On BioScience and Life and Such

Posts Tagged ‘knowledge’

Plastic Fantastic

In Uncategorized on September 5, 2019 at 1:44 pm

In my social media feeds, this picture has been appearing a lot lately:

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Image credit, instagram: @guarl351

Because I read “plastic trash” where it says “trash”, my mind entered the following train of thoughts.

First, please do not behave like animals. Animals may not leave plastic trash, but they are extremely unhygienic, and they behave violent towards each other. Why would disease and violence on the beaches be better than (plastic) trash ? For some reason the first solution often launched towards any man-made problem is to return to the natural state of things. But, “natural states of things” involve: Disease, Violence and early Death. Why is that so hard to remember ?

So in moving away from this natural state of things humans invented plastics. Which became so popular we created a pollution problem. This particular problem makes for very descriptive emotion evoking pictures of animals stuck in plastic products like Seals in fish nets and turtles in six-pack holders. Which is bad, and should be dealt with in terms of reducing our consumption of single use plastic products.

But for some reason plastic pollution is bundled together with environmental problems. Over-consumption is a problem where plastic products play a large part, yes. But, consumption is a general environmental problem because the energy spent making new products exhausts our resources and increases the CO2-levels in the air. Plastics as a specific product, is not in itself an environmental problem. It’s a pollution problem. There’s a difference.

Most plastic products break down very slowly. For all practical purposes it’s almost inert. It’s ugly yes, but except for the poor turtle in the six-pack ring, not very harmful.

As a result of its inertness, the carbon (that came from oil and gas originally) in plastics is not released into the air as CO2 unless we actively break it down. Which means that plastic products often are more environmentally friendly than alternative materials like paper. Especially if you reuse it a couple of times and don’t burn it afterwards.

So I’ll end my train of thought by quoting Susan Ruffo who points out another one of the pitfalls we humans constantly happily jump into.

“You know,” she says, “we have a history as a species of solving one problem with great intensity, only to figure out that we’ve created another one.”

And, conclude by appealing to everyone to be human, not succumb to animal behavior like over-consumption, and to keep using the (plastic) solutions that so effectively removes us from the natural state.

What you know is based on luck in this day and age

In Uncategorized on September 16, 2008 at 11:46 am

The other day I was listening to a talk on evidence-based medicine and how to navigate the literature without getting lost in too much information. The speaker went through some of the guidelines to effectively use scientific evidence in the clinical practice and medical research. These guidelines alone constitute information overload it seems, but if you want to try yourself, a starting point can be found at Cambridge university Library.

One of his conclusions that I found particularly interesting, was that to penetrate this massive amount of information, you need to use Sturgeon’s law. This law states that: to avoid information overload, you have to assume that

“Ninety percent of everything is crap”.

I immediately thought of friendfeed, not because there’s a lot of crap there, which there isn’t, not in my crowd anyway, ….not yet… But, because friendfeed is the current spearhead aggregator of information, – information from channels that were already overloaded, like twitter, the blogosphere and web-news.

Here’s a descriptive tweet (on friendfeed) from Berci Mesko some time ago:

“I’m absolutely not worried when I see I have 1500 feed items to read. Am I totally mad?”

A possible solution (using something similar to Sturgeons law) comes from the blog post Why I Stopped Reading Blogs (for a while):

1000+ items.  That’s what Google Reader told me I need to read to catch up with my RSS subscriptions.  It’s intimidating.  My RSS feeds were mocking me. I could see them with sneaky voices “hee hee, you’ll never read me, you don’t have the time. ha ha.”  The sad part is, they were right………..

….took a nice long look at the list and asked myself – does this matter to me?  Do I even know this person?  Will I be worse off without this content in my life?  No. No. No.

And doing something like this may help you avoid some dire consequences (from Slaw.ca):

They are numerous studies to suggest that information overload makes us dumber: Persons exposed to excessive amounts of information are less productive, prone to make bad decisions, and risk suffering serious stress-related diseases.

Me on the other hand, I never got to the point where I had 1000+ entries in my reader, I only have three or so blogs there. But, I also follow twitter and friendfeed. And then I’ve got a couple of (three ?, – maybe four ?) science news sites I go through on a semi-daily basis, and in addition I am following feed-networks like The DNA Network, and there’s mail correspondence and of course journals to skim through (and consequently, articles to examine) as well as a couple of books I’d like to read…..

What I do to keep from overloading is simply to click and read only when I have some time to spare. I also very rarely go beyond that first page of friendfeed and seldom look at historic postings on blogs or news sites. I just do not have the time. I have this life I need to live and it keeps getting in the way of the internet and reading in general.

This does however, mean that I am missing out on a hell of a lot and that the timing is essential to the information I get. Thus, although I have tried to optimize the information channels I take in, I am basing my information (knowledge ?) on luck of timing.

I will continue to do so I guess beacuse you just can’t have all the cakes and eat them too. Which basically is Sturgeon’s law, only reformulated, and a comfort to my ignorance.