I.G.Y

Next month’s Internet of Words Book of the Month will be going full on sci-fi. I’m not gonna lie, I love myself a good hunk of speculative fiction, and the World currently is just DRIPPING with possibilities for those of us who love to write. With my Tomorrowland hat on (worth your time watching, not nearly as awful as some people will tell you) I’d like to celebrate the fact that, in my lifetime, you may well be able to travel from New York to Washington in 30 minutes, which puts the pedestrian ideals of my country’s High Speed Rail link to utter shame. That’s 226 miles, approximately a three an a half hour car ride south via the New Jersey Turnpike and I-95, down to 30 minutes. The future, people, is a joy to behold when technology gets its oil-stained fingers on things. Gawd bless ya, Elon Musk and your solar-fueled empire of renewable awesome.

It’s the God emulators we have to watch a little more closely.

DNA faffing is nothing new. For 120 quid I can get a home DNA testing kit delivered to my door and discover what latent disease might yet end my chances of a long, happy life. For everything else however it is the stem cell that matters, and I’m not sure why I’m surprised that this claim above is even news. Rules, scientists will tell you, are often there to be broken in the interests of progress. When you learn from Teen Vogue of an experiment you’d never heard about it is no time to be snotty about who reports the news, but simply to be grateful it is reported at all. Social media might be able to astound you with facts about cheese, or that amazing video of the puppy rescue but really, wouldn’t you rather know about how the past dictates the future? There will be experiments running right now with dubious end claims. The only way you may ever hear about them is if they are successful.

All the ideas that drive TV formats, which rely on dodgy or invented ‘versions’ of science aren’t the ones that matter right now. It is the fact that procedural shows are perhaps some of the biggest draws which shows that the thirst for actual fact can be both accomdated and satisfied in ‘normal’ drama. According to Wikipedia, a procedural is ‘a cross-genre type of literature, film, or television program involving a sequence of technical detail.’ That includes medical dramas (Greys Anatomy, Casualty) and crime scene institutions such as CSI (all flavours) and Silent Witness: start with a crime, or an illness, and cure it in an hour to ninety minutes (plus ad breaks, your region may vary.) These shows now pride themselves on truth as part of the plot. Although people still love a good fanciful ‘what if…’ scenario, reliance on reality is becoming increasingly important.

There is a flip side to this, however: what if your fantasy is too close to reality for you to cope with?

The Circle promised a great deal with early trailers, but released in late April to barely a whimper, and was unceremoniously shuttled to Netflix in late June without a word. Sometimes it isn’t just the pacing or content of a film that makes it unpalatable to cinema audiences, often content itself can be too close to issues or ideas that people are not yet ready to grasp, and however melodramatic some might consider this attack on ‘full transparency’ to be there will be moments of discomfort for anyone who lives their life far too fully online. Speculative fiction allows readers (and viewers in this case) to grasp the possibilities or event can have on shaping a different future for everybody. It is no wonder that the Planet of the Apes franchise is currently undergoing a renaissance, that superhero movies are front and centre. Imagining alternate reality is not only a wonderful means of enjoyment, it also has the potential to promote thought on very real issues emerging in both science and technology.

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There are already microchips in Swedish employees: about the size of a grain of rice, capable of simple tasks only, nothing fancy. Wearable tech is already here: I can keep all my credit card details on a ring or a bangle, if I don’t think my phone is safe enough (and I don’t.) I swing between Luddite and Evangelist right now, because the speed of change rarely if at all keeps pace with the means to protect information. When you know you can’t trust anyone to be 100% honest and transparent over what they’re doing, especially the people in charge, it makes for a little bit conspiracy theory and an awful lot of cautious optimism. As is the case with the Internet, everything’s a bit Wild West and you gotta just hope that the good guys are the ones who win.

bigfish

There’s a lot going on in the World. People are attempting to clone extinct creatures right now, I can guarantee you. Yes, you should really be worried what could emerge from the ice when the polar caps melt. Buying a boat if you live near the sea is a sound investment… and the list goes on. For now, enjoy the speculation and don’t get too stressed about the shit you can’t change. However, your mind is not one of those things: the more information you can glean to make informed decisions for yourself, the better.

Start opening your eyes to the real potential of the future.

Consider Her Ways

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Normally my blog posts are named after songs. Today, I’m taking a book, one that was particularly significant in my youth. I remember being astounded by the main story in John Wyndham’s anthology and it having a profound effect for weeks after reading: I can’t really tell you anything about it either, because by doing so ruins a narrative that really needs to be read unspoilt. However, what I can tell you is that birth forms a key component of the conceit.

I was reminded of the Wyndham after reading this Guardian article about how premature lambs are now ‘grown’ in artificial wombs and, I must admit there was a stab of horror at the pictures I saw. Initially my thought was more of a ‘Brave New World’ scenario but then the same feeling emerged that I remember after finishing ‘Consider her Ways’ for about the twelfth time: humanity mucking about with nature does not sit well in my head. Of course, without that evolution, I’d be dead by now. I’d have never made it out of hospital as a baby.

Science has always trodden a delicate path between interference and assistance.

I suspect this has a lot to do with current concerns over my own health, but there is discomfort in growing amounts over what counts as ‘good’ science and what feels ‘bad’: I’m not a religious person, but the possibility that people could pick the sex of their child or ensure it has certain characteristics does not sit well in my mind. The Universe works best with the full spectrum of both diversity and chaos: trying to counter that or effectively guide the course of Evolution feels wrong. I’ve read enough speculative fiction to understand that for every wonder discovery or great idea, there’s always a price to pay.

I knew my great grandmother only for a very short time. One of my earliest memories is of her using a cloth hankerchief to make a mouse as amusement, and it always worked. She passed away, I remember, as not as a result of gangrene but the surgery that was supposed to extend her life. She never regained consciousness after the operation to remove her infected lower leg. I’ve always held a fear of being sent into a medically-induced sleep not simply because of this, but an incident when I was 4 or 5 and because of bad dental hygiene I had to have teeth extracted, and was rendered unconscious to do so. I can still remember exactly how this felt, enough to make me shake as I type. It is another fear that needs to be dealt with, as I have with so many others in the last year.

Science has made things immeasurably better in the last 50 years, yet it is still regarded by so many with a sense of trepidation. It is on days like yesterday I can understand that feeling, but the rational part of my brain knows that to move forward, this is yet another fear that needs to be overcome. Without science, there would not be a legitimate cure for asthma on the cards in my lifetime. When people with no other form of potential cure take gene therapy and the result is remission of their cancer? Science is amazing, and without it we’d all be lesser beings. Sometimes, taking the risk with the consequence is the best way forward, especially if it allows you more time to live.

The flip side of Science’s wonder remains the financial cost to the recipient.

When my husband and I spoke about the possibility of surgery, his first response was brutal, yet damning: at least I have the provision to do this without having to make a financial decision first. I am well aware of friends in the US currently in a state of near-permanent dread over what will happen to Obamacare, who have had to set up GoFundMe accounts in order to pay for unexpected medical expenses. I understand only too well that medicine is nowhere close to universally accessible to the people who need it most, and that this is intrinsically unfair. It may seem we live in a world full of wonder and potential, but if this is only available to a select few, is it really so brilliant to begin with?

There’s a lot to think about over my morning porridge today.

Don’t Tell Me

Before we begin, let me quantify the following:

  • I firmly 100% agree in the concept of Global Warming
  • It is undoubtedly true that bad energy management and human error has warmed up the Planet
  • Pretending there isn’t a problem is both bad and inherently dangerous

Having said all that? This tweet is not making me happy:

HOWEVER, it isn’t the actual content that’s upsetting right now, but the commentary on it, specifically those last five words. The graph is irrefutable proof that the planet is warming, make no bones about it but WHY did the phrase ‘probably the lowest in millennia’ need to be added afterwards, exactly? Recording of this data begins in 1978. That’s 40 years in the span of a planet that’s been around a wee bit longer than us, or the Dinosaurs, or indeed any form of life. Yes, I will grant that is a nasty and concerning dip, but trying to make out this is ‘probably’ really bad is exactly the kind of fodder that the anti-Climate Change people will jump on with absolute glee. ‘Probably’ implies a general sense of ‘well, we don’t know but its a pretty safe bet, right?’ and coming from a SCIENTIST? That’s not how you science properly, and if even the layperson here gets the drift of that… There’s an issue with your reporting technique.

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That’s the size of Delaware for our US Readers… ^^

There’s a lot of unusual shit going down with the weather worldwide, all of which adds up to pretty irrefutable support for the ‘Climate Change’ lobby. Trying to pretend things are worse than they are, or actively scaremongering, is I understand sometimes the only way to cut through the crap of a bazillion news issues a day, and when you’ve only got 140 characters and a Tweet as your platform? Every word matters. Probably is not a scientific word. Facts and evidence are scientific words and because this graph cannot provide any data prior to 1978 to a reader to indicate what the ice did then? Working on the facts available is what happens, not vague speculation on times past. If you want more people to support your cause? The arguments have to be irrefutable and damning, with absolutely no quarter for negotiation. This is, in my mind, a good graph that cries out for better commentary to ensure maximum impact.

shitsonfireyo

However, any scientist worth the white coat will inform you that only by speculation and theorising have most of the major scientific breakthroughs in human history happened to begin with. They however do not live in our current, post-truth existence. All the graphs in the world, all the dossiers and piles of folders stacked up in front of reporters are easily dismissable, can be ignored if you shout loudly enough or just pretend you’re not listening. I shouldn’t worry about a ‘probably’ when the incoming Administration of a world power can simply choose to ignore the problem and leave it for the next guy to do the same. What all of us attempting to fight post-truth (or as it is rapidly becoming, full denial) must now do is pick up our game and make sure our arguments are watertight, the facts are as precise as possible. There is no place for woolly thinking or half-conceived theories any more. If you want people to believe the truth has to be stark, and yes quite possibly sensational. However, it is time to commit, one way or the other.

radcliffetried

I’d like to see more scientists learning to use Twitter for the planet’s good. Individuals like Neil deGrasse Tyson have the right idea: make people laugh and then think. Challenge the status quo and then push home your point. In the face of unbelievable denial and stupidity? Use science as your holy weapon and strike down the unbelievers with irrefutable fact. Stop using probably, and make your arguments bulletproof. Only then can we actually get on with successfully evolving as a species.