Friday, 15 August 2008

Scientific Anniversaries

Next week’s a holiday for all Australians. No, we won’t be off work, but we will be celebrating National Science Week.
You can access the Science Week’s website here, but I’ll spare you the trouble; it’s one of the worst designed websites I have ever seen, a leading candidate for the website where nothing ever works trophy.
However, I will tell you that as far as I am concerned the week’s major attraction is Michael Shermer. As a regular columnist in Scientific American I know him well, and I can tell you his Skeptic column is usually the first thing I read in a newly received edition of the magazine. It’s not the best thing in there, but its ratio of interest per text length is probably the magazine’s highest.
There’s more to Shermer than a column. Shermer is most famous for managing the Skeptics Society and for publishing the Skeptic magazine. He also writes interesting books, with the most famous one being Why Darwin Matters (a title I have used on numerous occasions in this blog). I cannot say that I agree with Shermer’s every word; in my opinion he believes too much in the power of the market to do good whereas I am more of a skeptic there (excuse the pan).
The Science Week’s website is completely useless and I cannot tell when and where Shermer will be presenting, but through some googling around I did find he will be in Melbourne between 17 and 19 of August and that on 17 August he will be presenting Why Darwin Matters at Melbourne Uni. We, by the way, will not be there because we strongly suspect babies would not be welcomed, but think of us not being there as an improved chance to get your own seats at this free presentation.

Shermer is good but not Dawkins good, and talking about Darwin and Dawkins brings me to my next science related news item: a new three part documentary TV series by Richard Dawkins, celebrating the 150th birthday to the publication of Origin of Species and entitled The Genius of Charles Darwin.
Two of the three episodes have already been aired and are very widely available at a bit torrent near you. The last episode is aired on 18 August, which means it will be downloadable the day after.
So far we’ve watched the first half of the first episode*, featuring a very old looking Dawkins as he retraces the steps Darwin took in coming up with his theory of evolution through natural selection. In parallel, Dawkins is challenging London high school kids whose indoctrination with religious creationism has greatly affected their ability to accept reality. Generally, I’m not a big fan of this latter type of reality show like dramatization, but Dawkins does raise a real and severe problem here by showing how society closes itself down from reality, and he makes his point quite well.
Overall, like pretty much everything Dawkins does, the result seems highly entertaining and educating. Do not miss The Genius of Charles Darwin!

In conclusion, I’m looking forward to the Science Week that will manage to bring Dawkins down under. When that happens, we’ll take Dylan along.

*By the time this post is published we have watched both episodes and I can say that as documentaries go, The Genius of Charles Darwin is excellent. The second episode explores the idea of selfish genes, kindness and morality; it's just intriguing. I find it amazing Dawkins manages to deal with such complex ideas in a simple TV program that should be digestible for pretty much everyone. I think it's fair to say that Dawkins' ability to push science to the general public in a way they can all digest it is probably his biggest talent. People like him are truly valuable to a healthy society.


Sue said...

Shermer is on in Sydney at two events: • Big Science Night, Powerhouse Museum, Friday August 22, 5.30pm-9.30pm. Dr Shermer will be interviewed by Paul Willis from ABC TV’s Catalyst program. Free event. As part of the Ultimo Science Festival:
• The Great Debate: Does God Exist? Wesley Centre, Saturday August 23, 7pm. Dr Shermer will debate Dr John Lennox. Free, but bookings required on 02 9955 0077. In conjunction with APESMA and the Centre for Public Christianity.

Moshe Reuveni said...

Thanks, Sue.
Didn't realize Shermer would stoop so low to debate god's existence in a public forum. Such debates make the religious people think they have equal footing to science.