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Spencer's Journal


Tensions dealing with race

Unfortunately, technology, in the broadest terms, has made previous attempts at solving this issue. I am referring to a social/city engineering, whether it be the Jewish ghetto’s from the Holocaust or the contemporary gentrification of modern cities. However, most of these have had tremendous reverse effects and polarize the problem. I believe one solution could hinge on science and tracing individuals genes and heritage. George Schuyler wrote a fiction novel Black No More. It explores the hypothetical situation of scientific formula wherein a black person may change the color of their skin and pass as white. Obviously, the novel is a satire, but what I find prevalent in a realistic solution is a prefatory quote that speaks to the notion that, in America in the 1920s, it would be unrealistic to find a person completely white or completely black. I think science and the concise study of human genomes could present actual evidence showing that any ‘pure race’ is a false idol. From a humanities perspective, racism, xenophobia, etc. is a huge roadblock to our current limitations of science and technology. As we addressed in class, we have the science to currently solve a lot of the world’s problems but for one reason or another choose against implementing them. Now, this may not solve the problem to do with capitalism, but it is my belief there is still and underlying issue of racism, wherein first world nations like the United States look negatively at the third world nations be it Africa, South America, or the Caribbean. You may think this is a bit of a leap, but a friend recently told me an anecdote he learned in a science course at the University of St. Andrews. There used to be a huge problem with mosquitoes in Georgia, Alabama, and the Carolinas. They used a spray, forgive me for not remembering the exact name, that was extremely effective in killing off mass amounts of mosquitoes and decreasing the problem drastically. However, there were chemicals involved that could be harmful for the human population. Once the problem was taken care of in the United States the product was then banned worldwide. I believe it is more than just coincidence that it was made sure the problem be taken care of in the States, without affording a place like Africa the same opportunity, and today we see the continent still struggling with the spread of disease through a massive mosquito population.

Accessibility of drinkable water

This is a major problem in the world today that is only highlighted by the recent debacle with the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti. Although technology may be able to help prevent some of the destructiveness of natural disasters, I am less optimistic of human being able to completely prevent said disasters altogether. As a result, I think there will always be the likelihood of such disasters causing large disruptions to nation/community’s, especially those still classified as ‘developing’, infrastructure. When this occurs one of the first problems that needs to be accounted for is the distribution of clean, drinkable water; next to Oxygen it is the most fundamental factor of human survival. This is an issue that can be attacked through the interplay of science AND technology. For one, science can continue to research the best and most efficient means of water purification. This may likely be the tablet method or some other way, but whatever method it is then technology that needs to be utilized to find appropriate means in which to implement said device. Obviously, one cannot go around to every home every morning and drop tablets into each pot of water, there has to be a better way, and that is where engineers come in. Engineers can also use technology, in a cooperative effort with geoscientists, to find better and more efficient means of harvesting natural fresh water. This would most likely start with the development of more efficient and reliable well systems, something that can quickly be introduced to areas that have recently suffered a dramatic natural disaster. Although my knowledge is limited, I know this is a current focus of programs like Engineers Without Boarders in less developed areas of South America and Africa.

Technology itself

Sometimes I feel like with every problem we solve with technology we are simply creating ten more. For instance, through computers and all the associated growing technology we are solving millions of issues dealing with communication, education, and time. However, my personal belief is that it is propagating a generation that is glued to the screen. This then creates problems with people’s eyesight, their social skills, and most importantly, obesity. Altogether it polarizes this new generations interests in a shift from the natural world surrounding us First off, the scientific method needs to be utilized in order to find some accurate reading on just how much of an effect all of this computer/television/entertainment/educational technology is having on today’s population. There are a number of things to be measured: overall health, social skills, and an appreciation for the natural world. I bring all this up because I think science, specifically the scientific method, could lead to some interesting findings. Unfortunately, I don’t think this issue is one that should be solved with more technology. Instead, based on the findings there should be some sort of education process wherein one is correctly taught how to balance the use of new technology with use of our natural surroundings.


I found the Atmosphere quite an amazing tool for learning some of the more intricate details of how and why our atmosphere operates the way it does. The interactive qualities were quite thorough in ‘tricking’ kids into learning. Obviously, a full experience would entail reading many of the displays, but one could even do without if they made use of the interactive kiosks for they did a magnificent job of showing the step-by-step process the atmosphere undergoes, whether it be the mechanism greenhouse gases provide or the complicated intricacies that create wind patterns and climate zones. Overall, I most enjoyed the game involved with Greenhouse gases. I think it did a wonderful job displaying how vital a role the appropriate level of greenhouse gases in sustaining a livable temperature on Earth. Not only did it show and explain this in steps, it put the person at the kiosk in control of it. Unfortunately, the kiosks I found least engaging is a more complicated matter. I believe this is because I moved on quickly from those kiosks. One kiosk I did find a bit boring and less accessible to anyone with ADD was the display where you could choose various people from around the world, in various professions. You then get to see how temperature changes would affect their life. This kiosk had way to many options at each point where a choice was needed. If you happened to click the right one, the screen moved to quickly for you to read the information they provided. I was not a fan of this display. Overall, the science this exhibit taught was the same information the public schools in Columbia, MO took four years to teach. I would say it was pretty effective and is an amazing tool for the youth.


If Greenland had been just a spurting of facts, I would have fallen asleep after the first ten minutes. If it had been just a long presentation full of scientific jargon, I would have spaced out and lost all attention. If it had been just a sequence of graphs and displays charting climate change, I would have grabbed a few glasses of wine and gotten tipsy. It was not; it was much more, and the beautiful aspect to the performance is that it addressed human nature and its involvement in our appreciating the problem at hand, something even the most un-scientific of us can recognize.

Some may find the play a bit disjointed, or scattered. There are several “storylines” occurring simultaneously, and theatrically it can definitely get a bit confusing. I, personally, enjoyed this characteristic of the play. It reflects the issue in that there really is not one single story to climate change. There are several stories that have led and continue to lead to the problem this world is facing, some scientific, some political, and some an issue of human tendencies. I feel each storyline added a different perspective and unique approach that in today’s polarized media often goes unaddressed.

It was a small role in the play, but I very much enjoyed the segments with the actor, who opened the play, at stage front. He opened with an anecdote about the psychology in following the crowed. I had heard this before, but feel it was perfectly placed in the context of debate over climate change. The media and one’s family can play such a large role in what we choose to believe. It is like the girl from the “This American Life” segment. She heard in enough places and that view, that global warming is propaganda, is what got implanted in her head. People need to start thoroughly exploring the issues themselves and not allow themselves to be manipulated by biased media. I also enjoyed his bit involving “Deal or No Deal”. Like the anecdote about smoke, I thought it did an excellent job of addressing people’s often lackadaisical approach to environmentalism through more of a metaphor that really reaches everyone.

At first, I was not a fan of the parts involving the two women in relationship counseling. It did not really speak to me all that much. Upon further reflection, however, I am able to pull something useful from these scenes. The dramatic staging of their conflict, with them getting further apart on stage every time, highlights the difficulty we can have when attempting to force change upon someone. Again, it is very similar to the segment, “Climates Change, People Don’t” and offers a respectful stance to those that find it hard to accept the science on climate change.

I believe much of the focus was put into the scenes involving the geoscientist and the political aid to Cameron. After viewing the play I was most impressed with these segments and they highlighted how much of our future and ways we address climate change actually comes down to the same old saying, “It’s all just politics”. For me, that is a scary revelation. I’m not sure the play set out to provide a strict stance on what the political solution would be, but more an awareness of just how complicated it can get. They basically criticized a pretty liberal stance (Obama coming out too early and declaring an agreement had been reach) and the dissenting opinion of developing countries. Personally, this did not leave me feeling all that positive and has me worried about how much of a mess has become. On another note, the role of the geoscientist was excellent in taking some of the pressure off of scientists and allocating it to the rest of us. Hopefully, it made the audience recognize that it is not realistic for us to place all of our faith in scientists to figure this out and fix it. It is too daunting a task for them to dedicate their entire lives to such a cause, I’m sure, however, there are plenty that do, and that the everyday citizen of the world needs to take up a bit of the responsibility.

The other two main storylines I am still unsure of. The girl striving to be an activist obviously has some sort of message about the growing concern within our younger generation. It made some of those concerns seem almost immature. The credibility of the boyfriend was definitely removed with his cheating, and the organizations and protest did not appear all that organized or structured. I am not sure how I feel about this afterwards. I do like the overall storyline of the girl, that she herself persists in her drive and passion, but that it takes some up and downs for her to really figure out what that drive is.

Then there is the kid applying to Cambridge / communicating with his future self (at least that is how I have decided to see it playing out). From a drama perspective I thought this was the most beautiful and creative storyline, but I am not sure of its greater message. I would be very interested to hear if anyone else got something more out it and if so, what.

I have to raise my hands and applaud the performance. I think it did something new and unique. It proved theatre a medium that can reach an audience and force them to reflect on their views of climate change. I do not think its main goal was to force us to believe the science, but simply to reflect. It definitely got me too.


Personally, after all that we have been privy to the last several weeks, my take-away is that all the scientific speculation of the future is irrelevant. Maybe this is just because I do not have any problem agreeing with it in the first place, but after the Greenland experience I do not think the actual science has to take front stage anymore. As we have been told, science, after a lot of years struggling for consensus, finally is at a point when a pretty vast majority of the community can agree on global warming. Spitting that information to the public is not going to change the opinions of Fox shock-jocks or most of the general public that is already unwilling to agree.

Atmosphere was great in teaching some of the basic science that goes into the greater science of climate change. Certain information there cannot be ignored, like the necessity of greenhouse gases or the awesomeness of geoscience and research (the various ways they can uncover the past are pretty radical). However, I do not know how much that information is going to force someone to reflect on their lifestyle and make some of the changes that are necessary for society.

This is why I am so intrigued by using theatre as a medium. First off, it is a medium that is respected by people of all demographics and sides of the climate change argument. Someone totally opposed to the science of climate change may still be interested in attending a play like Greenland because of his or her great admiration of theatre (the only negative is that outside of communities like London and New York this is going to be much less prevalent). Furthermore, I do not think they would be put off by the experience because it is a very professional piece of work, and in the end it is not really forcing views on its audience but asking them to reflect. The more the general public spends “reflecting”, the closer, I think, we will get to making the necessary changes in our lives that will serve beneficial to all of us.

In America, I do not see many people approaching the problem with this regard. What you always hear is the debate of the science. As I mentioned, scientists are basically at a consensus, so most of the “debating” is coming from the unqualified likes of Bill O’Reily, Rush Limbaugh, etc. It is extremely sad because, to some degree, these are the most influential voices, not the scientists that are in consensus. Furthermore, this sort of media does not care at all about its audience reflecting, they present the issue as though it is cut-and-dry simple (their stance often being that is of no concern). I am not optimistic that the presentation of the actual science will ever be enough to counteract the effect these voices are having, and so the best solution is discovering some sort of medium, I think it needs to be some sort of creative artistic display be it theatre, cinema, music, visual art, that can really lead to reflection.


(visiting 20 March, 2011)

Science at Kew

Fibonacci at Kew


I think Charlie’s Technology and Sustainability lecture went very well. My only complaint is that the audience consisted solely of Earlham students and a few FIE faculty. Much of what was discussed has been presented to us already throughout the semester. I wish more had attended because I think anyone and everyone could have benefited from it. The presentation was very well structured and easy to follow, the displays (with the crafty cutting back and forth from the slide to prevalent images) were very useful. Nothing was all that complicated; the jargon was kept fairly simple and time was taken to fully explain the ideas presented so that even a fourth-grader would have understood them.

The part that seemed most exciting to me was the resolutions you presented. I was extremely interested by the bit about the electrical grid. I, too, was in the midst of the great blackout of the Northeast (we were in Ontario, unfortunately Canada inaccurately got most of the blame at first). It seems like an incredibly daunting task to redo the grid, as you pointed out, but that there are feasible ways to improve it with microgrids, etc. I would be interested in looking further into this solution as it something I had never heard previously discussed in the media.

Something you have spoken on before in class that is always interesting is the difference in living in a city from living, say, on a farm. It is very challenging for me to believe that living in a city leaves less of a carbon footprint than living in the suburbs or out in the country. I get the argument of transportation and such, but visually it is just so hard to believe when I see all the industry and pollution that a city produces. The explanation becomes a little more clear when one considers it on a per person level. Don’t get me wrong, I love living in a city like London or Chicago, so it is great to hear the doing so can actually help to lessen the damage, but my grandparents own 164-acre ranch and bit of me has always loved that life as well, kind of a throwback to English pastoral poetry. I could picture myself one day in the serenity of a farm set away from the city so I am also interested if there are means by which to make that sort of living even better than living to a city. As I mentioned, the city definitely produces lots of pollution and eating out in the city is only aids to the mass amounts of unnecessary importation of goods, as you also mentioned. Is the only way to become more environmentally living on a farm, compared to living in the city, by immolating the Amish model?

All in all, I thought the presentation was an excellent demonstration of all the factors we have been discussing in our class. Again, I am disappointed in FIE for not encouraging more students to attend. There execution thus far has been rather disappointing. I feel confident that this presentation will be one of the main highlights of their series.


I would like to explore stem-cell research with my paper. In introducing the topic I plan on spending a great deal of time discussing the many sides to the debate that surrounds the topic. I have heard a lot about the debate in recent years, mostly on a political level. It addresses everything from religion, to science, to money. All this will be addressed, however, one thing I am very interested in broaching is the actual history behind the development of this 'technology' and its scientific application. One of the main points of this exploration is to trace how far the issue has come since it first entered into discussion. For instance, what countries was this practiced in decades ago compared to today. How, specifically, is research conducted in the United States, and where. Most importantly, what are the desired goals of said research, are they universal goals, or are the ambitions unique to the country and/or universities/research labs. Continuing on the notion of tracing how far the subject has come since its inception, how have the results changed over the years, are goals actually being reached, and what does its overall impact on society look like.

I think this is a good topic with lots of interesting material in the areas of science, technology and society. Make sure you cover all three, that is what is the science behind it, what are the technologies required to implement it, and what are the societal implications (religious, political and otherwise) of the application of it.


Earth Cycles and Ecosystems

1) So rocks that "change since they are first formed are called metamorphic rocks," but then how does a metamorphic rock start a new cycle as an igneous or sedimentary? When they break down into sediment or melt from subduction, is this the beginning of a new formation and not the changing of an already formed rock?

2) There is a brief explanation about the role carbon could play in rock, water, and atmospheric cycles and that the carbon cycle is complex, but what would an influx of carbon result in, and what would a decrease result in? What are actual examples of how it would affect the rock, water, and atmospheric cycles?

3) If the food chain is such an inefficient system, where is all the energy going? I understand it is lost "through animal metabolism as heat or is locked in molecules that are not easily digested", but is this just building up in the consumer or what?

The Atom

1) What are "quarks" and "strings", and what are the arguments supporting their existence or involvement in the make-up of the atom?

2) What are the significances of isotopes? If they have the same chemical properties (but different masses), what does it matter if they are different isotopes of the same element?

3) What is the point of searching for stable heavier elements? Why are researchers so interested; what kind of problems would this solve, or is it just a case of scientists getting bored and wanting to go bigger and higher than ever before?

Astronomy and the Cosmos

1) I am confused as to why a white dwarf still glows. The book did not explain this well, just that it still glows while cooling off. If there is no internal energy to produce the light energy, what is the glow? Is there still some sort of external heat energy?

2) Where the heck does iron come from in the collapse massive stars? Out of nowhere it iron is produced during the burning of the helium; and what does it mean that the stars "synthesized" all known chemical elements?

3) Up until the 10-43rd, the book says all four forces were unified, "and things were as beautiful and simple and elegant as they could be." What would this look like? How did matter act?

Cells and DNA

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The Code and Evolution

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First STC Question

Technological advance has often undermined established business. Most recently, the growth of Internet-based e-commerce has posed a threat to conventional retail firms. Can you think of other business enterprises that the internet may damage or even destroy

Absolutely. There are millions of them I am sure, but one near and dear to my heart is that of used book stores. Aside from the few major chains (Barnes & Nobel, Boarders, Foyles) Amazon.com is practically building a monopoly on the selling of books. This is somewhat balanced by AmazonMarketplace where the site is really only acting as a intermediary for sellers, but I have noticed most of these books are coming from large used book stores. The business I'm talking about is that quaint little hole-in-the-wall bookstore with ancient dust-covered copies of Tale of Two Cities or 100 Years of Solitude. This sort of business is dying out even quicker what with the rising popularity of the Kindle and other devices like it. One thing represented in this debacle is the internet's penchant for doing away with nostalgia inspired business and bringing consumers to focus on ease or purchase. Well, who wouldn't want that? I guess I'm just an old-school, hopeless romantic, but I would much rather walk into some dingy, cramped used bookstore with towering shelves to get lost between, then sit on my butt at home pressing the next button with my mouse. Moreover, I am all for the progress and accessibility being provided by initiative like project Guttenburg, but I rue the day that public library become obsolete, the day first and second-graders get stuck inside a computer lab as opposed to the field trip to sign up for library cards. Again, I am thankful for many of these such initiatives, but I just think that for every one that focuses on the internet, another one needs to come around to support the growth and sustaining of community pilars, like local commerce and public libraries.

Second STC Question

As a would-be inventor or entrepreneur how would you go about ascertaining whether or not a new technology is likely to find a receptive market?

After watching a few episodes here and there of the Discovery channel's PitchMen, I noticed that what most people attempt to pass as an "invention" is simply the combination of two, usually unrelated, technologies/products. It's not that creative and I think attempts to be way to specific in a customers interests for it to ever hold a big market. I think this is a representation of people trying to do something "revolutionary" when in actuality they would be more successful keeping it simply and making small improvements on previously established technologies with previously established markets. The thing is, I cannot think of an product or technology that has ever been perfect, meaning there is always room for improvements. So if I was a would-be inventor, I would take an assessment of society, specifically the society I work out of, and analyse what technologies have become instrumental in the daily lives of the majority, and then survey that population for their complaints. For instance, the first iPhone was pretty revolutionary. People quickly built their lives around it, as sad as that sounds. But it was not perfect. I, and others I met, always had a difficulty when holding it up to my cheek that the edges would grab and tug at my facial hair; it was very painful. People were so obsessed with the iPhone that they suffered through regardless, but just think how successful the piece fo equipment would sell that solved such a minor problem, something like a laptop sleeve for the phone (of course this has been implemented since). It should not be a "go-big-or-go-home" mentality. As this chapter points out, it is not always a demand-pull market and the revolutionary inventions come along and their inventors feel there will be little affinity from the market. These are inventions you sort of have to stumble upon. If you actually want to look at the market and society and base an invention off that, it is the little things that matter.

Third STC Question

What sort of skills are required for the successful copying of a technology developed elsewhere? Why do you think that the Japanese have ben so successful at making effective use of technologies that first appeared elsewhere? How might other countries duplicate success?

As the book explains it, success is not achieved by simply importing foreign ideas and technologies, but needs some basis native research capabilities. The example dealing with Japan and their steel industry shows how certain technologies are not completely and simply reproducible. To copy the Dutch's model, the Japanese needed to do the necessary research and work with steel to understand fully how the metal reacts and its properties. In doing so, the native country finds that it opens up even more possibilities and can progress to formulating new technologies that had not been though of yet. Without this sort of native capability, not only will a country fail at developing original ideas, but also fail in its attempts at copying the technology. It is put best, "The issue is not one of imitation versus self-reliance, but how to achieve an effective balance of the two". It really goes to show you that you cannot be reliant on another country to piggy-back off of, and still need to raise your own scientists and ask your own questions and attempt to discover your own solutions. I do not know why, but Japan (as the United States in many circumstances) has discovered a successful balance of the two.

Fourth STC Question

Who should make the decision to terminate life support when a person is in a permanent negative state, and has left no instructions concerning the indefinite prolongation of his or her life? Should government officials, elected or otherwise, have a role in making this decision?

This is a very difficult situation, and I can see the arguments from all sides of the spectrum. I do not feel that government officials should be able to outright step in and make the decision. I'm not sure this is what the question is asking though. The chapter did not present a detailed enough account of the 'political posturing' and 'legislation that was overturned by the Supreme Court' that resulted in the case of Teri Schiavo to be taken of life support in 2005. I slightly remember this event, and it seems like the government involvement was more of a medium (although obviously they also got involved with larger agenda, ulterior motives) to decide the debate raging between the patient's parents and her husband. I feel that the decision should come from the next of kin (which is not always clear in itself, like choosing between parents or spouse). However, it is a decision that is extremely personal and emotional and I believe that whatever family gets the responsibility needs to receive staunch counseling on the matter to help remove themselves a bit from their personal emotions. Their are many practical aspects that run into the decision like where the money is coming from (in keeping this person on life treatment, are you using money that could make your life or their child's life or anyone's life better). I am not saying that the counseling should try to push the person to make the decision to end life support, but keep them aware of some factors that might otherwise get easily overshadowed by personal emotions.

Fifth STC Question

Gene-based therapies can now be used to successfully treat cystic fibrosis and a few other diseases, and more applications of this technology may be expected in the future. If they become available, should there by encouragement (financial and otherwise) for all gene therapies? Should they be used to treat "deficiencies" like premature baldness, or short stature? Who should be empowered to decide if these therapies should be developed and applied"

Of course their should be encouragement. If they are FDA approved and enough research has been conducted to sufficiently determine the long-term effects then I do not see why they should not be allowed/encouraged. If the United States wants to allow for the pursuit of happiness, and the technology/science has been discovered which could possibly increase a person's quality of life then it would seem to against the US Declaration of Independence. Some of these gene-therapies should obviously get more attention than others, ones that target diseases that significantly hamper one's quality of life (ie cystic fibrosis, muscle diseases, etc). If the treatment is there for "deficiencies" like premature baldness or short stature than it too should be encouraged for those that want to pay the cost for it. I do not think that these therapies should be getting the same amount of funding from the government or insurance companies, but that if independent researchers are finding gene-therapies to sell then I see no reason to deny its availability.

Sixth STC Question

Some social critics are of the opinion that the spread of the electronic media is destroying literacy. Standardized test scores of reading and writing ability have in fact gone down in recent years. Are the new media the main cause? If so, is the slow destruction of the printed media by the electronic media necessarily a bad thing?"

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