Monday, 24 August 2009

Redheads, bugs, the LHC, and all that

In praise of the spleen
On the pain of being a redhead
Olivia Judson on your microbial fellow-travellers
xkcd on intercepting asteroids heading towards Earth

Newspapers have gone pleasingly quiet on the Large Hadron Collider, since the run plan was announced earlier this month. It beat the pessimistic, “if at all” tone of reporting just three days earlier. Given previous loud public statements about scheduling, one could argue that we only have ourselves to blame — but it's pretty hard to take some of the free commentary, such as this piece of farfetching on the connection between the LHC and an abandoned Mayan temple. Really. “And like Xunantunich, the collider these days is silent, if not abandoned,” we are told. Stephen Weinberg's response as quoted in the article, “I don’t see it in quite those apocalyptic terms,” is a marvel of understatement.

Meanwhile, yet another tendentious proposal for peace between science and religion has been launched. It is not noted for its theological insight. “Most scientists and most religious believers refuse to be drafted into the fight,” the writer says. Speaking as a scientist and a Christian, I also refuse to be drafted into this sort of attempt at peacekeeping. One problem with peacekeeping forces is that they can have their own agendas; and they are prone to being tone-deaf.

Finally, a chef writes on making “organic” and other small farms more robust against disease:
Healthy, natural systems abhor uniformity — just as a healthy society does. We need, then, to look to a system of food and agriculture that values and mimics natural diversity. The five-acre monoculture of tomato plants next door might be local, but it’s really no different from the 200-acre one across the country: both have sacrificed the ecological insurance that comes with biodiversity.

What does the resilient farm of the future look like? I saw it the other day. The farmer was growing 30 or so different crops, with several varieties of the same vegetable. Some were heirloom varieties, many weren’t. He showed me where he had pulled out his late blight-infected tomato plants and replaced them with beans and an extra crop of Brussels sprouts for the fall. He won’t make the same profit as he would have from the tomato harvest, but he wasn’t complaining, either...

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