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Some links, especially to newspapers, expire after two or three days. Notify us of broken links and we will repair or remove them.


Science, Fiction, and points in between

Tuesday 7 November 2000

Science Corner

My name is Robert Metzger (I have a science column in Aboriginal SF and the SFWA Bulletin) and have an item that you might find interesting for your People & Publishing section concerning some work that I've been doing with Greg Benford. In the November 2000 issue of Wired (pg 188, or the full text can be accessed at in a few weeks) is a piece that I did regarding our work on using crop residues (that portion of crop material left in the fields after harvesting) to help mitigate the effects of global warming. It turns out that the carbon left in these crop residues in the US is 250 million tonnes. We realized that if these residues (which are normally left to rot, at which point the carbon in them is turned back into CO2 and returns to the atmsophere) were transported and dumped in the ocean (where they sink and their carbon does not go into the atmsophere) that this effective removal in US carbon emissions could potentially satisfy all the US requirements for carbon reduction under the Kyoto Protocol. This is all detailed in the Wired article. In addition, the actual technical paper with all the science details has been accepted for publication in a journal called Climatic Change, and will be appearing next year. This work started out as an SF speculation on my part in the column I do in the SFWA Bulletin, and has grown into something that has the potential for impact in the non-fictional world. Hope you can use the item. Don't hesitate to contact me if you need any other information. science: new large asteroid btwn neptune & pluto Planet 10? Tiny 'Plutino' Almost Qualifies Astronomers have found a mini-Pluto that's neither a moon nor a planet. It's a plutino -- an object too small to be called a planet. diary of a SETI scientist oldest bacterium // John Tooby's Hey, Wait a Minute questions the conclusions of "Darkness in El Dorado," a National Book Award finalist that accuses U.S. anthropologists of genocide: "The book should have been in the fiction category. When examined against its own cited sources, the book is demonstrably, sometimes hilariously, false on scores of points that are central to its most sensational allegations. After looking into those sources, I found myself seriously wondering whether Tierney had perpetrated a hoax on the publishing world." anthropology scandal a hoax? // Wright and Burnham on Mean Genes A K.C.The names given to scientific ideas -- like "Big Bang" or "the god particle" -- can have unfortunate or misleading consequences. Even that of Einstein's theory of "relativity", the point of which was not that "everything is relative" but that some things (like the speed of light) are absolute and invariant. [this link expired in 1 week] Minesweeper may hold the key to cracking the P vs NP problem. Expedition One arrives at space station 'Alpha' Cell Phone or Pheromone? New Props for the Mating Game Observing patrons at an upscale pub frequented by single professionals, researchers from the University of Liverpool discovered that men had a markedly different relationship to their cell phones than women. Do Androids Dream? M.I.T. Is Working on It Dr. Anne Foerst, 34, is a researcher at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the director of M.I.T.'s God and Computers project. She aims to make robots more humanlike. Selling Evolution in Ways Darwin Never Imagined You've Got Males By BOB HERBERT: Warm and Warmer One of these days, probably after some catastrophe in which hundreds of people are killed, we'll start to take global warming seriously. Looking for That Brain Wave Called Love In academic disciplines where words have traditionally been the weapon of choice, the hope is that brain-scan studies might do what written polemics cannot: find those brain regions associated with abstract reasoning and emotional responses. Sex, Frogs, and Danger in the Loo: The 2000 Ig Nobel Prizes - also, living on air and obsessing on love

The Literary Life

literary manifesto: The 'New Puritans' call for grammatical clarity, would shun poetry and eschew flashbacks, and would avoid "all improbable or unknowable speculation about the past or the future." David Leavitt on using small insanities as creativity; Asperger's syndrome // The undead are boring Maybe Clement Moore didn't write... Literary Sleuth Casts Doubt on the Authorship of an Iconic Christmas Poem In a new study of the poem known as "The Night Before Christmas," Don Foster, an English professor at Vassar College, accuses Clement Clarke Moore, a biblical scholar who claimed authorship of the poem, of committing literary fraud. // // // A `Techno-Peasant' Goes Internet Frederick Forsyth, the British author who made his name in the literary "old economy" of spies, mercenaries and assassins, plans to become the first British author of best sellers to publish on the Internet. // 10 Writers Receive Whiting Awards // // Books: The e-book wars Does a glittering $100,000 prize signal the coming of age of digital books, or a takeover bid by Microsoft and New York publishers? By Kera Bolonik reprinted on CNN: item in The Onion: Filmmakers Call Vincent Canby's Life Overlong, Poorly Paced see also nyt item below // Satire in the Ivory Tower Gets Rough "Ravelstein," Saul Bellow's fictional memoir about the death of his high-living friend at the University of Chicago, is one of three American campus novels this year that have staked out rougher territory, something more tragic. Modern and Postmodern, the Bickering Twins Today, the only label that claims our attention is postmodernism. While Modernism thrived on multiple manifestos, postmodernism's manifesto might be that no manifesto is possible: all doctrines are created equal. // // The Prizes Are Ready, but the E-Books Aren't is this cool or what? Sony's new VAIO laptop associational book: Controversial French Novel Examined The translation of Michel Houellebecq's controversial novel The Elementary Particles is releasing soon here from Knopf, and is covered by two recent articles, one from Jonathon Bing (writing for Feed) and another from Slate. "An operatically cynical, XXX-rated portrait of what Houellebecq sees as the steep decline of French culture since the 1950s," as Bing puts it, the author identified sex as the "main problem of contemporary life…. For Houellebecq, American-style consumerism has determined sexual mores and transformed modern Europe into an atomistic pleasure dome, and the continent is growing stupid as a result." Slate: "He has been compared to the existentialist novelist Albert Camus and the mad philosopher Friedrich Nietzche. Houellebecq's stylistic preferences have been elevated to an ism: deprimisme--depressivism. In person, he's a leering, slovenly, chain-smoking artiste fond of outrageous pronouncements to the effect that liberty is overrated and Americans are stupid. The book itself is a neoconservative rant against the moral turpitude supposedly foisted upon us by the American-inspired apostles of permissiveness in the 1960s." But…: "This is an insufferable book, no doubt about it, by a preening and pretentious author. It has no right to be any good. It is, though. The Elementary Particles is darkly funny and surprisingly touching." Feed's look Slate's look Best books of the 90s

§ Timothy Noah in Slate points out that, while George W. Bush (and Republicans in general) decry relativism in moral matters, they're perfectly happy to adopt relativism in scientific matters, specifically about whether evolution is taught in the classroom. Quoting the New York Times,

Characteristically, he [Bush] does not believe in evolution — he says the jury is still out — but he does not actively disbelieve in it either; as a friend puts it, "he doesn't really care about that kind of thing."
Vice President Al Gore was willing to let public schools decide at a local level whether or not to teach creationism until someone pointed out that doing so was prohibited, since it constituted religious instruction, by a 1987 Supreme Court decision.

§ Bart Kosko, author of Fuzzy Thinking: The New Science of Fuzzy Logic, validates the concept of fuzzy math as something we use every day.

What fuzzy math does is let us — and our computers — reason with shades of gray. ... Both candidates say that their top priority is education. Both say they favor increased training in science and mathematics. Yet both reflect the sorry state of scientific literacy in this country.

§ Psychology professor and writer on linguistics Steven Pinker explains what the candidates' speech patterns reveal about themselves: why voters don't seem bothered by Bush's malapropisms; Al Gore's habit of using "motherese".

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