Month: August 2017

Why believers deem atheists fundamentally untrustworthy?

Skepticism about the existence of God is on the rise, and this might, quite literally, pose an existential threat for religious believers. It’s no secret that believers generally harbor extraordinarily negative attitudes toward atheists. Indeed, recent polling data show that most Americans view atheists as “threatening,” unfit to hold public office and unsuitable to marry into their families. But what are the psychological roots of antipathy toward atheists? Historically, evolutionary psychologists argue that atheists have been denigrated because God serves as the ultimate source of social power and influence: God rewards appropriate behaviors and punishes inappropriate ones. The thinking has gone, then, that believers deem atheists fundamentally untrustworthy because they do not accept, affirm and adhere to divinely ordained moral imperatives (ie, “God’s word”). Research has backed up the deep distrust believers feel toward atheists. For example, in one study, Canadian undergraduates, who are typically less religious than their US counterparts, rated atheists as more untrustworthy than Muslims – and just as untrustworthy as rapists! Still, it hasn’t been clear why the leeriness of atheists …

An artificial neural network for relational reasoning

How many parks are near the new home you’re thinking of buying? What’s the best dinner-wine pairing at a restaurant? These everyday questions require relational reasoning, an important component of higher thought that has been difficult for artificial intelligence (AI) to master. Now, researchers at Google’s DeepMind have developed a simple algorithm to handle such reasoning—and it has already beaten humans at a complex image comprehension test. Humans are generally pretty good at relational reasoning, a kind of thinking that uses logic to connect and compare places, sequences, and other entities. But the two main types of AI—statistical and symbolic—have been slow to develop similar capacities. Statistical AI, or machine learning, is great at pattern recognition, but not at using logic. And symbolic AI can reason about relationships using predetermined rules, but it’s not great at learning on the fly. The new study proposes a way to bridge the gap: an artificial neural network for relational reasoning. Similar to the way neurons are connected in the brain, neural nets stitch together tiny programs that collaboratively …

No more victimisation

At the end of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, actress Jessica Chastain – who was serving as a jury member – said that she found the portrayals of women in the festival’s films “quite disturbing.” To many, this isn’t exactly news. The lack of women in film – in front of and behind the camera – has been at the forefront of Hollywood criticism in recent years, with scholars and writers detailing the various ways women tend to be underrepresented or cast in stereotypical roles. University of Southern California communications professor Stacy Smith, who researches depictions of gender and race in film and TV, found that of the 5,839 characters in the 129 top-grossing films released between 2006 and 2011, fewer than 30 percent were girls or women. Meanwhile, only 50 percent of films fulfill the criteria of the Bechdel Test, which asks whether a film features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. Despite the uphill climb for women in film, it isn’t all doom and …

Sea-level rise isn’t just happening; it’s accelerating

Sea-level rise isn’t just happening; it’s accelerating. And some areas of the United States—like Florida—are seeing “hot spots” where the ocean can creep up six times faster than average. Those are the findings of two new studies published yesterday, which have potentially troubling implications for urban planners trying to address sea-level rise. They also help explain why residents of Florida and North Carolina have seen sharp increases in coastal flooding in recent years. Sea levels in the Southeast—between Cape Hatteras, N.C., and Miami—rose dramatically between 2011 and 2015, according to a new study published in Geophysical Research Letters. The spike in sea levels is driven by a combination of natural factors that is exacerbated by human-caused sea-level rise. The “hot spot” of sea-level rise is similar to others observed on the East Coast over the last century, said Andrea Dutton, a geological science professor at the University of Florida and a co-author of the study. It also shows there is more vulnerability on the Atlantic coast, home to many of America’s major cities, than is typically recognized, she …

Theory of Relativity

Einstein’s theory of relativity is a famous theory, but it’s little understood. The theory of relativity refers to two different elements of the same theory: general relativity and special relativity. The theory of special relativity was introduced first and was later considered to be a special case of the more comprehensive theory of general relativity. General relativity is a theory of gravitation that  Albert Einstein  developed by between 1907 and 1915, with contributions from many others after 1915. THEORY OF RELATIVITY CONCEPTS Einstein’s theory of relativity includes the interworking of several different concepts, which include: Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity – localized behavior of objects in inertial frames of reference, generally only relevant at speeds very near the speed of light Lorentz Transformations – the transformation equations used to calculate the coordinate changes under special relativity Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity – the more comprehensive theory, which treats gravity as a geometric phenomenon of a curved spacetimecoordinate system, which also includes noninertial (i.e. accelerating) frames of reference Fundamental Principles of Relativity WHAT IS RELATIVITY? Classical relativity (defined initially by …

Why Islamic State Targeting Tehran?

Attacks by the self-proclaimed Islamic State on Iran’s parliament and the shrine to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, symbols of the republic and Iranian revolution, left seventeen dead on June 8, 2017. They mark the group’s first assault on Iran and come at a time when its purported caliphate, which spans the border of Iraq and Syria, is under increasing military pressure by U.S.- and Iran-backed forces, among others. In the face of this pressure, the Islamic State hopes to demonstrate its resilience and wide reach, says Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University. The group’s attacks are also meant to burnish its credentials as “a defender of Sunnis everywhere” and “vanguard of the struggle against the Shia,” Hoffman says, since even as Saudi Arabia and other Sunni powers rail against Iran for how it wields influence in the Middle East, only the Islamic State has struck it directly. What was your initial reaction to the attacks? Unprecedented. ISIS sees itself in literally an apocalyptic battle with the Shia, and to be able to strike in …

Sisi’s religious revolution in Egypt

“We need a religious revolution!” Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi declared those words a month ago as he addressed senior religious leaders from al-Azhar University and elsewhere while Egyptians celebrated the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The speech was widely applauded in Egypt, particularly as it opened an ideological front to the battle against the Islamist violence that has troubled the country since the summer of 2013. His words seem especially significant after last week’s attack on security forces in the Sinai Peninsula that killed at least thirty and wounded many more. However, before Sisi is praised any more as a visionary and a reformer, observers should understand that Egypt and Sisi may not have the capacity to carry out much reform in Islamic thinking. First of all, what exactly does Sisi mean by a religious revolution? The general Western observer might interpret it as a call to overturn central Islamic institutions and principles in a bid to combat extremism. After the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, a number of Western media outlets hailed …

Climate Change and National Security

The United States House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology hosted a series of roundtables tackling issues on climate change. On July 12, 2017 in Washington, D.C., Ambassador John Campbell participated in the “Science and Policy Perspectives: National Security Implications of Climate Change” roundtable, where he discussed climate change and its effect on Nigeria, a close strategic partner. Below is the statement he submitted for the record:  Climate change certainly has direct implications for the security of the United States, which other participants are exploring this afternoon.  But, we Americans must also be concerned about the security of our close diplomatic partners. If our partners’ security is undermined, so too is our own, even if only indirectly. Here, I would like to look at Nigeria as a case study, where climate change is already having a negative impact on the security of a close partner of the United States. Arguably, Nigeria is the African state of greatest strategic importance to the United States. It is home to about 20 percent of the people living in Africa south of the Sahara. …

Circadian Clock and Sleep

The daily rhythm of sleeping and waking is one of the most fundamental cycles in our lives, and we often equate it with our circadian clock. But the reality is more subtle than that. The circadian clock, as biologists have learned in recent decades, is in fact an incredibly precise molecular machine that exists in nearly every cell in the body. Consisting of a number of proteins that come together and fall apart rhythmically, the clock complex controls the transcription of thousands of genes that affect everything from appetite to cell division. There is a season — or rather, a time of day — for each process that takes its timing from the clock. Sleep just happens to be one such process. We’ve seen huge leaps and bounds recently in understanding exactly which proteins are involved in the clock complex and how it works. Yet sleep — our most obviously time-linked activity — is still largely a mystery on the molecular level. Some of the same cast of scientists who helped illuminate the clock are …

Canada’s struggle to get more women into the military

The Trudeau government released a new defence policy in early June, after months of speculation about the size of the defence budget, purchase of major equipment and Canada’s future role in military operations. The election of Donald Trump in the U.S. no doubt threw the process off course and forced certain revisions to the policy, which was initially due in January. The policy offers guidelines on the types of operations the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) might undertake and promises a steady increase in funding over the next decade. But its main focus is on people — the women and men who dedicate their life to military service. Highlighting the importance of diversity, the policy pays special attention to female service members and aims “to further increase the representation of women in the military by one per cent annually towards a goal of 25 per cent in 10 years.” Driving this shift is the assumption the CAF is in need of culture change — and that more women and the use of gender perspectives will improve …