Science

Facebook: the medium, the message and the Marxists

Martin Thomas’ article ‘Socialism, CPA and Facebook’ (SCPAF) in Solidarity 305 outlines some problems that emerge from the integration of social media into everyday life and its interaction with the culture of the left.

Constant “noise” and distraction leading to a neglect of serious reading, erosion of the conditions for serious debate given a lack of depth to high speed responses, online abuse and diversion from offline politics are all real.

Problems arise in the interaction between the way many on the left “do politics”, the pressure on attention and the way social media technology forms online behaviour.

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Alan Sokal speaks on "Science, Postmodernism and the Left" (audio)

Alan Sokal, leftwing scientist and author of the famous "Sokal Hoax", spoke at a meeting of the University College London Left Forum, chaired by the AWL's Omar Raii, on 12 February 2014.

Click here for the recording

Alan Sokal, leftwing scientist and author of the famous "Sokal Hoax", spoke at a meeting of the University College London Left Forum, chaired by the AWL's Omar Raii.

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Why we don't oppose nuclear power

We recognise that climate change alters the conditions in which we formulate our socialist politics. Climate change is ultimately caused by capitalist social relations of production, which permit capitalists to simultaneously exploit wage labour while despoiling the ecology of the planet for the pursuit of profit.

We recognise that climate change alters the conditions in which we formulate our socialist politics. Climate change is ultimately caused by capitalist social relations of production, which permit capitalists to simultaneously exploit wage labour while despoiling the ecology of the planet for the pursuit of profit.

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Organising for revolutionary socialist ideas

The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL) met for our annual conference on 26-27 October at the University of London Union. The purpose of the AGM is to review our activity over the previous year, debate and decide policy, agree our political priorities, and elect our National Committee.

The conference noted some significant successes. AWL has been integral to the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, which has beaten back Tory attempts to cut maternity and A&E services, preparing the hospital for closure.

The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty held its annual conference on 26-27 October.

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Atomic Energy: for Barbarism or Socialism? A Socialist Manifesto From the Dawn of the Nuclear Age

A comprehensive Trotskyist response to the new age which opened with the American atom bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. It was published in Labor Action, New York, at the end of 1945.

A comprehensive Trotskyist response to the new age which opened with the American atom bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. It was published in Labor Action, New York, at the end of 1945.


"The impact of the bomb was so terrific that practically all living things, human and animal, were literally seared to death by the tremendous heat and pressure engendered by the blast." - From a Tokyo broadcast describing the result of the atomic bomb dropped by a Superfortress on Hiroshima.

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Inequality kills!

Average life expectancy in the UK is one of the lowest among comparably affluent countries in the world. Government fixes focus on life style. But that would be to ignore some of the complex underlying causes as well as political responsibility. Les Hearn reports.


In 2008, the WHO reported that life expectancy not only varied widely between countries (a girl in Lesotho has a life expectancy 42 years less than one in Japan) but within countries also (children born eight miles apart in the Glasgow area have 28-year differences in life expectancy).

Average life expectancy in the UK is one of the lowest among comparably affluent countries in the world.

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Wrong on “NIMBYS”

Contrary to Martin Thomas’ view (Solidarity 274), Cumbria’s anti-nuclear lobby cannot simply be dismissed as parochial NIMBYs.

Nuclear power, which generates harmful waste products that last for millenia, is one of the extreme examples of capitalism’s ecological blindness. If we had democratic control of the means of production then I doubt we would now be burdened with a large nuclear waste legacy.

However, Martin Thomas is a practical man and would not appreciate these “what ifs”. As he says, the waste exists. Are we simply going to dump it on Mexico or Sweden?

Cumbria’s anti-nuclear lobby cannot simply be dismissed as parochial NIMBYs.

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Nationalise pharmaceuticals!

After the success of Bad Science, Ben Goldacre (doctor and debunker*) has now taken on the pharmaceuticals industry (“big pharma”) in his latest book Bad Pharma.

While admitting that “without medicines, there is no medicine”, he shows that the science behind new drugs is consistently distorted to further the interests of the industry.

The main way this is done is to routinely hide much of the data relevant to judging the efficacy and safety of new drugs. Over a quarter of the 365 pages of text is devoted to this missing data.

A review of Bad Pharma by Ben Goldacre.

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AIDS: where have we got to?

A scientific review of AIDS treatment.

Just over 30 years ago, the disease soon to be called AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency disorder), but then termed GRID (gay-related immune deficiency), was first reported in the US. Sufferers predominantly came from the “four H’s”, homosexual men, heroin users, haemophiliacs and, curiously, Haitians.

Many had unusual infections, including a type of pneumonia, and a rare cancer (Kaposi’s sarcoma). Death rates were high, the cause being infections that the body was unable to fight, due to the loss of a vital component of the immune system, CD4+T lymphocytes or T helper cells.

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Higgs is here!

In January, we reported that CERN was tentatively claiming that Higgs bosons had been created in high energy collisions of hadrons in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) (“Higgs ahoy!”, Solidarity 229, 11 January 2012).

They were not certain enough that the signals detected were those of Higgs bosons and said they would be searching further this year, after the LHC’s scheduled shutdown and re-opening.

The faster things go, the heavier they become. Usually, the effect is negligible but near the speed of light it becomes appreciable and the protons in the Large Hadron Collider are travelling fast enough that their mass is much higher than that of a Higgs.

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Fracking: good, bad and/or ugly?

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a technique for getting methane gas out of shale rocks.

The gas, which is a fossil fuel, can then be burnt to provide energy for power stations to generate electricity. Because methane has a lower proportion of carbon than coal and oil and can be burnt more efficiently, many see it as a transitional fuel, allowing continued use of fossil fuels but reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This would buy time while alternatives were developed. According to this model, fracking would help by increasing the availability of methane.

The scientific arguments around fracking, a technique for getting methane gas out of shale rocks.

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Uses of religion

While it was good to read the interview with Andrew Copson of the British Humanist Association (Solidarity 242), it was disappointing to see Ira Berkovic falling into the trap of a formulaic denunciation of Richard Dawkins’ supposed views on religion.

Richard Dawkins and the scientific basis for religion.

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Socialism in one cell?

There are two basic types of cell in the living world: the cells found in bacteria (prokaryotes), and the cells found in plants and animals (eukaryotes). They have characteristic differences in their structures and behaviour.

The socialist scientist J B S Haldane once described the progress of new ideas to the point of being accepted thus: i) this is worthless nonsense; ii) this is an interesting, but perverse, point of view; iii) this is true, but quite unimportant; iv) I always said so.

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Charles Darwin, revolutionary - AWL London forum

Date: 

19 March, 2009 - 19:30 to 21:15

Location: 

The Lucas Arms, 245a Grays Inn Road, Kings Cross, London

Description: 

2009 is the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his On the Origin of Species - a book about which Karl Marx wrote that it "contains the basis in natural history for our views".

Yet since then, many right-wing movements have tried to claim Darwin and Darwinism.

At a time when Darwinian ideas about evolution, and scientific rationality more generally, are under attack from politicised religion, we are holding this meeting to celebrate this great thinker, explore his ideas and discuss their implications for Marxists.

Speaker: Les Hearn

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Should faith keep its fortresses?

While I am an atheist, I still respect people with faith (or superstition, as it is sometimes called). But should we respect faith itself?

Is there a real difference between faith and superstition, or are they just different words that people use for the same thing, depending on whether they want to refer to it warmly (faith) or coldly (superstition)?

Some people who are atheists themselves argue that faith should be respected as a valid way of knowing on questions which science cannot reach.

Does respecting people with faith mean we should respect faith itself?

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What is CERN and what good is it?

By Les Hearn

What do they do at CERN? It’s simple — they smash things, ions for example, together at high speed. Why do they do that? It’s even more simple — to see what happens! CERN is an example of “blue skies” research: particles are not smashed together to solve any practical problem but to test theories of matter and energy. We’re paying for it — and we should be!

At CERN, scientists smash things together at high speed to see what happens.

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Nuclear power: decisions shaped by class interest

In Solidarity 224 Les Hearn argued for socialists to welcome some of the latest developments in nuclear technology as one alternative, amongst others, to fossil fuels. Stuart Jordan debates the issues.

This year a group of scientists in Tel Aviv successfully replaced a part of a rat’s brain with a computer chip. This remarkable achievement could be the first step, along with other developments such as cochlear implants and prosthetic limbs, to a future human civilisation where human organs are enhanced by machines — a world of cyborgs.

A continuing debate on nuclear power.

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Socialists and nuclear power

We continue our debate on the future of nuclear power with this article by Les Hearn. Les argues that technological developments, such as using thorium instead of uranium, can create a vastly more ecologically-friendly nuclear industry acceptable to socialists. In our next issue we will print an opposing view.

Why I support nuclear power as one of a range of alternatives to fossil fuels

Does nuclear power offer a safe alternative to fossils fuels?

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Nuclear and workers' power

Les Hearn’s article on nuclear power (Solidarity 3/203) seems to be based mainly on the arguments being put forward by George Monbiot and Mark Lynas.

Though he lists the objections to nuclear power, he doesn’t even attempt to answer many of them, and on the issue of waste disposal, plant safety and cost, he fails to see the reality of nuclear power within the context of a global capitalist economy.

A reply to an article arguing that left-wing opposition to nuclear power is mistaken.

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Don't rule out nuclear power

Our society is powered largely by burning fossil fuels. This is the equivalent to living on our savings. Fossil fuels — oil, coal and gas — were laid down over a period of a hundred or so million years and we are using about a million years’ worth every year. Even if there were not the risk of climate change, we should be looking for alternatives.

Is it right to rule out nuclear power? Many environmentalists are coming to the view that it isn’t.

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Japan: earthquake, tsunami..and meltdown?

Get nuclear power’s risks in perspective

The terrible events recently in Japan have resulted in at least 15,000 deaths, of which those attributable to the overheating cores and hydrogen explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant amount to… zero.

However, the situation at the power plant is potentially more serious if it is not controlled. What has been happening?

The terrible events recently in Japan have resulted in at least 15,000 deaths, of which those attributable to the overheating cores and hydrogen explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant amount to… zero.

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Truth, science and climate change

Pilate: “What is truth?”; Lewis Carroll: “What I tell you three times is true”.

Last time, I wrote about something which is scientifically uncertain, the role of human activities in the Queensland floods. This raises the question of truth — scientific truth — for example, whether it can be truthfully said that our activities are changing the climate of the Earth.

Nowadays, many have a sceptical view of what scientists say, such as on the consensus among climate scientists that emissions of carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse” gases are resulting in global warming.

Many people have a sceptical view of what scientists say, for example that emissions of carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse” gases are resulting in global warming. What has been the response of scientists?

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Why do floods happen?

Why do floods happen? And why so fast rising? In Queensland, it had rained fairly continuously for a long time before the floods suddenly arrived. Their depth, some 5m in Brisbane, was also far greater than the depth of the rainfall.

No one knows if the recent floods in Australia, Brazil, Sri Lanka and Pakistan are symptoms of CO2-induced global warming and climate change. The science of climate is better with long-term general predictions than short-term ones relating to quite small areas of the Earth.

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Why do we exist?

Author: 

Les Hearn

Stephen Hawking’s latest popular work (The Grand Design, written with physicist and author Leonard Mlodinow) seeks to answer questions that many have asked:

• Why is there something, rather than nothing?

• Why do we exist?

Hawking and Mlodinow (H&M) also pose a question which potentially answers the first two:

• Why this particular set of laws and not some other?

The answer, say H&M, is to be found in M-theory.

A review of 'The Grand Design' by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow

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Materialism vs creationism

Darwin

Author: 

Bruce Robinson

Bruce Robinson reviews A Critique of Intelligent Design: Materialism versus Creationism from Antiquity to the Present by John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, and Richard York, Monthly Review Press.

150 years after Darwin’s Origin of Species, religious opponents of the theory of evolution are attempting to gather forces around the idea of “Intelligent Design”, the very old idea that nature and humanity are the products of some form of divine creation and purpose.

Bruce Robinson reviews A Critique of Intelligent Design: Materialism versus Creationism from Antiquity to the Present.

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John Bellamy Foster: Marxism, metabolism and ecology

Author: 

Paul Hampton

Over the past decade or so, John Bellamy Foster has been one of the principal architects of the revival of Marxist ecology, arguing that the relationship between nature and human society is best conceptualised in terms of metabolism.

Foster’s new book, The Ecological Revolution (2009) brings together many of his essays on the subject and together with his earlier book Marx’s Ecology (2000), makes a significant contribution to historical materialism.

Over the past decade or so, John Bellamy Foster has been one of the principal architects of the revival of Marxist ecology, arguing that the relationship between nature and human society is best conceptualised in terms of metabolism.

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Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

Author: 

Clive Bradley

Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Bantam Press).

Earlier this year Guardian journalist Madeleine Bunting wrote a column called ‘Why the intelligent design lobby thanks God for Richard Dawkins’, suggesting the eminent evolutionary biologist is too rude, too confrontational, and too simplistic in his argument against religion.

It is a mark of something about the contemporary world that much of the tone of Dawkins’ critique of religion would have been commonplace thirty years ago, yet now the forthrightness with which he denounces the Biblical God seems slightly shocking. Secularists have given too much ground to the God Squad.

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Creationists On The March - Into Schools

The march of the creationists into our kids' schools must be getting bad when even other Christians are complaining about it to the Government.

Christian thinktank Ekklesia and the British Humanist Association have jointly written to Alan Johnson, Secretary of State for Education, calling for science teaching to be based on, er, science.

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