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SciBlogs by Jean Balchin - 3w ago

Are you haunted by the prospect of social interaction? Does the very thought of navigating supermarket aisles fill you with exhaustion? Are you repelled by the idea of head-banging to riotous music in a dark and sweaty stadium? In the cacophonous hustle and bustle of the 21st century, it’s no wonder many folks shun the maelstrom of modernity and head off into the wilderness for a little peace and quiet. Whether you are considering a life of prayer and penitence, or merely seeking haven from the incessant demands of social media, the eremitic life is for you.

A hermit is a person who lives in seclusion from society. Would-be hermits (including myself) are a minority amid the sassy, gregarious crowds of modern society. The eremitic life is excellent for achieving inner peace, insight, spiritual guidance and renewed creativity. Indeed, the value of solitude is evident in all realms of life; Darwin escaped to the woods for hours and emphatically refused dinner party invitations, while Theodor Geisel (Dr Seuss) conjured up his fantastical creations in a lonely bell tower office, too afraid to meet the young children who read his books. Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed and Moses all experienced profound epiphanies in the wilderness, alone.

St. Jerome, who lived as a hermit near Bethlehem, depicted in his study being visited by two angels (Cavarozzi, early 17th century). Wikimedia Commons.

In considering the eremitic lifestyle, you should first study your personal reason for seeking solitude, from religious motivations to a desire for renewed creativity and spirituality. Secondly, you need to establish the degree of your solitude; will you burrow beneath a fort of blankets and pillows in your room or move to a cabin in the woods? Next, you should simplify your life: hurl that cellphone out the window, deactivate your Facebook account, tweet your goodbyes and throw your laptop in the washing machine. Stocking up on various necessities is preferable to suffering small talk in the supermarket, and unless you work from home, a considerable amount of money is required to sustain the eremitic lifestyle. Short of escaping to the legendary cave in the wilderness, taxes, student loans, electricity and water bills are inescapable.

Next, make sure your environment is as sustainable as possible; plant a garden, build an outhouse and invest in a bicycle. Now that you’re unlikely to be distracted by Facebook or the squalling cries of TV advertising, you will have plenty of time to develop new skills, so pick up a paintbrush, learn a foreign language, juggle or bake cupcakes. In all seriousness, learn to love yourself; you will have to get used to your own company from now on. Be wary of loneliness and if melancholy descends, don’t hesitate to reach out to like-minded people.

After reading this, you probably think that I’m a weird loner who insists on surviving in the wilderness on locusts, honey and God’s grace. I swear I’m not.  I am however a self-professed introvert who prefers the company of a good book to most people. Even if you cannot bring yourself to commit to a fully-fledged eremitic life, retreating occasionally from the responsibilities and entanglements of the world is very calming. So in the tradition of Obi-Wan Kenobi, John the Baptist and Noah John Rondeau, escape from society every so often and learn the benefits of being a hermit.

Image: Two Sadhus, Hindu hermits. Wikimedia Commons.

The post How to be a Hermit! appeared first on Sciblogs.

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Thomas Bartosh, Texas A&M University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Breast cancer death rates overall have steadily declined since 1989, leading to an increased number of survivors. But while breast cancer survivors are grateful their bodies show no trace of the disease, they still face anxiety. Breast cancer can and does return, sometimes with a vengeance, even after being in remission for several years.

By studying the “cannabilistic” tendency of cancer cells, my research team has made some progress in finding out why.

The chances of recurrence and disease outcome vary with cancer subtype. About one-third of patients diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, the most aggressive subtype, may experience a recurrence in another part of the body. This is called distant recurrence.

It has been difficult, if not impossible, to predict if and when the same cancer will recur – and to stop it. Recurrent disease may arise from just a single cancer cell that survived the initial treatment and became dormant. The dormancy allowed it to hide somewhere in the body, not growing or causing harm for an unpredictable amount of time.

Determining what puts these dormant cells to “sleep” and what provokes them to “wake up” and begin multiplying uncontrollably could lead to important new treatments to prevent a demoralizing secondary cancer diagnosis.

Recently, my research team and I uncovered several clues that might explain what triggers these breast cancer cells to go dormant and then “reawaken.” We showed that cell cannibalism is linked to dormancy.

How do bone stem cells affect breast cancer?

Breast cancer can recur in the breast or in other organs, such as the lungs and bone. Where breast cancer decides to grow depends largely on the microenvironment. This refers to the cells that surround it, including immune cells, cells comprising blood vessels, fibroblasts and the select proteins they produce, among other factors.

Over a century ago, a surgeon named Stephen Paget famously compared the organ-specific prevalence of cancer metastasis to seeds and soil. Because breast cancer often relapses in bones, in this metaphor, which still holds forth today, the bone marrow provides a favorable microenvironment (the “soil”) for dormant breast cancer cells (the “seeds”) to thrive.

Thus, a substantial amount of recent work has involved trying to determine the role in cancer dormancy of a special type of cell, called mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). These are found in bone marrow.

Just as seeds need soil to provide an environment for growth, cancer cells need an environment to grow.
From www.shutterstock.com

MSCs in bone marrow are highly versatile. They are able to form bone, cartilage and fibrous tissue, as well as cells that support the immune system and formation of blood. They are also known to travel to sites of tissue injury and inflammation, where they aid in healing.

Breast cancer cells readily interact with MSCs if they meet in the bone marrow. They also readily interact if the breast cancer cells recruit them to the site of the primary tumor.

My research team and I recently focused on potential outcomes of these cellular interactions. We found an odd thing happens, which may provide insight into how these breast cancer cells hide for a long time.

In the laboratory setting, we produced breast tumor models containing MSCs. We also re-created the hostile conditions that naturally challenge developing tumors in patients, such as localized nutrient deficits caused by rapid growth of cancer cells and overcrowding.

We discovered that cancer cells under this duress become dormant after eating, or “cannibalizing,” the stem cells.

Our analysis provided compelling data  demonstrating that the cannibalistic breast cancer cells did not form tumours as rapidly as other cancer cells, and sometimes not at all. At the same time, they became highly resistant to chemotherapy and stresses imposed by nutrient deprivation.

Dormant cells are widely linked to recurrence. We hypothesize that cannibalism thus is linked to recurrence.

What is cellular cannibalism, and why is it important in cancer?

Cellular cannibalism, in general, describes a distinct phenomenon in which one cell engulfs and eliminates neighbouring, intact cells.

The percentage of cancer cells that show cannibalistic activity is relatively low, but it does appear to increase in more aggressive tumors.

There are several reasons breast cancer cells would want to eat other cells, including other cancer cells. It provides them with a way to feed when nutrients are in short supply. It also provides them a way to eliminate the very immune cells that naturally stop cancer growth. Cell cannibalism might also allow cancer cells to inherit new genetic information and, therefore, new and advantageous traits.

Notably, in our study, cannibalistic breast cancer cells that ate the stem cells and entered dormancy began to produce an array of specific proteins. Many of these proteins are also secreted by normal cells that have permanently stopped dividing, or senescent cells, and have been collectively termed the senescence-associated secretory phenotype (or SASP). Although cellular senescence is a part of aging, we are now realizing that it is also important for a variety of normal bodily processes, development of embryos and injury repair in adults.

This suggests that although dormant cancer cells do not multiply rapidly or form detectable tumors, they are not necessarily sleeping. Instead, at times they might be actively communicating with each other and their microenvironment through the numerous proteins they manufacture.

Overall, this might be a clever way for dormant cancer cells to “fly under the radar” and, at the same time, modify their microenvironment, making it more suitable for them to grow in the future.

A cancer cell, shown in red, cannibalizes an MSC, which then become part of the cancer cell (as seen in specks in the red cancer cell on bottom left).
Author provided., Author provided Can cell cannibalism be exploited for diagnosis and treatment?

Although our results are promising, it’s important to be cautious. While there appears to be a strong correlation between cell cannibalism and dormancy, for now we do not know if it is directly linked to cancer recurrence in patients. Studies are underway, however, to corroborate our findings.

Still, the fact that breast cancer cells cannibalize MSCs is intriguing. It provides an important foundation for developing new diagnostic tools and therapies. Indeed, we currently have several ways of applying our recent discoveries.

One exciting idea is to exploit the cannibalistic activity of cancer cells to feed them suicide genes or other toxic agents, using MSCs as a delivery vehicle, like a tumor-seeking missile.

Importantly, MSCs can be easily obtained from the body, expanded to large numbers in the laboratory, and put back into the patient. Indeed, they have already been used safely in clinical trials to treat a variety of diseases due to their ability to aid in tissue repair and regeneration.

A different avenue for drug development would involve keeping dormant cells in a harmless and nondividing state forever. It might also be possible to prevent cancer cells from eating the stem cells in the first place.

In our study, we were able to block cell cannibalism using a drug that targets a specific protein inside cancer cells. With this treatment approach, the cancer might essentially starve to death or be more easily killed by conventional therapies.

Thomas Bartosh, Assistant Professor, College of Medicine, Texas A&M University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Image: Cancer cells, in red, cannibalize a type of stem cell, shown in green. The red cells with small specks of green are breast cancer cells that have “eaten” the stem cell.

The post How ‘cannibalism’ by breast cancer cells promotes dormancy: A possible clue into cancer recurrence appeared first on Sciblogs.

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Sniff, sniff. When it comes to naming particular colours, most people do so with ease. But for odours, it’s much harder to find the precise words. However, the Jahai people, a group of hunter-gatherers living in the Malay Peninsula are exceptions to this rule. An earlier study found that for the Jahai, odours are as simple to name as colours. A new study published in Current Biology on January 18 suggests that the Jahai’s special way with smell is related to their hunting and gathering lifestyle.

According to Asifa Majid of Radboud University in the Netherlands,

“There has been a long-standing consensus that ‘smell is the mute sense, the one without words,’ and decades of research with English-speaking participants seemed to confirm this. But, the Jahai of the Malay Peninsula are much better at naming odours than their English-speaking peers. This, of course, raises the question of where this difference originates.”

A Jahai community in Royal Belum State Park, Perak, Malaysia. Wikimedia Commons.

In order to ascertain whether it was the Jahai who have an unusually keen ability with odours or whether English speakers are simply lacking, Majid and Nicole Kruspe at Lund University in Sweden looked to two related, but previously unstudied, groups of people in the tropical rainforest of the Malay Peninsula, the hunter-gatherer Semaq Beri and the non-hunter-gatherer Semelai.

Semelai people are an Orang Asli people of the Proto-Malay people group found in Negeri Sembilan and Pahang states of Malaysia. They are traditionally horticulturalists, combining shifting rice cultivation with the collection of forest products for trade.

Not only do the Semelai and Semaq Bari people live in similar environments, they also speak closely related languages. The researchers set out to find how adept they were at naming odours.

“If ease of olfactory naming is related to cultural practices, then we would expect the Semaq Beri to behave like the Jahai and name odours as easily as they do colors, whereas the Semelai should pattern differently,” the researchers wrote.

That’s exactly what they found.

Kruspe and Majid tested the colour- and odour-naming abilities of 20 Semaq Beri and 21 Semelai people. Sixteen odours were used: orange, leather, cinnamon, peppermint, banana, lemon, licourice, turpentine, garlic, coffee, apple, clove, pineapple, rose, anise, and fish!

For the colour task, participants were shown 80 Munsell colour chips, sampling 20 equally spaced hues at four degrees of brightness. Kruspe tested participants in their native language by simply asking, “What smell is this?” or “What colour is this?”

Results clearly indicated that the hunter-gatherer Semaq Beri performed on those tests just like the hunter-gatherer Jahai, naming odours and colours with equal ease. However, the non-hunter-gatherer Semelai people performed like English speakers. For them, odours were quite difficult to name.

Semelai people receiving visitors at Tasik Bera, Pahang. Wikimedia Commons.

These results indicate that the downgrading in importance of smells relative to other sensory inputs is a recent consequence of cultural adaption, the researchers say.

“Hunter-gatherers’ olfaction is superior, while settled peoples’ olfactory cognition is diminished,” Majid says.

According to the researchers, these findings challenge the notion that differences in neuroarchitecture alone underlie differences in olfaction, suggesting instead that cultural variation may play a more prominent role.

Other questions are also raised by this study:

“Do hunter-gatherers in other parts of the world also show the same boost to olfactory naming?” Majid asks. “Are other aspects of olfactory cognition also superior in hunter-gatherers,” for example, the ability to differentiate one odour from another? “Finally, how do these cultural differences interact with the biological infrastructure for smell?”

She says it will be important to learn whether these groups of people show underlying genetic differences related to the sense of smell.

This study was published in Cell Press. You can read it here.

The post Can you smell that? A hunter gatherer can! appeared first on Sciblogs.

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As you may know, I’m very interested in the intersection of science (or pseudo-science) and literature. My favourite play of ol’ William Shakespeare has to be The Tempest, set on a wild and remote island. In a nutshell, the sorcerer Prospero, the rightful and usurped Duke of Milan, plots to restore his daughter Miranda to her rightful place using illusion, enchanting spirits, and manipulation. Prospero conjures up a storm to cause his nasty, throne-stealing brother Antonio and the complicit King Alonso of Naples to believe they are shipwrecked and marooned on the island. Gradually, Antonio’s lowly nature is revealed, the King is redeemed, and Miranda falls in love with Alonso’s son Ferdinand.

The shipwreck in Act I, Scene 1, in a 1797 engraving by Benjamin Smith after a painting by George Romney. Wikimedia Commons.

However, what I find most interesting about this play is the comic character of Caliban, a “freckled monster” and the only human inhabitant of the island that is otherwise “not honour’d with a human shape” (Prospero, I.2.283). In some traditions he is depicted as a wild man, or a deformed man, or a beast man, or sometimes a mix of fish and man. What fascinates me most however, is the various depictions of Caliban during the Victorian era, from an oppressed proletariat, a downtrodden indigenous person, Rousseau’s ‘Noble Savage’, to a Darwinian ‘missing link’ between humanity and the apes.

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859) was the foundation of evolutionary biology. Darwin’s book presented a body of evidence to prove that populations evolved over the course of generations through a process called natural selection. His theory generated considerable controversy regarding the relationship between human beings and the animals who most resembled them. This controversy may be illustrated by the infamous debate between Darwin’s advocate Thomas Huxley and the antievolutionist Bishop Wilberforce at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Oxford in 1860. This squabble culminated with the Bishop asking Huxley whether he was descended from a monkey on his grandfather’s or his grandmother’s side. One woman, privy to this debate, was so shocked that she fainted!

Darwin’s various treatises were couched in language comprehensible to the lay reader, and were widely disseminated throughout the general public. You can be pretty sure that the average, educated Victorian had at least a rudimentary understanding of the theory of evolution and its implications. Darwin’s theory of evolution in On the Origin of Species and The Descent of Man (1871) augmented Caliban’s status as the ‘missing link’ between humans and apes.

Charles Darwin. Wikimedia Commons. Caliban: The Missing Link? 

Daniel Wilson’s (1816-92) influential work Caliban: The Missing Link (1873) championed the idea of Caliban as an amphibious intermediate between brute animal and human being; “our predecessor and precursor in the inheritance of this world of humanity” (Wilson 1873, 17). However Wilson also contended that “the form of Caliban is, nevertheless, essentially human,” with “huge canine teeth and prognathous jaws…He is a novel anthropoid of a high type.” (Wilson 1873, 25). Wilson also propounded degenerationist ideas in his article, claiming that Caliban lacked “the moral instincts of man” but also the “degradation of savage humanity” (Wilson 1873, 28).

The book explicitly associates Caliban with the New World’s inhabitants. Wilson notes how Prospero found such a monstrous being as “traveller’s tales had already made familiar to all men as natives of such regions” (Wilson 1873, 74). Wilson thus anticipated the Indianization of Caliban in his discussion of Darwinian influences on The Tempest (Vaughan 2003, 110). Caliban, according to Wilson, is a:

“novel anthropoid”, who possesses “some spark of intelligence [which] has been enkindled, under the tutorship of one who has already mastered the secrets of nature” (Wilson 1873, 79).

Wilson thus posits a double-edged argument; Caliban requires tutoring and development – as argued by Imperialist theorists who defended European ‘civilising missions’. Yet, he is also more advanced than actual ‘underdeveloped’ peoples. Basically, he occupies a liminal position between a highly organised ape and rational humanity.

Robert Browning’s “Caliban upon Setebos”

Robert Browning’s (1812-1889) poem “Caliban upon Setebos” (1864) is riddled with allusions to Darwinian discourse. Like Wilson, Browning conceives of Caliban as a transitional figure between man and beast; one who lives in the margins of humanity, but nonetheless reveals essential human traits such as greed, creativity and self-deception. Browning references Darwin’s field work and findings in The Voyage of the Beagle (1845). For example, the “she-tortoises / Crawling to lay their eggs here” (11. 206-207) recall a passage in Darwin’s chapter on the Galapagos Archipelago, wherein

“the female, where the soil is sandy, deposits [the eggs] together and covers them up with sand.”

As with Wilson’s book, Browning’s poem engendered debate regarding the Victorian sense of ‘self’ as opposed to the ‘other’, a being embodying qualities of savagery, blackness and apishness. Both texts thus juxtapose scientific theory with the imaginative qualities of literature in order to heighten associations between the idea of the ‘missing link’ and racist conceptions of blackness as connoting a lack of evolutionary development. Caliban, as envisaged by Browning and Wilson, is a relic of the lower orders, regardless of whether such orders are construed as biological or social manifestations.

Frank Benson

Wilson’s claim that Shakespeare had anticipated the idea of a missing link in the Darwinian evolutionary chain influenced Frank Benson’s depiction of Caliban in his 1890s production of The Tempest (Vaughan 2003, 185). Benson’s disgruntled wife Constance noted that he spent hours in the zoo observing baboons and monkeys in order to appear realistically apish upon the stage. Benson’s costume was accurately described as “half-monkey, half-coconut”, as may be observed in Fig.1 (Vaughan 2003, 185).

J. Caswall Smith, Sir Frank Benson as Caliban in The Tempest.

Here, Benson resembles a hilariously apish creature, with long matted hair, brown face-paint and a real fish in his hand. In contrast to other contemporary theatrical representations of Caliban, Benson has created a hilariously pathetic, oppressed and animalistic creature. Given that the theatre was widely accessible to all societal classes, one may assume that the average, educated Victorian was familiar with Benson’s interpretation of Caliban.

Benson later admitted that he carried his athleticism as Caliban to extremes. Indeed, a review in The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News complained of the difference between Shakespeare’s Caliban and Benson’s Caliban. This review described Shakespeare’s Caliban as being “a monster, but human”, the product of “superstition and ignorance, he is surly, brutal, cunning, servile, lustful and vindictively cruel.” In contrast, Benson’s Caliban was described as “comic and amusing”, a “kind of man-monkey performing various acrobatic feats, and passing through a series of grotesque antics” (Griffiths 1983, 167).

The British Empire

Thus, while Caliban may be perceived as an intermediary between apes and humans, he is not wholly brutish or degenerate. As evinced by Browning’s poem and reviews of Benson’s performance, Caliban has human feelings, and words to express them. His expressions of petulant malignity and resentful discontent echo the cries of oppressed Saxon serfs and Native Americans. Great Britain in the Victorian era was an empire on which the sun never set. Initially, the Victorians felt little need to justify their greedy and exploitative actions in the great scramble for new land; just as Prospero never considers himself a usurper on the island.

However over time, Victorians saw themselves as having a certain duty to civilise the ‘natives’, hence the introduction of Christian missionaries, the teaching of the occupying country’s language and the interference with local culture and dress. Certain Victorian intellectuals argued that these contemporary ‘savage’ societies closely resembled the condition of prehistoric humankind. Given that their current state was the result of delayed evolution, they justified the belief that ‘civilised’ European society was more evolved and thus superior. The Tempest embodies imperialist doctrines; the occupier Prospero is noble and upright, while Caliban is stubborn and belligerent, refusing to thank his master for all he has done. The average Victorian expected a newly ‘civilised’ native to be grateful and more subservient; not resentful and implacable like Caliban. No doubt they rejoiced when, at the end of the play, Caliban gratefully returned to his previous servitude.

The Wild Man

Caliban was also perceived by the average Victorian person as embodying the figure of the ‘wild man’; the manifestation of human universals such as life, death, human survival and threats to survival. The ‘wild man’ may be interpreted in two different and contradicting ways. In the first instance, if one considers nature a brutal world of hardship and deprivation, and society as preferable to the natural state, the ‘wild man’ is the antithesis of desirable humanity. He is a horrifying warning of what might happen should one reject society. Alternatively, if one considers nature glorious and liberating, and society as a rejection of natural perfection, then the ‘wild man’ represents the purest form of humanity.

Oroonoko kills Imoinda in a 1776 performance of Thomas Southerne’s Oroonoko. Oroonoko was considered a kind of “noble savage.” WIkimedia Commons.

As previously discussed, anxiety over Darwin’s idea of the ‘missing link’ was exacerbated by the former worldview, as evinced by Wilson’s article and Benson’s theatrical interpretation. However the latter attitude was championed by the philosopher Rousseau, with his idea of the ‘noble savage’. Rousseau was the first to internalize the ‘wild man’ and suggest that he represented humanity’s authentic inner state, stripped of both evil and the refinements of civilisation. So, Caliban represents the ambiguous potentials of humanity; he is both a monster and a charmed dreamer, vindictive savage and trustful learner, cowardly slave and brave rebel.

A Noble Savage?

This idea of the “Noble Savage” was attacked by various anthropologists such as John Lubbock, who insisted in his article The Manners and Customs of Modern Savages (1865) that savages were neither ‘noble’ nor degraded from an original noble condition. According to Lubbock, so-called “savages” lack the fundamental characteristics of humanity; they are morally inferior, possess rudimentary conceptions of religion and are severely mentally impaired. (Note: I almost threw Lubbock’s book out the window, it was so problematic and racist).

Edward Tylor’s book Researches into the Early History of Mankind and the Development of Civilisation (1865) also equated contemporary savages with early humankind, employing evolutionary and monogenesist discourse (the theory of human origins which posits a common descent for all human races) to represent “savages” as bestial. The inherent racism of Victorian society resulted in black people – deemed ‘savage’- being equated with apes. Darwin’s theory of evolution was used to endorse the moral superiority of white humankind over black “savage”, even though Darwin himself was both a monogenesist and a supporter of the abolition of slavery.

Even More Racism

In an 1851 edition of the New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal, Dr Samuel Cartwright explicitly affirmed the association of blackness and madness by specifying a list of fabricated psychopathologies which allegedly affected blacks alone. For example, Cartwright claimed that the illness “Drapetomania” caused slaves to “run away”. Thus the black’s rejection of slavery was deemed as symptomatic of insanity. The British anthropologist James Hunt reaffirmed these racist views by arguing that there were a number of significant analogies between apes and black humans. These analogies included the “disgusting odour, the uncleanliness, the making of grimaces whilst speaking, the clear shrill tone of the voice, and the apelike character”.

Although the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 forbade slavery throughout the British Empire, racism was deeply rooted in white bourgeois Victorian society. There existed a number of racist, rudimentary stereotypes of black people that were recycled and disseminated throughout Victorian-era media, dehumanizing black people further. Sambo; the comic slave, was one such stereotype. The image of Sambo originated in the southern states and was a product of large plantation agriculture where a high proportion of the slaves were unskilled and illiterate. Sir John Tenniel’s cartoon Scene from the American “Tempest.” Caliban (Sambo), published in Punch magazine on January 24, 1863 comprises a vivid example of the Sambo stereotype.

John Tenniel, Scene from the American “Tempest.” Caliban (Sambo). “You Beat Him ‘Nough, Massa! Berry Little Time, I’ll Beat Him Too.” January 24, 1863. Punch archives.

The image depicts a slave interacting with Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson in the words of Caliban. The depiction of the slave as Caliban is highly problematic and unsettling. Caliban’s long hair and jutting eyebrows recall the African gorilla; in general, his features are more apelike and bestial than most other eighteenth century engravings. The slave stands knock-kneed with an idiotic grin plastered all over his wide, shiny face. Shakespeare’s high cultured English is bastardized with the appropriation of the fake African minstrel accent and the expression of “massa”. He thus perfectly encapsulates Shakespeare’s depiction of Caliban as a “demi-devil”, “abhorred slave” and “savage” who rebels against his master because he is unintelligent and childlike. This conception of Caliban consolidates the image of a black slave, the regressed ‘wild man’, and the ‘missing link’.

And then the Irish!

Caliban was also employed to satirize and dehumanise the Irish proletariats, who were also colonized and exploited by the English throughout the centuries. The Punch cartoon The Irish ‘Tempest’ (March 19 1870), also drawn by Sir John Tenniel, succinctly captures the fraught English-Irish relationship of the Victorian era. This striking, appalling cartoon depicts the stereotypical Irishman – ‘Rory of the Hills’ – in the guise of Caliban. In keeping with the animalistic manner by which the English depicted the Irish in the nineteenth century, the Irishman’s face and body are crudely delineated. His unkempt facial hair and a jutting jaw call to mind a monstrous ape.

The Irish “Tempest.” Caliban (Rory of the Hills). “This island’s mine, by sycorax my mother, which thou tak’st from me.” – Shakespeare.” March 19 1870. Punch Archives.

His aggressive stance, with his sharp teeth, clenched fist and arsenal of weapons illustrate the violence that the English attributed to the Irish Fenians and other discontented groups. William Ewart Gladstone (a Tory MP) is Prospero in this analogy, clad in a wizard’s robe, with his magic staff of the Irish Land Bill. Gladstone stands tall and upright, the figure of English nobility, protecting the beautiful lady Hibernia, who represents Ireland herself. The chasm separating the landscape in the background represents the division between England and Ireland. This cartoon illustrates the conflict over the Irish Land Bill and the Irish Question in general: Should Ireland be let to govern herself, or should the English ‘save’ Ireland from her own people?

So what can we learn?

To conclude, analysing the varying interpretations and depictions of Caliban throughout the Victorian era reveals certain issues of evolution, race, class and politics pervading Victorian society. From Browning’s rather pathetic Caliban to the incredibly racist depictions of Caliban in Punch, the figure of Caliban acts as a barometer of the changing critical, social, and political conditions of Victorian society.

Image: Stephano, Trinculo and Caliban dancing on the island shore from The Tempest. Johann Heinrich Ramberg – Cornell University Library. Wikimedia Commons.

The post Caliban, Social Darwinism, Racism and Pseudo-Science appeared first on Sciblogs.

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Timothy J. Jorgensen, Georgetown University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Fifty years ago, on Jan. 21, 1968, the Cold War grew significantly colder. It was on this day that an American B-52G Stratofortress bomber, carrying four nuclear bombs, crashed onto the sea ice of Wolstenholme Fjord in the northwest corner of Greenland, one of the coldest places on Earth. Greenland is part of the Kingdom of Denmark, and the Danes were not pleased.

The ejected gunner is helped to safety.
United States Air Force, CC BY.

The bomber – call sign HOBO 28 – had crashed due to human error. One of the crew members had stuffed some seat cushions in front of a heating vent, and they subsequently caught fire. The smoke quickly became so thick that the crew needed to eject. Six of the 7 crew members parachuted out safely before the plane crashed onto the frozen fjord 7 miles west of Thule Air Base – America’s most northern military base, 700 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

The island of Greenland, situated about halfway between Washington D.C. and Moscow, has strategic importance to the American military – so much so that the United States had, in 1946, made an unsuccessful bid to buy it from Denmark. Nevertheless, Denmark, a strong ally of the United States, did allow the American military to operate an air base at Thule.

The crash severely strained the United States’ relationship with Denmark, since Denmark’s 1957 nuclear-free zone policy had prohibited the presence of any nuclear weapons in Denmark or its territories. The Thule crash revealed that the United States had actually been routinely flying planes carrying nuclear bombs over Greenland, and one of those illicit flights had now resulted in the radioactive contamination of a fjord.

The radioactivity was released because the nuclear warheads had been compromised. The impact from the crash and the subsequent fire had broken open the weapons and released their radioactive contents, but luckily, there was no nuclear detonation.

Cleanup crew search for radioactive debris. U.S. Air Force , CC BY.

To be specific, HOBO 28’s nuclear weapons were actually hydrogen bombs. As I explain in my book, “Strange Glow: The Story of Radiation,” a hydrogen bomb (or H-bomb) is a second-generation type of nuclear weapon that is much more powerful than the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those two bombs were “fission” bombs – bombs that get their energy from the splitting (fission) of very large atoms (such as uranium and plutonium) into smaller atoms.

In contrast, HOBO 28’s bombs were fusion bombs – bombs that get their energy from the union (fusion) of the very small nuclei of hydrogen atoms. Each of the four Mark 28 F1 hydrogen bombs that HOBO 28 carried were nearly 100 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima (1,400 kilotons versus 15 kilotons).

Fusion bombs release so much more energy than fission bombs that it’s hard to comprehend. For example, if a fission bomb like Hiroshima’s were dropped on the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., it’s likely that the White House (about 1.5 miles away) would suffer little direct damage. In contrast, if just one of the Mark 28 F1 hydrogen bombs were dropped on the Capitol building, it would destroy the White House as well as everything else in Washington, D.C. (a destructive radius of about 7.5 miles). It is for this reason that North Korea’s recent claim of achieving hydrogen bomb capabilities is so very worrisome.

After the crash, the United States and Denmark had very different ideas about how to deal with HOBO 28’s wreckage and radioactivity. The U.S. wanted to just let the bomber wreckage sink into the fjord and remain there, but Denmark wouldn’t allow that. Denmark wanted all the wreckage gathered up immediately and moved, along with all of the radioactively contaminated ice, to the United States. Since the fate of the Thule Air Base hung in the balance, the U.S. agreed to Denmark’s demands.

H-Bomb Armed B-52 Crash Cleanup in Greenland: "Crested Ice" 1968 USAF Strategic Air Command - YouTube

The clock was ticking on the cleanup, code named operation “Crested Ice,” because, as winter turned into spring, the fjord would begin to melt and any remaining debris would sink 800 feet to the seafloor. Initial weather conditions were horrible, with temperatures as low as minus 75 degrees Fahrenheit, and wind speeds as high as 80 miles per hour. In addition, there was little sunlight, because the sun was not due to rise again over the Arctic horizon until mid-February.

Groups of American airmen, walking 50 abreast, swept the frozen fjord looking for all the pieces of wreckage – some as large as plane wings and some as small as flashlight batteries. Patches of ice with radioactive contamination were identified with Geiger counters and other types of radiation survey meters. All wreckage pieces were picked up, and ice showing any contamination was loaded into sealed tanks. Most every piece of the plane was accounted for except, most no3tably, a secondary stage cylinder of uranium and lithium deuteride – the nuclear fuel components of one of the bombs. It was not found on the ice and a sweep of the seafloor with a minisub also found nothing. Its current location remains a mystery.

U.S. and Danish officials mark the end of the cleanup effort. Archival.

Although the loss of the fuel cylinder was perplexing and disturbing, it is a relatively small item (about the size and shape of a beer keg) and it emits very little radioactivity detectable by radiation survey meters, making it very hard to find at the bottom of a fjord. Fortunately, it is not possible for this secondary “fusion” unit to detonate on its own without first being induced through detonation of the primary “fission” unit (plutonium). So there is no chance of a spontaneous nuclear explosion occurring in the fjord in the future, no matter how long it remains there.

The successful cleanup helped to heal United States-Denmark relations. But nearly 30 years later, the Thule incident spawned a new political controversy in Denmark. In 1995, a Danish review of internal government documents revealed that Danish Prime Minister H.C. Hansen had actually given the United States tacit approval to fly nuclear weapons into Thule. Thus, the Danish government had to share some complicity in the Thule incident.

As recently as 2003, environmental scientists from Denmark revisited the fjord to see if they could detect any residual radioactivity from the crash. Was bottom sediment, seawater or seaweed radioactive, after nearly 40 years? Yes, but the levels were extremely low.

Thule Air Base survived all of the controversies over the decades but became increasingly neglected as nuclear weaponry moved away from bomber-based weapon delivery and more toward land-based and submarine-based intercontinental ballistic missiles. Nevertheless, as Thule’s bomber role waned, its importance for radar detection of incoming ICBMs grew, since a trans-Artic trajectory is a direct route for Russian nuclear missiles targeted at the United States.

In 2017, Thule got a US$40,000,000 upgrade for its radar systems due, in part, to increased concern about Russia as a nuclear threat, and also because of worries about recent Russian military forays into the Arctic. Thule Air Base thus remains indispensable to American defense, and the United States remains very interested in Greenland – and committed to maintaining good relations with Denmark.

Timothy J. Jorgensen, Director of the Health Physics and Radiation Protection Graduate Program and Associate Professor of Radiation Medicine, Georgetown University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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CW: Discussion of sexual assault.

Jennifer J. Freyd, University of Oregon

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

A 27-year-old medical resident in general surgery is sexually harassed by two men – the chief resident and a staff physician at the hospital. She feels trapped. When one of the men’s actions escalates to assault, she struggles to find the strength and courage to report it.

When she finally does, will the outcome harm her even more?

The story, a fictional composite based on real accounts in our research, is agonizingly familiar. The outcome is often worse. When sexual harassment and assault occur in the context of an institution – a school, the military, a workplace – the behaviour of institutional leaders can become a powerful force in how the victim fares.

From Susan Fowler’s poor treatment by Uber’s human resources department to the silence of non-abusive men in Harvey Weinstein’s orbit, our most powerful institutions often act without courage.

Over 25 years, my students and others have amassed a substantial body of empirical work revealing the real psychological and physical harm that institutions can do to those they betray.

However, if institutions want to do the hard work, they can help victims and prevent violence in the first place – by choosing courage instead of betrayal.

How betrayal harms health

My colleagues and I first introduced the term institutional betrayal in 2007, and have since explored it further, including in a book, “Blind to Betrayal.”

Institutional betrayal is harm an institution does to those who depend upon it. This betrayal can take the form of overt policies or behaviors, such as discriminatory rules or genocide.

Harm can also mean failing to do that what is reasonably expected of the institution, such as not providing relief to disaster victims or failing to respond effectively to sexual violence. For instance, some victims of assault are punished or even demoted or fired for reporting the assault to their institution.

In our studies, we found that more than 40 percent of college student participants who were sexually victimized in an institutional context did also report experiences of institutional betrayal.

These power ratios between harasser and victim can be quite significant, depending on the victim’s status. While the medical resident’s issues in our first example are deeply troubling, she may have more leverage to seek justice than a hotel or restaurant worker who is the daily and unrelenting target of harassment.

My work with clinical psychologist Carly Smith at Penn State shows that institutional betrayal can cause both emotional and physical health problems, even for those who have experienced similar levels of trauma from interpersonal betrayal.

One study found that institutional betrayal exacerbates symptoms associated with sexual trauma, such as anxiety, dissociation and sexual problems.

Other researchers have found similar effects. For instance, military sexual trauma survivors who have also experienced institutional betrayal have higher rates of PTSD symptoms and depression than those who have not experienced it. Perhaps most alarming, the survivors with institutional betrayal experiences had higher odds of attempting suicide.

In another study, we discovered that institutional betrayal is associated with physical health problems, such as headaches, sleep problems and shortness of breath.

Institutional courage

What can we do to prevent and address institutional betrayal? The antidote is something my colleagues and I call “institutional courage.”

Anonymous surveys can help an institution honestly assess its work environment.

The details of institutional courage depend to some extent on the type of institution involved, but there are 10 general principles that can apply across most institutions.

1. Comply with criminal laws and civil rights codes.

Go beyond mere compliance. Avoid a check-box approach by stretching beyond minimal standards of compliance and reach for excellence in non-violence and equity.

2. Respond sensitively to victim disclosures.

Avoid cruel responses that blame and attack the victim. Even well-meaning responses can be harmful by, for instance, taking control away from the victim or by minimizing the harm. Better listening skills can also help institutions respond sensitively.

3. Bear witness, be accountable and apologize.

Create ways for individuals to discuss what happened to them. This includes being accountable for mistakes and apologizing when appropriate.

4. Cherish the whistleblower.

Those who raise uncomfortable truths are potentially the best friends of an institution. Once people in power have been notified about a problem, they can take steps to correct it. Encourage whistleblowing through incentives like awards and salary boosts.

5. Engage in a self-study.

Institutions should make a regular practice of asking themselves if they are promoting institutional betrayal. Focus groups and committees charged with regular monitoring can make all the difference.

6. Conduct anonymous surveys.

Well-done anonymous surveys are a powerful tool for disrupting institutional betrayal. Employ experts in sexual violence measurement, use the best techniques to get meaningful data, provide a summary of the results and talk openly about the findings. This will inspire trust and repair.

We developed a tool called the Institutional Betrayal Questionnaire. First published in 2013, the questionnaire probes a company’s employer-employee work environment to assess vulnerability to potential problems, the ease or difficulty of reporting such issues and how complaints are processed and handled.

7. Make sure leadership is educated about research on sexual violence and related trauma.

Teach about concepts and research on sexual violence and institutional betrayal. Use the research to create policies that prevent further harm to victims of harassment and assault.

8. Be transparent about data and policy.

Sexual violence thrives in secrecy. While privacy for individuals must be respected, aggregate data, policies and processes should be open to public input and scrutiny.

9. Use the power of your company to address the societal problem.

For instance, if you’re at a research or educational institution, then produce and disseminate knowledge about sexual violence. If you are in the entertainment industry, make documentaries and films. Find a way to use your product to help end sexual violence.

10. Commit resources to steps 1 through 9.

Good intentions are a good starting place, but staff, money and time need to be dedicated to make this happen. As Joe Biden once said: “Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”

Jennifer J. Freyd, Professor of Psychology, University of Oregon

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Image: Institutional betrayal can lead to real psychological and physical harm. Aimorn1992/shutterstock.com

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It appears as if the old adage might be correct – the best way to turn on a woman might be through her mind. Canadian scientists from McGill University have discovered that intellectual stimulation is more linked to women’s sexual arousal than men’s.

Published last week in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, the study involved two groups (20 men and 20 women) who were shown movie clips (some humorous, some erotic) while their genital temperature was continually measured using infrared thermal imaging. Thermography allows for a direct comparison of the neural correlates of genital arousal in men and women.

Participants also continuously evaluated how aroused they felt, and answered questions about liking the movies and wanting sexual stimulation. The participants’ brain activity was indicated by blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) and was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging.

According to Springer:

“Blood-oxygen-level-dependent signal is the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) contrast of blood deoxyhemoglobin. Neurons do not store internal reserves of glucose and oxygen, which are essential to their proper function. Increases in neuronal activity, typically in response to a demand for information processing, require more glucose and oxygen to be rapidly delivered via the bloodstream. Via this hemodynamic response, blood releases glucose and oxygen to active neurons at a faster rate relative to inactive neurons. This results in a surplus of oxyhemoglobin localized to the active area, giving rise to a measurable change in the local ration of oxy- to deoxyhemoglobin, thus providing a localizable marker of activity for MRI.”

Researchers found a much stronger correlation between brain and genital ‘activity’ for the women; comparing the results between male and female participants showed a stronger correlation between brain and genital activity in a number of areas of the brain for women. These areas included the left and right cerebellum; subcallosal cortex; posterior cingulate cortex; and lateral occipital cortex. There were no brain regions in men with a stronger brain-genital correlation than in women.

However one must keep in mind that this study has the common limitations of most laboratory-based sexual arousal research, including sampling bias, lack of ecologic validity, and equipment limitations, and those common to neuroimaging research, including BOLD signal interpretation and neuroimaging analysis issues.

Still, it’s pretty interesting, wouldn’t you say?

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Sascha Meinrath, Pennsylvania State University and Nathalia Foditsch, American University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The internet may be an international system of interconnecting networks sharing a rough global consensus about the technical details of communicating through them – but each country manages its own internet environment independently. As the U.S. debate about the role of government in overseeing and regulating the internet continues, it’s worth looking at how other countries handle the issue.

Our research and advocacy on internet regulation in the U.S. and other countries offers us a unique historical and global perspective on the Federal Communications Commission’s December 2017 decision to deregulate the internet in the U.S. The principle of an open internet, often called “net neutrality,” is one of consumer protection. It is based on the idea that everyone – users and content providers alike – should be able to freely spread their own views, and consumers can choose what services to use and what content to consume. Network neutrality ensures that no one – not the government, nor corporations – is allowed to censor speech or interfere with content, services or applications.

As the U.S. whether to embrace internet freedom, the world is doing so already, with many countries imposing even stronger rules than the ones the FCC did away with.

The US as trailblazer and laggard

Before 2015, many internet businesses in the U.S. discriminated against or blocked customers from particular legal uses of the internet. In 2007 Comcast illegally blocked its customers from sharing files between themselves. In 2009, AT&T blocked access to Skype and FaceTime apps on its network. In 2011, MetroPCS blocked its customers from streaming Netflix and all other streaming video except YouTube (possibly due to a secretly negotiated deal). In 2012, Verizon disabled apps that let customers connect computers to their mobile data service. There were many other violations of the principle of net neutrality, too.

Customers and regulators tried to control these discriminatory practices over many years of public deliberation and multiple court cases. In 2015, under the Obama administration, the FCC finalized the Open Internet Order, a set of rules barring internet service providers from speeding up or slowing down traffic based on its content or whether the companies posting it had paid extra to the company delivering the data. It was far from perfect – but nonetheless a giant leap forward.

In early 2017, after his inauguration, President Trump appointed Ajit Pai, a former Verizon lawyer, as the FCC chairman. Pai, an Obama appointee to the FCC who had voted against the Open Internet Order in 2015, has moved rapidly to undo it. He and some other comentators believe that customers will get better service from a less-regulated market, ignoring that the rules only emerged in the wake of problems and consumer complaints.

Pai’s proposal has been criticized by former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler as “a shameful sham and sellout” to big telecommunications companies. A who’s-who list of the people who invented the technologies and systems underlying the internet denounced Pai’s policy as “based on a flawed and factually inaccurate understanding of internet technology.”

Other countries are facing similar dilemmas about how to deal with today’s digital realities, and are slowly and individually contributing to a patchwork of laws that differ from country to country. But many highly industrialized and rapidly developing countries share a general consensus that regulations ensuring an open internet are good for consumers and for civil society.

Opening the internet Brazilian-style

Brazil’s Civil Rights Framework for the Internet, enacted in 2014 and further refined in 2016, only allows internet service companies to prioritize certain types of traffic for technical reasons – such as overloaded networking capacity – or to allow network use by emergency services.

Yet, the country has been reluctant to enforce these rules and hold violators to account. Much like in the U.S., there is increasing concern that industry power has overwhelmed government regulatory agencies. Some of the largest telecommunications companies have been providing their mobile internet customers with preferential access to content on sites and services owned by business partners. Many Brazilian consumer rights groups are particularly alarmed because the companies receiving this privileged treatment are all large foreign corporations, including Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and music-streaming service Deezer (the only non-U.S. company).

In addition, there are proposals in the works that would grant tens of millions of dollars in publicly owned telecommunications infrastructure to private companies for free. Brazilian internet freedom is further at risk because the country’s telecommunications companies are planning to insist that its regulators align with the weakened U.S. rules.

Active enforcement in Europe

The European Union approved strong rules in 2015, requiring companies that provide internet access to handle all traffic equally, leaving flexibility to restrict traffic when network equipment was operating at its maximum capacity. EU rules also allow traffic restrictions to protect network security and handle emergency situations.

In 2016, European Union electronic communications regulators detailed potential problems in agreements between telecommunications companies and content providers. And they explained that quality of service could vary, but no specific applications should be discriminated against.

In 2017, they highlighted the importance of Europe’s emphasis on proactively monitoring compliance with net neutrality rules, rather than waiting for violations to happen before reacting. This gives European residents much stronger consumer protection than exists in the U.S.

India takes a stand

India has taken similarly strong steps. In 2016, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India approved rules stating that “no service provider shall offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content.” In November 2017, the agency also issued “recommendations on net neutrality,” laying out rules of the road for internet service providers that incorporate substantial protections against content and application discrimination.

Indian regulators are looking to balance consumer and corporate priorities in areas such as security, privacy and ownership of data. Moreover, they are considering adopting regulations to spur competition in mobile data services.

Most importantly, Indian regulators make very clear that companies providing internet service should not do anything “that has the effect of discriminatory treatment based on content, sender or receiver, protocols or user equipment.” This puts openness at the core of internet service, the sort of clear consumer protection that public interest advocates and academics have called for.

The U.S. isn’t an island

The U.S. internet industry is a powerful global force, with billions of users of its websites and online services all around the world. Further, the U.S. government has traditionally been a leader in developing policies that balance free speech, consumer protection and other civil rights with strong opportunities for research and business innovation – but this too is now in decline.

Net neutrality protections might not be so necessary if the broadband market were more competitive. But 29 percent of Americans have no options for getting high-speed wired internet service at home. Another 47 percent have just one choice – and 20 percent have just two.

The telecommunications industry continues to consolidate – though the U.S. Department of Justice is trying to block the pending AT&T-Time Warner merger. In this market with few providers, and many companies seeking profits by promoting their own content via their own networks, net neutrality protections will only become more important – not less so.

Lastly, legally speaking, policy and regulatory decisions made in the U.S. don’t hold any direct power in other countries. However, domestic rules about the internet will indeed affect the global conversation around net neutrality. What the U.S. decides, through the FCC, the courts and potentially even through Congress, will determine whether U.S. leadership on the internet remains strong, or whether it will cede ground to other countries willing to protect their citizens.

Sascha Meinrath, Director of X-Lab; Palmer Chair in Telecommunications, Pennsylvania State University and Nathalia Foditsch, Ph.D. Student in Law and Communications, American University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Image: Three of these smiling people undid U.S. consumer protections online. Federal Communications Commission

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At the Marginal Revolution blog Tyler Cowen writes on the new biography of economist Edith Penrose, No Ordinary Woman: The Life of Edith Penrose, by Angela Penrose. Cowen writes,

What a dramatic and eventful book. Edith Penrose (1914-1996) is a not so well-known but highly underrated economist, with her major contributions coming in the theory of the firm and industrial organization. As a girl, she survived only because her father shot a rattlesnake about to kill her. Later, her first husband was murdered, right before their first child was born. She and her second husband, working in Switzerland, helped Jews escape from Germany, and she later did food planning during the war in England. In 1948 the couple lost one of their three children, right before his third birthday. Later she received a doctorate in economics from Johns Hopkins, studying under Fritz Machlup. Machlup at one point wrote a ten-page letter to her, with the top proclaiming: “I implore you to shut off your hypersensitivity and to overlook it if I sound condescending, arrogant or otherwise unpleasant. I just want to be helpful.”

She headed the Owen Lattimore Defense Fund. Later, she did not feel entirely comfortable teaching at Johns Hopkins (she was treated badly and not tenured) and so she ended up teaching in Baghdad and Beirut and was also an important early faculty member at INSEAD, perhaps their first world class hire. She became an expert on energy economics and multinationals, traveling and advising around the world more or less without stopping. Drawing on her doctoral work, she also published on IP problems for developing economies, an area where she was well ahead of her time.

She enjoyed writing poems and limericks for her own pleasure. She also was known for her “direct questions” and her “disconcerting remarks.”

Cowen makes a couple of other comments which for me are interesting. He says,

I would describe her work as halfway between economics and the business school tradition, broadly in the Austrian school but more descriptive and without the political slant of Mises and Hayek.


Edith Penrose.

She was the founding thinker behind “resource-based” theories of the firm, whereby firms are best understood in terms of what resources they have access to, rather than their products. This was a dominant approach from the 1980s onward, though she received only marginal credit for her seminal role. She also focused on which were the slack resources of a firm or not, as a means of ascertaining where the firm was headed, and ran all this analysis through a lens of expectations and perceptions, reflecting her studies with Machlup. She thought in terms of what a firm’s “moat” might be, as you might expect from a contemporary Silicon Valley analyst.

These comments for interesting since an anonymous referee for my upcoming book, A brief prehistory of the theory of the firm, wrote,

Third, I’m a bit befuddled by the fact that Penrose’s work isn’t covered as part of the history. Her work has been very influential and fits neatly in the history of the theory of the firm (as is noted in the manuscript). But she also fits in the overall development of ideas, as one of two branches following the work of Robinson (the other is Coase, as noted by Jacobsen (2008; 2011)).

This gave me purse to think more about why I hadn’t included Penrose in the book. I replied to the referee by saying,

I was in two minds about Penrose since her work is pre-1970 [and thus in the time period covered by my book] but is, like Bylund and Winter, more heterodox than mainstream. Penrose is properly more well known in management than economics. The economics mainstream hasn’t taken up Penrose’s ideas to any great degree.

and, in a latter email,

Thinking more about Penrose, I would place her work more in the heterodox category than in the mainstream. Penrose’s influence is felt more in strategic management, largely via the resource-based view, than in the mainstream of economics. Rightly, or more likely wrongly, standard economics has not put much effort into developing Penrose’s ideas.

And I think I’m right in saying that Penrose has been more influential in management than economics. This related to Cowen’s point about Penrose being “halfway between economics and the business school tradition”. It is the management, business school, scholars who have developed Penrose’s ideas, in the “resource-based theories of the firm”, rather than the economists who have followed Ronald Coase, and to a lesser degree Frank Knight.

Cowen is likely right when he says Penrose,

is a not so well-known but highly underrated economist

At least as far as economics is concerned.

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Clifford Johnson, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How often do you, outside the requirements of an assignment, ponder things like the workings of a distant star, the innards of your phone camera, or the number and layout of petals on a flower? Maybe a little bit, maybe never. Too often, people regard science as sitting outside the general culture: A specialized, difficult topic carried out by somewhat strange people with arcane talents. It’s somehow not for them.

But really science is part of the wonderful tapestry of human culture, intertwined with things like art, music, theater, film and even religion. These elements of our culture help us understand and celebrate our place in the universe, navigate it and be in dialogue with it and each other. Everyone should be able to engage freely in whichever parts of the general culture they choose, from going to a show or humming a tune to talking about a new movie over dinner.

Science, though, gets portrayed as opposite to art, intuition and mystery, as though knowing in detail how that flower works somehow undermines its beauty. As a practicing physicist, I disagree. Science can enhance our appreciation of the world around us. It should be part of our general culture, accessible to all. Those “special talents” required in order to engage with and even contribute to science are present in all of us.

So how do we bring about a change? I think using the tools of the general culture to integrate science with everything else in our lives can be a big part of the solution.

Science in popular entertainment

For example, in addition to being a professor, I work as a science advisor for various forms of entertainment, from blockbuster movies like the recent “Thor: Ragnarok,” or last spring’s 10-hour TV dramatization of the life and work of Albert Einstein (“Genius,” on National Geographic), to the bestselling novel “Dark Matter,” by Blake Crouch. People spend a lot of time consuming entertainment simply because they love stories like these, so it makes sense to put some science in there.

Science can actually help make storytelling more entertaining, engaging and fun – as I explain to entertainment professionals every chance I get. From their perspective, they get potentially bigger audiences. But good stories, enhanced by science, also spark valuable conversations about the subject that continue beyond the movie theater.

Nonprofit organizations have been working hard on this mission. The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation helps fund and develop films with science content – “The Man Who Knew Infinity” (2015) and “Robot & Frank” (2012) are two examples. (The Sloan Foundation is also a funding partner of The Conversation US.)

The National Academy of Sciences set up the Science & Entertainment Exchange to help connect people from the entertainment industry to scientists. The idea is that such experts can provide Hollywood with engaging details and help with more accurate portrayals of scientists that can enhance the narratives they tell. Many of the popular Marvel movies – including “Thor” (2011), “Ant-Man” (2015) and the upcoming “Avengers: Infinity War” – have had their content strengthened in this way.

Encouragingly, a recent Pew Research Center survey in the U.S. showed that entertainment with science or related content is watched by people across “all demographic, educational and political groups,” and that overall they report positive impressions of the science ideas and scenarios contained in them.

Science can be one of the topics woven into the entertainment we consume – via stories, settings and characters.
ABC Television Science in nonfiction books

This kind of work is not to every scientist’s taste. Some may instead prefer engagement projects that allow them more control of the scientific content than can be had when working on such large projects in the entertainment industry. Often, they instead work on nonfiction science books for the general reader. Here, I think we also need a change.

The typical expert-voiced monologues that scientists write are a wonderful component of the engagement effort, but the form is limited. Such books are largely read by people already predisposed to pick up a science book, or who are open to the authoritative academic’s voice telling them how to think. There are plenty of people who can engage with science but who find those kinds of books a sometimes unwelcome reminder of the classroom.

Following from my belief that science is for everyone, I suggest that publishers need to work with scientists to expand the kinds of books on offer, assured that there is an audience for them. This is currently difficult because publishing companies are risk averse: Something truly original in form likely will have trouble getting past the book proposal stage.

Progress is possible, however. Many years ago I realized it is hard to find books on the nonfiction science shelf that let readers see themselves as part of the conversation about science. So I envisioned an entire book of conversations about science taking place between ordinary people. While “eavesdropping” on those conversations, readers learn some science ideas, and are implicitly invited to have conversations of their own. It’s a resurrection of the dialogue form, known to the ancient Greeks, and to Galileo, as a device for exchanging ideas, but with contemporary settings: cafes, restaurants, trains and so on.

I decided it would be engaging for the reader to actually see who’s having those conversations, and where, instead of describing them in words. This led me to realize that I was contemplating a powerful form of visual storytelling: Graphic novels for adults have matured and exploded in popularity in recent years. Spiegelman’s “Maus: A Survivor’s Tale,” Satrapi’s “Persepolis” and Bechdel’s “Fun Home” are just three well-known examples.

But the storytelling tools of the graphic book have been little used in the quest to convey nonfiction science ideas to a general adult audience. The vast majority of contemporary graphic books with a science focus are presented instead as “explainer/adventure comics” for younger audiences. This is an important genre, but graphic books about science should not be limited to that.

And while there are several excellent graphic books for adults that include science, they typically focus instead on the lives of famous scientists, with discussion of the science itself as a secondary goal. Some excellent recent examples that balance the two aspects well include Ottaviani and Myrick’s “Feynman,” Padua’s “The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage,” and Doxiadis and Papadimitriou’s “Logicomix.” The scarcity of science-focused non-biographical graphic books for adults is especially true in my field of physics. So I decided that here was an opportunity to broaden the kinds of nonfiction science book available to engage the public.

So over six years I taught myself the requisite artistic and other production techniques, and studied the language and craft of graphic narratives. I wrote and drew “The Dialogues: Conversations About the Nature of the Universe” as proof of concept: A new kind of nonfiction science book that can inspire more people to engage in their own conversations about science, and celebrate a spirit of plurality in everyday science participation.

Clifford Johnson at his drafting table.
Clifford V. Johnson, CC BY-ND What’s at stake

Science increasingly pervades many aspects of our lives. If people succumb to the typical view that science is difficult and should be left to experts and nerds, the most important decisions about all of our lives will be made by just a few people: from the quality of the water we drink, our medical treatments, energy sources, through to action on climate change. That is not a democratic situation. Moreover, it makes it easier for a powerful few to sideline or misrepresent important ideas and lessons about our world that come through scientific research.

To push back against that scenario, it’s important for scientists to try to engage the public with science. In a changing world, it’s important to keep looking for new ways to do that.

Clifford Johnson, Professor of Physics and Astronomy, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Image: Science is one thread of culture – and entertainment, including graphic books, can reflect that.
‘The Dialogues,’ by Clifford V. Johnson (MIT Press 2017), CC BY-ND

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