29 May 2010

What Happens after Peak Oil?

Miller-McCune interviews Jörg Friedrichs, lecturer in politics at Oxford, in "Peak Oil and Apocalypse Then." What happens globally after Peak Oil?  Friedrichs suggests that states are likely to adopt one of three strategies:

1) "Predatory militarism" in order to secure additional oil supplies.  Friedrichs points here to the example of Japan in 1941, and suggests that the U.S. may be prone to take this approach. (In fact, this sounds awfully familiar. Dick Cheney and Iraq, anyone?)

2) Looting of the populace by the power elite (as foreshadowed by North Korea).

3) "Local solidarity." Friedrichs here cites the example of Cuba after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Are the U.S. and Western Europe likely to take this tack?  Friedrich says:
JG: Strictly speaking, it’s not so much a problem of
the West but of a particular lifestyle. When social glue and
traditional lifestyles have eroded, they are not easily recovered. After
several generations of individualism and affluence, Westerners will
have a hard time accepting that they need to rely on communities and
must revert to a sustainable lifestyle. After 65 years of mass
consumerism, Japanese society is likely to face similar problems.
M-M:
What about Europe?
JG: Western Europe falls
under the category of places where social glue and sustainable
lifestyles are almost passé. Unlike the U.S., Europe is not a
particularly promising contender in case of a military scramble for
resources. And unlike North Koreans, Europeans are not likely to accept a
totalitarian “solution” to the problem of how to slice up a shrinking
pie. After peak oil, probably the best hope for Europe is populist
regimes that might mobilize residual national solidarity to weather the
crisis. I’m not a fan of populist regimes, but they typically emerge
when democratic societies enter a deep crisis.
Reads a bit as if Michael Rennie as Klaatu from "The Day the Earth Stood Still" had come to earth and given us a withering but completely logical and objective analysis of our situation and potential futures.  Depressing but enlightening.

And the reference to "populist regimes" brings to mind not only such depressing memories as Jörg Haider in Austria (who fortunately didn't quite make it to the point of having a "regime") but also Sarah Palin.... (shudder).

I'm perplexed at the use of the initials "JG" for "Jörg Friedrichs," but that's just the residual editor in me....





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The Scientific Impotence Excuse

John Timmer at Ars technica discusses a newly published study by Geoffrey Munro on what Munro calls the "scientific impotence excuse," used by those who wish to dismiss scientific findings that conflict with their preexisting beliefs. The notion here is that the question at hand is depicted by the person using this excuse as being beyond the scope of science.

The article citation is Geoffrey D. Munro (2010), "The Scientific Impotence Excuse: Discounting
Belief-Threatening Scientific Abstracts," Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 40:579-600. The article is hidden behind an unusually elaborate paywall (hence I haven't read it); it costs $29.95 from Wiley InterScience for 24-hour access to a 21-page pdf.

(As will become clear to those who follow this blog, I intend to cite the prices of all research articles that are placed behind pay walls because of the chronic absurdity of the access prices, particularly given that a very large proportion of the funding behind such research is ultimately public.)

In order even to learn the price of Munro's article, I had to register at Wiley's site and give them my credit-card billing address (although not my credit card information). 

For a rather sad example of the use of a the scientific impotence excuse by a prominent scientist, see Francisco Ayala, "Evolution can be Religion's Friend" at Standpoint.

And I thought that Gould's "non-overlapping magisteria" had been assigned to the dustbin of intellectual history. Silly me.

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28 May 2010

Daily Digest, 28.05.2010

MIT student Tristan Jehan's Python script that takes the beat of any song and makes it swing. Examples at the linked site include "Every Breath You Take" and (my old-guy fave) "White Rabbit." I want this script.  Can't wait to apply it to Wagner, Puccini, and Schubert.

At h-madness, Laura Stokes reviews the exhibition catalogue Madness and Modernity: Mental Illness and the Visual Arts in Vienna 1900. Sounds to me as if the exhibition overlooked more than it included.

A must-read by Dan Cohen: "Open Access Publishing and Scholarly Values."  You'll be hearing a lot more on this topic from me.

"Neurology at the Opera," a new article in Frontiers of Neurological Neuroscience. Behind a paywall ($25 for a 10-page pdf from Karger), so I can't read it.  Let me know if it's any good.

"The 50 Worst Inventions of All Time" in Time, from Agent Orange to Clippy, by way of Subprime Mortgages, Farmville, Hair-in-a-Can, Autotune, the Ford Pinto, Pop-Up Ads, Plastic Grocery Bags, and many more.
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27 May 2010

Daily Digest, 27.05.2010

I'd been planning on making my first blog post an introductory one about me, the blog, and what I plan to do with the blog.  But so much good stuff turned up today, as I was testing ScribeFire, the plug-in blog editor for Firefox, that I couldn't resist making this Daily Digest my first post.

An article in Prospect on the distressing neglect of the sites at Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Peter Whittle in Standpoint, on the reluctance of the Left and the gay community in Europe to criticize Muslim intolerance of homosexuality.

Sir Mick interviewed by BBC News on the rediscovered tracks from the era of "Exile on Main Street," and what it was like in the good old days in the South of France.

Neurophilosophy on the relationship between daydreaming, memory, and the direction of bodily motion.

Nature News reports a new study in Cell showing a relationship between the immune system and obsessive-compulsive behavior in mice.

Fascinating report at the ever fascinating Not Exactly Rocket Science on a study by Italian scientist Alessio Avenanti showing that empathic response to another's pain varies according the race of the person whose pain is being observed. Avenanti shows through a clever extension of this experiment (using purple hands), that the variation in empathy according to skin color is probably a learned response.

Jane Austen's fiction manuscripts are being assembled in an online digital edition as a joint project of Oxford and King's College London.

Neuroskeptic discusses an article in Nature Neuroscience on the apparent role of DNA methylation in memory. A helpful description of methylation for beginners (like me), with useful links.

Emily Badger writes in Miller-McCune Online about an investigation by Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia's attorney general, of Michael Mann, the climate scientist especially renowned for the "hockey-stick" graph. Cuccinelli seems to be using the threat of a lawsuit to intimidate a scientist whose science he doesn't like.

As reported in Science News, a note in the 28 May issue of Science argues that the environment of Ardi (Ardipithecus ramidus) was predominantly savanna, not forest, as had been argued by Ardi's discoverers. As reported in Nature, a second note in the same issue of Science suggests that Ardi is too close to the split of the ape and human lineages to make a reliable determination whether she belongs to one or the other.  Ardi's discoverers disagree with both notes.  See also John Hawks.

Is syntax processed in the anterior temporal lobe, rather than Broca's area?  Apparently at least when one is listening to Alice in Wonderland while inside an fMRI machine.
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