Tag Archives: The Two Cultures

Vancouver’s (Canada) Fringe Festival (Sept. 7 – 17, 2017) and science

A lot of writers feel the need to comment when art and science are brought together in various artistic/scientific works. Here’s Janet Smith in a Sept. 6, 2017 article about science at Vancouver’s 2017 Fringe Festival for the Georgia Straight,

Science and art are often seen as opposites [emphasis mine], but they seem to be intermingling like never before at this year’s Vancouver Fringe Festival.

Experimental cancer treatments, zoology lectures, cryogenically frozen heads: they’re just some of the topics inspiring theatrical outings.

Smith is right and wrong. She’s right if your perspective ranges from the mid-20th century to the present day. “The Two Cultures” a 1959 lecture (and later a book) by C.P. Snow discusses a divide between two cultures: science and the humanities and he includes the arts in with the humanities. However, if you dive deeper into the past, you’ll find that humanities/arts and sciences have been more closely linked. Science sprang from ‘Natural Philosophy’ and faculties of arts and sciences are still found in universities.

Returning to the 2017 Vancouver Fringe Festival, I found some 17 shows that are science-inflected or using the mention of science as a marketing tool. Here they are:

Distractingly Sexy: Join real life scientist (and writer) Molly Mumford for an interactive, ultra-funny quite wild, pretty-durn-sexy history of how women in science have been f*S%ed over for centuries.

Thursday September 14, 2017 6:45 pm
Friday September 15, 2017 8:35 pm
Saturday Sept. 16, 2017 2:45 pm

Shadowlands: Cells in a petrii dish. A scientist. A ghost. A laboratory mouse. We are on a journey to see what can’t be seen. We are on a quest to find truth in the dark. …

No more showtimes

Interstellar Elder: Meet Kitt, age 96, fierce lone astronaut protecting the last of humankind. Images Ridley Scott’s ‘Aliens’ meets ‘Golden Girls’.

Wednesday September 13, 2017 5:00 pm
Friday September 16, 2017 6:40 pm
Saturday Sept. 16, 2017 12:30 pm
Sunday September 17, 2017 5:15 pm

Let Me Freeze Your Head: Why leave the futture to your children when you can have it for yourself? Attend our short sales presentation to learn how you preserve your brain to live again! This one-person show takes you on a deeply personal journey into the world of human cryonic preservation.

Wednesday September 13, 2017 9:45 pm
Friday September 15, 2017 5:00 pm
Saturday September 16, 2017 6:00 p.m

The Immaculate Big Bang: Sparked by the death of his father birth of his daughter; comedian Bill Santiago goes in search of answers and laughs at the border of science religion exploring the comic nature of the cosmic quest for understanding existence, life, and death (not necessarily in the order).

Tuesday September 12, 2017 9:30 pm
Friday September 15, 2017 10:25 pm
Sunday September 17, 2017 6:30 pm

Field Zoology, 101: From the untamed wilds of the Vancouver Landfill in the loading bay behind the Burger Kin, Field Zoologist Brad GooseBerry has seen it all. In this introductory course, he shares a lifetime of “knowledge” and “experience” teaching you to thrive and survive in the harrowing world of field zoology.

Wednesday September 13, 2017 9:20 pm
Friday September 15, 2017 5:10 pm
Saturday September 16, 2017 3:50 pm

Scientist Turned Comedian: “Lee, who got his PhD before realizing where his true talents lay, blends science talk (complete with PowerPoint presentations) with comedy. The hilarious result is like what would happen if you crossed your high-school chem teacher with George Carlin.”

Thursday September 14, 2017 6:40 pm
Saturday September 16, 2017 5:25 pm
Sunday September 17, 2017 2:45 pm

Acceleration: It’s 2012. The world’s top physicists are searching for the elusive Higgs boson particle and it’s been a year since Elise’s sister disappeared. Desperate to forget, Elise wraps herself up in the search for the Higgs. But what we’re looking for isn’t always what we find. A moving exploration of how we cope with a world that doesn’t make sense.

Wednesday September 13, 2017 10:15 pm
Friday September 15, 2017 8:30 pm
Saturday September 16, 2017 2:15 pm

Two series (five shows in total) about climate change: Generation Hot Waterborne

O Sandada 150M: 150 million years later … the world stops—and out of the basic elements sand and water, comes … life. Under the sun, Sandadians build beautiful castles, sing the National Sandthem, and glorify the Sandadian flag. Meanwhile under the stars, Wateries plan their attack. On the natural/industrial stage of the grassy knoll on Granville Island, two culture try to make peace. Fantastical Apocalyptic Puppets.

Twenty Feet Away: A site-specific theatrical adventure based on the bank of Vancouver’s False Creek. Two entrepreneurs daringly attempt to bottle themselves a new life while facing difficult ethical questions.

Brothers: Bonds are tested, sides taken, and loyalty is questioned. Two brothers come to terms with progress and preservation while on a fishing trip.

Wednesday September 13, 2017 6:00 pm
Thursday September 14, 2017 6:00 pm
Saturday September 16, 2017 6:00 pm

WYSPA: A group of youth stranded on an urchin-infested island guide the audience through a magic-infused ceremony and explore their world views that have turned them into survivors. Part documentary verbatim script drive by your aged 5-16.

Citlali: A fantastic tale about water by a Mexican poet: A mythological tale about the origins of Mexico and the journey of a demigoddess on a search for water.

Wednesday September 13, 2017 8:00 pm
Thursday September 14, 2017 8:00 pm
Saturday September 16, 2017 8:00 pm

Go, no go: .. the story of 13 barrier-breaking pilots who in 1961 petitioned NASA {US National Aeronautics and Space Administration] to be become the first femal astronatus. And it’s about why you don’t know their names. Welcome to the space race.

Tuesday September 12, 2017 1:30 pm

Kurt Vonnegut’s the Euphio Question: A new adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s 1951 short story. A young physicist discovers radio waves from outer space that mage anyone withing earshot completely and utterly euphoric. The Euphio Question asks audiences what the true cost of happiness is when it comes at the mere flick of a switch.

Tuesday September 12, 2017 6:00 pm
Thursday September 14, 2017 7:30 pm
Saturday September 16, 2017 6:30 pm
Sunday September 17, 2017 3:45 pm

Gutenberg: The Musical: In this whirlwind 90-minute musical comedy, Chris Adams and Erik Gow play over 30 characters in two-man spoof . A pair of aspiring playwrights perform a backers’ audition for this new project—a big, splashy musical about printing press inventor Johann [Johannes] Gutenberg. Too bad their musical is terrible.

Tuesday September 12, 2017 6:00 pm
Thursday September 14, 2017 10:45 pm
Friday September 15, 2017 6:00 pm
Saturday September 16, 2017 7:45 pm
Sunday September 17, 2017 2:00 pm

Brain machine: Award-wining monologist Andrew Bailey (The Adversary, Phantom Signal) proudly premieres: “Brain Machine.” Generations of scientists create the web to bring “harmony and understanding” to humanity. Chaos ensues. Bailey attempts to escape technology by moving to a cabin in the woods. While there he accidentally creates a viral video Chaos ensues.

Wednesday September 13, 2017 6:15 pm
Thursday September 14, 2017 8:00 pm
Friday September 15, 2017 9:45 pm
Sunday September 17, 2017 6:15 pm

Admittedly the science or technology element is quite tangential is some of these shows but I think it’s interesting that there’s any mention of science in 17 (16%) of 104 shows at this year’s Fringe. If memory serves, there have been man years where no mention of any kind has been made of science or technology, let alone 1q6% of the programme.

Women in science is a thread linking a number of the shows in this year’s Fringe Festival as Janet Smith notes in her Sept. 6, 2017 article (Women get their science on at the Vancouver Fringe Festival) for the Georgia Straight.

One final comment, I’ve done my best but I was copying the information out of the programme and have likely made errors, as well, schedules can change so do check the festival website or at the Fringe Festival’s updated schedule boards on Granville Island.

Creative destruction for Canada’s fundamental science

After receiving an ‘invitation’ from the Canadian Science Policy Centre, I wrote an opinion piece, drawing on my submission for the public consultation on Canada’s fundamental science research. It seems the invitation was more of a ‘call’ for submissions and my piece did not end up being selected for inclusion on the website. So rather than waste the piece, here it is,

Creative destruction for Canada’s fundamental science

At a time when we are dealing with the consequences of our sins and virtues, fundamental science, at heart, an exercise in imagination, can seem a waste of precious time. Pollution and climate change (sins: ill-considered uses of technology) and food security and water requirements (virtues: efforts to improve health and save more lives) would seem to demand solutions not the flights of fancy associated with basic science. After all, what does the ‘big bang’ have to do with potable water?

It’s not an unfair question despite the impatience some might feel when answering it by citing a number of practical applications which are the result of all that ‘fanciful’ or ‘blue sky’ science. The beauty and importance of the question is that it will always be asked and can never be definitively answered, rendering it a near constant goad or insurance against complacency.

In many ways Canada’s review of fundamental science (deadline for comments was Sept. 30, 2016) is not just an examination of the current funding schemes but an opportunity to introduce more ‘goads’ or ‘anti-complacency’ measures into Canada’s fundamental science efforts for a kind of ‘creative destruction’.

Introduced by economist Joseph Schumpeter, the concept is derived from Karl Marx’s work but these days is associated with disruptive, painful, and regenerative innovation of all kinds and Canadian fundamental science needs more ‘creative destruction’. There’s at least one movement in this direction (found both in Canada and internationally) which takes us beyond uncomfortable, confrontative questions and occasional funding reviews—the integration of arts and humanities as an attempt at ‘creative destruction’ of the science endeavour.

At one point in the early 2000s, Canada developed a programme where the National Research Council could get joint funding with the Canada Council for the Arts for artists to work with their scientists. It was abandoned a few years later, as a failure. But, since then, several informal attempts at combining arts, sciences, and humanities have sprung up.

For example, Curiosity Collider (founded in 2015) hosts artists and scientists presenting their art/science pieces at various events in Vancouver. Beakerhead has mashed up science, engineering, arts, and entertainment in a festival founded and held in Calgary since 2013. Toronto’s ArtSci Salon hosts events and installations for local, national, and international collaborations of artists and scientists. And, getting back to Vancouver, Anecdotal Evidence is a science storytelling series which has been appearing sporadically since 2015.

There is a tendency to dismiss these types of collaboration as a form of science outreach designed to amuse or entertain but they can be much more than that. Illustrators have taught botanists a thing or two about plants. Markus Buehler at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has used his understanding of music to explore material science (spider’s webs). Domenico Vicinanza has sonified data from space vehicle, Voyager 1, to produce a symphony, which is also a highly compressed means of communicating data.

C. P. Snow’s ‘The Two Cultures’ (lecture and book) covered much of the same territory in 1959 noting the idea that the arts and sciences (and humanities) can and should be linked in some fashion was not new. For centuries the sciences were referred to as Natural Philosophy (humanities), albeit only chemistry and physics were considered sciences, and many universities have or had faculties of arts and sciences or colleges of arts and science (e.g., the University of Saskatchewan still has such a college).

The current art/sci or sci-art movement can be seen as more than an attempt to resuscitate a ‘golden’ period from the past. It could be a means of embedding a continuous state of regeneration or ‘creative destruction’ for fundamental science in Canada.

Competition, collaboration, and a smaller budget: the US nano community responds

Before getting to the competition, collaboration, and budget mentioned in the head for this posting, I’m supplying some background information.

Within the context of a May 20, 2014 ‘National Nanotechnology Initiative’ hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Research and Technology, Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, the US General Accountability Office (GAO) presented a 22 pp. précis (PDF; titled: NANOMANUFACTURING AND U.S. COMPETITIVENESS; Challenges and Opportunities) of its 125 pp. (PDF version report titled: Nanomanufacturing: Emergence and Implications for U.S. Competitiveness, the Environment, and Human Health).

Having already commented on the full report itself in a Feb. 10, 2014 posting, I’m pointing you to Dexter Johnson’s May 21, 2014 post on his Nanoclast blog (on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website) where he discusses the précis from the perspective of someone who was consulted by the US GAO when they were writing the full report (Note: Links have been removed),

I was interviewed extensively by two GAO economists for the accompanying [full] report “Nanomanufacturing: Emergence and Implications for U.S. Competitiveness, the Environment, and Human Health,” where I shared background information on research I helped compile and write on global government funding of nanotechnology.

While I acknowledge that the experts who were consulted for this report are more likely the source for its views than I am, I was pleased to see the report reflect many of my own opinions. Most notable among these is bridging the funding gap in the middle stages of the manufacturing-innovation process, which is placed at the top of the report’s list of challenges.

While I am in agreement with much of the report’s findings, it suffers from a fundamental misconception in seeing nanotechnology’s development as a kind of race between countries. [emphases mine]

(I encourage you to read the full text of Dexter’s comments as he offers more than a simple comment about competition.)

Carrying on from this notion of a ‘nanotechnology race’, at least one publication focused on that aspect. From the May 20, 2014 article by Ryan Abbott for CourthouseNews.com,

Nanotech Could Keep U.S. Ahead of China

WASHINGTON (CN) – Four of the nation’s leading nanotechnology scientists told a U.S. House of Representatives panel Tuesday that a little tweaking could go a long way in keeping the United States ahead of China and others in the industry.

The hearing focused on the status of the National Nanotechnology Initiative, a federal program launched in 2001 for the advancement of nanotechnology.

As I noted earlier, the hearing was focused on the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) and all of its efforts. It’s quite intriguing to see what gets emphasized in media reports and, in this case, the dearth of media reports.

I have one more tidbit, the testimony from Lloyd Whitman, Interim Director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office and Deputy Director of the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology, National Institute of Standards and Technology. The testimony is in a May 21, 2014 news item on insurancenewsnet.com,

Testimony by Lloyd Whitman, Interim Director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office and Deputy Director of the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology, National Institute of Standards and Technology

Chairman Bucshon, Ranking Member Lipinski, and Members of the Committee, it is my distinct privilege to be here with you today to discuss nanotechnology and the role of the National Nanotechnology Initiative in promoting its development for the benefit of the United States.

Highlights of the National Nanotechnology Initiative

Our current Federal research and development program in nanotechnology is strong. The NNI agencies continue to further the NNI’s goals of (1) advancing nanotechnology R&D, (2) fostering nanotechnology commercialization, (3) developing and maintaining the U.S. workforce and infrastructure, and (4) supporting the responsible and safe development of nanotechnology. …

,,,

The sustained, strategic Federal investment in nanotechnology R&D combined with strong private sector investments in the commercialization of nanotechnology-enabled products has made the United States the global leader in nanotechnology. The most recent (2012) NNAP report analyzed a wide variety of sources and metrics and concluded that “… in large part as a result of the NNI the United States is today… the global leader in this exciting and economically promising field of research and technological development.” n10 A recent report on nanomanufacturing by Congress’s own Government Accountability Office (GAO) arrived at a similar conclusion, again drawing on a wide variety of sources and stakeholder inputs. n11 As discussed in the GAO report, nanomanufacturing and commercialization are key to capturing the value of Federal R&D investments for the benefit of the U.S. economy. The United States leads the world by one important measure of commercial activity in nanotechnology: According to one estimate, n12 U.S. companies invested $4.1 billion in nanotechnology R&D in 2012, far more than investments by companies in any other country.  …

There’s cognitive dissonance at work here as Dexter notes in his own way,

… somewhat ironically, the [GAO] report suggests that one of the ways forward is more international cooperation, at least in the development of international standards. And in fact, one of the report’s key sources of information, Mihail Roco, has made it clear that international cooperation in nanotechnology research is the way forward.

It seems to me that much of the testimony and at least some of the anxiety about being left behind can be traced to a decreased 2015 budget allotment for nanotechnology (mentioned here in a March 31, 2014 posting [US National Nanotechnology Initiative’s 2015 budget request shows a decrease of $200M]).

One can also infer a certain anxiety from a recent presentation by Barbara Herr Harthorn, head of UCSB’s [University of California at Santa Barbara) Center for Nanotechnology in Society (CNS). She was at a February 2014 meeting of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (mentioned in parts one and two [the more substantive description of the meeting which also features a Canadian academic from the genomics community] of my recent series on “Brains, prostheses, nanotechnology, and human enhancement”). II noted in part five of the series what seems to be a shift towards brain research as a likely beneficiary of the public engagement work accomplished under NNI auspices and, in the case of the Canadian academic, the genomics effort.

The Americans are not the only ones feeling competitive as this tweet from Richard Jones, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation at Sheffield University (UK), physicist, and author of Soft Machines, suggests,

May 18

The UK has fewer than 1% of world patents on graphene, despite it being discovered here, according to the FT –

I recall reading a report a few years back which noted that experts in China were concerned about falling behind internationally in their research efforts. These anxieties are not new, CP Snow’s book and lecture The Two Cultures (1959) also referenced concerns in the UK about scientific progress and being left behind.

Competition/collaboration is an age-old conundrum and about as ancient as anxieties of being left behind. The question now is how are we all going to resolve these issues this time?

ETA May 28, 2014: The American Institute of Physics (AIP) has produced a summary of the May 20, 2014 hearing as part of their FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News, May 27, 2014 (no. 93).

ETA Sept. 12, 2014: My first posting about the diminished budget allocation for the US NNI was this March 31, 2014 posting.