The ongoing global climate crisis is still denied by some people (like the Australian Prime Minister) despite all the evidence. The predictions made by climate scientists decades ago are coming true: from crop failures to massive wildfires. Why then are we ignoring their predictions about what’s going to happen next? This question is tough since it can get people thinking about things they find uncomfortable. To help us talk with people who don’t understand the threat of ignoring the climate crisis Summer Praetorius created this helpful knowledge tree. The tree helps us find what people are thinking and how they reached their conclusion.
The thing about alarms is that they turn out to be useful. The canary in the coalmine, smoke detectors, tornado sirens, cell phone alerts; we generally agree that instruments to detect and convey impending threats are a step in the right direction. In fact, we require them in most buildings. The inconvenience of an occasional false alarm is far outweighed by the benefit of not dying in your sleep by a raging fire.
So while catastrophists may get the eye-roll of hyperbole, gradualists warrant an occasional head-slap of naivete. Their apparent inability to conceive a fundamentally different world leads them into a default mode of complacency, one that ironically makes it much more likely to provoke the thing they aren’t expecting. On the flip side, catastrophists are more prone to expect disaster, and might be more motivated to prevent the potential threats. So each will unwittingly prove the other one right, if they have their way of things.
Ultimology is a new field of thought which may help is in the future when we need it the most and don’t realize it. It’s the study of of extinct or endangered subjects, theories, and tools of learning. The Department of Ultimology is an art project that has set out to interpret what the study of dead/dying studies could look like and how it can be accomplished. It’s a groovy project that explores the fringes of knowledge with some real world examples of how very recently required knowledge for some disciplines have already been forgotten.
Knowledge of how things work is always needed and it’s good practice to keep abreast of changes in how and why we keep certain knowledge sets while discarding others.
For example, we met with Dr. Sylvia Draper, Head of the School of Chemistry at Trinity, and asked her what had changed in the discipline of Chemistry. She spoke about how glassware used to be an essential part of research. If you were a student of chemistry, you might actually design a piece of glassware that goes with your research. Draper told us that Trinity College had a glassblowing workshop on site with a glassblower named John Kelly, but that he was going to retire in two years and would not be replaced. It ties back to the commercialization of the university: the reason he’s not being replaced is because he’s salaried and a salaried employee is a high cost for the university. And so he and his work become expendable because in theory the department can just bring in cheaper, standard glassware from abroad.
However, if you’re a student and you’re planning your experiment and it requires an intricate, strange, unique piece of glass, it might now be much more expensive for you to get it, which might impact how you look at your research. You might be less willing or able to do something weirder, essentially. I picture it like these tiny little cracks that maybe can’t be explored in a discipline as people are funnelled down into a more particular standard route.
James Burke is known for his series on BBC called Connections, which was all about how seemingly random inventions (or concepts) are actually connected in interesting ways. He has spent his life advocating for people to look at the in-between of industries and fields of research because it is there that we find true innovation.
In our modern era we find that we can create our own filter bubble (which is a big issue with the recent election in the USA) which can make finding connections a problem. Burke’s solution to this is to Kickstarer an app that uses his own specially designed database and cross-references it with Wikipedia in order to help you break out of your bubble and discover cool new connections!
You may have noticed that when we browse the news or type into Google we tend to seek confirmation more than we do information. We predict our current model will remain untarnished. When we want to make sense of something, we tend to develop a hypothesis just like any scientist would, but when we check to see if we are correct, we often stop once we find confirmation of our hunches or feel as though we understand. Without training, we avoid epiphany by avoiding the null hypothesis and the disconfirmation it threatens should it turn out to be valid.
Since the 1970s, Burke has predicted we would need better tools than just search alone if we were to break out of this way of thinking. His new app aims to do that by searching Wikipedia “connectively” and producing something the normal internet searches often do not – surprises, anomalies, and unexpected results.
publicscience.ca is designed to educate the Canadian population about how great science and knowledge is. This a direct reaction to the direct attacks that research, science, and innovation have been under since the Conservative government took power. It’s really good to see scientists taking a stand and promoting all the reasons that science and research makes the world a better place!
It can also highlight important work that is already on the public record but may not be getting the attention it deserves. Of course, scientists who work for the Canadian people must be answerable for the dollars they spend. But too often, critiques of government science begin and end with knee-jerk scoffing when the topics seem frivolous to the ill-informed layman. A study on bird habitats, for example, might teach us something important about the environmental impact of public policy.
Ottawa is a government town. Part of what that means — although Ottawans themselves are prone to forget this — is that it’s a research town. Citizens have a duty to be informed about the world around them. Government has a duty to, at the very least, not get in their way.