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Index: Science, Medicine & Technology

Newton’s prisms.

Alan Wall: “The ‘truth’ of any fact is its demonstrability within a system of representations. No fact is ever singular, or discrete; it is relational. ‘There are no things,’ said the painter Georges Braque, ‘only relations between things.’ Nothing is inherently true or false. It appears in a field of relations out of which truth or falsehood is generated. To stand outside any representational world and describe it is to designate it either as myth, ideology or bad science.”

E.O. Wilson is in. Wow, the butterflies are out.

From The Atlantic: ‘Generation after generation of students have suffered trying to “puzzle out” what great thinkers like Socrates, Plato, and Descartes had to say on the great questions of man’s nature, Wilson said, but this was of little use, because philosophy has been based on “failed models of the brain.”’

The view from the ‘Cultural Observatory’: Trillions of needles, billions of haystacks.

Erez Lieberman Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel, who jointly lead a group at Harvard called the Cultural Observatory, will soon inaugurate a browser that searches a large online repository of scientific papers known as arXiv (pronounced like “archive”).

Skirmishes in the battle of Whence.

Science, symbolism, and ideology are getting lumped together in the discourse of the new atheism.

Meet Coco de Mer, potency enhancer.

These days, the hope in Berlin is that the palm tree merely survives. After all, it is a very special plant. During a visit to the Seychelles in the late 19th century, British Gen. Charles Gordon, the former governor-general of the Sudan, stumbled upon the following notion: He was convinced that the Coco de Mer was undoubtedly the forbidden fruit of the biblical Tree of Knowledge.

Earth’s ‘intelligent life’ – is this as smart as it gets?

Earth is the sole abode of intelligent life in the galaxy, the product of a profoundly improbable sequence of cosmic, geologic and climatic events—some thoroughly documented, some inferable from fragmentary evidence—that allowed our planet to become a unique refuge where life could develop to its full potential.

Recalling Victorian scientists and their sung verse.

Poetry has been a long-standing tradition in the natural sciences, and Victorian scientists, in particular, had a wide-ranging education that fostered a powerful affinity with the Muse.

Scientific misconduct, 2325 times a year.

Scientists guilty of misconduct are found in every field, at every kind of research institution and with a variety of social and educational backgrounds.

The city’s skyscrapers of forests.

The Urban Forest draws inspiration from the appreciation of nature and the artificial in oriental philosophy and reconnects urbanity to the natural realm.

• The work of Steve Jobs’ predecessors surveyed, photographed, and recorded.

The search for the recording takes us from the New Jersey laboratories of Thomas Edison to the Highlands of Scotland, and from the archives of the Rolls-Royce motor company to the vaults beneath London’s Science Museum.

• The speed of light problem – ‘a difference of 60 feet’ – is familiar to baseball pitchers.

Reputations may rise and fall. But in the end, this is a victory for science. No theory is carved in stone…Unlike religion or politics, science is ultimately decided by experiments, done repeatedly in every form. There are no sacred cows. In science, 100 authorities count for nothing. Experiment counts for everything.

• Enlightenment, as a nightly public service.

As Koslofsky very reasonably argues, almost all the work on the public sphere has concentrated on locations and institutional forms, and has neglected time. Coffee houses were open all day, of course, but it was at night that they came into their own. As the London pamphlet Character of Coffee and Coffee-House claimed in 1661, “they borrow of the night”.

• To solve the problem of overpopulation, you have to go beyond density to imagination.

In their fully catered paradise, the population increased exponentially, doubling every fifty-five days. Those were the good times, as the mice feasted on the fruited plain. To its members, the mouse civilization of Universe 25 must have seemed prosperous indeed. But its downfall was already certain—not just stagnation, but total and inevitable destruction.

• A review of peer reviewing: more transparency, please.

There are, however, many ways in which current pre-publication peer-review practices can and should be improved and optimised, although we recognise that different types of peer review are suitable to different disciplines and research communities.

· Very not-close encounters with 18 million books. Plus: What does the Lit Lab have to do with lit?

You pretty much have two choices. You can read a small number of books very carefully. Or you can read lots of books “very, very not-carefully”.