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

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Why Flowers Have Lost Their Scent


Canarina canariensis
Sydenham Edwards (1799)

Pollution is dulling the scent of flowers and impeding some of the most basic processes of nature, disrupting insect life and imperilling food supplies, a new study suggests.
A vicious cycle is set up where insects struggle to get enough food and the plants do not get pollinated enough to proliferate.

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/why-flowers-have-lost-their-scent-812168.html

Trees are a living miracle.

waldmueller treeFerdinand Georg Waldmüller (1793 – 1865)
O
ld Grove

 

Diana Beresford-Kroeger is a native of Ireland who has bachelor’s degrees in medical biochemistry and botany.
She favors what she terms a bioplan, reforesting cities and rural areas with trees according to the medicinal, environmental, nutritional, pesticidal and herbicidal properties she claims for them, which she calls ecofunctions.

Ms. Beresford-Kroeger is also concerned about the fate of the Northern forests because of overharvest and the destruction of ecosystems.
Federal scientists estimate more than 93 percent of old growth has been cut.
As forests are fragmented, they dry out, losing wildlife and insect species. As a result, subtle relationships, the nerve system of biodiversity, are breaking down before they have been studied.

“In a walk through old growth forest, there are thousands if not millions of chemicals and their synergistic effects with one another,” she said. “What trees do chemically in the environment is something we’re only beginning to understand.”

Edward O. Wilson, a Harvard biologist, said that more research into the role of trees in the ecosystem was imperative and that it was alarming how little was known. “We need more research of this kind to use the things we have, such as trees, to their fullest,” he said.

Both Dr. Wilson and Ms. Beresford-Kroeger proposed using stock from old-growth forests for planting new forest in the hopes of taking advantage of good genetics. “There’s an enormous difference between old-growth forests and tree plantations,” Dr. Wilson said.

A recent study by researchers at Columbia found that children in neighborhoods that are tree-lined have asthma rates a quarter less than in neighborhoods without trees. The Center for Urban Forest Research estimates that each tree removes 1.5 pounds of pollutants from the air. Trees are also used to remove mercury and other pollutants from the ground, something called phytoremediation.

And, of course, trees store carbon dioxide, which mitigates global warming.

“Trees are a living miracle,” Ms. Beresford-Kroeger said. “Leaves can take in carbon dioxide and create oxygen. And all creatures must have oxygen.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/12/science/12prof.html