Sunday's Non-Silly Science Roundup

My apologies for the delay in getting to the next Big Question. Be assured, I haven't forgotten--I've just been buried in final papers. In lieu of a real entry, I'm providing a roundup of "non-silly" science writing worth checking out:

First, Noam Chomsky -- Linguist-cum-Know-It-All -- has a brief essay on The Edge in which he declares that:
On the ordinary problems of human life, science tells us very little, and scientists as people are surely no guide. In fact they are often the worst guide, because they often tend to focus, laser-like, on their professional interests and know very little about the world.
You have to admire the man’s certitude. That said, I couldn’t disagree with him more. A brief perusal of Science Daily or New Scientist demonstrates that scientists have plenty to say about “ordinary problems.” The articles currently on display in Science Daily’s “Mind & Brain” section, for example, offer die-hard smokers advice on how to quit, warn hockey superfans that they may end up deaf, and caution those with inferiority complexes to steer clear of novel plot twists.

I can’t help wondering if Mr. Chomsky is making the mistake of equating all scientists with his hyper-theoretical MIT colleagues Steven Pinker and Marc Hauser. If so, I’d like to be the first to remind him that most scientists don’t occupy the nosebleed section of the Ivory Tower. Only a very select group has the luxury of trying to determine “how nature designed our universal sense of right and wrong,” or the time to rail against the “modern denial of human nature.” And I’d be willing to wager that they too see their work as an attempt to address issues that impact people’s daily lives.

In other news . . .

After an extended hiatus, Clive Thompson is back online at Collision Detection and has an interesting post on "why interactive websites can create false memories.”

Over at Gladwell.com, The New Yorker’s resident systemitizer is trying to outline the “hierarchy of hate speech” on the heels of Michael Richard’s outburst.

And speaking of Gladwell, those of you who enjoyed his take on mass hysteria in The Tipping Point may be interested to learn that there was a recent outbreak among English school children after a small number watched a video on “human biology.” Oddly, neither Mind Hacks nor the article it cites goes into any detail about what was in the video. Color me curious.


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