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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.
  • 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,

    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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    Anthropologist Brian Ferguson Challenges Claim That Chimp Violence Is Adaptive


    In my last post, I critiqued “Lethal aggression in Pan is better explained by adaptive strategies than human impacts,” a new paper in Nature that represents a broadside in the old debate over whether war is innate. Although the paper does not mention human warfare, two of its lead authors, primatologists Michael Wilson and Richard [...]

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    New Report on Chimp Violence Fails to Support Deep-Roots Theory of War

    Inter-group killings are rare among chimpanzees and non-existent among bonobos, according to a new report in Nature, thus undercutting the theory that the roots of war extend back to the common ancestor of humans and chimps.

    On this blog, in my book The End of War and elsewhere (see Further Reading and Viewing), I have knocked the deep roots theory of war, which holds that war stems from an instinct deeply embedded in the genes of our male ancestors. Proponents of this theory—notably primatologist Richard Wrangham—claim it is supported by observations [...]

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    My Weird Chat with Gov. Jerry Brown about the Evils of Science

    Jerry Brown, now governor of California, called John Horgan in 1996 to discuss science's sins.

    My growing concerns about science’s soul have aroused some old, odd memories. One dates back to 1996, shortly after the publication of The End of Science. My wife (now ex) was out, and I was feeding dinner to my two kids, who were toddlers, when the phone rang. The caller asked if I was John [...]

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    Ebola “Fear Mongering” Critiqued by Medical Anthropologist

    Newsweek cover story on Ebola is "horrible and racist," says medical anthropologist Theresa MacPhail.

    A new semester has just started at Stevens Institute of Technology, and I’m more excited than usual—that is, less depressed that summer vacation is over. My division, the College of Arts & Letters, just hired two scholars to beef up our programs in Science and Technology Studies and Science Communication. One is historian of science [...]

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    U.S. Bombs, Which Helped Spawn ISIS, Can’t Crush It

    One of the great ironies in debates about war and peace is that hawks--including those now urging attacks on ISIS militants--view themselves as hard-headed "realists" and denigrate doves as soft-headed and delusional. The real delusion is thinking that U.S. military force—which over the last decade has exacerbated the terrible violence wracking the Mideast—can now dispel it.

    Once again, U.S. leaders are beating the war drums–or rather, beating them harder, because when in recent memory have the drums fallen silent? Aspiring President Hillary Clinton and Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham are all urging President Obama to take stronger military measures against ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which has [...]

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    Cool Sh*t I’ve Read and Seen Lately. Cops Waging War, Masters of Sex, Nabokov and More!


    I’ve got an especially eclectic bunch of “Cool Sh*t” to nominate this month. Two articles by top-notch science journalists, a tough, timely investigative report by the ACLU, a sexy cable series and a classic short-story collection. (See my previous nominations in columns one, two, three, four and five of this series.) “How to Talk about [...]

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