Defense Against Dark Information -- for Oct. 8 ("rampaging
Read the following, available in the Reserves section of Shields
Library or in my office (Plant Environmental Sciences 1312), by next
week. If I didn't write it, I don't necessarily agree with it, but read
it and see what you think. Estimated reading time (in a
quiet place without interruptions): 40
minutes. Allow additional time to answering the reading
questions and think a little about the discussion questions.
- "Experts fear network paralysis…" and "Peers rally in support of
accused scientist" -- two recent news stories on Dark Information from Nature
- "Rebuilding America's Defenses" (only the short, marked sections
are assigned, because of their relevance to course themes, but the full
PNAC report is available on the web) at
- "Genetic structure of human populations" (Science 300:1877b; just
get the main result, from the table)
- "Strong inference" (how to think like a scientist, from American Biology Teacher)
- "The Selfish Gene" (a short excerpt from a highly influential
book -- first use of the term "replicator", a key concept in this
course -- the title is sometimes misunderstood; for example, the best
chance for a "selfish gene" in a nonreproductive worker bee to make it
into the next generation may be to make the worker sacrifice herself to
protect the reproductive queen, who is likely to have the same gene as
- "The Electric Meme" (for now, read only up to section headed
"Genes and Germs" -- some examples of replicators other than genes)
Reading questions -- written answers due at beginning of class:
1) The table in "Genetic Structure of Human Populations"
is relevant to one particular point in "Rebuilding America's Defenses."
2) According to "Strong Inference", what type of experimental result
would let us draw a definite conclusion about a hypothesis?
3) According to Dawkins, what happens to replicators with relatively
low longevity/fecundity/copying-fidelity and why?
4) Darwin and Wallace developed similar theories of evolution at about
the same time. Who provided a key idea to both of them?
Questions to think about (to be discussed
- If a software security flaw lets a destructive "worm" invade your
computer and wipe out vital information, should the software company be
liable? What would be the likely consequences of making them
responsible for damages?
- Can we reduce the risks that US scientists working on dangerous
pathogens will accidentally or deliberately release them, while still
ensuring that we will have enough scientists working to develop
effective warning systems and cures?
- Can we infer anything about the attitudes of the US Defense
Department towards "advanced forms of biological warfare" from the PNAC
- Given the genetic diversity within populations, could a
well-informed (but perhaps evil) person consider biowarfare a
"politically useful tool"?
- Is the scenario in the excerpt from The Selfish Gene a
manifest fact, inferential fact, hypothesis, theory, or none of these?
If a hypothesis or theory, what's the next step in the scientific
process? What about the "meme" concept?