A sad farewell to JR Minkel: Science Writing, and the World, Loses One of Its Finest | http://bit.ly/ddMinkel
RT @EthanZ: Salon, on how Al Jazeera English is kicking the ass of American cable networks re: #Egypt: http://bit.ly/h8lcd0
RT @amities: Sec Clinton calls on General Washington to engage with King George III in implementing reforms http://qb.is/giVLiL #jan25
RT @garyschwitzer: Terrific to have such impact. RT @ivanoransky: @joelving’s story led editor to change study (cont) http://tl.gd/8eo03q
RT @NickBaumann: Just updated #Egypt explainer again, with latest reports, links, developments: http://mojo.ly/gsbspb #Jan25
Nabokov Theory on Polyommatus Blue Butterflies Is Vindicated – NYTimes.com
He was the curator of lepidoptera at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, and collected the insects across the United States. He published detailed descriptions of hundreds of species. And in a speculative moment in 1945, he came up with a sweeping hypothesis for the evolution of the butterflies he studied, a group known as the Polyommatus blues. He envisioned them coming to the New World from Asia over millions of years in a series of waves.
Few professional lepidopterists took these ideas seriously during Nabokov’s lifetime. But in the years since his death in 1977, his scientific reputation has grown. And over the past 10 years, a team of scientists has been applying gene-sequencing technology to his hypothesis about how Polyommatus blues evolved. On Tuesday in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, they reported that Nabokov was absolutely right.
“It’s really quite a marvel,” said Naomi Pierce of Harvard, a co-author of the paper.
Fighting the Merchants of Doubt | Free Radicals
In yesterday’s post I mentioned the scientist-for-hire Fred Singer. I only met this odious character fairly recently, in the pages of the magisterial Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M Conway. I don’t often say this, but everyone should read that book. It exposes what scientists are up against when they try to do some good in the world: a well-organised, well-funded, carefully-orchestrated and powerful lobbying system that is carefully designed to undermine scientists threatening political or industrial interests.
The scary thing is, it’s not that hard to do. All that’s required is a few seeds of doubt – public confusion does the rest. I won’t delve into it here; read the book. It’s worth it, I promise, because it will make you angry, and righteous anger is sadly lacking in the world, and especially among scientists.
One of the most startling revelations in the book is actually about the good guys: that good scientists are not angry or combative enough. Oreskes and Conway delve into the details of some of the biggest scientific battlegrounds of the last 100 years – acid rain, climate change, tobacco marketing and the ozone crisis – and find the scientists strangely disappointing. “We would have liked to have told heroic stories of how scientists set the record straight,” they say. But only in a few scant cases were they able to. “Clearly, scientists knew that many contrarian claims were false,” they point out. “Why didn’t they do more to refute them?” Their conclusion is that scientists are really quite timid when it comes to public exposure. They worry unceasingly about what their colleagues will say, and about personal attacks on their reputation from deniers of all colours. Sometimes scientists (as they don’t put it) can be real pussies.