Fearful Symmetries

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14 December, 2006

A C-SPAN for Science

A group of people are trying to bring a new television station to your channel line-up: The Science Network:

Imagine turning on your television—any time of day or night—and watching a heated debate about the impact of science on your life: from stem cell research and cloning to the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in your food. From the biology of violence to the chemistry of addiction. From the puzzles of depression to the latest breakthroughs on aging. From the evolution of morality to the complexities of consciousness. From the exploration of space to the discovery of life beyond Earth.

Imagine eavesdropping on scientific meetings and Congressional hearings—getting the background buzz about science and its impact on social issues from education, ethics, and economics to law, psychology and religion.

Imagine a network that delivered the latest lecture by Stephen Hawking on the nature of time or by Jane Goodall on the chimpanzees of Gombe. Or archived footage of the late Richard Feynman mesmerizing an audience with his Nobel-wattage intellect and irreverent humor. Perhaps you would find yourself in the midst of a marathon reprise of landmark television series like Carl Sagan’s Cosmos or Jacob Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man, rescued from retirement. Maybe a showing of Life Story, the dramatization of James Watson and Francis Crick’s discovery of the double helix of DNA—or a Nova marathon. You might be taken into classrooms where America’ s star science teachers hold young minds spellbound with tales of our continuing odyssey to make sense of the natural world.

Put it all together and you have The Science Network (TSN).

Here's some of the programs you could watch should this come to fruition:

Science Week in Review
A 30-minute moderated panel modeled on Washington Week in Review (WWR) with a strong emphasis on social implications of science. WWR panelists are professional journalists, who present a “top story” and are then quizzed by their colleagues. Science Week in Review panelists would primarily be articulate working scientists (although there is clearly room in the mix for policy makers and science journalists).

A 1-hour interview program (imagine a scientific “Charlie Rose”) in which a scientifically literate host explores the implications of developments in science and technology with key innovators and thinkers. Next will be wide ranging, from astronomy to zoology, and will also explore disciplines touched by new discoveries (law, aesthetics, economics, religion, ethics, consciousness, are all areas where the evidence of contemporary neuroscience, for example, challenges our everyday beliefs and intuitions).

The Podium
Keynote speakers from scientific meetings. Possibly more specialized sessions for small hours/time-shifted viewing.

Science Book TV
Modeled on C-SPAN’s Book TV, and Booknotes. In-depth interviews with authors of science and technology books; and taped-on-location Q&As with authors in bookstores.

Great Teachers
This is self-explanatory: bravura performances by teachers capable of evoking the excitement and providing the inspiration that led us to choose science as a vocation.

Science Road Show
A location program that visits places in America (and, with funding, internationally), where great science was—and is—being done, and runs a town-hall meeting on pressing scientific and technological issues.

The golden oldies of science. Reprises of retired programs that we would like to see again—like Cosmos, the Ascent of Man, Connections, episodes of Nova.

Until the network is up and running, you can watch some stuff online at the channel's Events page:

The Stem Cell Meeting on the Mesa

California Institute for Regenerative Medicine's first meeting

The 2005 Skeptics Society Annual Conference: Brain, Mind, and Consciousness

The Legacy of Einstein's Science

Preparing for the Inevitable: Bioterrorism and Emerging Infectious Diseases

Setm Cells: Science, Ethics, and Politics

TSN is also behind Beyond Belief 2006, a conference about reason, science, and religion. I've been watching some of this conference and it is exceptionally interesting. Sure there's a lot of rallying against the intrusions of religion and even religion itself, but there's also philosphy, neuroscience, anthropology, et al. Session 9 is fantastic as Sam Harris & Richard Dawkins defend their anti-theism, if I may use that term, against Jim Woodward & Melvin Konner. There are some great presentations/speeches followed by a very heated intra-atheism debate. I mean it was the Thrilla in La Jolla (California)! The Smackdown at the Salk (Institute)! It pitted anthropologist against biologist &; neuroscientist against neuroscientist in a no-holds-barred grudge match!

Boxing and wrestling analogies aside, it was not atheists vs. theists, it was atheist vs. atheist arguing about religion, what it does, how it works, and how it should be approached by society at-large. Fascinating, Captain.

I also highly recommend Session 7 and Mahzarin Banaji's presentation on how our preferences and biases inform social group memberships. Once you're done watching, go to the Harvard website and take some tests at Project Implicit to find out about your own preferences.
|| Palmer, 7:51 AM


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