The Paradoxes of Power in Australia – Geoff Aigner

Speaker: Geoff Aigner

Length: 20:30

Rating 3 / 5

Summary

Geoff discusses power – coming from authority / title, but also that from general experience / skills / knowledge. The paradoxes prevent people from feeling like they should use this power, and are:

  • We are authority dependent, but also anti-authoritarian
  • Australians are generally egalitarian (feel we are equal), but increasingly hierarchical
  • want relationships, but also competitive
  • carry a background of adversity, but are currently extremely prosperous.

He makes the points that people should not be afraid of using their power, or intervening when they see bullying or abuse of others. We cannot neglect or ignore others, or wait for others (government, CEOs) to act for us.

Critique

I think Geoff is getting at some good points, but it is difficult to pick the ‘takeaway message’. The main focus is that all people have some form of power, and should be willing to use this to protect others.

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Brian Cox: CERN’s supercollider

Speaker: Brian Cox

Length: 16:26

Rating 3 / 5

Summary

Brian very briefly discusses a number of topics in Physics

  • construction of the CERN supercollider
  • scale of the universe, and the subatomic particles within it
  • standard model, and the theoretical term in this ultimate equation that implies Higgs boson (the source of mass)

Critique

I might want to rewatch this talk. It had a lot of detail and raced through a lot of information. I think if I watched this a few times, I could get a basic understanding of subatomic physics. However, it felt slightly frantic and most of the detail went over my head. If you had some more grounding in physics, you might pick up more.

I feel like I might have enjoyed a more detailed and slower paced but smaller topic within subatomic physics.

However, the information in here could teach you a lot

Kary Mullis: Celebrating the scientific experiment

Speaker: Kary Mullis

Length: 31:33

Rating 3 / 5

Summary

A talk of 2 parts. The first was a history of the establishment of the Royal Academy in England under King Charles II, and the importance of experiment. It is full of interesting anecdotes, and theories on how we know what we know.

Suddenly the talk changes to be about ‘bad science’ – the idea that a lot of scientists are in it only for money. Much of this section of the talk is devoted to climate change – Kary lists 2 papers with findings that he thinks disprove climate change

Critique

This is a tough one to review because of its speaker. Kary is a Nobel prize winner in Chemistry, and his meandering talk of backyard rocketry involving frog astronauts is fascinating. His talk about the history of science is interesting. However, a quick search shows he has a habit of ‘talking out his ass’ on subjects he has minimal experience in. These include denying the link between HIV & AIDs, denying ozone depletion and climate change.

It is too easy to dismiss as a rant, but I learnt a lot. I fully respect him for questioning climate science, but disagree with his statements. In searching for the 2 papers he quoted, I found quite a few people disputing his conclusions of the papers, including someone who claimed to be Bruce Wielicki, one of the writers of the second paper. An good rebuttal to Mullis’ points can be found here http://greenfyre.wordpress.com/2009/01/09/blinded-but-not-by-science/.

So the first half of his talk was interesting enough, and the second half provoked me to do some more research and learn a little more. From that point of view I’m glad I watched it. Just be careful if you’re easily irritated by crackpots.

A realistic vision for World Peace

Speaker: Jody Williams

Length: 11:23

Rating 3 / 5

Summary

Peace cannot be achieved from hoping for it alone. It requires organisation, courage and work to make it happen. Jody went through a list of people who worked hard for peace and made sacrifices to keep fighting.

Critique

I enjoyed watching this talk, but not sure what I learnt from it. Yes peace takes work, and it is difficult to achieve. I’m not sure if anyone thought otherwise.

Some of her examples were interesting: Wangari Maathai who organised tree plantings as an excuse to gather people together and instigate social change.

She also makes a good point – some people categorise peace with cowardice and weakness – with symbols like doves and rainbows. The difficulty of achieving peace makes it a stronger goal than that.

Online Filter Bubbles

Speaker: Eli Pariser

Length: 9:05

Rating 3 / 5

Summary

Internet algorithms (Facebook, yahoo, Google) are filtering what we see based on what we tended to click in the past. This means we don’t tend to hear different points of view, instead just reinforcing what we want to hear. Ultimately this is bad for humanity and democracy, which is reliant on receiving a range of arguments.

His suggestion was for internet giants to be transparent about how they filter information, and to allow users more control over what is filtered / prioritised for them.

Critique

A worrying look at our life being tailored too much. We’ll always be at the mercy of what we want to hear, without ever having our views challenged. I think we are at risk of this regardless of algorithmic bubbles, just because of the sorts of communities we attach ourselves to. Eg – a conspiracy theorist would be a member of a variety of forums happy to reinforce each others views, and convincing themselves that all evidence disagreeing with them is a lie. In the end the conspiracy theorist and sceptic would be so convinced of themselves that they wouldn’t even be capable of arguing their point. The same sort of dichotomy would exist in political circles – with people surrounding themselves with others holding similar views, then saying “This politician is useless – I don’t know anyone who voted for him, he must have cheated”.

Regardless, I support the idea of internet titans releasing details into how they filter. Is it entirely on popularity of things you’ve clicked on, or is there more tuning going on?

We also should occasionally see a site that challenges our views, so we don’t end up with many unconnected internets.

Biochemical degradation of plastics (phthalates)

Speaker: Miranda Wang and Jeanny Yao

Length: 9:21

Rating 3 / 5

Summary

Plastic waste is everywhere, and a pair of high schoolers investigated bacteria that can degrade phthalates – a toxic component of plastic. They identified and isolated bacteria from a contaminated river that could already degrade phthalates, and found similar bacteria in landfill sites – showing bacterial are evolving to live off phthalates. They conclude we should investigate further bacteria to degrade solid waste

Critique

I think the big new point here is that bacteria exposed to phthalates have evolved to consume the toxic chemicals. The pair are obviously talented, and it will be interesting to see what future discoveries they uncover.