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Intervention by Denise Caruso Read Intervention by Denise Caruso, Executive Director of the Hybrid Vigor Silver Award Winner, 2007 Independent Publisher Book Awards; Best Business Books 2007, Strategy+Business Magazine

archive for February, 2007


by ~ February 12, 2007

This just in from Environment News Service:

Doomsday Arctic Seed Vault Designed to Withstand All Perils

OSLO, Norway, February 9, 2007 (ENS) - A fail-safe vault designed to protect the agricultural heritage of humankind - the seeds essential to agriculture of every nation - will be constructed this year on the Arctic island of Svalbard not far from the North Pole. (You can see the impressively spooky, actual design if you go to the story.)

Today the Norwegian government revealed the architectural design for the Svalbard International Seed Vault, to be carved deep into frozen rock.

“By investing in a global permafrost safety facility for seeds, the Norwegian government hopes to contribute to combating the loss of biological diversity, to reduce our vulnerability to climatic changes, and to enhance our ability to secure future food production,” said Norwegian Minister of Agriculture and Food Terje Riis-Johansen.

The vault is being dug into a mountainside near the village of Longyearbyen, Svalbard. Construction is scheduled to begin in March 2007 and to be completed in September 2007. The vault will officially open in late winter 2008.

The number of seeds stored will depend on the number of countries participating in the project. The project aims to prevent needed plants from going extinct or becoming rare if a nuclear war were to break out, because of gene pollution from genetically engineered plants, or due to disease or global warming.

Continue reading »


by ~ February 11, 2007

A friend in Boston sent the link to a video of Drew Gilpin Faust‘s remarks at her press conference today, accepting her election as the 28th president of Harvard University.

I have to admit, it gave me chills. It is thrilling to hear someone who commands such authority talking seriously about interdisciplinary collaboration. Here’s a toast to walking the talk, Dr Faust. May the wind be at your back.


by ~ February 7, 2007

A friend sent me this (old! 2002) story from The Guardian Unlimited today, an excerpt from Graham Farmelo’s book It Must Be Beautiful: Great Equations of Modern Science, and it made me think lots of appreciative thoughts about human perception and the kinds of people who are able to make such meaningful connections and perceive and understand the world so holistically.

The first such person I met was my wonderful chem professor at Cal Poly, Grant Venerable, who I met while I was still in high school and who encouraged me to write a paper for credit comparing Shakespeare to chemistry (I still have the paper somewhere, typed onto that funny translucent erasable paper, using a portable Smith-Corona).

The Guardian story also reminded me of two books that I bought and never got around to reading: Cross Pollinations: The Marriage of Science and Poetry, by Gary Paul Nabham, and Water and Dreams: An Essay On the Imagination of Matter, by Gaston Bachelard, which had been highly recommended to me when I started Hybrid Vigor. Now out of print, the cheapest copy on Amazon is $129. Glad I kept mine.

I’m also about to start reading Sharon Begley’s new book, Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves. Begley, a terrific science writer, most recently as a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, used as the foundation of her book a yearly gathering of Buddhist monks and neuroscientists on the subject of neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to physically change in response to stimuli or activity. Intro and foreword were written by Daniel Goleman and HH Dalai Lama, so you get the drift. Very exciting stuff happening here; I’ll write more about it soon.


by ~ February 5, 2007

Here’s the top of a recent New Scientist article on geckos’ night vision (subscription required):

Geckos: Under the colour of darkness
06 January 2007
Sally Palmer
Magazine issue 2585
When our world turns dull and grey, a gecko’s life is a riot of colour, as New Scientist discovers

THERE’S a German expression which translates as “all cats are grey at night”. It’s certainly true for humans. As night falls, the colour-detecting cone cells in our eyes switch off, the rod cells take over and the world turns to fuzzy black and white - until we go indoors and switch on the lights.

It has always been assumed that nocturnal animals also see the world in black and white, albeit far more clearly than us. So when animal biologist and vision specialist Almut Kelber began studying nocturnal vision in geckos and moths, she was intrigued to discover that some species were actually seeing in colour.

Kelber and her colleagues at the vision research group at Lund University in Sweden now believe that nocturnal colour vision may be far more common than anyone imagined and could be found in toads, frogs, bees, wasps, fireflies and creatures of the deepest oceans. …

I find vision fascinating; it was the topic that inspired me to start Hybrid Vigor. Richard Solomon, then a senior scientist at MIT, had helped Polaroid build the first high-definition TV camera (this was back in the early ’90s, as I recall), and wondered why this remarkable camera still couldn’t see the way the human eye could see. He started doing research and discovered that several disciplines studied human vision, but for various reasons weren’t and/or wouldn’t share information.

He wasn’t so constrained, and ended up using what he knew to start developing a new machine vision system based on what he’d learned. I conned him into writing a Hybrid Vigor Journal on the subject, “As If You Were There: Matching Machine Vision to Human Vision.” (This is the link to the PDF.) It’s a terrific paper.


by ~ February 5, 2007

A friend just forwarded me the cover article in New York Magazine, called “Kids, the Internet, and the End of Privacy: The Greatest Generation Gap Since Rock and Roll,” with a note:

i’m interested in whether there are neurological differences between younger people/older people that are tied into their exposure habits.

Me, too. I think it’s an important question for those of us who are interested in the mechanics and mechanisms of human perception writ large. I wonder if Steven Johnson ran across any of this evidence while he was researching Mind Wide Open or Everything Bad is Good For You.

In any case, it freaks me out. This is the first time I’ve found myself on the wrong side of the gap.


by ~ February 3, 2007

Hybrid Vigor’s co-founder, Diana Rhoten, program director at Social Science Research Council, recently sent me a copy of a fascinating paper that she and Stephanie Pfirman (of Barnard College) published in the journal Research Policy, called “Women in Interdisciplinary Science: Exploring Preferences and Consequences.”

I am still so cranky at the recent story in Nature about how for-profit journal publishers like Elsevier and Wiley want to kill open-source journals like Public Library of Science that I’m tempted to ignore copyright restrictions and post the PDF here out of spite, but she asked me not to.

And I can’t find a @#$% link to it online, so if you aren’t already a subscriber, write Elsevier and complain ask them nicely how you can get a copy. The reference is Research Policy 36 (2007) 56–75.

Here’s the abstract:

For at least a decade, U.S. funding agencies and university campuses have promoted the expansion of interdisciplinary research. At the same time, federal and local programs have sought to increase the participation of women and minorities in science, mathematics, and engineering. Research has focused on each of these trends independently, but very few studies have considered their interaction by asking how intellectual preferences for and professional consequences of interdisciplinary science might be influenced by gender, race, and/or ethnicity. Focused specifically on gender, this paper considers the expectation that women will be more drawn to interdisciplinary research, and explores the learning styles, work preferences, and career behaviors that might anticipate and/or explicate gender differences in interdisciplinary science. Principal mechanisms by which researchers engage in interdisciplinarity – cross-fertilization, team-collaboration, field-creation, and problem-orientation – are tested for evidence of gendering using preliminary empirical data from three studies. The results of this exploratory analysis offer clues about possible tendencies and raise questions about the potential costs and benefits for those who adopt them.

At the moment, Diana is on sabbatical from SSRC, where she’s the director of the Knowledge Institutions program. Apparently her idea of taking a break is to move to WDC for a year; she was invited to help start and direct a new program in the National Science Foundation’s Office of Cyberinfrastructure.


by ~ February 3, 2007

Whoops, I forgot to post this … the San Jose Mercury News asked me to write a Perspectives piece for the Sunday paper a couple of weeks ago (specifically, January 21st) about the F.D.A.’s decision about cloned meat. The issue isn’t going away, so I figured better late than never …

Here’s the first few paragraphs, to inspire you to click …

Cloned meat: What are the risks?
By Denise Caruso
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration declared unequivocally last month that meat and milk from cloned animals is safe to eat. But the assessment process used to make that declaration could in no way reliably conclude that cloned food is safe — and they knew it. The FDA’s own science and risk advisers had long ago told the agency so, but it ignored the warnings.

As recently as 2004, the U.S. National Academies, official science advisers to the government, published a report concluding that the FDA’s and other regulators’ decision-making processes for assessing food safety were flawed and outdated. The report said the methods and techniques used to make these assessments are not sophisticated enough to predict and identify unintended effects from genetically engineered food. The report included cloned food in that assessment.

What’s more, the report strongly recommended that the agencies “enhance [their] capacity for post-market surveillance” of genetically engineered and cloned food. In other words, they ought to start monitoring the release of those foods, labeling products derived from them in the marketplace, and deploying far better animal-identification and tracking systems, so that any unexpected health problems could be traced to the source.

Yet regulators, including the FDA, have followed few if any of the study’s sensible recommendations. The FDA’s public statement on the safety of cloned animals certainly didn’t mention these noteworthy and significant shortcomings in its assessment methods.

UPDATE: I also forgot to note that Baruch Fischhoff at Carnegie Mellon sent me a related link, with this note attached:

A few hundred BBC readers comment on eating cloned food. Not so stupid — or at least smarter than those who call them stupid.