Some of the world’s most important ideas are invisible.
#Film review: Gravity is a tense and engrossing movie by the uber talented and versatile Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón, whose previous films include Y Tu Mama También and Children of Men. The film is a masterpiece of the #3D medium. The claustrophobia and infinite vastness of #space is rendered as a breathtaking spectacle. Sandra Bullock has never been better as Ryan, a medical doctor and researcher whose scientific credentials are left vague and as implausible as any other Hollywood depiction of #science. Nevertheless it was gratifying to see a woman as the centrepiece of a blockbuster film that doesn’t simply treat her as eye candy. George Clooney relies on his usual smooth talking charm playing seasoned astronaut Kowalsky. He is overseeing Ryan’s mission to repair a “prototype” in space. The mission is derailed when space debris leaves the astronauts floating off course. The story is sparse, concerned solely with the practicalities of survival, but the visuals and mood are brilliantly gripping. Go watch it at the #cinema. It’s with paying extra for the 3D effects. #movies #latincinema #latin #AlfonsoCuaron
Prove Your World is a terrific webseries being developed by Dr Brian Koberlein, astrophysicist and RIT professor. Brian will be working with a team of experts, all with PhDs in their fields to create a fun and educational webseries for kids under 13 years.
Remember that teacher that inspired you to pursue your scientific dream? This show wants to be that spark for children all over. Most science TV shows for kids are either boring, inaccurate or they are entertaining but they don’t really teach people real science. Prove Your World wants to do more.
They’re looking for donations on their Kickstarter to help them bring the series to life.
Brian is one of my colleagues from the Science on Google+ community (we’re part of the 22 curators of this community). Take a look at Brian’s Google+ page, his posts are insightful, accessible and the quality material gives you further confidence of the amazing job he will do with this webseries.
This comic by xkcd is a great conversation starter for the sociology of moral panics. In 1871, Sunday Magazine lamented the lost art of letter writing. They bemoan the fact that as it becomes cheaper to write and send letters, people value “quality” letter writing less. This is seen to be to the detriment of society. The proliferation of letter writing evolves as new technologies make paper, ink and postal services more available to the masses.
The rest of the comic charts excellent examples from prestigious books, journals and professionals fretting about how technology changes the quality of human communication. We see these arguments continue today as some traditional media owners and some intellectuals decry the advent of social media and blogging, as well as how the internet in general supposedly ruins our collective intelligence. A couple of years a go, I wrote about how philosopher Edward De Bono said social media causes laziness.
What is at play behind these arguments is actually a moral panic about the control of cultural capital: technologies shift power over who controls information (in Marxist terms, the owners of the means of production). Technology doesn’t drive social change as it’s not some overpowering social force that we accept mindlessly. Instead, social relations change in response to people finding new uses for technology, and this is a feed back loop that pushes innovation in communications.
Take a look at the expanded comic and see what you think.
Credit: Link via Brian Glick on Google+.
A survey of 98 women and 23 male anthropologists finds that 30% have been verbally abused. A further 63% of women and 39% of men have faced sexualised comments in the field and 21% of women have been sexually harassed in a physical way – mostly by senior researchers in their field team. The study is being extended as more field researchers come forward and share their stories.
- Source: zeezeescorner
Monsanto is the largest corporation in Hawaii but other biotech companies also have strong influence in Hawaii. Protesters say that the biotech industry is another form of colonialism, as it evokes parallels with the USA sugar industry in 1893 which deposed the Hawaii Kingdom, effectively removing the local custom of land as a communal resource.
Al Jazeera cites that in 2012 alone 170 million hectares of land around the world was used to grow GM crops, and around 69.5 million hectares of this was in the USA. While some researchers say that GM crops are perfectly safe and necessary to feed the world’s rapidly growing population, the problem is that the law does not require GM foods to be labelled. Effectively, this disempowers consumers from making informed choices about their own nutrition.
Good article on the historical and social influences on technology adoption. Science Professor Bernard Carlson, (University of Virginia, USA) tells engineering students: “they are going to produce sociotechnical systems,” meaning they need to understand how people “interact with technology.” MAGGIE KOERTH-BAKER writes:
Society shapes the development and use of technology (this is a function of social determinism; for example, cars didn’t really become ubiquitous until they became easy to operate and cheap to buy), but technology also shapes society (technological determinism; think of the way cars then essentially created the suburbs). Over time, the two interact with and change each other, an idea known as technological momentum, which was introduced in 1969 by Thomas P. Hughes, a historian of technology. According to Hughes’s theory, the technologies we end up using aren’t determined by any objective measure of quality. In fact, the tools we choose are often deeply flawed. They just happened to meet our particular social needs at a particular time and then became embedded in our culture.
"Why Your Car Isn’t Electric." Source: The New York Times.
Link via +Gaythia Weis
- Source: zeezeescorner
In this video, Raewyn Connell touches on her research on academia in the Southern hemisphere and on education, but most of her discussion is on her considerable research on masculinities. This is a very accessible overview of Connell’s work. She says her research is motivated by a desire to make the world safer for herself as a transgender woman, for her daughter, and for her community. I like this representation of sociology - producing research and activism to create a safer world. It’s poignant to remember that as another International Women’s Day passes, sociology and the feminist movement have a responsibility to all women, including transgender women.
- Source: zeezeescorner
Two anthropologists, Rachel Caspari and Karen Rosenberg, talk about the Scars of Human Evolution. This excellent Google+ Hangout for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (below) addresses great questions such as, “what are the downsides of evolution?” The chat covers the costs on our bodies, health, reproduction and on our aging populations. Caspari and Rosenberg pose an argument that runs counter to the way in which many people think about human evolution. That is: evolution is not always geared towards perfection. Humans have made excellent strides towards improving our quality of life, to make evolution “workable,” but we don’t often stop to think about the trade offs of evolution. All species have these evolutionary imperfections, but “It may be because humans are cultural animals, we’re able to ameliorate the effects of some of those [issues].”
It’s lovely to hear these researchers answer a viewer question on why we’re one of the only species to only have one race when other species have many sub-divisions. As sociologists and anthropologists know, race is a social construction. That is, it’s a cultural idea that varies from one society to another, and ideas about race also change over time. Neanderthals and modern humans were different species, but modern humans have long been a single species.
Caspari and Rosenberg argue that there are two characteristics that distinguish modern humans genetically from our ancestors: 1) We have no races. 2) We live longer. These anthropologists note that other fields of evolutionary science continue to see ongoing diversification, including the development of new diseases and the discovery of new insects. Yet there’s no evidence that there has been increased complexity in human evolution. Looking at our history, modern humans are not the “inevitable outcome of the evolutionary process.” There is, however, increased cultural complexity amongst modern humans, which impacts on the challenges we face in the evolution process, particularly regarding our health and our procreation experiences.
The researchers answer a viewer question about whether keeping people alive who are genetically imperfect weakens our gene pool. Their answer - incorporating the cultural idea of stigma and our relationship to our environment - is a fantastic example of social science. Enjoy!
Credits: Video link via Chris Robinson on Google+.
One of my favorite bits from Jacob’s post on “seapunk” was this bit about keeping subcultures “sub”:
It is an impossibility for a subcultural style to be “owned”. Sub-culture exists when gazed at by mass-culture. The only way to ensure that your aesthetic is not going to become used by others is to never share it with anyone. Another approach is to protect your aesthetic with physical violence (see: gang colors). Otherwise, once you allow your presence to be seen, it can be consumed.
Most communities protect their culture through some form of obfuscation: hiding the meaning of their communication by making it hard to interpret.
This is a practice I’ve been studying for some time and some of it is incredible.
- Tum bl r an d L J u sers sep ar ate w ords thr ou gh o dd spacin g in o rde r to fo ol sea rc h en g i nes.
- Chinese users hide political messages in image attachments on Weibo.
- General Pretraeus communicated solely through draft mode.
- 4chan scares away the faint of heart with porn.
- Other groups communicate through obscure messaging systems.
If you want your subculture to go undetected, all of these techniques are moderately effective at keeping your activity undetectable by people and their machines.
Social psychologist Efrat Tseëlon is interested in feminist readings of fashion and culture. Tseëlon argues that while the English dictionary might define the practice of wearing masks and disguise as an attempt to conceal and misrepresent, masquerade is something different. Masquerade is not about portraying something false, but rather it is a way to understand the intricacies of identity. Masquerade draws its meaning through historical context, as the meaning of how we present our ideal selves in public has changed over time. Tseëlon writes:
…disguise is meant to hide, conceal, pass as something one is not. Masquerade however is a statement about the wearer. It is pleasurable excessive, sometime[s] subversive. The mask is partial covering; disguise is full covering; masquerade is deliberate covering. The mask hints; disguise erases from view; masquerade overstates. The mask is an accessory; disguise is a portrait; masquerade is a caricature. But these distinctions are tenuous, as each also shares the attributes of the other, at least in some uses or historical contexts… Thus, whatever shade of meaning of masquerade one chooses to employ it is obvious that through a dialectic of concealing and revealing masquerade serves a critical function. It calls attention to such fundamental issues as the nature of identity the truth of identity, the stability of identity categories and the relationship between the supposed identity and its outward manifestations (or essence and appearance).
Tseëlon outlines how the cultural practice of wearing masquerade is ancient. In Western culture, masquerade can be found in the philosophical writing of Plato, who wrote about life as a puppet show. Masquerade appears in Shakespeare’s plays, where comedic situations involving masquerade allow individuals to adopt new identities and experience other genders. It is also famously personified in the annual Carnival of Venice, held in Italy. Masquerade has been used throughout Western history as a way to play around with ideas of what makes up our “true” self. Masquerade has been employed by women in particular, liberating them from restrictive gender and sexual scripts, if only for brief periods at a time.
The study of masquerade allows us to ask: is there such a thing as an “authentic” self? Do we easily transgress social norms behind the anonymity of costume, or do we mostly adhere to the rules set out for us? Who are we when we don’t have to live up to the preconceived ideas of how other people see us?
- Source: zeezeescorner
Joy to the world, my christmas present to myself arrived early! George Ritzer’s Concise Encyclopedia of #Sociology. I’ve missed having this on my bookshelf! Next is the two volume Sage Encyclopedia of Social Theory also by Ritzer… But at $4,500 it will have to wait until Distant Futuristic Times. #socialscience #science #research
The “father of sociology,” Auguste Comte, features in the second animated video in the 60 Second Adventures in Religion series by Open University. Comte developed a theory positivism to argue that social phenomena could be studied through data collection and experiments fashioned on the practices of the natural sciences. His premise was that the philosophical development of science followed three stages:
1. Theological - nature has a will of it’s own. This stage is broken down into three stages of its own, including animism, polytheism, and monotheism.
2. Metaphysical state - though substituting ideas for a personal will.
3. Positive - a search for absolute knowledge.
Link to video via Brain Pickings.
- Source: zeezeescorner