Author: PokemonHunter

What is Data?

To be honest, data has always been one of the words that confuses me, especially when writing papers. Its meaning can change depending on the context of the sentence, and it’s also one of those sneaky words, that is plural but doesn’t outright appear to be. So, it’s fair to say that data hasn’t been one of my favorite words to use. However, after 4 lab courses at Colby, all in the natural sciences, I have become more accustomed to working with raw data.

While Professor Aaron Hanlon’s lecture on Revolutions in Big Data initially seemed boring, as I was not very keen on the subject, I was very surprised to be intrigued and fascinated by his presentation. Hanlon’s lecture looked at the evolution of data in several different ways, including meaning, interpretation, and frequency of use.

According to Hanlon, the first recorded use of the the word data was in the early 17th century as “a heap of data” ;describing the word of God. This use of the word in the religious/spiritual context makes it sound as if the word is synonymous with truth, but this is not right. Data isn’t fact, but is the first step in formulating ideas, and builds fact and truth. Data has come a long way since then, and has expanded to mean multiple things.

An example Hanlon used was Hooke’s book Micrographia, which showed small insects and organic material, such as fleas and leaves, blown up in drawings to show very small detail. This in itself was a small revolution as this new form of data, revolutionized the way people thought, as they’d never been able to see creatures in such detail before.

The lens and context in which data is presented is also very important. One of the main concerns Hanlon expressed, is that in this day and age where data is abundant and constantly changing, that it is easy to misconstrue the meaning of data if you don’t have the context. For example, imagine looking at a medical chart for a patient that shows concerning vital signs.  If a doctor was to look at this cart without any previous knowledge of the patient, they could easily think that the patient was in a declining state of health. However, what if the patient’s vital signs had been significantly worse an hour ago and they were actually showing signs of improvement? This shows the danger of taking raw data at face value without understanding the context of the situation.

One of the most interesting parts of the lecture though, was when he showed us how the frequency of words varied over the years using the Google n-gram viewer. Not only was I amazed to learn about new software that I could play with, but I surprised to see how much fluctuation there was within the words fact, truth and data. Around the 1850s, the use of the word fact increases and the use of the word truth decreases. This shows that as the meanings of words change, their popularity changes, but also that authors were becoming less concerned with feeling and more concerned with fact. However, the word data surpassed the usage of both of these words, showing that data is more all-encompassing and is the building block of both fact and truth.

The Climate Revolution

For me, 2016 has been the year of thinking about the climate. Climate has been a big topic in many realms, such as my schooling and in politics. For example, in my Weather, Climate, and Society class, we learned all about the controlling factors of climate, such as humidity, convergence and divergence, and types of clouds. Also, with the election of President Elect Donald Trump, who believes that climate change is a myth perpetuated by the Chinese, many people fear for the future of climate policy. Having learned much about the scientific and social sides of climate change, it was very refreshing to learn about the history of climate revolutions from Dr. Kerry Emmanuel, a professor of atmospheric science at MIT.

Dr. Emmanuel explained that the “Climate Revolution” wasn’t one large revolution, but a collection of small revolutions and individual efforts to make the field a reality. In the beginning, the field of climate science started with several curious scientists who wanted to learn more about hoe the surface temperature of the Earth is regulated. This lead to the discovery of ice sheets, which led to them understanding the periodic shifts in Earth’s temperature from ice age to warming, which lead to the discovery of greenhouse gases. Dr. Emmanuel also pointed about that in the 19th century, when the field was first being established, there were contributions made by scientists who specialized in all different fields, such as, geology, physics, chemistry, and more. This helped me to understand that climate science is the culmination of many different fields and that the climate also has an effect on more than just one thing.

One thing that I also found interesting was that Dr. Emmanuel claimed that the concept of “climate change” isn’t a new thing. He told us that people have always been concerned with the change in weather patterns, but only now, with the increased accuracy of observational data, are we able to make easier conclusions about climate which can lead to more changes in policy. This lead to climate science transforming from a field mainly rooted in traditional weather observation to using mathematically based data and observations.

Overall, Dr. Emmanuel’s lecture helped me to learn even more about climate change, which I didn’t think possible. It made me see the importance of climate science, which helps us to understand why climate change occurs, but also who sea levels rise, why oceans become more acidic, why storms become more powerful, and why weather patterns having been changing over the years.


The meaning behind the monument

Before listening to Professor Jeffrey Schnapp’s lecture, I never really paid much attention to monuments, they were simple landmarks, large markers that were well sculpted or nice to look at. However, now, after the lecture I can’t pass a statue or a memorial without thinking to myself ” what does this mean?” and “does it still belong here?”

While monuments are obviously connected to important moments in history, that people whoose to immortalize, Schnapp argues that many monuments have outstayed their welcome, that they are irrelevant to the living. While monuments speak a language and send a message, monuments are fundamentally at odds with life and those currently occupying the space.Schnapp stated that  architecture is meant to service the living, not the dead; essentially comparing monuments to tombstones invading living spaces. The needs of the living has also transformed the concept of a monument. For example, after the boom of the Industrial Revolution, vehicles and ships became the main architecture, expressions of the steel age, not the stone age.

While Schnapp brings up all of these points, he also addresses that monuments are not useless. Monuments are an amazing way for history to live on, for their to be memory of a past time, it is just best if they service the living. For example, the Monument to Victory, which was erected by Mussolini’s fascist regime in 1928 in Bolzano, Italy shows how monuments can be repurposed. The monument, which became an embarrassment to the country after World War II dues to it’s heavy ties to fascism, was renovated by Schnapp and his team. The monument, which has four large decorated columns, is a large symbol for fascist architecture. To bring this monument into the future, Schnapp and his crew added a three banded LED ring around the third column. While many were upset by this addition, for many reasons, including that it looks out of place, Schnapp was able to combine the digital age and the stone age, bring it into the future. Now, the monument, which was widely ignored a decade ago, now has tens of thousands of visitors annually; showing that the living will come if there a reason for them to be there.

Overall, what I learned most for this lecture is that while monuments are meant to commemorate the dead, they should also have a purpose for the living. I also realized that monuments need to be more than something to look at, they should be interactive and educational so that they can maintain their meaning and draw in new people to learn from them. There is a place in our world for monuments, but they need to be more than just a hunk of stone, as they will eventually outrun their time.

Why be a Revolutionary?

Before hearing Marcos Perez’s lecture, I don’t think that I had ever considered why someone would become a revolutionary, other than because of the default answer “to create change”. While anyone can aspire to be a revolutionary, it is an extremely temperamental and dangerous title to hold. Many revolutionaries, such as Martin Luther King, were lost too young, becoming martyrs for their revolution. So, why would anyone do it?

One reason that someone might take on the role of a revolutionary, stems for the very essence of what a revolution is. Revolutions are complicated, but also crucial and nebulous to our society. There needs to be someone to act as a shepherd to the sheep in order to maintain order within the group. Also, while the amount of change a revolution brings about can always be up for debate, it is clear that certain revolutions affects some more than others. For example, the Civil Right Movement was meant to guarantee the freedoms and rights of People of Color in America. If there were no revolutionaries leading this movement, this group would have continued to be ignored and stepped on by the law.

While being a revolutionary entails high cost (literal, physical, mental, and spiritual) and considerable collective action dilemmas, many keep on their path because their is to mobilize other towards their goal. Everyone knows that  working with a large group of different types of people can be extremely difficult, however revolutionaries navigate the boundary of group desire and selfish want in order to galvanize a group toward rapid social change. After inciting change, the group will move towards understanding social norms (and possibly fighting to change them), while moving towards mobilizing people to take control and become revolutionaries of their own.

People also become revolutionaries because there are so many issues in the world that need someone to address them; there is no shortage. Issues can range from cultural, to emotional dynamics, to identity politics. However, even though is a never-ending list of issues to tackle, there is another issue with revolutions. A revolution in the 1800s might have had a profound then, but cease to have much importance at a later date. Revolutions are in some case time-sensitive, and this is a key factor to what revolutionaries are involved at that time. For example, in the 1920’s suffragettes such as Emily Davis fought for women to have the right to vote; this was a major development for the time, with millions of women exercising their right to vote. However now, almost 100 years later, many women now voluntarily choose not to vote, possibly because they have lost sight of how important the right is, or that they might have forgotten how many people fought and died for this right, or even simply voting may not be considered that most important thing that women are fighting for. Either way, it can be seen that many revolutions lose their following and importance after a certain amount of time.

From the example that I’ve laid out, it is clear to see why someone would want to become a revolutionary, despite that possible and danger and diffuculty involved.  I don’t know if I have the stamina to become a large-scale revolutionary, but I definitely respect that people that choose to do so.

Black Revolutions Matter

In all of my years of schooling, I have taken many classes on World history; learning about Greece, England, France, and other European countries. However, it wasn’t until the lecture with Jeremy Popkin from the University of Kentucky, that I learned of the Haitian Revolution.  After thinking back a bit more, this lecture was one of the first times in my life that I have learned, in a school setting, about a non-European revolution that was galvanized by majority non-Whites. I asked myself, why? There seems to be a pattern, in history, of the achievements of people of color being minimized and even erased altogether. In this post, I will explore the ways in which the people of color have been suppressed and oppressed by these happenings.

Two of the most talked about revolutions of the late 18th to 19th century are the French and the American Revolution. While they may have taken place in different parts of the world, both of these revolutions opposed rights and freedom of non-rights; they were essentially all about suppressing the rights of blacks while gaining the right to establish government. In contrast, the Haitian revolution was all about fighting for the freedoms and rights of African slaves and other marginalized groups.  The fact that the Haitian Revolution has been so silenced by historians, goes to show that the revolution is thought of as less complex, less noteworthy, and less significant, when in fact it was a major historical event, as the largest successful slave uprising in history.

I believe that it’s important to list some of the defining characteristics of The Haitian Revolution, as it has been largely ignored, up until a few decades ago. As noted in the last paragraph, the Haitian Revolution was the largest successful slave uprising in the world. The revolution was a 12 year battle against slavery and colonialism that resulted in acts of extreme violence by both sides of the conflict. Haiti finally got ints independence from France in 1804. This victory led to many progressive movements, such as the addition of Jean Baptiste Relley, a Black man,  to the French Parliament.

Despite the obvious importance of the revolution, which has been laid out in this post, the Haitian Revolution is still only known about by a small group of people, who are mostly African-American. This is the result of the erasure of the revolution. We cannot allow this to keep happening to the significant historical achievements of people of color. While it may seem that this happened hundreds of year ago, it is also happening on this very day. As of last year, legislators is Texas and other states were trying to write slavery out of public school textbooks. These books referred to African slaves as “migrant workers” who came to the New World freely, and depicted European indentured servants as those who truly suffered during this time. The falsity of this statement is huge and obvious to anyone who knows any American history, but if we don’t address these dangers acts, this could be the information that children one day learn in school.

I Ain’t Got No Type

While we may see difference and variation in the world around us, it is important to differentiate between classifications. For example, when we see two people of different heights, it is easy to think that they have different “types” of genes, which contribute to their height. While their genetic makeup is different, there is no gene that serves as a default for height, instead everyone’s genes are varied. The variance that we see all around around us is continuous, and not a deviation from a certain “type.” It is about this very subject, as well as the dangers of typological thinking , that Professor Judy stone spoke to a great length about in her lecture on the Unfinished Business of Darwin’s Revolution. Like rap group Rae Sremmurd, professor Stone made it clear that genes “ain’t got no type.”

Stone started the lecture by taking a look at the works of great philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle, which influenced many of Darwin’s ideas. In Plato’s Theory of Forms, the philosopher  leads with the idea that every object or quality has an it’s own unique essence, or “type”.  Also looking at Aristotle’s Biological Classification, which states that species are categories or types within broader categories such as genera,a ush for typological thinking can be seen. Following the logic of Aristotle and Plato leads to seeing any variation within a species as deviance. However, even though he studied the work of these philosophers, Darwin was able to recognize the variation within a species as normal, and central to the idea of natural selection.

Darwin was able to take the previous model of evolution, a ladder, and reconstruct is to look like a branching tree. Reinforcing the idea that there are no set steps to evolution, but that everything is varied and complicated.

These two conflicting views of evolution, and the results of them, can be seen in modern day science. Within the field of evolutionary biology and genetics, there have been two main types of scientists: biometricians and mutationists. Biometricians believe in the theory natural selection and the importance of small changes and variance within a species.  Conversely, mutationists  believe in the transmission of large differences within a species, which follow a certain type, by studying the inheritance of discrete traits.

As can be seen, typological thinking is main point of view in certain areas of science. The ascendance of the gene has only exacerbated this more, leading to the irreversible and criminal impacts in evolutionary science. The view of genes as types, that  are different between different groups of people, made it possible for physicians to start basing their medical treatments on the race of their patients. Typological thinking can also lead to the belief of a racial basis of intelligence, because if every race has a different “type” of gene, then naturally some must be stronger/weaker than others.

Overall,  I believe that is is clear to see that typological thinking is overall negative. Anything that advocates for the separation of races be “gene” is not good to me. I agree with professor Stone wholeheartedly.

Just Keep on Keepin’ On

Whenever I feel like my work isn’t being appreciated enough or that I won’t one day amount to anything, I’m going to think back to Janet Browne’s lecture, “The Darwinian Revolution.” In her lecture, Browne told us that most of Darwin’s work wasn’t appreciated until long after his death, and that many of his fellow scientists tried to deny his work for nearly 100 years! However, the truth behind Darwin’s work remained intact and now his views are widely accepted in the scientific world. This just shows that even when if people doubt your work,  you just have to keep on keeping on.

Before the lecture, I thought that Darwin’s findings were always thought to be self-evident, as they are now, but it seems like every scientist must go through a rough patch.  This made me think, what other scientists have had to go through struggles similar to Darwin, or how many budding scientists won’t get their work realized for the next 100 years because of pre-conceived notions?

One of reasons why Darwin’s work wasn’t widely accepted during his lifetime was because of his religion, or lack thereof. Darwin was an atheist, a practice which heavily opposed the majority the scientists, who were Christian. To Christian scientists, Darwin’s theory of evolution might have been dangerous, because it opposed their entire belief system. Creationism is still a popular mode of belief today, so I can only imagine how strong the influence of God in science was back in their time. Because of this difference, it was very easy to cast aside Darwin’s work by questioning his character or his state of mind. While yes, that was a different time, I feel like something similar could happen in 2016. With the raising levels of Islamophobia worldwide, what’s to stop someone from discounting the work of  a gifted Muslim person simply because of their religion? It’s a scary thought, but it’s happened before.

Dawrin’s work was also put in the shadows because it caused people to break down their strongly held beliefs to consider new things.  Before evolution was proposed, many people accepted certain ideas about the natural world as a given. Species were not thought to be linked in a “family tree”. Most species weren’t even thought to be connected, but were unrelated and unchanged since the moment of inception.  For people who believed that everything was independent for hundreds of years, it’s reasonable for them to be suspicious about a  mysterious set of cross-connections between species. However, it’s when people hold onto their beliefs and are unwilling to think about the possibility of another option, when things go awry. This is what happened to Darwin, and it could very well happen again now.

Even though Darwin had to jump through many hoops, even after he had passed, he still came out victorious in the end. His work is now the building block of evolutionary theory and he is very well respected in the scientific community. He has liquor, cafes, and clothing dedicated to him, his house was made into a museum, and his statue sits, ironically enough, in a cathedral. Which goes to show that no matter what obstacles come your way, it’s best to keep on keeping on, and the work will speak for itself.

Just Do It

No matter how much I’m doing, I never feel like I’m doing enough. I always think about everything that I could be doing instead of focusing on how full my plate already is. It’s easy to lose motivation when you don’t see the results of your work, this happens to me often. However, Khalid Albaih’s talk inspired to me to just do it; to continue whatever I’m already doing and to involve myself in other movements no matter how small my contribution may be.

As an artist whose political cartoons have gone viral, Albaih once also felt as if he wasn’t doing enough for his community during times of crisis. With most of his work online, he wasn’t directly involved in protests or policy change, but his art had a much larger impact than intended. Much to his surprise, his artwork started popping up in random places all over Egypt, both as a sign of resistance and recognition. This shows that even the smallest of contributions to a movement can carry immense power. Albaih’s work being posted throughout the cities of Egypt is  almost a parallel to the use of the Mockingjay symbol in the Hunger Games. People can unite through his art, building community,  and can also use his works to represent their reality: both physical and emotional. It goes to show that you don’t have to be on the front lines to galvanize people to revolutionize, you can sit behind a computer screen and have a profound effect.

After realizing this, I started to think, what can I or we, as a Colby community, do to create change even it seems small? The most obvious to to use our privilege for good and not evil, to speak up for the voiceless, and to protect the liberties of others. This privilege I speak is not solely related to finances or social class, but also on nationality and location. Albaih said that in Egypt, “they break you without giving anything back. No healthcare. Nothing.” As Americans, we have many liberties that we often take for granted, which needs to come to a stop. We need to start thinking “how can I use this service to make a difference?” Also, Albaih mentioned that the rhetoric “you could be president one day,” is unheard of in Egypt, due to political corruption which leads to presidents who stay in office much longer than they should. Showing that even small children musing over this potential careers are more free than others, which many would never think of.

In Egypt there are people literally lighting themselves on fire because of how distraught they are with the current state of affairs and the constant presence of injustice in their community. In America, we have people who won’t even light a fire under their own asses to help others. Do you see the disconnect? There is so much more that we need to do and that we can do. No matter how large or small the task, just do it. It’ll make all the difference.



A Lose, Lose Situation

I listened to Gillen Wood speak twice about Tambora; once in my Weather, Climate, and Society class, and once in the Continuing Revolutions Seminar. At first, I cringed at the thought of listening to the same lecture twice, but to my surprise, the lectures weren’t completely the same, furthered my understanding of the subject, and brought to mind lots of interesting questions. Throughout both lectures, I noticed that there seemed to be a theme of loss due to the eruption of Tambora. People lost their lives in the initial eruption, entire ethnic groups were wiped out, and many people around the world were forced the relocate due to the unfavorable climate change. This brings me to my question: “How much was lost in the eruption of Tambora?” and “What would happen if Tambora erupted today?”

In his lecture, Wood stated that after the eruption, the areas immediately surrounding the volcano were buried under 5 to 6 feet of volcanic ash; changing the land of Sumbawa overnight. Many of the villages were wiped out, and with that, we lost their history, their language, and any texts that may have existed. The  only record of the language exists in a dictionary that a European scholar was in the process of creating when the volcano erupted. Besides from this though, there are very few Sumbawan artifacts from that time period, with the exception of Chinese pottery found by archaeologists in the regions.

Now, why was there Chinese pottery in Sumbawa in 1815? There is one simple answer: because of trading.  We don’t know much about Sumbawa, but from the logs of ships and the discovery of the pottery, it is believed that the island was an established port that regularly used the trade routes. If all of Sumbawan history was erased by Tambora, we may have believed it to simply have been an island with a small population who lived in primitive villages. This shows the real danger of Tambora; erasing human history and keeping us ignorant.

Tambora had a large scale effect though, affecting much more than Sumbawa. The gases and particles released into the atmosphere from Tambora spread all over the globe within just a few short weeks. This blocked out sunlight, melted the polar ice caps, and  caused large scale climate change. The effects of Tambora were so severe that a large population of people in the United States and all over the globe were forced to relocated to more climactically stable environments. These environmental refugees were forced to uproot their lives to escape the fallout of Tambora. Now, imagine if Tambora were to erupt in 2016.

With our increased levels of climate change, I can only imagine that the implications of a major eruption would be near catastrophic. Tens of thousands of people were killed due to the effects of Tambora, and that was back when the population was close to 1 billion people. Today, the population is nearing 8 billion people, corresponding to a death toll in the millions. Agricultural and farm systems would be in a state of crisis, people would starve, many people wouldn’t be able to move to a better place due to the rise in prices, and it would be a lose-lose situation overall.

How many Scientific Revolutions Will There Be?

Before last Tuesday night, I didn’t know much about the Scientific Revolution. However, Professor Cohen’s lecture “How Revolutionary-and how Scientific-was the Scientific Revolution?”, was very informative and made the cogs in my head start to turn. In his lecture, Professor Cohen distinguished that “The” Scientific Revolution wasn’t the first or last Scientific Revolution to occur, and that it should really be renamed to “A” Scientific Revolution.

This event, that revolutionized natural science through mathematically precise, experimentally-based discoveries may have been seen as unique in the 16th and 17th centuries, but it seems that almost every era is categorized by such a revolution. This revolution brought the medieval world to the modern world. However, now that we’re in the modern world, where is there to go? This brings me to my question: How many more scientific revolutions will there be?

The world has definitely come a long way since the 16th century, but we still have a long way to go. There are many world issues that we need to focus on and “revolutionize”, and not all of these are dealing with hard sciences. Many people think physics, biology, and chemistry when their hear “science”, but I think of agriculture, technology, and infrastructure.

For example, we need to have an agricultural/farm science revolution. In the United States we have a somewhat sustainable food system, but other countries do not. There are entire populations that go day to day without food, clean drinking water, and the basic necessities required to live. There needs to be a scientific push to help further process in developing nations and at home. While the common adage is “think of the starving children in Africa,” what about the starving children in America? There is no reason for Americans to be hungry while we have an enormous amount of food waste in this country. Perhaps this revolution could focus on reducing food waste, encouraging people to donate expired goods instead of throwing them away, and finding a way to produce larger quantities of food without completely depleting the land of all natural resources.

As a planet as a whole we also need to focus on an energy revolution. We are much too dependent on fossil fuels and non-renewable resources, such as petroleum, gasoline, and coal.  The last I heard, fossil fuels are expected to be depleted in 300 years, and while that might seem like a long time from now, our consumption of and dependence on these fuels continues to grow. However, if we change our main energy sources to more sustainable renewable energies such as hydro, solar, wind, and natural gas, we won’t have to worry and we’ll also reduce the damage that we inflict on the Earth. These energies are already being used on a small scale, we just need to expand outwards. There is always the excuse that producing them is too expensive, but if adequate research and research are put into the process, and once we make the switch it’ll be much more affordable.

Overall, while there have been many scientific revolutions in the past, I believe that there will be many more in the future. We’re definitely an intellectually advanced society, but there is always room for improvement. Until the world is perfect and free from struggle, we need to challenge ourselves to ask what revolutions still need to happen and how they’re going to impacts us.