My latest for Wired:
The world’s population is expected to grow from 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050, according to a World Resources Institute report published last year, and that means we’ll need to increase food production about 60 percent in the coming decades — a task made all the more difficult by expected shortages in water, fuel, fertilizer, and arable land. One solution could be entomophagy. Last year, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations suggested that insects could be an increasingly important and sustainable food source in the future, and Imrie-Situnayake agrees. Insects are high in protein. They require little space to raise. And they don’t produce much methane or other greenhouse gases.
Two million people around the world already eat insects on a regular basis, and many consider them a delicacy. But here in the West, the situation is very different. Entomophagy is largely taboo, and our culture just isn’t geared towards finding and raising insects for food. That’s why Imrie-Situnayake and Tiny Farms have created what they call Open Bug Farm — a high-tech kit for raising your own edible insects. They’re trying to hack the Western agriculture world, and in true hacker fashion, they plan on open sourcing the kit’s basic design, so that anyone can build their own for free.
Full Story: Wired: Out in the Open: Raise Your Own Edible Insects With This Free Kit
Nafeez Ahmed writes:
A new study sponsored by Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilisation could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.
Noting that warnings of ‘collapse’ are often seen to be fringe or controversial, the study attempts to make sense of compelling historical data showing that “the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history.” Cases of severe civilisational disruption due to “precipitous collapse – often lasting centuries – have been quite common.”
The research project is based on a new cross-disciplinary ‘Human And Nature DYnamical’ (HANDY) model, led by applied mathematician Safa Motesharri of the US National Science Foundation-supported National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, in association with a team of natural and social scientists. The study based on the HANDY model has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed Elsevier journal, Ecological Economics.
Full Story: The Guardian: Nasa-funded study: industrial civilisation headed for ‘irreversible collapse’?
I haven’t had a look at the study yet, but will be published here. It sounds a lot like Peter Turchin’s Cliodynamics research.
See also: Ahmed on peak soil.
From a paper titled “The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children”:
The social category “children” defines a group of individuals who are perceived to be distinct, with essential characteristics including innocence and the need for protection (Haslam, Rothschild, & Ernst, 2000). The present research examined whether Black boys are given the protections of childhood equally to their peers. We tested 3 hypotheses: (a) that Black boys are seen as less “childlike” than their White peers, (b) that the characteristics associated with childhood will be applied less when thinking specifically about Black boys relative to White boys, and (c) that these trends would be exacerbated in contexts where Black males are dehumanized by associating them (implicitly) with apes (Goff, Eberhardt, Williams, & Jackson, 2008). We expected, derivative of these 3 principal hypotheses, that individuals would perceive Black boys as being more responsible for their actions and as being more appropriate targets for police violence. We find support for these hypotheses across 4 studies using laboratory, field, and translational (mixed laboratory/field) methods. We find converging evidence that Black boys are seen as older and less innocent and that they prompt a less essential conception of childhood than do their White same-age peers. Further, our findings demonstrate that the Black/ape association predicted actual racial disparities in police violence toward children. These data represent the first attitude/behavior matching of its kind in a policing context. Taken together, this research suggests that dehumanization is a uniquely dangerous intergroup attitude, that intergroup perception of children is underexplored, and that both topics should be research priorities.
Full Story: Metafilter: “they cry because they are not allowed to be children at all”
This reminds me of how Ron Paul (or whoever was writing his newsletters) that only black male minors should be tried as adults:
We don’t think a child of 13 should be held responsible as a man of 23. That’s true for most people, but black males age 13 who have been raised on the streets and who have joined criminal gangs are as big, strong, tough, scary and culpable as any adult and should be treated as such.
Scott K. Johnson reviews On Gaia: A Critical Investigation of the Relationship Between Life and Earth by Toby Tyrrell:
Spiritual groups that hope to attract your interest may exhort you to “Be a part of something bigger than yourself!” But James Lovelock would tell you that you can already check that off your to-do list.
In the early 1970s, Lovelock—with the help of Lynn Margulis—developed the Gaia Hypothesis, which views the Earth and its ecosystems as resembling a sort of superorganism. Lovelock was working for NASA at the time, developing instruments that would aid the Viking landers in looking for signs of life on Mars, so he was thinking about how life interacts with its environment on a planetary scale. And Margulis was famed for her ideas about symbiosis.
This intellectual background led to the idea that organisms are not just passive inhabitants riding a big rock that determined whether they lived or died. Organisms were active participants in the molding of their environment, tweaking and improving conditions as part of a massive, self-regulating system.
In On Gaia: A Critical Investigation of the Relationship Between Life and Earth, University of Southampton Professor Toby Tyrrell sets out to comprehensively put the Gaia Hypothesis to the test, using everything we’ve learned about life and its history on our planet.
Full Story: Ars Technica: On Gaia tests whether the hypothesis holds up to scientific scrutiny
Creator of the Gaia hypothesis says “enjoy life while you can”
Manuel DeLanda: “Don’t call me Gaia”
This week Chris Dancy, Alex Williams and I talk with Jen Fong-Adwent, CEO of the weird new chat app Meatspace. Here’s an exceprt where she explains the origins of the service:
It was actually just an experiment between a colleague and I because she was doing a GIF library with WebRTC for the camera on your browser, and I have been doing chat experiments for a few years now. A lot of mixed media embedded interactions. Basically, experiments with social interaction and very limited forums with very limited effort by the user.
This was the first time around May when I just said hey, you think if you pressed enter and it recorded a few frames of your face as you were reacting as you were typing, we can do that and then my colleague so it was like, yeah, I fixed this. So, we did it and like 2 days we scrapped something together and we played with it internally and then it became public when I spoke in October at Portland and that was when it blew up and it went [unclear 0:02:29] Reddit, everywhere, and there was a lot of people that showed up like the first couple of days and there was a joke that it shut down Silicon Valley because everyone was just so mesmerized by all the GIFs of all these faces and some people were very famous and some people were just normal people. Some people weren’t even tech. It was pretty crazy.
Download and Full Transcript: Mindful Cyborgs: Episode 25 – Meatspace and the Organic Ephemeral Marketplace
I’ve blogged before about Dartmouth College research finding that correcting people’s incorrect beliefs with facts can backfire. Now the same group has confirmed their previous work, this time testing various pro-vaccination messages.
Mother Jones reports:
The paper tested the effectiveness of four separate pro-vaccine messages, three of which were based very closely on how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) itself talks about vaccines. The results can only be called grim: Not a single one of the messages was successful when it came to increasing parents’ professed intent to vaccinate their children. And in several cases the messages actually backfired, either increasing the ill-founded belief that vaccines cause autism or even, in one case, apparently reducing parents’ intent to vaccinate.
The study, by political scientist Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth College* and three colleagues, adds to a large body of frustrating research on how hard it is to correct false information and get people to accept indisputable facts. Nyhan and one of his coauthors, Jason Reifler of the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, are actually the coauthors of a much discussed previous study showing that when politically conservative test subjects read a fake newspaper article containing a quotation of George W. Bush asserting that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, followed by a factual correction stating that this was not actually true, they believed Bush’s falsehood more strongly afterwards—an outcome that Nyhan and Reifler dubbed a “backfire effect.”
Full Story: Mother Jones: Study: You Can’t Change an Anti-Vaxxer’s Mind
Why Facts Backfire
Why we believe lies, even when we learn the truth
Reason Is Used for Justification, Not to Determine Truth
Luba Vangelova reports on a group that believes it may be better to introduce certain elements of, say, calculus to young kids before more route ideas like multiplication tables:
Finding an appropriate path hinges on appreciating an often-overlooked fact—that “the complexity of the idea and the difficulty of doing it are separate, independent dimensions,” she says. “Unfortunately a lot of what little children are offered is simple but hard—primitive ideas that are hard for humans to implement,” because they readily tax the limits of working memory, attention, precision and other cognitive functions. Examples of activities that fall into the “simple but hard” quadrant: Building a trench with a spoon (a military punishment that involves many small, repetitive tasks, akin to doing 100 two-digit addition problems on a typical worksheet, as Droujkova points out), or memorizing multiplication tables as individual facts rather than patterns.
Far better, she says, to start by creating rich and social mathematical experiences that are complex (allowing them to be taken in many different directions) yet easy (making them conducive to immediate play). Activities that fall into this quadrant: building a house with LEGO blocks, doing origami or snowflake cut-outs, or using a pretend “function box” that transforms objects (and can also be used in combination with a second machine to compose functions, or backwards to invert a function, and so on).
“You can take any branch of mathematics and find things that are both complex and easy in it,” Droujkova says. “My quest, with several colleagues around the world, is to take the treasure of mathematics and find the accessible ways into all of it.”
Full Story: The Atlantic: 5-Year-Olds Can Learn Calculus
The book Moebius Noodles attempts to put these ideas into practice.
Punk Rock Mathematics
Hansel at Interpet This writes:
But this prevalence of torture that you see in otherwise very comparable shows is not limited to Fringe. It is everywhere in American entertainment now.
Everywhere you see it it promotes the lie that torture works. It does this very effectively. Because usually we, the audience, already know that the person being tortured has the information. They just will not give it up. In real life of course torture is not like that. In the hundreds of torture scenes that have been acted out in popular media only a handful show the victim making things up, and saying whatever they think the torturer wants to hear in order that they stop torturing them. Which is the reason why torture is not a useful tool. The process would be: Torture someone, they tell you something, you double check that story, maybe torture the people they implicate, then you find it out that there story was incorrect, go back to torturing them. Just one round of that might take days or a weeks. Which would make for boring TV.
Full Story: Interpret This: The Rise and Rise of Television Torture
The politics of the man behind “24.”
Scalia: Fictional TV show justifies legal torture
Nathaniel Rich’s article on the de-extinction movement includes this letter by Stewart Brand to George Church and Edward O. Wilson:
Dear Ed and George . . .
The death of the last passenger pigeon in 1914 was an event that broke the public’s heart and persuaded everyone that extinction is the core of humanity’s relation with nature.
George, could we bring the bird back through genetic techniques? I recall chatting with Ed in front of a stuffed passenger pigeon at the Comparative Zoology Museum [at Harvard, where Wilson is a faculty emeritus], and I know of other stuffed birds at the Smithsonian and in Toronto, presumably replete with the requisite genes. Surely it would be easier than reviving the woolly mammoth, which you have espoused.
The environmental and conservation movements have mired themselves in a tragic view of life. The return of the passenger pigeon could shake them out of it — and invite them to embrace prudent biotechnology as a Green tool instead of menace in this century. . . . I would gladly set up a nonprofit to fund the passenger pigeon revival. . . .
Full Story: The New York Times: The Mammoth Cometh
The details of how it de-extinction would actually work are fascinating, and if you stick with the article long enough, it does include some criticism from mainstream biologists. For one thing, this isn’t really bringing back an old species so much as it easy creating a new species that is very close to the old. In fact, one environmental lawyer has already suggested that such species could be patentable.