Derek Thompson writing for The Atlantic:
Enrico Fermi was an architect of the atomic bomb, a father of radioactivity research, and a Nobel Prize–winning scientist who contributed to breakthroughs in quantum mechanics and theoretical physics. But in the popular imagination, his name is most commonly associated with one simple, three-word question, originally meant as a throwaway joke to amuse a group of scientists discussing UFOs at the Los Alamos lab in 1950: Where is everybody?
Fermi wasn’t the first person to ask a variant of this question about alien intelligence. But he owns it. The query is known around the world as the Fermi paradox. It’s typically summarized like this: If the universe is unfathomably large, the probability of intelligent alien life seems almost certain. But since the universe is also 14 billion years old, it would seem to afford plenty of time for these beings to make themselves known to humanity. So, well, where is everybody?
Tom Chatfield writing for The Guardian:
For the philosopher of technology Luciano Floridi, there have been four recent revolutions in human consciousness. First, Copernicus and Galileo demonstrated that the Earth was not the unique, unmoving center of our universe. Like the other planets, it orbited the sun; and these planets in turn were orbited by their satellites, indifferent to human claims of exceptionalism. Second, Darwin showed us humanity not as the fixed pinnacle of a hierarchical creation, but as one among countless lifeforms produced by blind selection. Third, Freud suggested that we are far from transparent even to ourselves – that our self-knowledge is at best tenuous and provisional.
Each of these revolutions is in a sense a demotion: a revision downwards of our place in the order of things. We are neither the lords of creation nor even masters of our own minds. What’s next to lose? The fourth revolution, Floridi suggests, is one in which we must surrender our claim to be the universe’s sole site of analysis and insight. Our creations approach or exceed our capabilities in areas long believed to be uniquely human: deduction, recall, reasoning, pattern recognition, the processing of language, the modelling and prediction of the world.
Adam Perkins writing for Quillette:
“When one side of a scientific debate is allowed to silence the other side, this is an impediment to scientific progress because it prevents bad theories being replaced by better theories. Or, even worse, it causes civilization to go backward, such as when a good theory is replaced by a bad theory that it previously displaced. The latter situation is what happened in the most famous illustration of the dire consequences that can occur when one side of a scientific debate is silenced. This occurred in connection with the theory that acquired characteristics are inherited. This idea had been out of fashion for decades, in part due to research in the 1880s by August Weismann. He conducted an experiment that entailed amputating the tails of 68 white mice, over 5 generations. He found that no mice were born without a tail or even with a shorter tail. He stated: “901 young were produced by five generations of artificially mutilated parents, and yet there was not a single example of a rudimentary tail or of any other abnormality in this organ.”
These findings and others like them led to the widespread acceptance of Mendelian genetics. Unfortunately for the people of the USSR, Mendelian genetics are incompatible with socialist ideology and so in the 1930s USSR were replaced with Trofim Lysenko’s socialism-friendly idea that acquired characteristics are inherited. Scientists who disagreed were imprisoned or executed. Soviet agriculture collapsed and millions starved.
Henceforth the tendency to silence scientists with inconvenient opinions has been labeled Lysenkoism since it provides the most famous example of the harm that can be done when competing scientific opinions cannot be expressed equally freely.”
Michael Specter writing in the New Yorker.
“Scientists have been trying to use the tools of genetics to control pests almost since the day, in 1953, when James Watson and Francis Crick described how the language of life is written in four chemical letters—adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine. In 1958, the American entomologists Edward F. Knipling and Raymond C. Bushland proposed a novel approach to eliminating the screwworm (Cochliomyia hominivorax), the only insect known to eat the live flesh of warm-blooded animals. The screwworm has infested cattle for centuries, and it can kill a cow in less than two weeks. Employing radiation, which served as a crude but effective form of birth control, Knipling and Bushland sterilized millions of male screwworms. They released them to mate with females, who would then lay sterile eggs. Known as sterile-insect technique, it has been used widely ever since. Two years later, Knipling published an article, in the Journal of Economic Entomology, in which he suggested that it would be possible to use the same approach to force malarial mosquitoes and other pests to destroy themselves. Such a proposal would have required the release of billions of sterile mosquitoes, which, at the time, was not possible.”