What do most people get wrong about meteorology?

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What people mostly get wrong about meteorology is blaming the forecaster for getting the forecast wrong. Sometimes, depending on what terms you’re using, the forecaster can explain the right thing. But depending on the viewer or listener’s regard for how important weather is to them, or even if they’re paying attention to the forecast, the weather... Читать далее
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Would it be morally wrong to kill a sentient machine?

Visiting Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Research in Cognitive Science...

The question as you pose it is actually quite worrying. You could have asked: could there be any circumstances under which it would be morally okay to kill a sentient machine? If you were talking about humans, people would be shocked if you asked if there was any reason why it would be morally wrong to kill a human. 

The mere fact of artificial origin doesn’t seem to have any relevance one way or the other. But I guess in self-defence, and so on, and I wouldn’t want to draw a line through every case of killing in war.

In general, though – yes, the threshold should be the same for whether it’s every okay to kill a human. We are sentient machines, though our mechanical makeup is certainly very different from that of current robots - though it may be not that different from the sentient robots we’re imagining, because in order to be fully sentient, they’d have to have bodily constitutions which are much closer to ours than those of current robots.

The other problem here is that there’s a spectrum of possible robots, from the very, very crude ones we have today, to the synthetic biological creatures which may in future be created in the lab, and gestated very much in the way that human babies are, maybe in some kind of artificial womb, or even implanted in human wombs, and raised from infancy upwards through the stages that humans do as they mature. So as you think through these scenarios, you realise that the difference between them and us gets vanishingly small.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/fboQaYiXEX8?wmode=opaque

"There’s a spectrum of possible robots, from the very, very crude ones we have today, to the synthetic biological creatures which may in future be created in the lab"

I don’t think there’s any hard and fast threshold. I think there’s a whole set of issues which will have to be decided, to do with rights, and status in society. Even in the case of robots which aren’t configured to be sentient, there might be situations where we might want to give them certain sorts of rights, for example property rights. 

I thought the film ‘Bicentennial Man’ was a really good forum for this sort of discussion – it was based on a short story by Isaac Asimov, and there’s a point at which the central character, a robot played by Robin Williams, is granted the right to own property, and the reason for that is that the robot is able to make exquisite objets d’art which his owner sells for a lot of money – and his owner doesn’t think he has the right to keep the money, so he sets up a fund for the robot, who then uses the money to buy a house. It’s not very clear whether the robot is sentient, but it is highly intelligent – the question being whether rights to property may be independent of sentience. There may be points at which rights are given to robots even if they don’t have sentient feelings.

"I thought the film ‘Bicentennial Man’ was a really good forum for this sort of discussion"

There is a spectrum, and if we think about the two ends of it, that’s relatively easy. At one end, they’re very much unlike us, and at the other they’re very, very much like us. And then there’s this massive area in the middle, where there are lots of different cases, and where it’s very difficult to know what to say about each of them. It’s a highly contested discussion which is going to be with us for decades to come.”

What are the top 10 modern sociologists to read and why?

PhD candidate, Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge. Studying...

When addressing such a question, a few preliminaries are in order. First, How do we define Modern and Sociologists? Starting when, and by what criteria? Yet, skipping the problematics of such delimitations, the case of sociology as an academic discipline is rather simple and straightforward. Sociology (and the social sciences) was born in and of modernity, along with all its complex issues. As the French philosopher Étienne Balibar has claimed, "the couple crisis–critique has determined the programme of the social sciences from the start of the nineteenth century up until today". Thus, we need to figure out who are the best analysts of our communal and social condition. That answers the general question of 'why' we should read sociologists at all. Now, we shall break down this generality - of understanding our common condition - into specific thinkers, sociologists, who contributed most to that shared goal. Each thinker, their differences notwithstanding, contributed something to that understanding, and many of them have coined terms that are (still) being used commonly and publicly.

1. Harriet Martineau
Usually overlooked, one of the most original writers and thinkers who contributed to the establishment of sociology was Harriet Martineau. Born in 1802, she wrote extensively on politics, society, economics, ethics, and religion. Her major contribution is a principle according to which society should be studied comprehensively as a whole, detailing all its facets and aspects. She was also among the first to highlight the importance of studying women and women's issues. Between 1832 and 1834, she published two important works, Illustrations of Taxation and Illustrations of Political Economy. Later, in 1853, she translated and introduced a major sociological work, The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte, for the English-speaking reader.

Pictured: Harriet Martineau

2. Emile Durkheim
Officially at least, it would be inconceivable to think of Sociology without thinking of Emile Durkheim, one of its forefathers or founders. His early work, such as The Rules of Sociological Method (1895), captures the basic underpinnings of studying any society whatsoever, and the specificities of modern society. Also, he was able to build a unified methodology for sociological research, based on notions of solidarity and regularity. Later, in The Elementary Forms of Religious Life(1912), he studied the conditions of any possible society, which he found to be rooted in shared beliefs.

3. Gabriel Tarde
At the same time and place, France at the beginning of the 20th century, Durkheim's biggest opponent was Gabriel Tarde. His contribution, albeit recently (re-)discovered, was an alternative route to thinking about society and studying it scientifically. His highly original works, such as The laws of Imitation (1890), Monadology and Sociology (1893), and Social Laws - an Outline of Sociology (1898), provide a fundamentally different approach to what society and "the social" are. His pan-social approach seeks to explicate the inherently social nature of any phenomena. From it, we can draw other conclusions, sites and modes of investigation, compared to the more mainstream (positivist and functionalist) approaches to society and the social.

4. Karl Marx
Moving on from France to Germany, Karl Marx is usually considered as a key contributor to sociology (although he is known as political-economist). His critical studies of human nature, history, and society are still amongst the most cited, read, and taught works in this field, and beyond. Elaborating how and why is society split between economy and politics, Marx not only theorized social relations but practically changed them with the invention of an alternative society. This was his understanding of science as a critical activity, rather than mere descriptive and informative. His works are varied and numerous, but the first volume of Capital (1867) is still one of the most influential sociological studies, both methodologically and empirically (here is a link to Volume 1 of this work).

5. Max Weber
Next, and still in Germany, there is Max Weber. Seeking to ground sociological research on hermeneutics, Weber's contributions are diverse as they are profound. His work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism(1904) is maybe the clearest example of how sociology is done rigorously. Weber's work spans from late antiquity to modern times, and his methodological insights are indispensable. For example, in his The Theory of Social and Economic Organization(1915) he describes fundamental notions like the "Ideal Types" of social action, authority, rationality, bureaucracy, etc. Based on these types, Weber was able to describe the deep meanings of our social existence.

6. Georg Simmel
Somewhat from a different perspective, Georg Simmel is another major contributor to modern sociology. His works take a more formalistic approach, opposed to the interpretive one hailed by Weber. Using concepts as Dyad and Triad his attempt was to develop a social geometry. And with the notion of 'distance' he explained how different social formations bring about varied social relations, which then determine our behaviour. His famous works are On Social Differentiation (1890), The Philosophy of Money(1900), Sociology: inquiries into the construction of social forms (1908), and Fundamental Questions of Sociology (1917).  

7. W.E.B. Du Bois
Moving on to the U.S., one might think of Parsons as the leading American sociologist. However, and although the latter had had a major impact on American sociology, more interesting thinkers are Du Bois and Goffman. The former, W.E.B. Du Bois, has contributed a lot to our understanding of race and racial issues as fundamental to sociology. In his 1903 The Souls of Black Folk, he conceptualized how 'double consciousness' is formed among race-discriminated people. His concept of 'the veil' resonates with the mask that subordinated races put on themselves, and how it shapes their interactions with others.

Pictured: W.E.B. Du Bois

8. Erving Goffman
Still in the U.S. yet much later, Erving Goffman is perhaps the most insightful American sociologist. Based in Chicago, he developed the theory of dramaturgy which focuses on the social construction of the self and its different institutional relations. His classic work is The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959), where it is argued that agents are acting themselves in different roles, stages, plays, narratives, and other social conditions. Consequently, the Self is thought of through the lens of symbolic interaction, as it is dependent on time, place, and audience. This is done via impression management, defining the situation and following concepts. Thus, people adapt to cultural norms and values so to be a part of society. When they choose otherwise, stigmatization of deviation occurs. This was studied later with relation to mental health in his 1961 Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates, where the term 'total institutions' was used. Goffman's innovative methodology is ultimately presented in Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience (1974).

9. Pierre Bourdieu
Moving on the contemporary France, Pierre Bourdieu is the most renowned sociologist these days. He tried to systematize and synthesize all previous approaches in a coherent and complicated sociological theory of practice. His major concepts are Habitus, Field, Doxa, and symbolic violence. By differentiating types of capital, his works has made a great impact on our understanding of sex and gender relations, educational and economic reproduction, aesthetic judgments and distinctions, intellectual positions, etc. Without Bourdieu, contemporary sociology would not have been what it is today. Among his numerous works we find Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste (1984) (see the introduction to this work here), Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture (1990), Language and Symbolic Power (1991), The Masculine Domination (1998).    

10. Bruno Latour
Like Durkheim and Tarde a century before them, Bourdieu and Latour also had a complicated relationship. Bruno Latour tried to avoid some of the pitfalls of Bourdieu's edifice. Latour's work is more in-sync with science and technology, as well as their effects on human life. He developed a sociological method called Actor-Network Theory, with which he studied both the general and the very specific domains of our societies. In his early works, Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts (1979) and Science In Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers through Society (1987), he deals with methodological issues of social science. Later, in We Have Never Been Modern (1993) he studied and redefined our understanding of our(selves as) modern societies. These works later culminated in his 'textbook' Reassembling the Social(2005), and the more elaborated Inquiry Into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns(2013).

Pictured: Bruno Latour

This list is far from being exhaustive. Incredibly important social thinkers were left out so to make it a top-10 list. However, one should not forget the fascinating insights of Theodor Adorno, Jurgen Habermas, Zygmunt Baumann, and others. These are all people who made sociology worthy of its name. All in all, sociology is a diverse field of research with different approaches to society and the social. It utilizes many conceptual and empirical tools in enquiring our common and shared existence, along with its risks and opportunities.

I will be visiting Copenhagen for three days. What are must-sees and must-do's for a short trip?

Product Marketing Manager

If you are coming in the late spring and summer you are in for a real treat. Copenhagen blossoms all around under the warm Scandinavian sun during these seasons and there are a plethora of activities to choose from that can keep you occupied from when the sun rises at 5 in the morning until it sets at 11 at night.

First, a little about how Copenhagen’s set up. It is one of the easiest cities to navigate and the best part is that you can do it all on a bike. Cycling and cycling lanes are the bloodlines of the city and the best way to see it...plus it’s free (minus the rental fee, which is very reasonable from most bike shops, or the white city electric bikes), green, and really good for you. Copenhagen is divided into five main parts where most of your sightseeing, outings, and exploring will happen.

Indre By - The heart of Copenhagen

The oldest and most compact part of the city, you will find plenty of cobble stoned streets lined up with pastel colored townhouses. One of the longest pedestrian streets - Strøget - snakes its way through this part of the city. If you are up for taking some Scandi design back with you, whether it's clothes or furniture or ceramics - this is where you will find all the Danish staples. Add Royal Copenhagen, Illums Bolighus, Illum and Magasin du Nord to your store list. 

For sightseeing, Indre By is home to the Royal Palace (Amelienborg), where the Danish Queen and her two sons and their families reside. Plus you'll catch a glimpse of the royal guards, and if you're lucky to be there around lunch time may even witness the changing of the guards. From the Royal Palace you can pop over to one of the most impressive churches in the city, The Marble Church. From there walk over to Nyhavn, one of the most famous harbors of Copenhagen. In the old days, this was the bustling, economic heart of Denmark. If you feel like taking a break from walking / cycling, you can catch one of the canal and harbor tours from here. It's a great way to see the city from the water. Plus, you will get to see the Little Mermaid statue, which by the way tends to disappoint most of her visitors. But at least you can tell your friends back home that you saw her! 

From Nyhavn, walking away from the Royal Palace you will find yourself in front of the Danish Parliament, which is also called the Christiansborg Palace. You can go up the main tower for free and get an impressive, often windy, view of the entire city, the windmills of the Øresund and even get a glimpse of Sweden. 

Not far from there is the Tivoli Gardens, which boasts as the oldest amusement park in the world. If you're up for feeling like a kid again, hyped up on cotton candy and wanting to go on every ride, then this is the place for you. If you feel like exploring more historic sights, check out the Copenhagen Townhall across the street from Tivoli, then walk through Ørstedsparken, a picturesque public park, then onto the Botanical Gardens and then straight down to the Rosenborg Castle. If you are here in April-May you will have the exclusive chance to snap a ton of photos of the perfectly groomed gardens that surround Rosenborg. And if you are lucky enough to be here on sunny and warm days, grab some picnic food and drinks and plop down on the greenery to catch some rays. Good luck finding a spot though...the locals tend to populate the gardens very quickly.

For the lovers of the arts, the Inner City also houses some of the most beautiful and unique museums the city has to offer: SMK - the National Gallery of Denmark, Glyptoteket, Kunsthal Charlottenborg. This is also where I will mention Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, which is located 40 km north of the city but the thought- and emotion-provoking exhibitions and the stunning location of the museum is worth the half of a day visit. 

Whew! Would you believe me that the above is only the tip of the iceberg in exploring the Inner City? My best advice is to star the places you want to see the most and the just wander from one point to another while discovering beautiful streets, shops, people, parks, churches, cafes. 

Christianshavn, Nørrebro, Vesterbro, Østerbro 

(Good luck pronouncing those names the correct way)

The remaining four districts of Copenhagen. There is the historic yet chill Christianshavn, home to the Royal Danish Opera (quite the architectural sight!), canals a la Amsterdam, and of course the infamous commune of Christiania. And technically not part of Christianshavn but still a place worth mentioning, especially if you are here on an unusually warm and sunny day, is Islands Brygge. Buy a portable grill from one of the shops, burger patties, a six pack or chilled wine, and find yourself a cozy spot on the grass along with the locals. And when the sun warms your skin enough, take a dip in the harbor! 

Nørrebro is the most multi-cultural and eclectic part of the city. Always vibrant, this is where you can catch up on some essential vintage shopping, taste one of many döner kebabs, and play around one of the coolest urban parks (Superkilen)I have ever seen. If you need to find a quiet corner, the Assistens Cemetery is the perfect green oasis for you Don't be intimidated by the tombstones, and instead go pay your visit to the writer HC Andersen & the philosopher Søren Kirkegaard.

Vesterbro was once the seediest part of the city but has transformed itself to become one of the most colorful, family-friendly parts of the city. It is also known for its nightlife, the kind you dare not tell your grandma about (so maybe the seediness isn't all that gone yet). My go-to's are the Meatpacking District (Kødbyen), Carlsberg Brewery, Kalvebod Brygge waterfront. 

Last but not least is Østerbro. Posh, quiet, family-friendly, clean, residential pretty much sums up this part of Copenhagen. Enjoy the lush, expansive public park, Fælledparken, or take a walk through the Citadel (Kastellet)

All that sight-seeing, but where are the food & drinks?

I just realized that I've had you exploring Copenhagen's every corner without a bite to eat or a sip to drink. The good news is that in the past few years Copenhagen has truly embraced the foodie culture and brought forth its Nordic traditions in very pleasing ways for the pallet. There are simply too many restaurants, cafes, food halls, food festivals to list here. But the MUST tries are: 

  • Food halls: Torvehallerne, Copenhagen Street Food, Kødbyens Mad & Marked
  • New Nordicrestaurants: Hōst, Gorilla, Nose2Tail, Kødbyens Fiskebar, BROR
  • Any of the restaurants in the Cofoco or Madklubben family. 
  • Yumson the budget: Grød, LeLe Street Kitchen, Paludan Bogcafe, Tommi's Burger Joint, Sliders, Slurp Ramen Joint 
  • Bakeries (because the American-invented "Danish" is a sad excuse for a baked good): Meyers Bageri, Lagkagehuset, Emmery's, Sankt Peders Bageri
  • Cocktail bars: Lidkoeb, Duck & Cover, the Bird & the Churchkey, Curfew, 1656, the Barking Dog
    And after all of that you are still standing on your two feet and want to them dancing here are my favorite going-out spots: Chateau Motel, The Jane, Condesa, NOHO, Le Bambole. 

And with that, you should be fully armed to make the most of your visit Wonderful Copenhagen!

What's the point of the Large Hadron Collider and what difference does it make to our lives?

Professor of particle physics at the University of Warwick, member of the the...

The LHC is a discovery machine. It was not built to improve our material lives, but to understand the Universe in which we live. Its science goals are numerous, with three distinct types of experiment:

The ATLAS and CMS experiments in the LHC were designed to discover the Higgs boson and search for other high-mass unknown particles, such as dark matter.

The LHCb experiment exploits the vast production rate of b-quarks, where rare decays reveal deeper laws, especially in matter-antimatter symmetry.

For the Alice experiment we take time each year to collide lead atoms head on, and understand a new state of matter where quarks become free.

Over 1000 scientific papers have been published already, and each of these experiments has made new discoveries.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/2wCgpdeQWZA?wmode=opaque

  • It may take a while for anything of practical use to come out of the research that is being carried out at CERN but Professor Bill Murray says that the same has been the case with many great discoveries of the past including Einstein's general relativity
    The LHC cost billions of Swiss Francs, spent over 20 years. The cost is similar to the London Olympics, and in many ways this is a good parallel: the Olympics inspire and enthuse, the bring together the countries of the world. The experiments at the LHC are often cited by young people deciding to study Physics at University as inspiring them to do so. A shortage of people trained in science is a problem many Governments are keen to solve.

Furthermore it is a wonderful example of the countries of the world working together on a common project – my experiment, ATLAS, has members from 38 countries: Many outside the European hosts including China, Mongolia, Morocco, South Africa, Colombia, Chile and many more. People are motivated by a common project and work together, forging closer ties between nations in the process.

There is always a possibility that the scientific discoveries may be put to use. We are learning the laws of nature, and understanding more of their implications. We do not foresee any use to them today – but neither could Einstein have predicted when he wrote down General relativity 100 years ago that we would navigate our cars using a GPS satellite system that relies on his theory to produce its accurate timing signals. If we do not learn what the laws are we can be certain that we cannot exploit them.

But in the meantime the spin-offs from this research are large. A well known example is the World Wide Web, which was invented at CERN to allow physicists around the world to collaborate better. The GDP impact of that single invention vastly outweighs the costs of the research that inspired it. A more direct impact of the fast particle detectors developed for LHC is a PET scanner which uses the readout developed for CMS to give much more precise imaging of cancer tumours than conventional scanners were able to, with lower dose to the patient. Thus yes, LHC helps cure cancer.

What would happen to our climate if the Gulf Stream cut off?

Meteorologist, founder of British Weather Services, former Fleet Air Arm meteoro...

First, there is no evidence that the Gulf Stream will cut off. The Gulf Stream is being measured, but it’s a fairly new science. There could be some truth in the suggestion that the salinity of the sea being undermined by the melting of the ice caps. That would interfere the global mechanism that transports warmer water northwards from the equator towards us, where it cools down, becomes denser and returns southwards in the deeper oceans. But as to whether it would happen, that’s still pure conjecture. 

"Continent-type weather sees more extremes, so if the Gulf Stream stopped for some reason Britain would become colder, with more snow."

But currently the Gulf Stream, which is what we call that warm ocean current, keeps the UK and Western Europe that much warmer than it would otherwise beat our latitude. If you compare us to parallel places such as Newfoundland and New York, they get more continental-type weather - by which I mean the sun bakes the open space far more than it does an island such as the UK. When you’re surrounded by sea, it creates a kind of moderation. 

https://www.youtube.com/embed/UuGrBhK2c7U?wmode=opaque

Continent-type weather sees more extremes, so if the Gulf Stream stopped for some reason Britain would become colder, with more snow. The model would suggest that we would start to inherit more of that weather. The sea would start to cool in and around our shores, and the temperature will drop. It will be drier too. This would be a long-term event if it did happen. It wouldn’t happen overnight. But with global warming, who is to say when it might?