26 January 2019

Cutting to the quick

Smiths again but for radio this time. ABC Radio National was recording several 10-min installments of its science comment snippets called Ockham's Razor. The chairs were lined up and the audience was larger and greyer than normal. Local ABC radio host Lish Feyer introduced seven commentors over two hours. No questions, but responsiveness (laughs, cheers) welcomed. It was quite a fascinating collection. Physiotherapist Bernie Bissett spoke of exercising the diaphragm in patients on respirators. There's been observed some atrophy of the diaphragm after just 18 hours on a ventilator! Ronald Yu presented his "Big Bran" project, "Mac" concept and the combination of the two as the "Big Mac" theory. Basically, it's combating obesity and malnutrition (they can go together) through improving the bran layer on rice and the fibre in the grain's core and combining the two, then applying to other grains. Katherine Thurber promoted a more positive approach to reporting issues in the media. "Deficit discourse" leads to public negativity and private internalisation in issues such as alcohol and drugs use by Aborigines and others. I missed some of the statistical justification but it's clear that we tend to the negative in many media stories and this is socially damaging and militates against fixes. Engineer Eleanor Huntington spoke of reimagining the role of engineering (to assist people with scitech), how new branches appear at times of social stress (as now), how in a creative sense it's matter of problem finding, not problem solving. Her suggestions are to elevate engineering to a systems level, to invent relevant engineering disciplines and to introduce engineering to a new generation. Space scientist Anna Moore promoted Australia's potential major role in space. The space industry is already worth $4b in Australia and it is now increasingly accessible to small business and individuals. Australia has strengths from where, what and who we are (well located, urbanised and educated). She made three predications for 2050: Australia as centre for a solar system broadband communications hub; Australian cities as "space-enabled" (as in self drive cars); a space elevator located in Australia (this is aiming high!). Millie Sutherland described the use of Predator-proof sanctuaries to protect native fauna in danger of extinction from foxes, cats, etc. She specifically spoke of our own local Mulligan's Flat Woodland Sanctuary and the protection of the Balbo (Ngunnawal name for the Eastern Betong). Finally, amateur dramatist Max Halupka spoke on the Web and Internet and its use as a memory aid and how this affects our thinking on what we know (thus false news, conspiracies, etc). Technology described as a transactive memory partner so we know where information is held rather than hold it in our minds (books have done this for centuries but never so quickly and easily). Also, how the distributed Web is becoming a collection of "key pillar sites" that herd users. Resultant effects are on human cognition (limits to self-understanding), provision and consumption of information and the resultant impacts, influences on society of all this, and how individuals construct their beliefs, identities and illusions of self-knowledge. Are we there already? Varied, intelligent, informed, if very short and lacking in discussion. Entertaining and informative.

Lish Feyer introduced Bernie Bissett, Ronald Yu, Katherine Thurber, Eleanor Huntington, Anna Moore, Millie Sutherland and Max Halupka for the live recording of seven installments of Ockham's Razor at Smiths. ABC Radio National, Lish Feyer, Bernie Bissett, Ronald Yu, Katherine Thurber, Eleanor Huntington, Anna Moore, Millie Sutherland, Max Halupka, Ockham's Razor

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