Science & Society

Science and Society and how they get along.

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Location: Santa Barbara, California, United States

I'm a physicist and science consultant specialized in optics, lasers and optical engineering. This blog, StarkFX, looks at what applications physics is finding today. Or, if you are looking at my StarkEffects blog, it displays my views about and interest in the interface between society and science.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Animal's Rights

I'm continually amazed at the evil people do to each other. I'm even more amazed by the reasons they give for doing it. Of course, all through history we see people using religions (none of which actually espouse doing evil) as their motivation for hurting or killing others. But the most amazing excuse for attacking others is the animal rights issue. How can you twist rationalization so far that you can justify firebombing a research scientist's house -even assuming it is "immoral" to do research on animals.

What really motivates people to hurt others? How does a person come by the desire to harm other people? There must be an explanation that doesn't refer to the devil. My inclination is to look to evolutionary biology, but I haven't yet discovered a good explanation for this anti-social behavior. I'll bet there has been an evolutionary advantage for fanatic certainty of one's point of view in the face of disparaging logic, facts or reality. Maybe it could even make you a president.

Sunday, July 09, 2006


I was just reading my email, actually, I was reading the subject lines of most of my email and I realized that I should be offended. We have become used to advertisers treating us like we are sol gullible that we would accept the nonsense they tell us at face value. Stuff like, “2000 year old secret talisman brings wealth, health, romantic love” etc… It offends me even more when these advertisers pretend that their products are based on science. Apparently this ruse works, since these advertisers keep using this technique. People in general are so unfamiliar with science that claims of scientific backing for absolute baloney are not even questioned. Everything from government scientists defecting to share secret knowledge with the public about: UFOs or psychic powers or ancient ruins on Mars to “research” breakthroughs in psychic powers, attracting the opposite sex or secret money formulas.

It makes sense to advertise such things to the readers of the supermarket tabloids, but I’m a little disappointed that my merely having an email address is reason to believe that I’m this gullible. It seems that the information age is also the disinformation age as well as the age of faster finding and fleecing of the credulous. I have a friend that keeps seeing these things and saying “I’d get rich if I just didn’t have a conscience.” I’ve actually discovered that many of these people, the really successful ones, believe their nonsense themselves. True belief definitely has an advantage, even if it is True Belief in the False.


Saturday, July 01, 2006

HPV & Family

HPV (human papalomavirus) is a sexually transmitted virus (80 different strains, 30 of which are common sexually transmitted strains) which in rare cases can lead to cervical cancer. There is now a vaccine but there are a couple of issues with it. First, developing countries are expected to be the hardest hit by cervical cancer caused by HPV and the vaccine happens to be very expensive.

Second, and this is the issue that annoys me, the virus is sexually transmitted and so the vaccine must be administered to young girls before they become sexually active. Somehow, religious groups here in the U.S. see vaccination as a message to a young girl that you expect her to be promiscuous and now you are making that choice safer. A spokesman for "Focus on the Family" puts it this way: "You don't catch it. You have to go out and get it."

I'm afraid I have seen way too many instances of people convinced that those who suffer, have earned that suffering by disobediance to some revealed law from god. I'm convinced this is just human nature, we look for ways to convince ourselves we are superior to others and one of the easiest ways to be convinced of that is to have that fact revealed from on high. It is interesting to note however, that these same people manage to rationalize their own suffering as merely a test to make them stronger. Wouldn't it be nice if we could accept others, even when they make choices we don't agree with, and make them all part of "our group" so that we can see their suffering in the same light we our own.

Anyway, back to the science & society viewpoint here: Science and the benefits it can convey belong to our larger society beyond our religious and microcultural boundaries. If this vaccine can prevent loss, suffering and negative economic impact for our society as a whole, then supporting the administration of this vaccine is in our best interest, assuming as I do that human behavior will be pretty much what it is now. Witholding public support won't change the behavior, and I'm afraid, contrary to what some of these religious groups believe, the suffering that ensues won't convince anyone that those religious groups were right all along, except people that already believed that anyway.

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