The threats to Greenland

We concentrate on the obvious places where dictators thrive and warfare kills thousands, but tend not to note the stress experienced by the people of Greenland, who are struggling to cope with global warming, which is totally altering their way of life.  More than 90% of Greenlanders accept that the climate is changing, while 76% are …

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Geography teachers do deal with population

From Tony Dale, Oxford, UK, in reply to a letter in New Scientist dated May 25 Contrary to what Graham Lawton seems to suggest, population isn’t a fringe or a taboo issue, at least not in schools in England. Geography deals with it in depth. It is discussed as “population change” rather than “population growth”. …

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The genius of Einstein

Walter Isaacson, biographer ofAlbert Einstein, writes the following (page 550): Perhaps the most important aspect of his personality was his willingness to be non- conformist. “The theme I recognise in Galileo’s work” , he said, “ is the passionate fight against any kind of dogma based on authority”. Plank, Poincare and Lorentz all came close …

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Climate change and the collapse of everything

Human-caused threats to climate, nature and economy pose a danger of systemic collapse comparable to the 2008 financial crisis, according to a new report that calls for urgent and radical reform to protect political and social systems. While many studies of environmental risk have examined threats in isolation – to the weather, to ecosystems, to …

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Epicurus and the universe

Epicurus believed that there were twelve principles of nature, provable through firm evidence and true reasoning, using our five senses, our faculty of perceiving “anticipations,” and our “feelings” of pleasure and pain. He believed in conclusions supported by clear and convincing evidence. No evidence, he said, is ever to be disregarded as worthless. Real evidence …

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Can a racist still be a great scientist?

James Watson was jointly responsible for one of the greatest triumphs of 20th century science: the unravelling of the DNA molecule. But today his reputation, he is now 90 years old, lies in tatters. He believes black people are less intelligent than white people, and he has repeated this a new TV documentary. The Cold …

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Practical Epicureanism: What you can do to combat global warming

The following is excerpted from the December 8-14, 2018 edition of the New Scientist, written by Graham Lawton, staff feature writer: Keeping global warming below 1.5°C will require behavioural changes – but that doesn’t mean you have to don a hair shirt. The cumulative effect of small, low-effort actions can be great, and the more …

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Artificial intelligence – in the right hands?

The Guardian Weekly of 4 January 2019 carried an article by Vivienne Ming about Artificial Intelligence. In theory, she says, poverty, mental health, climate change, inequality – almost everything – could be addressed by AI. The problem, she says, is not the concept of AI, but the people behind it. She points out that AI …

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Something really useful: How to save your battery’s life

In a healthy battery, ions flow freely between the anode and the cathode, and back again. Batteries degrade mainly because the surfaces of these electrodes become encrusted with oxidised electrolyte, and because other “parasitic” reactions follow on from that. Apple says that the lithium-ion batteries in its iPhones lose about 20% of their capacity after …

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Our oceans are dying!

The proportion of the world’s oceans defined as “dead” – containing such low levels of oxygen that very little marine life can survive – has increased alarmingly in the past 70 years, scientists have warned. The researchers, from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Centre, among other institutions, studied dead zones both in open waters and around …

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Are the super-rich uncaring?

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the richest part of Europe, recently held elections for the borough council. The elections were believed to be unpredictable because of a terrible tragedy that had occurred last year, where a public housing tower block called Grenfell Tower burnt down, killing 71 people. The tower burnt because it …

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Wildlife crisis again: Arctic ice melt is killing birds and leaving caribou stranded

The ongoing loss of sea-ice cover is wreaking havoc on ecosystems across the Arctic, and may spell the end of more species than previously thought. Arctic sea-ice cover shrank last year to the second lowest summer level ever recorded, following an unprecedented winter low, threatening species that rely directly on sea ice, like ivory gulls. …

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Where do good and evil come from?

Philosophers have long wrestled with the nature of good and evil. Are they an inseparable duality? Are some things inherently good or evil? These questions seem too abstract to be answered by science. But by asking questions such as “why are animals altruistic?” and “why do chimps sometimes violently kill one another?”, biologists have arrived …

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The end of liberal democracy and humanism? (Part 1)

According to Yuval Noah Harari, in his book “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow” there is new challenge to liberal democracy. It’s primary roots lie not in ideology but in bioscience and information technology. He sugesrs that in the 21st Century “the train of progress is pulling out of the station – and this …

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Can we trust these new technologies?

Last century, we trusted machines to do things for us; this century, we’re starting to trust them to decide things for us.  Humans have a notoriously patchy record when it comes to decision-making. But relying on technological systems to make decisions for us – especially when risks are involved and our safety is at stake …

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Epicurus and American Exceptionalism

Contrary to the insinuations of the American Right, most US liberals are not anti-patriotic, or even unpatriotic. The vast majority are proud Americans. Where most sensible people draw the line is between American patriotism- a simple affinity with the American state and its people- and American Exceptionalism, or the belief that America is uniquely important …

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Best of the Week #3

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/6/16/15810524/senate-ahca-explain-please. If anyone ought to be able to explain the American Healthcare Act, it should be senior Republican senators. Vox asked them what the bill is meant to do. Their responses are wildly varied and totally lacking in detail. An important and frightening story! http://www.conservativehome.com/highlights/2017/06/outsiders-are-not-always-good-and-governments-are-not-always-bad.html. A book review of the rise of the outsiders, and …

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