Can science go too far?

Today while I was reading the newspaper I across this story about the scientists who have created a deadly form of avian flu in the lab. In the article it describes how a debate has been sparked about whether or not the scientists who developed this potentially lethal variant should keep their information secret or whether it should be published in order to aid in finding a potential solution to this disease. The article succinctly describes this question as: ‘At what point does potentially life-saving data become reckless bait for would-be bioterrorists?

Ultimately this is a great debate in scientist one that emerges often in world that deals with national security and patents among other reasons that prevent the free flow of information.

Famously J. Robert Oppenheimer, known as the father of the atomic bomb for his role in the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb in WWII, came to feel that his actions in developing the super weapon, that the world was not ready for an arms race which, ironically, he helped initiate. He hoped a world body that would help ‘stifle the arms race.’ Yet despite the incredible destructive power of the Atom bomb many other developments that have furthered scientific development have been linked to the work initiated by Dr. Oppenheimer and his colleagues.

  • So what do you think, how should scientific developments that are potentially harmful to human beings be treated. Should they be shrouded in secrecy, or should the light of day shine on them?

Here’s what some scientists think about the concept of ‘Open Science’, do their arguments make a difference?

Another look at the way statistics are gathered

And now for some good news, well not entirely, but a lot of it!  In the world of development, hope and statistics!

Now take a look at this YouTube video, what thoughts do you get after watching it?

Now go to this website and pick a few different sets of data and find one that has an interesting correlation.  Something which you might never have thought of before. You will need to click the ‘visualize’ icon so that the data is shown in the same way as in the video. Grab the link for your graph from the ‘share’ tab at the top of the graph and answer the following questions.

  1. Did you discover some data that seemed incomplete?
  2. What did you discover why do you think it’s interesting?
  3. Why do you think seeing data in this fashion is better than just looking at statistics (because that is, in fact, what they are based on)?

An interesting look at … ‘Bad Science’

Ben Goldacre is one of the more thought provoking writers/bloggers that I’ve recently discovered.  To be sure it was because he was flogging his book, but having said that I have found what he has written in his posts for the Guardian newspaper in the UK and cross-posted on his blog to be interesting and eye-opening (and I’ve only read a few).

I challenge you to look into his blog and find a posting or two that interests you and then respond to it, either positively, negatively or however you feel after reading it using your blog.

This is his TEDTalk where he challenges all of us to critically appraise the information that often comes across our radar. He very importantly analyzes the different types of way that science information is presented to us. Challenge yourself to think of these problems when you are presented with information through popular media, social media, or in your classroom (especially from Social Studies teachers – they’re the dodgiest of all!)

While you certainly don’t have to watch another of his talks, there is one, and it has some more and very specific cases (some of which are the same) that where he challenges perceived wisdom.

Infallible – I think not!

One of the great discoveries of the last half century was that of DNA. It certainly opened up all sorts of avenues for investigating human (and other species) backgrounds and activities. One place where DNA has begun to play a very important role is in the field of criminal prosecution. It is fairly easy in any brief period to find news stories discussing how DNA was used to assist in prosecution as in this one where DNA is seen as the key to solving more crimes. Conversely you can also find stories like this one about how DNA might be used to assist in determining someone’s innocence. We often seem to accept DNA evidence without question.

But what if that shouldn’t be so. According to this article from the Economist it’s possible that in up to 25% of cases the way the evidence is collected, and importantly the way it’s presented to the humans who have to analyze it. This raises important questions about the way we interpret information. A couple of questions that I had after reading the article:

  • Do we trust the ‘science’ too much?
  • How important is the human element in determining science?


Is this art?

On Wednesday one of Edmonton’s popular newspapers asked the question: “Is this Art?” in Reference to particular construction that has appeared near the Whitemud and Fox Drive. Considering our discussion Wednesday afternoon about the nature of art (revolving around the Hallucinogenic Toreador – see the video below) I thought the question was worth asking with reference to out local art. So what do you think? Is this art? Is this something that governments should be finding? Is there something you’ve seen recently which has caused you to question ‘art’? I’m curious to see your opinions.