How fair is it for just three people to receive the Nobel Prize in physics?


The article raises some pertinent questions regarding collaboration in science and the restriction to award a maximum of 3 only.

When publishing any scientific article, there is a basic conundrum – someone must receive the prime place on the list of authors. In some fields, authors covet the first place; in others, the last place. And the benefits of being the primary author go far beyond a single article. There’s a phenomenon called the “Matthew Effect” in science, referring to the observation in the Gospel of Matthew that the “rich get richer.” The noted author of an article is much more likely to receive attention into the future.

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Caroline Wagner — The Conversation

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On The Origin of Disgust


A look at disgust from an evolutionary perspective.

Disgust appeared somewhere in the long history of human evolution. We don’t know when and where.  The absence of the best sources of evidence leaves the assignment of disgust origins to genetic selection in biological evolution uncertain.  Neither contamination sensitivity nor avoidance of decayed substances are present at or shortly after birth in humans, and neither is documented to be present in other primates. The fact that disgust functions to protect humans from microbial contamination is a start for an evolutionary account, but it is far from conclusive.  Both fire and antibiotics are parts of the human antimicrobial repertoire, but neither evolved biologically. So just establishing an adaptive value for a trait does not make a strong case for its biological evolution.

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Paul Rozin — Emotion Researcher

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The Age of Em review – the horrific future when robots rule the Earth


A book review for today.

But there is plausibly a show-stopping problem here. If someone announces they will upload my consciousness into a robot and then destroy my existing body, I will take this as a threat of murder. The robot running an exact copy of my consciousness won’t actually be “me”. (Such issues are richly analysed in the philosophical literature stemming from Derek Parfit’s thought experiments about teleportation and the like in the 1980s.) So ems – the first of whom are, by definition, going to have minds identical to those of humans – may very well exhibit the same kind of reaction, in which case a lot of Hanson’s more thrillingly bizarre social developments will not happen. But then, the rather underwhelming upshot of this project is that fast-living and super-clever ems will probably crack the problem of proper AI – actual intelligent machines – within a year or so of ordinary human time. And then the age of em will be over and the Singularity will be upon us, and what comes next is anyone’s guess.

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Steven Poole — The Guardian

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This Tiny Country Feeds the World


Could not help but share this great piece from National Geographic about a small country doing wonders with its sustainable farming practices.

Seen from the air, the Netherlands resembles no other major food producer—a fragmented patchwork of intensely cultivated fields, most of them tiny by agribusiness standards, punctuated by bustling cities and suburbs. In the country’s principal farming regions, there’s almost no potato patch, no greenhouse, no hog barn that’s out of sight of skyscrapers, manufacturing plants, or urban sprawl. More than half the nation’s land area is used for agriculture and horticulture.

The complete article

Frank Viviano — National Geographic

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Why mathematics has not been effective in economics


I have always felt that mathematics could have been better used in economics.

Håvelmo argued also that if economics wanted to be taken as seriously as physics, chemistry and biology, it needed to employ probability because that was the way that opinions were expressed in science. He believed that if this was done, economics would make new insights, just as physicists and biologists had. He also observed that the natural sciences had found a perspective on nature that made it appear to follow stable laws. The goal of The Probability Approach in Econometrics was to present how this could be realised. Morgenstern began The Theory of Games, like Håvelmo, with an argument for the use of mathematics in economics and explained that what was required was the careful definition of terms, a pre-requisite of mathematics but lacking in economics. To this end, von Neumann started with the axioms of utility that had been at the core of Carl Menger’s, unmathematical, economics.

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Magic, maths and money — Tim Johnson

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Good Grammar Is a Matter of Life or Death for Japanese Tits


We are not the only ones bound by the rules of grammar. Birds are too.

These reactions and non-reactions suggest that tits need syntax to make sense of commands. Rather than telling the flock to mob right away, it’s important to educate the birds on the threat first. Similar grammatical logic has been exhibited in other species like the Carolina Chickadee, says Carrie Branch, a PhD candidate in behavioral ecology at the University of Nevada, who was not involved in the study. Though Suzuki’s work does an excellent job furthering our understanding of bird communication, Branch says, it would also be interesting to see if Willow Tits respond to the same remixes.

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Rashmi Shivni — Audubon

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It Gets Wetter


Today’s needull looks at Kim Stanley Robinson’s new book New York 2140. The writer looks at how climate change will affect New York and how might the city look then.

It’s a novel scene—New York City, 123 years from now: half-drowned but not out. Still a capital of real estate, still a political powerhouse, still an unequal battleground between finance and housing movements, still a crucible where capitalism and climate politics are smashed, melted, and twisted together. The (true) physical premise is that upper Manhattan is fifty feet higher than lower Manhattan.

The complete article

Daniel Aldana Cohen — Dissent

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