Summary of “Carl Sagan on Moving Beyond Us vs. Them, Bridging Conviction with Compassion, and Meeting Ignorance with Kindness”

“Unless we are very, very careful,” wrote psychologist-turned-artist Anne Truitt in contemplating compassion and the cure for our chronic self-righteousness, “We doom each other by holding onto images of one another based on preconceptions that are in turn based on indifference to what is other than ourselves.” She urged for “The honoring of others in a way that grants them the grace of their own autonomy and allows mutual discovery.” But how are we to find in ourselves the capacity – the willingness – to honor otherness where we see only ignorance and bigotry in beliefs not only diametrically opposed to our own but dangerous to the very fabric of society?
That’s what Carl Sagan explores with characteristic intelligence and generosity of spirit in the seventeenth chapter of The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark – the masterwork published shortly before his death, which gave us Sagan on science as a tool of democracy and his indispensable Baloney Detection Kit.
Sagan considers how we can bridge conviction and compassion in dealing with those who disagree with and even attack our beliefs.
If it is to be applied consistently, science imposes, in exchange for its manifold gifts, a certain onerous burden: We are enjoined, no matter how uncomfortable it might be, to consider ourselves and our cultural institutions scientifically – not to accept uncritically whatever we’re told; to surmount as best we can our hopes, conceits, and unexamined beliefs; to view ourselves as we really are Because its explanatory power is so great, once you get the hang of scientific reasoning you’re eager to apply it everywhere.
In the course of looking deeply within ourselves, we may challenge notions that give comfort before the terrors of the world.
Sagan notes that all of us are deeply attached to and even defined by our beliefs, for they define our reality and are thus elemental to our very selves, so any challenge to our core beliefs tends to feel like a personal attack.
Sagan’s central point is that we humans – all of us – are greatly perturbed by fear, anxiety, and uncertainty, and in seeking to becalm ourselves, we sometimes anchor ourselves to irrational and ignorant ideologies that offer certitude and stability, however illusory.
In understanding those who succumb to such false refuges, Sagan calls for “Compassion for kindred spirits in a common quest.” Echoing 21-year-old Hillary Rodham’s precocious assertion that “We are all of us exploring a world that none of us understand,” he argues that the dangerous beliefs of ignorance arise from “The feeling of powerlessness in a complex, troublesome and unpredictable world.”

The orginal article.

Summary of “A Prescription for Awe”

In 1832, Buckland rounded off the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Oxford by entertaining his audience with another novel interpretation of an extinct monster: the Megatherium, or giant sloth.
In his 1836 “Bridgewater Treatise,” Geology and Mineralogy Considered with Reference to Natural Theology, Buckland expounded at length on the ways in which divine oversight had prepared the earth as a suitable environment for humankind-right down to the geographical disposition of coal, iron ore, and limestone in the British Isles in ways suited to the needs of English capitalists.
Buckland’s efforts to advance science at Oxford proved to be no match for the conservative opposition.
In 1847, Buckland turned down an invitation to add his name to a list of supporters for a new Museum of Natural History at Oxford-a project he had once lobbied for enthusiastically, seeing the museum as a natural home for his ever-growing collections.
“Some years ago,” he replied to the invitation, “I was sanguine, as you are now, as to the possibility of Natural History making some progress at Oxford, but I have long come to the conclusion that it is utterly hopeless.”9 Buckland died in Islip in 1856, having taken no further part in his colleagues’ efforts to create the new museum.
Buckland’s once-longed-for Museum of Natural History was eventually built-the cornerstone was laid in 1855-and was nearing completion in the summer of 1860, when the British Association for the Advancement of Science was due, once again, to visit Oxford.
The advocates who took up the museum’s cause after Buckland stepped away prevailed only by doggedly reiterating his original argument-that the scientific study of nature was not merely compatible with, but genuinely supportive of, true religion.
Buckland would have been appalled by the pretensions of contemporary young “Earth Creationists” like Kentucky Creation Museum Founder Ken Ham, who claim that the history of life on earth can simply be read out of scripture with no regard for the findings of science.

The orginal article.

Summary of “A Prescription for Awe”

In 1832, Buckland rounded off the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Oxford by entertaining his audience with another novel interpretation of an extinct monster: the Megatherium, or giant sloth.
In his 1836 “Bridgewater Treatise,” Geology and Mineralogy Considered with Reference to Natural Theology, Buckland expounded at length on the ways in which divine oversight had prepared the earth as a suitable environment for humankind-right down to the geographical disposition of coal, iron ore, and limestone in the British Isles in ways suited to the needs of English capitalists.
Buckland’s efforts to advance science at Oxford proved to be no match for the conservative opposition.
In 1847, Buckland turned down an invitation to add his name to a list of supporters for a new Museum of Natural History at Oxford-a project he had once lobbied for enthusiastically, seeing the museum as a natural home for his ever-growing collections.
“Some years ago,” he replied to the invitation, “I was sanguine, as you are now, as to the possibility of Natural History making some progress at Oxford, but I have long come to the conclusion that it is utterly hopeless.”9 Buckland died in Islip in 1856, having taken no further part in his colleagues’ efforts to create the new museum.
Buckland’s once-longed-for Museum of Natural History was eventually built-the cornerstone was laid in 1855-and was nearing completion in the summer of 1860, when the British Association for the Advancement of Science was due, once again, to visit Oxford.
The advocates who took up the museum’s cause after Buckland stepped away prevailed only by doggedly reiterating his original argument-that the scientific study of nature was not merely compatible with, but genuinely supportive of, true religion.
Buckland would have been appalled by the pretensions of contemporary young “Earth Creationists” like Kentucky Creation Museum Founder Ken Ham, who claim that the history of life on earth can simply be read out of scripture with no regard for the findings of science.

The orginal article.

Summary of “It’s Personal: Five Scientists on the Heroes Who Changed Their Lives”

Now, Gerace is a professor of science education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, after a 30-year career as a professor of physics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, during which time he made the transition from theoretical nuclear physicist to leader in science education and co-founder of the Scientific Reasoning Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Keller describes the outcome of her illness as having “Plunged me into the unconsciousness of a new-born baby,” and then recounts how this new state became normal: “I got used to the silence and darkness that surrounded me and forgot that it had ever been different.” The next two chapters describe the five-and-a-half years that Keller struggled to understand the world she was living in and communicate with those around her, without the benefit of a common language.
Most people are familiar with the moment when Anne Sullivan helped the 7-year-old Keller make a tactile connection between the concept of running water and the motion of hands spelling out its English name, “W-A-T-E-R.” Keller herself described that moment as “My soul’s sudden awakening.” But Keller’s writing makes it clear that her soul-as well as intellect-was actually wide awake well before that particular epiphany.
In the short two-and-a-half chapters of her autobiography that relates the years between infancy and before the arrival of Sullivan, Keller does an extraordinary job of describing how an experimental scientist’s subconscious mind works.
In the complete absence of sight and sound, Keller navigated the world for years using exclusively smell, touch, and taste.
The people who were stuck working for the Keller family bore the worst of Helen’s anger: She describes how she repeatedly kicked her nurse, locked her mother in a pantry, and bullied the cook’s daughter.
Only much later, after Anne Sullivan had taught to her to sign using English, had Keller “Realized what I had done, and for the first time I felt repentance and sorrow.” Unsatisfied with the world she knew, Keller was tormented by her inkling that there was much more to know, and she extended this torment to the people around her.
Virchow almost single-handedly invented the notion that good science can be a weapon in the service of social justice, at a time when there was damn little good science or social justice.

The orginal article.

Summary of “How We Got From Doc Brown to Walter White”

Westworld, Orphan Black, Masters of Sex, CSI, Bones, House, The Big Bang Theory, and several others have all written scientists as diverse and complex humans who have almost nothing in common with the scientists I saw in the 1980s movies I watched as a kid.
As a result, scientists on screen have evolved from stereotypes and villains to credible and positive characters, due in part to scientists themselves, anxious to be part of the action and the public’s education.
Scientists were smart and rational, the report noted, but of all the occupational roles on TV, scientists were the least sociable.
“We know we need scientists to fix up the mess we’re making of the planet. If there’s any hope at all, it has to come from scientists who monitor the risk and are able to find ways to overcome that risk. Whereas before, scientists were seen as part of the risk.”
Eight years after Doc Emmett Brown sent his mad invention traveling through time in Back to the Future, scientists in Jurassic Park enthralled visitors with creatures from the past.
Although Doc Brown’s chaotic goofiness was still acceptable for scientist characters in 1985, the paleontologists in Jurassic Park were held to a much higher standard.
In 2008, the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, having long taken note of the good and not-so-good portrayals of science and scientists in TV and film, set up the Science & Entertainment Exchange, a hotline that connects producers and screenwriters to scientists.
White’s blue meth business is also a reminder that while the overall framing of scientists on TV might have shifted toward the heroic, we can’t help but notice that Walter White is still a villain.

The orginal article.

Summary of “My Life With the Physics Dream Team”

We were just hugely grateful to these physicists who had somehow brought the war to an end, and I thought it would be interesting to get to know those people and find out what they’d been doing.
The people in Cambridge whom I got to know personally-Hardy and Littlewood and Besicovitch-were all great mathematicians.
Most people in physics write down an equation and then find the solutions, but that wasn’t the way Feynman did it.
Important people came to visit, so he just didn’t have time for saying hello to the kids.
Biology is moving very fast and so the same kind of people who became physicists in those days now tend to become biologists.
Theoretical biology is now becoming much more of a real subject than it used to be, so a lot of people who are really computer scientists are doing biology.
Is physics a young person’s game? It seems that most great discoveries are made by people under 40 or even under 30.
You knew a lot of people who worked on the atomic bomb.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Monsters, Marvels, and the Birth of Science”

Years later they expanded the study and in 1998 published the monumental history, Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150-1750.Nautilus called on Daston to learn how the unlikely in nature, strange and unexplainable occurrences, were viewed at the dawn of science.
In one early 17th century sermon in an English parish about the birth of conjoined twins, the minister harangued his parishioners not to treat this monstrous birth as a wonder to be gawked at and admired, but as a horrifying portent that they should repent immediately.
Could your revision of natural philosophy explain such things? This made monsters and wonders more prominent in the late 16th and early 17th centuries than they’ve ever been before or since in the history of science.
You’ve described this transitional period between pre-modern and modern science as “The great age of wonder.” What kinds of wonders were scientists finding?
Aristotle had said wonder is “The beginning of philosophy,” but the aim of his natural philosophy was to make wonder disappear as soon as possible.
“Dare to know” becomes a motto that natural philosophers are proud to make their own, and wonder goes from being a sign of ignorance to a desire for knowledge.
There’s a whole genre of natural history involving the marvels of insects, which is an attempt to domesticate the emotion of wonder for things we can explain.
In the epilogue of Wonders and the Order of Nature, you quote William James, the great philosopher and psychologist, who lived a century ago.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Teen founded nonprofit to bring STEM to ‘Murdertown, USA'”

There are small cups of chemicals like borax and up front, a ringmaster in the form of a 16-year-old girl: Jacqueline Means, known locally as the STEM Queen.
Means gives the assembled girls a rundown of their day and briefly explains what science experiments she has in store for them.
Means says she aims to show the girls that STEM is exciting, fun, and most importantly, accessible to them.
Two years ago, Means founded the Wilmington Urban STEM Initiative, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing STEM to underserved girls of Wilmington, a city that has earned the nickname “Murdertown, U.S.A.” for high rates of violent crime.
A shooting had taken place across the street from their home and JoAnn, Means’ mother, wasn’t taking any chances.
Means developed an interest in science from a young age, after her parents gave her a science kit around age 9.
She essentially created the option she wished she’d had. “I decided to start my own STEM initiative and program because I wanted kids in Wilmington to have the same opportunities that other kids often get,” Means says.
Means is graduating from high school next year, and plans on using her passion for STEM at Princeton University or the University of Delaware.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Confused about what to eat? Science can help”

Clean eating or keto? Paleo or gluten-free? Whole 30 or vegan? Forget fad diets, because science has the answers – there is far more agreement about diet and health than you may know.
Canada’s 2019 Food Guide is similarly plant-focused, as is Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate, while Brazil emphasizes foods “Mainly of plant origin.” These guidelines and others also stress the importance of limiting processed and ultra-processed foods.
If science has the keys to a health-promoting, disease-preventing, planet-saving diet, why are people so confused? A closer look will arm you with the skills to sort fact from fiction.
Powerful food and agriculture lobbies still exert influence on dietary guidelines and obscure the science.
Through all of this, I believe the nutrition science community has tacitly contributed by failing to participate collectively in the public discourse.
Potent societal powers create a culture of nutrition confusion that not only obfuscate the truth about diet, they undermine science as a whole.
Does the writer have an advanced degree in nutrition, or does she or he have expertise in science journalism? Are there references to peer-reviewed studies or scientific organizations? Is the source credible? Are miracle cures or quick results promised? Are there expensive price tags for magic bullets? Does it sound like clickbait? Questioning the who-what-where-why-how is paramount.
We all have cherished traditions and values – what we eat isn’t just about the science.

The orginal article.

Summary of “We Are All Bewildered Machines”

Studying science up close has caused me more than once to face an image of myself as an electrochemical robot, built on nature’s assembly line.
Unlike any novelist I’ve read, Richard Powers brings the natural world to life through science.
Powers set the stage for his philosophy of science in one of his early novels, The Gold Bug Variations, released in 1991, which portrays the life of a research scientist who helps crack the genetic code.
The “Purpose of all science, like living, which amounts to the same thing, was not the accumulation of gnostic power, fixing of formulas for the names of God, stockpiling brutal efficiency, accomplishing the sadistic myth of progress,” Powers wrote.
Because Powers has succeeded so wonderfully in mixing science into moving stories, I was anxious to talk him about the kind of experience I had with Donoghue.
Powers loved Thomas’ idea that bewilderment was the common ground between science and art.
Powers has stitched the messy colors of human emotion into the big questions and pursuits of science.
During the course of our conversation, Powers returned to his latest novel, The Overstory, to spotlight the bridge between science and art.

The orginal article.