Graslie Talk

GRASLIE

What’s her argument?

Graslie is a curiosity correspondent – she helps people be curious. Her argument is that people are generally curious, but to pursue this curiosity, the feeling of curiosity must exist first. That is, the curiosity must be aroused by something.

Quote that supports your contention:

“You can only be curios about something when you know it exists.”

Your Interpretation:

We aren’t very curious about many things, simply because we do not know about them. For example, if I didn’t know there was a dog (Sideways) buried on Georgia Tech’s campus, I would never have gone looking for the grave.

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Flying Earth

There are so many movies themed on mass human extinction. ‘The Day After Tomorrow’, ‘2012’, ‘Seeking a Friend for the End of the World’ are just some movies on this huge list of global-catastrophe themed films on Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_disaster_films). One of the movies listed is a 2015 flop (6.1 on IMDB, 48% on Rotten Tomatoes), called ‘San Andreas’, named after the fault line that lies there. Remember that, I’ll bring it up later.

These movies often contain scenes where huge chunks of earth are flung up, hundred meter fissures develop in a matter of seconds, and the protagonist’s family out run nature in a minivan as the earth behind them disintegrates. These movies have something else in common: they all fall under the “fiction” category.

cinema-2012

However, Kathryn Schulz’ article, ‘The Really Big One’, warns us otherwise. The articles mentions the possibility of a San Andreas disaster, but continues to say it is relatively small compared to the Japanese tsunami of 2011. The article, however, does talk about a worse event, an event with a one in ten chance of happening. This event, she calls ‘The Really Big One’.

Before we get to that, imagine you put a penny aside, every day. How much money would that be after a year? What if you continued it for a thousand years? You would have a problem storing the pennies, because you would have a block of pennies weighing more than a car. A penny a day is nearly nothing, but over time the sum becomes extremely large.

‘The Really Big One’ is the result of something similar: compression built up in the rocks of the Earth over centuries is suddenly released. The edge of the North American plate (according to the article), is bulging and compressing at some 30 to 40 millimeters a year; I’m sure people living there cannot feel any change at all. In the event of ‘The Really Big One’ happening, the ground would rise to up to A HUNDRED FEET in a matter of minutes. It would, in the article’s words, “rebound”.

What would we do if this were to happen? I don’t know. Kathryn doesn’t either, she doesn’t tell us in the article. Do you have any ideas?

Project Nim

Project Nim started off by showing humans in a light that made me think the documentary was scripted by a PETA activist. With raw footage of Nim, the protagonist chimp, being torn away from his mother, as his mother tried her best to protect him (she had had her 7 previous children taken, also revealed in the documentary through narration during the same scene), the documentary convinced me that my species was cold blooded. I expected the documentary to detail the cruelty humans show towards chimps, but I was very wrong.

The documentary from that point on presents footage that drew less emotion, although the participants of the Project described their emotions and relationship with Nim in depth. As the documentary progressed, a question started forming in my head: “To what extent can a chimp (or any animal) be humanized?”

The true “project”, documented by Project Nim, was an experiment to test the theory that raising an animal under the same stimulus and conditions provided to a human infant would result in the animal being humanized. In this experiment, chimpanzees were chosen; after all, they are one of our closest cousins (to those of you who do not believe in evolution (some 40 % of Americans), chimpanzees are widely regarded as the smartest of animals [ http://list25.com/25-most-intelligent-animals-on-earth/5/ ], so they still have a valid reason for being used).

The early stages of the experiment showed mostly positive results: Nim increased his sign language vocabulary exponentially and he seemed to be bright, warm and innocent. The documentary contains clips of his foster parents and his step siblings talking about Nim’s ability to understand their internal emotions, and accordingly react. When they were sad, Nim would quietly sit next to them, when they were excited, Nim would be excited too.

However, the experiment then took a drastic downward turn. Nim soon entered adolescence, and his instincts as a chimp began surfacing. Numerous bites and scratches evidenced by stitches and scars, and moments of absolute fear delivered to his caretakers served as proof that raising Nim as a human wasn’t truly humanizing him, rather it was teaching him how to “act” like a human under certain conditions. I highly recommend reading on the “Clever Hans effect” [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clever_Hans ] and artificial intelligence [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artificial_intelligence ] (especially with regards to “true intelligence” vs. “acting human”.

The project overall failed to confirm the theory.

Do not read!

I told you not to read, but you simply had to know, right? Ok, read on.

“The 5Ws1H provide an immediate form for any news report.”

The previous sentence makes perfect sense, right? No, it probably doesn’t. Though a small number of you may be familiar with the 5Ws1H, most of us have no idea what that is (or they are?). We can’t understand much from the sentence, without knowing what the subject of the sentence is!

learn-cryptography

The 5Ws1H : who, what, where, when, why and how.

Suddenly, the first sentence makes a lot of sense. We (probably) feel satisfied, knowing what ‘5Ws1H’ stands for. There is now a fitting subject to the sentence. In fact, knowing the complete meaning of the sentence even allows us to guess where that sentence might have been taken from; I would guess that it was taken from some beginner’s guide on writing news reports.

Why did I write the three paragraphs above?

In Kim Todd’s essay in BASNW, Kim starts off by describing the features Surinam Toad and its hunting methods. Kim goes on, and talks about the toad’s “disturbing” mating process. [Your thoughts at this moment: “Hey! Wait a second! Answer the underlined question first! Don’t leave me hanging!”].

This blog post is on curiosity. Kim Todd’s essay in BASNW is titled ‘Curious’. The purpose of my underlined question was to get you, the reader, curious. My first three paragraphs had two purposes: to make you wonder what ‘5Ws1H’ meant, and to give me an opportunity to present the underlined question.

As I wrote this post, at the library, fireworks were going off next to the Coca-Cola building. I wondered why; October 13th wasn’t a special day to my knowledge.

In Kim’s essay, Kim mentions George Loewenstein’s comments on curiosity: “The theoretical puzzle posed by curiosity is why people are so strongly attracted to information that, by the definition of curiosity, confers no extrinsic benefit.” I agree 100 %. I would benefit in no major way by knowing why the fireworks were going off. Yet I wanted to know.

In the past, curiosity was frowned upon. As Kim says, there are plenty of stories in which curiosity plays the villain. There are even sayings, that warn us of the dangers of curiosity (“Curiosity killed the cat”). However, today, we hail curiosity to be the foundation of research, innovation and progress. How did this shift happen? It makes me wonder.

 

 

Your great grandma lived here

Here are two articles:

“This is where your great-great-great-great (x 5000) grandfather lived!”

flintstones

“Research examines possible homo sapiens origination site”

Which one seems more tempting to read?

There is no correct answer to that question. It purely depends on who you are. If you’re just a casual internet surfer, you may feel the first article is right for you. On the other hand, if you’re a researcher working on a report, and need a source of highly-specialized, elaborate to support a claim you’re making, the second article may seem be more appealing. You may be neither of these (like me), but you still may want to read one over the other.

The two articles cover the same topic; however, the big difference between them is the audience each targets. I made up the two articles above, but here are two real articles (pay attention to their titles):

Robot replicates how we may have evolved – http://www.popsci.com/robot-replicates-how-we-might-have-evolved

Robot Helps Study How First Land Animals Moved 360 million Years Ago – http://www.news.gatech.edu/2016/07/04/robot-helps-study-how-first-land-animals-moved-360-million-years-ago

If you read the articles in the order I posted them, you probably felt as though the second went far more in depth than the first. On the other hand, if you read the second one first, the first articles might have felt like a recap that lacked many of the technical details.

The second article, published on Georgia Tech’s news page, serves to inform readers (who are already interested in the topic) about progress made at Tech, and how it could affect this topic of study in the future. The article also assumes the reader enjoys reading some technical phrases, such as “granular surfaces” and “a mathematical model incorporating new physics based on the drag research”.

The second article also clearly wants to prove its credibility throughout. It mentions seventeen names of different institutions, societies and researchers. It even has a paragraph at the end stating the sources of the grants and funding for the project. Compare this to the one name mentioned in the first article.

The layouts of the websites also help answer the question of why the articles were written. The Popular Science website has many ads on the side and bottom, many of which seem like click-bait. The primary purpose of the article is definitely to enlighten some casual readers, but the secondary (and more hidden) purpose, is to generate revenue (through those ads).

The Georgia Tech website is hardly trying to generate money. The information in the side bars simply provide background information on the professors involved in the project, and their other research projects.

What is this (my) website trying to do? What kind of audience am I targeting?

[Hint: the answers are in the ‘About’ section]

Rats and Mice

Imagine a typical laboratory. The image that comes to your mind might be similar to this:

le26_cos_mettler

A plain, white room, sparsely filled with people in plain, white lab coats, working quietly. Take a look at The Jackson Laboratory’s (Jax’s) website (https://www.jax.org/genetics-and-healthcare/genetics-and-genomics/why-mouse-genetics#). Does it remind you of a lab?

The purpose of this design may be to communicate to us, that Jax is a no non-sense, strictly professional place. At Jax, science is taken seriously. The manner in which the article is written also adds to the “scientific feel” of the page. For example, the article is summed up with bullet points, which argue for the advantages of mouse research.  The article also tries to keep its voice factual and unemotional.

The large visual (reproduced below), is also kept emotion-free.

jax

Compare that to this image of a mouse:

il_fullxfull-959249460_an6e

Overall, Jax is surreptitiously trying to suppress any sympathy the reader may feel towards the mice.

And they have a valid reason for trying to do so.

The National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS), founded in 1929, coincidentally Jax’s founding year also, is an advocate for the humane treatment of animals. They have an elaborate article arguing against the use of mice in research, and they also present some interesting statistics. Before you click on the link, take a moment and try to imagine what images they may have on their page. Here is a link to their page: http://www.navs.org/what-we-do/keep-you-informed/science-corner/animals-used-in-research/mice-and-rats/.

You probably noticed that NAVS doesn’t have many visuals either. In this blog post, there is a picture of a mouse in clothes. This seems to almost humanize the mouse. Any thoughts of using it (or rather him, now), for testing, would be barbaric. Why is this so? Do we already have some bonding towards it (him)?

In scientific arguments, using emotional appeals, is generally (if not always) frowned upon. The reason is emotion isn’t universal: different people can and will have different reactions. Facts, however, are facts; they are universal.

NAVS hasn’t taken the cheap, emotional path, to argue for its cause. There are no pictures of mice dressed as humans. Instead, NAVS provides some solid statistics regarding the use of mice in research. NAVS has also cleverly planted a question in our minds: “Does the use of mice in research even work?”

“…it is not safe to assume that what occurs in rodents will predict what happens in people.” – NAVS, in their article.

Our safety has been brought into NAVS’ argument. All of a sudden, NAVS is arguing for “us”. Therefore, “we” must be on NAVS’ side, right?

Both Jax and NAVS present strong arguments. Whose side are you on?

Galileo Francis

Galileo Francis

In the 1500s, most people believed heavy things fell faster than light things. Galileo Galilei, the Italian physicist (or rather philosopher, as the profession was called back then) proved that all things fell with the same acceleration. There’s a story that Galileo dropped two lead spheres, one much larger than the other, from the Leaning Tower of Pisa, to demonstrate his claim. While this story is probably false, his claim definitely isn’t. (Actually, he used a logic-based proof. What would happen if you tied the two spheres together, would the heavy one be slowed down by the light one? Or, because they were one very heavy entity now, would they fall even faster than before? The only way around this paradox is to assume they fell with the same acceleration)

One of his more (perhaps most) controversial proposals, was that the Earth orbited the Sun (the heliocentric astronomical model). Why did this proposal cause so much chaos?

If I were to tell you today, that the Earth was pyramidal, and not spherical, you would laugh at me first, and then upon recognizing that I was serious, you would ask me to explain how various concepts, like the curvature of the horizon, the idea of time zones, et cetera, fit into my new model. Basically, my model would have to explain every observable phenomenon.

Galileo faced this problem. The general public didn’t believe him, the Church didn’t, and many of his fellow scientists were skeptical too. However, these people, unknowingly, helped solidify and strengthen the heliocentric theory. By questioning this theory in every phase of its development, they forced Galileo, Kepler, Copernicus and other pro-heliocentric physicists to cement any cracks in the theory; as a result, we now have an indestructible, fundamental piece of science.

Now, let’s get to the real topic of this post: climate change. Climate change (or global warming) may be the most controversial topic behind foreign policy and immigration (in the United States and Europe). In an article by Eli Kintisch (http://users.clas.ufl.edu/prwaylen/GEO2200%20Readings/Readings/Climate%20change/Melting%20Arctic%20ice%20and%20climate%20extremes.pdf), the struggles of today’s scientists (one in particular) advocating climate change are made known.

Jennifer Francis, the main character in the article, in one sense, is today’s Galileo; her ideas may not be as revolutionary as Galileo’s, but the nature of the criticism she’s receiving is very similar. Within the article, Stephen Vavrus, Jennifer’s colleague, says “Jennifer and I have been forced into the uncomfortable position of defending—or at least explaining—our position before the scientific process has run its course.” The article is filled with other instances of Jennifer’s work being questioned. Some strict believers of climate change could infuriated by this (“They’re unnecessarily slowing down her progress!”). On the other hand, I think they should be happy.

If Jennifer wasn’t so cruelly cross-examined, her work wouldn’t have the opportunity to be proven correct. Though Stephen Vavrus will disagree with me, I think Jennifer is fortunate she gets a chance to make her stance strong, from the start, even before she has physical evidence. Maybe this will give the world one of those nice logic-based proofs.