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

Kindness to Creatures

G Walter HarrisGeorge Walter Harris (1835–1912)

Several years ago, culinary ethnographer Eve Jochnowitz came across a Yiddish vegetarian cookbook from 1938. The book was written by Fania Lewando, a restaurant owner in what was then Poland (it’s now in Lithuania).

“She says it has long been established by the leading medical authorities that the vegetarian diet is the most healthful for the human organism,” Jochnowitz translates. “And then, in the second sentence, she says … our Jewish tradition upholds the principle of tza’ar baalei chaim — kindness to God’s creatures.”
There’s also an exploration of all sorts of dishes and ingredients, like Jerusalem artichokes and chanterelle mushrooms, or red wine soup and radish jam.
Jochnowitz argues about Lewando’s recipes: They’re more than just a historical document of that era. First of all, they’re delicious. But more than that, they capture a Jewish practice that continues to this day — of looking to the spirit of the times, or your own internal compass, and making that a part of tradition. And that can happen in a vegetarian restaurant in Poland in the 1930s or in an American kitchen this Passover.

Jochnowitz says the underlying striving for an ethical, healthy future was very much part of the zeitgeist in the years just before World War II.
“I think there’s very much a feeling that one is really just on the brink, the threshold of a great new world,”
Lewando didn’t survive the war, and neither did those hopes for the future.

A Home Before the End of the World

ligozziA Marmot with a Branch of Plums, Jacopo Ligozzi  (1547–1627)

from an essay by Adelheid Fischer

‘Does it matter that so many of the stories we tell take place in some ecological make-believe, where plants and animals are treated as little more than the living wallpaper of a stage set for human actions or as interchangeable ciphers for conveying life lessons?

Theresa Smith, an ethnographer of the northern tribe of Ojibwe Indians, writes that native people “observed the natural world with great care and precision because an accurate understanding of one’s environment was essential to one’s very survival. These people were neither vague nor romantic in their descriptions of the world, and their complex understanding of natural phenomena is reflected in their language.”

In an essay on naming, Paul Gruchow writes that we are “at precisely that moment in our history when we fear that our very lives may depend upon how well we understand nature and our own responsibilities and limits within it.”

Names are the alphabetic fragments with which we build a language of knowing. And knowing opens up the possibility of caring, the root of which is the Old English cearu, which means to guard or watch, “to trouble oneself.” In the face of the planetary holocaust, troubling ourselves is nothing short of an ethical charge  … It means swearing a pledge of allegiance to the particulars of the world …’   ….

http://places.designobserver.com/feature/a-home-before-the-end-of-the-world/26568/

https://secretgardening.wordpress.com/2015/08/06/to-ungive/

“Just as language has no longer anything in common with the thing it names, so the movements of most of the people who live in cities have lost their connexion with the earth; they hang, as it were, in the air, hover in all directions, and find no place where they can settle.”
Rainer Maria Rilke

FULGET SEMPER VIRTUS

Virtue Shines Forever

Jusepe de Ribera (called Lo Spagnoletto) FULGET SEMPER VIRTUSJusepe de Ribera (Lo Spagnoletto) 1591-1652

 

Explaining an Affinity for Bats

That they are only glimpsed in silhouette,
And seem something else at first—a swallow—
And move like new tunes, difficult to follow,
Staggering towards an obstacle they yet
Avoid in a last-minute pirouette,
Somehow telling solid things from hollow,
Sounding out how high a space, or shallow,
Revising into deepening violet.

That they sing—not the way the songbird sings
(Whose song is rote, to ornament, finesse)—
But travel by a sort of song that rings
True not in utterance, but harkenings,
Who find their way by calling into darkness
To hear their voice bounce off the shape of things.

A. E. Stallings