September 20, 2013

Mars Rover Hasn’t Detected Any Methane
NASA reported Thursday that its Mars rover, Curiosity, has deflated hopes that life could be thriving on Mars today. The conclusion, published in the journal Science, comes from the fact that Curiosity has been looking for methane, a gas that is considered a possible calling card of microbes, and has so far found none of it. While the absence of methane does not rule out the possibility of present-day life on Mars—there are plenty of microbes, on Earth at least, that do not produce methane—it does return the idea to the realm of pure speculation without any hopeful data to back it up. (Kenneth Chang, The New York Times)

Yawning, Autism, and Empathy
Children with autism don’t catch yawns, and researchers think it probably has something to do with their troubles empathizing with others. But Laura Geggel at the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative reports on some new research that suggests it’s not a lack of empathy that causes an autistic child to be immune to social yawns. Instead it’s the fact that autistic children miss the facial cues that trigger our own contagious yawning. (Rose Eveleth, Smithsonian)

Values of Vegetarians
Newly published research finds vegetarians in India and the West are both guided by deeply felt ethical considerations. But the moral codes that lead them to avoid meat are, in many ways, radically different. “The psychological associations of vegetarianism are more nuanced than has been previously theorized,” a research team led by Matthew Ruby of the University of British Columbia writes in the journal Appetite. “Although Western and Indian vegetarians arrived at the same moralized behavior, their motivations are based on very different moral principles.” (Tom Jacobs, Pacific Standard)

BOOKS
An Appetite for Wonder

Barbara King: On Tuesday, famed evolutionary scientist and atheist Richard Dawkins’ new book—a memoir called An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist—will be published here in the United States. (It came out in the United Kingdom on September 12.) Spanning the years from Dawkins’ birth in Kenya in 1941 to the publication of his bestseller The Selfish Gene in 1976, the book tells the story of how Dawkins fell in love with learning and then science. (13.7: Cosmos and Culture, NPR)

EXCERPT
Scientists as Prophets

Lynda Walsh: I am not arguing that all scientists are all priests in the Church of Naturalism, or that scientists only perform prophetic ethos when they speak to the public, or that they speak like prophets to each other. Neither would I argue that science advisers are the only prophets we recognize in America. Indeed, one of my primary goals in writing this book is to develop a rhetorical definition of prophetic ethos and to suggest that it can be performed by anyone who can (a) demonstrate privileged access to knowledge beyond the public ken and (b) use that demonstration to engage the polity in a dialogue about its covenant values. (Utne Reader)

Category: Field Notes

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