ATKeiper writes: Thomas Kuhn's landmark book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions just turned fifty years old. In that book, Kuhn coined the expression 'paradigm shift' to describe revolutionary changes in scientific fields — such as the replacement of the geocentric understanding of the universe with the heliocentric model of the solar system. The book was hotly debated for claiming that different scientific paradigms were 'incommensurable,' which implied (for example) that Newton was no more right about gravity than Aristotle. A new essay in The New Atlantis revisits the controversy and asks whether the fact that Kuhn based his argument almost exclusively on physics means that it does not apply as well to major developments in biology or, for that matter, to the social sciences.
ATKeiper writes: A spate of companies has announced plans in the last couple of years to undertake private development of space. There are asteroid-mining proposals backed by Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, various moon-miningproposals, and, announced just this month, a proposed moon-tourism venture. But all of these — especially the efforts to mine resources in space — are hampered by the fact that existing treaties, like the Outer Space Treaty, seem to prohibit private ownership of space resources. A new essay in The New Atlantis revisits the debates about property rights in space and examines a proposal that could resolve the stickiest treaty problems and make it possible to stake claims in space.
ATKeiper writes: The Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, which was selected by the U.S. government in the 1980s to be the nation’s permanent facility for storing nuclear waste, is essentially dead. A new article in The New Atlantis explains how the project was killed: 'In the end, the Obama administration succeeded, by a combination of legal authority and bureaucratic will, in blocking Congress’s plan for the Yucca Mountain repository — certainly for the foreseeable future, and perhaps permanently.... The saga of Yucca Mountain’s creation and apparent demise, and of the seeming inability of the courts to prevent the Obama administration from unilaterally nullifying the decades-old statutory framework for Yucca, illustrates how energy infrastructure is uniquely subject to the control of the executive branch, and so to the influence of presidential politics.' A report from the Government Accountability Office notes that the termination 'essentially restarts a time-consuming and costly process [that] has already cost nearly $15 billion through 2009.'
ATKeiper writes: People have talked for a while about the effects of GPS on our driving ability and our sense of direction; one researcher at McGill has even been developing an exercise regimen to compensate for our supposedly atrophying navigational ability. But is GPS reshaping our lives in a more fundamental sense? The author of this new essay draws on science, sociology, and literature to argue that GPS is transforming how we think about travel and exploration. How can we discover “the new” in an age when everything around us is mapped?
ATKeiper writes: "With the help of yet another committee in a long line of committees studying space, the Obama administration is reconsidering NASA's future in light of new budgetary realities and in the wake of a series of technical problems for the Constellation architecture that the space agency developed as part of the post-ColumbiaVision for Space Exploration. In a new essay, aerospace engineer and blogger Rand Simberg reviews NASA's history and argues that the agency should scrap Constellation and instead work toward a space infrastructure — featuring propellant depots in orbit and elsewhere. 'It isn't NASA's job to put humans on Mars,' he writes. 'It's NASA's job to make it possible for the National Geographic Society, or an offshoot of the Latter-Day Saints, or an adventure tourism company, to put humans on Mars.'"
ATKeiper writes: "A major essay in the latest issue of the journal The New Atlantis (which I help edit) describes the decline of manual competence — the ability to build and fix things with our own hands — in the age of prefabricated parts and hidden workings. The author, Matthew B. Crawford, writes that schools nowadays are wrong to steer young people away from the manual trades and toward 'the most ghostly kinds of work.' Manual work, he argues, is more cognitively demanding and personally fulfilling than many people would expect. Meanwhile, white-collar 'knowledge worker' jobs — the jobs that put us in front of computers all day — seem to be heading more and more toward routinized mindlessness."