Science is not fun

Opinions personals de membres del CEHIC i alumnes de postgrau

Archive for the category General

abr. 05 2011

Digging up the past: The difference between Atapuerca and the “fosas” of the Spanish Civil War

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Last week I went to the CCCB to follow the “Debate ‘Desaparecidos’: El caso de las fosas comunes de la Guerra Civil y el franquismo”. One of the speakers was the well known paleopathologist Francesco Etxeberria who plays a leading role in the exhumation of the victims of the Spanish Civil War. In one of his many slices Etxeberria displayed a drawing by Eneko Las Heras (20 minutos), one may even call it a cartoon, that showed two assemblages of bones under the earth: close to the surface the ones of the victims of the Spanish Civil War, the other, down deeper, the fossils of Atapuerca. Etxeberria wanted to point out that Spain certainly has the scientific and technologic expertise to excavate. But it is only been done in the case of the prestigious hominid site of Atapuerca where millions of Euros are spent while the excavation of the mass graves of the Civil War remains difficult and is impeded by financial difficulties but above all by a lack of political support. The verdict of the “debate” was clear: shame on Spanish politicians, academics, journalists and judges for being silent on the issue of the fosas and not giving the victims their due.
This verdict as such may not be new. What made me pause was the image with the two assemblages of bones. The Spanish seem to be much more interested in hominid fossils that are 800.000 years old than in human remains from 1936. High-ranking politicians and members of the royal family are frequent guests in Atapuerca. I am not aware that Aznar, Zapatero, the Prince of Asturias of Queen Sofía ever assisted the excavation of a mass grave. The only visits Etxeberria ever gets are policemen checking on him.
And there is a reason for this. Atapuerca provides a narrative of origin that is seemingly innocent and not liable to stir controversies – “ideal” for a country such as Spain that is still struggling with the deeply divisive experience of the civil war and of nearly forty years of an ultranationalist dictatorship. It seems to me that one of the reasons for the success of the Atapuerca project is precisely that it steered clear of all issues and imagery that addressed the divisions that still vex the country. Set back in deep time the Homo antecessor can provide a “neutral” frame of reference. The fossils that date back 800.000 years or more are not charged with any of the divided and contested much more recent past. Therefore, in a sense, they seem to be far more apt to represent a “common” beginning.
In both cases scientist do a similar job. They dig in order to find human bones. Once they found the remains they try and find out who these people were. Were they male or female, young or old? And they want to know how they died. The fossils of Homo antecessor show scratch marks that make the paleoanthropologists believe that they were eaten by their human enemies. In the case of the victims of the Civil War the researchers want to establish whether they were shot or clubbed to death. Yet while the discovery of the Atapuerca team is hailed as the first incident of cannibalism the brutal butchery of the Civil War is nothing but sad. Spain may have found a new beginning of its history in Atapuerca but the recent past remains unresolved.


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març 19 2011

Los públicos de la ciencia

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Si volue veure la meva conferència de presentació del llibre a l’IEC, aneu a:

http://videoteca.iec.cat/entrada.asp?v_id=115


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març 19 2011

La revista Mètode m’ha fet una entrevista

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Per si us interessa llegir-la i criticar-la, aneu a:

http://www.metode.cat/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1655


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març 17 2011

A crisis of science journalism?

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Aquest és el títol del seminari que Andy Williams, de la Universitat de Cardiff, pronunciarà a la London School of Economics la setmana que ve. La seva recerca sobre l’economia política del periodisme científic al Regne Unit, i sobre els canvis propiciats per les retallades pressupostàries i la subcontractació de notícies científiques, pot tenir interès per als lectors del bloc:

“Science news is not formed in a social, economic, or cultural vacuum. It is written by people at news organisations which are cutting staff and investing fewer resources into news production than previously. I believe that any discussion of science news in the UK must be situated in the context of the economic and political conditions under which news is made. Drawing on the findings of an internet survey of UK science news journalists (response rate 43%), and 52 semi-structured interviews with specialist journalists and editors, this paper will investigate elements of the political economy of UK specialist science, health and environment news journalism by assessing changes in the strength of this news beat over time, and evaluating changes in working practices and working conditions.

“The research shows there was a significant long-term expansion in the staffing of the UK national science news beat in the 1990s, but also that this growth has recently tailed off as key news outlets have started to cut science journalists. Furthermore, workloads have risen significantly in recent years and this has fuelled a number of problems resulting in increased story counts, pressures to produce more online content, and less time to find, check, and research stories. Consequently, important elements of journalism practice are increasingly outsourced to a fairly narrow range of efficient science news sources. This leads to an increasing reliance on PR information subsidies and a homogenisation of science news content. As long as science reporters’ everyday routines leave ever-diminished time and space for finding their own news stories and writing them rigorously, the prospects for high quality, independent, science news in national mainstream media are diminished.”

A partir d’un missatge a la llista de distribució de correu electrònic Mersenne.


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març 01 2011

Is there a “good” and a “bad” way of popularizing science?

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Yesterday I gave a talk about my Atapuerca project at the CSIC in Barcelona. In the ensuing discussion I was asked what I think about the gigantic popularization industry of Atapuerca? In particular scientists wonder where is the line between “popularization” and “propaganda”? Have Arsuaga and his colleagues gone too far? Did they cross a line? I responded that it is not up to me as a historian of science to decide this. It is not my task to make up norms for what is good popularization and what is bad popularization. I think a historian of science should reconstruct the narratives of the popular discourse, show how researchers construct a scientific persona, point at the (often hidden) political and ideological agendas (in short: all the different uses of popularization) yet without judging it. That would simply be ahistorical.


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ag. 01 2010

Càncer de pagament

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El mes sorprenent d’aquesta notícia sobre la detecció precoç del càncer de pulmó mitjançant un test en sang no és l’excel·lent trobada d’una prova que salvarà moltes vides. El més sorprenent és que aquesta prova es posarà a la venda, almenys als Estats Units, al preu de 300 dòlars. Al Regne Unit, on està situat el laboratori farmacèutic que ha realitzat el descobriment, sortirà al mercat a principis de 2011.

Sembla que la indústria farmacèutica preten que la seva producció estigui supeditada als capricis del mercat i no al funcionament d’una comunitat científica com és la biosanitària. No sé si s’enrecorden del famòs debat que es va crear als Estats Units abans de l’aprovació de la reforma sanitària. Em sembla que la salut no és un valor financer amb el que s’hagi d’especular. Especialment ara que el prestigi dels mercats financers està en entredit i que resulta que el mercat no és la poció màgica que resol tots els nostres problemes. Tal vegada hauríem de preguntar-nos qui són els beneficiaris d’una recerca científica moltes vegades sufragada pels ciutadans i no només si és just que ho disfrutin uns quants, sino si tindrem societats més preparades pels nous reptes si només uns quants, no sempre els més capaços, podran accedir a una sanitat de qualitat.

Carles Gámez.


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jul. 03 2010

Global Talent is already history

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The hopeful Internetmedium Global Talent, dealing with science in Catalonia and the rest of the world died an unpeaceful death last month when the responsable people at the head of Talència decided there was no more money for this project. The decision was very sudden and without any advance information or discussion with the many people (nearly twenty, including myself) involved in Global Talent. Therefore the shock was great, we all felt kind of humiliated to be kicked out on the street like that. All though there is now pratically nobody left to update the website Talència wrote to us: “Global Talent seguirà operatiu amb el mateix esperit i finalitat de donar a conèixer la informació internacional dels avencos científics, i donar impuls i difusió al sistema català de recerca i innovació.” First I thought this was outright cynical, now I tend to call it a ridiculous claim, to “continue” a medium that has just been dealt the deathblow. Global Talent only started in September 2009 and was not given a chance to prosper further. Another chance missed to do proper science communication.

Oliver Hochadel


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maig 26 2010

Tanto con tan poco.

“Serios indicios de que el cráneo del ‘hombre de Orce’ pertenece a un asno”. Aquest va ser el titular de portada de El País del 12 de Maig de 1984. A partir d’aquí el ressò dels mitjans es increïble. El País mateix, en els següents tres dies va publicar fins a onze articles sobre l’Home d’Orce, alguns d’ells d’opinió i clarament crítics tant amb els investigadors, per haver publicat sense total seguretat, com amb la Junta d’Andalusia, per la utilització política que va fer de la resta. Continue Reading »


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maig 21 2010

“I si un dia et preguntessin…t’imagines milers de ciutadans opinant sobre ciència i innovació?”: el Repte 2030

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0.015 per cent de participació per al Repte 2030. L’alcalde Hereu pot estar content amb la participació ciutadana de la seva controvertida consulta popular sobre la reforma de la Diagonal. I el més curiós és que, el que en aquest últim cas es titlla de fracàs rotund (un dotze per cent de participació)  i ha generat dimissions, en el cas del Repte 2030 (mil vegades menys!) és considerat un èxit: unes 75000 persones han votat en tot Europa per decidir quin repte científic (d’entre 14 a triar a través de la pàgina web de l’ Agenda Ciudadana de Ciencia e Innovación creada per això) prefereixen que figuri en les agendes ministerials europees per tal que “es faci realitat” d’aquí al 2030 (i és que la ciència ho pot tot…). Continue Reading »


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maig 03 2010

Atapuerca in Shanghai: The DNA of Spain

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Already in the year 2000 the Atapuerca fossils formed part of the Spanish Pavilion at the EXPO in Hanover. The remains of the “first European” had become representatives of their country. Originally it was also plant to show the fossils in the Spanish Pavilion at the EXPO in Shanghai in 2010 as the starting point for a “tunnel in time”. Now the visitors of the pavilion will start their tour with the “DNA of Spain” being immersed in a cave that evokes the site of Atapuerca.

I quote from the press release of the Fondación Atapuerca:

“La coincidencia en el tiempo de los restos de homínidos encontrados en ambos países resalta además la antigüedad de la población en ambas naciones, reflejado igualmente en la primera sala de los contenidos expositivos del Pabellón de España, dirigida por Bigas Luna. Los casi seis millones de visitantes previstos comenzarán su viaje por el “ADN de España”, con una inmersión en una cueva que evoca el yacimiento de Atapuerca.”

 


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