100 Skills Every Man Should Know

Popular Mechanics has come up with a list of 100 Skills Every Man Should Know. Even though it has more diversity than The Independent‘s list, I don’t think it’s as good. Topics covered include:

via Kottke

The Growth of Scientific Knowledge and Scientific Ignorance

Noting that knowledge is growing at an exponential rate, Kevin Kelly argues that thanks to science, our ignorance is growing exponentially faster.

If knowledge is growing exponentially we should be quickly running out of puzzles. Because of our accelerating rate of learning, a few writers declared we must be in the age of “the end of science.”

Yet the paradox of science is that every answer breeds at least two new questions. More answers, more questions. Telescopes and microscopes expanded not only what we knew, but what we didn’t know. They allowed us to spy into our ignorance. New and better tools permit us new and better questions.

Thus even though our knowledge is expanding exponentially, our questions are expanding exponentially faster. And as mathematicians will tell you, the widening gap between two exponential curves is itself an exponential curve. That gap between questions and answers is our ignorance […] in other words, science is a method that chiefly expands our ignorance rather than our knowledge.

via Seed

Instinctual vs. Rational Decision–Making

Squeezing the article into a tenuous comparison between Obama and McCain, The Boston Globe has a nonetheless interesting article on recent research into the benefits of, and the differences between, instinctual (gut) decisions and methodical (rational) ones.

The crucial skill, scientists are now saying, is the ability to think about your own thinking, or metacognition, as it is known. Unless people vigilantly reflect on how they are making an important decision, they won’t be able to properly use their instincts, or know when their gut should be ignored. Indeed, according to this emerging new vision of decision-making, the best predictor of good judgement isn’t intuition or experience or intelligence. Rather, it’s the willingness to engage in introspection, to cultivate what Philip Tetlock, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, calls “the art of self-overhearing.”

In the early 1990s, Damasio began publishing a series of landmark papers describing the symptoms of patients who, after a brain injury, were unable to perceive or experience emotion. At the time, most scientists assumed that such a deficit would lead to more rational decisions, since the patients were free of their irrational instincts.

Damasio found the opposite: these dispassionate patients made consistently bad decisions. Some made terrible investments and ended up bankrupt; others started drinking heavily and getting into fights; most just spent hours deliberating over irrelevant details, such as where to eat lunch. According to Damasio, when people are cut off from their emotions even the most banal decisions become all but impossible.

via Seed

James Nachtwey’s Powerful XDR-TB Photography

I try not to link to TED Talks as I believe doing so will just add to the millions around the Internet already doing so (plus, I hope everyone visiting here already subscribes to the TED Talks RSS feed).

Today, however, l feel compelled to do so after viewing James Nachtwey’s heartbreaking photographs of people suffering from the drug-resistant XDR-TB.

Photojournalist James Nachtwey sees his TED Prize wish come true, as we share his powerful photographs of XDR-TB, a drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis that’s touching off a global medical crisis. Learn how to help at http://www.xdrtb.org

James Nachtwey: my favourite photographer and protagonist in War Photographer – my favourite documentary.

Top 10 Nobel Snubs

As the 2008 Nobel Laureates are announced, SciAm looks at the top 10 Nobel snubs – those who undoubtedly deserved the award, but never did:

  • Lise Meitner: left out of the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of nuclear fission
  • Oswald Avery: never won a Nobel for showing that genes are made of DNA, not protein
  • John Bahcall: left out of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physics for research on solar neutrinos
  • Albert Schatz: no 1952 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of streptomycin
  • Rosalind Franklin: her work on the structure of DNA never received a Nobel
  • Jocelyn Bell Burnell: frozen out of the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of pulsars
  • Victor Ambros, Gary Ruvkun and David Baulcombe: missed out on the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology
  • Keith Porter: 1974 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for innovations in cell biology
  • Ralph Alpher: missed out on the 1978 and 2006 Nobel Prizes in Physics
  • Josiah Gibbs and Dimitri Mendeleev: missed out on the early Nobel Prize in Chemistry

In addition I can’t help but notice that these two were snubbed from this list too:

  • Einstein for never receiving a Nobel for his achievement in developing special or general relativity or the famous E=mc2 equation of mass–energy equivalence (he did, however, receive a Nobel in 1921 for explaining the photoelectric effect in terms of quantum theory: essentially inventing the concept of photons).
  • Fritz Zwicky for presenting ideas about neutron stars and supernovae in 1934.

Of course, Einstein and Zwicky were theorists, and the Nobel committee has never looked kindly on theorists, preferring those who conduct key experiments instead.

Again, on top of all of these are the countless other scientists who have been denied a Nobel Prize simply because they died before the importance of their discovery was shown: Nobel Prizes are never awarded posthumously.

via Seed