Friday, February 23, 2007

Chimps Advance; Humans Stuck in the Same Place

I like this article from the Washington Post because the animal kingdom seems to advance all of the time. We, humans, just seem to be stuck at the top, and often unhappy about it.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Wondrous Happenings in the New Year

Happy New Year, All! It's 2007 and perhaps it is the fresh and crisp new year, but I feel like blogging again today. Maybe it is all of the weird and wonderful news in today's paper:

1. Education Equals Longevity:

My friend Dan points out that at our rate -- since we've both been in school for quite a while now -- we should be off of the charts, according to this article.

2. Luck, Heroism, Altruism, All on the Subway:

Read about it here.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Nobel Peace and Literature Prizes Announced

They announced the Nobel Literature Prize yesterday for Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish writer, and the Nobel Peace Prize for Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank for micro-finance. NYT articles on Pamuk and a summary of his work here, and the first AP article today on Yunus here, with certainly more to follow.

I have no quibbles with either prize: I think they're both well-deserved, timely, and trenchant choices by the Nobel Committee. It would be kind of nice if they could give an ironic 'booby Nobel' prize in war-mongering: I'm sure you will all have suggestions.

Pamuk is most recently and best-known for going on trial for 'insults to the Turkish state', or something as Orwellian-sounding as that, when he stated to a European newspaper that Turkey had never acknowledged the genocide of Armenians in 1915. This caused deserved but shrill outrage in the EU: I say deserved because this is clearly a litmus test for political expression, but I also say shrill because there are plenty of people in the EU and in its member countries who are looking for an excuse not to admit Turkey to the EU.

The work of Yunus and the Grameen Bank demonstrates a pragmatic and successful approach to development. The Grameen bank has now branched out into everything from cellphones to eye surgery. It also follows a nice and long Nobel trend of honoring non-state actors, who have pointed out, and done something about, issues of universal significance and moral urgency. You can see the complete list of Peace prize winners here.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Nobel Sweep, Continued but Not Likely to be Complete

The sweep continues, with the Nobel Prize in Economics going to Edmund S. Phelps of Columbia University, for explaining the relationship between inflation and unemployment. NYT article here.

However, chances for the sweep are remote, with the prizes in literature and peace (!) coming up. The U.S. doesn't have a great track record in the Nobels in literature -- unless you count the fluke 1962 prize going to Steinbeck -- and the best (and most understated) thing I can say is that this is not the best year for our contributions to peace.

If you're interested, the Nobel Foundation has all of the Nobel Laureates listed here, with frequently touching and humble bios, speeches, and critical acclaim.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Prize-Winning Science

This week, Americans swept the scientific Nobel Prizes -- in physics, chemistry, medicine -- for the first time since 1983. The prizes represent work done in the past, so don't necessarily represent the current state of science, but still, is a reminder of the success of American system of research universities.

Once, I had to suffer talking to an obnoxious Englishman at a work function, who was bragging about Europe's educational systems. I knew he was an idiot when he bragged about England's universities, which are a bit of a mess, really. I wish that I said, to be equally obnoxious: Europeans stamp out Nobel Prizes, we take them home. On a less obnoxious level, the diversity of our education system might seem chaotic, but it sure does produce some awfully good research.

Another nice story from the prizes this year: Roger Kornberg, a chemist at Stanford, won the Nobel Prize in chemistry forty-seven years after his father won the prize in medicine.

Best of all, the Ig Nobel Prizes were awarded yesterday!

The 2006 Ornithology Ig Nobel Prize went to a scientist who studied why woodpeckers do not get headaches, while the Medicine Prize was awarded to Dr. Francis Fesmire for his discovery that "digital rectal massage" is a sure cure for the hiccups. The recipient accepted his award wearing one latex glove. The real Nobel Prize Laureates in attendance waved at him with foam fingers. A demonstration of that invention was stopped just short of indecency.