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Cross-Check


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    John Horgan Every week, hockey-playing science writer John Horgan takes a puckish, provocative look at breaking science. A teacher at Stevens Institute of Technology, Horgan is the author of four books, including The End of Science (Addison Wesley, 1996) and The End of War (McSweeney's, 2012). Follow on Twitter @Horganism.
  • Anthropologist Finds Flaw in Claim That Chimp Raids Are “Adaptive”

    Chimp violence by one community produces little or no net advantage over other communities and hence may not be adaptive, according to anthropologist Brian Ferguson.

    Since September, I’ve posted three columns, including two written by others, on whether lethal chimpanzee raids–and by implication, human warfare—are adaptive and hence innate. In the first, I critique a widely reported study in Nature: “Lethal aggression in Pan is better explained by adaptive strategies than human impacts.” In the second, anthropologist Brian Ferguson criticizes the [...]

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    Thanksgiving and the Slanderous Myth of the Savage Savage

    Native Americans, accused of Hobbesian savagery by modern scientists, actually treated Europeans kindly in some early encounters. This painting shows the legendary Thanksgiving feast between Pilgrims and the Wampanoag, who helped the newcomers survive and were eventually driven from their land.

    The approach of Thanksgiving, that quintessential American holiday, has me brooding once again over slanderous scientific portrayals of Native Americans as bellicose brutes.* When I was in grade school, my classmates and I wore paper Indian headdresses and Pilgrim hats and reenacted the “first Thanksgiving,” in which supposedly friendly Native Americans joined Pilgrims for a [...]

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    Are Scientists on the “Cusp of Knowing” How Weird We Are?

    In his new book Caleb Scharf writes: "So are we unusual or not?... Neither side is yet a winner. But we are much, much closer to an answer than we have ever been in the history of the human species; we are on the cusp of knowing."

    I’m writing this post for two reasons. One is to recommend a new book by Columbia astrobiologist Caleb Scharf (who also writes a terrific Scientific American blog, “Life, Unbounded“), and the other is to defend an old book of mine. Scharf’s book is The Copernicus Complex: Our Cosmic Significance in a Universe of Planets and [...]

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    Green Analysts Respond to Cross-Check Concerns about Warming, War and Hawkish U.S. Policies

    Photo: Meditate.com, http://www.mediate.com/mobile/article.cfm?id=5042.

    For a professional blowhard, there is no worse fate than being ignored. So I’m always—well, almost always—delighted when my posts get pushback, especially from people who are smart, well-informed and thoughtful. In my last post, “Hawkish U.S. Policies Pose Bigger Threat to Peace Than Climate Change,” I complained that discussions of how global warming might [...]

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    Hawkish U.S. Policies Pose Bigger Threat to Peace Than Climate Change

    Hawkish U.S. policies are far more of a threat to world peace than global warming, if recent history is any guide.

    In a previous post, I poked my nose into the debate over whether climate change will precipitate more conflict. I offered a half dozen objections to predictions that more warming means more war. One objection was that “many people making decisions that lead to large-scale violence—politicians, generals, warlords, drug kingpins and so on—work indoors in [...]

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    Does the Sebastian Junger/HBO Film Last Patrol Glorify War?

    Sebastian Junger says that war is "exciting" and helped him become "the man I wanted to be." Photo: http://www.sebastianjunger.com.

    “To honor a fallen peer and adjust to life outside the war zones, four men linked by combat journey by foot from Washington, D.C., to Pennsylvania.” That is how HBO describes Sebastian Junger’s new documentary, The Last Patrol, which HBO is airing Monday night. Last month I saw the film—and listened to Junger discuss it–at [...]

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    Greens Should Stop Claiming More Warming Means More War

    War deaths have plummeted since 1950, according to data compiled by the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)...

    “There’s a surprisingly strong link between climate change and violence.” That’s the headline of a recent article by journalist Chris Mooney in The Washington Post. As fossil-fuel emissions push temperatures higher, we can “expect more wars, civil unrest, and strife, and also more violent crime in general,” Mooney says. But the evidence for this alarming [...]

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    New Hawking Film Brilliantly Dramatizes Paradox of Modern Science

    The new Hawking film gets some scientific details wrong but still brilliantly dramatizes profound themes embodied by the iconic physicist's career.

    I met Stephen Hawking in the summer of 1990, when I spent five days in northern Sweden at a conference attended by 30 or so leading cosmologists. He was already almost totally paralyzed; he could move only one finger, with which he controlled a computer and speech synthesizer on his motorized wheelchair. One day, when [...]

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    Surfer-Physicist Garrett Lisi Offers Alternative to String Theory—and Academia

    Lisi (third from right) and friends at the "Pacific Science Institute," a cluster of cabins that he built on Maui to provide a place for scientists to "work and play." Lisi adds, "I do have to let students know I am not a degree-granting institution, but they're welcome to visit."

    In 2007 Garrett Lisi was a 39-year-old physicist, unaffiliated with any institution, toiling in obscurity on what he called “An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything,” which could account for all of nature’s forces. Over the next year he became a celebrity, after The New Yorker, Outside, Discover and other publications described him as a rootless [...]

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    Quest for Intelligence Genes Churns Out More Dubious Results

    A new report linking intelligence to specific genes will probably turn out to be yet another false positive.

    For more than 20 years, I’ve hammered behavioral genetics, and especially research linking genes to intelligence. Last spring, I proposed a ban on research into race and intelligence. As I explained in a follow-up post, I oppose this research not only because of its potential to exacerbate racism but also because the entire field of [...]

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