Jurassic World, David Peters, and how to rile up paleontologists


This new movie, Jurassic World, is stirring up a fascinating love/hate reaction from paleontologists. We all love to imagine dinosaurs resurrected, and the movies give us an image of what they’d be like, so everyone is happy to see that…and it also inspires new enthusiasm for fossils, so it helps lead to better support for good science. But at the same time, couldn’t they at least get the science right?

Kirkland, the state paleontologist at the Utah Geological Survey who has been involved in the discovery of 20 dinosaurs including the Utahraptor, admits such Hollywood blockbusters could inspire a whole new generation of fossil lovers. Yet, he frets that this movie – much like its three predecessors – will be filled with so many factual errors as to spread misinformation.

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Leave science to the scientists


The pope has been freaking out American conservatives. He keeps saying things that annoy right-wingers.

In recent months, the pope has argued for a radical new financial and economic system to avoid human inequality and ecological devastation. In October he told a meeting of Latin American and Asian landless peasants and other social movements: “An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it.

“The system continues unchanged, since what dominates are the dynamics of an economy and a finance that are lacking in ethics. It is no longer man who commands, but money. Cash commands.

“The monopolising of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth. Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness,” he said.

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Next step: Space-based lasers that will disintegrate the junk


It may be a bit unkind to crush the ambitions of a 19 year old, but Boyan Slat seems to mainly excel at self-promotion. He’s come up with a scheme to clean up the oceans of debris with anchored, floating booms and short suspended nets (or something — it’s totally unclear) that are laid out over ocean currents that bring the garbage to it. Did I mention that he’s 19? And not an oceanographer? And that his scheme hasn’t really been tested on any significant scale? But it’s still bringing in millions of dollars in donations.

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Required reading for scientists


Nicole Gugliucci has a fine post up about a common discussion-killer: “Stick to the science!” Debates about ethics and social issues can be deftly silenced by declaring that they’re out-of-bounds for science, because as we all know, science is objective and cold and uncaring.

I always want to ask, when I encounter those attitudes, whether they’ve read Jacob Bronowski’s Science and Human Values. Because they should. It’s one of those books that gives equal weight to poetry and physics, and quotes Coleridge and Goethe alongside Faraday and Newton, and his entire point is that science is a human enterprise driven by human values, just as much as literature is.

The subject of this book is the evolution of contemporary values. My theme is that the values which we accept today as permanent and often as self-evident have grown out of the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution. The arts and the sciences have changed the values of the Middle Ages; and this change has been an enrichment, moving towards what makes us more deeply human.

This theme plainly outrages a widely held view of what science does. If, as many science only compiles an endless dictionary of facts, then it must be neutral (and neuter) as a machine is, any more than literature is; both are served by, they do not serve, the makers of their dictionaries.

It always baffles me when human beings pretend to have a god-like perspective on the absolute truth, which allows them to ignore the petty concerns of other human beings. Religion has mastered that property, but science can run a pretty close second, often.