a curious Yankee in Europe's court

blog about living in Europe, and Italy

SPECK ‘N U (28): European Space Agency maps Big Bang

Posted on the March 23rd, 2013

Speck 'N U 20130323

Speck is citing a Guardian newspaper article, “Planck telescope maps light of the big bang scattered across the universe” (March 21, 2013). To see more Speck cartoons, click here.

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SPECK ‘N U: 22 (Marcelo Gleiser – A Tear At The Edge of Creation)

Posted on the January 27th, 2012

From “A Tear At The Edge of Creation” by Marcelo Gleiser

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SPECK ‘N U: 21 (Marcelo Gleiser)

Posted on the December 5th, 2011

From “A Tear At The Edge of Creation” by Marcelo Gleiser

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Don’t be discouraged, says Elinor Ostrom

Posted on the February 26th, 2010

In 2009, Elinor Ostrom became the first woman ever to win a Nobel Prize in Economics. Ostrom received the great honor because she took a master scientist’s interest in situations such as this one:

…consider the management of grasslands in the interior of Asia. Scientists have studied satellite images of Mongolia and neighboring areas in China and Russia, where livestock has been feeding on large grassland areas for centuries. Historically, the region was dominated by nomads, who moved their herds on a seasonal basis.

In Mongolia, these traditions were largely intact in the mid-1990s, while neighboring areas in China and Russia – with closely similar initial conditions – had been exposed to radically different governance regimes. There, central government imposed state-owned agricultural collectives, where most users settled permanently. As a result, the land was heavily degraded in both China and Russia.

And this one:

. ..user-management of local resources has been more successful than management by outsiders. A striking case is that of irrigation systems in Nepal, where locally managed irrigation systems have successfully allocated water between users for a long time. However, the dams – built from stone, mud and trees – have often been primitive and small.

In several places, the Nepalese government, with assistance from foreign donors, has therefore built modern dams of concrete and steel. Despite flawless engineering, many of these projects have ended in failure.

These two examples are from the Nobel Foundation’s press release describing the unique value of Ostrom’s life work. Over several decades, the economist gathered information that illuminated the complexities and successes of problem solving related to shared resources, according to the release.

In particular, Ostrom challenged the conventional wisdom that the only solution to public problems is either to turn them over to the state to manage or hand them off to privatization. There’s a third way that often can trump both of these, according to Ostrom — let the users themselves create and run their own systems at a local level.

What’s more, the Nobel release noted, Ostrom’s work also has shown that there is a much greater willingness of individuals to participate in their own shared systems — for little or minor reward — than is commonly believed.

This month in the online edition of The Solutions Journal, Ostrom brings this same perspective to the problem of global warming. In the aftermath of the disappointment of Copenhagen 2009, the economist says it is important to recognize that climate change problems can be solved in other ways:

Acknowledging the complexity of global warming, as well as the relatively recent agreement among scientists about the human causes of climate change, leads to the recognition that waiting for effective policies to be established at the global level is unreasonable.

Instead, it would be better to self-consciously adopt a multi-scale approach to the problem of climate change, starting at the local level. This approach serves to maximize the benefits at varying levels and encourages experimentation and learning from diverse policies…

Read the full article here.

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God versus science, humorously speaking

Posted on the September 2nd, 2008

In taking his turn last year writing for the regular feature “On God” for Search magazine, political satirist P.J. O’Rourke dove into the apparently immortal squabble of whether faith is compatible with science (“P.J. O’Rourke ‘On God'” March/April 2007).

As the comic master he is, O’Rourke examines both sides of the issue and defuses the hostilities. As one example, he writes that science requires more faith than God.

The laugh-out-loud paragraph for me was this:

“One sympathizes with science’s faithful. The apocalyptic power of God has existed forever, and He’s been restrained about using it, despite provocation. The apocalyptic power of science has existed only since 1945, and the A-bomb has been tried twice already.”

Read more here.

I found this oldie but goodie via the Ideas (Links to What We’re Reading) blog by Tom Kuntz on the New York Times website. Definitely a good spot to go exploring for good stuff you’ve missed online.

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Should an American prez know a thing or two about science?

Posted on the February 11th, 2008

Finally, this rather timely question may be making its way to center stage. At least it will if ScienceDebate2008 happens on April 18, as proposed. The debate, to be held in Philadelphia, is the idea of a citizens’ initiative group led by science writer Chris Mooney.

Here’s a excerpt from the group’s press release about the invitation it just sent out to Democratic and Republican Party candidates Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Mike Huckabee and John McCain:

“This is about the future of America,” said Shawn Lawrence Otto, one of the debate organizers. “Most of the major policy challenges the next president will face, from climate chance to jobs and economic competitiveness to healthcare to the health of the oceans, center on science and technology. Where is the next transistor economy going to come from? Is there going to be action to address climate change? Do we need a Marshall plan for science in America? What about peak oil? Why are our school children falling behind other countries in math and science, and what should be done about it? We are trying to elevate these important policy issues in the national dialogue. We want voters to have a chance to assess candidates’ in terms of their visionary leadership on these big issues and others like them. It’s not a science quiz, it’s about policy. We’re talking about the health of your family, the health of the economy, and the health of the planet. What are the solutions? We hope the candidates for president will want to explore these issues more thoroughly with the American people.”

Created in 2007, the ScienceDebate2008 initiative has some big name endorsements and partnerships. They include 97 major universities and other organizations, “dozens of Nobel laureates,” and several highranking past and present government officials, according to the press release. Intel chief Craig Barrett has also signed on in support, they say.

The list of co-sponsors of the debate include the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.

Organizers of the debate are asking those who want to see this debate happen to help out by calling the various candidates’ campaigns, and by writing letters to the editors of local newspapers.

You can follow the action of how it’s all turning out on The Intersection where Mooney blogs.

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Virtual living: just playing dress-up, or more?

Posted on the January 8th, 2008

A peek at virtual living sites online, plus a deeper look at what it all means is offered in a recent video interview hosted by Ira Flatov, of ScienceFriday.com. Flatov talks to Sherry Turkle, director of MIT’s Initiative on Technology and Self. Turkle discusses some psychological aspects of living in virtual reality.

Also offering commentary in the video is Cory Ondrejka, former Chief Technology Officer at Linden Lab. Linden Lab created the popular Second Life virtual world website. Ondrejka talks about learning how to use virtual reality living as a way to communicate, and to connect more to the real world.

The video also features scenes from Flatov’s own visit to Second Life to meet listeners to his show.

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