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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.
  • 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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    Atomic Reporters Curbs “Egregious” Coverage of Nuclear Perils

    Recent U.S. "modernization" of nuclear arsenal "will probably mean that nuclear weapons will be with us for another 100 years," says Peter Rickwood of Atomic Reporters, "and trigger a response by Russia and China to build-up their weapons programs."

    Yes, the Cold War ended long ago, but we still live in a nuclear-armed world, in which the possibility of nuclear war, terrorism and accidents is all too real. That is why my school, Stevens Institute of Technology, hosted a “Workshop on Nuclear Education” last year, organized by Edward Friedman and Julie Pullen of Stevens [...]

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    Chewing the Fat with Diet Journalist Gary Taubes

    A non-profit co-founded by Gary Taubes has raised $40 million to test weight-loss theories, including the low-carb hypothesis he favors.

    Weight-loss research has generated headlines lately, leading me to wonder what my pal Gary Taubes is up to. Over the past dozen years, Taubes has transformed himself from a mere journalist into a major player in dietary science, who has helped raise millions for research. In Good Calories, Bad Calories (2007), Why We Get Fat [...]

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    Naomi “Merchants of Doubt” Oreskes Slams “Corrosive” Climate Change Skepticism

    merchantsofdoubt

    Historian of science Naomi Oreskes, now at Harvard, first came to my attention 20 years ago, when she and two co-authors argued in Science that “verification and validation of numerical models of natural systems is impossible.” In The End of Science, I cited the Oreskes et al. paper when I challenged the claim that computers [...]

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    Chimp-Violence Researchers Respond to Criticism on “Cross-Check”

    Lethal group aggression among both chimpanzees and humans suggests that "we may have inherited these patterns of behavior from our common ancestor," Wilson et al. state. "As many have noted, however, and as we fully recognize, the existence of bonobos, with their much less violent societies, highlights the need to be cautious in how much we infer along these lines."

    Is chimpanzee violence a product of nature or nurture? Genes or environment? Two weeks ago Nature published a report, “Lethal aggression in Pan is better explained by adaptive strategies than human impacts,” in which 30 primatologists came down on the side of nature. The report triggered a wave of lurid mass-media claims that, as one [...]

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    More Cool Sh*t I’ve Read Lately

    Physician Ezekiel Emanuel says that he will not try to prolong his life after he reaches 75. Photo of Emanuel by Jake Chessum for The Atlantic, via tumblr, http://www.tumblr.com/search/thanks%20nancy%20%5E%5E.

    I’ve been over-posting this month, so I’m going to make my monthly “Cool Sh*t” post short. (See last month’s candidates here.) Below are three articles that offer provocative takes by smart, informed authors on important topics. “The Transformation: Is it possible to control cancer without killing it?” by Jerome Groopman, The New Yorker, September 15, [...]

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    U.S. Department of Defense Health Official Speaks Out on Ebola and Other Threats

    Ebola virus (particles of which are depicted), is "really not a direct threat for nations with robust health systems. But where resources are lacking and health systems are inadequate (as in West Africa), and where initial cases are not quickly discovered and managed, there is a real threat of local spread in the community from imported cases," says Dr. Rohit Chitale.

    Earlier this month, I posted a Q&A on the Ebola outbreak with a Stevens colleague, medical anthropologist Theresa MacPhail. MacPhail also put me in touch with someone who could provide more insight into the outbreak, Dr. Rohit Chitale of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center (AFHSC). Rohit is an infectious disease epidemiologist and had worked [...]

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    Physics Titan Edward Witten Still Thinks String Theory “on the Right Track”

    Witten: "I hope the landscape interpretation of the universe would turn out to be wrong, as I would like to be able to eventually calculate from first principles the ratio of the masses of the electron and muon (among other things).  However, the universe wasn't made for our convenience."

    At a 1990 conference on cosmology, I asked attendees, who included folks like Stephen Hawking, Michael Turner, James Peebles, Alan Guth and Andrei Linde, to nominate the smartest living physicist. Edward Witten got the most votes (with Steven Weinberg the runner-up). Some considered Witten to be in the same league as Einstein and Newton. Witten [...]

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