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Guardian Science Blogs

Notes & Theories | The Guardian

The Guardian's blog on scientific research and controversies, written by our reporters and guest contributors

The Guardian

  • Why thousands of AI researchers are boycotting the new Nature journal

    Academics share machine-learning research freely. Taxpayers should not have to pay twice to read our findings

    Budding authors face a minefield when it comes to publishing their work. For a large fee, as much as $3,000, they can make their work available to anyone who wants to read it. Or they can avoid the fee and have readers pay the publisher instead. Often it is libraries that foot this bill through expensive annual subscriptions. This is not the lot of wannabe fiction writers, it’s the business of academic publishing.

    More than 200 years ago, Giuseppe Piazzi, an isolated astronomer in Palermo, Sicily, discovered a dwarf planet. For him, publishing meant writing a letter to his friend Franz von Zach. Each month von Zach collated letters from astronomers across Europe and redistributed them. No internet for these guys: they found out about the latest discoveries from leatherbound volumes of letters called Monatliche Correspondenz. The time it took to disseminate research threw up its own problems: by the time Piazzi’s data were published, the planet had vanished in the sun’s glare.

    The ability to pay no longer determines the ability to play

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  • The universe is an egg and the moon isn't real: notes from a Flat Earth conference

    Michael Marshall attended the UK’s annual gathering of people who share the unshakeable belief that the Earth is flat

    There was the three-hour presentation which contended that the universe is a giant egg. There was the Manchester musician who posited that the Earth is the shape of a diamond. And another who believes that the moon is a projection.

    Welcome to the Flat Earth UK Convention, a raucous departure from scientific norms where people are free to believe literally anything.

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  • Why genetic IQ differences between 'races' are unlikely

    The idea that intelligence can differ between populations has made headlines again, but the rules of evolution make it implausible

    The idea that there may be genetic differences in intelligence between one population and another has resurfaced recently, notably in the form of a New York Times op-ed by the Harvard geneticist David Reich. In the article, Reich emphasises the arbitrary nature of traditional racial groupings, but still argues that long periods of ancestry on separate continents have left their genetic marks on modern populations. These are most evident for physical traits like skin and hair colour, where genetic causation is entirely uncontroversial. However, Reich asserts that all genetic traits, including those that affect behaviour and cognition, are expected to differ between populations or races.

    This extrapolation from the genetics of physical traits to how our brains work brings back memories of an argument made by the US researchers Charles Murray and Richard J Herrnstein in their 1994 book The Bell Curve, recently resurrected by Murray in conversations with the US neuroscientist and author Sam Harris. In the book, Murray and Herrnstein claim that observed differences in the mean IQ scores of ethnic groups are “highly likely” to be due to both environmental and genetic factors. This sounds quite reasonable at first: the argument concedes that environmental and cultural factors play a big part in any differences seen in the mean IQ scores of various groups. But it also suggests that since genetic variation will contribute to higher or lower IQ in any given population, the genetic differences between one group and another will also underpin mean differences in IQ.

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