About two weeks ago, I was recommended the Science Seeker blog awards for quality science writing.
I did what most internet-savvy people do — scan and skim. I looked down the list of nominees to see if there was something that interested me personally and then checked out to see if the writing was quality.
So I checked out one of their suggestions, a finalist for the award in writing on Neuroscience. I opened up the Neurocritic’s article pondering whether a pioneer in gay-aversion therapy should win awards in the discipline. I’ve been thinking about accountability in the social sciences for some of the consequences of labeling-in-the-name-of-academics, so I’m intrigued by this article.
Should we question the judgment of APS in honoring Dr. Barlow with the Cattell Award? 2 Are they tacitly condoning exorcism in transsexuals (Barlow et al., 1977) and aversion therapy in gay men (Barlow et al., 1969; Hayes et al., 1983)? At the very least, APS did not publicly acknowledge or condemn these former practices, which remain secretly buried in the past.
I contacted two divergent experts to ask their opinions. Psychologist Dr. John Grohol, who founded the mental health networking and education site Psych Central, turned the question around:
“Should we honor professionals who may have made questionable judgments in their early career? I would ask a question in return — Should we forever withhold such honors for the poor judgments one makes in one’s early career?”
On the other hand, Professor Lynn Conway, the pioneering computer scientist, electrical engineer, and transgender activist, was surprised about the award. She felt an appropriate course of action is…
“… to expose these old miscreants and get their misdeeds on the record. That way they’ll all have to run for cover in the years ahead…”
I happen to agree with Doctor Conway, but the article was well-written and fundamentally journalistic. It was worthy of being nominated for an award and deserves to be more broadly read.
So back to the Science Seekers to see if the rest of their recommendations were as good. I was astounded. Story after story, the panel had uncovered a great collection of investigations and writings about science. Almost no junk. No wasted time, just thick idea after informed idea.
Don’t sleep on the winner: Hannah Waters who writes on the arrogance of humans who want to bring extinct species back from the dead. Or the profile of Archaea – a new species of existence on earth:
“Wolfe, these things aren’t even bacteria.” When I read that sentence, a chill ran up my spine. Only a few people on Earth ever get to experience a kind of veil-lifting moment of that magnitude — Einstein, Newton, Kepler, etc., come to mind — but humble Carl Woese was another. He had stumbled on a brave new world of microbes that looked like bacteria to our eyes, but were in fact so unique biochemically and physically that they have ultimately proved to be more closely related to us than to them. He had stumbled on an entirely new form of life, right here on Earth.
I spent a couple of days watching old BBC documentaries on color and perception after reading the Empirical Zeal’s pair of posts about the relationship between language and understanding of color.
The researchers discovered that, compared to the Tarahumara, English speakers do indeed see blue and green as more distinct. Having a word for blue seems to make the color ‘pop’ a little more in our minds. But it was a fragile effect, and any verbal distraction would make it disappear. The implication is that language may affect how we see the world. Somehow, the linguistic distinction between blue and green may heighten the perceived difference between them. Smells like Whorf’s idea to me.
Of course humans have to get-all-reflective when other primates show new patterns of learning, such as the Rwandan mountain gorillas who seem to be teaching each other how to dismantle poacher’s snares.
The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund hailed the gorillas’ accomplishment because this was the first time researchers had witnessed snare-removal by young gorillas. In past, only mature gorillas (usually silverbacks) had been observed disabling snares. That’s exciting because it implies that the young gorillas are learning from the older ones.
But I was intrigued by the whole event. Read it again. According to Ndayambaje, the silverback warned him away from the snare and then three other gorillas worked together to remove it – conceivably to protect Ndayambaje, or at least the other gorillas.
Is this possible? Can mountain gorillas really act with that kind of intent? Are they really that smart?
Carl Zimmer’s National Geographic article: “When you swallow a grenade” clarified the impact of antibiotics on healthy bacteria. I found it a great contribution to the current discussions about our microbiomes.
I read and enjoyed almost a dozen of the suggestions from the Science Seeker. They certainly should be re-blogged and shared. Don’t stop learning!