A Brief History of Sexism in Science
Michio Kaku is a futurist, popularizer of science, and theoretical physicist, as well as a bestselling author and the host of two radio programs. He is the co-founder of string field theory (a branch of string theory), and continues Einstein’s search to unite the four fundamental forces of nature into one unified theory. He holds the Henry Semat Chair and Professorship in theoretical physics and a joint appointment at City College of New York and the Graduate Center of C.U.N.Y. He is also a visiting professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society.
Kaku launched his Big Think blog, "Dr. Kaku's Universe," in March 2010.
Question: Will we discover a “theory of everything” by 2050?
Michio Kaku: My work is in String Theory. In fact, I'm the co-founder of String Field Theory, which allows you to summarize all of the laws of String Theory into an equation about one inch long. Well, that's my equation. I helped to write that with Professor Kikowa of Japan, and in fact, you can even buy a T-shirt which has my equation on it. However, my equation is not the final word because first of all, there are five different string theories. So, there are five different one-inch equations for each of the different String Theories. And now we have something called M-theory, a theory of membranes vibrating in 11 dimensions and we are clueless, absolutely clueless about getting that one-inch equation that will allow us to understand M-theory, Membrane Theory.
So, we are, in some sense, going back to square one in terms of the mathematics, but in terms of the theory itself, we hope to match String Theory with the results of the Large Hadron Collider.
First of all, dark matter. We now realize that most of the matter in the universe is dark, invisible matter. If I had dark matter in my hand right now, it would be invisible. In fact, it would literally dissolve its way right through my fingers, go right to the center of the earth, would go right to China, back to the center of the earth and back up into my hand, and then it would simply oscillate between China and my hand forever. That's dark matter. And you know, it means that every single chemistry book and science book on earth is wrong. Every book of science says that the universe is mainly made out of atoms, hydrogen, helium, going up to uranium. Wrong. We know realize that most of the matter in the universe is dark matter. And most of the energy of the universe is dark energy. An invisible energy that permeates the vacuum of space and time. In fact, 73% of the energy of the universe is dark energy. And we're clueless about what is the nature of dark energy.
Twenty-three percent of the matter energy of the universe is dark matter. And we hope to create dark matter with the Large Hadron Collider. Well, where do we fit into this? Stars made out of hydrogen and helium make up 4% of the universe. But what about us? What about oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, what about us? We make .03% of the universe. Let me repeat that again. The atoms that are familiar to us, the higher elements make up .03% of the universe. We are the odd balls. We are the exception. Most of the universe is made out of dark energy and dark matter and we hope to create dark matter with the Large Hadron Collider.
The leading theory of dark matter is that it is caused by sparticles. Sparticles are super particles higher vibrations of the string. So, we represent perhaps the lowest octave of the string. Everything you see around us is nothing but the lowest vibration of the string. But the Large Hadron Collider would be powerful enough to excite the next set of vibrations, super particles, sparticles, that may makeup dark matter.
But there's another theory about the nature of dark matter. If our universe co-exists with a parallel universe, and there is a galaxy in this parallel universe, it would be invisible because light would move behind, underneath this parallel galaxy, but gravity seeps between galaxies, therefore you would feel this gravitational effect, but it would be invisible. Now, what is invisible, but has gravity? Dark matter.
So, ironically, maybe we have already discovered dark matter, already dark matter exists in a parallel universe whose gravity we detect in our universe. So, the Large Hadron Collider, outside Geneva, Switzerland, may finally answer the question. What is dark matter? We know it holds the galaxies together, but what is dark matter?
I should also point out that there's a little bit of a sad story with regards to dark matter. Dark matter was actually postulated by a woman, Vera Rubin, back in the 1960's. Our Milky Way galaxy rotates so fast, that by rights, by Newtonian mechanics, it should fly apart. Well, Vera Rubin's results were considered ridiculous. How could our galaxy spin so fast that it has to fly apart? She said, well maybe there's matter out there holding it together? People laughed and pretty much ignored her work. Not any more. We now realize that she may eventually win the Nobel Prize for dark matter.
So, there is a dark secret in our field of physics, and that is that women scientists are sometimes not treated as equals. The most famous case is that of Jocelyn Bell. Back in the 1960's, she was a lowly female graduate student who saw a star blink at her through a telescope. Well, she carefully logged the blinking of that star day after day night after night, week after week, and then she made the biggest mistake of her professional life. She told her thesis advisor. He came over, took one look and said, "Oh, hey." Well, when it was time to write up the paper, whose name came first? Jocelyn Bell? The one who made the discovery? The one who on very cold nights would log this tiny star blinking at her? Or the famous scientist? Well, his name came first.
When it was time to give talks around the world, who gave the talks? Her or the scientist? He gave the talks. And when it was time to win the Nobel Prize in physics for the discovery of the pulsar, who won the Nobel Prize? He did.
Now, what's the lesson here? The lesson here is, if you ever make an astounding discovery, tell me first. I mean, I'm a generous man, I'll give you a nice footnote, a subway token perhaps to reward you for making this fantastic discovery, but hey, we big-name scientists, our name comes first.
What’s the "women in science" problem, again? From the grad student whose thesis advisor stole her Nobel-winning ideas to the once-ridiculed theorist of dark matter, female scientific excellence has long been snubbed.
Swiss researchers identify new dangers of modern cocaine.
- Cocaine cut with anti-worming adulterant levamisole may cause brain damage.
- Levamisole can thin out the prefrontal cortex and affect cognitive skills.
- Government health programs should encourage testing of cocaine for purity.
Sarco assisted suicide pods come in three different styles, and allow you to die quickly and painlessly. They're even quite beautiful to look at.
Death: it happens to everyone (except, apparently, Keanu Reeves). But while the impoverished and lower-class people of the world die in the same ol' ways—cancer, heart disease, and so forth—the upper classes can choose hip and cool new ways to die. Now, there's an assisted-suicide pod so chic and so stylin' that peeps (young people still say peeps, right?) are calling it the "Tesla" of death... it's called... the Sarco!
Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:
"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."
Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.
Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.
The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?
Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression
In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.
It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.
Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.
Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.
The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.
It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.
In their findings the authors state:
"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.
Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."
With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.
Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner
As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:
- Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
- Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
- Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
- Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
- Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
- Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
- Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.
It's interesting to note the authors found that:
"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."
You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.
Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:
- 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
- 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
- 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
- 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
- 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
- 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.
Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement
Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:
- Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
- Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
- Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
- Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
- We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
- If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.
Civic discourse in the divisive age
Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.
There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:
"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.
Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."
We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.
This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.
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