The Omnibus


Science and technology, taken expansively, have affected almost every aspect of human existence in developed countries.

What are some of the ways that this manifests?

Consider a popular doomsday scenario: EMP, or electro-magnetic pulse. Popular fiction like “72 Days in September” uses EMP as a plot device to consider how society responds to the removal of most technological infrastructure from the USA.

When considering the utility of a scientific or technological concept, one can think about the following things:

  • What knowledge is needed to comprehend the concept?
  • What infrastructure is needed to ensure that the concept is passed on?
  • What infrastructure is needed to actually implement the concept?
  • Does the concept implementation’s benefits justify the effort?


One of the things that we will be considering over the rest of the course is a rejection of scientific findings. The term denialism covers this well for many familiar topics.

Perhaps the archetype of denial would be that of dismissing the health concerns raised by use of tobacco products. Modern effects trace back to research by Richard Doll in 1952 showing evidence of harmful effects of tobacco use. The corporations manufacturing and marketing tobacco products engaged in highly effective forms of denial of that and further research.

  • Engender doubt
  • Raise contrary experts
  • Political lobbying
  • Suppression of adverse findings

and other tactics. Many of the same tactics used by the tobacco industry in response to health research can be seen in other denialist reactions to scientific research.

Citizen Science

There are a number of ways that lay people are currently contributing to scientific effort.

Wikipedia on Citizen Science

Citizen Science Alliance

SciStarter database of Citizen Science projects


Science and technology is also used to destroy, and history shows the increasing efficiency of weaponry from stone tools to the potential “doomsday” weapons of mass destruction. Conflict between human groups often plays out as a contest between different levels of technology.

Toting up the score

Here’s an exercise: figure out various advances in science and technology, and whether we can call them beneficial or detrimental.


A major role for science and technology lies in promoting health and overcoming illness. In recent times, the increased effectiveness of medical science has actually shifted both human lifespans and causes of death. All of these changes have follow-on effects for our society. Increasing lifespans bring with them concerns on how a burgeoning elderly demographic either supports itself or is supported by society. Here in the USA, the way Social Security is structured is causing a lot of political maneuvering over its continued funding. Another major economic and political concern is how to provide medical services. The USA stands out among industrialized nations for how expensive medical care is and how poor the outcomes are relative to other such nations. A number of issues related to health can be identified as of current interest. An anti-vaccination movement denies the effectiveness and safety of vaccines, leading to a resurgence in cases of previously well-controlled communicable diseases. Overuse of antibiotics threatens the emergence of new communicable diseases that may prove difficult to treat.

Increased Lifespan

Change in Cause of Death

Demographic Changes

Social Security

Health Care



Changing Conditions

Some things now indicate that the future could be very different.

The Oceans

Coral bleaching


The Politics

Changing the rules of science in government

Current Events

Climate Change Turf Wars

Chris Mooney article on how the sides interact

50-year History of Warning on CO2

LBJ is warned about rising CO2


Wikipedia on vaccination

Wikipedia on Wakefield

Measles outbreaks

Evolution and Evolution Denial


Darwin Day

The denial:

Intelligent Design Creationism denial

Young Earth Creationism denial

The responses:

The TalkOrigins Archive

Pandas Thumb weblog

My presentations:

Powerpoint and resource files

Current Events

Futurist ideas about 2068

Climate data controversy

Religious materials in Florida schoolsParasitic Wasps Infected with Mind-Controlling Viruses

Aquaculture in trouble


Science and technology brings change, and another word for change is “disruption”. Society has had to deal with these changes. Currently, the pace of change seems to be higher than what has gone before.

The development and spread of agriculture changed the division of labor. In the modern era, technology has been replacing human effort. What happens when most prior jobs are invalidated?

Working time

Ned Ludd



If the jobs don’t exist, it no longer is a matter of what the wage ought to be.

Minimum income

Distributed manufacture

The MakerBot Thingiverse

Current Events:

Basic income



Genetically Modified Organisms



Bill Gates and GMOs

Current Events

Inhofe’s snowball

Inhofe memes

Galileo meets the deniers

Mapping noise in the USA

Blickley publications (noise and sage grouse)

Evidence of direct effect of CO2 on global warming

Executive action for solar installation training

Sour on food additives

Webcomic on the difference between movie science and real life science

Webcomic about net neutrality (pre-FCC decision)

Megadroughts and tree rings

California projected to have one year’s water reserve

Promoting a Scientific Culture


The Sugarloaf Sanctuary dolphin releases

Description of legal case against Ric O’Barry concerning the Sugarloaf dolphin releases

Miami Herald article on Sugarloaf

Science and Society Week 1: Science’s Influence on Society

How has science altered human experience? For this week, the goal is to consider the ways in which human existence and social organization has been changed by science and technology. The place to start is with agriculture and animal husbandry and the adoption of selective breeding practices. These not only altered the population growth of humans, but also established new patterns of division of labor and the necessity of economic systems. In the current context, we will consider the ways in which science and technology alters the “carrying
capacity” of the human population, and what this means going forward. What happens if the current human population is deprived of science and technology? What happens if science and technology does not advance fast enough to meet today’s challenges?


What is science?

Philosophers have argued about defining science for centuries. We are not going to resolve that here, but hopefully we can make some useful distinctions.

There are a couple of ways that people often talk about what makes something science. One is distinguishing what topics science can handle. The other is the process that is used to direct inquiry. The second idea can actually mostly determine the content of the first; that is, how we do science will set out what things we can do science on.

While what we now know as science is well-specified, this is a pretty recent phenomenon. We can look back over history and recognize efforts that, while not conforming to modern scientific practice, certainly share many of the elements of science that we see today.

Facts, Laws, and Theories

Here’s something I use to conceptualize the relations between facts, laws, and theories.

The upshot of this is that laws tell us about regularities, and theories explain why those regularities exist.

And that leads to a three-part formula for how science gets done:

  • Characterization
  • Explanation
  • Propagation


Scientific Method

Wikipedia article on the Scientific Method

There isn’t one unitary approach to doing science, but the Wikipedia article does condense a pretty standard way to think about how science gets done now.

Having a method helps avoid pitfalls that experience tells us are bad for us.

Where We Have Been

Previous generations of humans haven’t had the modern, codified scientific method to draw upon, but they still figured things out and made sure that the knowledge got passed down.

Agriculture is one of the most significant technological advances made by early humans. Hunter-gatherer society and tool use in support of that lifestyle had to change to accommodate the ability to actually plan and grow plant foodstuffs.

What changes can you think of that would be necessary to go from hunter-gatherer society to an agricultural society?

What does agriculture imply for the number of people that can be supported by an area?


Monuments and structures raised by ancient peoples often incorporated features that related to determining celestial events.

Stonehenge, for example.

The Antikythera Mechanism

In 1901, divers recovered materials from a wreck near Antikythera. Among them was a corroded, encrusted mass of bronze that has since become known as the Antikythera Mechanism.

Video of replication of the Antikythera Mechanism in Lego

X-Tek page on the Antikythera Mechanism

Article on researcher setting the date of the Antikythera Mechanism earlier. Assumption: “start date” relates to earliest predicted solar eclipse.

Population Dynamics

To really get a handle on what the relationship between science and society implies, one needs to understand how populations change over time.

Consider yeast.

Population Dynamics tutorial

What Science Does to Society

Nuclear technology and mishaps

Can Science Fandom Hurt Science?

Scienceyness is bad for science