The recreational habits of (life) scientists

[This post has been lurking about since, oops, May, so I thought I better put it out there!] I’m sure everyone has favourite inductive hypotheses about the world that they mull over as potential research questions–if only they weren’t so utterly trivial. Besides, I usually only notice the confirmatory evidence for mine. The co-incidence of … Read more

on science and science fiction

There’s an engaging conversation in Nature this week with four science-fiction writers who concentrate on the life-sciences in their writing: The biologists strike back. I have this tremendous block about sci-fi. I have dabbled on the fringes and read Neal Stephenson and Iain Banks like everyone else, but virtually no classic sci-fi. Genre fiction intimidates … Read more

the need for science

The piece by Harry Kroto is actually entitled “The wrecking of British Science“, but it contains positive messages as well as cautions. In the Guardian: Many think of the sciences as merely a fund of knowledge. Journalists never ask scientists anything other than what the applications are of scientific breakthroughs. Interestingly, I doubt they ever … Read more

the two cultures revisited (ad nauseum)

A short while ago I attended one of a series of talks set up to create some dialogue between evolutionary and interpretive approaches in archaeology. I was only able to attend the last of the series, but others who attended earlier talks reported that the presentations themselves (one from each of the two “styles”) were interesting and informative, but that the discussions that took place afterwards, where, ostensibly, the dialogue was to get into full swing, were quite fraught, full of misunderstandings and tense “science versus post-modernism” exchanges.

Which is, as always, a shame. I think to most scientifically-minded archaeologists and anthropologists–indeed anyone in the social sciences who appreciates the scientific method–the lack of useful dialogue, collaboration, and proper communication with our colleagues who have other approaches is felt as a keen deficit. From afar, we can observe the wealth of rich material (dare I say “data”?) collected by social anthropologists (for instance). More importantly, we can observe their ability to contextualise, interpret and suggest new or alternative hypotheses for what we, with the necessity of abstract or simple models, are sometimes missing in our approaches.

However, after attending the last talk, I don’t think that they (“they” being in this case those in the social sciences who probably prefer the term humanities) really feel any keen need for such dialogue in the other direction. I could be (and would be delighted to be) very wrong about this. I got the sense of a lamentable misunderstanding how science as applied to human affairs. Misunderstanding the scientific method is of course a more general malady, from the sub-editors at the Evening Standard right on through to nutritionists with dodgy qualifications.

But at this talk there were some SHOCKERS.

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everybody needs a fishbowl

One of the most stimulating talks at the European Human Behaviour and Evolution meeting last week was by Randy Nesse from the University of Michigan, who should be well-known to anyone whose had any interest in evolutionary psychology over the last ten years. Nesse has been at the forefront of investigating how an evolutionary perspective … Read more

working, you say?

Some days I would like to re-animate George Peter Murdock and have a beer with him. G.P., I’d say, after shaking his hand vigorously (although not too hard, because, you know, zombie corpse) G.P., you would have really liked the concept of the computer database, and maybe if you’d had one, you mighta got out … Read more

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

(Pretentious latin post title for the win!) The tension in academia–especially science–between communication and discretion fascinates me. On the one hand, you want to be able to discuss your ideas with as many people as possible; on the other, those ideas are your intellectual currency and you don't want them stolen or misappropriated. The publishing … Read more

perceptual thresholds in culture

Today at Culture Club [1] we discussed a recent paper by Eerkens & Lipo [link], where they present a null model of copying errors in cultural transmission. One of the notions they discuss is something I learnt a million years ago in Stage 1 Experimental Psychology: Weber's Fraction, or the Just Noticeable Difference. Interestingly, they … Read more

protecting your ideas

In science, being “scooped” really sucks. It crossed my mind when I set up Culture Evolves! that “idea security” might become an issue. There are two aspects to this: 1. Idea Security as directly relates to the work I’m doing on my PhD, which I have yet to describe in any detail because I’m not … Read more