Most shows are back this week, but there is still plenty of catching up to do.
Before their recent break, there were some segments of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report that had science and technology content. On June 24 The Daily Show expressed its frustration at the apparent mess of government record keeping. While the specific case involves the Internal Revenue Service, I think the complaints can be applied government-wide. On June 26, The Colbert Report covered the over-fortification of kids’ cereals in one of its semi-regular segments, Tip of the Hat/Wag of the Finger.
Then there were the scheduled guests that surprised me with talking about science or technology. The same night The Daily Show complained about government record-keeping, actress Jennifer Esposito discussed her struggles with celiac disease. On the July 14th edition of The Late Late Show, actor Zachary Levi talked a little bit with Craig Ferguson about how Levi is a science geek.
This week, the repeat of note is on Friday, when Late Night with Seth Meyers repeats last week’s episode that included motion capture innovator Andy Serkis. In new programs, we start and stop with The Colbert Report. On Wednesday the director of Underwater Dreams and one of the featured subjects visits. The film is rolling out to theaters this month, and focuses on a team of students (who are the children of undocumented immigrants) developing underwater robots. On Thursday, Elon Musk sits down with Stephen. Whether it’s about spacecraft (SpaceX) or electric cars (Tesla) I don’t know. Both are mentioned on The Colbert Report website.
I just returned from an outdoor screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey (with live orchestral accompaniment). While it wildly overpredicted the future, (by now we would have sent at least two human missions to Jupiter), I was struck this time by the second act of the film. You might not remember it, as it doesn’t involve the HAL 9000 computer or the proto-humanoids encountering the monolith.
In this future, both the Soviet Union (the film was released in 1968) and the United States have moon bases, and while their country’s space scientists are quite collegial, there’s a current of distrust augmented by a lack of communication. (There’s also a very healthy commercial sector, including hotels.) The United States has concocted a cover story (an epidemic outbreak on its moon base) to hide the discovery of a monolith in a moon crater, and the secrecy surrounding the discovery extends deep and long. It’s what bridges this part of the film with the mission to Jupiter that most of us remember.
That mission was intended to investigate the receiving end of a transmission sent by the monolith on the moon. According to a recorded briefing played once the Discovery arrived near Jupiter, the purpose of the mission was held from all the human members of the crew. To further compartmentalize the discovery, the three crewmembers of Discovery One seen their hibernation chambers were brought on board that way and trained separately from Dave Bowman and Frank Poole. (Presumably the crew in hibernation either knew the purpose of the mission, or the purpose could have been inferred by the five crew members sharing information during the 18 months it took to arrive at Jupiter.)
HAL seems to have trouble withholding information from the crew. While this is only confirmed in the book (written concurrently with the film’s production), HAL’s motivation for eliminating the crew was to reconcile his programming instructions to report everything with total accuracy with his orders to conceal the purpose of the mission.
Certain there are challenges of logic, as there often are where science fiction deals with computers (certain Star Trek episodes count on them). But inferring a point about the consequences of government secrecy doesn’t have to be one of them.
(12:18 a.m. July 19 – Edited to note the correct late night show Matt Walsh was on to promote the movie)
One of the guests on
The Late Late Show Conan this week was comedian Matt Walsh, currently in the cast of Veep. He’s also in the movie Into the Storm, coming out in the U.S. August 8th. This week was also the first time I saw any advertising for the film, which as the title suggests, focuses on a series of major tornadoes and the consequences they wreak on a populated area.
The absence of mashed-up species and the fact that the film is not on the SyFy Channel in the U.S. made me a little concerned about how the film would be received. After all, a reasonable person can be expected to know that Sharknado is far from a ripped-from-the-headlines yarn. Ordinary tornadoes strong enough to pick up airliners from the runway? There might be some concern over whether or not that could happen, and (sadly) whether or not climate change can be blamed for it.
Thankfully, the film appears to be much closer to Twister, the 1996 tornado movie, than the 2004 disaster film The Day After Tomorrow. The movie is of the ‘found-footage’ variety, and doesn’t stray from the local area affected by the storms. And while the film exaggerates what tornadoes can do, it doesn’t appear to be as outlandish as more recent extreme weather films (there certainly don’t appear to be any zoological oddities involved). At least that’s what I’m inferring from what a meteorologist wrote about the film’s trailer over at Slate.
If, and that might be a big if, there is to be a science or policy impact of this film, it might be to re-stoke the fires of interest around storm chasing and/or extreme weather forecasting. But this is a movie released in August with little promotion and about as much star power. The CGI in Into the Storm is certainly going to be better than what was available for the blockbuster Twister, but the same can’t be said about the name recognition of its cast. Couple that with the habit of official Washington leaving town in August, and this film probably won’t register on a cinematic Beaufort scale.
Some tidbits of science music news to whet the appetite.
Tom McFadden has these Tweets to tempt us with a new project. It’s all I can find on it, at least for now.
Baba Brinkman has been working on The Rap Guide To Religion, seeking to explore the topic through various scientific avenues. It’s in previews in New York right now, and will be properly premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Brinkman arguably made his reputation as a performer – before Mark Pallen approached him to write about evolution – at the Festival. I expect this project to piss some people off more than his Rap Guide to Evolution did.
Finally, there’s a new track from A Capella Science. In the style of Eminem, “Eminemium (Choose Yourself)” Timblais tweaks his formula ever so slightly. His first rap track also tackles an ethical challenge facing scientists. It’s still as well-produced (both musically and visually) as “Bohemian Gravity,” “Rolling Through the Higgs” and “Massless.” But this time the fun is intercut with some serious food for thought.
11:40 p.m. July 14 ETA: Michael Sheen’s appearance Tuesday night on Conan.
The Comedy Central shows are back, but programs continue to take breaks during the summer. Of the repeats on tap this week, none rate listing in this post. However, old content worth noting is the June 19th segment from The Daily Show where they covered the appearance in Washington of several former Administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The highlight of the week is most likely tonight’s appearance by the hosts of Radiolab – Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich – on The Colbert Report. It could be a misunderstanding of science (and radio) for the ages.
That starts a big week for The Colbert Report. Computer scientist Vint Cerf (currently Chief Internet Evangelist at Google) stops by on Tuesday’s program. On Thursday’s program Steven Wise will be the guest. He is an expert in animal rights law, and I am including him here in case Stephen Colbert asks about any scientific justification for Wise’s arguments (it was the focus of one of Wise’s books).
In other guest news, Michael Sheen, who plays Dr. William Masters on Masters of Sex, is on with Conan O’Brien Tuesday night. Bat scientist Dan Riskin returns to creep out Craig Ferguson on Thursday night.
It’s worth noting that a new batch of MythBusters episodes started in the United States last Thursday, and should continue through the summer.
Two fictional science and technology programs of note this week. First, the CBS network will premiere Extant on July 9th, and there will be some late night guest promotion (see below). It focuses on the return of an astronaut from a 13 month solo mission, where something happened to her that led to a pregnancy. It’s also set in a future world where android kids are almost ready for mass market use. The astronaut’s child is apparently the first of these children.
The other fictional program note relates to Manhattan, which will premiere on WGN America in the U.S. on July 26. The Manhattan of the title is the Manhattan Project, and the show revolves around the scientists and military personnel in that project assigned to Los Alamos, New Mexico. I mention it today because over the weekend WGN showed a part-promotion/part-historical special. It will likely be repeated between now and the show’s premiere. For a promotional piece, the program managed to give the history a fair amount of respect. Even if you aren’t interested in watching the program, I’d encourage you to catch the special.
On to the listings. Some shows remain in repeats, while the Comedy Central programs are pre-empted this week. Other shows appear to be starting a summer trend of Friday repeats. As several shows (mostly on cable) do not air new episodes on Fridays, this trend may expand over the next few years. Of the repeats this week, you can catch Transcendence director Wally Pfister from April talking on Carson Daly’s show on Wednesday. On Friday you can re-watch Morgan Freeman’s latest appearance with Craig Ferguson, where they often talk about Freeman’s science program Through the Wormhole.
In new programs Continue reading
The Gödel Prize this year is shared by Ronald Fagin, Amnon Lotem, and Moni Naor for their work on a “threshold algorithm.” It’s considered the top prize in theoretical computer science (and yes, the award is co-sponsored by a unit of my employer). It will be awarded this week in Copenhagen and accompanied by a world premiere musical work commissioned for the occasion (H/T Nature News) performed by a top Danish music ensemble.
The work is called “Hilbert Heartbreak Hotel” and includes a soprano vocal written by Ursula Andkjær Olsen. The title refers to a mathematical paradox articulated by But the video below focuses on the underlying music, composed by Niels Marthinson. The music was made in part by transposing mathematical axioms – some of those developed Giuseppe Peano to try and put mathematical and number theory onto logical foundations.
What better way for a science policy blog to celebrate Canada Day than looking at what’s happening to the North that doesn’t involve metaphorical ‘muzzling.‘
In final review and revisions is a report on the state of Canada’s science culture. Organized by the Council of Canadian Academies (comparable to the U.S. National Research Council) a working group has been examining the following questions related to science in Canadian culture:
- What is the state of knowledge regarding the impacts of having a strong science culture?
- What are the indicators of a strong science culture? How does Canada compare with other countries against these indicators? What is the relationship between output measures and major outcome measures?
- What factors (e.g., cultural, economic, age, gender) influence interest in science, particularly among youth?
- What are the critical components of the informal system that supports science culture (roles of players, activities, tools and programs run by science museums, science centres, academic and not-for-profit organizations and the private sector)? What strengths and weaknesses exist in Canada’s system?
- What are the effective practices that support science culture in Canada and in key competitor countries?
The panel preparing the report represents a mix of academic disciplines and professional backgrounds. They have completed their study meetings and expect to release the report sometime this year. I’m interested in reading the final product, and hope to get a bit more into what science culture is. The stats and polls found in the National Science Board’s Science and Engineering Indicators are at best a skin deep look at what the science community is most interested in. This report looks to provide what I hope to be both a broader and deeper examination of science culture.
With the July Fourth holiday on Friday, most shows are on repeats. But many of this week’s repeats qualify for mention here. Tonight (Monday) you can catch Esther Perel’s recent appearance with Stephen Colbert, where they discuss her research on infidelity. On Wednesday The Late Show re-broadcasts the latest appearance by kid scientists, and earlier in the day you can catch The Talk‘s tech expert Chi-Lan Lieu. We close the week on Friday with Dr. Richard Besser (ABC medical reporter) on The View and Jimmy Fallon’s tech expert, Joshua Topolsky visiting his program that night.
The only live broadcast of note (which was likely pre-taped) is on Thursday’s Live With Kelly and Michael. Science Bob makes a rare-ish East Coast appearance.
I’m still (always, really) behind on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. The latest content I missed in advance was this segment from The June 10 edition of The Colbert Report. It covers the recent story of a computer program passing the Turing test – convincing over 30 percent of judges that it was actually human. The show then doubles-down in this segment about an android (really just a torso, since if there actually was a full-size android, the story wouldn’t break on The Colbert Report).
As happens more often than not, I failed to note a blog anniversary on the actual date. Last Sunday marked 5 years of Pasco Phronesis (I’d been on the now-defunct Prometheus group blog since January 2006). I was too busy meandering the woods of southwest Pennsylvania to do much about it. Thinking about it over the past week I’ve noted how things have felt about the same in the last 12 months. Though there has been some shifting in the top-viewed posts (this will be #2231 in this venue), none of the top four were added in the last 12 months.
This quartet (and its predecessors) serve as an excellent reminder that the posts I might value don’t correlate to what seems popular. If I’m inclined to chase views, it would seem that I should chase the cultural topics more than I normally do. But the top two posts are leading by a large margin, which suggests that I can’t effectively predict what will be monster hits – at least ahead of time.
Ideally, I would like to do this as the main job, and not an interesting sideline. But looking at the economics of online publishing, what I write isn’t likely to capture the kind of ad revenue or subscription interest that would be sustaining. Unless I’m willing to chuck it all and commit everything to this. There may be days where I feel like it, but I’m not there…yet.
Thanks to everyone for reading, and for providing feedback in whatever channel you like. There is a blog email up at the top left if you’d rather not post a comment, and you can always Tweet @p_phronesis. Let’s close with a science-ish video from the Muppets (and yes, it’s sponsored, check out that product placement).