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Links With Your Coffee - Friday


  • Physics, Rockets, and Iron Man

  • Toward a Science of Morality
    Over the past couple of months, I seem to have conducted a public experiment in the manufacture of philosophical and scientific ideas. In February, I spoke at the 2010 TED conference, where I briefly argued that morality should be considered an undeveloped branch of science. Normally, when one speaks at a conference the resulting feedback amounts to a few conversations in the lobby during a coffee break. I had these conversations at TED, of course, and they were useful. As luck would have it, however, my talk was broadcast on the internet just as I was finishing a book on the relationship between science and human values, and this produced a blizzard of criticism at a moment when criticism could actually do me some good. I made a few efforts to direct and focus this feedback, and the result has been that for the last few weeks I have had literally thousands of people commenting upon my work, more or less in real time. I can't say that the experience has been entirely pleasant, but there is no question that it has been useful.

  • Open letter: Climate change and the integrity of science

  • Real Time Selection on Crops and Their Pests

    I found this particularly interesting because it provided a great example of how natural selection responds not just to human induced selection such as the use of herbicides (roundup), but also to how crops are harvested. The point is natural selection doesn't care if we're organic farmers or conventional farmers, selection pressures exist in both. You don't get rid of the problem of pests and weeds simply by farming organically.

  • Weekly Ezine for Democrats

  • Supreme Court Upholds Freedom of Speech

  • Gene switch rejuvenates failing mouse brains

  • The Search for Genes Leads to Unexpected Places

  • Computers to Stop Investing in Humanity



First - Why is Harris posting on Huffington? I thought that site was on an unoffical boycot by thinking people. And the comments section is scary, drive by comments at their worst.

Second -

From Harris' post

So, while it is possible to say that one can't move from "is" to "ought," we should be honest about how we get to "is" in the first place. Scientific "is" statements rest on implicit "oughts" all the way down. When I say, "Water is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen," I have uttered a quintessential statement of scientific fact. But what if someone doubts this statement? I can appeal to data from chemistry, describing the outcome of simple experiments. But in so doing, I implicitly appeal to the values of empiricism and logic. What if my interlocutor doesn't share these values? What can I say then? What evidence could prove that we should value evidence? What logic could demonstrate the importance of logic? As it turns out, these are the wrong questions. The right question is, why should we care what such a person thinks in the first place?

So it is with the linkage between morality and well-being: To say that morality is arbitrary (or culturally constructed, or merely personal), because we must first assume that the well-being of conscious creatures is good, is exactly like saying that science is arbitrary (or culturally constructed, or merely personal), because we must first assume that a rational understanding of the universe is good. We need not enter either of these philosophical cul-de-sacs.

Seems like a good argument. Am i missing a logical falicy?

morality.. not read the article yet (so apologies)

I've found that many people think of humans as beings unlike any other living creature. We have special rules and our behavior is unique and personal and lovely. I think this is arrogant and incorrect.

If we observed an ant doing behavior X and another doing behavior Y, we would assume that both were there for a reason, and odds are they contribute to the continued success of the species.

If humans have behaviors X or Y, we want to make them all touchy feely and personal, like we are above animal instinct or inherited behavior. We are simply primates. We follow patterns in our DNA that became attributes of our culture, and those things make for a successful species.

People arguing about selfish genes usually forget that humans are a hive animal. If the group succeeds, then the unbreeding individual that contributed to that success helped its gene pool, and therefore people with genes very similar to his/hers will continue to create those kinds of unbreeding but useful genes.

I've thought of responding to anti-gay religious types by saying that god obviously likes diversity (or else He has a funny way of showing it), and many achievements of man can be attributed to gay men or women. In fact if we can agree that men and women think in different ways, then we can agree that gay men or women think in other different ways, and if humans are special because we have big brains that CAN think in different ways, then gay men and women make us a fundamentally stronger species.

"You don't get rid of the problem of pests and weeds simply by farming organically". But you do get rid of the problem of eating pesticides and herbicides.

Do you? It's my understanding that many organic farms spray crops with BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) a natural pesticide, this is the same pesticide that in engineered into crops such as Bt corn.

Actually GMOs for the most part have reduced the use herbicides, Bt corn and cotton are good examples, but the use of herbicides is a separate issue from genetically modified food. You could treat a genetically modified plant just like any organic plant and refrain from using herbicides.

The other question is do the amounts of pesticides and herbicides left on food cause harm, to humans. If you carefully wash your produce what are the risks you're taking. If you have good evidence to offer that we should be concerned about eating plants that have been sprayed please provide it. Organic farming doesn't necessarily equate with safe food. There are all kinds of problems with food that have nothing to do with herbicides etc.

Here is an interesting article that touches on some of the issues of GMOs

First, not about GMO's, but potato farmers in Idaho are having to use(spend money) on more and more pesticides because they raise only one type of potato, the one that McDo and other big users insist on. It is hardly sustainable when there are hundreds of types of potatoes.

On GMO's, I wouldn't be surprised if one day Monsanto and other producers of GMO's are one day accused of crimes against humanity.

Actually, Mc Donald's currently approves four different varieties of potatoes for it's French fries. While the Russet Burbank is our most popular variety, it is now about 50% of the crop. We grow about 30 varieties of potatoes including reds, yellow flesh and fingerlings.For a more detailed list of all the popular varieties that Idaho grows check out our web site link at:

In the debate over the safety of organic versus conventionally grown foods, pesticide residues receive an inordinate amount of attention. More significant food safety issues, on the other hand, are often ignored. Of the factors that make food unsafe, chief in the FDA's eyes today are the microbes that produce toxins. More than 75 million cases of food poisoning are caused by microbial toxins in the United States each year; thousands of people die of it. The microbes responsible include Salmonella, Listeria, virulent strains of E. coli, Campylobacter, Shigella, and many others. They are found on all raw foods. How that food is washed, stored, and cooked, and whether it is properly salted, pickled, frozen, or otherwise preserved, determines whether or not the microbes will increase to the numbers required to cause food poisoning. —Nina Federoff

In Northern France there is a problem with green algae on the beach which has apparently killed at least two people. This is a problem probably caused by heavy use of fertilizers and nitrates from intensive pig farming. The algae give off an undetected poisonous gas.

Expensive efforts are used to collect the algae and remove, and apparently one of the workers died doing this job.


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