Should the Public Have a Say in Science? A Philosophy Of Science View

Traditionally, philosophy of science has not shown much interest in the social side of science. What Is This Thing Called Science?, a popular philosophy of science textbook also used at the University of Tartu, is an example. It discusses the relationship between evidence and theory, the development of scientific knowledge, and the relation of theories to reality; it does not discuss social aspects of science much and the place of science in society at all.

This situation, however, has been changing. Philip Kitcher is one of the most important philosophers in the turn towards analysing social dimensions of science.

Jaana Eigi, the author of the article, suggests that the public representatives may sometimes have local knowledge and experience that will enrich or even correct experts’ knowledge. Photo from a personal archive.

Kitcher’s first arguments focused on the division of labour in the scientific community. If researchers were only interested in having a problem solved, they would all choose the same most promising approach. However, such unanimity is not the most beneficial for community — a more secure way would be to divide efforts between different approaches. Kitcher argued that such a division of effort is in fact common because researchers are also interested in priority. If an alternative approach is less popular, a researcher may choose it because the chances of being the first to succeed are higher there. Kitcher thus showed that it is important to pay attention to what happens on the community level in science.

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Will Estonia Soon Have a Climate Similar to Northern Scotland?

Changes in climate are something you can literally put your hands on in Estonia. Just take a walk in the forest – you will see young oak trees there. This means that for a couple of decades now our winters have been so mild that an oak can easily grow here. Another sign of climate change is the fact that our great-grandparents could ski in March and April, while we can just make jokes about unsuitable sporting weather all year long. In fact, the climate has been warming particularly drastically on the east coast of the Baltic Sea. While global air temperature has risen about 0.8° C in 140 years, the average rise in Estonia has been 2° C during the last half of the century.

The physics behind climate change is actually really simple: when the chemical composition of a gas changes, the same happens to its radiation properties. Humankind is changing the gas composition of the atmosphere right now by burning fossil fuels and chopping down forests. Greenhouse gases released into the air do not allow heat to dissipate into space, continuously increasing the temperature on Earth. Estonia is shamefully among the top 20 countries by the amount of greenhouse gases per capita issued into air annually, the reasons being our oil shale industry and extremely fast motorisation.

Currently, humankind is changing the gas composition of the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels and chopping down forests. This leads to a rise in the temperature on Earth. Photo credit: Barb Henry / Flickr Creative Commons

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The Gates of Educational Technology and the Challenges of Our Time

A few days ago I was at the airport waiting for my connecting flight back to Estonia when I saw a group of men gathered around a sort of big pod, which had a strong resemblance – at least from a distance – to a totemic object. Initially, I thought that they were smoking. They all had their heads down on the pod as if they were putting out their cigarettes, which I knew could not be the case. As I drew closer, I saw that they were not holding a cigarette in their hand but a smartphone, and that the pod did not provide an ash bin but plugs for charging their electronic devices. I whipped out my iPod touch, captured the moment and, since there was a good Internet connection, in a few seconds the scene was uploaded to social media with the caption “the four horsemen of the e-apocalypse”. Ironically, I could have joined the four gentlemen, when one hour later the battery of my device came to a sudden death.

Curiously enough, this episode was in stark contrast to the one that I had experienced exactly one day before. I was attending a European project meeting in Athens. We were in a school and right after the kick-off we were given a username and password to the local Wi-Fi network. We were also told that access to Facebook and other social media websites was blocked, and the same applied to mobile phone signals. That was the policy there. We indeed complied. The school was not led by a bunch of crazy Luddites, though, as we found out during a tour around the school a few hours later, during which we could see the rather impressive equipment available to students and teachers for the science classes.

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The Internet of Things Lab Has the Scent of the Future Around It

Imagine that you’re driving home from work and at the same time your car informs the heating system that you will be home soon. Then the heating turns on. Or imagine a world where the refrigerator recognises a missing food product and adds it to the shopping list. These are only some examples of how objects will communicate in the future and make people’s lives more comfortable.

Internet of things. Photo credit: jefferb / Pixabay Creative Commons

In order to test these possibilities, the University of Tartu and Telia Eesti opened Estonia’s first internet of things lab in March 2016. It is a unique laboratory which is furnished as a smart home and a smart office. The lab uses a network of devices which include electronics, software, sensors and network connection. The devices gather and exchange information which enables a situation where devices are able to act in certain situations on their own, or in other words, be smart. In Janury 2017, Telia Eesti gave 920 devices to the lab in order to help researchers to broaden their research horizons and develop the field.

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Kikee D. Bhutia: Reviving the Sikkimese (Denjongpo) culture

Before I joined the University of Tartu in autumn 2016, I worked at the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology as a Research Assistant. Among many other projects, I was engaged in documentary film making and in translating, transcribing and interpreting proverbs and sayings. I am from Sikkim (Beyul Demojong which means The Hidden Land of Fruitful Valley) which was a former Himalayan Buddhist Kingdom (for 333 years) but is now the 22nd state of the Indian Union since 1975. I hold a Master Degree in English Language and Literature from the North-Eastern Hill University in Shillong, Meghalaya, India.

Kikee D. Bhutia. Photo from a personal archive.

I came to know about Tartu from my friend Margaret Lyngdoh, as she previously also studied in Shillong, from where I got my master’s degree. Margaret defended her PhD in 2016 at the University of Tartu in the Department of Estonian and Comparative Folklore. She suggested me to write a research proposal and approach the professor of the department Ülo Valk after knowing my serious interest in pursuing my studies. I had never heard about Estonia before but after coming here I realised it was a privilege to have got this opportunity! In the cold yet warm environment, surrounded by the people who are equally passionate about their culture and equally interested to know about yours.

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Eesti Blues Through the Eyes of a Photographer

Estonians cherish their beautiful summer, long sunny days and short fairy-tale nights. In return, most of us are inversely aching about the rest of the year – the dim, wet and somber days of fog and darkness. Then again, the bad weather is as beautiful as those sunny summer days if you only care to look. Here’s a set of pictures of memorable urbanscapes and buildings that I’ve encountered on such dim times.

Rotermann, Tallinn. This is where I work from on my Tallinn days. Young Estonians bring their foreign friends here and take massive amounts of pics of these surroundings if they want to show off the progressive, modern side of Estonia.

Rotermann, Tallinn. Repurposed old industrial quarters in a harmonious ensemble with new office and apartment buildings. The fog lets it feel bigger and more powerful than it already is.

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Could Creaky Voice Decrease the Pay Gap in Estonia?

The social power structure is reflected in the way people communicate. Attitudes related to these structures can therefore be noted in the way we behave in conversations. These structures are influenced by numerous factors, such as the age difference between conversational partners or the nature of their relationship. For example, the social positions of conversational partners towards each other could be described by pointing out who speaks more, who directs the topic of the conversation, or who interrupts others more.

Kim Kardashian, who is known for her creaky voice, taking a selfie with Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign. Photo credit: Instagram/@kimkardashian

Study of conversational dominance patterns has shown that women are interrupted much more than men. For example, in the first US presidential election debate last year, Donald Trump interrupted Hillary Clinton 51 times, while Clinton interrupted Trump 17 times. Although those kinds of interferences aren’t necessarily aggressive or even arrogant, men often interrupt women just to ensure dominant positions for themselves.

Terms such as “manterruption” (a man’s unnecessary interference when a woman is speaking), “mansplaining” (when a man cuts a woman’s speech short so he can explain something – even when she happens to be an expert on the subject), as well as “bropropriating” (when a man takes credit for a woman’s idea) have started to spread in social media to point out the social inequality between men and women. Continue reading

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