December 31, 2008
Science gone right, science gone wrong, science gone social, science gone political—it’s all here in five off-beat book recommendations to kick off 2009. Ranging from Darwin’s Origin of Species to Sir Terry Pratchett’s Nation, the one thing I think I can guarantee is that you will struggle to find an odder bunch of literary bed-fellows! Hope you enjoy them, and have a happy new year!
A new year, a new leaf—time for five more eclectic (some might say eccentric) book recommendations to see you through the hangover and into a brighter future.
As in the previous five good books blog, I’ve eschewed the conventional to provide as unusual a potpourri of literary delights as you will find anywhere. And as before, I’ve tried to inject a little method into the madness—spot it if you can!
I should first apologize because this was supposed to be a quick blog, rushed off before the New Years festivities began in earnest. But it turned into a veritable “slow blog!”
So for those of you impatient to read the recommendations and move on, here they are:
- On the Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin
- The Two Cultures, by C. P. Snow
- Trouble with Lichen, by John Wyndham
- Cider with Rosie, by Laurie Lee
- Nation, by Sir Terry Pratchett
But please do read on, and discover the why behind the what… Read the rest of this entry »
December 24, 2008
Revisiting Sheila Jasanoff’s Technologies of Humility
In 2003, Harvard University’s Sheila Jasanoff wrote about what she termed “Technologies of Humility.” Recognizing the growing disconnect between technological progress and its effective governance, Jasanoff explored new approaches to decision-making that “seek to integrate the ‘can-do’ orientation of science and engineering with the ‘should-do’ questions of ethical and political analysis.” Five years on, her (still radical) ideas resonate deeply with the science and technology ambitions of the incoming Obama administration.
Sitting down this morning, I had intended to write about three papers recently published on-line in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. The papers (by Kahan et al., Pidgeon et al. and Sheufele et al.)—which were widely reported on a few weeks back—consider factors influencing “public” responses to nanotechnology, and challenge long-held beliefs that knowledge leads to acceptance.
However, I became distracted! Searching for an original frame for these studies, I returned to Jasanoff’s 2003 paper “Technologies of Humility: Citizen participation in governing Science,” published in the journal Minerva (Minerva 41:223-244). Reading it, I was struck afresh by how germane Jasanoff’s ideas are, how completely they seemed to have been ignored in US policy making, and how important they are to the science and technology agenda of the incoming Obama administration.
Rather than read a re-hash from me of what is an eloquently written and very accessible paper, I would strongly recommend you pour yourself a glass of good wine (a cup of coffee or fine tea will do just as well), carve out some quality time, and read the original—which is downloadable from here [PDF, 120 KB]. It is after all the holiday season, and what better than a good read to fill the long hours before the grind of work begins once again!
But just in case you are in a hurry and care to put up with my crude and flawed overview, here you are: Read the rest of this entry »
September 30, 2008
The October issue of Esquire magazine is remarkable. Not for the world’s first e-ink cover (appearing on limited special editions of the magazine). But because three of the five scientists featured amongst the seventy-five most influential people of the twenty first century are synthetic biologists… Read the rest of this entry »
September 30, 2008
So, you have a cool new science that could make a major impact on global challenges like energy, disease and pollution and you want to make sure it reaches its full potential. What do you do? At some point, having a heart to heart with “the public” might be a good idea. Especially if your “cool new science” involves playing around with the very building blocks of life! Read the rest of this entry »
August 21, 2008
How cool is this: A nanotech-enabled labcoat to protect the user against… well, nanomaterials presumably, amongst other things!
The labcoat—which uses Nanotex technology to make it stain resistant—is part of a major update to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies Consumer Products Inventory that tracks manufacture-identified nano-products. Other eye-catchers in the update include a hunting shirt that resists bloodstains, a nanotech-based adhesive for McDonald’s burger containers, and an oven-like device for sanitizing whiffy shoes.
Of course, there are plenty of people who feel that consumer products represent an altogether too trivial side of nanotechnology. And I have to agree that on the scales of virtue, a nano-silver bidet would find it hard to compete with the next generation of nano-enabled solar cells or targeted cancer drugs. Yet trivial as many of the 800+ products in the updated inventory may seem, this is where most people will probably first come across the technology, and start to form their early opinions on whether it’s a good thing, or not so good.
And in this bizarrely-connected world within which we live, good experience with nano-bidets (for example) are more likely than not to make the introduction of nano-cancer drugs go just that little bit smoother. Read the rest of this entry »
April 25, 2008
If you want proof that nano is mainstream, just pick up the U.S. May edition of fashion magazine “Elle.” Sharing cover-space with Madonna is the latest article on nanotech and the beauty business.
Elle might not be your first choice of reading for cutting edge science, but Joanne Chen’s article “Small Wonders” is no slouch when it comes to conveying complex ideas in digestible bites. Using beauty products as examples (from hair dryers to conditioners to anti-wrinkle cream), Chen takes the reader on a journey through the wonders and worries of nano. As an exercise in making nanotechnology accessible, the article is a must-read. Read the rest of this entry »
February 8, 2008
What determines your view of nanotechnology—the message, or the messenger? Most of us would like to think it is the message that governs our internal risk-benefit analysis. But research published this week suggests other factors may be at work.
Dan Kahan at Yale Law School and his colleagues are shaking up our ideas on effective communication and engagement when it comes to complex issues like emerging nanotechnologies. They have already demonstrated what many jaded science communicators have learned the hard way—that shouting louder and longer about the facts doesn’t necessarily lead to “right-minded” thinking in the general population.* In their latest study (available here) they show that when it comes to balancing possible nanotechnology benefits and risks, the messenger is quite possibly as important as the message. Read the rest of this entry »