Rosetta’s Comet Rendezvous

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The last few weeks have offered atheists and progressives ample reason to feel discouraged. Down on Earth, anti-rational fundamentalism runs riot, and angry, reactionary conservatism seems stronger than ever. But in spite of all this, in spite of the many obstacles that encircle us and limit us, humanity is accomplishing great things among the stars.The latest of our successful cosmic explorers is the Rosetta spacecraft, a mission of the European Space Agency. Launched in 2004 (!), Rosetta … [Read more...]

Prayer Can’t Fight Ebola

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The worst-ever outbreak of Ebola virus is still raging in West Africa. There are over 1,500 confirmed deaths so far - including, heartbreakingly, doctors and nurses treating other sufferers - though the real number is probably much higher, since widespread fear and mistrust means that many of the sick never come forward.The epidemic has also been helped along by traditional herbalists who claim they can treat Ebola, but only end up spreading the virus. Some people don't even believe it … [Read more...]

Repost: The Age of Wonder

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[Author's Note: I'm reposting some old favorites while I'm away on vacation this week. This post was originally from November 2008.]If you search the internet, it's not hard to find New Agers and others who think that the dawning of the age of reason was a mistake. They envision a more "holistic" approach, one that properly pays heed to the mystery and complexity of existence, and castigate science for being cold, unfeeling, heartless in its probing, reductionist scrutiny of the natural … [Read more...]

TV Review: Cosmos, Episode 13

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Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Episode 13, "Unafraid of the Dark"For their final episode, the authors of a show usually focus on their core message, on the one element that lies at the heart of what they want to say. The new Cosmos is no exception, and for the series finale, what they chose to emphasize was intellectual humility: the fact of our fallibility and the immensity of how much we still don't know. In the vastness of the cosmos, there are many wonders yet to be revealed; but it's only … [Read more...]

TV Review: Cosmos, Episode 12

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(I've decided to review the new Cosmos series hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson that's airing on Fox. If you missed it, you can stream full episodes online.)Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Episode 12, "The World Set Free"For its penultimate episode, Cosmos returns to the subject of climate science, a familiar variation on a sermon it's already preached more than once. I have some mixed feelings about this. With the series pressing against time constraints, I worry about the lost opportunities … [Read more...]

TV Review: Cosmos, Episode 11

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(I've decided to review the new Cosmos series hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson that's airing on Fox. If you missed it, you can stream full episodes online.)Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Episode 11, "The Immortals"As the new Cosmos approaches its final episode, it's about time that the series started looking back on the ground it's covered and drawing some larger lessons. This episode accomplished that, and while it treads into more speculative territory than earlier outings, I think that's … [Read more...]

TV Review: Cosmos, Episode 10

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(I've decided to review the new Cosmos series hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson that's airing on Fox. If you missed it, you can stream full episodes online.)Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Episode 10, "The Electric Boy"Up till now, Cosmos has used historical sequences as an adjunct to the science, just as a way of giving credit to the men and women who brought us the discoveries we now take for granted. But this time, the writers made the interesting and daring choice to make the entire episode … [Read more...]

TV Review: Cosmos, Episode 1

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(It's a Cosmos double feature this week, as I finally revisit the first episode and post my long-delayed review.)Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Episode 1, "Standing Up In the Milky Way"When I first heard that Carl Sagan's Cosmos was being rebooted, I was thrilled. As much as I loved the original, even the best science series inevitably becomes dated sooner rather than later, as our knowledge advances. And this was a great opportunity to see how modern special effects, which are light-years … [Read more...]

TV Review: Cosmos, Episode 9

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(I've decided to review the new Cosmos series hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson that's airing on Fox. If you missed it, you can stream full episodes online.)Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Episode 9, "The Lost Worlds of Planet Earth"At the beginning of its run, Cosmos tended to alternate excellent episodes with mediocre ones, which made me wonder if that would be the pattern for the whole series. But I'm happy to say that the show has hit its stride: the last three episodes, including this one, … [Read more...]

TV Review: Cosmos, Episode 8

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(I've decided to review the new Cosmos series hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson that's airing on Fox. If you missed it, you can stream full episodes online.)Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Episode 8, "Sisters of the Sun"In earlier episodes, Cosmos has conspicuously missed opportunities to highlight the scientific contributions of women. I found that all the more perplexing because it's co-written by Ann Druyan, whom we know is attuned to feminist issues. In fact, it's because of her that Cosmos … [Read more...]


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