August is String Theory Month!

August 6, 2007

Great news! String theorist Dr Jonathan Shock has graciously and generously consented to put together a month-long curriculum on string theory. (Hollywood scifi screenwriters take notice!) On the last week, he’ll be guest blogger and available to answer questions that you can post as comments right here on this blog during the month leading up to his appearance.

You can read Jonathan’s blog Jon’s Travel Adventures where you can read about his exploits in China, where he does his research. He also has wonderful taste in music.


Homeschoolers Rejoice!

July 31, 2007

We just found two goldmines! The entire lecture series – 42 lectures for UC Berkeley’s Introductory Biology class online! ‘UC Berkeley Introduction to Biology – Bio 1A General Biology’ just got added to our new listings! Homeschoolers rejoice!

Also found a wonderful repository for some of Professor Julius Sumner Miller’s ‘Why is it so?’ series from Australian Broadcasting. He has prehensile eyebrows and a great dynamic with the kids on his show and his assistant. 12 episodes in the series.

QUEST Videos from KQED – Nice Teaching Materials

July 23, 2007

Lauren Sommer, of KQED in California, has submitted some terrific links from their QUEST broadcast that are in the new section of Scitalks. They’re beautifully presented and have terrific teaching materials on the page that teachers and homeschoolers can download.

Nanotechnology Takes Off
Fatal Attraction: Birds and Wind Turbines
Out of the Park: The Physics of Baseball
Forensic Identification

E. O. Wilson Festival!

July 21, 2007

If I had a wish, it would be that more people would use their ‘retirement’ time to create what they think the world needs. Wisdom and experience have enormous value. When someone like E. O. Wilson uses his along with insight and vision, the world gets The Encyclopedia of Life. Great projects don’t need to be so grand and sweeping. One which I find enchanting is John Galinato’s Build-It-Yourself, a wonderful series of workshops to teach kids mechanics and robotics in a hugely creative fashion. You can catch some videos of the kids’ creations here.

Much has been written about scientific contributions and age – that scientists do their best work in their twenties. Also, recently there have been several articles stating that the causes of this might well be external, differs from discipline to discipline, is affected by gender, risk tolerance, etc..

I hope and anticipate that as the boomers go into ‘retirement’ their post-career years will be looked at as having the freedom that comes with financial independence – the freedom to do what they think is right, and that their achievements will add another spike to the curve of contributions by age range – because they’ll be working on their own projects with passion and will be doing what they damn well please, free of other responsibilities, using the insight and wisdom they’ve picked up over their years on this planet.

This week, we have added several videos by E. O. Wilson. Our featured video this week is James D. Watson and E. O. Wilson together on Charlie Rose for the entire program. They’re delightful.

E. O. Wilson claims that there are two laws of biology:

“The way I see it is that modern biology now has pretty well established two laws…basic well-established principles for which there is no known exception. The first is that all organic process – all living process – are ultimately obedient to the laws of physics and chemistry. … The second law is that all living systems and process evolve by natural selection. That, in a nutshell, is modern biology. I think if we were to teach biology from the top down, starting with those two laws, and show what the evidence is and what is created, we would have a lot less problems with controversy over biology. ”

In the video Reflections on a Life in Science, Wilson talks about scientists’ role in society:

“The scientist is more of a storyteller and a mythmaker than I think most scientists realize, or at least care to admit. I’ve always been taken by the formula suggested by the filmmaker Howard Hawks, who said, ‘If you’re a storyteller, find a good story, and tell it’. The scientist is more of a storyteller looking for a story to tell – not of fiction – but certainly a product of the imagination, passed through the crucible of testing in the real world.”

Wilson’s acceptance of the TED prize to Help Build the Encyclopedia of Life is just fascinating. I’m completely on board with his dream, but considering what I do, its not that surprising.

Knowledge, the Meaning of Life and Our Place in the Cosmos

July 9, 2007

A few years ago, I was webmaster for a group of scientists at the Boston University Hearing Research Center. While building the site for Professor Steve Colburn, the director of the center, I had an epiphany. I was building the page of his substantial list of publications and caught a glimpse of something fantastic – a life of meaning. Scrolling though the years of his work, I could see how his work built on previous work. I could see his focus evolving, and how valuable the processes of science are to us in terms of managing contributed knowledge and effort so it isn’t wasted. Peer review, communities, universities, publications are all there to capture and manage these efforts. I stared at his list for a long time. 

Go ahead, check out his publications list. He’s amazing. (Super nice guy, too.) Scroll all the way to the bottom of the page then crawl upward through the years. What a wonderful mark he’s leaving on the world!

Concerning knowledge and its classification and retrieval, is this video on ‘Making Digital Durable’ by one of my heroes, Clay Shirky. There’s an unfortunate audio dropout for a minute about a third of the way through (example of non-durable data) but it picks up shortly afterward. It’s definitely worth seeing and it deals with something we’re thinking about right now here at SciTalks. How to create a classification system that embodies all of the science and all of future science so that we can provide a meaningful way for people to find what they want without ontological vertigo. Shirky’s a fun thinker; I hope you enjoy his talk as much as I do. 

We’ll be implementing tagging on SciTalks and we’ll welcome any suggestions for how to implement it to create the most functional system possible. You’ll be able to navigate via tag cloud. Please have a look at Shirky’s video. If you get any ideas on how to weight tags and create communities of practice, or whether it’s relevant to what we’re doing, I’d love to hear about it.  

In our featured video, renowned physicist David Deutsch talks about the prerequisites for the ‘open ended creation of knowledge’ and our place in the cosmos. His premise is that knowledge plays a big part of what makes us special. He’s wonderful. 

Oh! No!

June 30, 2007

We have just found out to our deep regret that the ‘submit a link’ script hasn’t been working for the last few days since we migrated our server. This is heartbreaking since I know a lot of you have submitted links. At this point, we can promise to post links as quickly as humanly possible, so we request that you please submit them again.

Homo Urbanis and Statistics Porn

June 27, 2007

Hans Rosling’s video debunking developing-world myths is our feature this week. From the get-go, he challenges widely held assumptions about policies and what it means to be in a developing nation. In this talk, he uses fantastic visualization methods to illuminate concepts that would otherwise be lost in a sea of data. His passion for what he does is infectious and his facility with the presentation is like nothing else. If you only watch one thing this week, let it be this.

There’s nothing new about the notion of ours becoming an urban species, and the trends that are appearing are fascinating. UN data says that the milestone of more than half of all humans living in cities is happening right . . . now.

Stewart Brand suggests that this is a kind of tipping point. He also says that squatter cities are a good thing and gives some very surprising reasons why. His controversial talk is only three minutes long:

Admittedly, clocking in at three minutes and seventeen seconds, the talk’s hugely oversimplifying a complex problem, but the ideas it introduces are worth consideration. He gives an hour-long talk on the same topic with much more background in this video:

To balance his side of the story, in Mike Davis’ set of three interviews, he draws completely different conclusions. Brand says that they were looking at the same data, but that Davis left out anything positive and Brand suspects that he’s doing the same thing, but leaving out the negatives.

Here are Davis’ videos – it’s one interview that’s been split up into three.

Same data, drastically different interpretations. One a message of hope. One a message of devastation. One expected, the other surprising. Would love to hear your comments!

Thanks everyone for a terrific first week!


Hi Everybody and Welcome to Scitalks!

June 9, 2007

Scitalks is the brainchild of Sam Bogoch. He realized that his wife, Ann Senghas, a psychology professor at Barnard, needed an appropriate place to upload and post lectures on emerging sign languages.

Sam’s one of those people who makes things happen. Scitalks happened.

Scitalks is important and needed. In the general trend toward democratizing education, we hope that it can become an important tool for educators, home schoolers and those who are wanting to educate themselves.

In another context, science’s credibility is at the heart of a conflict where the opponent is well funded and well organized. We’re a society trained to sound-bites. Our critical thinking skills are eroding. Scientific thought is by its very nature complex and challenging to communicate to the general public. Most universities aren’t up to the task and the scientists themselves are involved in a system where the public is at the bottom of the list of the masters they must satisfy if they want to remain in research. They must publish or perish, and peer review is where they publish.

Yet there is no one else who can better convey the necessity, drama and passion of their work than the scientists themselves.

When I was first asked to come on board, I went to the site and saw immediately that if I wasn’t careful, just hanging out on the site would consume all of my time. The Feynman lectures alone are priceless. This is mind-candy at it’s most habit-forming. If your interest is science, raw and authentic, there’s something here for you.

The task ahead of us is, in one sense, curatorial. We are collecting the pearls of our civilization. We encourage universities and scientists to give us their links and videos to catalog and care for. We have dreams for the site, but also know that your dreams and suggestions will likely shape it more than ours from now on. We want to hear from you. We would love your help.


Lee Vodra
June 9, 2007