Tag Archives: Science

Jurassic Park 3D: Play Smart with the Environment, Don’t Play God

*Iowa State Daily column by Ian Timberlake*

Oh how we humans like to be masters of our environment, controllers of life. If we can do something, we do it. Though it may sound cliche, just because we can do something, should we?

Within the last couple of decades our knowledge of DNA has increased tremendously. Today, we are at the point where we can nearly bring back that which does not exist.

Like extinct species, for example.

With “Jurassic Park 3D” coming out, we can expect to see more entertained discussion of what it means to bring back extinct animals, not necessarily just for viewing pleasure. A scenario like “Jurassic Park” is not possible, as 65 million years is far too long to get a good DNA sample of any dinosaur, but it’s still interesting to contemplate.

Teams have attempted “de-extinction” before, and nearly succeeded. A team of French and Spanish scientists brought back an extinct Pyrenean ibex (goat) in 2003, only for it to die just minutes after birth and therefore go extinct again. The Pyrenean ibex only recently went extinct, in the late 1990s, with the last one found dead under a tree with a radio tracker around its neck. This animal went extinct because it was over-hunted.

Scientists all over the world are working toward turning science-fiction into science-fact. Is it right, though?

Earth is its own habitat and has its own life cycle. In human years, Earth would probably be in its late 40s and have much to offer in resources and knowledge. Over 98 percent of all species to have ever existed have gone extinct — billions of species. Who are we to say that we should “save the animals,” as the endangered species activists so loudly exclaim? And does it really matter if we bring back extinct species?

In the long run, no, it doesn’t remotely matter.

The real question is whether or not humans have had a major influence on the rate of extinction. I would argue we have had a massive influence in the last few hundred years.

You have heard it time and time again, drilled into your heads, that we are taking vital resources from major habitats of the world that end up hurting and removing species, be it altering the predator vs. prey ratios or removing habitats. I don’t need to tell you about humans damaging our lonely planet when you’re exposed to it everyday.

It’s one thing to try to bring back an animal we recently hunted extinct, and another thing to bring back animals like wooly mammoths, saber-toothed tigers and mastodons. These three species have been extinct from four to 12 thousand years —  long before humans were a global threat.

Bringing back a few extinct or endangered animals that disappeared due to humans probably won’t help much from an ecological point, if at all. And bringing back extinct animals from 10,000 years ago is just scientific fun. Good luck trying to throw them into an unadapted environment which they haven’t been a part of for millennia.

Taking animals out of extinction for research’s sake is fine and dandy. It might, after all, lead to the discovery of many new and interesting things. Taking animals out of extinction to try and solve the world of problems that humans have created is a lost cause. And doing so just so we can have an “extinct exhibit” at the zoo is moronic and beyond egocentric.

The only way we can help our planet is to bring balance to the environment by the way we use it. Species come and go the same way we are born and die, and the only thing we can do is be a part of that cycle, naturally.

Staying ahead of that cycle is preserving the existence of our own species, for now. But there needs to be a balance because whether we like it or not, no matter how ahead we are, we’re dependent on what lives and grows on Earth.

Some call de-extinction “playing God.” Paleontologist Michael Archer at the University of New South Wales says we’ve been playing God ever since we drove animals to extinction.

Regardless of whether we’re “playing God” or not, humans need to stop thinking that there will always be a remedial fix to the problems we create and instead focus on preventing problems from even occurring in the first place. “That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.”

 

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Your tax dollars in military and education… where are they going? (Petition)

*Iowa State Daily column by Ian Timberlake*

In 1947 our national defense budget was below $100 billion. In 1952 it was nearly $500 billion, and ever since 1955, it has been on the incline from $225 billion. Excluding the cost of Iraq and Afghanistan, since 2001 our defense budget has gone up from $287 billion to $530 billion. These numbers have indeed been adjusted for inflation.


According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, in 2012 the United States spent $711 billion in military. This accounts for 41 percent of the world’s military spending and is equivalent to five China defense budgets — the world’s second in military spending.

The only thing I will say about tax and budget cuts is that, regardless of administration, most of them are likened to cutting a lawn of grass at a slower rate than it grows back. Or maybe the more satisfying, trimming the foam off the beer.

Without contempt, I will be the first to opinionate that whomever the world superpower is, has a responsibility to act (at some regard) as a global justifier. A global hierarchy needs to exist in order to bay any international injustices. This does not mean, however, we need to micromanage all of Earth.

Since 1977, the defense budget has accounted for 41-65 percent of the total national budget, while the education budget has accounted for 3-6 percent — with the exception of the 2009 stimulus that briefly placed the number at 10 percent.

Obviously, the costs are not comparable. An Air Force B2 stealth bomber costs about one billion dollars, we own 21. That alone accounts for a third of the entire Department of Education budget in 2012. I can’t simply say we need to take money out of defense and put it in education, here’s why.

Data shows that the amount of money in a nation’s education budget does not correlate with the quality of education received. The United States is tied with Switzerland for having the highest annual spending per student, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Among the 31 industrialized nations, we place 15th in literacy, 23rd in math, and 17th in science. Where Switzerland is 17th, 7th, and 18th, respectively. The top nations in each category have a relatively low education expenditure. Finland, Japan, and Korea are on top of the respective literacy, math, and science charts.

These three nations are not far from the top in the other two categories, with Finland considered to be the global example in education, where teachers are high-status and require masters degrees. University is also free in Finland.

What needs to happen is a large percentage of our money needs to be put towards education reform. It’s shown that once the proper education plan is in place, top dollar is no longer required to operate at an effective rate.

A small percentage of the defense budget put towards education reform would not be difficult, our government just needs a plan and have the guts to do it. Here’s my proposition:

Grades K-12 need to be more difficult to pass by not “teaching to the test”. Private, religious, and boarding schools must maintain the minimum requirements of the public schools. Teachers need to be paid more and on performance — as well as easily fireable. Tenure needs to be more difficult to achieve, or flat-out removed. Curriculum needs to be more flexible and/or reevaluated. Education should be free until the age of 18. School years should be longer. More money should be awarded to schools with lower graduation rates. Classes need to be smaller and we should never have a more-supervisors-to-teachers ratio that currently exists.

Why revamp education?

Outside of maintaining the status quo of the success of humanity, improved education could fix many other areas of problem in our nation’s society — as speculated:

Crime rates would drop, prison costs would go down. Health would improve, cost of care would go down. Unplanned pregnancy would go down, children would be raised in more privileged homes. Economy would improve through better business and innovation.

We need to start placing money where it matters: Less in military; Less in prisons (where it costs more to bed an inmate than it does to send a student off to university); Less in foreign aid that includes nations, religious organizations, and major corporations. And into: Education reform, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Science Foundation — all of which contribute towards the advancement of education among other, smaller, organizations.

To do anything less would be subverting the human species one profound thought at a time. Here is a petition I wrote that calls the White House to make education reform a top-3 priority, please sign and share this as much as you care: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/make-education-reform-top-3-priority/j2g0NSG2 

 

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It’s a bird! It’s a plane! Nope, it’s just meteor 2012 DA14!

*Iowa State Daily column by Ian Timberlake*

June 30, 1908, was a rather eventful day in an otherwise uneventful forest in Siberia, Russia, when a meteor nearly a football field in size exploded only a few miles above Earth’s surface.

The “Tunguska event” went almost completely unnoticed thanks to its isolation from the rest of the world, even though it impacted Earth with an energy level equivalent to roughly 15 megatons of TNT —or 1,000 times as powerful as the thermonuclear detonation over Hiroshima, Japan.

The Tunguska meteor leveled more than 830 square miles and would have measured more than 5.0 on the richter scale — and was almost identical in characteristics to the asteroid passing a record close proximity to us today, Feb. 15th, named “2012 DA14”.

Asteroid 2012 DA14 is a little less than a football field in diameter and weighs an estimated 130,000 tons. It will pass within geosynchronous orbit at an altitude of about 3.5 Earth radii — 5,000 less than the satellites — and will be traveling 18,000 miles per hour, more than 23 times the speed of sound.

If this asteroid were to enter our atmosphere and become a meteor, it would be almost laughable for me to say it would be a bad day.

Have no worries, though, there is zero chance for 2012 DA14 to hit us, even on any return trip within the next 100 years.

As NASA Jet Propulsion Lab’s newest volunteer ambassador for Iowa, I will regularly make an effort keep you up to date on the latest information and research to come out of NASA. Clarified in the paper, any opinion I hold is independent to that of NASA.

With that said, it is unlikely you will be able to see the asteroid with the naked eye. If you wish to see it, it will require a mounted pair of binoculars positioned to catch the asteroid traveling from the southern evening sky to northern morning sky at about 1:24 p.m. The asteroid can be viewed via live feed from one of NASA’s telescopes at http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/ustream.html

2012 DA14 was discovered by the LaSagra observatory in southern Spain on Feb. 23, 2012. This is almost exactly one year before the asteroid’s passing. Suppose it was calculated to be an impact like the one in Tunguska Forest.

Is one year enough time to prepare if 2012 DA14 were on an orbital path destined to impact us?

An asteroid this size is not big enough to decimate our large region of the world, but it is big enough to decimate a metropolitan area. Even though an asteroid is far more likely to impact water than land, let alone a highly populated area, things like this would need to be considered. Would it be feasible to organize a team to send out a spacecraft to intercept and divert said asteroid? Or would it be better to calculate its impact region and evacuate anyone within the effective impact radius?

If the asteroid were anything like 2012 XE54, discovered Dec. 9, 2012 — two days before passing Earth within the moon’s orbit — then there isn’t much we could do but evacuate as many as possible and tell the world to hunker down. Even though 2012 XE54 was not big enough to do considerable damage if it hit us, it still shows the owl-like stealth of these rocks and how well they fly under the radar.

As far as I can discern, a future asteroid impact is the only natural disaster humans have the capability to avert. It’s also the only known natural disaster capable of wiping us out just as it did the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

NASA and other private corporations should be well-funded such that scanning the local galaxy becomes simplistic and proficient enough to spot lethal asteroids well before they spot us, and possibly already have tested and proven asteroid diverting technology.

Quoted more than once in my columns, Aldous Huxley said, “That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.” The sad reality is that it takes a massive disaster to occur for us to do anything about it on the come around, and even then we are lax. Let us consider the implications of said near-misses and start appropriating resources toward a solution.

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Is the world ready to cure cancer given our population and resource consumption?

*Iowa State Daily column by Ian Timberlake*

In 2008, there was a calculated estimate of 12.7 million new cancer cases along with 7.6 million cancer related deaths. The previous year, cancer accounted for about 13 percent of all global deaths with nearly 64 percent of all these deaths occurring in developed nations. With upwards of 70 conventionally named organs in the human body, there are over 200 different types of known cancer – all of which are only treatable, not curable.

The United Nations and US Census reports the global population in 2050 could be between 7.5-10.5 billion people and that our resource consumption could triple. The Worldwatch Institute said, “This surge in human numbers threatens to offset any savings in resource use from improved efficiency, as well as any gains in reducing per-capita consumption. Even if the average American eats 20 percent less meat in 2050 than in 2000, total U.S. meat consumption will be 5 million tons greater in 2050 due to population growth.”

United States projected population growth. (courtesy of United Nations)

To add, “Every day in 2003, some 11,000 more cars merged onto Chinese roads – 4 million new private cars during the year. Auto sales increased by 60 percent in 2002 and by more than 80 percent in the first half of 2003. If growth continues apace, 150 million cars could jam China’s streets by 2015 – 18 million more than were driven on U.S. streets and highways in 1999.”

Just touching the surface of our population growth and resource consumption, can we really afford to cure cancer with the current state of our global consumption?

United States projected female life expectancy (without a cancer cure).

Within the last year alone, researchers have made considerable steps towards finding a cure for cancer. As I see it, we are on the cusp of a legitimate cure for the second largest cause of death, just behind heart disease.

Abbreviated, these “considerable steps” include:

German Cancer Research Center and Heidelberg University Hospital find a weak point in cancerous cells that effectively kills the cells when the HDAC11 enzyme molecule is turned off.

Researchers at McMaster University have discovered a drug, thioridazine, that kills cancer stem cells without major side-effects.

Australian researchers have discovered the mechanism in which breast cancer cells avoid the immune system and develop within the body.

South Korean scientists in-lab tests were able to cause cancer cells to “self destruct” after being induced to specific magnetic fields.

Published in Nature Journal, researchers have engineered a safe virus that, when injected intravenously, will target only cancerous cells.

UCLA has shown cancerous cells can be fought by stimulating the immune system with a protein that targets tumors.

The list continues.

I don’t mean to suggest that we shouldn’t attempt to find a cure (personally, I’ve had family members affected by cancerous conditions, among other things). In fact, I suggest the opposite. But when the United States accounts for less than five percent of the global population and consume over one quarter of the world’s fuels, what sort of impact would the world see should nearly 13 percent of all global deaths become abated?

A one-stop cancer cure wouldn’t fix all cancerous-related problems overnight, but it would spread faster around the world than cancer spreads through the human body, which is immeasurably faster than the rate of global economic, social, and resource consumption changes.

Solving any of the world’s leading causes of death would induce a massive influx of global change. Cures for heart disease, HIV, respiratory, alzheimers, diabetes, nephrosis, or cancer are all contenders to change the world not just in a positive way, but in a very damaging way should we not be prepared for the change.

Our global society, specifically, the developed nations, should take resource consumption seriously even just on this basis let alone other reasons such as standard population growth, environmental impact, and cost.

In the documentary, Surviving Progress, one of the most inquisitive lines I have ever heard stated was, “If humans go extinct on this planet our epitaph on our gravestone is going to be ‘why.'”

I think Harvard social psychologist, Dan Gilbert, sums it up pretty well in his Ted Talk, “Our brains were evolved for a very different world than the one in which we are living. They were evolved for a world in which people lived in very small groups, rarely met anybody that was terribly different from themselves, had rather short lives, of which there were very few choices and the highest priority was to eat and mate today. We are the only species on this planet that has ever held its own fate in its hands. We have no significant predators, we are masters of our physical environment, things that normally cause other species to become extinct are no longer any threat to us. The only thing that can destroy us and doom us, are our own decisions. If we’re not here in 10,000 years, it’s going to be because we underestimated the odds of our future pains and overestimated the value of our present pleasures.”

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Spectacular 40 Year “Blue Marble” Anniversary Video

This is a spectacular video put together by people involved with the space program, past and present. It focuses on the implications Earth has had on humanity just by simply seeing it from above, and not within. Take the short time out of your day to watch this video and please pass it on.

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Neuroscience and Homosexuality related in “Epigenetics”

[Science Daily]

Dec. 11, 2012 — Epigenetics — how gene expression is regulated by temporary switches, called epi-marks — appears to be a critical and overlooked factor contributing to the long-standing puzzle of why homosexuality occurs.

According to the study, published online today in The Quarterly Review of Biology, sex-specific epi-marks, which normally do not pass between generations and are thus “erased,” can lead to homosexuality when they escape erasure and are transmitted from father to daughter or mother to son.

From an evolutionary standpoint, homosexuality is a trait that would not be expected to develop and persist in the face of Darwinian natural selection. Homosexuality is nevertheless common for men and women in most cultures. Previous studies have shown that homosexuality runs in families, leading most researchers to presume a genetic underpinning of sexual preference. However, no major gene for homosexuality has been found despite numerous studies searching for a genetic connection.

In the current study, researchers from the Working Group on Intragenomic Conflict at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) integrated evolutionary theory with recent advances in the molecular regulation of gene expression and androgen-dependent sexual development to produce a biological and mathematical model that delineates the role of epigenetics in homosexuality.

Epi-marks constitute an extra layer of information attached to our genes’ backbones that regulates their expression. While genes hold the instructions, epi-marks direct how those instructions are carried out — when, where and how much a gene is expressed during development. Epi-marks are usually produced anew each generation, but recent evidence demonstrates that they sometimes carry over between generations and thus can contribute to similarity among relatives, resembling the effect of shared genes.

Sex-specific epi-marks produced in early fetal development protect each sex from the substantial natural variation in testosterone that occurs during later fetal development. Sex-specific epi-marks stop girl fetuses from being masculinized when they experience atypically high testosterone, and vice versa for boy fetuses. Different epi-marks protect different sex-specific traits from being masculinized or feminized — some affect the genitals, others sexual identity, and yet others affect sexual partner preference. However, when these epi-marks are transmitted across generations from fathers to daughters or mothers to sons, they may cause reversed effects, such as the feminization of some traits in sons, such as sexual preference, and similarly a partial masculinization of daughters.

The study solves the evolutionary riddle of homosexuality, finding that “sexually antagonistic” epi-marks, which normally protect parents from natural variation in sex hormone levels during fetal development, sometimes carryover across generations and cause homosexuality in opposite-sex offspring. The mathematical modeling demonstrates that genes coding for these epi-marks can easily spread in the population because they always increase the fitness of the parent but only rarely escape erasure and reduce fitness in offspring.

“Transmission of sexually antagonistic epi-marks between generations is the most plausible evolutionary mechanism of the phenomenon of human homosexuality,” said the study’s co-author Sergey Gavrilets, NIMBioS’ associate director for scientific activities and a professor at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

The paper’s other authors are William Rice, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Urban Friberg, a professor at Uppsala University in Sweden.

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The implications of first contact with aliens

*Iowa State Daily column by Ian Timberlake*

The universe in its grandeur is of an uncertain, possibly infinite size. Our universe is, at a minimum, 92 billion light-years in diameter. Alpha Centauri is our closest star system, at a distance of 4.25 light-years. Flying at the speed of light, 186,282 miles per second (yes, per second), it would take 92 billion and 4.25 years to travel those respective distances. The fastest humans have ever travelled is just a few thousandths of a percent of the speed of light.

As far as we know, it is impossible to travel as fast or faster than the speed of light, unless we find a way to alter space. Even at four times the speed of light, it would take a year to get to Alpha Centauri.

This in mind, it can be safely stated that any extraterrestrial life to come and visit us would likely be of supreme technological advancement and have just come to rest after an incredibly long journey — even if they were to come from the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri. The technological difference between humans and an alien species visiting us would be likened to us traveling to the moons of Jupiter and finding bacteria.

Hypothetically speaking, if the moons of Jupiter did in fact carry extraterrestrial bacteria, do you think that would stop us from harvesting resources from it that we have already expunged on Earth?

Discovering extraterrestrial life would be the single greatest discovery in human history, and probably the greatest we would ever make, aside from answering the question as to why we are here to begin with. I still don’t believe this would prevent us from harvesting resources of a planet/moon that contains life, given we were in need of those resources.

Now imagine the reasons for an alien species to arrive at Earth in the first place. I can really only think of two possible reasons. The first, they have discovered we are an inhabited planet and are their first contact as well, or, they are traveling throughout the universe in search of resources to continue their own existence.

Friends of mine have argued that these aliens might be supremely benevolent and have traveled great distance for the sake of friendship or even enlightenment. While I will entertain that possibility and not throw it out the window, the likelihood of that being the case is probably significantly less than the first two reasons I proposed.

In either of the two cases I gave above, it would be a bad day for Earth and its humanity if we were visited by extraterrestrials.

It is well known that creatures higher on the food chain, and with more brain power, require more energy and resources to function. The same will likely be true for an advanced alien species. Even if they have mastered renewable energy, it is still impossible to get a 100 percent return in energy. We would be decimated if aliens came for our resources. Whether they killed us first or simply took the resources, we would barely survive, if not die off completely.

An alien species that visits us because we are their first contact is likely going to wind up examining us like test subjects — and no, I don’t mean the anal probing kind. As stated above, it would probably be similar to my example of us finding bacteria on another world. Our likely intelligence difference to these visiting extraterrestrials is well compared by astrophysicist, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, when he says, “We would be drooling, blithering idiots in their presence… Quantum mechanics would be intuited by their toddlers the way we intuit pasta collages.”

Tyson also suggests that we would be so insignificant in the presence of extraterrestrials this advanced that they might even fly on by without a care in the world (or in this case the universe), humans being none the wiser to their existence.

Regardless, I think I could safely say that I would prefer to be the ones to do the finding as opposed to the other way around.

 

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We are not alone in the universe

*Iowa State Daily column by Ian Timberlake*

The anatomical Homo sapiens has been walking Earth for nearly a quarter of a million years. On a 24-hour clock we came about roughly at 23:58:43 in comparison to the age of Earth. Not until 500 B.C. did Pythagoras claim that Earth was not flat and nearly 1,000 years later, 450 years ago, the telescope was invented. I was alive when America’s first optical telescope, Hubble, was sent into space. To say we know much about what lies within the confines of our universe is to be dense.

I have always found it intriguing that humans have maintained a highly egocentric view of ourselves. Always convinced that the greatest city lay at the “center of Earth.” Always convinced that the sun and planets revolved around us. Always convinced that we were at the center of all stars in the galaxy. Always convinced that we had someone watching over our particular planet, our particular species, and that we were the only living organisms, let alone “intellectuals,” in the universe.

How humbling it is to lay on a grassy hilltop staring into a deep, dark sky, knowing that we are one of a handful of minor planets revolving around an average star, one of the over quarter trillion (with a “T”) estimated stars in the Milky Way with likely more than that in planets.

While knowing that there are roughly the same number of galaxies in the universe as there are stars in the Milky Way, how can one remotely claim to believe that Earth is the only harbinger of life? I haven’t even begun to talk about the age of the universe.

It is because of the Hubble Space Telescope that we know the universe to be 13.72 billion years old, humans existing with telescopes for 3.28 millionths of a percent of that existence. Countless stars and planets have been born and died off before Earth was even formed, all with the potential chance to hold the conditions for life to arise.

The odds are ever stacked in favor for life to exist elsewhere in the universe. With a symbolically infinite number of places for life to arise and do so in less than a billion years (in Earth’s example) — there can only be one answer as far as I am concerned.

We are not alone.

Chemically, there really isn’t anything special about us. We are made of water and carbon mostly. Hydrogen, oxygen and carbon are among the most abundant elements in the universe — carbon having more combinations than any other element combined. Ranking order of abundance of elements in the universe to that of humans, you find they match up perfectly, all elements having been forged in the creation and destruction of stars.

“We are star stuff,” as the late and great Carl Sagan put it.

If you are not familiar with the Hubble photo called “Ultra Deep Field,” I highly recommend you look it up. This was a photo taken by Hubble after we pointed it in a very dark area of the sky for a long time. The result was nearly 10,000 individual galaxies and only a handful of lone stars in the foreground. If you were to hold the hole of a threading needle up into the night sky, everything that falls within “Ultra Deep Field” fits inside that eye of the needle.

Here’s the catch. We know that it takes time for light to travel a distance, and we know how far away those galaxies are (13 billion light years), which means we are essentially looking back in time to galaxies and stars that don’t exist anymore. At any point in time, one of the solar systems within one of those galaxies could have held the right conditions for life to rise. These systems, having long been destroyed, could have been replaced with new systems with completely new conditions to bear chance for life to grab hold.

Extraterrestrial life in the universe is inevitable with these sorts of odds.

Do I believe we have been visited by aliens? No. In a follow-up column I will talk about what I believe to be the implications of such an encounter.

 

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Red Bull Stratos Not Science

*Iowa State Daily column by Ian Timberlake*

Standing on a floating ledge with a 128,000-foot view of the world, blue below and black above, I am sure Felix Baumgartner felt nothing less than complete and total nirvana. What goes up, must come down.

He jumped.

Plummeting at 834 mph, 162 mph faster than the speed of sound at that altitude, Baumgartner officially became the first human to break the sound barrier unaided nor protected by a vehicle.

Red Bull Stratos – Felix Baumgartner at 128,000

This is not science, as many of the 8 million live YouTube followers might have lead you to swallow.

In the sense of research and discovery, this jump had nothing to do with modern science. Baumgartner and his Red Bull Team Stratos utilized what was already known in science to make a safe and successful landing for the daredevil stunt.

From the capsule, to the pressure suit, to the helium-filled balloon, to the parachute, this skydive from the stratosphere was a harmonious symphony of applied science — but certainly no “giant leap for mankind”.

Sure, we now know definitively that humans can make a safe reentry from the middle of the stratosphere, though this isn’t even close to what we consider “space”. Touted as “#SpaceJump” on Twitter, the jump has over 100,000 feet to go before you leave the stratosphere and enter the mesosphere. “Space” is considered to be 62 miles high; Baumgartner was at 24 miles. The International Space Station orbits at 200 miles; it was hardly a test of emergency human reentry that the project website claims it was.

We also know officially that a human can break the sound barrier unaided, but everything we already knew about science told us that this would be possible and safe.

Not to detract from Baumgartner’s accomplishment, I was glued to the live YouTube video for its entirety, over two hours. How vapid of me.

Baumgartner’s jump was astonishing, a true spectacle and completely bad-ass; simultaneously, it would have been laughable if this were a NASA, U.S. Air Force or SpaceX mission.

Baumgartner is an amateur in the world of high-altitude feats and technology. I will equate it to that of hobby rocketry. An amateur rocket enthusiast (such as myself) has yet to place a hobby rocket into orbit (they have placed one into “space”); the day they do put a hobby rocket into orbit will be an amazing feat of accomplishment, not of science.

Memes appeared the day of Baumgartner’s great accomplishment, hopefully tongue-in-cheek, representing Red Bull taking over America’s space program. Some of them were quite humorous — replacing the NASA logo with the Red Bull logo on the Space Shuttle. I sure as hell hope not.

A friend of mine also in aerospace engineering made an observant note, rightly so, that in the days following Red Bull Stratos, no professor in the department mentioned the jump.

I can say the same thing, but my professors did in fact discuss Mars Curiosity and Falcon9. At the risk of sounding redundant, Red Bull Stratos was an extreme stunt, not science.

To give credit where credit is due, Baumgartner’s stunt was, in fact, an inspiration for the younger generation. This is something we greatly need in the world, especially America.

Education, specifically in the math and sciences, is not just in the decline but far below most other major nations in the world. As of 2009, 15-year-olds in the United States ranked 25th among peers from 34 countries in math and science.

Hopefully his jump solicited enough awe in the youth to incline them to pursue technology and science related fields. Unlike fifty years ago, it is unfortunate that actual science no longer works as well as stunts in regards to inspiring the public.

It would have been nice if Red Bull included more scientific educational material during the live broadcast and treated it more as an educational opportunity than as a (literal) publicity stunt.

Baumgartner attained what he wanted, a world record, and Red Bull got what they wanted, an audience of 8 million and growing. And Joe Kittinger, Baumgartner being his legacy, may have first-handedly witnessed what it takes nowadays to get people interested in science: an extreme stunt sponsored by an energy drink.

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Are you an intellectual?

*Iowa State Daily column by Ian Timberlake*

“That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.”

That is one of my favorite quotes of all time. Truer words than these by Aldous Huxley are rarely uttered. In his book “Brave New World Revisited,” Huxley also wrote, “Unlike the masses, intellectuals have a taste for rationality and an interest in facts.” The accuracy of this statement about a lack of intellectualism in the masses makes the first quote remain true.

Isaac Asimov

What I do not understand is why the word “intellectual” even exists. Using that concept creates two distinct groups: intellectuals and the people who oppose to them. Normally, the opposition is characterized by standing upright and proud in their ignorance, not by valuing rationality and facts.

Using the word “intellectual” to describe people lumps them into identities rather than considering them in terms of how they act and argue. It could stem from everyone’s desire to follow the crowd, to enact “populism.” To those within the populace, a fish that swims upstream can come off as elitist and/or arrogant.

To call someone an “intellectual” is ultimately to reduce yourself — to belittle your own capacity to rationalize and learn. Intellectualism is valuing rational thinking and reason in everyday life, provided you don’t already believe yourself to be an intellectual. It does not mean to actually be intelligent, though, most whom are, are in fact what you might call “intellectual.”

Chided by a friend on Facebook in a comment about some of the articles I write, I was told I needed to, “…spend less time trying to be a high intellectual…” if I wanted to be taken seriously. This led me to thinking about how peculiar such a statement was. Isaac Asimov once said, “Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’”

Intellectualism has colloquially lost its value, and it seems this isn’t a recent occurrence — or maybe, rather, was never valued to begin with. Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth were founded, in part, to combat anti-intellectualism by people such as Puritan John Cotton who wrote a book in 1642 denouncing the “intellectual.”

Every human being on Earth should strive to be an intellectual. All it takes is the value of thinking for yourself, critically, and having a desire to learn. It also requires the ability to converse within the taboo. Breaking the taboo is a must. Ignorance might be bliss, but knowledge is power, and it should be valued — especially here at a prominent university (or any university for that matter).

Albert Einstein wrote, “Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions.” “Equanimity” is synonymous with “mental calmness,” and with that, Einstein was voicing his opinion on the taboo as well as likening the majority to sheep.

To be an intellectual, you must be willing to doubt, doubt anything and everything. Run a respectable experiment yourself or accept only that which has gone under considerable objective scrutiny by other so-called “intellectuals.”

Einstein said, “No amount of experimentation could ever prove [my theory of general relativity] right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.” Feynman, the acclaimed successor to Einstein, said, “We have found it of paramount importance that in order to progress, we must recognize the ignorance and leave room for doubt. Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty — some most unsure, some nearly sure, none absolutely certain.”

You also must be willing to go against the crowd and in many cases fight the taboo. The quickest way to solve societal problems and overcome difficulties is to detach yourself from what you believe to be true and instead focus on logical education.

At a university, we already have a high ratio of intellectuals in comparison to society. Being redundant, this is not to say that intellectuals must go through university, but that university seems to be the hub for intellectual thought. The act of being an intellectual is no more than maintaining the status quo of the success of humanity. To do anything less would be subverting the human species one profound thought at a time.

The idea of “intellectualism” needs to go away. It creates an unnecessary dichotomy within society: the “thinkers” and the “non-thinkers.” Or stereotypically, the “snobs” and the “normal.” It disenfranchises people’s ability to advance society and makes room for actual elitism.

People, regardless of level of education attained, should not only think of themselves as an intellectual but should actually be intellectuals. And the funny thing is that everyone has that capacity upon birth. They only lose it through many years of intellectual devaluing.

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