Which Sides Are You On

Portrait of Benjamin Lay

William Williams, Sr. (1727 – 1791)

 

 

by Marcus Rediker

It was September 1738, and Benjamin Lay had walked 20 miles, subsisting on “acorns and peaches,” to reach the Quakers’ Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. Beneath his overcoat he wore a military uniform and a sword — both anathema to Quaker teachings.

He also carried a hollowed-out book with a secret compartment, into which he had tucked a tied-off animal bladder filled with bright red pokeberry juice.

When it was Lay’s turn to speak, he rose to address the Quakers, many of whom had grown rich and bought African slaves.

He was a dwarf, barely four feet tall, with a hunched back, but from his small body came a thunderous voice.

God, he intoned, respects all people equally, be they rich or poor, man or woman, white or black.

Throwing his overcoat aside, he spoke his prophecy: “Thus shall God shed the blood of those persons who enslave their fellow creatures.” He raised the book above his head and plunged the sword through it, and the “blood” gushed down his arm.

Lay did not resist when his fellow Quakers threw him out of the building. He knew he would be disowned by his beloved community for his performance, but he had made his point. As long as Quakers owned slaves, he would use his body and his words to disrupt their hypocritical routines.

Lay’s methods made people talk about him, his ideas, the nature of Quakerism and Christianity, and, most of all, slavery.

According to Benjamin Rush, a Philadelphia physician and signer of the Declaration of Independence, the name of this “celebrated Christian philosopher” became “familiar to every man, woman and to nearly every child, in Pennsylvania.”

Lay was the world’s first revolutionary abolitionist. Against the common sense of the day, when slavery seemed to most people as immutable as the stars in the heavens, Lay imagined a new world in which people would live simply, make their own food and clothes, and respect nature.

He lived in a cave in Abington, Pa.,   ate only fruits and vegetables — “the innocent fruits of the earth” —          and championed animal rights.

He refused to consume any commodity produced by slave labor and was known to walk abruptly out of a dinner in protest when he found out that his host owned slaves.

Today Benjamin Lay is largely forgotten, for essentially two reasons.

The first is that he did not fit the dominant, long-told story about the history of the abolitionist movement. Formerly a common sailor, he was not one of the so-called gentleman saints like William Wilberforce, an aristocratic leader of the abolition movement in Britain. He was wild and confrontational, militant and uncompromising.

A second reason is that he has long been considered deformed in both body and mind. As a little person and as a man thought eccentric at best and more commonly deranged or insane, he was ridiculed and dismissed, even among Quakers who were ostensibly committed to an ideal of spiritual equality. The condescension continued in subsequent accounts of his life.

Yet Lay predicted that for Quakers and for America, slave-keeping would be a long, destructive burden.  He wrote that it “will be as the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps, in the end.”

The poison and the venom have had long lives indeed, as we still live with the consequences of slavery: prejudice, poverty, structural inequality and premature death.

Disparaged and abandoned by his fellow Quakers, Lay eventually helped win the debate over slavery. He wanted to provoke, to unsettle, even to confound — to make people think and act.

He asked everyone he met, Which side are you on?

Slowly, over a quarter-century, his relentless agitation changed hearts and minds.

In 1758 a friend arrived at his cave to inform him that the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting had finally taken the first big step toward abolition, ruling that those who traded in slaves would henceforth be disciplined and perhaps driven from the community. Lay fell silent for a few reverential moments, then rose from his chair, praised God and announced, “I can now die in peace.”

He died a year later, an outsider to the Quaker community he loved, but a moral giant of a man.

By boycotting slave-produced commodities, Lay pioneered the politics of consumption and initiated a tactic that would become central to the ultimate success of abolitionism in the 19th century, and one that still motivates global movements against abuses like sweatshops today.

In his time Lay may have been the most radical person on the planet. He helps us to understand what was politically and morally possible in the first half of the 18th century — and what may be possible now.

It is more than we think.

 

 

Marcus Rediker, a professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh, is the author of the forthcoming “The Fearless Benjamin Lay: The Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist,” from which this essay was adapted.

 

 

 

https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/08/12/opinion/sunday/youll-never-be-as-radical-as-this-18th-century-quaker-dwarf.html?referer=

 

 

 

 

The Song of Sleep

Crane Fly and Ants
Joris Hoefnagel, illuminator (Flemish / Hungarian, 1542 – 1600)
Georg Bocskay, scribe (Hungarian, died 1575)

 


By Jason G Goldman

“Almost all other animals are clearly observed to partake in sleep, whether they are aquatic, aerial, or terrestrial,” wrote Aristotle in his work, On Sleep and Sleeplessness.
In The History of Animals, he wrote: “It would appear that not only do men dream, but horses also, and dogs, and oxen; aye, and sheep, and goats, and all viviparous quadrupeds; and dogs show their dreaming by barking in their sleep.”

Researchers can now humanely peer into the electrical and chemical activities of brain cells in animals while they sleep. In 2007, MIT scientists Kenway Louise and Matthew Wilson recorded the activity of neurons in a part of the rat brain called the hippocampus, a structure known to be involved in the formation and encoding of memories. They first recorded the activity of those brain cells while the rats ran in their mazes.
Then they looked at the activity of the very same neurons while they slept and discovered identical patterns of firing during running and during REM.
In other words, it was as if the rats were running the maze in their minds as they slept. The results were so clear that the researchers could infer the rats’ precise location within their mental dream mazes and map them to actual spots within the actual maze.

University of Chicago biologists Amish Dave and Daniel Margoliash looked into the brains of zebra finches and discovered something similar.
These birds are not born with the melodies of their songs hardwired into the brains; instead, they have to learn to sing their songs. When they’re awake, the neurons in part of the finches’ forebrain called the robutus archistriatalis fire following their singing of particular notes. Researchers can determine which note was sung based on the firing patterns of those neurons. By piecing together the electrical patterns in those neurons over time, Dave and Margoliash can reconstruct the entire song from start to finish.

Later, when the birds were asleep, Dave and Margoliash looked again at the electrical activity in that part of their brains. The firing of those neurons wasn’t entirely random. Instead, the neurons fired in order, as if the bird was audibly singing the song, note for note. It might be said that the zebra finches were practising their songs in their sleep.


http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140425-what-do-animals-dream-about

 

Ants are good sleep research subjects, as they live underground. Most ants get exposed to sunlight only very irregularly, so a sleeping rythm based on a photo period like ours would not be very useful. Because of their social and subterranean lifestyle, one might expect that sleep periods of ants are more dependent on the tasks at hand than on light/dark periods.

This is indeed what Deby Cassill and collaborators found. Queens of the fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) have an average of 92 sleep periods per day, lasting for about 6 minutes each (for a total of 9.4h of sleep per day). Workers are very different from this, as they had 253 sleep episodes on average per day, each lasting about 1 minute, for a total of 4.8h sleep per day, meaning they sleep more often, but less long. At any time of the day, about 80% of the work force was actually working instead of sleeping, which is an efficient pattern.

REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep is the phase where we ‘blink’ our eyes often, and it’s the phase where our dreams are the most vivid; the dreams we actually remember occur during this sleep phase.
Ant queens show a similar behaviour when they’re fast asleep. Instead of their eyes, they twitch their antennae, resulting in so called ‘Rapid Antennal Movement’ (RAM) sleep.

 

Cassill DL, Brown S, Swick D, Yanev G (2009) Polyphasic wake/sleep episodes in the fire ant Solenopsis invicta. Journal of Insect Behaviour 22:313-323
https://antyscience.wordpress.com/2013/09/24/what-do-ants-dream-of/

 

Tempera Wind

Andrew Newell Wyeth (1917 – 2009)
detail

 

Published in: on July 23, 2017 at 1:24 am  Comments (2)  
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The Colours of The Winds

detail, Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775 – 1851)

 

from the 
SALTAIR NA RANN
attrib. Oengus the Culdee, ninth century

 

King who ordained the eight winds
advancing without uncertainty, full of beauty,
the four prime winds He holds back,
the four fierce under-winds.

There are four other under-winds,
as learned authors say,
this should be the number, without any error,
of the winds, twelve winds.

King who fashioned the colours of the winds,
who fixed them in safe courses,
after their manner, in well-ordered disposition,
with the varieties of each manifold hue.

The white, the clear purple,
the blue, the very strong green,
the yellow, the red, sure the knowledge,
in their gentle meetings wrath did not seize them.

The black, the grey, the speckled,
the dark and the deep brown
the dun, darksome hues,
they are not light, easily controlled.

King who ordained them over every void,
the eight wild under-winds ;
who laid down without defect
the bounds of the four prime winds.

From the East, the smiling purple,
from the South, the pure white, wondrous,
from the North, the black blustering moaning wind,
from the West, the babbling dun breeze.

The red, and the yellow along with it,
both white and purple ;
the green, the blue, it is brave,
both dun and the pure white.

The grey, the dark brown, hateful their harshness,
both dun and deep black ;
the dark, the speckled easterly wind
both black and purple.

Rightly ordered their form,
their disposition was ordained ;
with wise adjustments, openly,
according to their position and their fixed places.

The twelve winds,
Easterly and Westerly, Northerly and Southerly,
the King who adjusted them, He holds them back,
He fettered them with seven curbs.

King who bestowed them according to their posts,
around the world with many adjustments,
each two winds of them about a separate curb,
and one curb for the whole of them.

King who arranged them in habitual harmony,
according to their ways, without over-passing their limits ;
at one time, peaceful was the space,
at another time, tempestuous.

 

Translations from Irish Gaelic Poetry into English Prose and Verse 
SELECTED AND EDITED BY ELEANOR HULL, 1912
To Miss Eleanor Knott I am indebted for valuable help in the translation

 

 

[with thanks to  for twitter discussion of wind-color]

Yes. I Remember

Jacopo Ligozzi (1547, Verona–1627, Florence)

 

                 Adlestrop

Yes. I remember Adlestrop—
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop—only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.


Edward Thomas (March 1878 – April 1917)

 

The Witch of Białowieża Forest

Hans Hoffmann (c.1530, Nuremberg – 1591/92, Prague)

 

By Janusz R. Kowalczyk

Simona Kossak: they called her a witch, because she chatted with animals and owned a crow who stole gold.

She spent more than 30 years in a wooden hut in the Białowieża Forest, without electricity or access to running water.
A lynx slept in her bed, and a tamed boar lived under the same roof.
She was a scientist, an ecologist and the author of award-winning films and radio broadcasts.
She was also an activist who fought for the protection of Europe’s oldest forest.

Simona believed that one ought to live simply, and close to nature. Among animals she found what she could never find with humans.

“Simona first saw Dziedzinka in moonlight,” a relative remembers. “We decided we would go there at night time. The four of us went down the road with torches: my husband, a hired carter, myself, and Simona.
Suddenly, an aurochs stepped out onto the Browska Road. The horse jibbed, we got scared, but we got there.
Simona was enchanted with Dziedzinka straight away.” Years later, she described the expedition and the encounter with the king of the forest:

“It was the first aurochs that I ever saw in my life, I am not counting the ones in the zoo.  And this greeting right at the entry into the forest – this monumental aurochs, the whiteness, the snow, the full moon, white everywhere, pretty, and the little hut hidden in the little clearing all covered with snow, an abandoned house that no one had lived in for two years. In the middle room, there were no floors, it was generally a ruin. And I looked at this house, all silvered by the moon as it was, romantic, and I said ‘it’s finished, it’s here or nowhere else!’”

Before Simona went to live in Dziedzinka, the house had to be renovated. The employees of the Białowieża National Park repaired the roof, changed the joists, got rid of the fungus, and said that that ought to suffice for five years (and indeed it did).
After the renovations, Simona did her part. She papered the walls, washed the windows, added a bench, and upholstered the armchairs that were brought from her family home.
She brought clocks, as well as a Turkish dagger, lace tablecloth and window curtains, books, oil lamps, an antique iron, a collection of weapons, ebony jewellery chests, as well as glassware, porcelain, cupboards and an oak bed.
She hung a shotgun from the Kossaks’ collection right by the door.  A large tile stove in the old style stood in the corner of the room, and a large table in the middle – her workshop and study, where she worked by an oil lamp.

Simona rode a motorbike, sometimes a tractor, and she also swept through the landscape on cross-country skis.
A hunter recalled, “Once I saw this phenomenon advancing on a komar – wind in the hair, a pilot-cap, rabbit pants, and eye goggles. It passed me by and I had to turn around, because I didn’t know what it was”.

Professor Kajetan Perzowski, a colleague of Simona’s from her university years in Kraków says, “We were once going across the Białowieża Forest with a friend in a small truck. We suddenly see someone pushing through the snowdrifts carrying a motorbike on the back. It was Simona. We packed her together with this motorbike onto our truck. She made us a big pot of stew at Dziedzinka.”

The forester of Białowieża National Park, Lech Wilczek, was her housemate, and one day brought home a newborn wild boar piglet. The humans grew close to each other, and the female boar, eventually immense, lived with them for 17 years.
“She stood vigilantly at the door like a dog, she went out on walks, and more and more often she cuddled up to her people and demanded to be caressed.”

The crow. He stole cigarette cases, hair brushes, scissors, and the lumberjacks’ sausages. He tore up bicycle seats and made holes in grocery bags.
Said a forest worker, “He would even steal the workers’ pay. But once I was walking around the reserve without a permit, and the guard saw me and started to fill in a penalty slip. While he was handing it to me, the crow appeared. He took the paper in his beak, flew to the roof of Dziedzinka, and tore it up with his leg. The guard didn’t know what to do, and finally just shrugged his shoulders at the whole thing.”
“He loved to attack people who rode bicycles, especially girls. It was very impressive, he would attack the rider’s head with his beak, the person would fall off, and he then would on the seat triumphantly, looking the at the spinning wheel.”
People thought that Korasek – because that’s what he was called – was some kind of a punishment for their sins.

Simona’s friend: “Once he stole my car keys. And Lech said “Don’t worry, he’ll bring them back.” He  told the bird that if he returned the keys he would get an egg, and if he didin’t he would be punished. And the crow perhaps understood this, because after a moment, he flew up to me, furious, with the keys in his beak and threw them onto a table!”

With time, more animals appeared: a doe who approached the window and ate sugar, a black stork for whom Simona created a nest in a drawer, a dachshund and a female lynx who slept in Simona’s bed, and peacocks. She loved, healed, and observed them all, while Wilczek photographed them. Here, as a mother she raised moose twins, Pepsi and Cola, washed the neck of the black stork, kept the female rat Kanalia in her sleeve (as the animal panicked in open spaces). She would let the befriended doe give birth on the patio, took in lambs with their mother, and sheltered the rats Alfa and Omega. She checked on weather by observing bats in the basement.
The menagerie grew with each year.

Simona raised several deer by bottle-feeding orphaned fawns, and followed them around the woods for many years.
“One day, my pack of deer showed signs of fright, and did not want to go out onto the forest field to graze. And I started to approach the young forest, because this was the direction in which the deer startled, their ears raised, and the hair standing up on their rumps: apparently something very threatening was in the woods.
I crossed about half of this open space, but I stopped, because I heard a choir of terrified barking behind me. When I turned around, what I saw was five of my deer standing stiffly on tense legs, looking at me, and calling with this bark: don’t go there, don’t go there, there’s death over there!
I must admit, I was dumbstruck, and then finally I did go. And what did I find? It turned out that there were fresh traces of a lynx that had crossed the young forest. I went in deeper, and I found lynx droppings, still warm.
What did that mean? It meant that a carnivore had approached the farm, the deer noticed, were frightened and ran, and then what did they see?
They saw their mother going toward death, completely unaware, and knew she had to be warned. And for me, I will honestly admit, this day was a breakthrough. I crossed the border that divides the human world from that of the animals. If there was an impermeable barrier, they would not have taken action–they would probably not have noticed what I was preparing to do. That they noticed, anticipated what might happen to me, and responded, meant one thing and one thing only: you are a member of our pack, we don’t want you to get hurt.
I admit that I relived this event in my mind for many days, and in fact today, when I think about it, my heart warms.”

In the winter of 1993, Simona commenced her war to save the lynxes and wolves of Białowieża.
A group of scientists planned to collar the animals for data-collection, but Simona came across traps in the form of metal jaws, so she took them with her and refused to give them back.
There was a hearing during which she pointed out that there were 12  lowland lynxes left, in danger of being poached—and now in danger of being mortally wounded by the traps.
“It is a disgrace for the world of science to have contributed to this.”

[Now the entire Białowieża Forest, which includes some of Europe’s last primeval woodland, is under threat.

Białowieża was designated a Unesco World Heritage site in 1979, but Poland’s environment minister, who has allowed large-scale logging for years, has called for the woodland to be stripped of Unesco’s natural heritage status.

The forest is–for now–home to 20,000 animal species, including 250 types of bird and hundreds of European bison, plus firs towering 50 metres (160ft) high and old oaks and ashes.]

http://culture.pl/en/article/the-extraordinary-life-of-simona-kossak
[wonderful photographs of  Simona Kossak and her menagerie at Dziedzinka in the Białowieża Forest,]

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/25/poland-starts-logging-primeval-bialowieza-forest-despite-protests

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/22/primeval-forest-bialowieza-must-lose-unesco-protection-says-poland

http://www.poranny.pl/magazyn/art/5423022,simona-kossak-puszcza-bialowieska-i-lech-wilczek-dziedzinka-stala-sie-ich-domem,id,t.html

 

 

Stones of Ochre

Visita Allo Studio, Odoardo Borrani
(1833 – 1905)

 

by Sarah Cascone

Porc-Epic is a cave that, for 4,500 years, was used to produce ochre, a brownish-yellow pigment often used in prehistoric artwork.

The Porc-Epic cave was discovered by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Henry de Monfreid in 1929 and is thought to date to about 43,000 to 42,000 years ago, during the Middle Stone Age.
At the site, archaeologists found a stash of 4213 pieces, or nearly 90 pounds, of ochre, the largest such collection ever discovered at a prehistoric site in East Africa.

Ancient visitors to the site processed the iron-rich ochre stones there by flaking and grinding the raw materials “to produce a fine-grained and bright red powder.” The ochre stones can be used to produce powders of varying coarsenesses, in shades of yellow, orange, red, brown, and gray.

Ochre powder could be used medicinally or for other purposes, but this production is “most consistent with symbolic activities, such as body painting, the production of patterns on different media, or for signalling.”A pebble half coated in ochre, for instance, could have been used as a stamp to apply the pigment to soft surfaces. The researchers also compared pieces with long pointy ends to ochre “crayons.”

Apparently the local community relied on Porc-Epic for its ochre needs for millennia, the cave essentially serving as a studio for artists.

 

On May 24, 2017 researchers Daniela Eugenia Rosso of the University of Barcelona and Francesco d’Errico and Alain Queffelec of the University of Bordeaux in France published a paper, “Patterns of change and continuity in ochre use during the late Middle Stone Age of the Horn of Africa: The Porc-Epic Cave record,” in the PLOS ONE journal.
A similar find was discovered in a 100,000-year-old cave in South Africa in 2011.

https://news.artnet.com/art-world/worlds-oldest-art-studio-discovered-ethiopia-979637?utm_content=from_&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=June%202%2C%202017%20artnet%20News%20Daily%20Newsletter%20ALL&utm_term=artnet%20News%20Daily%20Newsletter%20USE

Money On The Sun

Stereoscopic Photograph of Victorian Greenhouse

 

by Heather Rogers, for The New York Times

At the turn of the 20th century, when Thomas Edison–who made possible the near-universal use of electric light and power utilities, sound recording, and motion pictures, all of which established major new industries worldwide–was at the height of his career, the notion that buildings, which now account for more than a third of all energy consumed in the United States, would someday require large amounts of power was only just coming into focus.
Where that power would come from — central generating stations or in-home plants; fossil fuels or renewable resources — was still very much up for debate.

A 1901 article about Edison in The Atlanta Constitution described how his unorthodox ideas about batteries could bring wattage to the countryside: “With a windmill coupled to a small electric generator,” a rural inhabitant “could bottle up enough current to give him light at night.”
The earliest wind-powered house was fired up in Cleveland in 1888 by the inventor Charles Brush, but Edison aspired to take the technology to the masses.
He made drawings of a windmill to power a cluster of four to six homes, and in 1911 he pitched manufacturers on building a prototype.

Edison’s batteries also fueled some cars and trucks, and he joined forces with Henry Ford to develop an electric automobile that would be as affordable and practical as the Model T.
The Constitution article discussed plans to let people recharge their batteries at plug-in sites along trolley lines; the batteries could also be refreshed courtesy of the home windmill.

Edison also, like other scientists of his day, was beginning to understand even then that fossil fuels wouldn’t last forever.
In 1913, Scientific American published an issue on energy problems, observing: “The question of the possible exhaustion of the world’s oil supply deserves the gravest consideration. There is every indication that we are face to face with this possibility.”
Articles delved into technologies to capture the power of the sun, the wind, the tide and even the earth’s rotation.
Inventors like Edison were modernizers who couldn’t bear the inefficiency of letting an abundant energy source like wind go untapped.

In 1912 Edison unveiled an energy-self-sufficient home in West Orange, N.J.
Billed as an experimental “Twentieth Century Suburban Residence” and designed to showcase his batteries, it bulged with luxuries like air heating and cooling units, a clothes-washing machine, an electric cooking range and, of course, plenty of light bulbs.
Completely off the grid, the house received its juice from a generator that charged a bank of 27 cells in the basement. For this first attempt, Edison used a gas-run motor, but evidence suggests that he hoped to hook up to a wind turbine.
The system would allow the prospective homeowner to be, according to The New York Times, “utterly and for all time independent of the nearness or farness of the big electric companies.”

The conglomerates struggling to control the nascent energy sector regarded that as precisely the problem.
For them, a world of independence, in which householders created their own power using renewable resources, was a nightmare.
The companies’ profits depended on electricity from power plants run on cheap fossil fuels.
In the end, Edison’s proudly free-standing Suburban Residence was hooked up to the grid, and neither his in-home wind-generated electricity plant nor his battery-powered vehicles ever reached the mass market.

In 1931, not long before he died, the inventor told his friends Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone: “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”

Naturalis Historiae

Václav Hollar (1607 – 1677)
The Battle of White Mountain

 

WE are now about to speak of metals, of actual wealth, the standard of comparative value, objects for which we diligently search, within the earth, in numerous ways.
In one place, for instance, we undermine it for the purpose of obtaining riches, to supply the exigencies of life, searching for either gold or silver, electrum or copper.
In another place, to satisfy the requirements of luxury, our researches extend to gems and pigments, with which to adorn our fingers and the walls of our houses: while in a third place, we gratify our rash propensities by a search for iron, which, amid wars and carnage, is deemed more acceptable even than gold.
We trace out all the veins of the earth, and yet, living upon it, undermined as it is beneath our feet, are astonished that it should occasionally cleave asunder or tremble: as though, forsooth, these signs could be any other than expressions of the indignation felt by our sacred parent!
We penetrate into her entrails, and seek for treasures in the abodes even of the Manes, as though each spot we tread upon were not sufficiently bounteous and fertile for us!

IT now remains for us to speak of stones, or, in other words, the leading folly of the day; to say nothing at all of our taste for gems and amber, crystal and murrhine vases.
For everything of which we have previously treated, down to the present Book, may, by some possibility or other, have the appearance of having been created for the sake of man: but as to the mountains, Nature has made those for herself, as a kind of bulwark for keeping together the bowels of the earth; as also for the purpose of curbing the violence of the rivers, of breaking the waves of the sea, and so, by opposing to them the very hardest of her materials, putting a check upon those elements which are never at rest.
And yet we must hew down these mountains, forsooth, and carry them off; and this, for no other reason than to gratify our luxurious inclinations: heights which in former days it was reckoned a miracle even to have crossed!


Gaius Plinius Secundus (AD 23 – August 25, AD 79)

tr. John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S. (baptised 29 June 1773, died 6 August 1846)
Henry Thomas Riley (1816–1878)

 

Science vs. Manipulation

 

 

When Michael Faraday ran the Royal Institution, one of the oldest scientific organisations in the world, the 19th-century chemist took time to enter public discourse.
He ranted about dangerous pollution in the Thames.
He debunked the fad of table-turning, and blamed the educational system for allowing such nonsense to thrive.

Nearly 200 years later, scientists are still tackling bad thinking and big problems.
For Sarah Harper, an Oxford gerontologist who takes the helm proper at the Royal Institution on Tuesday, the rise of denialism, fake news and alternative facts, combined with rapid advances in research that raise deep questions for society, mean that a grasp of science, and all its uncertainties, has never seemed more vital.

“Science affects people’s lives on a daily basis now.
People increasingly need bodies that can provide trusted and open information, and when an issue isn’t black and white, to explain why there’s a debate and guide them through the evidence,” Harper said. “There is a real role for the RI to be a gold standard for scientific evidence.”

That means more than simply stating scientific results. Harper’s vision, in part at least, is for the RI to enhance its provision of information, and have more non-scientists join its debates on the fruits of scientific research. Crucially, she wants to lay bare the scientific process: the complexities of data analysis, and the often ambiguous, even opaque nature of scientific findings.

Harper is the first social scientist to become the RI’s director. She studied at Cambridge and Oxford, and worked as a BBC reporter and a producer on Newsnight before returning to academia. Since 2014 she has served on the prime minister’s Council for Science and Technology.
Her appointment to the RI from outside the ranks of the chemists and physicists who have often held the post reflects a desire from the institution’s trustees for a different approach. Harper wants the RI to be more inclusive, for science to work with the humanities and arts, the private sector and policy makers, so that the information it provides, and the debates it holds, are delivered in the most rounded context.

“Science is addressing huge global challenges that affect people’s lives.
You’ve got to consider the whole social, ethical, moral and political framing of debates,” she said.
“It’s important that the scientist is no longer someone who just sits in a lab. All young scientists should think about public engagement. How will their research affect the public? Questions that are important to the public should influence the questions they themselves are asking.”

 

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/may/01/royal-institutions-new-director-sarah-harper-we-must-show-gold-standard-for-science