Tag Archives: policy

Bay Area marches for science

At first glance, the March for Science in San Francisco appeared similar to other marches held over the past few months: a sea of signs and people in sunscreen and running shoes, many with their kids in tow. But after looking closer, a couple notable differences stood out. Here and there were people in lab

Open access explained

Night_10The conversation about scientific publishing has exploded lately, online, in print and in person. Last week, the journal Nature released a special issue called The future of publishing. Also last week, Micheal Eisen (MCB professor and HHMI investigator at UC Berkeley, and co-founder of PLoS) posted a speech he gave on the past and projected future of scholarly communication in the age of the Internet. I want to start there, because his remarks were thorough and persuasive, and they inspired me to think differently about the issue of open access.

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Do rules make us safer?

SciImages_11Laboratory life at Berkeley is about to undergo some changes; whether for better or worse depends on implementation, a willingness to be sensible, and your own personal perspective.

One (of the many) things I loved about coming to Berkeley was a relaxed lab atmosphere. If I am pipetting a caustic reagent, I wear gloves, lab coat and eye protection. If I am working with a volatile substance, I work in a hood. And if I need to pour filtered sea water, I, well … I don’t put on my lab coat, or even reach for a pair of gloves. Having a relaxed lab atmosphere does not mean a disregard for safety–it means that everyone has been sufficiently trained to make proper decisions regarding the safety of themselves and others, and that each person is trusted to take not just the safest, but also the most sensible actions.

But a lawsuit against UC is mandating stricter rules that will further retract from an individual’s power–and responsibility–to make their own good decisions. And although intentions are good and sound safety practices an absolute must, I believe that stricter rules–especially blanket policies–do not equal a safer working environment. In some cases, they may even lead to the opposite.

Ethics of the dangerous present and the hypothetical future

Embarcadero_27I need to reiterate an obvious truism: science peels back the unknown, producing new knowledge and changing our perception of the possible. Every bit of new information is individually inert and blameless, but when humans choose to act on scientific knowledge, fundamental facets of nature are seen in a whole new light. Over the latter half of the 20th century, perhaps no field was more emblematic of the dichotomy between great good and great danger than nuclear physics; the same knowledge that lead to abundant nuclear power also lead to ruinous nuclear weapons. Though the developments of other fields may not be so dramatic and poetic, the ethics underlying technological advancement are an important issue. I am frustrated that scientific ethics so often abandons the issues resulting from present-day science to dance through the realm of the science fictional.

Recently, I read this article by Huw Price in the New York Times with a mixture of excitement and disappointment. His particular focus is on artificial intelligence research and thus on the possibility of a technological singularity-like event. Sometimes derided as the “Rapture of the Nerds,” the singularity refers to a time when humans first develop an AI smarter than themselves, which will (in theory) exponentially improve itself. This massive intelligence could potentially render humans themselves superfluous—or at least, no longer the dominant will on Earth. In any case, the implications of such an event are, of course, enormous.