Some Links #9: Sowing the Seed of doubt

This isn’t the first time Seed has sacrificed editorial independence. A worrying article about scienceblogs’ parent company, Seed, and how they restricted the publication of a column on the basis of it being critical of Dow Chemical — someone they were seeking an advertising contract with. As Gaia Vince points out in an email she received from Seed:

We’re not running the bhopal piece, and we’re passing on the Maldive shark ban (a bit late now… Too bad it got caught up in prod week… ). As for Bhopal, it’s a cautionary call on our part as we’re in the midst of advertising negotiations with Dow (who have been inspired by Seed’s photography in their own brand campaigns). RE: the payment, as you’re on a scheduled direct-payment, the bhopal fee covers the Kerry/Carbon trading news piece fee that was outstanding. Let me know if that’s clear.

It’s a great article that’s not only revealing about Seed, but the underlying motivations of the journalism industry in general. I never thought I’d find myself linking to Chomsky’s politics, yet, given the nature of this article, maybe it’s time I dug out my copy of Manufacturing Consent.

Scientific Certainty Argumentation Methods (SCAMs): Science and the politics of doubt. H/T: Ben Goldacre. A good paper looking at what happens when science and politics mix, and how the two have different expectations of what science is. Here’s the abstract:

At least since the time of Popper, scientists have understood that science provides falsification, but not “proof.” In the world of environmental and technological controversies, however, many observers continue to call precisely for “proof,” often under the guise of “scientific certainty.” Closer examination of real-world disputes suggests that such calls may reflect not just a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of science, but a clever and surprisingly effective political-economic tactic—”Scientific Certainty” Argumentation Methods, or SCAMs. Given that most scientific findings are inherently probabilistic and ambiguous, if agencies can be prevented from imposing any regulations until they are unambiguously “justified,” most regulations can be defeated or postponed, often for decades, allowing profitable but potentially risky activities to continue unabated. An exploratory examination of previously documented controversies suggests that SCAMs are more widespread than has been recognized in the past, and that they deserve greater attention in the future.

The secret history of X and Z. An excellent article from Ed Yong on Chromosome evolution in humans and birds. Key paragraph:

Why the similarities? It’s possible that both X and Z evolved from autosomes with features that made them more likely to become sex chromosomes. Perhaps, for example, their genes were already sparsely distributed. But Bellott ruled out this idea. He compared X to its closest counterpart in chicken, and Z to its equivalents in humans – none of these relatives had any structural features that made them stand out among other autosomes. There’s nothing that singles them out as ideal candidates for the role of sex chromosome.

You are not authorized to see these pictures of the oil spill, citizen… Do not look. Washington’s Blog has some fairly harrowing photos of the recent gulf oil spill and the damage it’s doing to wildlife. Here’s one example:

What we're not talking about

Without trying to sound too sensationalist: ScienceBlogs is seeing a mass exodus of writers. The main reason revolves around Seed Media, the parent company of ScienceBlogs, selling blog space to advertisers. As MarkCC, of Good Math, Bad Math, notes:

Seed has, in its corporate wisdom, decided to let Pepsico buy its way into a blog on ScienceBlogs. Pepsi writes SMG a nice check, and suddenly their content gets mixed in to the ScienceBlog RSS feeds, the ScienceBlog feed to Google News, etc., exactly the way that my blog posts do.

This is not acceptable.

For now, I’m suspending my blog for a few days. If Seed decides to back out of this spectacular stupidity, then I’ll start posting here again. If not, then I’ll go looking for a new home for GM/BM. The money that I’ve made from the ads that Seed has sold has been nice – but it’s not worth my integrity.

If Blogs here are for sale, then I’m gone.

The blog in question is Food Frontiers. What’s it all about? Well, as the opening article itself states:

On behalf of the team here at ScienceBlogs, I’d like to welcome you to Food Frontiers, a new project presented by PepsiCo.

As part of this partnership, we’ll hear from a wide range of experts on how the company is developing products rooted in rigorous, science-based nutrition standards to offer consumers more wholesome and enjoyable foods and beverages. The focus will be on innovations in science, nutrition and health policy. In addition to learning more about the transformation of PepsiCo’s product portfolio, we’ll be seeing some of the innovative ways it is planning to reduce its use of energy, water and packaging.

Is it just me, or does that paragraph leave a sickly taste in your mouth? Maybe I’m just a synaesthete for blatantly corporate PR gimmicks. There are, of course, many arguments to be had about the role of advertising on blogs — it needs to generate money, after all. Still, whether you care or not about the ethics of the situation, I think ScienceBlogs made a very bad move not to consult their writers before going ahead with this.

N.B. If you’re worried about who has left and, more importantly, where they’ve gone, then Skulls in the Stars is keeping track of the situation: The Sciencebloggosphere is a changing. Of the blogs I regularly read, only one of them has made the move: Neuron Culture. The other blog I read, Laelaps, is still undecided as to where he’s going to take up permanent residence. You can, however, follow his twitter feed:

The brain–artefact interface (BAI): a challenge for archaeology and cultural neuroscience

Just found an interesting paper on cultural neuroscience and the extended mind. Some of you might remember the author, Dr Lambros Malafouris, from Seed Magazine’s Revolutionary Minds series. I plan on providing a more thorough examination of paper at a later point. In the meantime, check out the abstract:

Cultural neuroscience provides a new approach for understanding the impact of culture on the human brain (and vice versa) opening thus new avenues for cross-disciplinary collaboration with archaeology and anthropology. Finding new meaningful and productive unit of analysis is essential for such collaboration. But what can archaeological preoccupation with material culture and long-term change contribute to this end? In this article, I introduce and discuss the notion of the brain–artefact interface (BAI) as a useful conceptual bridge between neuroplastisty and the extended mind. I argue that a key challenge for archaeology and cultural neuroscience lies in the cross-disciplinary understanding of the processes by which our plastic enculturated brains become constituted within the wider extended networks of non-biological artefacts and cultural practices that delineate the real spatial and temporal boundaries of the human cognitive map.