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Science, People & Politics, Volume 2, Final corrected posting 2.1.07.
The past, present and future of Science, People & Politics
by Helen Gavaghan
In hindsight there is a compelling inevitability about events linking the Big Bang to the existence of macromolecules in the living organism. But had a disembodied extra Universal
intelligence living outside of time existed before energy exploded and clumped into fundamental particles, would prebiotic molecules have been anticipated? Would it have been
considered inevitable that the molecules of life, as we in existence now know life, would form?
Hard to see how such a prediction could have been made. Unless the intelligence knew the rules of physics as they have come to be understood in our Universe now and will be understood in
an unknown future. Unless by living outside of time the intelligence encompassed all time and all knowledge, and perhaps called itself God.
Such an intelligence - if only out of loneliness - might have hoped that atoms might become something more promisingly interactive, such as a biological macromolecules. From that state the lonely God might have seen a chance that
self-conscious intelligent life would emerge.
It is very unlikely that science, product of self-conscious intelligent life, would have made such a prediction or even allowed itself the hope. But then science is not God and scientists,
Robert Oppenheimer not withstanding, are not gods. As Stephen J. Gould argued in It's a Wonderful Life the existence of intelligent life is improbable.
Gould's argument is that humanity is not the summit of perfection and God's creation but rather that it is an insignificant twig in the evolutionary tree of life. With hindsight science can explain many of the steps that led to the existence of these insignificant twigs (people), but in advance their inevitability could not have been known. The same holds true for Science, People & Politics. As other avenues and the avenues planned for my creative life were blasted out of existence this publication became the vehicle for work - both mine and that of others who do not fit wholly into existing niches - intended to link the sciences to arts via the humanities.
As a life long adherent of science, but not a scientist, it seemed to me that science might have an additional chance of being heard if it took itself slightly away from centre stage.
That is what Volume One of the title tried to do. Science is not excluded - and stories of science have been invited for Volume Two - it is simply that the publication seeks to make science part of a creative whole. My contributors
are self selecting, though in the case of Arie Issar I made a particular effort to lure him to write of the science of his subject as an intellectual bedrock and to overlay economics and
politics on that bedrock.
Volume Two, opened by the essay by Fae Korsmo from the US National Science Foundation and published on New Year's day, intends to patiently consolidate this start and invites those
unafraid of the brickbats that writing will bring their way to submit essays for publication.
Though I face some personal challenges this coming year as I attempt to undo the consequences of the damage done to my life by actions, inaction and the silent betrayal of myself,
and the repulsiveness of most of the past three years of my life, the publication itself, which I have founded, is now secure.
As the New Year starts I would like to thank my editorial advisory board, in particular my two colleagues from science writing, for adding their names to mine as I attempted to create something positive from the consequences of events in the spring of 2004, a destruction compounded by actions in the summer of that year.
I would particularly like to thank Fred Pearce and Martin Redfern who, as personal friends and former colleagues, have stood by me even though they could not and may not even now believe what I have told them of the criminal action against myself in 2004 and the Medical and Police abuse of my humanity and citizenship and their continuing dehumanising and dangerous denial of the hurt done to me. Luckily none of any of this has anything to do with my past journalism and editing, which tends to be of the on-the-record, can-name-my-sources variety (to my editors, if not always in print). So once I emerge from these challenges and as I go through these challenges the Title can continue.
I remain interested in publishing essays and reviews such as those by Matt Firth, Paula Cleggett, Gil Dekel and Arie Issar. In other words by authors as diverse as a local arts centre manager - Matt Firth - to a researcher of international renown - Arie Issar - who has survived political and academic criticisms for five decades.
His is a work that UNESCO would have liked to publish at a conference in Africa last June. As editor and founder of Science, People & Politics I am
proud that Issar's work was the first externally submitted piece that the title published, and so his work is in significant part responsible for the British
Library awarding an International Standard Serial Number to the title.
Fred Pearce, one of my advisory board and a deeply respected former colleague, also knows of and has alluded to Issar's work in the book of Fred's which I reviewed last year.
I first encountered Professor Issar's work in the mid 1980s when I interviewed him for New Scientist about the water under The Negev.
Between Firth and Issar one finds Paula Cleggett, a professional public relations manager now striving for a foothold in academia and bravely exposing herself to criticism in
her first personally assertive piece of writing about government and governance.
Similarly with Gil Dekel, a first year doctoral student whose academic supervisor agreed that Science, People & Politics was a suitable place for him to publish the
first fruits of his academic musings. Gil also pushed me to think deeply about the essence of the meaning and intent of Copyright, intellectual property, authors', editors' and
publishers' rights in the present and in future. When the future is unknown that is not easy to accomplish. My conclusions about this can be found on this website by clicking on
the icon for authors' contracts located below the masthead.My thinking and exchanges with others have led me to conclude that
copyright ownership is decided in exchange with the publisher, and need not require copyright to passed to the publisher if one is ensuring Royalties for a negotiated period.
If Science, People & Politics lives long enough I suppose the robustness or otherwise of its original agreements might be tested. I hope that the testing between
publisher and author will never require more than discussion of what the author's intention is in the context of what has been agreed. Life is too short for needless battles, but
Science, People & Politics will never view defending the rights of its authors as a needless battle.
There is danger for authors moving into interdisciplinary waters. Mainly because there are so many adjoining fields from which criticism can flow. But once the critic relaxes and reads
past the words, that across borders raise ire, it ought to be possible to see what the author is striving to accomplish.
Dekel, for example, is looking for the essence of creativity as it is experienced by a poet, and Dekel draws on his understanding of the way that physicists have perceived reality
through the ages as his means of reaching beyond the literary world to explore poetic creativity. His quest is not dissimilar to the actors who Firth reviews and who, with backing in
part from the Institute of Physics, use drama to reach for a non scientists' understanding of the creativity of physicists.
Is there an ethical root to the creative process - the creation of knowledge - and how is knowledge defined? When, for example, did carbon become a prebiotic molecule with all
that the knowledge of hindsight confers on the word prebiotic as well as being simply carbon?
The meaning that Dekel assigns to the word knowledge is 'attitude change'. Given that meaning one must ask what factors led to the original attitude, what factors change the attitude
and what factors shape the final attitude? Such questions are not idle thoughts to while away a few hours of unfilled time. They matter crucially in any enterprise that makes decisions
about a human life on the basis of the attitudes of those tasked with deciding.
From my own experience I have experienced the creation of knowledge that comes from attitude change in circumstances as diverse as the jury room and the laboratory. In the former
I was deeply impressed by the care that fellow citizens brought to their efforts to understand and be fair. We had a deep awareness that the loss of a human being's liberty was at stake.
In the latter my graphs tended to have error bars way outside the appropriate norm. Did these two experiences lead to the production of knowledge? Despite having done my best I do not
know. What knowledge emerges from the poetic process or from an accelerator or from a jury room?
Oddly my non conformist graphs did not dent my belief in the accuracy of the relationship in normal circumstances among temperature, pressure and volume. Perhaps it is that once grasped
it is such an intuitively satisfying relationship that one feels no desire to challenge its validity. By contrast relativity and quantum dynamics were conceptually always deeply
problematic for me. But they are phenomena outside the norm of daily life, and as such there are no easy metaphors to reach for and no first hand knowledge to bring common sense to bear
on understanding them.
I would think my problems with relativity arose because I could not relate the mathematical vocabulary I was then being taught to the physical observations over time, nor did the concept
of curved space make any sense to me, but that might have been a failing of the applied mathematical language.
Issar, Dekel and the actors Firth reviews are each seeking in their own way to reach for a reality. In Issar's case life and death and the fate of nations are at stake. Not everything that
Science, People & Politics will publish this coming year will be so crucial, but all will strive to say something to raise the spirit and reach across boarders.
Science, from the Big Bang to the conscious intelligent life we call people, exercising their creativity in political arenas, is what this new publication is about.
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Lightly edited for clarity by Helen Gavaghan on 26/7/2020.