What does it mean to do science? I have a few suggestions that I want to put out there but the first we need to decide what science itself is. The first thing most people think about when they think of science is “what scientists do.” They might say that science is what people in white coats do in the laboratory. If you study science, that is certainly what you will learn but we also know that what physicists do in a lab and what biologists do in a lab are quite different. What do they both do that is the same? Science is not about specific subjects; it’s a way of thinking. All scientists try to think logically, to ask questions and following them up with experiments or observations that will give them the evidence needed to answer their questions. Continue reading
I have rather neglected this blog lately though I do have plans for future posts. In the meantime I will share a photograph I took on a recent walk.
On-line surveillance, whether by companies, criminals or governments, is a worrying reality of our present time. A recent survey showed that feelings around government surveillance are quite mixed, though I’d say too much in favour. The same survey’s results on privacy (generally not related to government surveillance) seem more heartening but show large disparities between different countries.
In this context of widespread surveillance, I think it is important to have some idea of tools that can help protect oneself while on-line. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has released a new tool, Privacy Badger, which aims to help protect against third parties tracking your browsing across multiple sites. This should help protect against “canvas fingerprinting” which records your information about your computer (and in Slate) and settings which may allow it to be identified on different sites. Continue reading
This first story concerns the intelligence of dogs and the perception of dog owners’ about the intelligence of dogs. As per the io9 article title, people think their dogs are a lot smarter than they actually are. The closer people are to their dogs, the more they overestimate their dog’s intelligence.
This second story is a bit concerning. It started as a great story about a 12-year-old girl’s science fair project which made ecologists stop and think about an invasive fish. Now it’s taken a darker turn and appears that the project was not as original as the media attention made it out to be and the credit should actually be going to a young scientist. It turns out that the girl’s project is based on work that this guy had already done and published and that the girl’s father is friends with the young scientist’s former supervisor. While it’s still great for the girl, it’s not fair that the scientist is now being ignored and losing the credit.
Today is World Humanist Day which serves to celebrate and promote secular humanism. Although I’m a bit apprehensive about the name, humans are not the only creatures that are important, it’s still an important movement with which I share a number of goals. There is a long post about the history of humanism on Wikipedia but, for those who are not familiar with it, the International Humanist and Ethical Union defines it as follow.
Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality.
These are important points for us to move forward as a society and not live in the sort of world where people are sentenced to death for marrying someone of a different religion or a society where someone can sell medicine that has no effect just because they dreamed it up. The British Humanist Association recently put a series of videos describing humanism that were narrated by Stephen Fry and deserve a look. They give the humanist answers to questions about morality, truth and how we find meaning in our lives.
Lastly, and related, I want to bring attention to a petition for secularism in South African schools. Secularism isn’t only important for atheists, it’s important to everyone who wants the freedom to believe what they want. It means that people can not discriminate or impose their views just because they are Christian and you are Muslim, or they are Hindu and you are an atheist.