Shooting Bambi To Save Mother Nature

Interesting topic that lends itself toward a discussion of different ethical approaches. There have been a lot of interesting cases of states and countries raising money for conservation through selling hunting permits. From a consequentialist perspective this seems to be a really ethical approach. Those who believe that hunting is categorically unethical would disagree, regardless of the outcome.

This is a good, brief podcast (10 minutes) which is worth a listen

(other good items related to this topic)

A lot of the funding for conservation in the U.S. has traditionally come from hunting. With the number of hunters is falling in the U.S., finding money to fund wildlife conservation is getting harder.

https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2019/01/22/687530630/shooting-bambi-to-save-mother-nature

Planet Money Podcast: What causes what?

Knowledge Question:  What are the limitations of our abilities to reason?

What causes what? The human brain is programmed to answer this question constantly, and using a very basic method. This is how we survive. What made that noise? A bear made that noise. What caused my hand to hurt? Fire caused my hand to hurt.

But sometimes, we use these simple tools to solve complex problems. And so we get things wrong. I wore my lucky hat to the game. My team won. Therefore, my lucky hat caused my team to win.

https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2018/10/17/658119019/episode-453-what-causes-what

What makes knowledge valuable?

Knowledge Questions: How do we determine the value of knowledge? What is the purpose of producing scientific knowledge? To what extent does scientific knowledge have to have practical application for it to be considered “valuable”?

Useless Knowledge Begets New Horizons

Fundamental discoveries don’t always have practical uses, but they have soul-saving applications.

Freedom is the license the roving mind requires to go down any path it chooses and go as far as the paths may lead. This is how fundamental discoveries — a.k.a., “useless knowledge” — are usually made: not so much by hunting for something specific, but by wandering with an interested eye amid the unknown. It’s also how countries attract and cultivate genius — by protecting a space of unlimited intellectual permission, regardless of outcome…

And yet, in being the kind of society that does this kind of thing — that is, the kind that sends probes to the edge of the solar system; underwrites the scientific establishment that knows how to design and deploy these probes; believes in the value of knowledge for its own sake; cultivates habits of truthfulness, openness, collaboration and risk-taking; enlists the public in the experience, and shares the findings with the rest of the world — we also discover the highest use for useless knowledge: Not that it may someday have some life-saving application on earth, though it might, but that it has a soul-saving application in the here and now, reminding us that the human race is not a slave to questions of utility alone.

The question can further be narrowed to ask when governments should fund scientific research.

People who are critical of government spending often find government funded scientific research projects they deem wasteful and publicize them as examples of government waste. Sometimes the discussions are just political theater but the conversation does raise interesting questions. What is the government’s responsibility when it comes to funding science? What criteria should we follow when determining what is worthwhile and what isn’t?

Arizona Senator Jeff Flake has on multiple occasions published lists of projects he thought were wasteful but he also published an interesting list of 20 questions he thought should guide our decisions on which projects deserved government spending.

Questions like:

  • Will this research advance science in a meaningful way?
  • Will the findings advance medicine?
  • Will it improve our national defense?

(You can find the full list here)

You can download his whole document here.

Science Magazine Responds

Analysis: Senator’s attack on ‘cheerleading’ study obscures government’s role in training scientists

Below is a link from Science magazine addressing the Senator Flake’s approach and assumptions.

“More importantly, perhaps, how NSF did spend the money illustrates an important point often lost in the sometimes highly partisan debates over government research spending: Most of those dollars go to educate the next generation of scientists. These students are trained in many disciplines and work on a wide array of projects—some of which might sound dubious to politicians. After graduation they use their knowledge to bolster the U.S. economy, improve public health, protect the nation from its enemies, and maintain U.S. global leadership in science.”

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/05/analysis-senator-s-attack-cheerleading-study-obscures-government-s-role-training

Planet Money Podcast: Shrimp Fight Club

These issues were discussed on a Planet Money Podcast which was adapted from another podcast Undiscovered.

http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2017/06/21/533840751/episode-779-shrimp-fight-club

 

What makes science research valuable?

The question can further be narrowed to ask when governments should fund scientific research.

People who are critical of government spending often find government funded scientific research projects they deem wasteful and publicize them as examples of government waste. Sometimes the discussions are just political theater but the conversation does raise interesting questions. What is the government’s responsibility when it comes to funding science? What criteria should we follow when determining what is worthwhile and what isn’t?

Arizona Senator Jeff Flake has on multiple occasions published lists of projects he thought were wasteful but he also published an interesting list of 20 questions he thought should guide our decisions on which projects deserved government spending.

Questions like:

  • Will this research advance science in a meaningful way?
  • Will the findings advance medicine?
  • Will it improve our national defense?

(You can find the full list here)

You can download his whole document here.

Science Magazine Responds

Analysis: Senator’s attack on ‘cheerleading’ study obscures government’s role in training scientists

Below is a link from Science magazine addressing the Senator Flake’s approach and assumptions.

“More importantly, perhaps, how NSF did spend the money illustrates an important point often lost in the sometimes highly partisan debates over government research spending: Most of those dollars go to educate the next generation of scientists. These students are trained in many disciplines and work on a wide array of projects—some of which might sound dubious to politicians. After graduation they use their knowledge to bolster the U.S. economy, improve public health, protect the nation from its enemies, and maintain U.S. global leadership in science.”

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/05/analysis-senator-s-attack-cheerleading-study-obscures-government-s-role-training

Planet Money Podcast: Shrimp Fight Club

These issues were discussed on a Planet Money Podcast which was adapted from another podcast Undiscovered.

http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2017/06/21/533840751/episode-779-shrimp-fight-club

Planet Money Podcast: What does Georgetown owe the descendants of the 272 slaves it sold in 1838?

“In 1838, Jesuit priests sold a group of 272 men, women, and children – slaves – to pay off Georgetown University’s debts. The slaves were sent from Maryland to Louisiana. In part one of this two part episode, we told the story of how the residents of a small town discovered where they’d come from. Now in part two, we ask what, if anything, Georgetown owes the descendants of those slaves.”

Parts One and Two linked below

http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2017/04/21/525058118/episode-766-georgetown-louisiana-part-one

http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2017/04/26/525769269/episode-767-georgetown-louisiana-part-two

272 Slaves Were Sold to Save Georgetown. What Does It Owe Their Descendants?

This article raises a lot of interesting questions and issues.

The use of documentary evidence to reconstruct past events, motivations and the movement of people raises the question: How do we learn about the past? When there is a gap in the historical record, it’s impossible for us to know certain things. Documents were also used to trace modern day descendants of these slaves who were sold.

This article also raises questions about whether we, presently, have any responsibility for the past actions of our institutions or governments. Can we make amends for the past? Can a moral “debt” be paid off monetarily? Through remembrance? Plaques?

Lastly, this raises the question of what history is worth knowing? When learning history we have to make choices about what to include and what to exclude in addition to the choices we make around interpretation.

You should also read some of the comments for this article because they communicate diverse opinions about these questions.

“In 1838, the Jesuit priests who ran the country’s top Catholic university needed money to keep it alive. Now comes the task of making amends.”

“Meanwhile, Georgetown’s working group has been weighing whether the university should apologize for profiting from slave labor, create a memorial to those enslaved and provide scholarships for their descendants, among other possibilities, said Dr. Rothman, the historian.

“‘It’s hard to know what could possibly reconcile a history like this,’ he said. ‘What can you do to make amends?'”

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/17/us/georgetown-university-search-for-slave-descendants.html?_r=0

The Planet Money Podcast recently did two episodes on this question. You can find the links here:

http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2017/04/21/525058118/episode-766-georgetown-louisiana-part-one

http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2017/04/26/525769269/episode-767-georgetown-louisiana-part-two

 

The Experiment Experiment

Reproducibility is a central part of producing knowledge in both the natural and human sciences. Production of knowledge in the sciences is also supposed to be “objective.” What happens when you can produced a statistically significance conclusion but it turns out to be false? What happens when other scientists cannot confirm your conclusions when they try to recreate your experiments? Is it in any way practical to redo others’ experiments consistently?

“How much of published scientific research is false? Scientists are trying to figure it out.”

http://www.npr.org/player/embed/463233921/463238448