Tag: science

You Better Thank Your Uncle For Being Gay

Ellie McFarland | @El_FarAwayLand

In 2019, equality for the LGBT community is at the forefront of legal and societal conversations. Although there is still a long way to go, The West has come a long way from the era of widespread homophobia. Despite this, the LGBT community is not fully protected against discrimination in 30 states. Although this is an immutable characteristic just like race, sex, or nation of origin, an argument made against this legislation is that being gay or LGBT “isn’t natural”. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Indeed, it seems that gay and bisexual people serve an important reproductive utility.

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Human Genetic Modification is Eugenics in Disguise

 Ellie McFarland | @El_FarAwayLand

We see it everywhere; the crunchy panic around genetically modified corn, peas, and drought resistant lettuce. It makes the news about quarterly. Whenever a company is discovered using fragments of algae DNA for the disturbing crime of pesticide-free crops. The information can be public knowledge or a company secret but it’s always treated as the latter. GMOs (genetically modified organisms) such as beans, corn, and tomatoes pose precisely no threat to human health. But the bigger risk of all of this gene editing in strawberries is that it is starting to move into the realm of human genetics. GMOs are all fine with food products, but when it enters the womb, it smells suspiciously of eugenics.  

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The Milgram Experiments and What They Teach Us

Andrew Lepore | United States

In 1942, following the invasion of Poland and its defeat by Nazi Germany, Polish diplomats sought refuge in Great Britain. That year received a secret message from their occupied homeland confirming the Jewish genocide at the hands of the Nazis. Rumors of such an atrocity had been circling for years, but with this came the first official confirmation. Newspapers and journals from around the world reported headlines such as  “MASSACRE OF JEWS—OVER 1,000,000 DEAD SINCE THE WAR BEGAN” and “NAZI SLAUGHTERHOUSE”—GERMANS MASSACRE MILLIONS OF JEWS IN EXTERMINATION DRIVE”.

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The Remarkable Voyage of Officer De Long and the Jeannette

Nate Galt | United States

The De Long Islands is a group of small, rocky islands in the middle of the East Siberian Sea, off the coast of Russia. During Soviet times, the islands were used as weather stations to better understand the Arctic climate. After the fall of the USSR in 1991, the weather stations were abandoned. Even though the archipelago may be desolate and uninhabited, its discovery has quite an interesting backstory. The island group is named after George W. De Long, a largely forgotten American explorer who risked life and limb to find a warm water route to the North Pole. 

On July 8, 1879, De Long’s ship, the U.S.S. Jeannette, departed with 33 crew members from the harbor of San Francisco. They were searching for an “open polar route” to the North Pole, which had been a popular theory for centuries. The naval commander had experience in far northern waters and knew that winter would be coming when he would pass through the Bering Strait. Although his ship had a reinforced hull to prevent the Arctic ice from cracking it, he was not sure if it would last throughout the whole winter.  In September 1879, the Jeannette was trapped in the ice in the middle of the East Siberian Sea, near the 75th parallel north. The ship’s commander and crew still did not lose hope, even in these dangerous conditions. The current would push the trapped ship towards an island in May of the next year, which would be the first time the crew saw dry land for an entire year. The sighting of the island was a relief for many crew members and boosted their morale. The crew hoped that the onset of the Arctic summer would free their ship from the thick pack ice, allowing them to continue their expedition. They would journey northwest, following their plan to find the “open polar route” to the North Pole.

Unfortunately for them, the U.S.S. Jeannette would still be trapped inside the ice, which was starting to crack its hull. On the evening of June 12, 1880, the ship would sink just north of the 77th parallel. Desperate and running out of options, the crew took three lifeboats and followed the orders of their commander, De Long, to head over to the Lena River delta. He predicted that there would be numerous native Yakut villages which would provide his men with food and shelter. In order to keep their slim hope of survival alive, they needed to brave the harsh winds and march over the frozen East Siberian Sea, all while hauling their boats. They displayed a strong sense of camaraderie, knowing that they needed to support each other if they wanted to have a sliver of a chance at life.

In July, the party spotted small uninhabited islands with cliffs and named them after their ship and after De Long’s family. De Long claimed these newly discovered islands for the United States and planted an American flag on the largest one. Following a brief rest, they set out on foot again. Since the ice was melting, the men had to use their boats in order to get to the Russian coast. Melville, the group’s engineer, was placed in command of one lifeboat, while Lieutenant Chipp, a naval officer, was made the captain of the smallest boat. The third lifeboat was piloted by De Long himself. Everyone was ordered to stay together, no matter how terrible the conditions became. Unfortunately, on September 12, strong gale-force winds tore the group apart. Hope was quickly dwindling for all three parties. The De Long party tried to maintain their path towards the Lena delta and proceeded to land at its northernmost extremity.

De Long kept meticulous records of his experience, from the unique wildlife to the frigid climate of the region. He noted that food was running out, writing in his journal that “there was nothing to eat but a spoonful of glycerine.” The men were in poor physical condition, with many barely walking a mile per day. Even though their decreasing food rations were replenished by shooting the occasional reindeer or bird, morale was low. One by one, De Long’s men were falling, either due to frostbite or starvation. The first casualty of the expedition came on October 6. As the harsh, biting Siberian winter set in, more men died. The last three men desperately tried to set up camp on higher ground. De Long was among them, and on the last day of October 1880, he passed away. Chipp’s party was never found, and it is assumed that the crew disappeared in the frigid waters of the East Siberian Sea due to their boat capsizing. Melville’s vessel landed at the southeastern part of the enormous river delta. He soon found a sizable native Yakut village and rested there. He ordered that everyone in his party except for two of the fittest crewmen should go to the large city of Yakutsk, which was upstream. Melville wanted to search for De Long but had to wait for the biting cold to ease. He began his search in mid- to late March, when the river ice would have melted, bringing along two of his men and two natives. In a village, a group of natives brought Melville several notes written by expedition members. When he discovered De Long’s body, he found several artifacts as well as his commander’s diary. This journal would be invaluable as there were detailed descriptions of everything that his commander’s party had encountered. All but one body of the group would be recovered and buried on top of a hill in the middle of the river delta. Melville heaped some rocks over the men’s graves and planted a large wooden cross over them to mark their resting place. For one more month, he unsuccessfully tried to find any news about Chipp and his men. He returned to Yakutsk in May and began his long journey back to the United States. 

Only 13 of the 33 men that originally sailed from the U.S. survived the perilous expedition. Their return was celebrated by the American public, as their ordeals were not at all in vain. Public interest in the expedition had been high since the crew’s departure. Besides discovering new islands and sailing through uncharted waters, the crew of the USS Jeannette dismantled the theory of an “open polar sea” and the absence of currents in the Arctic Ocean. Early cartographers mapping the Arctic believed that there were no currents in this ocean. As a result of the crew of the Jeannette being trapped in ice that was floating with a current, this myth was debunked. This would change far northern exploration forever, as following explorers learned from the mistakes of De Long and used his journal entries to plan future voyages. The party’s treacherous journey in the high north was commemorated with a memorial cross in the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. Their exploration would be the first of its kind, as no one had made so many discoveries about the North Pole and the waters around it up to this point. De Long’s contribution was great, but if it weren’t for Melville’s determination and commitment to find his shipmates, we would not have learned all we know today. Melville had given the scientific world so much by recovering artifacts, especially the notes of his comrades and De Long’s diary. The men risked life and limb solely to prove a theory and ended up doing much more. Significant stories like these frequently fall through the cracks of history and should never be forgotten. 


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Philosophy is Not Dead.

K. Tymon Zhou | USA

Does philosophy have an important role in contemporary society?  The late Stephen Hawking asserted that it does not, declaring that  “Philosophy is dead.”.  Hawking argued that scientific progress in physics renders philosophy irrelevant. He was not alone in this assertion among his scientific peers. In 2014, Neil deGrasse Tyson suggested that philosophy, as it relates to physical sciences, is needlessly absurd:

My concern here is that the philosophers believe they are actually asking deep questions about nature. And to the scientist it’s, what are you doing? Why are you concerning yourself with the meaning of meaning?… The scientist says look, I got all this world of unknown out there, I’m moving on, I’m leaving you behind. You can’t even cross the street because you are distracted by what you are sure are deep questions you’ve asked yourself. I don’t have the time for that.

From Tyson’s perspective, the future seems to lie strictly in the hands of scientific knowledge. To be completely fair, Tyson suggests that there are productive fields for philosophy such as ethics and politics. However, these criticisms speak to a broader  disdain for philosophy as a useless discipline. Society increasingly values expertise in STEM fields. Such expertise is highly useful, but it only covers means, not ends. Technicians can create increasingly powerful weaponry. However, they cannot answer the question of when they should or should not be used. Such an answer requires not only knowledge (What military intelligence do we have?), but wisdom (Is this a just war?). Thus, any political question becomes a philosophical question as well. Far from being a obscure debate over concepts, philosophy is perhaps more relevant than ever.

Socrates, the father of European philosophy, and Plato, his influential pupil, understood this. To them, scrutinizing the meaning of meanings was highly important. Why was it worth it? Although Socrates and Plato rarely came to a definitive conclusion on a subject, they saw the search’s value. It prevented creative and moral stagnation. In a discussion with a Greek aristocrat named Meno, Socrates reflected on virtue’s meaning. While Tyson might have shrugged his shoulders and told Socrates that he didn’t have time to examine such a useless subject, both Meno and Socrates persisted. Perhaps sensing that Meno felt as Tyson might have, Socrates responded:

I would contend that at all costs in both word and deed as far as I could that we will be better men, braver, and less idle, if we believe that one must search for the things one does not know, rather than if we believe that it is not possible to find out what we do not know and that we must not look for it.

Indeed, Socrates was willing to sacrifice his own life to pursue such meanings.  Charged by the dogmatic Athenians as a blasphemer, Socrates boldly defended his aims. Can anyone not doubt his sincere devotion to truth when reading his Apology?

  ….if I say that this even happens to be a very great good for a human being—to make 20 speeches every day about virtue and the other things about which you hear me conversing and examining both myself and others— and that the unexamined life is not worth living for a human being, you will be persuaded by me still less when I say these things.

Tragically, they were not persuaded. Socrates was executed for philosophy’s sake.

If philosophy is dead, we have decided that the unexamined life is worth living. Instead of pursuing truth, we have resigned ourselves to bleak ignorance. Instead of dreaming of a discovery, we say that there is nothing left to uncover. It is a world without hope and without possibilities. No, philosophy is not dead. It is very much alive and the world is better because of it.


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