Author Archives: Josh Witten

Nature Makes Pretty Things, Not Art

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Nature is an artist & lets paint swirl together in this pic of Saturn’s rings & cloud layers – @NASA 12:23PM 23 Nov 2014

For one moment, I’m going to be that guy who insists on taking a metaphor literally. Artists are not defined by their methods, nor by their ability to make pretty things.

The job of artists is to touch draw us out through sensory experiences in ways that convey understanding, challenge preconceptions, and move us in new, unique, and effective ways. Beauty is but one tool that can serve the artistic purpose.

I cannot define art coherently. I simply know that we need both robotic space probes taking pictures of other planets and creative human beings here on Earth devoted to artistic exploration – and that we conflate the two at our own peril.

Darwin’s Manuscripts

UPDATE 2014-11-25 6:28AM (ET): Grant Young, Head of Digital Content at Cambridge University Library commented to let us know where the Darwin manuscripts stand legally. The unpublished manuscripts remain under copyright to the Darwin Estate until 2039. As Young notes in his comment below, Cambridge University Library is actively working to reduce the copyright period on unpublished works and prefers to release documents as openly as possible. The original post has been modified with the elements that are no longer applicable having been struck out.

The Cambridge Digital Library has simulataneously done a thing that is very cool thing and thing that is a bit uncool. They have digitized and made available online over 30,000 Charles Darwin manuscripts from 1835-1882. That is a very cool thing to do.

The Charles Darwin Papers in the Manuscripts Department of Cambridge University Library hold nearly the entire extant collection of Darwin’s working scientific papers. Paramount among these documents are Charles Darwin’s Evolution Manuscripts, which are being published online at the Cambridge Digital Library and simultaneously at the Darwin Manuscripts Project in collaboration with the Darwin Correspondence Project. This is a conceptually coherent set of over 30,000 digitised and edited manuscript pages, spanning 1835-1882.
-Cambridge Digital Library

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Science a Movie Title – #ScienceaMovieTitle

Starting with #SciWars, we’ve been in the semi-regular habit of dedication Fridays to sciencing quotes from a particular movie, with one brief (or not so brief) foray into Shakespeare (#ShakesPeerReview). Often, the biggest challenge is not picking a great movie to do, but figuring out a good, science-y hashtag* (see #GhostBusterSci for an example of such difficulties).  So, I thought we could crowdsource some ideas. We got more than a few (as of this writing, there had been about 1000 #ScienceaMovieTitle tweets).

Today, we kicked off #ScienceaMovieTitle with:

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Haven’t run the numbers on it, but I can be pretty sure using a tortilla chip and guacomole to simulate the Philae landings is now the second best thing I’ve done on the Internet.

Click the image below for a progressively more complete Storify collection of the #ScienceaMovieTitle tweets. UPDATE: Your #ScienceaMovieTitle tweets required not one, not two, but three Storifys to contain them. We have a trilogy. Just as your favorite deity or deity replacement intended.

Screenshot 2014-11-21 14.25.23*I also have a backlog of scienced movie titles that amuse me, but aren’t associated with enough great lines to be good fodder for script rewrites (see #ConanthePostDoc for an example where folks only know one line – though there are SO many really).

Science for the People: The Psychopath Whisperer

sftpThis week on Science for the People, we’re looking at the science of psychopathy. We’ll spend the hour learning  about social science research, neuroimaging and behavioral therapies with Kent Kiehl, neuroscience researcher, lecturer and author of The Psychopath Whisperer: The Science of Those Without Conscience.

*Josh provides research help to Science for the People and is, therefore, completely biased.

The Palette of Dunloe

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Gap of Dunloe (County Kerry, Ireland); Photo Credit: Josh Witten (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

In 2011, we took the family to County Kerry in Ireland for Easter (I was working at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK at the time). One of the highlights of the trip was walking at the Gap of Dunloe. The gorse was in full bloom, providing a bright contrast to the greens, greys, browns, and blues of the landscape.

We didn’t really do much. Just walked. And looked. Among all the wonderful mornings we have had as a family, that morning at the Gap of Dunloe is a stand out. Afterward, the kids fell asleep in the car and we took a leisurely drive around the Ring of Kerry.

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cropped-dunloe-vintage-fp-banner-trans-3 Since Mike and I founded The Finch & Pea, we’ve slowly and steadily made superficial changes to the site’s style, without getting away from our original “online science pub” idea. We still love the concept; but we (by which I mean me) like to fiddle with things. So, over a series of incremental changes, we’ve changed quite a bit – as you can see from looking at our various site headers.

Maybe it is the approaching winter and shortening days. Maybe it is the pessimistic feeling that our Internet home is a bleak Mad Max wasteland roamed by gangs of sociopaths, pock-marked by outposts of civilization. Maybe I was procrastinating. Whatever the reason, we decided to brighten up some of the colors around the joint, while still being recognizable and feeling like home. We wanted to keep the same general theme to our site colors, but draw the updated versions from nature.

Gap of Dunloe (County Kerry, Ireland); Photo Credit: Josh Witten (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Gap of Dunloe (County Kerry, Ireland); Photo Credit: Josh Witten (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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