Science

Australia from Space: Before and After.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 27/01/2020 - 6:25pm in

'This crisis has been unfolding for years': 4 photos of Australia from space, before and after the bushfires

Use the slider tool in the images below to see before and after NASA satellite images of Australia’s fire and drought effects. NASA Molly Glassey, The Conversation; Sunanda Creagh, The Conversation, and Wes Mountain, The Conversation
Editor’s note: We pulled four before-and-after-images from NASA’s Worldview application, and asked bushfire researcher Grant Williamson to reflect on the story they tell. Here’s what he told us:

I’ve been studying fires for more than a decade. I use satellite data to try to understand the global and regional patterns in fire – what drives it and how it will shift in the future as our climate and land use patterns change.

When I look at these images I think: this is a crisis we have seen coming for years. It’s something I have been watching unfold.

Look at the sheer scale of it. Seeing this much fire in the landscape in such a broad area, seeing so much severe fire at once, this quantity and concentration of smoke – it is astonishing. I haven’t seen it like this before.

November 1, 2019 and January 3, 2020 @media only screen and (max-width: 450px) { iframe.juxtapose { height: 400px; width: 100%; } } @media only screen and (min-width: 451px) and (max-width: 1460px) { iframe.juxtapose { height: 590px; width: 100%; } } In this comparison, you can see November last year versus now. In the present picture (on the right hand side) you can see a vast quantity of intense fires currently burning right down the eastern seaboard and a huge amount of smoke. It’s been blowing out across toward New Zealand for weeks now.

The scale of the current fires is definitely unusual. In a typical year, you might see, for example, a large fire in the alps (near Mount Kosciuszko) or in the Blue Mountains – but they would be isolated events.

What’s striking here is that there is so much going on at once. I have never seen it like this before.

Black Saturday smoke, Feburary 8, 2009 and the 2019-2020 bushfires smoke, January 3, 2020
This one is comparing two smoke events: one from Black Saturday and one from the current fires. In both cases, huge quantities of smoke was released. Both times, the sort of forest burning is very dense, there is a lot of wet eucalypt forest here which naturally has a high fuel load and that’s creating all that smoke. This type of forest only burns during extreme weather conditions.

Simply due to the scale of it and the fact that it’s been going on so long, I would say the current event is worse than Black Saturday, in terms of the quantity of smoke.

East Australia, 10 years ago vs today
In this image, we can the impact of drought. A decade ago, on the left hand side, it was clearly quite green along eastern Australia. That green shows there is a lot of growing vegetation there: pasture crops, grasses and a very wet environment.

If you compare that to the current year, on the right hand side, you can see it’s now extremely brown and extremely dry. There’s not much in the way of vegetation. That’s a result of drought and high temperatures.

Kangaroo Island, 2 months ago vs today
In this image, you can see Kangaroo Island two months ago on the left hand side, versus today.

The main thing I note here is the drying. The “before” image is so much greener than the “after” image. So there’s a real lack of rainfall that’s driving fire severity in this area. You can really see how much the island has dried out.

This has been an extraordinary year for climate and weather, and that’s manifesting now in these unprecedented bushfires. It’s not over yet.

But what’s important is the lessons we draw from this crisis and doing as much as we can to reduce the risk in future.

Grant Williamson is a Tasmania-based researcher with the NSW Bushfire Risk Management Research Hub.The Conversation
Molly Glassey, Digital Editor, The Conversation; Sunanda Creagh, Head of Digital Storytelling, The Conversation, and Wes Mountain, Multimedia Editor, The Conversation
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Tories Promised Fat Profits to Fracking Companies While Others Starved

Donald Trump made his contempt for environmentalists and public concerns about climate change and global warming very clear this week at Davos. He called them ‘prophets of doom’ and frankly denied the existence of global warming. As I pointed out in a previous post, this is not only in line with what the Republican base believes, but also the propaganda of Trump’s corporate sponsors in the fossil fuel industries. Trump has passed legislation to gut the Environmental Protection Agency and prevent it from publishing anything supporting climate change or global warming. The fossil fuel industry, particularly the billionaire Koch brothers, have also set up a network of lobbying and astroturf fake grassroots pressure groups to try and discredit global warming and the other environmental damage by the oil, gas and coal industries. Those same billionaires also use these networks to close down mainstream academic environmental research, and replace them with laboratories funded by themselves, which publish their approved material denying the reality of global warming.

Mike put up a post this week reporting Trump’s anti-environmentalist stance, and saying that this would be a problem for Britain if Boris Johnson is successful and makes a Brexit deal with America.

But the Tories have already shown their contempt for Green politics. Although Dave Cameron promised that his would be the ‘Greenest government ever’ and put a windmill on the roof of his house, that lasted only as long as he could get his foot in Number 10. The moment he won the election, those promises were dropped and the windmill came off his roof. And that wasn’t all. Cameron, like Trump, strongly favoured the petrochemical industries. While his government cut the welfare budget to leave the poor desperate and starving, he cut the tax for the fracking industry so that they could make even bigger projects. Vickie Cooper and David Whyte discuss this in the introduction to their The Violence of Austerity. They write

Indeed, some sectors have been seen as a vehicle for economic recovery and therefore singled out for special treatment. This partly explains the lack of any meaningful regulatory change in the financial sector but also why some high revenue sectors, such as unconventional oil and gas – or ‘fracking’, are being singled out for special treatment… In July 2013 the government announced that the fracking industry would receive a major reduction in its tax burden. Shale gas producers were told that they would be asked to pay just 30 per cent tax on profits compared to 62 per cent normally paid by the oil and gas industry. In response, Andrew Pendleton of UK Friends of the Earth observed:

Promising tax hand-outs to polluting energy firms that threaten our communities and environment, when everyone else is being told to tighten their belts, is a disgrace. (p. 19).

Fracking is particularly contentious, as not only does it pollute the water table but it also causes minor earthquakes. There have been major protests against it throughout the country, particularly against its operations in Lancashire. The Tories just before the election promised a moratorium on it, but did not refuse to stop it completely.

The Tories’ welfare cuts have led to people starving to death, as Mike’s report this morning about the death of Errol Graham. Mr Graham had problems with anxiety, and could not cope with unexpected changes and social situations. He was afraid to go out and could not meet or interact with strangers. Despite this the DWP stopped his ESA, which meant that he lost his housing benefit. He slowly starved to death. When the bailiffs broke down his door to evict him, he weighed only 4 1/2 stone.

Why are we learning about disabled Errol Graham TWO YEARS after the DWP stopped his benefits and he starved to death?

Obscene! Absolutely obscene!

And he isn’t the only one. 130,000 people have died due to austerity. But while the government is content to let people starve to death, it’s prepared to give vast profits to friends in polluting industries. Reading this, I think there’s little doubt that Boris will resume fracking the moment he’s given the opportunity. And that if and when he makes his wretched deal with Trump, it will signal real danger for our precious ‘green and pleasant land’.

This shows the foul pair’s priorities: the world burns, the poor literally starve to death, but they’re fine so long as polluting industries can foul the planet for profit.

 

Trump’s Climate Denial Is a Danger to Post-Brexit Britain

Yesterday Mike put up a piece reporting and commenting on Trump’s denunciation of Green activists at the Davos summit. He called them ‘prophets of doom’, who were trying to dominate, control and transform the lives of everyone in the world, and announced that he would not change his country’s high carbon economy. He would, though, sign up for planting, restoring and conserving a trillion trees.

This didn’t impress Greta Thunberg, who was also there. Mike quotes her as saying

“Our house is still on fire. Your inaction is fuelling the flames by the hour, and we are telling you to act as if you loved your children above all else,” she said.

“You say: ‘We won’t let you down. Don’t be so pessimistic.’ And then, silence.”

And she asked: “What will you tell your children was the reason to fail and leave them facing… climate chaos that you knowingly brought upon them? That it seemed so bad for the economy that we decided to resign the idea of securing future living conditions without even trying?”

Beeb wildlife presenter Chris Packham also made a speech about the climate emergency at the BAFTA’s, warning that unless we act to solve the environmental crisis, future generations may look on Trump, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Vladimir Putin and Australia’s Scott Morrison in the same way as mass murderers like Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot, because of the millions killed through climate change.

Mike also makes the point that while the world’s leaders are doing nothing about climate change, Boris is moving closer to a trade deal with Trump, one that will also make him deny the danger. Mike states that our clown of a prime minister has missed opportunities to make a difference, and asks if he will sell us down the river again for the sake of a few American dollars.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/01/22/trumps-prophets-of-doom-speech-suggests-the-uk-should-not-enter-trade-deal-with-him/

The answer is yes, yes, he will. And it’s for the same reasons Trump and the rest of the Republican party are denying climate change: powerful corporate interests. The Republicans received very generous campaign funding from big industrialists like the Koch brothers and the other heads of the fossil fuel industry. These big businessmen also sponsor fake grassroots organisations and biased scientific think thanks in order to lobby against and discredit climate research and laws to protect the environment. The results have been disastrous. Since he took power, Trump has gutted the environmental protection agency and forbidden it from publishing anything supporting climate change or environmental decline in America. Koch money has seen universities close down proper climate and environmental research and their replacement with laboratories and organisations funded by the brothers and others in the fossil future industry. These present as fact the false information they want the public to hear: that climate change isn’t occurring, and the coal and oil industries ain’t wrecking the landscape. But these industries are. There are a whole sections of the Louisiana swamps that is heavily polluted by oil. The oil pipeline through indigenous people’s land in Idaho that made the news a few years ago was opposed because the indigenous people of the area feared that there would be spillages that would pollute the water they use for drinking and which nourishes their wildlife. They were right to do so. There have been a large number of similar spillages, which have not garnered so much media attention, which have similarly contaminated vast acreages of land. And then there’s the whole fracking industry, and the damage that has also caused the water table in areas where it has been allowed.

These are the industries funding Trump’s campaign. They’re part of the reason why there were right-wing jokers all over the internet yesterday sniggering at Trump’s put down of Thunberg. Trump and his supporters really do believe that environmentalists are some kind of crazy apocalyptic cult with totalitarian aims. There’s a section of the American right that really does believe Green activists are real, literal Nazis, because the Nazis were also environmentally concerned. And the corporate interests sponsoring Trump are the same industries that want to get a piece of our economy and industries.

The Tories have already shown that they are little concerned about the environment. They have strongly promoted fracking in this country, and the book The Violence of Austerity contains a chapter detailing the Tories’ attacks on the environment and Green protest groups. David Cameron’s boast that his would be the greenest government ever vanished the moment his put his foot across the threshold of Number 10.

If Boris makes a Brexit trade deal with Trump, it will mean that our precious ‘green and pleasant land’ is under threat from highly polluting, environmentally destructive industries. It will mean further reductions in funding for renewable energy in favour of oil, gas and coal, attempts in this country to discredit and silence respectable, mainstream climate research and scientists in favour of corporate-sponsored pseudoscience. And there will be further laws and state violence against environmental protesters.

Trump’s climate denial is a threat to the British environment, industry, the health of its people, democracy and science. But Boris depends on him for any kind of successful trade deal.

He will sell out and wreck this country and its people for those dollars offered by Trump and his corporate backers.

‘Experience The Future Now’: Desperate Tourism Australia Tries New Slogan

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 23/01/2020 - 8:22am in

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Since Tourism Australia had to pull its ad claiming this place is heaps better than the UK, seeing as “everything’s on fire” is something the UK has so far only managed metaphorically, our tourism chiefs have been scratching their heads on how to overcome the reluctance of foreigners to risk burning to death on their annual leave.

Inspiration hit, quite literally, when huge chunks of hail smashed through Tourism Australia’s Canberra office while its Board kicked around ideas to avert billions of dollars of losses.

CEO Bob Pleasecome said: “We were sitting in my office and just had nothing, next thing you know my expensive new shoes were water logged and it hit me: Australia is suffering fire, drought, extreme heat, dust storms, hail storms and flood all at the same time. We can offer a window into the world’s collective future, all within the same day!

“The future has always excited people. Remember when you were a kid and you’d dream of flying cars, holidays to the moon and the ability to breath? You couldn’t wait to see the future and now you don’t have to! Come to Australia and…”, the CEO pausing for dramatic effect, “…Experience the future now!”

Grinning with pleasure at their cleverness, the head of Tourism Australia added that plans were underway to turn half of Australia into a giant Mad Max theme park and the other half into one dedicated to the less popular film Waterworld. “We’ll put that part in South Australia,” he added. “No tourists want to go there anyway.”

Carlo Sands

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$2.6 Million Funding for Epistemology of the Large Hadron Collider

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 21/01/2020 - 4:39am in

An interdisciplinary research group has received funding totalling approximately US$2.6 million to pursue its study of  “the world’s largest research instrument”: the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva.


Inside the Large Hadron Collider

The Epistemology of the Large Hadron Collider “builds on the expectations today’s high energy physicists of a fundamental change in their theories and epistemic practices and links them to the complex conditions of large-scale research,” according to a press release. “It regards the complexity of these conditions as a challenge for the quest towards ever more encompassing and simpler descriptions of nature that has traditionally been associated with particle physics.”

This new round of funding for the project, which was established in 2016, comes from the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Austrian Science Fund (FWF).

Based in cities around Germany and Austria, the project is composed of several subprojects on various topics, including: the history and use of virtual particles in physics research; the development and status of the related problems of naturalness, hierarchy, and fine-tuning; the relation between standard model research at the LHC and gravitational phenomena, including dark matter and modifications to Newtonian gravity; the way computer simulations and machine learning are used in particle physics research, including the epistemic status of the data resulting from such simulations; the dynamics of model choice and development; sociological aspects of the production of novelty and how credibility is established for experimental results.

The project will use its funding to, among other things, support Ph.D. students and postdoctoral researchers. Information about those positions and the project as a whole can be found here.

The post $2.6 Million Funding for Epistemology of the Large Hadron Collider appeared first on Daily Nous.

Scholars Object to Publication of Paper Defending Race Science

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 21/01/2020 - 1:27am in

Scholars are objecting to the decision of the editors of the journal, Philosophical Psychology, to publish an article that calls for “free inquiry” into possible inherited genetic bases of group differences on IQ tests.


Detail of Redlining Map of San Francisco (1937)

The article, “Research on group differences in intelligence: A defense of free inquiry,” is by Nathan Cofnas, a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Oxford. Here’s its abstract:

In a very short time, it is likely that we will identify many of the genetic variants underlying individual differences in intelligence. We should be prepared for the possibility that these variants are not distributed identically among all geographic populations, and that this explains some of the phenotypic differences in measured intelligence among groups. However, some philosophers and scientists believe that we should refrain from conducting research that might demonstrate the (partly) genetic origin of group differences in IQ. Many scholars view academic interest in this topic as inherently morally suspect or even racist. The majority of philosophers and social scientists take it for granted that all population differences in intelligence are due to environmental factors. The present paper argues that the widespread practice of ignoring or rejecting research on intelligence differences can have unintended negative consequences. Social policies predicated on environmentalist theories of group differences may fail to achieve their aims. Large swaths of academic work in both the humanities and social sciences assume the truth of environmentalism and are vulnerable to being undermined. We have failed to work through the moral implications of group differences to prepare for the possibility that they will be shown to exist.

In acknowledgment of the provocative potential of the piece, the editors of Philosophical Psychology also published an editorial note defending its decision. It concludes:

Cofnas’ paper certainly adopts provocative positions on a host of issues related to race, genetics, and IQ. However, none of these positions are to be excluded from the current scientific and philosophical debates as long as they are backed up with logical argumentation and empirical evidence, and they deserve to be disputed rather than disparaged.


Water Bottles, Flint, Michigan

A petition has been launched objecting to the publication of the paper.

Started by Mark Alfano, a philosopher at Macquarie University, the petition disputes that Cofnas’s points were sufficiently “backed up with argumentation and empirical evidence,” and claims the paper was not competently reviewed. The main complaint noted in the the petition is that Cofnas’ paper “neglects the role played by environmental injustice, housing segregation, and related forms of discrimination in producing [IQ score] differences.”

If the editors and referees at Philosophical Psychology had competently reviewed the paper, they would have noticed this glaring error and insisted on revisions (or simply rejected the paper). Instead, it was accepted and published alongside an editors’ note defending the decision to publish that refers to the value of free speech and free inquiry. We also support free speech and free inquiry, but insist that free inquiry should be guided by norms of accuracy and expertise. Indeed, that is the point of academic peer-review. This paper does not respect those norms, and so should not have been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The petition calls for a boycott of the journal until the journal’s leadership responds. The journal is edited by Cees van Leeuwen (University of Leuven) and Mitchell Herschbach (California State University, Northridge). The petition states:

Potentially responses include apology, retraction, or resignation (or some combination of these three). Should they choose to resign, we demand that a new group of leaders openly and honestly articulate a plan to reform the peer-review practices of the journal. Until the leadership respond in an acceptable way, we call upon philosophers and other researchers to boycott the journal by refusing to submit papers to it or referee for it.

The petition is here.

UPDATE 1/22/2020: Comments on this post are now closed.

The post Scholars Object to Publication of Paper Defending Race Science appeared first on Daily Nous.

Collection of Science Fiction Stories Tackling Racism

Allen De Graeff, ed., Human And Other Beings (New York: Collier Books 1963).

Science Fiction, it has been observed, is more often about the times in which it was written than about the future. Quite often it’s been the ‘literature of warning’, in which the author has extrapolated what they feel to be an ominous trend in the present to show its possibilities for the future if left unchecked. Thus H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine presented a nightmarish far future in which capitalist elites and the working class had diverged into two separate species. The Eloi – descendants of the elite – were small, dreamy creatures, with no industry of their own. They were the food animals instead of the Morlocks, descendants of the working class, who had been forced into lives of underground toil by the late Victorian and Edwardian class system. Other SF stories have tackled the problems of overpopulation – John Brunner’s Stand On Zanzibar, the catastrophic over-reliance on mechanisation for, well, just about everything – E.M. Forster’s The Machine Stops, or the horrifying potential of genetic engineering and mass psychological conditioning, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and so on. I borrowed this colllection of SF stories from a friend. It’s interesting because it uses the theme of contact with alien and other non-human intelligences to criticise and denounce the very real, present issue of racism. The book’s blurb begins with the quotation ‘”Everything that diminishes human dignity is evil,”‘, and continues

With this timeless truth as his theme, Editor Allen DeGraeff has collected a group of superbly told science fiction tales that support it with horror or humor. Other planets, other centuries, living beings of shapes and colors other than “human” are the imaginative ingredients. Shock, surprise, and sympathy are the emotions they act upon.

  • Would you join the Anti-Martian League? Or, like Sam Rosen, would you fight it?
  • Would the gentle Adaptoman – four arms, two brains, three eyes-arouse your hostility if he worked in your office?
  • Could you live as a Professional in a world of Categoried Classes if there were also people known as Wipers, Greasers, and Figgers?
  • Would you marry an Android, a person physically just like you, but artificially “Made in the U.S.A.”?
  • Would you mock or make a friend of Narli, the charming fur-bearing exchange professor from Mars?
  • Could you serve with a soldier Surrogate, a human being reclaimed from the dead with biological techniques of the future?

In settings ranging from the Second Battle of Saturn to Earth 2003 and shining blue-green globe Shaksembender, these authors portray the ideas of human dignity.

The authors, whose work is collected in the volume include some of SF great masters – Ray Bradbury, William Tenn, Leigh Brackett, Frederick Pohl, both alone and with his frequent collaborator, C.M. Kornbluth, Robert Sheckley and Eric Frank Russell.

The stories were written at a time when the Civil Rights movement was gaining power, although still bitterly opposed by a viciously racist, conservative state apparatus and politicians. A number of other SF writers were also using the genre to denounce racism. Sometimes that was through metaphor, such as in Cordwainer Smith’s ‘The Ballad of Lost C’Mell’. This tale’s titular heroine is a young woman genetically engineered from cats. She is a member of an oppressed servile class of similarly genetically engineered animals. These creatures are denied all rights by their human masters, and humanely killed by euthanasia is they are unable to perform their functions. Through telepathic contact with another such creature, a dove of immense intelligence and wisdom, C’Mell is able to persuade a human board of inquiry to grant her people human rights. Other SF writers tackled racism directly, such as Harry Harrison in his 1963 story, ‘Mute Milton’. This was his angry reaction to a comment by a redneck southern sheriff’s response to the news that Martin Luther King was highly respected in Sweden and Scandinavia, and had been awarded the Nobel prize. The sheriff responded that King might be popular in Norway, but back in his town he would be ‘just one more n***er’. Harrison’s story is about a Black American college professor, who comes to a southern town on his way to another university to present his invention: a radio that runs on gravity. A stranger to the racial repression of the Deep South, he falls into conversation in a bar with a wanted civil rights activist while waiting for his bus out of town. The Black activist tells him what it’s really like to be Black in the South. The sheriff and his goons burst into the bar looking for the activist. He escapes out the back. The sheriff and his men shoot, but miss him and shoot the professor instead. When one of the goons tells the sheriff that they’ve killed an innocent man, he just shrugs it off as ‘another n***er’.

Racism has since gone on to be a major topic of much SF. It’s been explored, for example, in Star Trek, both recently and in the original 60’s series. It also inspired Brian Aldiss 1970s short story, ‘Working in the Spaceship Yards’, published in Punch. This was about a man with a Black friend having to come to terms with his own feelings about androids as they started working alongside them in the spaceship yards of the title, and going out with human women. It’s a satire on the racial politics of the day, when many White Brits were, as now, concerned about Black and Asian immigrants taking their jobs. And specifically anti-Black racism was tackled in an episode of Dr. Who written by award-winning Black children’s writer, Mallory Blackman. In this tale the Doctor and her friends travel back to the American Deep South to make sure Rosa Parks makes her epochal bus journey against the machinations of White racist from the future determined to stop Blacks ever gaining their freedom.

Not everyone is satisfied with the metaphorical treatment of racism pursued by some SF. I can remember arguing with a friend at college about Star Trek, and how the series explored racial tension and prejudice through Mr Spock. Despite being half-human, Spock was still an outsider, distrusted by many of his human crewmates. My friend believed instead that the series should have been more explicit and specifically explored anti-Black racism. More recently there has been the rise of Black SF writers, who use their work to address issues of race and the Black experience. An anthology of their work was published back in the 1990s as Dark Matters, a pun on the dark matter of astronomy, that is supposed to give the universe its missing mass.

Even if not explicit, the metaphorical approach allows writers to say what otherwise may not be said, as in the former Soviet Union. There, writers such as the Strugatsky brothers used the ‘Aesopian’ mode – SF as fable – to attack conditions in the Communist state, which would have been subject to censorship and severe punishment if said openly. Over in the capitalist world, the political situation was much freer, but there were still limits to what could be portrayed. Star Trek featured the first interracial kiss, between Kirk and Lt. Uhuru in the episode ‘Plato’s Stepchildren’, but the network faced deep opposition from broadcasters in the Deep South. An indirect treatment also allows people to think about or accept ideas, which they would have rejected through a more straightforward treatment of the subject. Some readers may have been more receptive to anti-racist ideas if presented in the form of aliens than through an explicit treatment of colour prejudice against Blacks and other races.

This anthology, then, promises to be very interesting reading both through the tales themselves, and what they have to say about the times in which they were written. Times in which Science Fiction was joining the other voices denouncing racism and demanding equality and freedom for all, human and non-human. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nonviolent Protest Groups Placed on Anti-Terrorism List

Last week it was revealed by the Groaniad that the environmentalist group, Extinction Rebellion, had been put on a list of extremist organisations, whose sympathisers should be treated by the Prevent programme. Extinction Rebellion are, in my view, a royal pain, whose disruptive antics are more likely to make them lose popular support but they certainly aren’t violent and do keep within the law. For example, in one of their protests in Bristol last autumn, they stopped the traffic for short periods and then let some cars through before stopping the traffic again. It was a nuisance, which is what the group intended, and no doubt infuriating to those inconvenienced by it. But they kept within the law. They therefore don’t deserve to be put on an anti-terrorism watch list with real violent extremist organisations like Islamist and White fascist terror groups such as the banned neo-Nazi group, National Action.

But Extinction Rebellion aren’t the only nonviolent protest group to be put on this wretched list. Zelo Street put up a piece yesterday revealing that the list also includes Greenpeace, the campaigners against sea pollution, Sea Shepherd, PETA, Stop the Badger Cull, Stop the War, the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, CND, various anti-Fascist and anti-racist groups, as well as an anti-police surveillance group, campaigners against airport expansion, and Communist and Socialist parties.

I can sort of understand why Greenpeace is on the list. They also organise protests and peaceful occupations, and I remember how, during the ‘Save the Whale’ campaign, their ship, the Rainbow Warrior, used to come between whalers and their prey. I also remember how, in the 1980s, the French secret service bombed it when it was in port in New Zealand, because the evil peaceful hippies had dared to protest against their nuclear tests in the Pacific. From this, and their inclusion on this wretched list, it seems they’re more likely to be victims of state violence than the perpetrators of violence themselves.

Greenpeace’s John Sauven said

“Tarring environmental campaigners and terrorist organisations with the same brush is not going to help fight terrorism … It will only harm the reputation of hard-working police officers … How can we possibly teach children about the devastation caused by the climate emergency while at the same implying that those trying to stop it are extremists?”

And Prevent’s independent reviewer, Alex Carlile, said:

“The Prevent strategy is meant to deal with violent extremism, with terrorism, and XR are not violent terrorists. They are disruptive campaigners”.

Zelo Street commented that this was all very 1960s establishment paranoia. Which it is. You wonder if the list also includes anyone, who gave the list’s compilers a funny look once. And whether they’re going to follow the example of Constable Savage in the Not the Nine O’Clock News sketch and arrest gentlemen of colour for wandering around during the hours of darkness wearing a loud shirt. This is a joke, but the list represents are real danger. It criminalises any kind of protest, even when its peaceful. About a decade ago, for example, Stop the War held a protest in Bristol city centre. They were out there with their banners and trestle tables, chanting and speaking. Their material, for what I could see where I was, simply pointed out that the invasion of Iraq had claimed 200,000 lives. They were on the pavement, as I recall, didn’t disrupt the traffic and didn’t start a fight with anyone.

As for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, this is a knee-jerk attempt to link pro-Palestinian activism with terrorism. But wanting the Palestinians to be given their own land or to enjoy equal rights with Israelis in a modern, ethnically and religious diverse and tolerant state, does not equate with sympathy for terrorism or terrorism itself. Tony Greenstein, Asa Winstanley and Jackie Walker are also pro-Palestinian activists. But as far as I know, they’re all peaceful, nonviolent people. Walker’s a granny in her early 60’s, for heaven’s sake. They’re all far more likely to be the victims of violence than ever initiate it. In fact, Tony was physically assaulted in an unprovoked attack by an irate Israeli, while one woman from one of the pro-Israel organisations was caught on camera saying how she thought she could ‘take’ Jackie.

I realise the Stop the Badger Cull people have also physically tried to stop the government killing badgers, but this is again disruption, not violence. And one of those against the cull is Brian May, astrophysicist and rock legend. Apart from producing some of the most awesome music with Freddy Mercury and the rest of Queen, and appearing on pop science programmes with Dara O’Brien showing people round the Jodrell Bank radio telescope, he has not, not ever, been involved in political violence.

This shows you how ludicrous the list is. But it’s also deeply sinister, as by recommending that supporters of these organisations as well as real terrorist groups should be dealt with by Prevent, it defines them as a kind of thoughtcrime. Their members are to be rounded up and reeducated. Which is itself the attitude and method of suppression of totalitarian states.

Zelo Street pointed the finger for this monstrous shambles at Priti Patel. As current Home Secretary, she’s ultimately responsible for it. The Street wanted to know whether she knew about it and when? And if she didn’t, what’s she doing holding the job? But there’s been no answer so far. And a police spokesperson said it was unhelpful and misleading to suggest the nonviolent groups on the list had been smeared.

The Street said it was time for Patel to get her house in order, but warned its readers not to bet on it. No, you shouldn’t. This is an attempt to criminalise non-violent protest against capitalism and the actions of the authorities and British state. It’s the same attitude that informed the British secret state’s attempts to disrupt and destroy similar and sometimes the same protest movements in the 70s and 80s, like CND. And it will get worse. A few years ago Counterpunch published a piece reporting that the American armed services and police were expecting violent outbreaks and domestic terrorism in the 2030s as the poverty caused by neoliberalism increased. They were therefore devising new methods of militarised policing to combat this. We can expect similar repressive measures over this side of the Atlantic as well.

This list is a real threat to freedom of conscience, peaceful protest and action. And the ultimate responsibility for it is the Tories. Who have always been on the side of big business against the rest of society, and particularly the poor and disadvantaged.

They’re criminalising those, who seek peaceful means to fight back.

A Philosopher Takes on Evolutionary Psychology

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 18/01/2020 - 3:22am in

“Evolutionary psychological inferences commonly fail to satisfy reasonable epistemic criteria.” The failures are so significant that good evolutionary psychology may not be possible. 

So argues Subrena Smith, a philosopher at the University of New Hampshire. Her paper, “Is Evolutionary Psychology Possible?“, was recently published in Biological TheoryIn it, she argues that the popular research program of evolutionary psychology is methodologically unsound.

Dr. Smith also wrote a shorter version of the argument that was published at The Evolution Institute. In it, she first presents a description of the aims of evolutionary psychology:

The mandate of evolutionary psychology is to give true evolutionary explanations for contemporary human behavior. Evolutionary psychologists believe that many of our behaviors in the present are caused by psychological mechanisms that operate today as they did in the past. Each mechanism was selected for its specific fitness-enhancing effects, and each of them is responsive only to the kinds of inputs for which it is an adaptation.

To achieve the aims of evolutionary psychology, researchers “need to show that particular kinds of behavior are underwritten by particular mechanisms.” More specifically, evolutionary psychology confronts what Dr. Smith calls “the matching problem”:

For a present-day psychological trait to be related to an ancestral psychological trait in the way that evolutionary psychology requires, the present-day trait must be of the same kind as the ancestral one. It must also have the same function as the ancestral one and must be descended from that ancestral trait as part of a reproductive lineage extending back to prehistory. Also, importantly, the present-day trait and the ancestral trait must be of the same kind and have the same function because the former is descended from the latter. This is key because it might be that a present-day trait and an ancestral trait are of the same kind and have the same function without one being descended from the other. The architecture of the modern mind might resemble that of early humans without this architecture having being selected for and genetically transmitted through the generations. Evolutionary psychological claims, therefore, fail unless practitioners can show that mental structures underpinning present-day behaviors are structures that evolved in prehistory for the performance of adaptive tasks that it is still their function to perform. This is the matching problem.   

For the matching problem to be overcome, three conditions must be met:

First, determine that the function of some contemporary mechanism is the one that an ancestral mechanism was selected for performing. Next, determine that the contemporary mechanism has the same function as the ancestral one because of its being descended from the ancestral mechanism. Finally, determine which ancestral mechanisms are related to which contemporary ones in this way. 

We can’t just assume that the identities required in these conditions are met. “They need to be demonstrated.” More specifically:

Solving the matching problem requires knowing about the psychological architecture of our prehistoric ancestors. But it is difficult to see how this knowledge can possibly be acquired. We do not, and very probably cannot, know much about the prehistoric human mind.

Some evolutionary psychologists dispute this. They argue that although we do not have access to these individuals’ minds, we can “read off” ancestral mechanisms from the adaptive challenges that they faced. For example, because predator-evasion was an adaptive challenge, natural selection must have installed a predator-evasion mechanism.

This inferential strategy works only if all mental structures are adaptations, if adaptationist explanations are difficult to come by, and if adaptations are easily characterized. There is no reason to assume that all mental structures are adaptations, just as there is no reason to assume that all traits are adaptations. We also know that adaptationist hypotheses are easy to come by. And finally, there is the problem of how to characterize traits. Any adaptive problem characterized in a coarse-grained way (for example, “predator evasion”) can equally be characterized as an aggregate of finer-grained problems. And these can, in turn, be characterized as an aggregate for even finer-grained problems. This introduces indeterminacy and arbitrariness into how adaptive challenges are to be characterized, and therefore, what mental structures are hypothesized to be responses to those challenges. This difficulty raises an additional obstacle for resolving the matching problem. If there is no fact of the matter about how psychological mechanisms are to be individuated, then there is no fact of the matter about how they are to be matched.

That is not the end of the problems, though. Dr. Smith says, “Even if these obstacles could be surmounted, the problem remains of identifying these behaviors with particular kinds of behavior that are hypothesized to have existed in prehistory,” and she goes on to explain the difficulties this further task faces.

You can read Dr. Smith’s full paper here and her summary of its argument here.

Over email, I asked Dr. Smith what the reaction to her argument has been amongst the evolutionary psychology crowd and she reported that there hasn’t been much of one, apart from some dismissiveness.

Discussion welcome, especially from those who work in psychology, biology, and philosophy of science.

The post A Philosopher Takes on Evolutionary Psychology appeared first on Daily Nous.

On Eric's Advice to his son (David)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 17/01/2020 - 5:49am in

Today my son David leaves for Oxford, where he'll spend Hilary and Trinity terms as an exchange student in psychology. He is in his third year as a Cognitive Science major at Vassar College, soaring toward grad school in cognitive science or psychology. He is already beginning to think like a graduate student. Here's some advice I offer him and others around the transition from undergraduate to graduate study:

(1.) Do fewer things better. I lead with this advice because it was a lesson I had to learn and relearn and that I still struggle with. In your classes, three A pluses are better than five As. It's better to have two professors who say you are the most impressive student they've seen in several years than to have four professors who say you are one of the three best students this year. It's better to have one project that approaches publishable quality than three projects that earn an ordinary A. Whether it's admission to top PhD programs, winning a grant, or winning a job, academia is generally about standing out for unusual excellence in one or two endeavors. Similarly for publishing research articles: No one is interested to hear what the world's 100th-best expert on X has to say about X. Find a topic narrow enough, and command it so thoroughly, that you can be among the world's five top experts on X. The earlier in your career you are, the narrower the X has to be for such expertise to be achievable. But even as an advanced undergrad or early grad student, it's not impossible to find interesting but very narrow X's. Find that X, then kill it.--Eric Schwitzebel "How to Be an Awesome First-Year Graduate Student (or a Very Advanced Undergrad)" [HT Dailynous]

First, let me start by wishing David a wonderful time at Oxford! 

Schwitzgebel's letter was widely circulated approvingly by my academic friends on social media. And most of his advice (2-6) struck me as quite sensible, even wise--so go read the whole thing first. But I am ambivalent about (1.) [That's the the one I quoted above.] The reason I am ambivalent is that I recognize the hard truths underlying Eric's advice: there are plenty of smart folk. Specialization is the key to be noticed. To professionalize early ("have one project that approaches publishable quality") gives you a leg up in the academic rat race. It is now no rarity anymore to find MA students trying (and succeeding) to publish journal articles. As Nathan Ballantyne puts it in a charming review (of a recent book by Bill Lycan) "younger [professional] philosophers all know that reading outside of your field does not get you a career. It just doesn't pay the bills." (Read the whole review.)

But here is another hard truth: time is a scarce good. Time for research is, perhaps, the scarcest good. Pretty the much the only time of our life when we are free to read and explore is during our undergraduate and graduate (or as the English say: post-graduate) periods. Perhaps, during a generous post-doc, too. Yes, as we know from Eric's blog, he keeps up a regular habit of reading and ranging widely so it's possible. But among administrative, teaching, grant-making, and family duties there is very little time for curiosity. (Oh, and let's not get started on networking.) Our whole professional lives are oriented toward managing our times in effective ways so we can produce 'high quality' publications. I suspect, but haven't asked Eric, that he is like me and uses the development of new courses as means to keep educating himself on new topics. Perhaps -- but now I am projecting -- his excellent blog is also a means to find good excuses to keep his interests broad.

The bottom line is that we have near limitless freedom to explore intellectual avenues during our education: seminars, speakers, reading groups, etc. This is the period of our lives where we can create very solid foundations for our future intellectual habits; when we can learn different academic vocabulary and methods, and also quietly mull connections some of which invisible to our brilliant teachers. We learn to talk with folk from wide variety of academic disciplines and orientations. Most importantly, we learn to ask fruitful questions--perhaps the most important and underappreciated academic skill. This is especially important when we encounter intellectual obstacles not amenable to easy resolution.

As an aside, some of this academic learning and curiosity driven intellectual development can happen in relaxation time. I say this not to reject Eric's suggestion (6): "Draw bright lines between work time and relaxation time." This is sound, even existentially important advice. But when I was a graduate student I had (recall) a dog. I met folks from all walks of life in dog-park. But this also included quite a number of other academics. This has generated not just life-long friendships -- dogs > cats! --, but also exposed me to brilliant minds doing fascinating stuff. This has generated life-long conversations, including ones that have shaped my research trajectory.

Okay, to return my ambivalence. And I am not quite sure how to put it. In part because I am sure Eric's advice to David may well be right for David. But I worry there is such a thing, even a rather solid entity, as premature specialization. Lots of very bright and exciting minds on the cutting edge become dull academics with little to say of interest and so end up saying the same thing over and over again. (Please fill in your own favorite examples!) To experience this first hand is one of the few advantages of age. I even suspect that early intellectual hyper-specialization has something to do with the phenomenon of the diminishing rate of return from basic science that economists have been puzzling about. For, the focus on killing the narrow X can also end up killing off curiosity.

 

 

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