Speciesism, as defined by Wikipedia, is the assigning of different values or rights to beings on the basis of their species membership. It’s a behaviour or ideology which, in all probability, is used only by the human animal, both versus other species of organisms as well as with (undesirable) members within its own species.
The frontier of biology these days is the genetics and ecology of bacteria, and the frontier of THAT is what’s being learned about viruses. “The science of virology is still in its early, wild days,” writes Carl Zimmer. “Scientists are discovering viruses faster than they can make sense of them.”
The Earth’s atmosphere is determined in large part by ocean bacteria; every day viruses kill half of them. Every year in the oceans, viruses transfer a trillion trillion genes between host organisms. They evolve faster than anything else, and they are a major engine of the evolution of the rest of life. Our own bodies are made up of 10 trillion human cells, 100 trillion bacteria, and 4 trillion very busy viruses. Some of them kill us. Many of them help us. Some of them are us. Viral time is ancient and blindingly fast.
Science journalist Carl Zimmer’s new book, A Planet of Viruses, is the best introduction to the subject. His previous books include Parasite Rex and Microcosm.
The first ten minutes below. Switch to fora.tv afterwards to see the rest.
Mike Hulme is a UK Professor of Climate Change who thinks we’ve mistaken the means for the end when it comes to climate change action. On a visit to Australia, he gives an impassioned lecture about why it’s such a hard sell in such a “partisan era”.
We should stop focusing, he says, on the goal of trying to “stop climate change”, or identifying which risks are natural or not. Instead, Hulme says we should focus on ensuring that the basic needs of the world’s growing population are adequately met. It’s a very plain argument, which is also hopeful about the future.
Amongst Hulme’s “good news” stories is India’s considerable solar power production. His lecture at TAFE NSW Sydney Institute was given in conjunction with the Hot Science Global Citizens symposium. He was introduced by Australian climate scientist David Karoly.
Professor Mike Hulme is a Professor of Climate Change in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia in the UK. Hulme was, for 12 years, a senior researcher in the Climatic Research Unit, part of the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia. In 2000, he founded the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, a distributed virtual network organisation headquartered at UEA, which he directed until July 2007. Hulme is the author of “Why We Disagree About Climate Change”, and co-author of The Hartwell Paper.
Stream the video below (75m 25s, ~50 mins of lecture, the rest Q&A):
All watched over by machines of loving grace is Adam Curtis’ latest three-part documentary series. The introduction to the series reads:
This series of films investigates how people have been colonised by the machines they have built.
Although they may not realise it, the way many people see everything in the world today is through the eyes of the computers. Not just politics and the economy — but also in the way bodies, minds, and even the whole of the natural world are perceived.
The underlying argument is that people have given up a dynamic political model of the world — the dream of changing things for the better — for a static machine ideology that says everyone is a component in a system, and that the aim is to manage these systems and keep them stable.
From the utopian visions of the worldwide web to the idea of an interconnected global economic system, to the dream of balanced ecosystems, all these ideas share an underlying machine vision of organisation and order.
The films tell an extraordinary range of stories: from novelist Ayn Rand and her tragic love affairs to the dreams and the frightening reality of the hippie communes; from the brutal politics of the Belgian Congo to the doomsday computer model behind the rise of modern environmentalism; from the lonely suicide in a London squat of the mathematical genius who invented the selfish gene theory to Alan Greenspan and his faith in a new kind of global economic system. And there’s also the computer model of the eating habits of the Pronghorn antelope.
The series argues that by embracing this new machine ideology something very precious has been given up: the idea of progress and political struggle to change the world for the better.
Some of the people included in this story: Ayn Rand, Barbara Branden, Larry Ellison, John McCaskey, Kevin O’Connor, Loren Carpenter, Kevin Kelly, Stewart Brand, Alvin Toffler, Keniche Ohmae, Peter Schwartz, Bill Clinton, Nathaniel Branden, Alan Greenspan, Joan Mitchell, Stephen Roach, Joseph Stiglitz, Robert Rubin, Carmen Hermosillo, Monica Lewinsky, Suharto, Mahatir Mohamad, Arthur Tansley, Sigmund Freud, Peder Anker, Jay Wright Forrester, Norbert Wiener, Fred Turner, Howard Odum, Eugene Odum, Peter J Taylor, Daniel Botkin, Buckminster Fuller, Randall Gibson, Molly Hollenbach, Richard Brautigan, Alexander King, Jan Smuts, Tord Björk, Steward Pickett, George Van Dyne, Al Gore, (W.D.) Bill Hamilton, Patrice Lumumba, Mobutu Sese Seko, Michael Ruse, George R. Price, Kathleen Price, Edward Teller, John von Neumann, James Schwartz, Diane Fossey, Richard Dawkins.
The episodes are titled: Love and Power, The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts, and The Monkey In The Machine and the Machine in the Monkey. The three parts, each lasting ~55 minutes, in a YouTube playlist:
Curtis in the The Guardian: How the ‘ecosystem’ myth has been used for sinister means When, in the 1920s, a botanist and a field marshal dreamed up rival theories of nature and society, no one could have guessed their ideas would influence the worldview of 70s hippies and 21st-century protest movements. But their faith in self-regulating systems has a sinister history
Also check out Curtis’ blog over at the BBC. The post of the trailer to this series has a bunch of interesting comments, including some that gather most of the music used. It includes the following tracks:
The hottest cultural controversy of 2005 was the Intelligent Design challenge to the theory of evolution, being played out in classrooms and courtrooms across America. The crux of the argument made by proponents of Intelligent Design is that the theory of evolution is in serious trouble. They claim that the evidence for evolution is weak, the gaps in the theory are huge, and that these flaws should be taught to students. In this brilliant synthesis of scientific data and theory, Occidental College geologist, paleontologist, and evolutionary theorist Dr. Donald Prothero will present the best evidence we have that evolution happened, why Darwins theory still matters, and what the real controversies are in evolutionary biology.
Dr. Donald Prothero teaches Physical and Historical Geology, Sedimentary Geology, and Paleontology. His specialties are mammalian paleontology and magnetic stratigraphy of the Cenozoic. His current research focuses on the dating of the climatic changes that occurred between 30 and 40 million years ago, using the technique of magnetic stratigraphy. He is the author of “Evolution of the Earth,” “Bringing Fossils to Life,” “After the Dinosaurs,” “Horns, Tusks, and Flippers: The Evolution of Hoofed Mammals,” and the textbook “Sedimentary Geology.”
The Gulf oil spill dwarfs comprehension, but we know this much: it’s bad. Carl Safina scrapes out the facts in this blood-boiling cross-examination, arguing that the consequences will stretch far beyond the Gulf — and many so-called solutions are making the situation worse.
Peter Tyack of Woods Hole talks about a hidden wonder of the sea: underwater sound. Onstage at Mission Blue, he explains the amazing ways whales use sound and song to communicate across hundreds of miles of ocean.
Outliving the Ice Age: Tale of a Rhinoceros (ScienceDaily) >
Species extinction is a fundamental part of evolution: the best adapted species survives, while others die out. A new study shows why, after 800,000 years of successful survival, a species of rhinoceros suddenly disappeared.
Sharper than Hubble: Large Binocular Telescope achieves major breakthrough (PhysOrg)
The next generation of adaptive optics has arrived at the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in Arizona, providing astronomers with a new level of image sharpness never before seen. Developed in a collaboration between Italy`s Arcetri Observatory of the Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (INAF) and the University of Arizona`s Steward Observatory, this technology represents a remarkable step forward for astronomy.
Insomniacs have different brains, researcher says (ScienceDaily)
The brains of older adults with chronic sleep problems look different from those of adults who have enjoyed enough sleep. Yet the older adults function well despite their lack of sleep. They switch to a continuous form of mild stress, as a result of which they sometimes even perform better than contemporaries who enjoy a good night’s sleep, according to a Dutch researcher.
Experience shapes the brain’s circuitry throughout adulthood (EurekAlert!)
The adult brain, long considered to be fixed in its wiring, is in fact remarkably dynamic. Neuroscientists once thought that the brain’s wiring was fixed early in life, during a critical period beyond which changes were impossible. Recent discoveries have challenged that view, and now, research by scientists at Rockefeller University suggests that circuits in the adult brain are continually modified by experience.
Massive black holes ‘switched on’ by galaxy collision (PhysOrg)
The centre of most galaxies harbours a massive black hole. Our Milky Way galaxy is one of these – the exotic object there however is reasonably calm, unlike some super-massive gravity monsters in other galaxies. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics and other institutions around the world have now analysed 199 of these galaxies and discovered what makes the black holes at the galaxy centres become active: The black holes were “switched on” some 700 million years ago after major galaxy merger events.