Another reading project
Coming March 5, a brand new W.W. Norton edition of JG Ballard’s High Rise. Which means it’s time to finally read Ballard’s entire 1970’s trilogy, Crash, Concrete Island, and High Rise.
The National Cancer Institute wants researchers to start asking non-obvious questions. I suppose that’s good, because the NIH’s very conservative funding process is one reason why so many researchers focus on the obvious questions. On the other hand, it’s not so clear that answering non-obvious questions lead to more insight than answering obvious questions. The question can be...
Robert Kagan: Against the myth of American Decline →
Arthur Machen's anti-Science Fiction
Lovercraft has been a huge influence on writers both within and without the genres of horror and sci-fi; Lovecraft was influenced by Arthur Machen, who in many ways is the Old World, Celtic Christian doppelganger of the New England, agnostic Lovecraft. While Lovecraft was concerned with the unseen horrors that could be discovered when science goes to far, Machen took a more opposing stance...
UC Berkeley Econ prof Brad DeLong on the basic idea of a market economy (PDF) and societal calculating machines.
Charles Baxter on Don DeLillo in the NYRB: DeLillo’s new book of nine stories, The Angel Esmeralda, has at its core a series of situations that lead to trance states experienced by the insulted, the injured, and the vulnerable, who in its grip sometimes begin to babble in a form of secular glossolalia…
My musing on post-apocalyptic Neanderthals: It’s doubtful that Neanderthals had any concept of extinction, of course, at least on a continent-wide or global scale. Yet you can imagine that there may have been some sense that something had gone terribly wrong, perhaps a recognition of an unyielding process that was squeezing them out, that the world was taking a new direction without them....
Over at the Finch and Pea: I see how I stack up against David Brin’s list of sci-fi that you have to read to acquire bragging rights about your genre knowledge.
A few links to possibly please sci-fi fans, on Arthur Machen, HG Wells, & more at the Finch and Pea.
Just picked up something at my local library that Lovecraft fans ought to be interested in: Arthur Machen The White People and Other Weird Stories. From the back cover: Actor, journalist , devotee of Celtic Christianity and the Holy Grail legend, Welshman Arthur Machen is considered one of the fathers of weird fiction, a master of mayhem whose work has drawn comparisons to H. P. Lovecraft and...
Biologists and the solar system
Me, ranting about innumeracy in biology over at the Finch and Pea.
Sam Jordison at The Guardian, is out with the latest installment in his great sci-fi series, Back to the Hugos, a year-by-year reading of Hugo award-winning novels. Go read about Frederick Pohl’s 1977 classic, Gateway. (And go read the whole series if you’re just now hearing about it.)
On building models
To construct a model - as Mr. Palomar was aware - you have to start with something; that is, you have to have principles, from which, by deduction, you develop your own line of thinking. These principles - also known as axioms or postulates - are not something you select; you have them already, because if you did not have them, you could not even begin thinking. So Mr. Palomar also had some, but,...
Sydney Brenner: We now have unprecedented means of collecting data at the deepest molecular level of living systems and we have relatively cheap and accessible computer power to store and analyse this information. There is, however, a general sense that understanding all this information has lagged far behind its accumulation, and that the sheer quantity of new published material that can be...
Junk DNA, the Onion test, and creationist misunderstandings over at Larry Moran’s Sandwalk.
ESP and genetics… ESP as in Electronic Scholarly Publishing, which has a great collection on the foundations of classical genetics. Check out the goods at The Finch and Pea.
Read about SOPA blackout day
Here at Ars Technica. And here on the main strike page. Then write to your senator.
Vonnegut and the secret of life
Three people in a bar, talking about science: “He said science was going to discover the basic secret of life some day,” the bartender put in. He scratched his head and frowned. “Didn’t I read in the paper the other day where they’d finally found out what it was?” “I missed that,” I murmured. “I saw that,” said Sandra. “About...
The information problem in gene regulation: finding needles in the haystack of the genome, over at The Finch and Pea.
I was the world in which I walked, and what I saw Or heard or felt came not but from myself; And there I found myself more truly and more strange. - Wallace Stevens, from “Tea at the Palaz of Hoon”
All exact science is dominated by the idea of approximation. - Bertrand Russell
Wallace Stevens was a lawyer, an insurance executive, a man of numbers, one who valued precision in his observations. This is what makes him a scientist’s poet. His “Of Modern Poetry” describes acts of imagination that resemble that act of imagination performed by scientists, the act of conceiving of a new question, a new way of thinking about something, and a line of attack...
My take on Michel Houellebecq’s somewhat post-apocalyptic novel is up at The Finch and Pea.
"Academia's Crooked Money Trail"
The troubles plaguing academic science — including fierce competition for funding, dismal career opportunities for young scientists, overdependence on soft money, excessive time spent applying for grants, and many more — do not arise, Stephan suggests, from a shortage of funds. In 2009, she notes, the United States spent nearly $55 billion on university- and medical school–based...
It is easy to suppose that few people realize on that occasion, which comes to all of us, when we look at the blue sky for the first time, that is to say: not merely see it, but look at it and experience it and for the first time have a sense that we live in the center of a physical poetry, a geography that would be intolerable except for the non-geography that exists there – few people realize...
Thoughts on reading The Double Helix
Over at The Finch and Pea.
New Year’s reading resolutions are floating around. Lately, my tendency is to avoid making lists of books to read, and instead to carry out reading projects. My current one is to read 1952: a good year for both mainstream literature and science fiction. Awhile back I started a post-apocalyptic sci-fi reading project (which I have yet to finish). One of the best ever post-apocalyptic novels...
Certainly, achieving the goals of the Human Genome Project required engineers, physicists, and computer scientists. It would be silly to argue against large interdisciplinary teams where a mammoth technical goal can be clearly defined. But when I think of new fields in science that have been opened, I don’t think of interdisciplinary teams combining existing skills to solve a defined...