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Michael Specter: The danger of science denial

Michael Specter: The danger of science denial
Related:  ideas & concepts

The Future of Moral Machines The Stone is a forum for contemporary philosophers and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless. A robot walks into a bar and says, “I’ll have a screwdriver.” A bad joke, indeed. The fictional theme of robots turning against humans is older than the word itself, which first appeared in the title of Karel Čapek’s 1920 play about artificial factory workers rising against their human overlords. Machines are increasingly operating with minimal human oversight in the same physical spaces as we do. The prospect of machines capable of following moral principles, let alone understanding them, seems as remote today as the word “robot” is old. This is why, in my view, we need to think long and hard about machine morality. Leif Parsons There are big themes here: freedom of will, human spontaneity and creativity, and the role of reason in making good choices — not to mention the nature of morality itself. This is autonomy in the engineer’s sense, not the philosopher’s.

An Uncertain Truth This is the second installment of a three-part series on radical skepticism and the rise of conspiratorial thinking about science. In 1969, a series of historic memorandums began to circulate at a tobacco company in Kentucky. The documents addressed growing public concern over the health risks associated with smoking and outlined a brazen response: The cigarette manufacturers would "establish—once and for all—that no scientific evidence has ever been produced, presented or submitted to prove conclusively that cigarette smoking causes cancer." To support this ludicrous assertion (which the tobacco executives knew to be false) would require a spin campaign of monumental proportions. That campaign's inaugural words have now become a slogan for corporate connivery: "Doubt is our product," read one infamous memo, "since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' that exists in the mind of the general public." What makes this mode of thinking so effective—and so prevalent?

A New, Somewhat Moldy Branch On The Tree Of Life hide captionTwo cells — one marked mostly in green, the other in blue — of a newly discovered organism found in water samples collected from the University of Exeter pond. Scientists think these "cryptomycota" use their tails to propel themselves while searching for food. Meredith Jones/Nature If you think biologists have a pretty good idea about what lives on the Earth, think again. This comes as a big surprise. "We thought we knew what about the major groups that existed," says James, who is curator of fungus at the University of Michigan. Many fungi are already familiar. Biologists figure they've probably only cataloged about 10 percent of all fungal species. Oops. "But the reality is most of the diversity of life we can't grow in a laboratory. And microscopic organisms are just about impossible to find just looking at dirt or water through a microscope. "About 10 years ago, people started using molecular approaches," he says. Using those techniques, they struck pay dirt.

Are jobs obsolete? Douglas Rushkoff: U.S. Postal Service new example of human work replaced by technologyHe says technology affecting jobs market; not enough workers needed to run the technologyHe says we have to alter our ideas: It's not about jobs, it's about productivityRushkoff: Technology lets us bypass corporations, make our own work -- a new model Editor's note: Douglas Rushkoff is a media theorist and the author of "Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age" and "Life Inc: How Corporatism Conquered the World and How We Can Take it Back." (CNN) -- The U.S. Postal Service appears to be the latest casualty in digital technology's slow but steady replacement of working humans. We can blame a right wing attempting to undermine labor, or a left wing trying to preserve unions in the face of government and corporate cutbacks. We like to believe that the appropriate response is to train humans for higher level work. U.S. companies unpatriotic not to hire? Obama to unveil $300 billion jobs plan

Oral HPV Infection is Three Times More Common in Men than Women, Study Shows First author and study leader Dr. Maura Gillison, medical oncologist and head and neck cancer specialist at the OSUCCC – James, describes the findings of her paper, “Prevalence of Oral HPV Infection in the United States, 2009-2010" published online Jan. 26, 2012, by Journal of the American Medical Association. ​COLUMBUS, Ohio – New research shows that men are three times more likely to have an oral human papilloma virus (HPV) infection than women. The findings help explain why HPV-related oral cancers are three times more common in men than women. Dr. Gillison and her collaborators sought to determine the prevalence of oral HPV infection in the United States and to understand the factors associated with infection and oropharyngeal cancer, tumors that affect the base of the tongue, the tonsils or back of the mouth. Other key findings include the following: The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. Contact: Darrell E.

The myth of closure When people talk about overcoming tragedy and loss these days, it’s hard to avoid the word “closure.” Whether it’s the death of a loved one, a national catastrophe, or just an argument with a friend, closure is supposed to be what we need to heal and get on with our lives. It’s easy to see the appeal of the idea that we can put a definitive end to our suffering or grief and start a new chapter of life without sorrow, guilt, or anger. Such references make psychological closure seem like a fact of life. In “Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us,” Berns draws on scholarly publications and popular media to trace why closure became a staple of our discourse and how it affects us. Berns, an associate professor of sociology at Drake University, spoke to Ideas from Des Moines. IDEAS: What do you mean when you say that closure doesn’t exist? BERNS: The idea of closure [is seen] as a new emotional state for explaining what we need and how we’re supposed to respond to trauma and loss.

National Center for Biotechnology Information Richard Dawkins on vivisection: "But can they suffer?" The great moral philosopher Jeremy Bentham, founder of utilitarianism, famously said,'The question is not, "Can they reason?" nor, "Can they talk?" but rather, "Can they suffer?" Most people get the point, but they treat human pain as especially worrying because they vaguely think it sort of obvious that a species' ability to suffer must be positively correlated with its intellectual capacity. Plants cannot think, and you'd have to be pretty eccentric to believe they can suffer. What about dogs? How could they bear to do it: tie a struggling, screaming mammal down with ropes and dissect its living heart, for example? Most of us nowadays believe that dogs and other non-human mammals can feel pain, and no reputable scientist today would follow Descartes' and Harvey's horrific example and dissect a living mammal without anaesthetic. Without going into the interesting literature on Animal Suffering It is an interesting question, incidentally, why pain has to be so damned painful.

Collide-a-Scape Of the all the famous names associated with climate change, there are two I would love to see headlined in a debate–against each other. Both of these individuals believe global warming presents an existential threat, both believe Big Green is part of the problem, and both offer a radically different path to decarbonization of the global economy. Yes, the debate between Naomi Klein and James Hansen would be fascinating. Klein, as you probably have heard, is the author of a new and much discussed book titled, “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate.” Her publisher describes it as a brilliant explanation of why the climate crisis challenges us to abandon the core “free market” ideology of our time, restructure the global economy, and remake our political systems. The New Statesmen, a liberal UK publication, opens its review of the book thusly: Look, I’m not saying that markets have no role in combatting climate change. What happens then?

Rationally Speaking | Official Podcast of New York City Skeptics - Current Episodes - RS21 - Joshua Knobe on Experimental Philosophy Release date: November 7, 2010 Our guest, Joshua Knobe, is a philosopher interested in cognitive science, so interested, in fact, that he has contributed to establishing a whole new branch of inquiry known as experimental philosophy — and he plausibly claims that the name is not actually an oxymoron! The idea is summarized in this way on one of the major web sites devoted to the enterprise: "Experimental philosophy, called x-phi for short, is a new philosophical movement that supplements the traditional tools of analytic philosophy with the scientific methods of cognitive science. So experimental philosophers actually go out and run systematic experiments aimed at understanding how people ordinarily think about the issues at the foundation of the philosophical discussion.” Joshua Knobe is an assistant professor at Yale University, affiliated both with the Program in Cognitive Science and the Department of Philosophy. Comment on the episode teaser. Joshua's picks:

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