Archive for the ‘Science’ Category
Science and Islam is a three-part BBC documentary about the history of science in medieval Islamic civilization presented by Jim Al-Khalili. The series is accompanied by the book Science and Islam: A History written by Ehsan Masood.
Part 1: The Language of Science
Part 2: The Empire of Reason
Part 3: The Power of Doubt
Its legacy is tangible, with terms like algebra, algorithm and alkali all being Arabic in origin and at the very heart of modern science – there would be no modern mathematics or physics without algebra, no computers without algorithms and no chemistry without alkalis.
Read also: Science and Islam: A History
The recent revelation that the National Security Agency collects the personal data of United States citizens, allies and enemies alike has broken the traditional model governing the bond between science and society. Most breakthrough technologies have dual uses. Think of atomic energy and the nuclear bomb or genetic engineering and biological weapons.
Let’s face it: Powered by the right type of Big Data, data mining is a weapon. It can be just as harmful, with long-term toxicity, as an atomic bomb. It poisonstrust, straining everything from human relations to political alliances and free trade. And when it is a weapon, it should be treated like a weapon.
To repair the damage already done, we researchers, with a keen understanding of the promise and the limits of our trade, must work for a world that uses science in an ethical manner. We can look at the three pillars of nuclear nonproliferation as a model for going forward. We can achieve this only in alliance with the society at large, together amending universal human rights with the right to data ownership and the right of safe passage. If we scientists stay silent, we all risk becoming digitally enslaved.
In “The Science of Opera,” actor Stephen Fry and comedian Alan Davies convene a panel of researchers from University College London to discuss what happened physiologically when the pair were hooked up to various sensors as they attended Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra at the Royal Opera House. Like the pairing at my first opera, Fry is a knowledgeable lover of the art and Davies is almost an opera virgin. The gadgets attached to Fry and Davies measured their heart rates, breathing, sweat, and “various other emotional responses.” What do we learn from the experiment? For one thing, as neurobiologist Michael Trimble informs us, “music is different from all the other arts.” For example, ninety percent of people surveyed admit to being moved to tears by a piece of music. Only five to ten percent say the same about painting or sculpture. Fry and Davies’ autonomic nervous system responses confirm the power of music (and story) to move us beyond our conscious control and awareness.
Before any appreciation of the ability of science to improve society or knowledge of the power of the scientific method, there is the undiluted thrill of trying to understand the world that surrounds us. As children we constantly ask “how” and “why”, and scientists are those individuals who never grow out of the habit. Also like children, scientists are sustained by the dogged hope that, eventually, those questions will be answered. Hope is built upon optimism, enthusiasm and perhaps a certain level of naivety. These are personality traits we seldom link to a successful career in science, yet I would argue that they play an important and, in some cases, a vital role in sustaining scientific enquiry.
Here’s an extraordinary recording of Albert Einstein from the fall of 1941, reading a full-length essay in English: The essay is called “The Common Language of Science.” It was recorded in September of 1941 as a radio address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science. The recording was apparently made in America, as Einstein never returned to Europe after emigrating from Germany in 1933. Einstein begins by sketching a brief outline of the development of language, before exploring the connection between language and thinking. “Is there no thinking without the use of language,” asks Einstein, “namely in concepts and concept-combinations for which words need not necessarily come to mind? Has not every one of us struggled for words although the connection between ‘things’ was already clear?”
Open inquiry is at the heart of the scientific enterprise. Publication of scientific theories – and of the experimental and observational data on which they are based – permits others to identify errors, to support, reject or refine theories and to reuse data for further understanding and knowledge. Science’s powerful capacity for self-correction comes from this openness to scrutiny and challenge.
The changes that are needed go to the heart of the scientific enterprise and are much more than a requirement to publish or disclose more data. Realising the benefits of open data requires effective communication through a more intelligent openness: data must be accessible and readily located; they must be intelligible to those who wish to scrutinise them; data must be assessable so that judgments can be made about their reliability and the competence of those who created them; and they must be usable by others. For data to meet these requirements it must be supported by explanatory metadata (data about data). As a first step towards this intelligent openness, data that underpin a journal article should be made concurrently available in an accessible database. We are now on the brink of an achievable aim: for all science literature to be online, for all of the data to be online and for the two to be interoperable.
Scientists are testing a new teaching concept to rekindle shoolchildren’s interest in science. Retaining schoolchildren’s attention during a science class can be a challenge, even for the very best teachers. Perhaps this is because there’s too much theory and too little hands-on fun for the kids to engage in. Danish scientists are now testing the possibilities of taking hands-on science straight into primary and lower-secondary school classrooms to help solve this challenge. They argue that far more experiments and group work should be included in classroom science teaching in the future. In tomorrow’s science classrooms, schoolchildren will be free to experiment and be creative when presented with scientific tasks. This differs from today’s science teaching, where pupils often follow a study guide in which both the process and the outcome have been painted out for them.
Based on interviews with over three hundred of the world’s top scientists, who are already inventing the future in their labs, Kaku—in a lucid and engaging fashion—presents the revolutionary developments in medicine, computers, quantum physics, and space travel that will forever change our way of life and alter the course of civilization itself. His astonishing revelations include:
- The Internet will be in your contact lens. It will recognize people’s faces, display their biographies, and even translate their words into subtitles.
- You will control computers and appliances via tiny sensors that pick up your brain scans. You will be able to rearrange the shape of objects.
- Sensors in your clothing, bathroom, and appliances will monitor your vitals, and nanobots will scan your DNA and cells for signs of danger, allowing life expectancy to increase dramatically.
- Radically new spaceships, using laser propulsion, may replace the expensive chemical rockets of today. You may be able to take an elevator hundreds of miles into space by simply pushing the “up” button.
Read also: Interview
Promoting a human rights approach to S&T advances will reinforce moves towards inclusive development. But implementation challenges remain. There was a time when debates on the links between science and human rights focused on the plight of individual scientists, and in particular on their rights — both as humans and as intellectuals — to the freedom of expression.
Since then, the terrain of the science and human rights debate has expanded considerably. One direction has been the use of technology to provide evidence of human rights abuses. An equally significant trend, however, has been the growing interest in promoting the idea that enjoying the fruits of scientific knowledge is a basic human right, and in how this right can be implemented in the context of social and economic development.
Science is a clear part of Brazil‘s main TV news agenda. But, as in other developing countries, scientists can do more to engage with the media.
A large proportion of the Brazilian population is interested in science and technology — data from a recent survey suggest that the percentage (65 per cent) is equivalent to the percentage of people interested in sports and culture. Is this demand being met by the coverage of science in national media, particularly television?