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SciFoo: What worries you?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Each year Google, Nature and O’Reilly Media invite some of the sharpest thinkers to Science Foo Camp in California. At the 2010 gathering, we asked a skeptic, an internet guru, a philosopher and some scientists about their worries for the future. Speakers in this four-part video series include astrobiologist Paul Davies, climate scientist Michael Mann, broadcaster Andrea Marr and computational biologist Adrien Treuille.


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  1. 1. thedr9wningman 12:06 pm 02/28/2011

    Similarly, @Bonzo666, those with your opposite opinion could stat the same: Repeat the lie that we are not materially impacting the climate (although numbers, patterns, and indicators correlate very well with human-induced carbon fuels) enough, and any idiot will believe it.

    But Aleks Krotosky in the video is speaking exactly to this. You and I, due to the way the web is engineered now, are in our bias-bubbles. Instead of exploring one another’s point of view, we seek out information sources that confirm our own biases.

    Of course, sometimes, even when one does seek out alternative perspectives, they still land at the same spot. I haven’t seen anything damning the global warming theory to the extent that I do not observe its happenings or see the changes that it is making happen (with my own eyes). Climate zones for plants are changing, snow fall and -melt is changing, flooding and drought patterns are changing, ice caps and tundras are melting (OK, I haven’t observed that first-hand)… all at an accelerated pace. Change is natural, but epochal change on such a compressed time frame? Something is different. And all sources point to carbon-fuelled climate change.

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  2. 2. thedr9wningman 12:07 pm 02/28/2011

    State… not stat… oof.

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  3. 3. tharriss 1:00 pm 02/28/2011

    Excellent points thedr9wingman! Thanks!

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  4. 4. fyngyrz 1:33 pm 02/28/2011

    I’ll tell you what really worries me.

    The slow pace of medical development, and the degree to which the government contributes to same: from denying experimental drugs to people who have no other hope (as in, about to die… WTF is the point of saying "this drug or treatment might not be perfectly safe" to such a person? Sometimes I think the government is uniformly composed of morons) to ridiculously long approval processes that in the end, neither prevent lawsuits nor assure that drugs / treatments are actually "safe", as if there were any such thing. Allowing the complete erosion of personal responsibility and personal choice as a factor in making care and treatment decisions… a horrible blunder on all our parts. In this area, the legal system is broken, the government is broken, society is broken, and development — both scientific and industrial — is crippled as a direct consequence.

    Yes, that worries me a lot. If they developed a cure for something that ailed me today – and I’m only 54 – I probably wouldn’t get to use it before I died from something else, including old age.

    Climate? No, not worried at all. We’re not going to get cooked, frozen, drowned, starved, or otherwise wiped out. The earth is a huge, well balanced feedback system with immense inertial resistance to change; when one thing is out of whack, something else dependably adjusts to compensate. Any changes will be hugely slow and we’ll be able to walk away from, or out onto, changing shorelines, just as we’ll adjust our crops from year to year (as we do now anyway in order to keep soil performance up.) In the case of moderation of radiation, the obvious candidate for such a live feedback system is the evap/precip cycle, which is already demonstrating for us that it will go far outside the bounds of what we expect as "normal" in order to maintain what climatic inertia defines as the status quo. But don’t let me get in the way of anyone’s grant. By all means, study the heck out of it. Maybe it’ll keep you out of medicine. It’s a start. :o )

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  5. 5. peteflynn 3:20 pm 02/28/2011

    I am worried about the increasing amount and voracity of litigious behavior in the western world. It is frightening researchers, doctors, teachers, almost everyone who interacts with other human beings. Instead of being free to explore and try new things, we are instead crippled by the fear of a law suit from a disgruntled third party.

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  6. 6. gittro 5:08 pm 02/28/2011

    What worries me when I peruse the comments dispersed throughout SA (on many topics) is how everyone has an EQUAL voice. I’m all for equality – but the ability to post opinions, no matter how absurd, is what I think is dangerous….all these comments get "equal billing" whether the poster is someone with absurd/extreme views or a professional scientist with years of experience in the topic being discussed.
    There needs to be a better way – some sort of peer review method – or something that "weights" a response by some generally accepted criteria of competence, logic, etc…
    Under the "free" internet this doesn’t seem viable. But I find this incredibly frustrating…as others have mentioned "say something enough times and it can become the truth" – that’s what scares me!
    I’m not American, but I have a lot of sympathy for the current struggles U.S. basic science education is having against the promoters of ID, climate change nay-sayers, etc….all I can say is that the U.S. as a whole will suffer globally if these groups get a foot-hold and drag public education down to some low level where basic science is questioned as to its accuracy, and even its value!
    One can only hope our species as a whole triumphs in terms of moving beyond these fundamental battles – but I only give humanity a 50/50 chance of being able to achieve this.
    If there is alien intelligence out there, they must be shaking their heads when they look at us – barely above the "pond scum" level of intelligence from their perspective I’m sure! And NO – we haven’t been visited by aliens – get real – we have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to offer them from an intellectual perspective!

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  7. 7. jrandall6 5:37 pm 02/28/2011

    It troubles me that there seems to be no widespread awareness of how important it is to reduce our numbers. The article in SA Feb about how to raise more fish seems to me insane: we have epidemic levels of obesity, we are causing a mass extinction mostly due to "habitat loss", and our conclusion is: produce more food. How can this be? Humans have shown that they, like all other living things on earth, will continue to reproduce as long as food is available. Ergo, we need to produce less food and stop sending antibiotics to 3rd world countries. Or we can wait for it to really collapse – last I heard we were ~25% over the carrying capacity of the earth so that is where we’re headed unless we reduce our numbers.

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  8. 8. gittro 5:49 pm 02/28/2011

    Hmmmm….are you really saying – lets let people in some 3rd world countries starve to death, and let them die from infections by stopping the flow of antibiotics????
    There must be a better way.
    Reducing births is probably a good idea, but difficult to implement globally.
    Of course 1st world countries need to pave the way in my view….or do these "reductions" only apply to 3rd world peoples…sounds a bit racist to me….as we eat at McDonalds, drive our SUV’s (aren’t North American cars getting BIGGER again in recent years – as we "toy" with the concept of electric vehicles), build housing on arable/farm land….but we tell OTHERS that things really have to change! A re-think is required.

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  9. 9. Quinn the Eskimo 1:49 am 03/2/2011

    Soylent Green. Saves space. Feeds people. Eases epidemic dangers.

    Oh, and Death Panels! To increase production.

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  10. 10. May Lagtok 9:30 am 03/4/2011

    thedr9wningman is a carbon man. looks like all he wants to say is one element in the periodic table– not counting the endless combinations- the point is how closed-minded can gullibles get?

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  11. 11. May Lagtok 9:34 am 03/4/2011

    great common sense, fyngyrz. tell the other guys not to lose the same.

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  12. 12. May Lagtok 9:34 am 03/4/2011

    great common sense, fyngyrz. tell the other guys not to lose the same.

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