Category Archives: Philosophy

Is Progress Outpacing Precaution? Experts Weigh In

Illustration by An Arres.

No one expects the machinery of progress to roll backwards, but sometimes it seems that no one is watching the speedometer (or manning the brakes, assuming any exist).  Is this a fair assessment? If so, should we be worried — and what can we do about it?

In this feature, experts on technology, risk, science, policy and neuroscience discuss risk, innovation and how our values affect our conceptions of both.

Read/listen to my full story at KJZZ’s Arizona Science Desk:
ASU Experts Weigh the Risks of Innovation

Eureka! I Have Lost It!

The original keyboard cats.

Left to our own devices and allowed to live without constant fear of death by hunger or violence, we devise some pretty startling stuff.

Sure, some of our better efforts don’t outlast our calamities, or go obsolete before their time or simply never get their chance to shine because no one yet recognizes the need for them. But you can’t keep a good idea down forever, as I explore in this list of …

10 Times Humanity Found the Answer (and Then Forgot)

There was Madness to Their Method: The Western World Before the Scientific Method

Cartoon of Mary Toft's doctors.
“My money’s on a lop-eared doe, or perhaps a Britannia Petite.”

One of the many things I enjoy about teaching my university class, Science, Feuds, Scandals and Hoaxes, is the opportunity to explore some of the most outrageous ideas ever to gain traction in the public mind. It’s easy to make fun today, but some of these ideas were grounded in reasoning that, though flawed, eventually gave rise to the right answer. Then again, there’s really no defending those doctors who thought that woman was giving birth to rabbit parts.

10 Things We Thought Were True Before the Scientific Method

The Causation-Correlation Conflation

Not equal signThe question of cause  has haunted science and philosophy from their earliest days, in part because humans are wired for pattern-matching and confirmation bias. For all our supposed rationality, we confuse coincidence with correlation and correlation with causality.

Consequently, scientists must carefully design and control their experiments to remove bias, circular reasoning, self-fulfilling prophecies and hidden variables. They must respect the requirements and limitations of their methods, draw from representative samples and not overstate their results. Sometimes, however, that’s easier said than done. Read on to hear about…

10 Correlations that are Not Causations

Felon gun ownership: clause and effect

Twisted gun sculpture
“Non-Violence” by Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd. Photo by Francois Polito.

The idea that criminals should forfeit certain civil rights reaches back at least to the 19th-century concept of civiliter mortuus (“civil death”). Today, federal law bars convicted felons from possessing firearms or ammunition. Case closed, right? Wrong. Federal law works in mysterious ways, particularly when it bumps up against state interests and high court interpretations.

Can a Felon Own a Gun in the United States?