SciBlogs

Archive 2010

Challenge for 2011: Want to blog more often? Ken Perrott Dec 31

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There is a saying among writers: to write more, write more. The hardest part of blogging isn’t the tools – it’s what goes on between your ears. Many people start blogs with excitement, but lose courage when facing the blank post page, or chicken out before hitting publish. Here at WordPress.com, we know. And we’re here to help.

Announcing DailyPost.WordPress.com

Starting today, you can go to dailypost.wordpress.com for inspiration, encouragement and advice about blogging. We’ll be posting every day so you can get regular boosts of motivation to blog more often.

The Post Every Day challenge

Daily habits are the best way to make change happen. If you can remember to do something every day, by the end of the year, you’ll have done that thing over 300 times! Simple and amazing.

As part of the DailyPost, we’re launching two campaigns:

  • Post a Day 2011: Post something to your blog every single day through 2011
  • Post a Week 2011: Post to your blog at least once a week through 2011

If you’re thinking big, sign up for PostADay. If you’re haven’t posted in ages, or have never posted at all, PostAWeek might be your speed. Still noble and bold, but perhaps more your style.

And of course, feel free to set your own goal – sign up as if you were doing PostAWeek, just so we can keep tabs on what you’re up to.

How to Join:

You can sign up any time – it’s okay if you are reading this on January 15th, or May 5th, or whenever. Join up – it will help you post more, which makes us happy.

Signing up is simple – do the following:

  1. Post on your blog, right now, that you’re participating
  2. (You can grab a sample post from dailypost.wordpress.com)
  3. Use the tag postaday2011 or postaweek2011 in your posts (tips on tagging here)
  4. Go to dailypost.wordpress.com
  5. Subscribe to dailypost.wordpress.com- you’ll get reminders and inspirations every day to help you bring your full potential to your WordPress blog!

If you need a new blog, go here first to get one fast.

That’s all for now. For more, check dailypost.wordpress.com real soon!

Science and morality — a panel discussion Ken Perrott Dec 31

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This is the panel discussion at the Great debate “Can Science tell us Right from Wrong?” (See Telling right from wrong? for more details of this debate and workshop).

The panel includes Steven Pinker, Sam Harris, Patricia Churchland, Lawrence Krauss, Simon Blackburn, Peter Singer and Roger Bingham. They respond to questions from the audience (and the size of the audience for such a subject is heartening).

Their interaction is useful as it helps to overcome any misunderstanding any participant may have had about others points of view. Its a useful supplement to the individual presentation I have posted during this week (see Telling right from wrong — unreligiously, A philosopher comments on science and morality and A physicist comments on science and morality).

This video is 42 min long.


TSN: The Great Debate Panel, posted with vodpod

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A physicist comments on science and morality Ken Perrott Dec 30

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Another video from the Great debate ’Can Science tell us Right
from Wrong?’
(See Telling right from wrong? for more details of this
debate and workshop).

This time a physicist, Lawrence Krauss. He is always a stimulating speaker.

He starts by claiming that it is impossible to tell right from wrong without science. And then goes on to explain. I find myself agreeing with a lot he says.

Listen for his explanation for the intriguing slogan on his T-shirt.

Again, only 14 min long.


TSN: Lawrence Krauss, posted with vodpod

Lawrence Krauss is a Foundation Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and Department of Physics in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He also is director of the ASU Origins Project. He is the only physicist to have received the highest awards from all three major U.S. professional physics societies. His popular publications include The Physics of Star Trek,’ ’Quintessence,’ ’Atom : An Odyssey from the Big Bang to Life on Earth…and Beyond,’ ’Hiding in the Mirror: The Quest for Alternate Realities, from Plato to String Theory (by way of Alice in Wonderland, Einstein, and The Twilight Zone),’ and due out in 2011,Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science (Great Discoveries) and ’A Universe from Nothing.’

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A philosopher comments on science and morality Ken Perrott Dec 29

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Here’s another video from the Great debate ’Can Science tell us Right
from Wrong?’
(See Telling right from wrong? for more details of this
debate and workshop).

It’s the presentation by Pat Churchland. She is a philosopher who gives qualified support to the concept that science can tell us right from wrong. Its interesting because she does spend some time discussion issues which probably concern many people about this suggestion. Things like the possible arrogance of such decision making and the fact that scientific knowledge is not absolute. Her presentation, which is only 13 min long, also outlines the origins of human morality.


TSN: Patricia Smith Chuchland, posted with vodpod

Patricia Smith Churchland is a Professor Emerita of Philosophy at the University of California, San Diego. She is also an adjunct faculty member at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. Her research focuses on the interface between neuroscience and philosophy. Her books include ’Brain-Wise: Studies in Neurophilosophy,’ ’Neurophilosophy: Toward a Unified Science of the Mind-Brain and On the Contrary: Critical Essays, 1987-1997,’ with husband Paul M. Churchland. Her newest book, Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality,’ is due out in spring 2011.

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Telling right from wrong — unreligiously Ken Perrott Dec 28

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Stephen Pinker participated in the Great debate “Can Science tell us Right from Wrong?” (See Telling right from wrong? for more details of this debate and workshop).

His answer to the question was “Yes and No!” His wasn’t placing a bet
each way – just stressing that the answer depends on how “science”
is defined. Science interpreted in the narrow way it normally is
can’t answer these questions. However, it can – if science is
interpreted to mean “unreligion.” And many people is this debate do
interpret science that way. Pinker starts by explaining how
religion cannot tell us right from wrong. He then goes on to argue
that why while science, determined narrowly, can’t either it has
helped us make these decisions. Its an interesting presentation -
only 12 mins long.


TSN: Steven Pinker, posted with vodpod

Steven Pinker is Harvard College
Professor and Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard.
His research is on visual cognition and the psychology of language.
Among his books are The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language,’ ’How the Mind Worksand The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature.’ He has been named Humanist of the Year, and is listed in Foreign Policy and Prospect magazine’s ’The World’s Top 100 Public Intellectuals’ and in Time magazine’s ’The 100 Most Influential People in the
World Today.’ His latest book is The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature.’

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Another local climate change denial meme Ken Perrott Dec 24

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I commented in Painted into a corner? that the release of NIWA’s report of the recalculation of New Zealand’s 7-station  long term  temperature series had called the local climate change deniers’ bluff. It was time for them to apologise, withdraw their slanderous attacks on NIWA and move on.

Yeah, right! That may have been the sensible thing to do, but of course they are in it for the politics, not the science. So the attacks continue.

Gareth at Hot Topic has an excellent summary of the action (see A Christmas cracker for the cranks). And of course the denier trolls have descended on his post with quite hilarious arguments. One is their claim “this new series shows no warming has occurred here since about 1960.”

Well, of course the series shows nothing of the sort. They appear to basing this incorrect claim on a paragraph in the report which says:

“The unusually steep warming in the 1940-1960 period is paralleled by an unusually large increase in northerly [air] flow during this same period. On a longer timeframe, there has been a trend towards less northerly flow (more southerly) since about 1960. However, New Zealand temperatures have continued to increase over this time, albeit at a reduced rate compared with earlier in the 20th century. This is consistent with a warming of the whole region of the southwest Pacific within which New Zealand is situated.”

Never the less these trolls and their public spokespersons, Richard Treadgold and Brian Leyland are working hardto push this meme. And they claim support from their “eyeball” analysis of the graph in NIWA’s report.

But all the data is available (Seven station data and 11 station data) and anyone can do their own analysis to check these claims.

So what does this data show?

The figure below shows that there is indeed a significant and relatively large increase in temperature in the 1940-1960 period (4.4°C/century compared to 0.9°C over the whole period). NIWA was perfectly justified in drawing attention to this and suggesting a reason for it.

But it also shows that the temperature trends after 1960 are similar to the overall trend (0.85 cf 0.91°C/century).  And the trend before 1960 is also similar (0.7°C/century). So much for that troll meme!

Mind you, we have to acknowledge that  the statistical significance of the smaller data sets are inevitably lower (although the 1940-1960 period has a range of 2.4 – 6.3°C/century at the 95% confidence level). The table provides an idea of the statistical significance.

Period Trend °C/century 95% confidence 90% confidence
1009-1959 0.69 -0.15 -1.54 -0.01 – 1.40
1960-2009 0.85 0.03 -1.67 0.17 -1.53
1909-2009 0.91 0.62 — 1.19 0.67 — 1.14

Remember this data is for only seven stations, so determining trends over shorter times inevitably faces problems of statistical significance.

However, we do have data for the 11 stations where no adjustments were required. I have plotted that below.

Remember, different stations so results will differ, but the statistical significance will be better because there are more stations. The trend here for 1960 – 2009 is 1.12°C/century. And the ranges:

0.39 – 1.86 at the 95% level; 0.51 – 1.74 at the 90% confidence level.

This means that if 20 different sets of measurements were made over that period at these stations only one trend would be outside the range 0.4 -1.9°C/century.

I know that Leyland, Treadgold and their organisations will keep pushing this meme of no warming after 1960. But they are completely wrong. The data shows otherwise.

Not that this has stopped them in the past.

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Wine and the Watchtower Ken Perrott Dec 23

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This photo has always impressed me. A fantastic view from the International Space Station. Locals will recognise our prime wine growing areas of the Wairarapa, Blenhiem, Nelson, Waipara and Canterbury.

It also reminds me – I saw some god botherers in our street the other day. They stand out like a sore thumb, don’t they?

However, they must have got the message. They seem to have stopped knocking on my door.

Thanks to Pundit Kitchen: Would You Like A Copy Of The Watchtower?!

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Tips for a new year of blogging Ken Perrott Dec 23

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The holidays make for a crazy time of year. You’re spending time with family, traveling, maybe enjoying some winter weather. All of this can help you create wonderful blog posts. :)

Here are a couple tips on how to let your blog shine as you head into the new year.

Blogging made easy

Press This is a great way to simplify your blogging experience. It lets you grab content from any blog post, article, website, or photo you find on the web. If you can you see it in your browser, you can use Press This to blog about it on WordPress.com!

It will automatically insert an image, quote, video, or link on any website directly into your blog post as well as include a link back to the source. No more having to copy and paste 5 different things. With Press This you can share great content quickly.

Drag the bookmarklet (the link that says “Press This”) from the Tools page of your WordPress.com Dashboard into your browser’s bookmarks bar to get started. This adds a handy link you can use to post content.

The next time you want to share a link, photo, or video on another site just press the bookmarklet. You’ll see a window pop up where you can add photos, video, and quotes straight from the site.

The two icons next to “Add:” let you choose which photos or videos on the page you want to insert into your post.

Combine all of that with the mobile options we featured last month and you can really blog from anywhere on the web or anywhere in the world.

Let your photos shine

After many lovely days spent with family during the holidays you probably have dozens (hundreds? thousands?!) of photos from trips, meals, adventures, and lovely winter weather. WordPress.com makes it easy to showcase these right on your blog.

Using our built-in photo galleries or slideshows you can share the best moments from the holidays. Here’s a few from my trip to Yosemite National Park in the winter a few years ago.

Click to view slideshow.

Between Press This and showcasing your photos you have some great toys to play with as you make your blog even better in the new year. Enjoy the holidays!

Not Just A Contact Form Ken Perrott Dec 22

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The short version of this story is that the contact form on WordPress.com has been upgraded. But that leaves out so many of the juicy details :-)

A couple of months ago we took a step back to look at what sort of things the contact form needed and what it could be. While this is still technically a contact form, it is now so much more.

First up, the new interface. Typing in the shortcode still works fine, but we wanted to provide a graphical way for people to manage the form. To do this you click on the ‘Add a custom form’ button:

Add a new form

Add a new form

That will bring up our new custom form builder:

Form Builder

Form Builder

The form builder gives you a simple, but powerful, set of controls on how your form will look and behave.  Common changes you can do that we think you’ll find handy:

  • Add and remove fields
  • Re-order the field list (drag and drop)
  • Select from several types of fields (text, drop down, checkbox, radio button, textarea, etc.)
  • Mark fields as required
  • Enter a specific email address you want the form results sent to
  • Custom subject line for the form results email

Clicking on the ‘Add this form to my post’ button will insert the shortcode for the form into your post.  If  you forgot something you can either edit the shortcode by hand, or simply click the ‘Add custom form’ button again and the form builder will re-load the form details and allow you to change them.

Now if we had stopped there, this would still be a great upgrade, but we decided to turn the volume up to 11.

In addition to emailing out the form results, they are now also stored in the WordPress database.  You’ll notice a new menu item called ‘Feedbacks’, just below ‘Comments’:

Feedbacks

The feedback management is patterned after the style of comment management.  Form submissions that Akismet marks as spam are under the ‘Spam’ section.  If for some reason Akismet made a mistake you can click the ‘Not Spam’ action and the details will be sent back to Akismet so that it can learn from the mistake.  And because you indicated that it wasn’t spam after all, the form results are emailed out again.  You can delete, restore, and permanently delete each entry as well.

For more details check out the updated support documentation on the contact form. For WordPress.org powered blogs we have released this as an update to the Grunion Contact Form plugin, version 2.0.

It’s that time of the year Ken Perrott Dec 22

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Book review: Christmas – Philosophy for Everyone: Better Than a Lump of Coal. Scott C. Lowe (Editor), Fritz Allhoff, Fritz Allhoff (Series Editor) Stephen Nissenbaum (Foreword)

Price: US$15.56
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell (October 19, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 144433090X
ISBN-13: 978-1444330908

OK, this book is topical. Not only because of the timely subject. It’s also  appropriate to review now because it’s the sort of book one might consider giving or receiving as a present on Saturday. And it’s the sort of book one might enjoy reading next week.

Well, it’s obviously not your usual philosophy book — it’s far more approachable. It is, after all, part of the ’Philosophy for Everyone’ series. In fact, the philosophy is not obvious in some articles — it looks more like common sense. And the approach is slightly ‘tongue-in-cheek,’ especially with the essay titles and the notes on contributors (called ’Santa’s Elves’).

I though the philosophy sometimes seemed inappropriate, or at least inadequate. For example  discussions of the philosophical and ethical aspects of lying to children with the Santa Claus myth came across as a little shallow. Quoting Plato, Hume and Mills did not hit the mark. I would have liked to see some inclusion of sociology and the psychology of human development.

But, it is a collection of essays from 25 authors. One expects a range of suitabilities and different essays will appeal to different people.

The authors range from Professors, other academics and students of philosophy (mainly), history, ethics, English and theology. The book is divided into several themes.

We have the origins of Christmas. Both in Christian myths and real pagan origins.  The way we celebrate Christmas today — secular as well as religious celebrations – and how these have adjusted to today’s more diverse society.

The Santa myth is discussed in a bit of detail. And there are important sections on Christmas through eyes other than traditional European or Christian ones. Including discussion of the celebration by atheists and minority religions.

The book is readable, and humorous because the writers are more concerned with the Santa myth than the virgin birth myth of Christianity. Although the virgin birth gets a look-in with one essay from a supporter and another from a critic of the myth.

As always, a collection like this provides an opportunity for readers to select. So I have selected a couple which I particularly liked.

A multicultural Christmas

In ’The significance of Christmas for Liberal Multiculturalism’ Marc Mercer describes two approaches to the fact that in most western societies Christmas has evolved into a secular holiday. It is no longer an exclusively Christian celebration.

This enables different groups to do their own thing, for Christians to perform their own religious rituals and non-Christians (with many Christians) to have a common celebration empty of any religious ritual.

Mercer describes two approaches:

Communitarian multiculturalism which values diversity and cultural groups for the ways of life they represent. Therefore it insists on separateness of these groups (doing their own thing) and sees a common holiday as a threat to the integrity of some groups.

Liberal multiculturalism which is more concerned with flourishing of the individual. This does not oppose the idea of retention of specific holidays and events for specific groups. But it sees value in some holidays or celebrations which are common, public events.  ’These holidays would, of course, have to honour values important to most people in the country and to honour them in ways people from various cultures find congenial. Or else they would attract few participants. In this second sort of multicultural society, a few holidays, maybe only two or three a year, belong to all the people.’

In contrast ’for the communitarian multiculturalist . . .  a common holiday is a threat, a threat to the integrity of particular cultural groups.’

Mercer discusses why he thinks liberal multiculturalism has advantages for individuals, cultures and society in general. It’s interesting to apply his analysis to New Zealand, our diversity, our celebration of different cultures and the fact that we do have some holidays and celebrations which unite everyone.

Atheists at Christmas

In the section on ’Christmas through others’ eyes’ Ruth Tallman describes a common atheist approach to Christmas (’Holly Jolly Atheists: A naturalistic justification for Christmas.’). Simply put — they are all for it. ’This holiday is a wonderful occasion for engaging in a delightful assortment of classical sins — gluttony, greed, sloth — with none of the classical guilt.’

She argues that of course non-Christians should celebrate Christmas. ’First, given there’s no reason to think Christians have an exclusive right to it. Second, using the concept of religious naturalism we can understand what atheists are doing when they celebrate Christmas in the same way that we understand both naturalistic religious practices and participating in various rituals by those who do not accept the metaphysical underpinnings of the practice.’

She discusses the pre-Christian origins of Christmas — that is always worth a reminder given the common Christian chauvinism of claiming that everything of value originated from their dogma.

And what should Christmas mean to atheists? Obviously the meaning will differ from that derived by Christians. She understands the ’atheist mind-set’ in terms of naturalism. ’Naturalists come in many strips; some embrace a high level of spiritualism while others tend more to the ways of hard-nosed science. What unifies naturalists is the belief that all that there is to life, all hope, value, and order we might possibly glean, will have to be found  in the here and now — there is nothing else.’

This attitude is not hostile to Christian traditions. She quotes Richard Dawkins on this: ’I’m not one of those who want to purge our society of our Christian history. If there’s any threat to these sorts of things, I think you will find it comes from rival religions and not from atheists.’

The Santa Clause myth and lying to children

Finally, several essays debate the morality of the Santa Claus myth. After all this can involve parents lying to their children. And that does raise moral difficulties for some parents. David Kyle Johnson (’Against the Santa Claus lie: The Truth we Should Tell our Children) argues that it is morally wrong. Era Gavrielides argues that it is OK (’Lying to our Children About Santa: Why it’s Just Not Wrong.’)

I don’t remember that this was a huge difficulty in our family. Then again we never saw or used Santa Claus as a moral arbiter to coerce our children into being good.  I was surprised to find how often authors in the collection considered that a common and essential part of the myth. Maybe it is in the USA.

Conclusion

This is an easy read for a book on philosophy. Possibly because it is far more practical than the normal philosophy book. But also because it is slightly humorous.

As a collection it’s easy to find essays which will interest most readers. Others which can be ignored.

And as a collection it can be dipped into for a short period. Starting and finishing at arbitrary places throughout the book depending on one’s interest.

Probably just the book to read over the Christmas/New Year holidays.

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