Here's another basic concept for the list: what does it mean for a claim to be falsifiable, and why does falsifiability matter so much to scientists and philosophers of science?
Archive for: January, 2007
There's been some blogospheric blowout (see here, here, and here for just a taste) about a recent PETA ad that many viewers find gratuitously sexist. To me, the ad and the reaction to it are most interesting because they raise a larger issue about how we promote our values and how we choose our allies. From Michael Specter's article on PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk in the April 14, 2003 issue of The New Yorker:
Newkirk seems openly to court the anger even of people who share her views. "I know feminists hate the naked displays," she told me. "I lose members every time I do it. But my job isn't to hold on to members, as much as I'd like to--it's to get people who just don't give a damn about this issue to look twice.'' The truth is that extremism and outrage provide the fundamental fuel for many special-interest groups. Nobody ever stopped hunting because the National Rifle Association supports assault weapons; many of those who oppose abortion are appalled that people in their movement commit acts of violence, yet they are not appalled enough to support abortion. The same is true with peta, and Newkirk knows it; a vegan isn't going to start eating meat or wearing fur simply because she disapproves of a naked calendar.
(Bold emphasis added.)
As my first contribution to the growing list of basic terms and concepts, I'm going to explain a few things no one asked about when I opened the request line. But, these are ideas that are crucial building blocks for things people actually did ask about, like falsifiability and critical thinking, so there will be a payoff here.
Philosophers talk a lot about arguments. What do they mean?
Since classes for our Spring semester started just last Wednesday, my approach to the university this morning (from freeway exit to parking garage) involved a huge line of cars, creeping very slowly. It also involved campus police directing the movement of long lines of cars at what is, in normal circumstances, a four-way stop. It has been this way since last Wednesday, and it will continue to be this week for probably another week.
In about a week, as if by magic, campus police will no longer be needed to move the traffic, and the lines of cars at any given moment will be reduced by at least 50%.
I took the quiz to find out which science fiction writer I am, and this is the result:
Since the internets are abuzz with discussion about truth, I decided to get some input from the smartest members of my household.
Dr. Free-Ride: Wakey wakey!
Younger offspring: (groggily) I don't want to get out of bed yet.
Dr. Free-Ride: That's fine. Can I ask you some questions?
Younger offspring: (simultaneously nodding and burrowing further under the covers) Mmm hmm.
Dr. Free-Ride: If I ask you some questions, do you think you can tell me your answers?
Younger offspring: If I know what the answers are I will.
Abi at nanopolitan nudged me to have a look at Nature's recent article on what has become of targets of recent scientific fraud investigations. He notes that, interspersed with a whole bunch of poster boys for how not to do science, there are at least a couple folks who were cleared of wrongdoing (or whose investigations are still ongoing) which seems, to put it mildly, not the nicest way for Nature to package their stories.
So, I'm going to repackage them slightly and add my own comments. (All direct quotations are from the Nature article.)
ACS LiveWire is hosting a "blogversation" (don't shoot me, I didn't coin it!) about nanoscience and nanotechnology. Here are the panelists:
Larry Moran posts a response to my response to his earlier post on the advisability of putting ethical discussions into science classes. Careful fellow that he is, he's decided to stick to a single issue per posting, so he starts with "the relationship between science and technology and where 'ethics' fits in". Larry opines:
Part of what we need to do as science teachers is to make sure our students understand the difference between science and technology -- between the uses of science and the accumulation of scientific knowledge. ...
The goal, as far as I am concerned, is to convince students that knowledge for its own sake is a valuable commodity regardless of whether or not the knowledge can be applied to the betterment (or destruction) of Homo sapiens.
If you ever wonder why state employees are so marvelously equipped to believe six impossible things before breakfast, this story from Inside Higher Education will provide some context:
Who would have thought that doing too well on a test could get you in trouble?
Certainly not Tony Williams. After passing a new online test on ethics required of all state employees, the tenured professor in the English department at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale received a notice from his university ethics officer and from the state inspector general that he was not in compliance with state ethics regulations, a failure that state officials said could result in punishment that included dismissal. The reason? He had completed the test too quickly.
(Bold emphasis added. More below the fold.)