Pinned in June: non-depressing edition

The first argument that made me feel at all warmly about warrantless genetic surveillance

The journal Science published a response to the Golden State Killer investigation, where a suspect was arrested after a relative was identified by comparing genetic evidence from crime scenes to a 23andMe-style commercial genealogy database.

Expanding law enforcement investigations to encompass genealogical databases may help to remedy the racial and ethnic disparities that plague traditional forensic searches. In accordance with state laws, official forensic databases are typically limited to individuals arrested or convicted of certain crimes. Racial and ethnic disparities throughout the criminal justice system are therefore reproduced in the racial and ethnic makeup of these forensic databases. Genealogical databases, by contrast, are biased toward different demographics. The 23andMe database, for instance, consists disproportionately of individuals of European descent. Including genealogical databases in forensic searches might thus begin to redress, in at least one respect, disparities in the criminal justice system.

Genealogy databases and the future of criminal investigation (Science)

A fun, counter-intuitive baby name trend

Baby name news covers a lot more ground than I would have expected. This post starts with a surprising baby name trend and ends with a fairly detailed analysis of the impact of maternal age on social and political issues.

A few years back, I started a project to track down the red-blue divide in name terms. Did blue (liberal) and red (conservative) America actually name their children differently? Yes, they surely did. But how they did was a stunner. The “bluest” names were traditional, Christian, and single-sex; the “reddest” were newly invented, non-religious and androgynous. (Try it on the NameMapper: select 2004 and type in Henry, then Rylee.) In other words, our choices of names — one of the most candid, heartfelt expressions of our values and dreams — ran precisely opposite to our supposed values divide.

Red and Blue Baby Naming: Inauguration 2009 Edition (Baby Names Blog)

An endearing, bumbling discussions of plant intelligence

I love the edges where people in one discipline need ideas from another discipline. This survey of some current thinking about whether plants are intelligent involves philosophers trying to apply botany and ecology, while biologists and ecologists try to apply philosophy.

[Plant biologist Devang] Mehta believes that plants deserve respect. He just thinks confusing their qualities and abilities with those of humans is unnecessary anthropomorphizing. Venturing into the territory of philosophers, he argues that in order to qualify as “conscious,” a thing must be aware of its self-awareness, or meta-aware….

[Philosopher Michael] Marder admits that we can’t know if plants are self-conscious, because we define both the self and consciousness based on our human selves and limitations. “Before dismissing the existence of this higher-level faculty in them outright, we should consider what a plant self might be,” he says.

Marder points out that plant cuttings can survive and grow independently. That suggests that if plants do have a self, it is likely dispersed and unconfined, unlike the human sense of self.

A debate over plant consciousness is forcing us to confront the limitations of the human mind (Quartz)

On space and science fiction in the Arab world

This is an ok article about a topic I found very interesting– how has science fiction influenced science and space projects in the Arab world? It left me curious to know much more about the impact of having your local landscapes used as filming locations for so much sci-fi, both as distant planets and as places where archeologists dig up monsters.

A great many decision-makers, extending into the numerous members of the royal families across the Gulf, have bought into this desire to revive the Islamic scientific heritage as well as building the infrastructure that will drive it; development is, after all, meaningless without ‘sustainable’ development. And science fiction is part of the futurist vision they have of themselves: “Michael Winterbottom shot his 2003 film Code 46 partly in Dubai… parts of The Force Awakens were shot in Abu Dhabi,” as Determann’s book notes. Note the transition eastwards, since the desert planet Tatooine in Star Wars is actually the desert town of the same name in Tunisia, where much of the filming was done. The UAE has, of late, provided financial incentives for Western movie producers, itself part of its wider diversification away from oil strategy too. The same goes for their Mission to Mars.

As one project manager explains, the mission, according to Omran Sharaf, speaking in Determann’s book, “is not about reaching Mars but about inspiring a whole new generation and transforming the way youth think within the region… The goal here is hope, for humanity, for the region, for youth in countries with lots of conflict.”

Review: The Intertwined Histories of Arab Science and Arabic SFF (ArabLit)