Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Unscientific Un-American, Centennial Challenge & Offshore Snags


Unscientific Un-American
So the April 2005 edition of the Scientific American has one of the best editorials ever. I've reproduced it here for the benefit of ya'll.

Okay, We Give Up There's no easy way to admit this. For years, helpful letter writers told us to stick to science. They pointed out that science and politics don't mix. They said we should be more balanced in our presentation of such issues as creationism, missile defense and global warming. We resisted their advice and pretended not to be stung by the accusations that the magazine should be renamed Unscientific American, or Scientific Unamerican, or even Unscientific Unamerican. But spring is in the air, and all of nature is turning over a new leaf, so there's no better time to say: you were right, and we were wrong. In retrospect, this magazine's coverage of socalled evolution has been hideously one-sided. For decades, we published articles in every issue that endorsed the ideas of Charles Darwin and his cronies. True, the theory of common descent through natural selection has been called the unifying concept for all of biology and one of the greatest scientific ideas of all time, but that was no excuse to be fanatics about it. Where were the answering articles presenting the powerful case for scientific creationism? Why were we so unwilling to suggest that dinosaurs lived 6,000 years ago or that a cataclysmic flood carved the Grand Canyon? Blame the scientists. They dazzled us with their fancy fossils, their radiocarbon dating and their tens of thousands of peer-reviewed journal articles. As editors, we had no business being persuaded by mountains of evidence. Moreover, we shamefully mistreated the Intelligent Design (ID) theorists by lumping them in with creationists. Creationists believe that God designed all life, and that's a somewhat religious idea. But ID theorists think that at unspecified times some unnamed superpowerful entity designed life, or maybe just some species, or maybe just some of the stuff in cells. That's what makes ID a superior scientific theory: it doesn't get bogged down in details. Good journalism values balance above all else. We owe it to our readers to present everybody's ideas equally and not to ignore or discredit theories simply because they lack scientifically credible arguments or facts. Nor should we succumb to the easy mistake of thinking that scientists understand their fields better than, say, U.S. senators or best-selling novelists do. Indeed, if politicians or special-interest groups say things that seem untrue or misleading, our duty as journalists is to quote them without comment or contradiction. To do otherwise would be elitist and therefore wrong. In that spirit, we will end the practice of expressing our own views in this space: an editorial page is no place for opinions. Get ready for a new Scientific American. No more discussions of how science should inform policy. If the government commits blindly to building an anti-ICBM defense system that can't work as promised, that will waste tens of billions of taxpayers' dollars and imperil national security, you won't hear about it from us. If studies suggest that the administration's antipollution measures would actually increase the dangerous particulates that people breathe during the next two decades, that's not our concern. No more discussions of how policies affect science either—so what if the budget for the National Science Foundation is slashed? This magazine will be dedicated purely to science, fair and balanced science, and not just the science that scientists say is science. And it will start on April Fools' Day. Okay, We Give Up MATT COLLINS THE EDITORS editors@sciam.com COPYRIGHT 2005 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, INC.
Centennial Challenge Ever since NASA announced their Centennial Challenge, I've been contemplating taking part in it. I'm fairly certain that I don't stand a chance of winning it, however it would help me get back into the groove of building things. Many moons have passed since I built something, and at this point in my life, doing this would just help me settle things a bit. I hope. Besides, I read Fountains of Paradise as a kid -- I'm surprised that so many years later, it still isn't reality. I'd love to see the look on AC Clarke's face if the elevator did indeed become reality. Priceless wouldn't even begin to describe it (added bonus if you could do it yourself - hey, what could be better than you making the science fiction of one of the world's greatest writer's a reality?). Offshore Snags No one ever realizes the amount of hardwork that goes into making an offshore office work. It is not just the technical problems, but rather the infrastructural issues. You can simply explain a lot of things on a whiteboard in a matter of a few minutes -- however, you really have to struggle to do so over IM or phone, or worse, e-mail. Add to this differences in time-zones, language and a tonne of other issues and you have a problem of mammoth scale that takes an immense amount of time and effort to set right. The result? Tempers run high, everyone is irate and work gets stalled. If you're lucky. On the bright side, it does bring about very realistic opinions of you from others. =)