- The Edge Annual Question 2009: What will change Everything? with answers from all the usual suspects: Carlo Rovelli tries to face that his dreams might not come true and he won't witness any great breakthroughs in theoretical physics at all. Lisa Randall shows to be very down to earth and suggests that further increase in computing power will go along with progress in science. Alexander Vilenkin elaborates on the Doomsday Argument and our responsibility to become a space-colonizing species. (For an explanation why the Doomsday Argument is nonsense read this). Lee Smolin wants to liberate time and rethink the meaning of truth and reality - and amazingly enough manages to connect this line of thought to neoclassical economic theory. Max Tegmark fears an accidental nuclear war, Lawrence Krauss a deliberate one, and Garrett Lisi takes once again the meta-stance and suggests Changes in the Changers.
- The Globe and Mail collects the most absurd stories from the world of work 2008. Highlights: A Chicago public school teacher was pulled from the classroom after she taped a nine-year-old special education student to his chair because he wouldn't sit down. -- An Italian priest organized an online beauty contest for nuns in an effort to dispel the perception that they were all old, sad and dowdy. His bishop nixed the project.-- Two German police officers were mistaken for male strippers when they investigated a complaint about a noisy party. They were mobbed by drunken women urging them to rip their clothes off. -- The head of a German telesales company fired three non-smokers and announced he would hire only smokers in the future. Non-smokers, he said, are grumblers who don't socialize with their co-workers.
- Seed Magazine has an excellent article "The Scientist in 2008" by Steven Shapin: "Who are the scientists of today? Where do they work? What motivates them? As science increasingly shapes our cultural moment, the identity of its practitioners is also evolving." It is a highly recommendable read though I wish he would have drawn some conclusions from his argumentation. A sample: "The increasing alignment of science with commercial institutions carries a risk: the loss in the public mind of the idea of an independent scientific voice — not truth speaking to power but power shaping what counts as truth. [...] We're still a long way from the general "corruption" of science — witness the moral outrage attending stories about commercial or political incursions into science. But if it came to pass that these associations count as normal, then the scientific voice would no longer sound independent. The material utility of science that is a substantial basis for its success would then undermine itself. To be a modern scientist is to be an employee, but the job must have a degree of autonomy or scientists will be of no use — to the institutions that engage their services or to the public."
- Spiegel Online has a very interesting article about France's plans to build the first nuclear fusion power plant. They also report: "A few weeks ago in Garching, physicists discovered another way to improve the fusion process. The discovery is so recent that the results have not been published. Using the ASDEX Upgrade reactor they found that adding nitrogen produces a sensational effect. Instead of being cooled off by contact with this impurity, the plasma grows hotter. "Just how this unexpected phenomenon comes about is something we don't really understand yet," Hasinger admitted. "Surprisingly, the addition of nitrogen seems to insulate the plasma better." The nitrogen enigma suggests how many unanswered questions remain."
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