:42AM (#5024731) Homepage Journal
    Yes, but capable does not mean the same as interested.

    I'm a physicist. I would certainly be capable of learning let's say accounting and heading for a new career in business. However, I am not interested in business. On the other hand, I would be very like to paint or write fiction, but I don't have either skill.

    What I am trying to say that we are all hardwired to be good at something. Some of this wiring comes from our genes and some of it comes out of the way we grew up. At the age when you are deciding if you want to become/are capable of becoming a good scientist, it's already too late. At my current age, I could learn to be a lousy painter instead of a good scentist but what's the point? The dice was rolled a long time ago and what I am now is the result.

    Of course one should address blatant discrimination but sexual or minority quotas will only lead to a drop in the standards. Don't take me wrong. It's not because the minorities were inherently less skilled. It's a case of simple statistics: quotas encourage the less skilled people to apply in larger numbers while discouraging the more skilled ones. As a result, the standards will drop.

    If you want to have high standards within a profession like science, you will have to run a ruthless meritocracy.

  • Re:meta-answer (Score:3, Insightful)

    by 0x0d0a (568518) on Monday January 06, 2003 @10:10AM (#5024892) Journal
    Considering the fact that there are precious few female respondents, one thing that needs to be fixed is an apparent gender imbalance in science.

    Yup, we better institute affirmative action immediately!

    I'm dubious as to the value of trying to manually "fix" society. Plus, anyone that tries is a target to blame any problems on.
  • Re:Ecology! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 06, 2003 @12:12PM (#5025703)
    The US is one of the world's biggest polluters...
  • by Saige (53303) <evil.angela@gma i l .com> on Monday January 06, 2003 @12:57PM (#5026006) Journal
    There's a difference between "scientific knowledge" and the religon atheists call "science."

    Bullshit - no matter how you try to dress it, calling atheism a religion is completely untrue. Just because it deals with topics normally considered "religious", doesn't make science a religion. Someone can posit a theory about how the universe came into existence without it being religious - the evidence for the Big Bang theory continues to mount.

    Sadly, scientists and the common man differ greatly on this. Science as a whole might be a whole bunch better if they started issuing press releases with all of the proper disclaimers ("this science is only 6 months old, it may be overturned in a week") and media people (jounralists) spent a bit more time hammering home that point.

    It's a sad statement of the level of science education in this country that most people don't realize that this is ALWAYS the case with science. There's no such thing as a "fundamental truth" - just working theories that have various levels of accuracy. For example, classical mechanics was pretty accurate, but not for all possible conditions, thus quantum mechanics came along for more details. Surely other things we take for granted will be changed slightly also - such as gravity.
  • by sonsonete (473442) on Monday January 06, 2003 @12:59PM (#5026023) Homepage
    Most of these questions are very political, usually leaning toward big government and socialism.
    e.g., David Lykken's proposal, involving the government in the most personal aspects of our lives: One promising example of such legislation would be a program of parental licensure requiring persons, wishing to birth and rear a baby, to demonstrate at least what we should minimally require of persons wishing to adopt someone else's baby.

    or David Buss's proposal to infiltrate our minds to stop murder: We are endangered from the outside by our avowed enemies. We are threatened from within by killers among us. An urgent need for the nation to establish a deep scientific understanding of psychological circuits dedicated to murder and the causal processes that create, activate, and deactivate those circuits.

    Other suggestions involve the complete rejection of ethical standards in research, in the manner of Nazi Germany, using Ian Wilmut's argument that "This research cannot be carried out in any other way."

    What we need scientist to do is act like scientists and not politicians. We need them to abide by the ethical standards that have kept scientific development going at an increasing pace for the past several centuries. We need scientists to do their jobs well and not waste their time philosophizing about what the current administrations foreign policy should be.
  • Re:Ecology! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ChaosDiscord (4913) on Monday January 06, 2003 @04:23PM (#5027504) Homepage Journal
    Kyoto pretty much screws the US while letting the worlds biggest polluters off scott free.

    I'd always viewed it as "We're rich and powerful, and thus more easily able to improve our emissions than many less developed, less wealthy nations. In fact, we got rich and powerful in part by being lucky enough that our most heavily polluting part of history occurred at a time that almost no one cared. We developed nations will take a hit for the good of the planet, and hope that our good example will convince other nations follow. Furthermore, because many other highly developed nations are signing on, I won't even need to worry about local businesses competing with less eco-friendly foreign businesses. This just leaves less developed nations, against whom, depending on the industry, we tend to either have an overwhelming technological advantage, or are ourselves overwhelmed by cheap labor and less regulations. As those nations continue to develop, they will be encouraged to match our restrictions."

    Not everyone is going to agree, but I think it bears consideration. No matter what agreement you have, there will be countries that refuse to follow it, or only follow limited versions. We need to make do with what we can get, then use the combined groups effort to convince hold-outs to join in.

If a 6600 used paper tape instead of core memory, it would use up tape at about 30 miles/second. -- Grishman, Assembly Language Programming

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