How can realism in science be defined? Philosophers, historians, and the general public, have always related it to a philosophical doctrine or a technological effect. However, there is a type of realism — very widespread in science — that has gone unnoticed among scholars: the realist attitude of social and cultural origins. Behind this attitude lie commercial and engineering interests.
Charles Darwin’s five year voyage aboard H. M. S. Beagle and subsequent life work are as widely known as any events in the history of the biological sciences. His wide ranging bird work has been overshadowed by drab small birds he discovered in the Galapagos Islands–the Galapagos, or Darwin’s, finches.
But this question of conscience goes beyond science. There is one clear axis along which we are all asked to act in life – in favour of ‘self’ or ‘society’. Do we always do what is best when it comes to deciding the balance? In all pursuits there is an innate tension between the interests of self and society. This tension has existed as long as we’ve had human society of any complexity.
In these days of Zika, Chikungunya, Dengue, and Ebola pandemics, and with the devastating smallpox, influenza, and polio epidemics of the 20th century still fresh in our collective memories, it seems counterintuitive to consider the possibility that viruses will ever be regarded other than with fear and loathing. However, if trials currently underway in Europe, Australia, and the US prove successful, then we may eventually reach a point where certain viruses are viewed with approval and even a degree of affection.
Dinosaurs, literally meaning ‘terrible lizards’, were first recognized by science, and named by Sir Richard Owen (who preferred the translation ‘fearfully great’), in the 1840’s. In the intervening 170 years our knowledge of dinosaurs, including whether they all really died out 65 million years ago, has changed dramatically. Take a crash course on the history of the dinosaurs with our infographic.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) burst into the public consciousness in 2012 after feverish press reports about elite US universities offering free courses, through the Internet, to hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) course on Circuits and Electronics that had attracted 155,000 registrations was a typical example. Pundits proclaimed a revolution in higher education and numerous universities, fearful of being left behind, joined a rush to offer MOOCs.
The 2016 World Malaria Report estimates that there were approximately 215 million cases of malaria and 438,000 deaths in 2015. The majority of deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa and among young children, and malaria remains endemic in around 100 countries with over three billion people at risk. Over the past 15 years there have been major gains in reducing the global burden of malaria
Earth Day is an annual celebration, championed by the Earth Day Network, which focuses on promoting environmental protection around the world. The Earth Day Network’s mission is to build a healthy, sustainable environment, address climate change, and protect the Earth for future generations. The theme for Earth Day 2016 is Trees for the Earth, raising awareness around protecting the Earth’s forests.
“We may, without knowing it, be writing a new definition of what science is for,” said Aldo Leopold to the Wildlife Society in 1940. A moderate but still crisp April breeze was playing in my hair as the sun worked to melt the last bits of frost in the silt. Shoots of prairie grasses were popping up through the mud, past shell skeletons of river mussels and clams.
How did it come to this? How was evolution transformed from a scientific principle of human-as-animal to a contentious policy battle concerning children’s education? From the mid-19th century to today, evolution has been in a huge tug-of-war as to what it meant and who, politically speaking, got to claim it.
The recent tragedy involving toxic, lead-laced tap water in Flint, Michigan highlights the growing gulf between rich and poor, and majority and minority communities. In an ill-fated measure to save costs for the struggling city of Flint, officials stopped using Detroit’s water supply system and switched to the Flint River.
Many say now is the century of biology, the study of life. Genomics is therefore “front-and-centre”, as DNA, is the software of life. From staring at stars, we are now staring at DNA. We can’t use our eyes, like we do in star gazing, but just as telescopes show us the far reaches of the Universe, DNA sequencing machines are reading out our genomes at an astonishing pace.
Proving to be both varied and fascinating, moons are far more common than planets in our Solar System. Our own Moon has had a profound influence on Earth, not only through tidal effects, but even on the behaviour of some marine animals. But how much do we really know about moons?
These are the images I carry in memory that form my understanding of passion and compassion in science: Rachel Carson waking at midnight to return to the sea the microscopic marine organisms she has been studying, when the tidal cycle is favorable to their survival; John Muir clinging to the upper branches of a tall pine during a violent storm, reveling in the power of natural forces.
When people think of evolution, many reflect on the concept as an operation filled with endless random possibilities–a process that arrives at advantageous traits by chance. But is the course of evolution actually random? In A World from Dust: How the Periodic Table Shaped Life, Ben McFarland argues that an understanding of chemistry can both explain and predict the course of evolution.
Most people living in large towns and cities probably give little thought to soil. Why should they? At a first glance, much of the ground in towns and cities is sealed with concrete, asphalt and bricks, and most city-dwellers have little reason to have contact with soil. To most, soil in cities is simply dirt. But soil is actually in abundance in cities: it lays beneath the many small gardens, flower beds, road and railway verges, parks, sports grounds, school playing fields, and allotments of the city, where it plays many under appreciated roles.