Edge in the News

WASHINGTON POST [1.3.08]

John Brockman has been making people notice his ideas for the better part of half a century, going back to the Happenings of the 60s. He's a publicity hound--a literary agent, he once promoted a movie starring The Monkees. More recently, he's created an online salon of ideas, including an annual New Year's question he poses to a long list of the planet's philosophers, thinkers and academics. This year's question:

"What Have You Changed Your Mind About?" Which also becomes the Random Friday Question here on the big blog.

Flexible, optimistic people live longer, the scientists tell us, so--are the world's leading thinkers ready and willing to admit that they've changed their views about big things?

Stewart Brand, founder of The Whole Earth Catalog way back when and the early online community The Well more recently, has decided that his early passion for building preservation was dead wrong. "Good old stuff sucks," he writes. "Sticking with the fine old whatevers is like wearing 100% cotton in the mountains; it's just stupid.
Give me 100% not-cotton clothing, genetically modified food (from a farmers' market, preferably), this-year's laptop, cutting-edge dentistry and drugs."

Brockman surveys a whole lot of scientists and math types whose idea of changing their mind is to adapt to new findings and slightly shift a particular perspective or line of inquiry. This is not in the spirit of the question and I won't bore you with those folks' self-righteous, pedantic responses. There are also quite a few folks who describe their movement from faith to agnosticism or atheism, or vice versa, which is surely change of a sort, but one that probably tells us more about the author's personal, emotional state of mind than about an intellectual journey.

But every once in a while, one of Brockman's correspondents is honest and rigorous enough to admit to a real change:

University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt says he used to consider sports and fraternities to be the height of American celebration of stupidity. "Primitive tribalism, I thought. Initiation rites, alcohol, sports, sexism, and baseball caps turn decent boys into knuckleheads. I'd have gladly voted to ban fraternities, ROTC, and most sports teams from my university." But Haidt has changed his mind: "I had too individualistic a view of human nature. I began to see us not just as chimpanzees with symbolic lives but also as bees without hives. When we made the transition over the last 200 years from tight communities (Gemeinschaft) to free and mobile societies (Gesellschaft), we escaped from bonds that were sometimes oppressive, yes, but into a world so free that it left many of us gasping for connection, purpose, and meaning. I began to think about the many ways that people, particularly young people, have found to combat this isolation. Rave parties and the Burning Man festival are spectacular examples of new ways to satisfy the ancient longing for communitas. But suddenly sports teams, fraternities, and even the military made a lot more sense."

A friend of Carl Sagan's writes about his own flip from the search for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe to his conviction that We Are Alone. Internet advocate Douglas Rushkoff says he has given up on his notion that the Web would change the world and alter human consciousness and has now reluctantly concluded that "cyberspace has become just another place to do business. The question is no longer how browsing the Internet changes the way we look at the world; it's which browser we'll be using to buy and sell stuff in the same old world." And TV writer Karl Sabbagh concludes that no, experts really are no wiser than the rest of us: "The people I know who are wise are not necessarily knowledgeable; the people I know who are knowledgeable are not necessarily wise. Most of us confuse expertise with judgment."

In some cases, the change of mind is a reinterpretation of events. The physicist Freeman Dyson took a new look at the end of World War II and decided that history was wrong: The dropping of the atomic bombs did not end the war. He lays out a pretty compelling case based on new historical studies and concludes that demolishing that myth might make the road to eliminating nuclear weapons a bit smoother. Not likely, but still, a splendid thought exercise.

All this change can make for bewildering and disturbing reading: A mathematician concludes that robots can see God. A philosopher loses trust, faith and belief in modern medicine. An evolutionary biologist reluctantly comes to see that there really are more differences among races than we would like to think.

I've changed my mind about many things in recent years. Here are just two of them: I used to think that slower was better than faster. I now believe the opposite. And this: For many years, I favored fat over salt. I have now switched sides.

What have you changed your mind about?

(And while you're thinking creatively, please remember to jump in on our D.C. quarter contest: You propose the image that ought to be on the new coin that will belatedly add the District to the U.S. Mint's 50-states quarters program. Our crack staff of judges will choose the most creative and persuasive proposal. The winner's image will be given to an artist who will produce a reasonably professional rendering of your idea for the folks over at the Mint--and you will win a very nice version of that artistic rendition.

(Here's how to play: Send your entries, in word description or, if you're really ambitious, in image, to tellus@washingtonpost.com We'll collect your entries through January 6th and report back to you soon thereafter.)

NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE [1.2.08]

Plato Had a Bad Year [John Derbyshire]

For an exceptionally high quotient of interesting ideas to words, this is hard to beat. ... What a feast of egg-head opinionating!

If there's a common tendency running through many of these pieces, it is the fast-rising waters of naturalism, released by a half-century of discoveries in genetics, evolutionary biology, and neuroscience, submerging every other way of looking at the human world.

We are part of nature, a twig on the tree of life. If we are to have any understanding of ourselves, we must start from that. Final answers to ancient questions are beginning to come in. You may not be happy about the answers; but not being happy about them will be like not being happy about Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle.

NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE [1.2.08]

Pop-math author par excellence Keith Devlin drops Platonism.

In doing so, Keith edges a bit closer than I’d like to the social-contruction arguments of Reuben Hersh. I seriously doubt that “other cognitive creatures in another part of the universe might have different mathematics.” I don’t think, when we eventually get to the Lesser Magellanic Cloud, we shall find that two plus two equals five over there, or that the angles of plane triangles add up to 190 degrees. In any case, according to Martin Seligman (see below) there’ll be no-one there to discuss the matter with.

Still, the anti-Platonism is surely correct. The beginning of mathematics is abstraction — forming those stable mental structures we call “concepts” from repeated observations of the world around us. Abstraction, and math, then advance by forming hierarchies of concepts, the concepts at each level dealing with the concepts at the lower as if they were objects in the physical world. That is, as Keith points out, the only way we are equipped to treat them. The fact that we can only think about concepts as if they were objects, does not mean they are objects, though. Score one for Nietzsche. Still, anyone who seizes on this as an excuse to teach “feminist math” or “African math” should be tarred, feathered, and run out of town on a rail.

Devlin’s piece is one of many brief contributions to science webzine Edge.org‘s Annual Question round robin: “What Have You Changed Your Mind About? Why?” addressed to notable intellectuals, with a bias towards the human sciences. For an exceptionally high quotient of interesting ideas to words, this is hard to beat. Try, according to your own interests:

What a feast of egg-head opinionating!

If there’s a common tendency running through many of these pieces, it is the fast-rising waters of naturalism, released by a half-century of discoveries in genetics, evolutionary biology, and neuroscience, submerging every other way of looking at the human world.

We are part of nature, a twig on the tree of life. If we are to have any understanding of ourselves, we must start from that. Final answers to ancient questions are beginning to come in. You may not be happy about the answers; but not being happy about them will be like not being happy aboutHeisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Sing it, Bobby:

Come gather ‘round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the minds they are a-changin’.

DIE ZEIT [1.1.08]

Even the best minds of this world sometimes have to accept that they were wrong. Scientists to answer the question of Edge Foundation, which they change their mind — and why.

The responses of the intellectuals are personal, sometimes very technical, but also political. They cover a wide range of what people employed: Climate change, the difference between men and women, but also the question of the existence of God.

DIE ZEIT [1.1.08]

Even the best minds of this world sometimes have to accept that they were wrong. Scientists answer the question of the Edge Foundation, which they have changed their minds - and why.

? What would you have changed your mind and why "that question the Edge Foundation's leading scholars and thinkers have asked - and got surprising answers. The organization is an informal group of intellectuals who want to work together to find answers to questions that move the company. For each year presents its coordinator, the publisher John Brockman, the members remains a tricky task. "What is your dangerous idea?", "What do you think is true, although you can not prove?" Were issues of recent years. The answers are on the website www.edge.org read. 

The question this year was: 
When thinking changes your opinion, that's philosophy. 
When God changes your opinion, that's faith. 
When facts change your opinion, that's science. 
What would you have changed your opinion and why? 

More than 120 scientists have racked their brains over this small issue and found that they had at least something from which they were firmly convinced revise. Perhaps it is because they are scientists. For a scientist, at least once in his career does not think his change in, be narrow-minded, stuck, rigid and dogmatic, writes Richard Dawkins , evolutionary biologist and author of the bestseller The God Delusion. In this, the members of this profession would be fundamentally different from politicians who are afraid of being accused of being a little flag in the wind, if they change their mind. 

The responses of the intellectuals are personal, sometimes quite technical, but also political. They cover a wide range of what concerns people: climate change, the difference between men and women, but also the question of the existence of God. 

Craig Venter: Saving the Earth 
The gene pioneer Craig Venter believed for years that only future generations must also consider how they solve the problem of dwindling natural energy resources. He believed that ultimately only the diminishing oil reserves go - and not the CO2 emissions. This idea he had to revise the increase in carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere is irrefutable, wrote the researchers. His answer is also an appeal: "Our planet is in crisis and we must mobilize all our intellectual powers to save him." 

Helena Cronin: Stupid men, wise men 
Helena Cronin, a Evolutionstheoretikerin at the London School of Economics addressed the question of why men seem more successful at work and the thesis that the different talents of both sexes are innate. Men are more aggressive, risk-taking and ambitious. With these capabilities, they are superior to women who are more socially competent and more talk. This opinion has it fundamentally changed talents, tastes and temperament were not sufficient to explain why men are more successful than women, notes the scientist. Their new argument: Take one to a normal distribution, be it simple so that the women are rather average, while men occupy the extremes. "More dumbbels but more Nobels", that is either extremely stupid or extremely smart is the male sex, it sums up their knowledge. 

Leon Lederman: Scientists in politics! 
The physics Nobel laureate Leon Lederman Max is worried about what the responsibilities of a researcher. He concludes: Do not just research and teaching should address a scientist, but also in politics, he wants the thinking elite, "A Congress that is dominated by lawyers and economists, makes no sense in the 21st Century in which it is almost always for scientific and technological issues. " 

Patrick Bateson: Well but godless 
Sometimes a single call to change a fundamental review. It happened to the behavioral scientist Patrick Bateson of the University of Cambridge. He has always said he was an agnostic, someone who could affirm the existence of God nor deny. The term "atheism" was it always been too aggressive. Until he was placed at dinner next to a staunch supporter of creationism. The table conversation with his neighbor has left the scientist tracks. The narrowness of his interlocutor has taken him to call himself an atheist today.

Correre Della Sera — Italy [1.1.08]

UN'ASSOCIAZIONE CULTURALE HA CHIESTO A LUMINARI E 

FILOSOFI DI RACCONTARE I PROPRI ERRORI

Quando lo scienza confessa: ho sbagliato
Dalle teorie sull'evoluzione alle differenze tra razze, 
in rete i mea culpa degli studiosi

LONDRA — «Quando pensare modifica la tua opinione è filosofia, quando Dio ti fa cambiare idea è fede. Quando i fatti ti fanno vedere le cose in modo diverso è scienza». Questa l'introduzione al quesito per l'anno posto da un'associazione culturale cui aderiscono i principali pensatori del momento, da Richard Dawkins, lo zoologo britannico autore del libro culto Il gene egoista e più recentemente L'illusione di Dio, allo psicologo Steven Pinker passando per il musicista produttoreBrian Eno.

Se nel 2006 aveva domandato ai suoi iscritti quale fosse l'idea più pericolosa e nel 2007 su che cosa si sentissero ottimisti, per il 2008Edge (il sito è www.edge.org) ha lanciato una provocazione: su cosa avete cambiato idea? E perché? L'obiettivo era spingere gli scienziati, gli scrittori e i ricercatori che utilizzano regolarmente il sito ad ammettere, in un certo senso, i propri errori.

Centinaia di loro hanno raccolto l'invito (a tanta solerzia ha forse contribuito il fatto che le ultime edizioni delle risposte sono state pubblicate sotto forma di libro), rivelando una gamma di dietro front tra il clamoroso e il simpatico.

ZOOM: Edge Question
EL MUNDO — Spain [1.1.08]

At the beginning of each year is a great event in the Anglo-Saxon culture, or rather, in the social life of that culture...The event is called the Edge Annual Question, bringing together much of the most interesting 

Anthropologist Richard Wrangham has introduced a subtle shift in the explanation of the evolutionary history of man: he once believed it to be caused by eating meat, now he believes that the decisive factor is the kitchen, ie, changing from raw to cooked. The response from the musician Brian Eno explains how he went from revolution to evolution, and how he left Maoism for Darwin. ...

Read the full article →

EL MUNDO — Spain [1.1.08]

At the beginning of each year is a great event in the Anglo-Saxon culture, or rather, in the social life of that culture...The event is called the Edge Annual Question, bringing together much of the most interesting 

Anthropologist Richard Wrangham has introduced a subtle shift in the explanation of the evolutionary history of man: he once believed it to be caused by eating meat, now he believes that the decisive factor is the kitchen, ie, changing from raw to cooked. The response from the musician Brian Eno explains how he went from revolution to evolution, and how he left Maoism for Darwin. ...

Correre Della Sera — Italy [1.1.08]

From theories of evolution to differences among races, some scholars' mea culpa are online

LONDON — "When thinking changes your mind, that's philosophy, when God changes your mind, that's faith, when facts change your mind, that's science". This is the introduction to the year’s question as posed by a cultural association to which belong the principal thinkers of this moment, from Richard Dawkins, British evolutionary biologist and author of cult book The Selfish Gene, to psychologist Steven Pinker, passing through music producer Brian Eno.

Hundreds responded to the challenge (perhaps in part because the answers to preceding questions were published as books) and revealed widespread reversals of opinions—sometimes dramatic, sometimes gracious.

...

THE INDEPENDENT [12.31.07]

It's becoming something of a New Year ritual. For almost a decade, the website www.edge.org has been asking a selection of eminent thinkers and scholars to answer a single question and publishing the results on 1 January.

In the past it has presented such posers as "What do you believe is true, even though you cannot prove it?" and "What is the most important invention of the past 2,000 years?"

This year Edge wanted to know: "What have you changed your mind about and why?" As usual, it's a good question. And the responses of the likes of Steven Pinker and Helena Cronin are as fascinating and weighty as one would imagine.

ARTS & LETTERS DAILY [12.31.07]

What have you changed your mind about, and why? John Brockman’s Edge put the question to over a hundred scientists and scholars... more»

THE INDEPENDENT [12.31.07]

It's becoming something of a New Year ritual. For almost a decade, the website www.edge.org has been asking a selection of eminent thinkers and scholars to answer a single question and publishing the results on 1 January.

In the past it has presented such posers as "What do you believe is true, even though you cannot prove it?" and "What is the most important invention of the past 2,000 years?"

This year Edge wanted to know: "What have you changed your mind about and why?" As usual, it's a good question. And the responses of the likes of Steven Pinker and Helena Cronin are as fascinating and weighty as one would imagine.

But we cannot help wishing that some of that formidable bank of grey matter could be pointed in a more mundane direction too from time to time.

Could this stellar brains-trust not be asked to tackle a few supplementary questions? We can think of a few. How about: "Why did Network Rail schedule extensive engineering works over the busy Christmas holiday period?" And: "What is it about England and penalties?" While we're at it how about a definitive answer to: "Why did the chicken cross the road?" And finally: "What is it about the evening of 31 December that compels us to stay up too late, pay more than is reasonable for services and drink more than is sensible?"

While you're pondering on that, we would like to wish all our readers a very happy and (suitably questioning) New Year.

INFECTIOUS GREED [12.31.07]

This year's Big Question at Edge from John Brockman, et al., is this, What have you changed your mind about?  This is, at least, an interesting question, so I'll start by saying that what I've changed my mind about is whether, in general, the Edge's annual question is worth reading. Okay, sometimes it is.

That said, are any specific answers to this year's Big Question worth reading? Somewhat surprisingly, yes. Granted, some of the answers are just wankery, scientists and others saying that they used to think we wouldn't solve Problem X, and now they think we will, someday, etc. Or, worse yet, there is a passel of up-with-the-environment puffery, where the previously unconverted become carbon holy-rollers.

Forgive me, but I don't care about answers that show how you are getting smarter and smarter, every day. I want to know about real and relevant -- and, ideally, embarrassing-- things about which you changed your mind, and why. Because how smart people convince themselves to do dumb things -- or at least wrong things -- is too important to be turned into an onanistic exercise. And don't even get me started about the number of people who turned this into an exercise in extolling the merits of changing one's mind.

Something that struck me in doing a quick read of the contributions is that one large group who changes their mind all the time is not represented. And that is, of course, anyone to do with capital markets. Imagine asking a question like the above to a successful fund manger, to Jim Rogers, to Philip Carret, Michael Steinhardt, or to Jim Simons. Instead of a long and ponderous answer about a decade-old inconsequential change of heart on an academic inanity, you would get a litany of things, some within the last few hours, of material matters on which they had been dead wrong -- with, sometimes, many millions of dollars in consequences. Investment pros are, in a sense, among the world's foremost experts at changing their mind. I remember talking to Andy Kessler a year or so ago about this, about how important it is to remain totally flexible and uncommitted in capital markets.

So, what would I say in response to this question? Well there is the cutesy grad-school essay-ready response I gave above about the question itself. And there is, of course, the age-old dilemma about whether ballad bands can do speed metal music, as opposed to vice-versa, but I'll leave that aside momentarily.

There are so many things I've changed my mind about I've lost track, and the pace is picking up. I don't even know where to begin. For example, I was dead wrong about Apple stock for years, to the point that early on I called iPod a fad and said some silly things about how if Apple's share price was above the then level I would eat my column. That was stupid, and I changed my mind and publicly flipped a year or so later, in time to ride along with Apple on its current advance. Why was I wrong? Because, in short, I got stuck using the past as a lens -- a mistake, as Warren Buffett has said, because if the past were such a good predictor all the best investors would be librarians -- and assumed that Apple CEO Steve Jobs would always fumble new product launches, forgetting that a context switch had happened, with Jobs' Apple finally going from weakness (business sales) to strength (consumer products).

I used to take much more pride in working things through, coming to a firm conclusion, and sticking to it. No longer. Like Billy Pilgrim, I feel increasingly unstuck in time, with everything more tenuous, and with it much more important to change my mind, and to do it quickly and with less overwhelming data than I might have tried to obtain in the past. At least as importantly, it's easy to wander from firm convictions to utter inflexibility, and, at least as a prophylactic to the latter, it's better to err on the side of flexible convictions.

Sadly, however, what I have not changed my mind about is citizens of this planet's capacity to do the same. In particular, the current political season in the U.S. is utterly depressing, with horrible, pandering, unthinking views getting more play than anything even remotely rational. If anything, people feel more fixed in unfalsifiable world views, whether built on faith or superstition or pride or ignorance, the result is the same: A planet of people who should all change their mind about important things much more often, but don't.

Here are a couple worth reading. Feel free to add more.

And who do I wish was on the list? Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke, Lloyd Blankfein, Stan O'Neal, Angelo Mozilo, Jim Cramer, Rupert Murdoch, and many, many others.

Paul Kedrosky, INFECTIOUS GREED [12.31.07]

This year's Big Question at Edge from John Brockman, et al., is this, What have you changed your mind about? This is, at least, an interesting question, so I'll start by saying that what I've changed my mind about is whether, in general, the Edge's annual question is worth reading. Okay, sometimes it is.

That said, are any specific answers to this year's Big Question worth reading? Somewhat surprisingly, yes. Granted, some of the answers are just wankery, scientists and others saying that they used to think we wouldn't solve Problem X, and now they think we will, someday, etc. Or, worse yet, there is a passel of up-with-the-environment puffery, where the previously unconverted become carbon holy-rollers. ...

Here are a couple worth reading. Feel free to add more.

Economist Dan Kahneman on the aspiration treadmill
Clay Shirky
 on science and religion
Nassim Taleb
 on .... nothing (okay, incomplete, but I still like the semiotic pun)...

IN BRIEF: What Are You Optimistic About?
THE TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT [12.31.07]

To non-scientists, it may not be obvious that science tends to be an optimistic endeavour.  While academics working in the arts or humanities may be more equivocal abut the state of the world, those working in science tend to be hopeful, at least about furthering the limits of human knowledge and the possibilities of what can be known in the future.  These are essentially optimistic goals.

What Are You Optimistic About? is a collection of essays from "the world’s leading scientists and thinkers" addressing the 2007 annual question posed by John Brockman on his website www.edge.org.  Like its predecessors from previous years, it covers an impressively wide range of topics, including the futures of religion, the origins of the universe, climate change, neuroscience, human relationships, medicine, artificial intelligence, communications and psychology, among others.  Inevitably, many important ideas get brief, superficial discussion, but as a whole the collection provides an overview of where the work in a number of interesting fields is heading, and makes both engaging and consoling predictions about the future.  As Brockman is careful to articulate in his introduction, not all of these things will come to pass, but some certainly will.

Almost all the contributions are written by scientists or at least "thinkers in the empirical world": people Brockman considers to be the new intellectuals of modern culture.  Steven Pinker explains why the decline in violence in the world will continue; Dan Sperber considers altruism on the web; and Oliver Morton writes on how solar energy can save the planet.  A number of these essays assert confidently that we are living in a time of shifting paradigms, but they rarely agree on precise terms, and some hopes for the future openly contradict others.  The most memorable moments in the collection do not come from ambitious contributions on the showstopper science of torpedoed religion, cancer cures and climate reversals.  Instead they come when the contributors address wider hopes for human ingenuity, our capacity for progress and problem-solving.  The edge question for 2008 is: what have you changed your mind about?  This will surely provoke another stimulating array of responses, profiling issues and ideas where recent data are challenging preconceptions and highlighting the topics on the brink of breakthrough and development

Read the full article →

THE TIMES [12.31.07]

Even the world’s best brains have to admit to being wrong sometimes: here, leading scientists respond to a new year challenge

Lewis Smith, Science Reporter

The new year is traditionally a time when people tend to look back and try to work out where it all went wrong – and how to get it right in the future.

The new year is traditionally a time when people tend to look back and try to work out where it all went wrong – and how to get it right in the future.

This time the Edge Foundation asked a number of leading scientists and thinkers why they had changed their minds on some of the pivotal issues in their fields. The foundation, a chat forum for intellectuals, posed the question: “When thinking changes your mind, that’s philosophy. When God changes your mind, that’s faith. When facts change your mind, that’s science. What have you changed your mind about? Why?”

The group’s responses covered controversial issues, including climate change, whether God or souls exist and defining when humanity began.

This time the Edge Foundation asked a number of leading scientists and thinkers why they had changed their minds on some of the pivotal issues in their fields. The foundation, a chat forum for intellectuals, posed the question: “When thinking changes your mind, that’s philosophy. When God changes your mind, that’s faith. When facts change your mind, that’s science. What have you changed your mind about? Why?”

The group’s responses covered controversial issues, including climate change, whether God or souls exist and defining when humanity began.

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS [12.31.07]

"The partisan bickering that ensued throughout the 1790s suggested . . ."

Hold it right there. The 1790s? Does the historian Joseph J. Ellis, who wrote those words in his fine 2007 book American Creation, mean to say that "partisan bickering" dates almost from the founding of the American republic, when political parties themselves were still looked upon as divisive embarrassments?

He certainly does.

Partisan bickering - sometimes mild but often shockingly vicious - has characterized every decade of this nation's history, although you'd hardly know it to hear the many complaints about partisanship today. It's worth keeping this history in mind as the election season unfolds and presidential candidates once again pledge to end the rancor in Washington, restore civility and respect, and stop the political squabbling.

Barack Obama is most associated with this superficially pleasing theme. He promises to "change politics," uniting Americans around a "politics of purpose" that transcends "partisan calculation."

Alas for Obama, he has set himself an impossible task - however appealing it might seem to many Americans fed up with the routine nastiness of Washington debates. The "bickering" reflects not only a struggle for power, after all, but also real policy differences. And no, it won't end, ever, unless one side manages to silence the other - presumably not what Obama or anyone else running for the White House actually has in mind.

Science snubbed

The Western world has split into "two cultures," the British scientist C.P. Snow declared nearly half a century ago, in which scientists and literary intellectuals no longer know how to speak to each other.

Snow's lengthy thesis was sloppy and attracted well-aimed barbs. Yet the cliche "The Two Cultures" has survived, I suspect, in part because it does help to explain the oblivious attitude toward science exhibited by so many otherwise educated people.

Take the fact that The New York Times' "100 Notable Books of the Year" from its Book Review includes no science books. The reader who pointed this out to me saw it reported on John Brockman's Edge Web site. Brockman's indignant assessment: "Given the well-documented challenges and issues we are facing as a nation, as a culture, how can it be that there are no science books (and hardly any books on ideas) on the New York Times 100 Notable Books of the Year list; no science category in the Economist Books of the Year 2007; only Oliver Sacks in The New Yorker's list of Books From Our Pages?"

Since Brockman wrote those words nearly two weeks ago, the Times' three daily reviewers have published lists of their favorite books, too. Only one is about science - although science decades old (Uncertainty: Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, and the Struggle for the Soul of Science).

Brockman argues that "Elite universities have nudged science out of the liberal arts undergraduate curriculum" and thus produce graduates "who don't even know that they don't know." Maybe so, but those graduates, if they work at a paper like the Times, must know this much: Their readers include many people trained in the sciences who might prefer a book on what scientists think, about our future, say, to a book on what Tina Brown thinks about Princess Diana.

Yes, The Diana Chronicles actually made the Times' "notable" list.

Slashdot [12.31.07]

chrisd writes

"The Edge 2008 question (with answers) is in. This year, the question is: 'What did you change your mind about and why?'. Answers are featured from scientists as diverse as Richard DawkinsSimon Baron-CohenGeorge Church,David BrinJ. Craig Venter and the Astronomer Royal, Lord Martin Rees, among others. Very interesting to read. For instance, Stewart Brand writes that he now realizes that 'Good old stuff sucks' and Sam Harris has decided that 'Mother Nature is Not Our Friend.' What did Slashdot readers change their minds about in 2007?"

O'REILLY RADAR [12.31.07]

Every year, John Brockman of the Edge Foundation asks a group of scientists and other thinkers a big question, and publishes their answers. This year, the question was framed as follows:

When thinking changes your mind, that's philosophy. 
When God changes your mind, that's faith. 
When facts change your mind, that's science.

WHAT HAVE YOU CHANGED YOUR MIND ABOUT? WHY?

Science is based on evidence. What happens when the data change? How have scientific findings or arguments changed your mind?"

John asked me to contribute. At first I demurred, both because I didn't have anything to say to match what I expected from the august company of scientists he'd assembled to answer his question and because I'm more in the "when thinking changes your mind" camp. Working as I do to shape how people think about social and technology trends, I'm less involved with facts that can be right or wrong than how what we believe changes what we see and do. Besides, my thinking tends to evolve rather than reverse itself. As I retell my story, I'm continually updating and revising.

John persisted. I eventually offered some ideas and he jumped on one: my skepticism about the term "social software" after Clay Shirky's "Social Software Summit" in November 2002. As it turns out, Clay was right and I was wrong. This was a powerful meme indeed, just five years early.

Here's what I wrote for the 2008 Edge question. As I suspected, it's a meager offering at a remarkable feast of the intellect. Use it, if you must, as an entry point to an amazing group of reflections on science, culture, and the evolution of ideas. Reading the Edge question is like being invited to dinner with some of the most interesting people on the planet. . 

GUARDIAN UNLIMITED [12.31.07]

What did you change your mind about in 2007? The world's intellectual elite spread some New Year humility.

James Randerson, science correspondent

Since I wrote my piece on this year's show of scientific humility for the New Year's day paper some big names have added their thoughts to the mix.

Here's evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins on how being a "flip-flopper" is no bad thing in science...

The controversial geneticist Craig Venter has had a change of heart about the capacity of our planet to soak up the punishment humanity is throwing at it...

There are also interesting contributions from Simon Baron-Cohen, the University of Cambridge autism researcher who has changed his mind about equality; psychologist Susan Blackmore, who has gone from embracing the paranormal to debunking it; and artist and composerBrian Eno, who was once seduced by Maoism, but now believes it is a "monstrosity".

What did you change your mind about in 2007?

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