Tag Archives: podcast

What has science ever done for us?

Lord Taverne. Credit: Wikipedia

Well, according to Richard Taverne it is at least partly responsible for making our society more democratic, more tolerant and more compassionate.

Lord Taverne is founding chair of Sense About Science and former Labour minister. He gave this year’s Sense About Science lecture titled: “What has science ever done for us?” (see Annual Lecture · Sense about Science).

The Guardian Science Weekly has made this lecture available as a podcast. You can download it at Science Weekly Extra podcast: What has science ever done for us? I have listened to part of the lecture and it is very thought-provoking.

Alokh Jha, on the Science Weekly blog, gives this introduction to the lecture:

Sense About Science was founded by Richard Taverne 10 years ago to further the public’s understanding of science and help scientists advocate an evidence-based society.

At the time many scientists seemed reluctant to take part in public discourse, now 5,000 have signed up with the organisation to do just that. There’s still some way to go in promoting the public understanding of science in the UK, says Taverne – alternative medicine and the national lottery are thriving, and only one of our MPs is a graduate scientist.

To mark his retirement from Sense About Science, Taverne delivered its annual lecture on Monday 23 April at the Royal Society of Medicine, which posed the question: “What has science ever done for us?”

He argues that … apart from making us wealthy, helping to feed the world, cutting infant mortality, explaining the origins of the planet and our species, letting us fly, watch television, expanding our lifespans, inventing anaesthesia … science has made us more tolerant, compassionate and democratic.

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A regular climate science podcast

Here is a podcast for those who want to follow the latest news and events involving climate science and the activity of those who wish to deny the scientific consensus. Irregular Climate is hosted by Dan Moutal* and Graham Wayne*. Currently it has reached six episodes and appears to aim for a weekly appearance. The web site includes show notes which appear quite useful with extra diagrams and videos.

I have listened to all six episodes and found it useful. I am happy to recommend it. So try it out.

*About Dan Moutal: He lives in Vancouver, ofdan.ca is his website. He has a blogtweets, and occasionally takes some pretty pictures.

*About Graham Wayne: He is a writer and journalist, does a little IT work, drawing on his corporate background as CIO of a group of companies, and composes and records music. He blogs at gpwayne.wordpress.com

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We don’t know!

Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov via last.fm

I like the quote from Isaac Asimov which goes something like:

“The most exhilarating statement in science is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘Hmm, that’s funny’!”

Every researcher knows the feeling. When our experiments or observations produce the result we didn’t expect. That conflicts with our hypothesis – or even better conflicts with current theory.

Because we know this means progress. We have found something we can’t explain and that gives us a chance to discover something new.

Good scientists are not afraid to say “I don’t know!” Ignorance is nothing to be ashamed of. However, we should not be satisfied with it. So scientists usually add “Let’s find out!”

That’s why it is galling to hear opponents of science claim that we are an arrogant lot. That we claim to know everything. Or that we claim we can, eventually, know everything.

I confronted these sort of arguments recently in a discussion with some religious apologists (see Science and Religion: Theism and Explanatory Idleness). They were criticising scientific arrogance. Claiming that many scientists had a “science of the gaps” approach – assuming everything could eventually be explained by science alone.  I challenged the claim – asking for evidence of any scientist advancing the argument. And was told to google Dawkins!

Ah, the Dawkins who doesn’t exist but has been invented as an apologist voodoo doll (see The Dawkins Delusions).

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Neurons and free will

neuron1The free will “question” is sometimes raised in comments on this blog. I am not someone who denies “free will” but recognise that people often define the concept differently – and this can be a cause of the debate.

Dr Ginger Campbell presents a very interesting discussion of the topic in her recent Brain Science Podcast reviewing the book Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?: Philosophical and Neurobiological Perspectives on Moral Responsibility and Free Will.

From her summary:

“This book challenges the widespread fear that neuroscience is revealing an explanation of the human mind that concludes that moral responsibility and free will are illusions created by our brains. Instead the authors argue that the problem is the assumption that a physicalist/materialistic model of the mind must also be reductionist (a viewpoint that all causes are bottom-up). In this podcast I discuss their arguments against causal reductionism and for a dynamic systems model. We also discuss why we need to avoid brain-body dualism and recognize that our mind is more than just what our brain does. The key to preserving our intuitive sense of our selves as free agents capable of reason, moral responsibility, and free will is that the dynamic systems approach allows top-down causation, without resorting to any supernatural causes or breaking any of the know laws of the physical universe. This is a complex topic, but I present a concise overview of the book’s key ideas.”

I found the discussion fascinating and will try to get my local library to purchase the book. Unfortunately, it’s quite expensive so they may balk at this.

The Brain Science Podcasts are always interesting and intellectually stimulating. This is no exception and I recommend it to anyone interested in the questions of brain science, free will and moral responsibility.

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