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15 November 2016

Hate trumps love; Ideology trumps science

It’s been a week since Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the race for the President of the United States. I’ve been processing the news, and I’m not happy about it. I’ve been on “radio silence” for a week, mourning, ruminating, fretting. From my perspective, this is one of the most disturbing developments in the history of my country since the Civil War, since the McCarthy hearings, and since the …

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24 September 2016

The Age of American Unreason, by Susan Jacoby

The Age of American Unreason, by Susan Jacoby

I probably should have read this book eight years ago when it was first published, but somehow I missed it then. I recently heard the author, Susan Jacoby, on the podcast Point of Inquiry, and was impressed at the cannon of works she had produced. The current U.S. election cycle has spurred me to think more than I usually do about what constitutes rational thought, and why it seems to …

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1 March 2016

How to Clone a Mammoth, by Beth Shapiro

How to Clone a Mammoth, by Beth Shapiro

I just finished an interesting book with a provocative title. How to Clone a Mammoth, by Beth Shapiro, is a readable, sober assessment of de-extinction, the idea of bringing back extinct species through a variety of techniques. She defines very clearly at the outset that the purpose of de-extinction is ecological – to restore critical / desired organism/organism or organism/abiotic environment interactions in ecosystems. It is, in other words, a …

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6 February 2016

The Story of Western Science, by Susan Wise Bauer

The Story of Western Science, by Susan Wise Bauer

I have a great book to recommend today – a book that takes a “Great Books” approach to tracking the advance of western science through history. The book is called, straightforwardly, The Story of Western Science. Its author is Susan Wise Bauer, who writes with a confident erudition and a clear, solid style. She surveys key works in the literature that illustrate the development of scientific thought – all of …

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23 November 2015

Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson

Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson

At first, I thought the titular Seveneves referred to fragments of the Moon. It blows up on the first page of the novel – or disaggregates anyhow, into seven big chunks. But these start knocking into one another, breaking off smaller pieces, and these bang into each other, making more pieces. Soon, there are a lot of pieces. Spoilers galore follow, as I feel obligated to outline the scope of …

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9 November 2015

The final days of sub-400 ppm carbon dioxide

The final days of sub-400 ppm carbon dioxide

This is probably the last week our planet’s atmosphere will have less than 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide. When are we going to stop letting this heat-trapping waste gas pile up in our home?

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25 October 2014

GSA and the Biggs Award

GSA and the Biggs Award

The recently-concluded Geological Society of America meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, was one of my best meetings ever. I gave two talks and a digital poster, supervised three student digital posters and one student group regular poster, attended and contributed to meetings on a variety of subjects, met new colleagues, reunited with old friends, and even attended some stimulating science talks. Plans were hatched, ideas refined, projects discussed. Tuesday was …

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2 June 2014

The Moral Landscape, by Sam Harris

The Moral Landscape, by Sam Harris

Sam Harris wrote a couple of excellent missives on the downsides of modern religious thinking and religious institutions in The End of Faith and the sequel which rebutted some of the U.S. criticism from it, called Letter to a Christian Nation. He published a new major work in 2010, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. In this philosophical and scientific argument, Harris argues that the traditional dichotomy …

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18 March 2014

On ignorance, bias, data, and the tentative nature of (scientific) interpretations

A young-Earth creationist reinterprets one of Callan’s blog posts in light of a Biblical flood. Callan responds with a demonstration of how new information can change a true scientist’s mind, but no amount of data can convince someone whose conclusions are based on faith rather than empirical data.

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27 November 2013

The Meaning of it All, by Richard Feynman

The Meaning of it All, by Richard Feynman

Another week, another audio book. In this case, it didn’t even take a day – the two and a half hours of philosophizing lectures from celebrated physicist and oddball Richard Feynman make excellent listening. One of the reasons it works so well, I think, is that the material was originally delivered as a series of three lectures by Feynman. These were then transcribed into book form, and then read aloud …

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