Celebrating Christmas: Xmas out of the Box

From the physics of Santa's global trek to growing a perfect tree, NGC unwraps the science and history of Christmas. Celebrating Christmas: Xmas out of the Box : channel.nationalgeographic.com
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Empowering the individual does not equal ensmartening the individual [Greg Laden's Blog]

Imagine the following scenario. Two guys are walking down the street, in different cities. Guy A has two PhDs, one in quantum physics with a focus on dimensionality dynamics, the other in astrophysics with a focus on relativistic aspects of gravity and black holes. She has published dozens of peer reviewed papers on both topics and is a brilliant mathematician. Guy B never took a physics class but yesterday he finished reading large parts of The Elegant Universe. Suddenly, at the same moment, they each have an idea (they do not have the same idea ... they have different ideas) about how to unify quantum level and cosmic level dynamics.

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See original: ScienceBlogs Select Empowering the individual does not equal ensmartening the individual [Greg Laden's Blog]

Doomsday: Book of Revelation

For some Christians, Revelation is a playbook for 'end times' that have already arrived. For scholars, it's a product of its time. Doomsday: Book of Revelation : channel.nationalgeographic.com
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Birth of Jesus

Only two of the four gospels in the Bible provide an account of Jesus' birth and both reveal surprising inconsistencies. Birth of Jesus : channel.nationalgeographic.com
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Tiger's Sex Tape Released [The Primate Diaries]

Uncensored video below.

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See original: ScienceBlogs Select Tiger's Sex Tape Released [The Primate Diaries]

Does the "orchid-dandelion" metaphor work for you? My duel with David Shenk [Neuron Culture]

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Dear Readers, here's your chance to weigh in:

Over at the Atlantic, David Shenk, a sharp writer who keeps a blog there called "The Genius in Us All," has posted a gentlemanly smackdown ("Metaphor fight! Shenk and Dobbs square off") that he and I had via email last week regarding the "orchid-dandelion" metaphor I used in my recent Atlantic piece, "Orchid Children" (online version title: "The Science of Success"). Every metaphor has its limits, and David Shenk, a highly capable writer, recognizes that well. Yet he thinks this orchid-dandelion metaphor is fatally flawed, at least as I use it; I think its strengths outweigh its limitations. One thing led to another ...

Our exchange on the subject is below. Out of curiosity -- and because I'm fixin' to write a book on the topic -- I'd love to know what readers think of this. Does the orchid-dandelion cast the temperamental differences too starkly? Or is it a useful shorthand for the differences in temperamental sensitivity that these behavioral genes appear to create? Chime in in the comments. And if you still feel restless after doing so here, you can go to Shenk's site and put in your two cents there as well.

NB: Stage directions and art grab by David Shenk.

NB2: No real blood was spilled in the writing of this post.

NB3: I typed my entries with my left hand -- and I am not left-handed.

Here's Shenk's post:

In response to this month's Atlantic feature "The Science of Success," by David Dobbs, which I admired, I invited Dobbs to engage in short back-and-forth over one particular gripe I had. He graciously accepted. Children, avert your eyes. This is literary brawling the likes of which haven't been seen since Norman Mailer head-butted Gore Vidal.

Shenk alights from behind a doorway with his first jab:

Congratulations on your beautifully rendered "Orchid" piece. You do a superb job of illustrating the notion that the same gene can yield very different results in different circumstances. I particularly admire the way you end the piece -- falling back on the essential truth of the parent helping to constantly flip little genetic switches in the child. I consider this piece a landmark step forward in the difficult transition of helping the public understand what genetic expression is all about.

My one not-so-small quibble is that I think you let the metaphor get away from you a bit. While the "orchid" metaphor is a provocative way to illustrate that certain genes or combinations of genes might increase plasticity, the "dandelion" half of the metaphor strongly suggests that "most of us" don't have very much plasticity -- i.e., that the dandelion kids don't have much potential to be either down-and-out or enormously successful. Being familiar with some of your previous work, I don't think that's the message you intend to send.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think that you actually believe that science has demonstrated that most of us are destined to a hardy mediocrity. If you are taking that position, I'll respectfully disagree and let's debate that point.

Your earlier work (which helped to inspire my forthcoming book) suggests that you have a very keen understanding of the extraordinary plasticity built into virtually all of us. I submit that this doesn't contradict the science in your new piece. We can recognize certain extraordinary orchid alleles without rhetorically ghettoizing the other alleles as not-very-plastic dandelion weeds. After all, the studies you cite are presenting population percentages -- they are not showing a clean separation between individuals with or without the alleles. Clearly, as this science marches on, we're going to be stumbling onto specific genes and combinations that seem to have a particular influence in one direction or another. But as we do, I think we need to be careful not to overstate their lessons. We don't want to leave readers with the impression that, without a particular allele, a person is protected from being depressed or barred from having super-talent.

To sum up, and I know this inconvenient for you, I suggest that you need to drop the "dandelion" half of the metaphor. It's a vivid contrast to the orchid metaphor, but I believe it's too misleading.

Dobbs side-steps, casually finishes his drink, and winds up:

Thanks for the nod and the good questions.

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See original: ScienceBlogs Select Does the "orchid-dandelion" metaphor work for you? My duel with David Shenk [Neuron Culture]

Another week of GW News, December 13, 2009 [A Few Things Ill Considered]

Logging the Onset of The Bottleneck Years


This weekly posting is brought to you courtesy of H. E. Taylor. Happy reading, I ho8pe you enjoy this week's Global Warming news roundup

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See original: ScienceBlogs Select Another week of GW News, December 13, 2009 [A Few Things Ill Considered]

OLPC: A Steep Cost? Or a Profitable Edu-Investment?

In his recent EduTech post How do you evaluate a plan like Ceibal?, Michael Trucano wrote,

OLPC ownership math?

"All of this comes with a cost, of course: a steep cost. Is it worth it? And how will we know?"

When you say that something is expensive, you have to say also, compared with what? This comparison cannot only be on price. You have to compare value received. What is the value of an education, then?

In crass financial terms, you can set a price on education based on the Net Present Value of expected earnings over a lifetime. You can design a government education budget around the NPV of the person's tax contributions over a lifetime, with due consideration for other expected public services.

See original: One Laptop Per Child News OLPC: A Steep Cost? Or a Profitable Edu-Investment?

Biopolitics for the 21st Century

By Marcy Darnovsky, PhD, Associate Executive Director of the Center for Genetics and Society

A guest blog in the Alternative Perspectives on Technology Innovation series
Much appreciation is due to Andrew for his courage in soliciting “alternative perspectives” on technology innovation and life in the 21st century.  I can’t help but observe ...

See original: 2020 Science Biopolitics for the 21st Century

Canada thrust into Copenhagen spotlight by spoof report carried by spoof WSJ [The Island of Doubt]

It would be funny if so much weren't at stake.

Anonymous culture-jammers (probably the "Yes Men") earlier today apparently managed to fool the Wall Street Journal into reporting that Canada has abandoned it established greenhouse gas emissions reductions target of just 3% below 1990 levels by 2020. Instead, it would henceforth support something more in line with what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- and most of the developing world -- say is necessary to avoid dangerous interference in the global climate: 25-40% below 1990 by 2020.

Within an hour, the Canadian government had apparently set the record straight:

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See original: ScienceBlogs Select Canada thrust into Copenhagen spotlight by spoof report carried by spoof WSJ [The Island of Doubt]

NIMBioS Congratulates the Newest Award Recipients for 2010

NIMBioS congratulates its newest award recipients, including new Working Groups, Investigative Workshops, short-term visitors and long-term sabbatical scholars.

See original: NIMBioS: The National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis NIMBioS Congratulates the Newest Award Recipients for 2010

COP15 Behind the Scenes: New Life Copenhagen - A voluntary housing project

Watch the COP15 Behind the Scenes video about New Life Copenhagen, a voluntary housing project in Copenhagen, Denmark during the UN Climate Change Conference 2009 (COP15) in December, 2009.
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Recognition: Andre Simpson


Andre Simpson (University of Toronto) is the recipient of the 2010 CSC Fred Beamish Award. This award is presented to individuals who demonstrate innovation in research in the field of Analytical Chemistry, in particular, where research is anticipated to have significant potential for practical applications.

Web: Andre Simpson's Group at the University of Toronto Scarborough

See original: Canadian NMR News Recognition: Andre Simpson

OLPC: A Steep Cost? Or a Profitable Edu-Investment?

In his recent EduTech post How do you evaluate a plan like Ceibal?, Michael Trucano wrote,

OLPC ownership math?

"All of this comes with a cost, of course: a steep cost. Is it worth it? And how will we know?"

When you say that something is expensive, you have to say also, compared with what? This comparison cannot only be on price. You have to compare value received. What is the value of an education, then?

In crass financial terms, you can set a price on education based on the Net Present Value of expected earnings over a lifetime. You can design a government education budget around the NPV of the person's tax contributions over a lifetime, with due consideration for other expected public services.

See original: One Laptop Per Child News OLPC: A Steep Cost? Or a Profitable Edu-Investment?