Edge in the News

Xeni Jardin, boingboing [1.9.08]

I've been traveling in Central America for the past few weeks, so I'm late on blogging a number of things -- including this. Each year, EDGE.org's John Brockman asks a new question, and a bunch of tech/sci/internet folks reply. This year's question: What have you changed your mind about?

Science is based on evidence. What happens when the data change? How have scientific findings or arguments changed your mind?


I was one of the 165 participants, and wrote about what I learned from Boing Boing's community experiments, under the guidance of our community manager Teresa Nielsen Hayden: Link to "Online Communities Rot Without Daily Tending By Human Hands."

CAPITAL TIMES (Madison, Wisconsin) [1.9.08]

"What Are You Optimistic About? Today's Leading Thinkers on Why Things Are Good and Getting Better," edited by John Brockman, Harper Perennial, $14.95, 374 pages. 

If that "bah, humbug" mood lingers, ponder the observations of an odd assortment of academics and other intellectuals, who choose to see that mug of hot cider as half full. "What Are You Optimistic About?" knows that Americans have an increasingly deep morale problem, so these 150 essays of hope are an antidote for societal despair. 

Contributors -- quantum physicist David Deutsch of Oxford, former Time magazine editor James Geary, musician/record producer Brian Eno -- tend to use logic, not sap or divine intervention, to make their arguments. "I am a short-term pessimist but a long-term optimist," writes Paul Saffo, technology forecaster at Stanford. "History is on my side, because the cause of today's fashionable pessimism lies much deeper than the unpleasant surprises of the last half-decade."

...

THE GLOBE AND MAIL [1.8.08]

Even IT gurus have the right to think twice.

This year the online salon Edge.org has drawn a lot of attention for the annual question it put out to a mixture of scientists and artists: What have you changed your mind about?

Contributors range from actor Alan Alda to folk singer Joan Baez, but some of the real gems came from technology visionaries who decided to take a second look at their original visions.

[Note to Globe and Mail: It's "the mathematician physicist John C. Baez", not his cousin the "folk singer Joan Baez", daughter of the physicist Albert Baez.]

NEWS @ORF.at [1.8.08]

"Flip-Flops" werden im Englischen verächtlich Menschen genannt, die plötzlich ihre Meinung ändern. Was bei Politikern oft als ein Zeichen von Opportunismus interpretiert wird, gehört in der Wissenschaft zum Wesen. Dennoch ist es auch unter Forschern und Forscherinnen nicht üblich, sich öffentlich zu einem Sinneswandel zu bekennen. Genau das haben sie aber nun gemacht. Bereits zum elften Mal hat der New Yorker Literaturagent John Brockman namhaften Wissenschaftlern zum Jahreswechsel knifflige Fragen gestellt. Diesmal lauten sie "Wobei haben Sie Ihre Meinung geändert? Und warum?"

Die Antworten von insgesamt 165 Forschern und Expertinnen sind unterschiedlich und oft amüsant: Der Biologe Richard Dawkins erklärt, warum Meinungswandel kein evolutionärer Nachteil sind; die Philosophin Helena Cronin zeigt, dass es unter Männer zwar mehr Nobelpreisträger gibt, aber auch mehr Trottel; und Anton Zeilinger erzählt von seinem Irrtum, die Quantenphysik einst für "nutzlos" gehalten zu haben. ...

...

NEWS @ORF.at [1.8.08]

"Flip-Flops" werden im Englischen verächtlich Menschen genannt, die plötzlich ihre Meinung ändern. Was bei Politikern oft als ein Zeichen von Opportunismus interpretiert wird, gehört in der Wissenschaft zum Wesen. Dennoch ist es auch unter Forschern und Forscherinnen nicht üblich, sich öffentlich zu einem Sinneswandel zu bekennen. Genau das haben sie aber nun gemacht. Bereits zum elften Mal hat der New Yorker Literaturagent John Brockman namhaften Wissenschaftlern zum Jahreswechsel knifflige Fragen gestellt. Diesmal lauten sie "Wobei haben Sie Ihre Meinung geändert? Und warum?"

Die Antworten von insgesamt 165 Forschern und Expertinnen sind unterschiedlich und oft amüsant: Der Biologe Richard Dawkins erklärt, warum Meinungswandel kein evolutionärer Nachteil sind; die Philosophin Helena Cronin zeigt, dass es unter Männer zwar mehr Nobelpreisträger gibt, aber auch mehr Trottel; und Anton Zeilinger erzählt von seinem Irrtum, die Quantenphysik einst für "nutzlos" gehalten zu haben. ...

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE [1.8.08]

Today, let's turn things upside down.

10) Top 20 dictators of the world (Parade, links.sfgate.com/ZBZL).

It's like a reality show in hell, a rogue's gallery of the most heartless, insane, power-mad thugs and cretins (all male, natch) this side of Dick Cheney's darkest orgiastic fantasy. Even Vladimir Putin made the list, mostly for the weird beauty of his flat, heartless stare.

9) Top 10 vegetarian-friendly prisons (PETA, links.sfgate.com/ZBZM).

Attention, radical unshowered vegans who've lost all perspective and want to blow up Whole Foods and set fire to shops that sell leather! When they haul your cute, dreadlocked butt to prison, be sure to request one of these fine facilities, where you can serve out your time enjoying low-grade vegetarian gruel, like soy taco crunch in Tennessee and meatless sloppy joes in North Dakota. So helpful!

8) Top 10 food and drink hacks (Lifehacker, links.sfgate.com/ ZBZN).

In which it is revealed that vinegar is quite likely the greatest and most versatile liquid known to humankind, slicing a mango does not have to be a sloppy, sticky mess (unless you are naked and partially drunk and really want it to be), and you can learn how to chill a bottle of white wine in about two minutes, make sexier cocktails with clear ice cubes and use your old plastic CD spindle as a perfect little bagel tote. Didn't know any of that? You're not reading the right blog.

7) Top 10 science revelations (LiveScience, links.sfgate.com/ZBZQ).

Yes, the "peak oil" era is now under way, the American Southeast may very well be facing a brutal 90-year drought as the dry areas get drier and the wet get wetter, a region of ice in Greenland twice the size of the United States has melted, and the World Conservation Union's list of endangered animals now tops 40,000, with more than 200 moving closer to extinction in 2007. And the No. 1 spot, naturally, is climate change itself, now so overwhelmingly omnipresent and ominous, it would take a band of truly troglodytic jackals to deny, reject or otherwise sneer at what the world's scientific and environmental community is desperately trying to tell us.

6) Top 10 climate myth busters (Fox News, links.sfgate.com/ZBZR).

Shut-ins, inbred cultists and global warming deniers rejoice as Fox News' junk science "expert" and Big Tobacco boy toy Steven Milloy cherry-picks a handful of minor studies in an effort to mount the world's shakiest anti-warming argument, all while ignoring mountains of evidence, not the least of which is the recent, dire 3,000-page report from the 113-nation-strong Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

5) Top 10 Christianity-related stories of 2007 (Christianity Today, links.sfgate.com/ZBZS).

In which successful atheist authors get jabbed, Jerry Falwell is not acknowledged as Satan's newest fluffer, and hard-core religious orgs of every stripe celebrate and/or lash out at other religious orgs for either a) not being religious enough, b) not being bigoted enough, c) not hacking away at women's rights, d) not slamming gays or e) all of the above.

4) Top 10 new organisms (Wired, links.sfgate.com/ZBZT).

Hypoallergenic cats. Fluorescent tadpoles. Schizophrenic mice that exhibit Bush-grade hallucinations, paranoia and delusions of grandeur. Alas, no mention of whatever the hell mutant virus is attacking the American brain and causing millions to actually give a damn about how much blow Lindsay Lohan does or whether Jamie Lynn Spears is pregnant. Maybe that's another list.

3) Top 10 astronomy photos of 2007 (Bad Astronomy, links.sfgate.com/ZBZU).

You know what we, as a nation, lack more than anything else in this bitter, Bush-gutted age? No, not more porn-happy YouTube-rip-off sites. It's awe - raw, delicious, mind-bending, awe.

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SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE [1.8.08]

Honorable mention (links.sfgate.com/ZBZY): It's not a top 10 list. It's not even a top 100. It has nothing to do with fashion or trends or politics or the year's coolest iPod accessories. It is intellectual hotbedEdge.org's annual question, this time a profound doozy: "What have you changed your mind about. Why?"

As of now, 165 of the world's finest minds have responded with some of the most insightful, humbling, fascinating confessions and anecdotes, an intellectual treasure trove of proof that flip-flopping is a very good thing indeed, especially when informed/inspired by facts and shot through with personal experience and laced with mystery and even a little divine insight. Best three or four hours of intense, enlightening reading you can do for the new year. Read it now.

Then flip it over and answer the same question for yourself.

THE GLOBE AND MAIL [1.8.08]

Even IT gurus have the right to think twice.

This year the online salon Edge.org has drawn a lot of attention for the annual question it put out to a mixture of scientists and artists: What have you changed your mind about?

Contributors range from actor Alan Alda to folk singer Joan Baez, but some of the real gems came from technology visionaries who decided to take a second look at their original visions.

Teach technology if you want to learn: Seth Loyd is a quantum mechanical engineer at MIT, which sounds intimidating, but the author ofProgramming the Universe admits he didn’t really gain self-confidenceabout IT until he became an instructor for students who are probably as smart as he is. “In my feverish attempt to understand analog computers, I constructed a model for a quantum-mechanical analog computer that would operate at the level of individual atoms. This model resulted in one of my best scientific papers,” he says. Even if it’s daunting, assist others with their IT challenges in order to master your own.

Calm down at the keyboard: Linda Stone, a former Microsoft VP, has been doing a lot of research on how users interact with technology and she realized that their attention span had a lot to do with what was going on in their lungs. “In observing others — in their offices, their homes, at cafes — the vast majority of people hold their breath, especially when they first begin responding to e-mail. On cell phones, especially when talking and walking, people tend to hyper-ventilate or overbreathe. Either of these breathing patterns disturbs oxygen and CO2 balance,” she writes. “I’ve changed my mind about how much attention to pay to my breathing patterns and how important it is to remember to breathe when I’m using a computer, PDA or cell phone.”

No application is eternal: As much as we might like our IT problems to end, software designer Karl Krause says applications are temporary solutions. “I used to think ‘software design’ is an art form. I now believe that I was half-right: it is indeed an art, but it has a rather short half-life. Software is merely a performance art – a momentary flash of brilliance, doomed to be overtaken by the next wave, or maybe even by its own sequel. Eaten alive by its successors. And time.”

Don’t treat the world like a computer: Rodney Brooks, the CTO of iRobot Corp. and author of Flesh and Machines, says we have atendency to think of business problems as though they were broken PCs. That’s not always the best approach. “We can think about human memory as data storage and retrieval. And we can think about walking over rough terrain as computing the optimal place to put down each of our feet. But I suspect that somewhere down the line we are going to come up with better, less computational metaphors,” he says. “The entities we use for metaphors may be more complex but the useful ones will lead to simpler explanations.”

TEMPOS DEL MUNDO (Buenos Aires) [1.7.08]

BUENOS AIRES, jan. 8 (UPI) — On the occasion of the new year, the most sublime thinkers of the world have recognized that, from time to time, they are obliged to rectify their views.

When addressing topics as diverse as evolution man, the laws of physics and differences sex, a group of scientists and philosophers, among Which includes Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett, Paul Davies and Richard Wrangham, have confessed, all of them Without exception, they have changed their minds, reports Madrimasd.org.

This exhibition of scientific modesty has occurred As a result of the questions, coinciding with New year, annually raised the website edge.org, which has obtained responses from more than 120 of the most Important thinkers in the world.

A recurring theme in the answers is that what distinguishes science from other forms of knowledge and faith is that new ideas based on quickly replace old ones when they are based on evidence produced by tests. Accordingly, in the intellectual scope there is nothing of shameful in recognizing that one has changed positions.

TEMPOS DEL MUNDO (Buenos Aires) [1.7.08]

BUENOS AIRES, jan. 8 (UPI) — On the occasion of the new year, the most sublime thinkers of the world have recognized that, from time to time, they are obliged to rectify their views.

When addressing topics as diverse as evolution man, the laws of physics and differences sex, a group of scientists and philosophers, among Which includes Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett, Paul Davies and Richard Wrangham, have confessed, all of them Without exception, they have changed their minds, reports Madrimasd.org.

This exhibition of scientific modesty has occurred As a result of the questions, coinciding with New year, annually raised the website edge.org, which has obtained responses from more than 120 of the most Important thinkers in the world.

A recurring theme in the answers is that what distinguishes science from other forms of knowledge and faith is that new ideas based on quickly replace old ones when they are based on evidence produced by tests. Accordingly, in the intellectual scope there is nothing of shameful in recognizing that one has changed positions.

[Spanish Original ...]

SÜDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG — Munich [1.7.08]

Eines der anregendsten intellektuellen Spiele findet sich jedes Jahr im Januar auf der Website Edge.org, wenn Wissenschaftler und Künstler im "World Question Center" auf die Frage des Jahres antworten. 2007 prügelte man mit Vehemenz auf die Religionen ein, und so klingt schon die Frage für 2008 wie ein erneuter Generalangriff auf die Seligen: "Welche Ihrer Meinungen haben Sie einmal geändert?" Ist die Religion doch der Ort der göttlichen Wahrheit, die sich nicht begründen muss und nicht bezweifelt werden kann. Wenn er einer Partei angehöre, hatte der Agnostiker Camus auch gesagt, dann der des Zweifels. Keine Konfrontation sollte mehr gescheut werden. Die letzte Heimat der Unverzweifelten bleibt dagegen der Glaube. Was Edge angeht, wird diese Erwartung jedoch enttäuscht. ...

Die Partei der Zweifler; Bei der Frage des Jahres im Onlinemagazin Edge machen sich Wissenschaftler Gedanken Ÿber ihre eigene Fehlbarkeit
SÜDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG — Munich [1.7.08]

Eines der anregendsten intellektuellen Spiele findet sich jedes Jahr im Januar auf der Website Edge.org, wenn Wissenschaftler und Künstler im "World Question Center" auf die Frage des Jahres antworten. 2007 prügelte man mit Vehemenz auf die Religionen ein, und so klingt schon die Frage für 2008 wie ein erneuter Generalangriff auf die Seligen: "Welche Ihrer Meinungen haben Sie einmal geändert?" Ist die Religion doch der Ort der göttlichen Wahrheit, die sich nicht begründen muss und nicht bezweifelt werden kann. Wenn er einer Partei angehöre, hatte der Agnostiker Camus auch gesagt, dann der des Zweifels. Keine Konfrontation sollte mehr gescheut werden. Die letzte Heimat der Unverzweifelten bleibt dagegen der Glaube. Was Edge angeht, wird diese Erwartung jedoch enttäuscht. ...

Read the full article →

THE NEWS & OBSERVER — Raleigh-Durham [1.5.08]

... As in the past, these world-class thinkers have responded to Web site editor John Brockman's impossibly open-ended questions with erudition, imagination and clarity.

In explaining why they have cast aside old assumptions, the respondents' short essays tackle an array of subjects, including the nature of consciousness, the existence of the soul, the course of evolution and whether reason will ultimately triumph over superstition.

Two of the most interesting answers may signal a cease-fire in the gender wars.

In 2005, Harvard President Lawrence *. Summers was assailed for suggesting that innate differences might explain why there are few top women scientists. Now Diane F. Halpern, a psychology professor at Claremont Mc-Kenna College and a self-described "feminist," says Summers was onto something.

"There are real, and in some cases sizable, sex differences with respect to cognitive abilities," she writes.

Her views are echoed by Helena Cronin, a philosopher at the London School of Economics.

"Females," she writes, "are much of a muchness, clustering around the mean." With men, "the variance — the difference between the most and the least, the best and the worst — can be vast." Translation: There may be fewer female geniuses in certain fields, but there are also fewer female morons...

THE NEWS & OBSERVER — Raleigh-Durham [1.5.08]

... As in the past, these world-class thinkers have responded to Web site editor John Brockman's impossibly open-ended questions with erudition, imagination and clarity.

In explaining why they have cast aside old assumptions, the respondents' short essays tackle an array of subjects, including the nature of consciousness, the existence of the soul, the course of evolution and whether reason will ultimately triumph over superstition.

Two of the most interesting answers may signal a cease-fire in the gender wars.

In 2005, Harvard President Lawrence *. Summers was assailed for suggesting that innate differences might explain why there are few top women scientists. Now Diane F. Halpern, a psychology professor at Claremont Mc-Kenna College and a self-described "feminist," says Summers was onto something.

"There are real, and in some cases sizable, sex differences with respect to cognitive abilities," she writes.

Her views are echoed by Helena Cronin, a philosopher at the London School of Economics.

"Females," she writes, "are much of a muchness, clustering around the mean." With men, "the variance — the difference between the most and the least, the best and the worst — can be vast." Translation: There may be fewer female geniuses in certain fields, but there are also fewer female morons...

...

IL GIORNALE (Milan) [1.5.08]

What is the coolest online forum, one where scientists and great minds from all over the world exchange opinions and ideas, and the one that keeps the scientific debate alive? Almost certainly it’s edge.org, an American website whose most ardent supporters include, to quote some of the best known, Richard Dawkins, the famous and controversial evolutionary biologist and author of The Selfish Gene; Brian Eno, the visionary music producer; psychologist Steven Pinker; and physicists like Alan Guth or Gino Segré, who are changing the present vision of the universe. This where you’ll run into debates that count, thanks also to a device that has started a cultural trend: every year edge.org asks an artful question that the big brains who haunt its electronic pages are invited to answer. This year’s question is: What have you changed your mind about? Why?

The mea culpa flocked in in great numbers and from prestigious sources, (more than a hundred in a few days), revealing that the greatest minds are changing their opinions on a lot of subjects, from the expansion of the universe to evolution, from the meaning of science to the workings of the human brain through the value of the Roman Empire in front of the barbarians.

IL GIORNALE (Genoa) [1.5.08]

Qual è il forum on line più cool su cui si scambiano pareri e idee scienziati e cervelloni di tutto il mondo, quello che mantiene vivo il dibattito scientifico? Quasi sicuramente Edge.org, sito britannico che ha tra i supporter più accesi, tanto per citare qualcuno tra i notissimi, Richard Dawkins, il famoso e discusso zoologo autore de Il gene egoista, Brian Eno, produttore visionario di musica contemporanea, lo psicologo Steven Pinker, oppure fisici come Alan Guth (uno di quelli che sta cambiando l’attuale visione della storia dell’universo) o Gino Segrè. Da lì passano molti dei dibattiti che contano, merito anche di un escamotage, con le caratteristiche del tormentone colto: ogni anno Edge.org pone un quesito malizioso a cui gli intellettualoni, che compulsano le sue pagine elettroniche, sono chiamati a rispondere. Quello di quest’anno è: «Su che cosa avete cambiato idea? E perché».
Un modo garbato di spingere i ricercatori, che lo utilizzano e sostengono, ad ammettere i propri errori a partire da un motto: «Quando pensare modifica la tua opinione è filosofia, quando è dio che ti fa cambiare idea è fede, quando i fatti ti fanno vedere le cose in maniera diversa questa è scienza».
I quesiti posti negli anni precedenti si erano già spinti sul filo della provocazione (nel 2006 la domanda era stata «qual è l’idea più pericolosa in circolazione?»), ma non avevano mai coinvolto così sul personale intellettuali e ricercatori. Forse per questo i mea culpa sono arrivati numerosissimi e prestigiosi (siamo già oltre il centinaio in pochi giorni), rivelando che le migliori teste pensanti stanno cambiando parere su un sacco di cose, dall’espansione dell’universo all’evoluzione, dal senso della scienza al funzionamento del cervello umano, passando per il valore dell’Impero romano rispetto alle civiltà barbariche. E in alcuni casi il «contrordine compagni scienziati» bordeggia tra lo stupefacente e l’iconoclastia.
Per fare qualche esempio, un antropologo come Richard Wrangham, noto per le sue teorie sulle origini della violenza tra gli umani (ha scritto Demonic Males: apes and the origins of human violence) ripensa le sue idee: «Pensavo che alla base dell’evoluzione umana ci fosse l’uccidere e mangiare carne, adesso penso che ci sia il fatto di cucinare il cibo. Che questo ci abbia differenziato dai primati». Invece un biologo evoluzionista di fama come Mark Pagel ha cambiato idea sul concetto di razza, che secondo lui non deve più essere un tabù, anche nella sua applicazione nei confronti dell’essere umano. A convincerlo di questo fatto sono stati gli ultimi studi sul genoma della nostra specie: «Ci accomuna il 99,5 per cento del patrimonio genetico, non il 99,9 come si credeva in passato... se pensiamo che con lo scimpanzé la somiglianza è del 98,5 per cento... Questo non significa affatto che un gruppo etnico sia superiore all’altro, ma solo che ha senso discutere di differenze genetiche tra le popolazioni».
Come si vede, tesi espresse con moderazione ma comunque dirompenti, visto il putiferio provocato da espressioni meno felici, ma basate sugli stessi dati, di un premio Nobel come James Dewey Watson (scopritore del DNA e recentemente aggredito, a ragione, dai media inglesi per una serie di dichiarazioni razziste di dubbio gusto e attendibilità).

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George Johnson, BLOGGINGHEADS TV [1.4.08]

John and George’s New Year resolutions; John softens his pessimism about neuroscience ; The soccer club theory of terrorism; The trouble with relying on experts; How George got hooked on garage-band science; Happiness is a burning bridge.

John Horgan, BLOGGINGHEADS TV [1.4.08]

John and George’s New Year resolutions; John softens his pessimism about neuroscience ; The soccer club theory of terrorism; The trouble with relying on experts; How George got hooked on garage-band science; Happiness is a burning bridge.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL [1.4.08]

CULTURE
Change of Mind Could Spur A Hardening of the Heart
• EDGE -- JAN. 4

When scientists and other prominent intellectuals change their mind about important things, their new outlook often is gloomier. That, at least, is the theme of responses to a survey conducted by online science-and-culture publication the Edge, which asked some influential thinkers: "What have you changed your mind about? Why?"
 

...Fittingly, Harvard University psychologist Daniel Gilbert says he has changed his mind about the benefits of changing one's mind. In 2002, a study showed him that people are more satisfied with irrevocable decisions than with ones they can reverse. Acting on the data, he proposed to his now-wife. "It turned out that the data were right: I love my wife more than I loved my girlfriend."

...

THE GLOBE AND MAIL [1.4.08]

Margaret Wente Comment Column; Second Thoughts

If you want to start your year with a jolt of fresh thinking, I have just the thing. Each year around this time, a Web-based outfit called the Edge Foundation asks a few dozen of the world's brightest scientific brains one big question. This year's question: What have you changed your mind about?

The answers address a fabulous array of issues, including the existence of God, the evolution of mankind, climate change and the nature of the universe. Some of the most provocative responses deal with the bonanza of new evidence from the fast-evolving fields of genetics, neuroscience and evolutionary biology. This is the intellectual equivalent of a New Year's dip in the lake - bracing, possibly shriek-inducing, and bound to wake you up. For the full menu, go to www.edge.org. Meantime, here's a taste. ...

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