Science

Women who changed the world

Author: 

Les Hearn

Women are notoriously under-represented in science, but the situation seems worse because such women scientists as there are tend to be misunderstood, misinterpreted, under-rated or ignored.

A review of Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science - and the World by Rachel Swaby (Broadway Books).

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Homeopathy: the one NHS cut we should support

Author: 

Les Hearn

Homoeopathic medicines do nothing that a placebo does not do. This is because they contain no active ingredient... like a placebo. But the NHS spends our money on them.

Homoeopathic medicines do nothing that a placebo does not do. This is because they contain no active ingredient... like a placebo. But the NHS spends our money on them.

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Yes to automation, under workers' control

Author: 

Martin Thomas

Bruce Robinson replies to me on automation (Solidarity 372) that he opposes, not all automation or sidelining of traditional skills, but automation of complex and skilled processes (as in the chemical industry) and driverless vehicles.

Safety depends on union organisation as well as technology.

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Chemical warfare in the First World War

Author: 

Les Hearn

A hundred years ago, on 22 April, poison gas was first used in warfare. Though about 95% of casualties in World War One were caused by explosives, sickness and malnutrition, there is a peculiar horror associated with the use of chemical weapons. It is also true that, apart from isolated examples, World War One was the only instance of the systematic and widespread use of gases in war.

A hundred years ago, poison gas was first used in warfare. Though about 95% of casualties in World War One were caused by explosives, sickness and malnutrition, there is a peculiar horror associated with the use of chemical weapons.

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Automation, deskilling and safety

Author: 

Bruce Robinson

Martin Thomas’ criticisms of my review of Nicholas Carr’s book on automation (Solidarity 370) focus on two related issues: the deskilling effects of automation and my rejection of the full automation of safety-critical systems through e.g. driverless cars or pilotless planes. On deskilling, I think there is one misunderstanding and one difference.

Even the most highly automated tasks require scope for human intervention or override.

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A workerful world

Author: 

Martin Thomas

Eighty-four years ago, John Maynard Keynes wrote: “The increase of technical efficiency has been taking place faster than we can deal with the problem of labour absorption”, and predicted that that generation’s grandchildren (that is, the “baby boom” generation now in their sixties) would work only three hours a day.

Twenty years ago Jeremy Rifkin published a book entitled “The End of Work”, and predicting “a near-workerless world”.

Driverless cars and autopiloted planes are an advance, not a step backwards.

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Another automation is possible

A review of The Glass Cage: Where Automation is Taking Us by Nicholas Carr.

Automation is everywhere. From robots on production lines to the cockpits of planes; from automated market trading to highly skilled medical diagnosis via a whole range of blue and white collar occupations, few jobs seem to be immune to the replacement of human, living labour by computerised systems.

One report has recently predicted that as much as 47% of US employment is at risk. This is not just futuristic hype: the US has just gone through a “jobless recovery” from the 2008 crisis.

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A brave new world?

Author: 

John Cunningham

According to the authors we are entering a “second machine age”.

The first came with the invention and development of the steam engine by James Watt and others in 1775 and now “Computers and other digital advances are doing for mental power — the ability to use our brains to understand and shape our environments — what the steam engine did for muscle power. They’re allowing us to blow past previous limitations and taking us into new territory.”

A review of The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee.

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Chemistry and the First World War

Author: 

Les Hearn

In April 1915, American newspapers reported that the USA faced a “dye famine”, with only two months’ supply left. This was not a minor inconvenience but threatened the livelihoods of two million workers as dyes were essential in the textile, paint, paper, and printing industries, among others. What had happened?

In WWI, chemicals were used to make explosives, fertilisers, medicines and antiseptics, dyes and poison gases.

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Is technology to blame?

Author: 

Bruce Robinson

In her claims that exposure to Facebook is the cause of changes to the brain and thus at the root of a range of behavioural and social problems, Susan Greenfield adopts positions that regularly reappear as science and technology develop (discussed in Solidarity 342 and 343).

There is a tendency to blame new technologies for whatever worries happen to be top of the agenda of social conservatives.

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