Monthly Archives: June 2018

Free speech for me but not for thee

Why Evolution Is True

This article in the New York Times‘s philosophy section “The Stone”, is a mixed bag, but on the whole not a bag that’s so great (click on screenshot to read it). The author is a professor of philosophy at Wuhan University, Yale-NUS College and Vassar College, as well as the author of Taking Back Philosophy: A Multicultural Manifesto. 

Click on the screenshot to read it:

Van Norden’s point is that not everyone deserves a platform to espouse their ideas, even if they deserve free speech in the Constitutional sense: freedom from government censorship. And I don’t think many of us would disagree with that. I am not, for instance, going to invite a creationist to speak to my department, though I didn’t try to prevent someone in physics from doing that a few years ago. I wouldn’t invite Alex Jones to speak here, either. But that doesn’t mean that…

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James Cook – The Voyages @ the British Library

Books & Boots

2018 marks 250 years since Captain James Cook set off from Plymouth on the first of his three epoch-making voyages of exploration to the Pacific. In 1768 most of the coastlines and islands scattered across this vast body of water – nearly 64 million square miles of ocean – were unknown to Europeans. When Cook’s third voyage returned to Britain in 1780, most of the blank spaces had been filled in as a result of  his labours.

Image result for james cook voyages

Voyage One 1768-71

Cook had gained a reputation as a hard working navigator and map-maker during the Seven Years War (1756-63) in Canada, when he had charted the St Laurence Waterway and then, when peace came, made the first detailed charts of the island of Newfoundland off the Canadian coast.

So when the Royal Society approached the Royal Navy for a captain to lead an expedition to the Pacific, with scientific equipment and…

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The downfall of Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes

Why Evolution Is True

Many of you will know about the downfall of Theranos, the Silicon Valley company started by Elizabeth Holmes, who claimed to have devised a machine that could do multiple physiological tests on just a single drop of blood. It never really worked, even though investors (including Rupert Murdoch) pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into Holmes’s startup. At one time Theranos was worth over 9 billiondollars on paper.  Then her chicanery was uncovered and published by The Wall Street Journal.

Now Theranos, and Holmes, are bankrupt. And ten days ago, both Holmes and Theranos’s former president, Ramesh Balwani, were indicted for wire fraud: for deliberately lying to investors and the public. (For a brief period Theranos partnered with the pharmacy chain Walgreen’s in a blood-testing collaboration.)

This 31-minute video is an interview of John Carreyrou by Nick Gillespie of ReasonTV; Carreyrou was the Wall Street Journal reporter…

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Once more: is there such a thing as metaphysical necessity?

Footnotes to Plato

Some philosophers distinguish among three classes of necessary (or, conversely, impossible) things: (i) physical necessities (and impossibilities), meaning things that are going to happen (or can never happen) because of the ways the laws of physics are; (ii) logical necessities (and impossibilities), that is things that are true (or impossible) because of the laws of logic; and (iii) metaphysical necessities (and impossibilities), meaning things that are the case (or can never be the case) because of…? Yeah, the latter is the problematic one. Nobody doubts the existence of the laws of physics (though some philosophers reject that kind of talk and prefer to think in terms of causal regularities). Some people think that logical necessity / impossibility is actually the result of human constructs, since one can adopt different kinds of logic, but this is controversial. And then there is a small number of philosophers, the metaphysicians (sometimes they call…

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Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greece @ the British Museum

Books & Boots

In my spare time I simply haunt the British Museum. (Rodin, 1892)

Rodin and the British Museum

François Auguste René Rodin (1840 – 1917), known as Auguste Rodin, is widely seen as the godfather of modern sculpture. He visited London for the first time in 1841. On a trip to the British Museum, he discovered the so-called Elgin Marbles, the supersize Greek sculptures of men horses and mythical creatures which once lined the Parthenon in Athens – and was immediately captivated by their scale and power.

For this exhibition the Museum has had the strikingly simple and effective idea of borrowing a substantial number of Rodin’s classic works from the Rodin Museum in Paris, and placing them next to and among a generous selection of original Parthenon sculptures. Over 80 works by Rodin in marble, bronze and plaster, along with some 13 of Rodin’s sketches, are displayed alongside major pieces…

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La Vue Waterfront Restaurant, Brisbane

Travels with Tim and Lisa

There is no fine dining on Norfolk Island, so we decided to splurge here in Brisbane before we are reduced to more simple fare…

La Vue Waterfront Restaurant is on a prime waterfront site, so it has a lovely view of the Story Bridge:

View of the Story Bridge Brisbane (1024x614)

It’s not really what we in Melbourne would call fine dining: it was a bit old-fashioned in an ABBAesque kind of way and there is no cocktail list (so we were obliged to check out the cocktail bar at the Marriot Hotel afterwards) and the wine list by the glass was nothing special, but the service was attentive and we enjoyed our meal anyway.

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June 22, 2018 · 9:20 pm

Americans often find it hard to distinguish between fact and opinion

Why Evolution Is True

There’s a new Pew survey out that asks a timely question, or rather several timely questions. How often can Americans distinguish between factual statements (that is, statements that can be empirically verified or disproven) and statements of opinion? And does that depend on whether the statements are congenial to their ideology? Does exposure to or trust in the news media help you distinguish between fact and opinion?

You can find a summary of the survey (5,035 adult Americans, 18 or older) by clicking on the screenshot below, and the full pdf is here.

Here are the five statements of fact, five statements of opinion, and there were two “borderline” statement that were mixed: part opinion and part fact. (This last group wasn’t subject to as much analysis as the first two groups.)

And here’s what the respondents were asked; remember, a “factual” statement simply makes a factual assertion—it doesn’t…

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Matthew Cobb and others on BBC: “Do insects feel pain?”

Why Evolution Is True

Have a listen to this 26-minute BBC show (click on screenshot to go to the show, which should be accessible worldwide). It’s the second part of a show about whether it’s moral to kill or hurt insects.

A personal note: I avoid killing insects, or any animal, whenever possible. I may swat a mosquito, but if I see a millipede, an earwig, or anything else in my home or lab, I take it outside and release it. Yes, I killed millions of flies doing genetics research over my career, but I always killed them humanely, first putting them to sleep. (When I was doing undergraduate research on flies at William & Mary, I would take my spare flies to the roof of the biology building and let them go. I was finally caught doing this by my advisor, who chewed me out for polluting the natural gene pool—of the cosmopolitan…

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The Seventh Cross, by Anna Seghers, translated by Margot Bettauer Dembo #BookReview

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Gods, Power and Knowledge

Andrea Goldsmith

Throughout human history we humans have created gods to help explain our existence. We look to these deities to give meaning to our circumstances, our actions, our past and future, our blessings and our sufferings. That these gods, with their immortality and their extraordinary powers, are often given human form is an interesting paradox: we create them because they are NOT like us, and yet we domesticate them by giving them our bodies and other human characteristics.

The Greeks set the barre high when it came to numbers of immortals. They had gods for almost all aspects of human existence: love, war, hearth and home, harvest and hunting, wine, fire, message delivery, wisdom, fertility, and much much more. The Egyptians put up a stiff competition, so, too, the Romans. Then came the Jews, and after them the Christians and Muslims who dispensed with all but a single omnipotent being –…

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