Scientific developments are happening faster than ever nowadays thanks to modern technology. Advancements and discoveries we thought were impossible 10 years ago, are being made right now. The most exciting part is that, increasingly, they’re being made by ordinary men and women through participation in citizen science projects. Citizen science refers to data collection and interpretation by enthusiasts rather than scientists. The difference between the two is simply lack of formal training and years of experience. Citizen scientists have at least the same amount of zeal for their passion projects as many trained scientists do (if not more). The number of citizen scientists has only grown with the ever-increasing applications of the internet, and given the number of attendees at the first ever Citizen Science Association conference in February it shows no signs of slowing down.
In recent decades, Susan Oyama and her colleagues in the burgeoning field of developmental systems theory have rejected the determinism inherent in the nature/nurture debate, arguing that behavior cannot be reduced to distinct biological or environmental causes. In Evolution’s Eye Oyama elaborates on her pioneering work on developmental systems by spelling out that work’s implications for the fields of evolutionary theory, developmental and social psychology, feminism, and epistemology. Her approach profoundly alters our understanding of the biological processes of development and evolution and the interrelationships between them. While acknowledging that, in an uncertain world, it is easy to “blame it on the genes,” Oyama claims that the renewed trend toward genetic determinism colors the way we think about everything from human evolution to sexual orientation and personal responsibility. She presents instead a view that focuses on how a wide variety of developmental factors interact in the multileveled developmental systems that give rise to organisms. Shifting attention away from genes and the environment as causes for behavior, she convincingly shows the benefits that come from thinking about life processes in terms of developmental systems that produce, sustain, and change living beings over both developmental and evolutionary time. Providing a genuine alternative to genetic and environmental determinism, as well as to unsuccessful compromises with which others have tried to replace them, Evolution’s Eye will fascinate students and scholars who work in the fields of evolution, psychology, human biology, and philosophy of science. Feminists and others who seek a more complex view of human nature will find her work especially congenial.
The Ontogeny of Information is a critical intervention into the ongoing and perpetually troubling nature-nurture debates surrounding human development. This was a foundational text in what is now the substantial field of developmental systems theory. In this revised edition Susan Oyama argues compellingly that nature and nurture are not alternative influences on human development but, rather, developmental products and the developmental processes that produce them. Information, says Oyama, is thought to reside in molecules, cells, tissues, and the environment. When something wondrous occurs in the world, we tend to question whether the information guiding the transformation was pre-encoded in the organism or installed through experience or instruction. Oyama looks beyond this either-or question to focus on the history of such developments. She shows that what developmental “information” does depends on what is already in place and what alternatives are available. She terms this process “constructive interactionism,” whereby each combination of genes and environmental influences simultaneously interacts to produce a unique result. Ontogeny, then, is the result of dynamic and complex interactions in multileveled developmental systems. The Ontogeny of Information challenges specialists in the fields of developmental biology, philosophy of biology, psychology, and sociology, and even nonspecialists, to reexamine the existing nature-nurture dichotomy as it relates to the history and formation of organisms.
The concept of citizen cyberscience has been described as “…a grass-roots movement which challenges the assumption that only professional [scientists] can do science. Given the right tools and incentives, and some online training, millions of enthusiastic volunteers can make a real difference, contributing to significant scientific discoveries” – Pierre Spierer, Vice Director for Research at the University of Geneva. Citizen cyberscience has been said to be sub-categorized as volunteered computing, volunteered thinking, and participatory sensing. But how does citizen cyberscience differ from other forms of public scientific engagement? Citizen Cyberscience offers human computation many opportunities. Some citizen science projects introduce new human computation techniques or engagement modalities, thus directly contributing to a growing body of human computation methods. In this way we can see citizen science as applied human computation, a platform for human computation research, and a body of work that may innovate in the human computation space.
How do we empathize with others? A mechanism according to which action representation modulates emotional activity may provide an essential functional architecture for empathy. The superior temporal and inferior frontal cortices are critical areas for action representation and are connected to the limbic system via the insula. Thus, the insula may be a critical relay from action representation to emotion. We used functional MRI while subjects were either imitating or simply observing emotional facial expressions. Imitation and observation of emotions activated a largely similar network of brain areas. Within this network, there was greater activity during imitation, compared with observation of emotions, in premotor areas including the inferior frontal cortex, as well as in the superior temporal cortex, insula, and amygdala. We understand what others feel by a mechanism of action representation that allows empathy and modulates our emotional content. The insula plays a fundamental role in this mechanism.
The drive to bring extinct animal species back from the dead, such as the wooly mammoth or saber-toothed tiger, is picking up speed as genetics and biotechnology science advances. But animals are not the only life in danger of disappearing forever. Botanists, historians, and plant genetics experts now work to restore and retain endangered plants and seeds which may be lost forever. According to Wiseman, now works to identify and preserve ancient seeds which were vital to the Abenaki Native Americans of northeastern North America. The history of the indigenous plants reveals a wealth of information which would otherwise have been lost in time. He has reportedly “traced 26 different varieties including corn, beans, squash, Jerusalem artichoke, ground cherries and tobacco.”