Friday, July 25, 2014

A history without Darwin...

by Salman Hameed

Peter Bowler is a leading historian of Biology. I enjoyed his talk at Darwin's bicentennial conference in Alexandria, Egypt back in 2009. After the talk I had a brief chat with him and he mentioned that he was working on a book that imagines history without Darwin and the Origin of Species. The book is now out and it is called Darwin Deleted: Imagining a World Without Darwin. It looks fascinating and makes some interesting claims about the relation between science and religion. Here is a review from Science:
Since the 1920s, the idea of evolution has generally been equated with what has been termed Darwinism, a particular evolutionary theory that explains the origin of biological
diversity by means of natural selection. Largely as a result of the dominance of that theory, most scientists today would find the thought of a history without Darwin unimaginable. In Darwin Deleted, Peter Bowler invites readers to imagine a world in which Darwin never existed. Using counterfactual history and carefully dissecting the history of evolutionary thought, Bowler looks into the past to illuminate prominent debates we face today. 
Bowler starts by refuting the “in the air” thesis: the idea that without Darwin, someone else would have come up with the same or similar ideas and history would have unfolded about as it did. Drawing on the historical record, he demonstrates that although the idea of evolution was becoming widely accepted by the time Darwin published On the Origin of Species (1859), natural selection was by no means part of mid-19th-century thought. Bowler argues that only Darwin, with his unique combination of diverse interests, was able to piece together all of its key components. Thus, it is very plausible that in Darwin's absence other theories would have come to play more important roles in our understanding of evolution. In fact, into the 1920s, non-Darwinian theories were the dominant explanation for evolutionary changes—which substantiates the viability of Bowler's counterfactual world. 
As Bowler writes, it is unquestionable that “Darwin presented his contemporaries with the harshest possible version of nature.” That contributed to his becoming the figurehead of what was perceived as an attack on traditional values. Bowler's analysis makes it clear that without Darwin's revolutionary in-put, evolutionism would have developed in a less confrontational manner. Darwin-like ideas would not otherwise have gained currency for another 30 or 40 years, by which time the general idea of evolution would not have posed a threat to most religious thinkers. Thus, Bowler argues, the antagonism between evolutionism and religion might well be a “product of particular historical events rather than an inevitable conflict of irreconcilable positions.”
This is an interesting point - though it Darwin himself had a polite personality, which mitigated to some of the science/religion antagonism, at least related to evolution. Perhaps more importantly, ideas linked to social Darwinism may not not have developed in the same way:
In addition, Bowler's mental experiment leads us to realize that many of the alleged consequences of what has been called social Darwinism would likely have taken place in a world without Darwin. In fact, “most of the effects … labeled as ‘social Darwinism’ could have emerged in a world that had no inkling of the theory of natural selection” and “some of those effects … might well have been even more strident in the absence of the Darwinian theory.” Far from being a consequence of Darwinism, the idea of progress and the allied theories of directed evolution were grounded in wider social and cultural forces. It is undeniable that Darwinism is a product of its time, with the apparent materialism of a theory based on random variation and struggle. But the simplistic identification of Darwinism with harsh social policies is mistaken, argues Bowler, as most of what is called “‘social Darwinism’ could be justified equally well through rival theories of evolution.” 
Darwin Deleted offers a journey into the history of evolutionism well worth taking. Through his scenario in which the Origin never appeared, Bowler improves our ability to think about the assumptions underlying contemporary debates.
This looks like a fascinating book and is on my reading list. The last two chapters, "Evolution and Religion: A Conflict Avoided" and "Social Evolutionism" specifically deal with the issues presented in the review. For more, here is the description of the book:
The ideas and terminology of Darwinism are so pervasive these days that it seems impossible to avoid them, let alone imagine a world without them. But in this remarkable rethinking of scientific history, Peter J. Bowler does just that. He asks: What if Charles Darwin had not returned from the voyage of the Beagle and thus did not write On the Origin of Species? Would someone else, such as Alfred Russel Wallace, have published the selection theory and initiated a similar transformation? Or would the absence of Darwin’s book have led to a different sequence of events, in which biology developed along a track that did not precipitate a great debate about the impact of evolutionism? Would there have been anything equivalent to social Darwinism, and if so would the alternatives have been less pernicious and misappropriated? 
In Darwin Deleted, Bowler argues that no one else, not even Wallace, was in a position to duplicate Darwin’s complete theory of evolution by natural selection. Evolutionary biology would almost certainly have emerged, but through alternative theories, which were frequently promoted by scientists, religious thinkers, and moralists who feared the implications of natural selection. Because non-Darwinian elements of evolutionism flourished for a time in the real world, it is possible to plausibly imagine how they might have developed, particularly if the theory of natural selection had not emerged until decades after the acceptance of the basic idea of evolution. Bowler’s unique approach enables him to clearly explain the non-Darwinian tradition—and in doing so, he reveals how the reception of Darwinism was historically contingent. By taking Darwin out of the equation, Bowler is able to fully elucidate the ideas of other scientists, such as Richard Owen and Thomas Huxley, whose work has often been misunderstood because of their distinctive responses to Darwin. 
Darwin Deleted boldly offers a new vision of scientific history. It is one where the sequence of discovery and development would have been very different and would have led to an alternative understanding of the relationship between evolution, heredity, and the environment—and, most significantly, a less contentious relationship between science and religion. Far from mere speculation, this fascinating and compelling book forces us to reexamine the preconceptions that underlie many of the current controversies about the impact of evolutionism. It shows how contingent circumstances surrounding the publication of On the Origin of Species polarized attitudes in ways that still shape the conversation today. 
You can buy the book here

Thursday, July 17, 2014

UFO sightings explained in the Economist

by Salman Hameed

I didn't know the Economist had a sense of humor. There was a random box in one of its recent issues and has this figure (thanks to Jim Miller for the tip):


And here is the description:
On July 2nd avid watchers of the skies celebrate World UFO day—the anniversary of the supposed crash of a flying saucer near Roswell in 1947. Helpfully, the National UFO Reporting Centre, a non-profit, has catalogued almost 90,000 reported sightings of UFOs, mostly in America, since 1974. It turns out that aliens are considerate. They seldom disturb earthlings during working or sleeping hours. Rather, they tend to arrive in the evening, especially on Fridays, when folks are sitting on the front porch nursing their fourth beer, the better to appreciate flashing lights in the heavens (see chart). The state aliens like best is Washington—a finding that pre-dates the legalisation of pot there. Other popular destinations are also near the Canadian border, where the Northern lights are sometimes visible. UFOs tend to shun big cities, where there are lots of other lights, and daylight hours, when people might think they were just airplanes.
Note that the state of Washington is already leading in the number of UFO sightings, but the number of alien visitations may only increase now that marijuana is legal there. Also, see here for our own Massachusetts sighting in 2013.

Yes, this coming fall semester I'm teaching my favorite class Aliens: Close Encounters of a Multidisciplinary Kind, and so expect to see more posts on UFOs and religion.

For your entertainment purposes, here is a Pixar short film called "Lifted":

Monday, July 14, 2014

Following the sails of Sinbad

by Salman Hameed

 Figure from Science

A few weeks ago, one of the feature stories in the journal Science focused on the impact of the maritime trade in the Indian Ocean. In particular, how that trade connected various parts of world. In fact, it looks like that this trade had a larger impact than the famous trade route via the Silk Road. That is all well and good and the discussion is part of debates within archaeology and history. However, I liked the fact that the article started with quotations from the adventures of Sinbad the Sailor in the Thousand and One Nights. When I was growing up, I read the Urdu translation of the Sinbad's Seven Voyages, and absolutely loved them. I can't recall too many details, but I still remember that in one of the voyages, Sinbad and the ship's crew and passengers landed on what they thought to be an island. It even had trees. But it turned out to be a gigantic whale! Now many many years have passes since I read that. But even now, when I see a whale (in pictures or live), my first thought goes to that story and wonder - how big must have been that whale for them to have mistaken it for an island? And trees!! Okay - so here is a nice example of how good imaginative stories can just stick with you for your whole life.

Back to the Science article (unfortunately, you will need subscription to read the full article). Here is the beginning:
“One day, the old desire entered my head to visit far countries and strange people, to voyage among the isles and curiously regard things hitherto unknown to me,” recalls Sinbad the Sailor in The Thousand and One Nights, first compiled in the 9th century C.E.

Until recently, Sinbad's tall tales held little interest for scholars of ancient and medieval East-West relations. They focused instead on the more than 6000-kilometer Silk Road far to the north, made famous by Venetian merchant Marco Polo, who traveled across the Central Asian steppes from Europe to China in the 13th century. Most researchers ignored the fact that Polo returned to Europe via the Indian Ocean, in the waters plied by real-world Sinbads. Glimpsed only in the odd Roman coin found in an Indian village or in medieval Chinese ceramics washed up on a Kenyan shore, the southern maritime road was easy to overlook.
“Also, the trading habit rose in me again.” This wily Odysseus of the Indian Ocean told fantastic stories of shipwrecks, cannibals, and exotic lands rich with gems and heady spices.

Now, this busy trading route is emerging from the shadows. Researchers are picking through Southeast Asian swamps, diving off Sri Lankan reefs, and digging on African beaches. The artifacts they are finding—glass beads, potsherds, seeds, animal bones—reveal a lost story of Indian Ocean trade that went far beyond the simple exchange of gems and spices. “Finally we are moving beyond just talking about trade to the making of cultural identity,” says archaeologist and historian Himanshu Prabha Ray of New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University.

The work, still in the early stages, is shifting archaeologists' focus from the great empires at either end of the Silk Road—Rome and China—to the trade and influence of the vibrant societies in between. Until recently, many historians would have agreed with a 20th century French scholar who dismissed the world's third largest ocean as “scarcely more than an extension of the eastern Mediterranean.” A paucity of ancient texts and archaeological digs reinforced this parochial view.

But the new evidence shows that from 2000 B.C.E. until the arrival of Europeans in 1498, the Indian Ocean network linked diverse societies on three continents, catalyzing industrial development and cultural changes from early Southeast Asia to medieval coastal Africa. It all sounds unexpectedly modern, says J. D. Hill, an archaeologist at the British Museum in London. “The surprise is that the world was interconnected long ago.”
Here is a bit in the article about the birth of Swahili:
In the early centuries of Indian Ocean trade, “East Africa is the missing story,” says Mark Horton, an archaeologist at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom. Few ancient texts clarify Africa's role, and archaeology there lags behind work on Asian coasts. The Periplus mentions extensive trade between Mediterranean and African ports. But excavators have yet to identify any ports predating 700 C.E., and “Greco-Roman” beads found on the African coast turned out to be medieval, according to analyses by archaeologist Marilee Wood of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. Evidence is growing that East Africa south of Somalia did not play a major role in Indian Ocean trade until after that time.
The Indian Ocean trade did eventually leave one of its most enduring legacies on the African coast from Kenya to Mozambique: an entire culture based on the trading way of life. The Swahili way of life includes the Muslim faith, an Arabic-laced language, and culinary and mercantile traditions strongly reminiscent of the Middle East. The word “Swahili” itself is Arabic for “coastal dwellers.”
What about the maritime trade at the time of Sinbad?
What kind of vessels made these voyages? Based on the few wrecks found to date, Lucy Blue, a maritime archaeologist at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, says that a typical vessel of Sinbad's era carried 1000 times the weight a camel can bear and required far less human labor than a Silk Road caravan. One example, a 9th century ship wrecked off the coast of Indonesia in the Java Sea, epitomized the protoglobalization of the medieval Indian Ocean. The vessel was crafted in an Arab style, carried a load of Chinese goods, and was built with timbers from Africa, according to Horton. Another wreck turned up just last fall on a shrimp farm on the southwest outskirts of Bangkok. A team co-led by Erbprem Vatcharangkul, chief of Thailand's underwater archaeological division, began excavating and revealed a vessel at least 35 meters in length, built in Arab style and dating to about the 8th century. Sailors or looters have scavenged the cargo, but they left behind an ivory tusk, wood that likely comes from India, and Chinese ceramics.

The sailing culture that these ships spawned left its mark on the societies that ring the ocean. Southern Indian Tamil poetry from the first 3 centuries C.E. warns young men not to leave home for dreams of wealth in distant ports, notes archaeologist Veerasamy Selvakumar of Tamil University in Thanjavur. That's a sign of societal stress as people shifted from traditional farming and fishing to mercantile pursuits, he says. Later inscriptions and stone carvings suggest that ship owners grew into an influential and wealthy class, according to archaeologist Pierre-Yves Manguin of the National University of Singapore. A Javanese shipmaster, for example, served as ambassador from a Javanese kingdom to the Chinese court in 993 C.E. “They played a big role as cultural diplomats and in propagating” faiths like Buddhism and Islam, Manguin says.

The tales of Sinbad reflect this status. In his final voyage, the Iraqi-born merchant acts as a diplomat for the Baghdad caliph, carrying precious gifts to a distant ruler and earning the caliph's gratitude.

By 1400 C.E., the geopolitical dynamics in the Indian Ocean began to change as Chinese and European consumers tired of buying expensive foreign goods through Arab, Indian, and Southeast Asian middlemen. Fleets of massive Chinese ships, some carrying 500 people, cruised as far west as Arabia and Africa, rattling the locals (Science, 9 May, p. 572).

Less than a century later, Europeans followed suit, mastering the trip around Africa. Over the succeeding centuries, the Indian Ocean trade fractured into more local exchange as the Portuguese, French, Dutch, and British, equipped with better military technology than the regional powers, carved up the waters well into the 20th century. Today, however, the ocean is humming with international trade again; two-thirds of the world's trade goods move through it.

Sinbad retired comfortably to Baghdad after his seventh voyage, pledging never to set foot on a ship again. Archaeologists, however, are only at the beginning of their effort to recover the long-lost chronicle of the Indian Ocean. “We are rewriting history,” Wood says.
This is a fascinating multidisciplinary research project that received a 5-year,  $1.5 million, from the European Research Council to piece together the neglected history of Indian Ocean trade. You can find out more about this research at their website, Sealinks Project.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Avoiding Miracles and Emphasizing Naturalism in Science Teaching

by Salman Hameed


Muslim Science website has started to call for thematic articles. Last month it was on environment and sustainability (check out this editorial by Saleem H. Ali on Environmentalism as an Interface for Science Education in Muslim Societies and on a slightly different topic, Space Travel: Marred by the lack of a Consensus by Parandis Tajbaksh).

This month's focus is on science education and you can check this article by Rana Dajani, Is Science Education the Real Issue? I also contributed an article titled Avoiding Miracles and Emphasizing Naturalism in Science Teaching. I focus on the issue of origin(s) of life to look at the tension between a belief in miracles and good science education:
Some of the most challenging and exciting areas of research, deal with various forms of ‘origin’ questions. Origin of life. Origin of the Earth. Origin of human beings. Origin of consciousness. And of course, the origin of the universe. These are not only hard problems, but also represent some of humanity’s biggest questions. It is no wonder then, that these ‘origin’ questions not only capture the attention of scientists and general public alike, but often also serve as the conduit into science for budding scientists, in high schools around the world. 
But these questions also straddle the boundaries of science and religion. There is perhaps an inherent tension here, between the limits of knowable science and the beginnings of unknowable mysteries. For most people, this tension doesn’t impact their daily lives. Since the belief in miracles is quite common, not just in Muslim societies, but all around the world, it is easy to ascribe origin mysteries, and other unexplained occurrences, to the Divine. A medical doctor or an engineer may still approach their work in a pragmatic way, without being affected by their outlook on ‘origin’ miracles. 
For a scientist or a scientist in training, such an approach poses problems. I have run into students and educated individuals, who take pleasure in the failure of science to provide answers. The origin(s) of life, in particular, is an area in their crosshairs. I can understand the desire for this. To use a sports analogy, science has been so successful in explaining physical phenomena, that there is an urge to root against it. If for nothing else but to say “See – science doesn’t have all the answers”. Unfortunately, they often go one step further and ascribe God’s miraculous action, as the default alternative to the as yet unsolved problem, thus unwittingly creating an either/or relation between science and religion. 
Indeed, scientists do not know how life started here on Earth. But science usually thrives on the boundaries of failures and unknowns. After all, it is these very areas of unknowns, that become fertile grounds for future PhDs, that end up solving hard problems. A resort to a belief in miracles in such instances, would in fact, be anathema to this whole enterprise. 
We can take lessons from history of science. Just a few centuries ago, the origins of the Earth and the Solar System were considered problems beyond the limits of science. Today, we have an excellent scientific understanding of the formation of the Sun and the planets that make up our Solar system. No gaps, no miracles. In fact, I find the ‘nebular theory of the formation of solar system’ to be quite beautiful, as it elegantly explains not only the origins of rocky and gaseous planets, but it also elucidates the reasons why planets have particular rotations around their respective axes, and the origins of asteroids and comets. If one desires, the elegance of the physical laws behind the explanations, can indeed be attributed to the Divine, but the rest is fully explained in a naturalistic framework. 
In order to produce good scientists at a consistent level in the Muslim world, we have to instill a mindset in science classrooms, that eschews the notion of miracles when it comes to the physical world. All unsolved problems, including those at the boundaries of science and religion, may then be approached within the framework of methodological naturalism – an assumption that for practical purposes, all causes are empirical and natural. At the same time, we must appreciate, that beliefs in various historical miracles, are also central to most religions, including Islam, and numerous rituals, tenets, and practices revolve around these very beliefs. In this sense, a belief in miracles is about religion and not about seeking a physical explanation, of how the world works. 
But this is a fine needle to thread. After all, how does one demarcate the domains of miracles and science? And if one accepts that there is a precedence of violation of physical laws (I’m using miracles here in this particular sense) in history, it is easy to extend such explanations to the present as well. Furthermore, for many, the questions of ‘origin of life’ fall squarely in the miraculous domain, and it is the encroachment of science, that is the problem. And yet, the introduction of miracles as an explanation, is an end to scientific inquiry. 
This is a hard problem. But a Deistic/naturalistic approach to the physical world may be essential to building an effective scientific culture in the Muslim world. There cannot be an end to inquiry – especially when it comes to ‘origin’ questions. A belief in miracles, in this sense, will have to be banished from any scientific question, but may still play a role in religious life. When it comes to the future of science in the Muslim world, this is an important needle to thread. I hope that the scientific answer to how life began on Earth (and perhaps on other planets), comes from a laboratory somewhere in the Muslim world.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Sacred Engine and the preservation of order in "Snowpiercer"

by Salman Hameed


The movie is much better than its trailer. If you can stomach graphic violence, then check out Snowpiercer, directed by Korean director, Bong Joon-ho. The premise is outlandish. After a failed experiment to fix global warming, all of humanity is extinct except for those who boarded a global train, the Snowpiercer. It has been running for 18 years now, but there are tremendous inequalities in amenities available on the train. The front of the train has parties, greenhouses, good food (including sushi), music, and even a school with fascinatingly creepy education. The back of the train, however, lives in misery, and it is unclear if they are really that better off being on the train at all.

The above description may not seem that interesting. However, the movie then plays with the theme of human survival in different ways. For example, the engine is considered "sacred", as the all powerful engine (and its inventor and operator) is the only thing keeping the humans alive (it is so cold outside, that humans cannot go more than few feet from the train before freezing). But more interestingly, there is an insistence on the maintaing of the status quo, including keeping the population at a certain level. Everything is preordained. Those who are in the back of the train, should always be in the back of the train (and remain underprivileged), and those at the front of the train should always remain at the front. An effort to change this will result in chaos and to the extinction of these remaining humans. The heart of the film lies in asking if humanity is worth preserving such an unfair system?

The movie also reminded me of Aronofsky's Noah, which I absolutely loved. In Noah, God was disgusted with humans and wanted to wipe out all of humanity. The fact that humans survived (oops - a spoiler for the flood story) was because of Noah's humanity (his failure to kill his own grandchildren) and not necessarily because of God (this ambiguity is what makes Noah fascinating). In Snowpiercer, we also have an ark, but God (or at least the operator of the sacred engine) wants to preserve humanity and that will exact a high cost on the humans (and/or human dignity).

The film is claustrophobic but keeps you involved. Better still, you don't where the story is going. There are some fantastic shots of a traversing train through a frozen world. If you have a chance, see the film in a theater. Here is the trailer:



'Snowpiercer' Theatrical Trailer from J.D. Funari on Vimeo.

Also see this article on designing the train sections of the film. Also, the movie is a fantastic product of globalization: The film is based on a French graphic novel, has a predominantly American cast, and has a Korean director working with a Czech production designer. 

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Nature editorial on the grim situation of academic freedom in Egypt

by Salman Hameed

Grim is perhaps a soft word. Hundreds of people have been handed death sentences in mass trials and thousands others are languishing in jail for political dissent. Nature does a fine job of providing numbers for those affected in the academia. Here are some chilling facts:
The network [The International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies] has also expressed concern that, among 41,000 prisoners arrested since the coup, around 1,000 are engineers, physicians and scientists.

In April, a group of Egyptian scholars published a report on the academic victims of the unrest that followed the military coup, documenting by name and affiliation those who had been arrested or killed by the Egyptian authorities. The tally includes 1,347 student arrests and 176 student deaths. Sixteen of the deaths took place during police raids on campus. Seven faculty members have been killed, 160 placed under arrest, 20 put on parole and 25 are on the run.
 This is unbelievably sad and the reaction of much of the world, including US, has been shameful. The Nature editorial then gets into the details of administrative and campus security changes under Sisi. These details are important as well, but I think any commentary on those details pale in comparison to the numbers above. Here are some of the details: 
What frustrated the hopes of the Egyptian Arab Spring? Morsi, an Islamist — who happens to hold a PhD in materials science — only narrowly beat his secular opponents to become the country’s first democratically elected president. But moves he made to empower the Muslim Brotherhood alienated many. He proved unable to control the economy, and the country descended once again into political chaos.

Impatient for change after the revolution, in September 2011 thousands of university faculty staff from around the country demonstrated in Cairo, demanding that university leaders — all appointed directly by Mubarak — be replaced. A system allowing faculty members to elect their own rectors and deans was introduced. The protesters had also called for police to be banned from campuses unless explicitly invited by university administrations — a reaction against the oversight of campuses by state security guards during Mubarak’s rule.
The new era has reversed both of these reforms. Almost immediately, police moved onto campuses to disrupt frequent demonstrations there against the regime, many organized by Islamist sympathizers angry at Morsi’s removal, and many of which interrupted teaching activities. As the new statistics show, the clashes too often ended in violence.
And last week, Morsi’s successor, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, issued a presidential decree that puts the appointment of university leaders once more under his control, a move that is widely believed will allow the regime to oust any supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood who have been elected to the posts.
Democracy cannot be built in a day. Egyptian universities have on occasion been rather naive in their response to their new freedoms. The election of academic leaders by faculty members is common in Europe, but is increasingly being phased out as its obvious weakness — that rectors might be appointed on the basis of popularity or in exchange for favours, rather than on competence — has become apparent. More usually, rectors are selected by a university board, and faculty input is indirect. Still, faculty election is better than crude political appointment.
 Here is the full editorial (but you may need subscription to access it).

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Thirty Meter Telescope Inching Towards Final Approval

by Salman Hameed

I have provided updates here on the controversy over the proposed constriction of a thirty-meter telescope on top of Mauna Kea (for a background, please see here and the links there in that post). I'm
torn on this issue as the possibility of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) is amazingly exciting for astronomy. However, I also have tremendous sympathy for the arguments made by the native Hawaiian groups for the preservation of their sacred mountain and of environmental groups. Astronomy here finds itself in an odd role of being the Goliath. Nevertheless, at the heart if all this lies a fascinating question of who owns a mountain and how do prioritize competing interests of very different nature.

All that said, it looks like the TMT is getting close to its final approval. The telescope consortium, actually, has been quite good in getting things done by the book. Therefore, they haven't started any construction work until all of the appeals are over. Just last week, the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) gave a tentative approval to the sublease to the TMT. However, the board will still consider a contested hearing case, but it looks like we are seeing the end of the road for the opponents of the construction of the new telescope. From Hawai'i Tribune:
The state Board of Land and Natural Resources on Friday approved granting the $1.3 billion Thirty Meter Telescope project a sublease for land on Mauna Kea.
In concept anyway.
While the board voted in favor of the agreement, it won’t go into effect until several contested case hearing requests are resolved. That process could take from a month to as much as a year to complete, board Chairman William Aila said at the meeting in Honolulu.
TMT spokeswoman Sandra Dawson said she isn’t expecting a lengthy delay.
“I am very hopeful we will move forward at this point,” she said.
Construction of the large telescope won’t occur unless the sublease is officially granted, Dawson said.
The situation isn’t unfamiliar for the project’s proponents.
A contested case hearing was held following the board’s approval of a conservation district use permit in 2011.
A hearings officer upheld the permit, a decision the board accepted in April 2013.
Critics of the project, who note the cultural importance of the mountain to Native Hawaiians, say it’s wise for the state not to rush, particularly since the mountain is already home to several other telescopes.
Kealoha Pisciotta, one of the contested case hearing petitioners, said there are still important issues that need to be resolved.
“These (hearings) don’t stop projects,” she said. “It’s a method of informing decision makers what the impact will be.   
Read the full article here. Here are links to earlier posts that might be helpful to get a background on the controversy:
Thirty Meter Telescope Approved on top of Mauna Kea

 Also, here is the location of TMT with respect to the existing observatories on Mauna Kea:


Oh, and if you are interested in checking out an amazing documentary about the intersection of astronomy, culture and politics, check out Nostalgia for the Light. It deals with telescopes in Chile, and is spectacular. See my review of the movie in the journal Science.
The state Board of Land and Natural Resources on Friday approved granting the $1.3 billion Thirty Meter Telescope project a sublease for land on Mauna Kea.
In concept anyway.
While the board voted in favor of the agreement, it won’t go into effect until several contested case hearing requests are resolved. That process could take from a month to as much as a year to complete, board Chairman William Aila said at the meeting in Honolulu.
TMT spokeswoman Sandra Dawson said she isn’t expecting a lengthy delay.
“I am very hopeful we will move forward at this point,” she said.
Construction of the large telescope won’t occur unless the sublease is officially granted, Dawson said.
The situation isn’t unfamiliar for the project’s proponents.
A contested case hearing was held following the board’s approval of a conservation district use permit in 2011.
A hearings officer upheld the permit, a decision the board accepted in April 2013.
Critics of the project, who note the cultural importance of the mountain to Native Hawaiians, say it’s wise for the state not to rush, particularly since the mountain is already home to several other telescopes.
Kealoha Pisciotta, one of the contested case hearing petitioners, said there are still important issues that need to be resolved.
“These (hearings) don’t stop projects,” she said. “It’s a method of informing decision makers what the impact will be.”
- See more at: http://hawaiitribune-herald.com/news/local-news/tmt-sublease-approved-0#sthash.7zxBO4Ps.dpuf
The state Board of Land and Natural Resources on Friday approved granting the $1.3 billion Thirty Meter Telescope project a sublease for land on Mauna Kea.
In concept anyway.
While the board voted in favor of the agreement, it won’t go into effect until several contested case hearing requests are resolved. That process could take from a month to as much as a year to complete, board Chairman William Aila said at the meeting in Honolulu.
TMT spokeswoman Sandra Dawson said she isn’t expecting a lengthy delay.
“I am very hopeful we will move forward at this point,” she said.
Construction of the large telescope won’t occur unless the sublease is officially granted, Dawson said.
The situation isn’t unfamiliar for the project’s proponents.
A contested case hearing was held following the board’s approval of a conservation district use permit in 2011.
A hearings officer upheld the permit, a decision the board accepted in April 2013.
Critics of the project, who note the cultural importance of the mountain to Native Hawaiians, say it’s wise for the state not to rush, particularly since the mountain is already home to several other telescopes.
Kealoha Pisciotta, one of the contested case hearing petitioners, said there are still important issues that need to be resolved.
“These (hearings) don’t stop projects,” she said. “It’s a method of informing decision makers what the impact will be.”
- See more at: http://hawaiitribune-herald.com/news/local-news/tmt-sublease-approved-0#sthash.7zxBO4Ps.dpuf
The state Board of Land and Natural Resources on Friday approved granting the $1.3 billion Thirty Meter Telescope project a sublease for land on Mauna Kea.
In concept anyway.
While the board voted in favor of the agreement, it won’t go into effect until several contested case hearing requests are resolved. That process could take from a month to as much as a year to complete, board Chairman William Aila said at the meeting in Honolulu.
TMT spokeswoman Sandra Dawson said she isn’t expecting a lengthy delay.
“I am very hopeful we will move forward at this point,” she said.
Construction of the large telescope won’t occur unless the sublease is officially granted, Dawson said.
The situation isn’t unfamiliar for the project’s proponents.
A contested case hearing was held following the board’s approval of a conservation district use permit in 2011.
A hearings officer upheld the permit, a decision the board accepted in April 2013.
Critics of the project, who note the cultural importance of the mountain to Native Hawaiians, say it’s wise for the state not to rush, particularly since the mountain is already home to several other telescopes.
Kealoha Pisciotta, one of the contested case hearing petitioners, said there are still important issues that need to be resolved.
“These (hearings) don’t stop projects,” she said. “It’s a method of informing decision makers what the impact will be.”
- See more at: http://hawaiitribune-herald.com/news/local-news/tmt-sublease-approved-0#sthash.7zxBO4Ps.dpuf

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Pew Survey: Not much support for Boku Haram in Nigeria or the Taliban in Pakistan

by Salman Hameed

The Pew Foundation has a new survey out that there is an increasing level of concern in the Muslim world about Islamic extremism. This survey was in fact taken before the fall of Mosul in Iraq to ISIS - which I guess, now is just IS (The Islamic State). On a side note, I'm glad about the name change, as Isis reminded me of the nice Egyptian goddess of health, marriage and love, whereas the new ISIS is mostly deadly, brutal, and tragic. In any case, I think respondents would be even more concerned now with the all the recent developments in Iraq.

Before we look into some of the results which uses the word Islamic extremism frequently, please also read this excellent article by Nathan Lean: Stop Saying "Moderate Muslims". You Are Only Empowering Islamophobes".

Here are some of the key Pew findings. Yes, the concern is high about Islamic extremism in almost all Muslim countries surveyed, and it is to be expected. Many of these countries are experiencing it first-hand. Indonesia is a notable exception, and I'm surprised at the level of difference between Malaysia and Indonesia:


Here are the opinions on al Qaeda, and again it is to be expected. Nevertheless, it is surprising to see a quarter of Bangladeshi respondents seeing al Qaeda in a favorable light. In Pakistan and Malaysia, a sizable fraction did not provide an answer (and I do not blame them for being cautious on both sides):


And most Nigerians have an unfavorable opinion of Boku Haram - a really nasty group that kidnapped school girls and have been bombing market and other public places for the last few years. In fact, there was a bombing just this morning in northern Nigeria that killed 18 people.


And Pakistanis don't have much love for the Taliban either (and this holds for all flavors of Taliban). However, it will be interesting to see the break-down of numbers by provinces. On the one hand, I can see the Taliban enjoying broader support in the northern K-P province, but on the other hand, Peshawar is also a routinely struck by their bombings. I wouldn't be surprised if Baluchistan has higher support as there is a strong separatist movement that is not linked with the Taliban, but may have sympathy for the (current) enemies of Pakistan military.

Here are the numbers for support for suicide bombings against civilian targets. Perhaps not surprisingly, the numbers in Gaza are high. But then again, I'm surprised at the numbers in Bangladesh. What is going on there? In contrast, I think Pakistanis have seen enough suicide bombings and only 3% are okay with the use of such a tactic:

And here is the level of support for suicide bombings over the last 12 years. This is a good reminder that these views, of course, are driven by circumstances. Lebanon and Pakistan - both have been rocked by internal violence - have the most dramatic shift in views, with Lebanese support for suicide bombings going down from 74% in 2002 to 29% in 2014, and in Pakistan from 33% to just 3! So - next time when Sam Harris or Pamela Geller or Ayan Hirsi Ali start making normative claims on these issues, just point out that Muslims not only have diverse positions on this topic, but their positions also change with time (and then re-read Nathan Lean's piece on problematic use of "moderate Muslims").


Read the full report here