May 15, 2013, 1:30 pm
David Birnbaum believes he has unified the fields of religion and science. He told me so in an e-mail. A book he wrote, Summa Metaphysica, Volumes I and II, “unifies the two fields—elegantly—and seemlessly” (sic).
In April of last year, Bard College devoted a three-day* conference to the role of metaphysics in science and religion, prompted by the “reflections flowing” from Birnbaum’s books, according to a program e-mailed to participants from prestigious institutions including Dartmouth, Grinnell, and Oxford. “We are especially pleased to announce that David Birnbaum will be present during discussion,” the program enthused.
Left unmentioned was that Birnbaum helped finance the conference, that he has no academic affiliation, and that his works are published by an entity that he himself runs, called “Harvard Matrix” or “Harvard Yard Press” or, as sometimes printed on the…
May 13, 2013, 12:01 am
Students gather and read in the courtyard of the mosque at Al-Azhar U., in Cairo, where the country’s top clerics teach the next generation of religious leaders. (Thomas Brown)
Muslim clerics hold a lot of power. As interpreters of the Koran, they issue religious rulings, or fatwas, that can sway millions of people. Yet in the study of religious extremism, remarkably little work has been done to determine why some clerics become radical and others do not.
Rich Nielsen, a doctoral student at Harvard University, aims to change that. His dissertation, Clerics of the Jihad, explores that question by poring over the scholarly works and biographies of high-profile clerics. His conclusion: It’s all about career opportunities. Those with poor networks are much more likely to preach extremism.
May 1, 2013, 4:20 pm
My friend’s 8-year-old son had an interesting day at school recently. During science class, the teacher—who, it should be noted, was a substitute—asked the third graders to name the habitat of an animal of their choice: the sea for sharks, trees for squirrels, etc. My friend’s son picked a house because, as he explained to the teacher, human beings are animals too. The teacher corrected him. Humans, she said, are not animals. “Yeah, they are,” the boy replied. “No, they’re not,” she told him, as he recalled later in an interview. “I go by the Bible.”
I don’t think the Bible is clear on this classification, but that’s beside the point. The boy did not back down, continuing to insist that humans are, in fact, animals, a fact he learned years ago from his parents, who told him about evolution. Not content with dispensing inaccurate information, the teacher referred to him as “the…
April 30, 2013, 5:19 pm
Above all else, Charles D. Keeling was fastidious with his data.
A couple of years ago, I found myself on assignment at Mauna Loa Observatory, the U.S. weather station perched just below the summit of a Hawaiian volcano. Spurred by Keeling, a longtime climate scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, this lab—still not much more than a bunch of prefab white containers sited below lava breaks—has measured the accretion of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for 55 years. When Keeling began, those concentrations sat at 315 parts per million. That’s an idyllic level by today’s standards.
Indeed, as you may have heard, the CO2 monitors at Mauna Loa will soon reach—if temporarily—400 parts per million. They’ve already touched 400 ppm for at least an hour, and it’s likely that a daily average will top that level as well this month. (Stations in the A…
April 5, 2013, 12:08 pm
Erica Chenoweth, U. of Denver
San Francisco — If you’re looking for a conversation starter, calling your next book “Why Democracy Encourages Terrorism” would probably work. The idea behind the provocative title goes like this: Democracy allows interest groups and political parties to flourish, which then leads to competition. Among those groups that feel most marginalized in the ensuing din, some take extreme measures in the pursuit of attention.
In other words, the conventional wisdom that democracy is the antidote to terrorism—because it provides outlets for people’s grievances—is completely wrong.
I sat down with Erica Chenoweth, author of the forthcoming book and an assistant professor at the University of Denver, at the International Studies Association conference here, to find out how she…
April 4, 2013, 2:13 pm
Prepare yourselves, dear readers: The United States of North America is coming.
Writing in the newest issue of Dædalus, two historians of science, Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, have taken on a quixotic task: imagining a future historian looking back at our time, in an effort to tease out how we failed to avert a climate-caused collapse. Or, as they put it, how it came to be that “a second Dark Age” fell “on Western civilization, in which denial and self-deception, rooted in an ideological fixation on ‘free’ markets, disabled the world’s powerful nations in the face of tragedy.” (The full version of the article is online here.)
Known for their 2010 book Merchants of Doubt, which examined the role of industry in casting doubts on the findings of scientists on cigarettes, climate change, and other topics, Oreskes, a professor at the University of California at San Diego, and…
April 1, 2013, 2:07 pm
The “West-End Trio,” one of two wolf packs remaining on Isle Royale.
The gray wolves of Michigan’s Isle Royale may soon go extinct. But before they do, they’re offering an important lesson for scientists: Have a little humility.
For more than 60 years, after their intrepid ancestors scrambled 14 miles across an ice bridge, packs of heavily inbred wolves have stalked the snow and evergreens of Isle Royale, a remote 850-square-mile archipelago in northwestern Lake Superior. For all that time, the wolves, normally known for their catholic prey selection, have feasted and famished off a single species, the yin to their predatory yang. They have hunted moose.
We know this because for as long as the wolves have stalked the moose, they have been tracked by a pack of Michigan scientists, in what has become a classic…
March 29, 2013, 4:55 am
A commercial vendor would sell this parametric automated filter wheel changer for $2,500. But a 3-D printer could fabricate one for less than $100, says Joshua M. Pearce, a researcher at Michigan Tech and co-author of a new study of the technology. (Photo from PLOS One.)
Three-dimensional printers are one of society’s latest technological miracles to provoke both wide-eyed hopes and dark fears.
Somewhere in the middle, between ending low-wage labor and secretly arming felons, lies a host of practical applications. One of them, according to a new study from Michigan Technological University, could be a sharp improvement in the efficiency and capabilities of research laboratories.
One concerted attempt to replace commercially available lab equipment with items generated largely with 3-D printing technology…