Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Should Huff Po have a Science section? Wilson Sloan Wilson asks.

My reply:

I posted a comment on this yesterday, but it failed to appear. I voted "yes" to science, too, but reading through some of the comments today (didn't have time to browse them yesterday), I say "good luck."

A couple problems: first of all your readership isn't really interested in science despite their professions to the contrary. "Science" at this forum equals politics (like everything else). Therefore it must be "global warming." "Global warming" is not a scientific concept, it's a political idea - i.e., that humans are causing the climat to change and threatening life on the planet. Should climate change turn out to have natural causes, would any of your Huff readers be interested in knowing? People who write sentences like the one I just wrote are called "deniers." Doesn't that sound a little like Galileo's plight? Only now the roles are reversed.

I mention climate change because it's the most visible of various political issues that parades as science in contemporary life. The very fact that global warming is to be "accepted" without asking questions demonstrates to what extent it has ceased being science -- which is all about questions. And when Madonna is trotted out to help the cause -- Madonna, that very distinquished scientist who helps Gore. Well, whatever.

Also I notice that several of your commenters have given notice that "intelligent design" or anything that smacks of "religion" must be ruled out -- but aren't you one of the ones who keeps harping on religion? I have yet to see YOUR blog really deal with SCIENCE. I happen to be a Christian, as some here are aware. I happen also to have a keen layperson's interest in science. A year ago I had a chance to hear Jim Gates give a public talk on Superstring theory, which was my first introduction to this fascinating topic. And I've been reading various books about it since -- the most approachable of which was "Our Cosmic Habitat" by Martin J. Rees.

Cosmic theories in particular almost require a certain religio-philosophical input if only because they bang into various inconsistencies not compatible with scientific method -- as for instance the notion of a "multi-verse," something that is intrisically un-verifiable. Stephen Hawking has some interesting comments to make on this problem at the conclusion of "A Brief History of Time."

Darwinian evolution is another hot button that is supposed to be untouchable by the science as advocacy crowd. Consequently the ways that Darwin's "big picture" has failed (so far) to find confirmation in physical data is also taboo. And this in itself would be a marvellous subject for science writing -- the lacunae of "Darwinian" theory to date and what all this means. Whether Darwin is ultimately demonstrated to be "right" or "wrong" obscures the extent to which Darwin was doing a kind of biological inquiry that is no longer commonplace today: i.e., he was looking at the big picture, trying to find a grand "unifying" theory of the development of life. Even the whole matter of defining what "life" is -- is a rich and problematic area to cover in a public discourse.

But are your readers interested? Not Huff readers generally, but YOUR readers in particular who, if you've taken the trouble to notice, are really obsessed with religion.

I am a Christian, but one of my chief criticisms of the Huff Po Atheists is "ils ne parlent que du bon Dieu." God is the ONLY thing they seem to want to talk about!

Well, recently Israeli Avraham Trakhtman, a Russian Jewish immigrant solved the Road Coloring problem. The problem posits that given a finite number of roads, one should be able to draw a map, coded in various colors, that leads to a certain destination regardless of the point of origin. Trakhtman's solution took 8 pages to write. Trakhtman is 63.

This is science news. It appeared in lots of media outlets. If it appeared at Huff, I didn't notice. Do you think Huff readers are interested?

Is there a political angle? Or is there some way you can use this to bash the religious? Or Republicans? Because those are the things that Huff readers care about.

PS. I can barely add and subtract, but doesn't Trakhtman's solution have cosmological implications? I mean if the universe is finite?