Monday, November 14, 2011

How are the Media and Schools catching up with Scientific Progress? Pt.4


In the previous segment, a good deal of space was dedicated to a straightforward preliminary look at the portrayal of non-European peoples, especially Africans, in "western" media not merely as a loosely connected hodgepodge of unconscious and conscious underlying motives, ranging from economic considerations to racism, but rather, as a conscious undertaking of "western" imperialism, of which the 'western' establishments are quite mindful.


"western" imperialism-associated ideology has seeped into scientific research, especially those which involve complementing and helping to reconstruct historiography. This inevitably happens because elements of the scientific community are unable to break the shackles of nationalistic allegiance to their respective countries. In the name of patriotism, scientists have on many occasions veered away from working across national boundaries with international scientists of different national allegiance. Often the reason given for this, is the intent to prevent a competing nation from getting access to "sensitive" document that might give that country a competitive advantage.

For instance, the space race that ensued in the 20th century has resulted in space exploration to go on largely along nationalistic lines, has put limitations on physicists and astronomers around the globe from freely confiding with each other and solving the complex mysteries of the universe. As such, the U.S, the Chinese, or the Russians for example, have decided to conduct space missions largely on nationalistic grounds as lone wolves, instead of coming together and co-funding & freely exchanging ideas on about how to unwind the mysteries of our universe and cooperatively tackle the possible challenges/dangers therein that lie ahead of us.

Case in point, as it relates to the limitations put on the progress of space exploration by nationalism, is the recent demise of the U.S. space shuttle system, culminating in the last space shuttle mission by the space shuttle "Atlantis", and basically, the indefinite suspension of manned space missions thereof. The "reusable" space shuttles became a driving part of an extremely expensive space program, while accomplishing little else than performing low-Earth orbit missions, even considering the initial pledges of tasks lined up for the shuttle program. Word is that the initial goal was to have 50 flights a year, but 9 flights, at most, a year actually took place.

Given the restricted applications of these reusable vehicles, they had come under constant strains [even leading to tragic events such as those seen in the case of accidents involving the "Challenger" and the "Columbia" space shuttles, in 1986 and 2003 respectively] of lifting out of and reentry into the Earth and low-Earth orbit missions, increasingly making the vehicles extremely expensive to maintain, not counting the costs of the missions themselves. Individual space shuttle missions reportedly cost around $1.5 billion, compared the $63 million per astronaut cost to the U.S., levied by the Russian space agency, for space missions using technology older than the space shuttles.

If Pentagon military operations are considered, which had come to dominate space shuttle applications over the years, spending reportedly reached as much as $40 to $50 billion a year, outstripping NASA's own budget. These above-mentioned space shuttle issues coupled with the fact that they were operating in the confines of a nationalistic enterprise undergoing increasing budgetary strains, could only inevitably lead to the gutting of the preexisting space program setup.

The research of the workings of the universe itself has not been terribly tainted by nationalistic dogma, if only because the astronomically vast universe is not any nationally "owned" territory. As such, competing ideas around the universe have largely been along individual or cliquish lines within the scientific community. However, aside from few efforts like the International Space Station, many space missions are undertaken along nationalistic confines.

It should be pointed out though, that academic space research has generally been given a back seat to militaristic space research, with more government subsidy going towards the latter. Thankfully, despite these situations, significant strides have been made in the field of astronomy, in good measure due to a variety of equipment on the ground, i.e. right here on Earth, that make looking into outer space possible for many scientists, who would otherwise not be able to travel to space by their own means.

Unlike the Hubble Space Telescope, which was close enough to Earth for space shuttle crew/repairmen to fix, i.e. correcting the flaw in its optics, the launch-to-be newer James Webb Space Telescope would have been out of the reach of the space shuttle repairmen, since it is to be situated beyond the orbital path of the Moon around the Earth. Funding for the James Webb Space Telescope itself has been withdrawn, and even funding for unmanned exploration projects for Mars and a Jupiter moon have been gutted.

Another example of how politics can affect science, is one that afflicted the field of human paleontology in the "west" from the late 19th century through to the 20th century. According to another H2 (History Channel) documentary, titled Neanderthal vs. Modern Human (2008), even Darwin had reservations about elaborating on how humans would have evolved from ape-like anthropoids, thereby leaving other researchers to fill in the blanks, because many at the time did not want to hear that, as it would upset their arrogant sense of human exceptionalism and biblical dogma.

The study of human paleontology in the "west" began to the gain moment mainly in the late part of the 19th century. The accidental discovery of a Neanderthal remain--a scalp--on August 1856 subsequently set off theories about modern humans evolving from Neanderthals, such as that put forward by the "Victorian era" scientist, Yohan Fulradt, who initially passed the remain onto researchers he thought were more qualified to examine the specimen than he was.

Perhaps one can say that these initial theories about Neanderthals being ancestors of modern humans can be forgiven as that brought on about fairly limited insight into human palaeontology at the time, as opposed to some outright political agenda, though the thought had taken up by multi-regionalists in recent times, not out of limited knowledge of human palaeontology as in the past, but out of the craving to satisfy a political ideology.

Soon after, the inevitable search for the "missing link" was in full swing. Conventional wisdom at the time was that this "missing link" had to have a combination of "modern human" elements with "ape-like" features, preferably a brain case half the size of a modern human's and an "ape-like" jaw. Given how Euro-centered European researchers were at the time, no thought remotely popped up about searching for human origins in the African continent. So, as it turns out, Africa was at the very bottom of the menu to ever be given a consideration; in fact, it did not even cross the European mind. It goes without saying, Europe was first in line to be given consideration to as the hub of modern human origin.

Among those hunting for the "missing link", was notably Eujenne Dubois of Netherlands, who undertook the challenge in October 1889, but was unsuccessful. Europe was proving to be short of finds, and so, the search for the elusive "missing link" moved from Europe to southeast Asia, particularly the Dutch island colony of Sumatra. The 1891 finding of a fossil teeth in the island of Java, which Dubois considered "ape-like", seemed promising. At around this time, Dubois reportedly also came across a fossilized scalp, which he initially figured was that of a Neanderthal. However, Dubois struck out in his hopes of this scalp having a brain case half the size of a modern human's, while twice the size of an ape's. The brain case was somewhat larger than expectation.

Then comes along, a leg bone; its shape suggested that it came from an upright walking creature, like say, a humanoid. Now this is where another clear instance of politics and emotion infiltrating science comes in: Obviously Dubois could not change the evidence itself to fit his preconceived notions, so instead, Dubois decided to change his qualifications for the "missing link" to now suit the evidence!

Dubois calls this specimen "Pithecanthropus Erectus", aka "Ape-man". This specimen, it turns out, was actually a member of the Homo Erectus. Interestingly enough, as far as the History channel documentary goes, it appears that "black" actors were primarily sought after to reenact the part for Homo Erectus. Frustrated that no one accepted his theory of "Ape-man", Dubois hid his bone specimens and barred access to it, another case of emotionalism triumphing over science.

To be continued in the next segment: Part 5

Planet Egypt: Birth of an Empire, 2011.

Planet Egypt: Pharaohs at war, 2011.

Planet Egypt: Temples of Power, 2011.

Planet Egypt: Quest for Eternity, 2011.

Egypt: Engineering an Empire, 2006.

Robot Chicken, "Easter Basket" episode, 2005.

Futurama, "A Pharaoh to Remember", 2002.

Futurama, "That Darn Katz!", 2010.

The Prince of Egypt, 1998.

Princess of the Sun, 2005.

Achilles Tatius: Leucippe and Clitophon, by  Helen Morales (Introduction), Tim Whitmarsh (Translator), Oxford University Press, May, 2002.

Ape to Man, 2005.

Clash of the Cavemen, 2008.

The Link, 2009.

—Gonzalez-Perez et al., Population Relationships in the Mediterranean Revealed by Autosomal Genetic Data (Alu and Alu/STR Compound Systems), 2010

—M.A. Babiker et al., Genetic variation and population structure of Sudanese populations as indicated by 15 Identifiler sequence-tagged repeat loci, 2011.

*Personal notes, 2004 & 2011.

Appreciation to the San Diego Museum of Man.

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