Thoughts on counter-culture and technological progress.

Image: Jeswin Thomas

The past few days I’ve been caught up in We, Robots — Curtis White’s heretical answer to the technophilic prophecies of the present. I am somewhat of a technology lover, and there is a part of me that longs for the potential freedoms automation could provide to our society. At the same time, I’m weary of the dehumanising effects of technology and the potential for mass unemployment with no safety net offered to us by the new Marvel-clad aristocracy.

Because I am both these people, the utopian technologist and concerned leftist, the book smacked me right between the eyes when…

Anarchism and technology in Le Guin’s The Dispossessed.

Science fiction (sci-fi) has a way of making us question our present, with many authors building worlds beckoning their readers to explore and generate ideas. Foremost is the medium sci-fi provides to explore the political: worlds that may provide a power structure different from that of our own existence. These explorations may be utopian, dystopian, or, perhaps in the best of cases, somewhere in-between. The worlds of Anarres and Urras detailed in Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed present a story that falls in the latter.

Framed as an “ambiguous utopia” in the novel’s subtitle, Anarres is a world of…

And why we require estimations for ‘true’ cases and deaths.

Image: Ivan Samkov, Pexels.

Much of the media coverage surrounding COVID-19 has focused on attributing meaning to two main numbers: cases and deaths. In mid-January, the official total cases were in the early 1000s and largely confined to the city of Wuhan. But even at this early stage doubts were raised about the accuracy of the case counts. On the 26th of January, with reported cases at around 2000, epidemiologist Neil Ferguson of Imperial College warned the true case count may be close to 100,000 globally. By early February, Ferguson would suggest nations may only be catching 10% of their cases.

On the 20th…

Uncertainties abound, but the emerging industry continues to plow forward.

The last decade has seen an explosion in the alternative protein space, and one of the new meat contenders is the cultivation of animal cells for human consumption — commonly referred to as ‘lab-grown’ or ‘cultured’ meat.

The idea of cultured meat is not a new one, as many have speculated about a future free of animal slaughter. In 1931, Winston Churchill postulated that growing meat will replace the “absurdity” of farming whole animals, a view later portrayed in the novels of several science fiction authors. Barjavel’s 2052 vision of France in Ashes Ashes speaks of cultivated meat, as does…

Anti-vaxxers would do well to study the history of their movement.*

Inoculating with cowpox makes you sprout cow! (1802). Source: Library of Congress.

The relatively disease-free, low infant-mortality world we’re used to today was not always so, and vaccines played a pivotal role in granting us our modern, healthy childhoods.

It all began in 1796 when Edward Jenner used material from a cowpox lesion to innoculate an 8-year-old subject, James Phipps. Jenner showed that Phipps was protected from the deadly smallpox virus due to his immune system’s exposure to the mild, closely-related cowpox. Following further tests on more children, including Jenner’s 11-month old son, the vaccine (Vacca means cow in Latin) was born.

Within 200 years, smallpox was eradicated by a global vaccine…

There’s change afoot in the protein market.

The way much of the world views meat is rapidly changing. Scientific reports disclosing the negative environmental impact of the meat sector have been prolific, alongside growing health concerns surrounding excessive consumption of processed meats. Furthermore, the previously niche portion of the market concerned with ethical practice has expanded into the mainstream. The latter has been breathtakingly fast — there was a 600% increase in the number of US consumers identifying as vegan between 2014 and 2017 (from around 1 to over 6% of those surveyed). But this, of course, is just the beginning.

The millennial generation is starting to…

Research suggests insect farming has great potential for sustainability.

Current trends suggest that by 2050, global demand for meat products will grow by more than 75%, largely due to population growth and rising incomes. This will put greater pressure on an environment in crisis; as livestock farming is water and land-intensive, as well as being a major contributor to humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions. As such, a focus of the last decade has been a search for sustainable food solutions; i.e. solutions that meet current and future societal needs, whilst considering all potential costs and benefits. …

He Jiankui’s shock experiment and ethical alternatives.

In late-November 2018, an announcement was made in Shenzen which shocked the world: the first gene-edited human babies had been born. Condemnation from the scientific community was swift, with the consensus being that the children born from the trial faced unnecessary risk. This is because gene-editing technologies are still under development for human applications, and even a small number of edits in the wrong part of the genome can result in negative outcomes (there is some concern surrounding unintended effects*). …

The poster child of scientific theory.

A panel depicting Charles Darwin, Turin Museum of Human Anatomy. Image: Commons.

When On the Origin of Species was first published in 1859, to say it caused a scientific and political earthquake would be a vast understatement. The ideas put forward would become the basis of every biological field in existence today.

The foundations of the theory are observations that were made while Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace travelled the world, but since then there have been many expansions and breakthroughs. I’ve allocated these topics of evidence into 5 categories and I’ll do my best to explain the significance of each. But to start, a bit about natural selection.

The 4…

Connor Ju

I am, so I write (albeit in fits & starts). I have a background in molecular biology & recently got a masters. Based in Aotearoa New Zealand.

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