Open Climate Science Course

The University of Chicago has created an Open Courseware style Climate Science 101, with videos of the lectures and self-assessment materials online.  It’s aimed at non-science undergraduates.  If you, or someone you know, want to get a little  more in depth knowledge about climate science on their own time, it’s a great resource.

PLoS ONE: The Network of Global Corporate Control

The Network of Global Corporate Control, as revealed by a research group at ETH Zurich (kind of the Swiss MIT).  Their core finding: a densely connected “super entity” of 147 corporations, about 75% of which are financial intermediaries, has an amount of control which is ~10 times as great as their economic scale would suggest.  They are all majority owned by by other members of the super entity, and so have co-incident interests, and are likely to act as a bloc to protect themselves and each other, and to be subject to simultaneous group failure when under duress.  Not like this is a huge surprise or anything, but it’s nice to see it described in a quantitative framework.

The capitalist network that runs the world

A team at the Swiss equivalent of MIT has revealed a dense knot of power and ownership interconnections within a particular subset of the world’s transnational corporations.  It will come as no surprise that these companies are overwhelming financial firms… but this is the first time that anyone has really been able to lay out the structure of this network of power that runs the world in detail, accounting for all of the subsidiary ownerships and mutual shareholding.  Tyler Durden would be inspired.  The research paper will be published in PLoS One here Real Soon Now.

Scientific Civil Disobedience

Tens of thousands of academic papers from Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society are being shared via BitTorrent thanks to the work of someone going by the name Greg Maxwell.  All of the papers are out of copyright — they date from the time of Newton up through 1923.  Nevertheless, they have until now been locked up behind a paywall.  Hopefully others in possession of such troves will follow suit.  Scientific publishing is long overdue for this kind of shakeup.

A Space Aged Hiatus

Like a lot of scientifically inclined technophillic folks, the space shuttle’s last flight makes me feel a little melancholy.  I believe there are very good reasons to send people off world.  If we are both lucky and conscientious then in the fullness of time humanity — or whatever inherits our history — will mediate the migration of the terrestrial biosphere beyond this pale blue homeworld.  In doing so, we will ensure, or at least increase the probability, of life’s persistence into deep cosmological time and space.  This goal, or something akin to it, is what has motivated a lot of people (myself included) to work on space exploration over the last half century.  It is an enduring motivation, but to the public at large and to policymakers, I think it comes off as esoteric, cultish, or at least eccentric.

Continue reading A Space Aged Hiatus

Discounted cashflow analysis of scientific programming

Software Carpentry does a little math describing the value of teaching scientists how to build good software.  Even with very pessimistic assumptions, it’s clearly worthwhile.  With realistic assumptions, it’s a frigging research bonanza.  WTF?  Why don’t advisers and administrators make sure everyone is on board?

Cornell refuses to sign journal pricing NDAs

Many academic journals require their library subscribers to sign non-disclosure agreements to keep their pricing structures secret.  This is obviously anti-competitive, and precludes any kind of free market from forming.  Cornell has decided it’s had enough of this, and will refuse to sign any such agreement in the future, while making the (often exorbitant) prices it pays for journal subscriptions public.

Leveraging digital design in synthetic biology

Automatic Design of Digital Synthetic Gene Circuits from PLoS Computational Biology.  They seem to be saying look, real biology isn’t generally digital, and all that continuum behavior means we need a bunch of new and complex tools to do anything with it.  However, there are plenty of instances of pseudo-digital biological control systems, and we’ve already got a gigantic toolbox from EE/VLSI world for building very complex digital circuits, so why not limit ourselves to using an artificially digitized subset of biology so we can leverage the existing design tools, and see how far we get?  Weird to think of this particular kind of very intimate digitization of life.  Talk about historical effects.  What would our post-dark-age descendants think, rediscovering a strange class of metabolic networks, in which everything is binary?