Edge 220 —August 15, 2007
(4,100 words)



THE CHANGING ARCTIC: A RESPONSE TO FREEMAN DYSON'S "HERETICAL THOUGHTS"
By Alun Anderson


Alun Anderson, Edge's Arctic correspondent, on location
[Photo Credit: John McConnico — click to enlarge image]

Knowing that Arctic climate models are imperfect, it would be reassuring for me, if not for the scientists, to be able to write that scientists keep making grim predictions that just that don't come true. If that were so, we could follow Dyson's line that the models aren't so good and "the fuss is exaggerated". Scarily, the truth is the other way around. The ice is melting faster than the grimmest of the scientist's predictions, and the predictions keep getting grimmer. Now we are talking about an Arctic free of ice in summer by 2040. That's a lot of melting given that, in the long, dark winter the ice covers an area greater than that of the entire United States.

...


THE THIRD CULTURE

THE CHANGING ARCTIC
By Alun Anderson

EDGE IN THE NEWS

THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS
Rod Dreher: Playing the anti-science card

THIRD CULTURE NEWS

DISCOVER MAGAZINE
Jaron's World: Peace through God
By Jaron Lanier

THE NEW YORK TIMES
Science Times
A Conversation with Gino Segre
By Claudia Dreyfus

THE NEW YORK TIMES
Sunday Book Review
Look Who's Talking
By Emily Eakin

THE WASHINGTON POST
His Heart Whirs Anew
By Joel Garreau

PROSPECT MAGAZINE
The Sacred and the Human
By Roger Scruton

PROSPECT MAGAZINE
Life, but not as we know it
By Philip Ball

PROSPECT MAGAZINE
A Dictatorship of Idiots?
By James Crabtree

THE NEW YORK TIMES
The Straw Poll Man
By David Brooks





THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS
August 12
, 2007

OPINION:Points

Rod Dreher: Playing the anti-science card

Liberals don't have a clean history when it comes to science vs. ethics

"People have a nasty habit of clustering in coalitions, professing certain beliefs as badges of their commitment to the coalition and treating rival coalitions as intellectually unfit and morally depraved," writes Harvard scientist Steven Pinker, in an edge.org essay about dangerous ideas.

"Debates between members of the coalitions can make things even worse," he continues, "because when the other side fails to capitulate to one's devastating arguments, it only proves they are immune to reason." ...




DISCOVER MAGAZINE
August 14, 2007

MIND & BRAIN

Jaron's World: Peace through God
The tangled dance of science, violence, hope, and strange beliefs.
By
Jaron Lanier

...I’ve kept quiet during the past year or so of high-profile science/religion bickering because I assumed there would be no use for yet another voice in the agitated crowd. As it happens, though, the approach to science/religion questions that I prefer has remained almost entirely unrepresented, so now I will join in.

Sadly, the first question to ask about any religious practice these days is whether it’s likely to turn violent. Sure, binary cultists look cute on video, but will they be storming a data center in São Paulo in a few years?

Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett have recently led a charge against religion, and one of their main accusations is that religion encourages violence. This claim recalls similar ones that violent video games or pornography cause criminal behavior. Sometimes they might, but sometimes they clearly don’t. It’s hard to isolate causes of human violence because violence is so common.

What if religion can serve either to incite or reduce violence, depending on some details that we have the good fortune to be able to influence? Here is how I think that can work: The human species is clan-oriented. We are exceedingly concerned with who is a member of our clan or a competing clan. Democrat or Republican? Windows or Linux? It’s almost impossible for us to ignore clan passions. We are also hopelessly obsessed with the hierarchy within our clan. Listen to teenagers, or anyone else, talk about who ranks to date whom, or who deserves scorn. We care immensely about tiny differentiations in status. Gossip grabs our attention, no matter how banal it is. ...




THE NEW YORK TIMES
August 14
, 2007

SCIENCE TIMES

A CONVERSATION WITH GINO SEGRE; In the Footsteps of His Uncle, Then His Father
By Claudia Dreyfus

In Gino Segre's family, physics seems to be in the genes. Dr. Segre is physics professor at the University of Pennsylvania . His uncle, Emilio Segre, was a winner of the 1959 Nobel Prize for the discovery of the antiproton.
An older brother is a physicist, and an additional “six or seven” cousins do physics, too.

But Dr. Segre, 68, has a second profession: he writes popular books about the history of science. His most recent book, “Faust in Copenhagen: A Struggle for the Soul of Physics,” about a 1932 conference at Niels Bohr’s Institute for Theoretical Physics, has just been published, drawing praise from reviewers. ...




THE NEW YORK TIMES
August 12
, 2007

SUNDAY BOOK REVIEW
Look Who’s Talking
By Emily Eakin

Is there a scientific explanation for the human ability to use language?

THE FIRST WORD
The Search for the Origins of Language.
By Christine Kenneally.

...In 1989, Pinker and a graduate student named Paul Bloom wrote a paper in which they argued that “language is no different from other complex abilities, such as echolocation or stereopsis,” and that “the only way to explain the origin of such abilities is through the theory of natural selection.” Just as the eye — an organ of breathtaking complexity and specialization — evolved incrementally through the combined effects of random mutations and natural selection over millions of years, so, too, Pinker and Bloom insisted, did language. The authors were invited to present their paper at M.I.T., where Pinker was then a professor, and they learned that Chomsky had agreed to serve as a commentator. Kenneally quotes Bloom on his reaction to this news: “I was absolutely terrified. ... Chomsky is utterly merciless in debate.”

In the end, Chomsky failed to show (apparently he had back trouble), and Pinker and Bloom went on to publish their paper in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, a leading scientific journal, where it appeared along with comments from 31 scientists, including one who titled his endorsement “Liberation!” “From that point on,” Kenneally writes, “more and more researchers felt that studying the origin and evolution of language was a legitimate academic inquiry.” ...

...In 2002, Fitch and Marc Hauser, another prominent evolutionary biologist, wrote a landmark paper with Chomsky, in which they acknowledged some of the recent work on the origins of language and defined the uniquely human aspect of language quite narrowly, as recursion (the capacity to embed phrases inside one another, as in “the woman reading the book about the ape who threw the carrot that the trainer had washed in the morning before arriving at the lab to...”). Three years later, when, at a symposium on the evolution of language, Chomsky was asked what he thought about the field, he remarked, “I wouldn’t have guessed it could go so far.”




WASHINGTON POST
August 11, 2007

His Heart Whirs Anew
Peter Houghton Has a Titanium Ticker. He's Not Sure How to Feel About That.
By Joel Garreau
Washington Post Staff Writer

Peter Houghton is grateful for his artificial heart. After all, it has saved his life. ... He's just a little wistful about emotions. ... He wishes he could feel them like he used to.

Houghton is the first permanent lifetime recipient of a Jarvik 2000 left ventricular assist device. Seven years ago, it took over for the heart he was born with. Since then, it has unquestionably improved his physical well-being. He has walked long distances, traveled internationally and kept a daunting work schedule.... At the same time, he reports, he's become more "coldhearted" -- "less sympathetic in some ways." He just doesn't feel like he can connect with those close to him. He wishes he could bond with his twin grandsons, for example. "They're 8, and I don't want to be bothered to have a reasonable relationship with them and I don't know why," he says. ... He can only feel enough to regret that he doesn't feel enough. ...Could the poets have been right all these millennia? Could emotions be matters of the heart? ...




PROSPECT MAGAZINE
August, 2007

The sacred and the human
Today's atheist polemics ignore the main insight of the anthropology of religion—that religion is not primarily about God, but about the human need for the sacred. As René Girard argues, religion is not the cause of violence, but the solution to it
Roger Scruton

It is not surprising that decent, sceptical people, observing the revival in our time of superstitious cults, the conflict between secular freedoms and religious edicts, and the murderousness of radical Islamism, should be receptive to the anti-religious polemics of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and others. The "sleep of reason" has brought forth monsters, just as Goya foretold in his engraving. How are we to rectify this, except through a wake-up call to reason, of the kind that the evangelical atheists are now shouting from their pulpits?




PROSPECT MAGAZINE
August, 2007

JOURNAL

Life, but not as we know it

Thanks to the new science of synthetic biology, it will soon be possible to create living cells in a laboratory. This could bring big benefits—from medicine to combating global warming—but potential dangers too. I went to Greenland to find out more
Philip Ball

... Such broader questions benefit from historical perspective, and few scientists can provide as much of it as Freeman Dyson. One of the most influential and politically aware of the post-Manhattan project physicists, he is now 83 but still game for a freezing midnight ride through icebergs. For all its genius, his generation failed to forsee the technological future, he said: "We totally missed all the important things." He recalled how his former Princeton colleague John von Neumann, one of the founders of computer science, estimated that the US would only ever need 18 computers. Dyson himself confessed to once trying to persuade Francis Crick against moving into biology. ...




PROSPECT MAGAZINE
August, 2007


A Dictatorship Of Idiots?


Critics of websites such as Wikipedia and MySpace claim they are eroding expertise and denuding the public sphere. Today's media may not be perfect, says james crabtree, but would anyone really want to put the clock back?
James Crabtree

...Enter Andrew Keen, a British internet entrepreneur living in California whose new book, The Cult of the Amateur, witheringly criticises Web 2.0 and its acolytes. Interestingly, it was O'Reilly who originally inspired Keen's apostasy. Each year, O'Reilly runs an exclusive get-together called "FOO Camp" (short for "Friends of O'Reilly"). Keen, invited one year, describes going on a "two-day camping trip with a couple of hundred Silicon Valley utopians. Sleeping bag under my arm, rucksack on my back, I marched into camp; two days later, feeling queasy, I left an unbeliever."

Keen is not alone in his distrust of the Web 2.0 crowd. In a much-discussed essay published on the website Edge last year, digital activist Jaron Lanier rallied against "digital Maoism" and the "alarming
rise of the fallacy of the infallible collective" on the internet. ...




THE NEW YORK TIMES
August 10
, 2007

OP-ED COLUMNIST
The Straw Poll Man
By David Brooks

Early on, before the campaigning begins in earnest, presidential candidates lunch with journalists in order to get acquainted. During one of these lunches, Mitt Romney was talking about the global economy and was asked why he thought some nations grew rich and others didn’t.

He said there are at least two schools of thought on this question, one associated with Jared Diamond of U.C.L.A., which emphasizes natural resources, and another associated with the Harvard historian David Landes, which emphasizes culture. Over the next several minutes, he weaved the two theories together, siding a bit more with Lande. ...





Knowing that Arctic climate models are imperfect, it would be reassuring for me, if not for the scientists, to be able to write that scientists keep making grim predictions that just that don't come true. If that were so, we could follow Dyson's line that the models aren't so good and "the fuss is exaggerated". Scarily, the truth is the other way around. The ice is melting faster than the grimmest of the scientist's predictions, and the predictions keep getting grimmer. Now we are talking about an Arctic free of ice in summer by 2040. That's a lot of melting given that, in the long, dark winter the ice covers an area greater than that of the entire United States.


Alun Anderson, Edge's Arctic correspondent, on location
[Photo Credit: John McConnico — click to enlarge image]

THE CHANGING ARCTIC: A RESPONSE TO FREEMAN DYSON'S "HERETICAL THOUGHTS" [8.14.07]
By Alun Anderson

ALUN ANDERSON has been the U.S. Editor of the journal Nature, International Editor of the journal Science; and for 12 years, Editor, then Editor-in-Chief and Publishing Director, of the weekly magazine New Scientist.

Alun Anderson's Edge Bio Page


THE CHANGING ARCTIC: A RESPONSE TO FREEMAN DYSON'S "HERETICAL THOUGHTS"

There is a clear view from the high point of the glacier in Ammassilik, East Greenland. To the north, behind me, you can see fifty miles up to the highest range of mountains. To the west, there is a huge iceberg-dotted fiord and the main ice cap of central Greenland. But looking around closer by, you ask, where is all the ice? At the top, instead of the expected ice cap, there is this honey-coloured rock, scoured into deep grooves by the passage of old ice. Here, on this summit spot in July, the ice has already gone. Everywhere the ice has retreated deep into the shady hollows of the mountains. Lower down, paths which just last summer cut across glacier ice now pass amid the soft moraines left behind as the glaciers draw back. High up, where I am now, the silence of the mountains is profound. But listen carefully and your ears begin to pick up a faint background sound. Walk down to where the glacier remains and the sound become clearer. It is water trickling away beneath the ice as the Arctic melts.

Here you don't find so many people asking "what's all the fuss about global warming", as Freeman Dyson does in his recent controversial defence of "heretical" views of climate change on Edge. Climate change has arrived. Any Inuit hunter living in the nearby villages can tell you what they see. The sea ice melts earlier and earlier in the spring. Well-known winter routes across the ice that connect hunting areas can't necessarily be trusted any more. The ice may be too thin. You need smart and well-trained lead dogs on your sledge team to sense the ice and keep you safe. The arrival of fish and the passage of whales are changing. You'll hear the same lament from Inuit all over the Arctic. "The narwhal used to come right up to this bay," they told me at a settlement in Ellesmere Island, "but now the ice is all different and we don't know where they go."

I'm up in Greenland along with the celebrated photo-essayist John McConnico, who took picture above, because I am reporting on the future of the Arctic. And it's not that I just want to lament the end of the polar bear, though hard times for the bear and other creatures that rely on sea ice are looking more than likely.

I think there is a lot more to it than that. This is one of the regions of the world that will change first and fastest as a result of climate change. There will be losers but there may be winners too (on this I would agree with a heresy of Dyson). And there will be wrenching change, startling technological developments and political strife. It will be a microcosm of what will happen elsewhere.

First and foremost, of course, we would like to know what to expect. And here I would agree, just for a moment, with half of another of Dyson's heresies. Our models of climate change do not entirely capture "the real world we live in". We do know that temperatures are rising faster in the Arctic than almost any other place and that the extent of the sea ice is shrinking with dramatic speed but our models aren't accurate.  That said, Dyson is totally wrong with the second half of his criticism, that the climate experts end up believing their own imperfect models when they should "put on winter clothes and measure what is really happening".

Scientists are totally aware of the shortcomings of their models and up here in the Arctic they are gathering data with unprecedented energy. Now that International Polar year has begun, there are going to be more scientists up in the Arctic that at any time in history. They need that data to validate their models and satellite observations. They are coming in icebreakers, helicopters and planes. Some are even coming aboard air ships, on floating ice floes (an 8 month trip to the pole from Russia aboard an "ice station") and on foot, with two Belgian scientists having just completed the walk from Russia to Greenland. Some will fly underwater planes beneath the ice. Yes, they have their winter clothes on and it's exactly their adventures and the new data that they generate that I am following for my book.

Knowing that Arctic climate models are imperfect, it would be reassuring for me, if not for the scientists, to be able to write that scientists keep making grim predictions that just that don't come true. If that were so, we could follow Dyson's line that the models aren't so good and "the fuss is exaggerated". Scarily, the truth is the other way around. The ice is melting faster than the grimmest of the scientist's predictions, and the predictions keep getting grimmer. Now we are talking about an Arctic free of ice in summer by 2040. That's a lot of melting given that, in the long, dark winter the ice covers an area greater than that of the entire United States.

Some of that fresh water stored up in the Arctic Ocean might find its way out into the Atlantic, as happened during the Great Salinity Anomaly of the 1970s, giving the Arctic a chance for revenge on the rest of the planet. Repeated on a larger scale, the fresh water has the potential to change ocean currents and world climate.
      
Still, I am excited by the prospect that there might be winners from climate change. The Arctic contains vast reserves of gas and oil (25% of the world's undeveloped hydrocarbons), minerals and even diamonds. A new gold rush is already beginning. Norway is just completing its huge "Snow White" gas development off northern Norway.  Russia will ship oil in new ice-breaking tankers out of the top of Siberia and has just begun work on the enormous Shtokman field, 350 miles off its Arctic coast and a technological challenge beyond anything so far attempted in the Arctic. As the ice melts, the Northern Passage around Siberia will open to commercial shipping, cutting costs off the voyage to Europe from Japan and China. An even shorter direct route close to the North Pole may follow and then the Northwest Passage around Canada. Fish will provide another treasure. Most of the world's commercial fish come from the colder waters away from the tropics. Already the retreating ice is opening up seas that have potential as rich, new fishing grounds. The people who see a new frontier in the Arctic are some of the most remarkable men and women I've met, prepared to make huge financial gambles and push technology to new limits. Environmentalists may not like them but they are part of the story of climate change too.

The emerging riches of the region lead to the next part of the story—the awakening of geopolitical rivalries as a result of climate change. The US, Canada, Russia, Norway and the Danish territory of Greenland all face one other around the Arctic Ocean. They all claim rights to bits of it and are all in dispute. Russia has already claimed the seas up to the North Pole, recently depositing a titanium flag on the sea bed at the pole to make that clear. The circumpolar powers are beginning to worry about how to project power in the Arctic. Last month, the Canadian government ordered a new fleet of ice breakers to reinforce its territorial claims and began opening new military bases in the high Arctic.

For better or worse, the Arctic is going to see some exciting times. With a bit of luck, and if the US signs up to the Law of the Sea, the claims to different bits of the Arctic may be resolved scientifically, rather than militarily, through surveys of the sea bed to determine whose continental shelf extends where and how far. But there is still a lesson for the second of Dyson's declared big heresies, "the wet Sahara".

Climate change might actually bring the wetter climate of the Sahara of six thousand years ago back and Dyson argues that the "warm climate of six thousand years ago with the wet Sahara is to be preferred, and that increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may help to bring it back".  So we should believe that climate change may make life hard on some parts of the planet but open a new Eden elsewhere and we should not make a "fuss". The problem, of course, is that as the incipient signs of strife in the Arctic show, the planet's losers from climate change are hardly likely to make it to a new green land without a war.





"Danger – brilliant minds at work...A brilliant book: exhilarating, hilarious, and chilling." The Evening Standard (London)

Paperback—UK £8.99, 352 pp
Free Press, UK


Paperback — US
$13.95, 336 pp
Harper Perennial

WHAT IS YOUR DANGEROUS IDEA? Today's Leading Thinkers on the Unthinkable With an Introduction by STEVEN PINKER and an Afterword by RICHARD DAWKINS Edited By JOHN BROCKMAN

"A selection of the most explosive ideas of our age." Sunday Herald "Provocative" The Independent "Challenging notions put forward by some of the world’s sharpest minds" Sunday Times "A titillating compilation" The Guardian "Reads like an intriguing dinner party conversation among great minds in science" Discover


"...This collection, mostly written by working scientists, does not represent the antithesis of science. These are not simply the unbuttoned musings of professionals on their day off. The contributions, ranging across many disparate fields, express the spirit of a scientific consciousness at its best — informed guesswork "Ian McEwan, from the Introduction, in The Telegraph


Paperback — US
$13.95, 272 pp
Harper Perennial



Paperback — UK
£7.99 288 pp
Pocket Books

WHAT WE BELIEVE BUT CANNOT PROVE Today's Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty With an Introduction by IAN MCEWAN Edited By JOHN BROCKMAN

"An unprecedented roster of brilliant minds, the sum of which is nothing short of an oracle — a book ro be dog-eared and debated." Seed "Scientific pipedreams at their very best." The Guardian "Makes for some astounding reading." Boston Globe Fantastically stimulating...It's like the crack cocaine of the thinking world.... Once you start, you can't stop thinking about that question." BBC Radio 4 "Intellectual and creative magnificance...an impressive array of insights and challenges that will surely delight curious readers, generalists and specialists alike. " The Skeptical Inquirer


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