Putting the Micro in Archaeology

Haim Watzman Archaeologists classically discover lost cities and get excited about buried ramparts, palaces, and temples. But today they get excited about the small stuff, too—grains of wheat, mineral grains produced by plants, and tiny crystals of calcite. Take a look at my latest feature in the science journal Nature to read about the fascinating … Read more Putting the Micro in Archaeology

Old Lessons from Old Pots

Haim Watzman Two lessons to be learned from the just-published discovery of 18,000-year-old pottery in a Chinese cave, which I report at Nature.com. First, societies differ. Here in the Levant, people first settled down, started farming, and then got the idea of making storage containers out of fired clay. All that happened as part of … Read more Old Lessons from Old Pots

From Nature: Science Journalism Dies, No Water Wars

Haim Watzman

It’s the end of the day and I don’t have time to write what I planned, but I’d like to flag two worthwhile articles in the March 19 issue of Nature (a publication I’ve written for in the past).

As a sometime writer about science, I was discouraged to read in Science journalism: Supplanting the old media?, by Geoff Brumfiel, that—big surprise—the daily press is drastically cutting its science coverage and firing its science beat reporters. According to Brumfiel, science blogs are now providing interested readers with some of the reportage they used to receive in the general press and in popular science magazines, but of course readers who don’t actively look for science coverage but who used to glance at an occasional science headline that caught their eye are now left with no coverage at all—further distancing the general public from understanding science.

But so far there’s no alternative for another vital role filled by the science beat reporter:

Others worry about the less questioning approach that comes with a stress on communication rather than journalism. “Science is like any other enterprise,” says Blum. “It’s human, it’s flawed, it’s filled with politics and ego. You need journalists, theoretically, to check those kinds of things,” she says. In the United States, at least, the newspaper, the traditional home of investigations and critical reporting, is on its way out, says Hotz. “What we need is to invent new sources of independently certified fact.”

Indeed.

The second is a thought-provoking essay by Wendy Barnaby, Do Nations Go To War Over Water? It should be of special interest to SoJo’s readers, given the role that water plays in the Israel-Arab conflict. I don’t know if she’s right, but she certainly offers an argument I haven’t heard before. (Unfortunately, the entire article seems to be available to subscribers, so I’ll quote liberally here.)

Read moreFrom Nature: Science Journalism Dies, No Water Wars

Knowledge and the Public Good–Some Suggested Reading

Haim Watzman

The dissemination of knowledge—high-quality knowledge—is essential to a democratic society. So I’d like to point out an interesting juxtaposition of articles from my Shabbat reading that, taken together, have something important to say about the importance of getting good knowledge to the public.

Danielle Allen’s review of Josiah Ober’s book Democracy and Knowledge: Innovation and Learning in Classical Athens in The New Republic concludes:

Josiah Ober shows us that Athens knew what the Athenians knew, because the city as a whole had devised institutions that made sure the useful knowledge of the widest possible range of individuals flowed to where it was needed. Have we fully tapped into the resources of participatory democracy to supplement our own representative structures with a citizenry within which all the sluices of knowledge are open and have been set a-flowing? Does America know what Americans know?

In the March 5 issue of Nature, Harry Collins, a social scientist who studies science, concludes an essay entitled “We Cannot Live By Skepticism Alone” with these words:

Science, then, can provide us with a set of values—not findings—for how to run our lives, and that includes our social and political lives. But it can do this only if we accept that assessing scientific findings is a far more difficult task than was once believed, and that those findings do not lead straight to political conclusions. Scientists can guide us only by admitting their weaknesses, and, concomitantly, when we outsiders judge scientists, we must do it not to the standard of truth, but to the much softer standard of expertise.

Read moreKnowledge and the Public Good–Some Suggested Reading