Monthly Archives: December 2013

Reading Between the Lines of Science Articles at the New York Times

An article about one of my favorite scientific subjects, pain sensation, has come up at the New York Times again. In this case, it is a study on acupuncture easing the effects of cancer drugs. I have written about sensation blocking pain before.

Because this study is funded by the NIH, I was hoping to find a free article online, but it seems they are giving Wiley exclusivity for a period of time. What I was able to find was a document that led me to the sham acupuncture treatment, the Park Sham Placebo Acupuncture Device.

The sham was found to be equally effective as real acupuncture. This was not a surprise to me, neither was the fact that both the sham and real acupuncture were effective at reducing measured symptoms. Neuron stimulation relieves pain. Unfortunately, the story is being passed on as both treatments being effective for these cancer patients. Unfortunately, we don’t know that to be the case because of the placebo effect. What I would have liked to see was another placebo that doesn’t provide a nerve stimulus. Something that would test physical therapy like acupuncture against medication for example. Then we would have a better idea what was going on.

It’s a Sad State of Affairs When We Look to ‘Her’ to Understand Artificial Intelligence

I just came across a blog post at Popular Science that says the movie ‘Her’ is the smartest movie about AI in years. The writer of ‘Her’ had no idea what he was doing, which is par for the course, and unfortunate.

I say this is unfortunate, because people look to media in all forms to understand the world better. This takes us back to the idea that there are no big, sexy scientific achievements to inspire people to study STEMS. This led ASU president Michael Crow to respond and start Hieroglyph at ASU to get writers (namely Stephenson and Doctorow) and scientists collaborating. Unfortunately, the effort doesn’t seem to be taking off.

The title of this post is a result of my view of science fiction, which differs from Stephenson in that I’m not so concerned about inspiration as much as education, which is a more peripheral concern to Stephenson. The fact is that many people get a lot of their scientific education from science fiction and news articles. This can lead to a lot of misinformation when the blind are leading the blind. Media about interactive AI should be about the foundation of consciousness, which I previously posted about four years ago. Instead, we get dull acceptance of self-aware AI or irrational fear.

We aren’t being served by the idea that the writer needs only know more science than the average reader. We’re losing an important part of people’s scientific education. It is my hope that just as historical fiction is becoming popular, a blending of popular science and science fiction can become popular once more. A significant chunk of what Katherine and I are trying to present in our science fiction is a view into the systems of science and engineering. Hopefully we are doing so in a way that is enjoyable too.