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A one thousand-year-old history lesson awaits those who would deem the cutting edge wicked

Damascus steel was forged using a process of carbon doping iron in a smelting and quenching process.  This steel became famous almost a thousand years ago; it was said a Damascus sword would cut through falling silk, a rock, and then another piece of silk while still keeping its razor sharp edge. 

The ability to make the Damascus steel was lost with the ages.   Blademasters would often take the secret of the forging process to the grave rather than reveal its mysteries. Many were persecuted as heretics, others heralded as deities.

A study by a University of Wisconsin-Madison revealed that more than 70% of 1,015 surveyed Americans deem nanotechnology morally repulsive.  Professor Dietram Scheufele attributes this repugnance for technology to American reliance on religion. 

It's easy to say that perhaps the 1,000 Americans surveyed are just not that bright.  Scheufele disagrees, stating, "They are rejecting it based on religious beliefs. The issue isn't about informing these people. They are informed."

Scheufele believes that Americans who disprove of nanotechnology do not want humans "playing God."  That is, man manipulating structures of one nanometer, one billionth of a meter, is akin to God manipulating the forces of the universe.

In 2006 German researcher Peter Paufler discovered (with the aid of a sub-nanotechnology, the electron microscope) that a four hundred-year-old Damascus steel sword gained its incredible properties from carbon nanotube structures within the blade's edge.  Fifteen years earlier NEC created the world's first synthetic nanotube. One year later it was awarded the patent for one of the sharpest materials on earth, a plasma polished carbon nanotube blade.

Science has always bordered on the fence of terrifying and mysterious.  Civilization lost the secrets of Damascus steel making when then modern thinkers deemed it a practice of deus ex hominis.

Attempting to describe the morality of natural phenomena leads to an exercise in natural fallacy. Not once, in the history of mankind, has science ever been proven immoral -- and conversely -- nor has it ever been proven moral either. 

Will society deitize nano-researchers as modern day Damascus blademasters, or will it learn to look beyond the meta-ethics of natural phenomena for a change?


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Whatever
By borowki on 2/23/2008 7:00:27 AM , Rating: 5
Sounds like another attempt by a academic to get some media attention. We all know that you can pretty much get any result you want from polling. I recall earlier surveys showing a majority of Americans not knowing where is Ohio, thinking the Holocaust didn't happen, disagreeing with the second law of thermodynamics, and so forth.

Imagine if the following question is put to 1000 random Americans:

quote:

The use of aldohexose is morally acceptable

1. In no circumstances.
2. In situations where it saves lives and subjected to tight government regulation.
3. In all circumstances irregardless of the religious implications.

A majority, no doubt, would support some sort of a ban.




RE: Whatever
By andrinoaa on 2/23/08, Rating: -1
RE: Whatever
By KristopherKubicki (blog) on 2/23/2008 11:49:27 AM , Rating: 2
Professor Scheufele has some extremely interesting topics published. I've linked his CV in the article.

The study he discusses here has not been published by a peer review journal yet. I've asked him for a copy of it. The majority of the study, according to the press release, focuses on the "immorality" index of the U.S. versus other countries. France, for example, showed that only 30% of those surveyed disproved of nanotechnology.

quote:
I recall earlier surveys showing a majority of Americans not knowing where is Ohio, thinking the Holocaust didn't happen, disagreeing with the second law of thermodynamics, and so forth.

It's unfortunate, but I would have a tendency to believe the average American probably does not know a damn thing about any of those topics.

Case in point. My mother just left her job at U.S. Airways over ethical issues. In the next few weeks you'll see some pretty heavy lawsuits headed their way claiming that the company discriminates against race. While its true, the company does not have a single black executive, that is not what the fallout is about.

No, the company has a policy that every employee must learn the world airport codes. ORD = O'Hare International, LAX = Los Angeles International, etc. A legal team has declared this practice discriminatory, since potential employees must have "an intricate knowledge of geography to pass this test"

So, I wouldn't be surprised that 700 out of 1000 Americans say nanotechnology is a bad thing.


RE: Whatever
By ziggo on 2/23/2008 1:14:12 PM , Rating: 2
I am confused? Are you saying that the employer setting qualifications for its employees is discriminatory?

Of course it is. If you didn't have to be qualified for the job then how would anything ever get done? I don't think knowing airport codes is out of line for an airline employee, just like my engineering education and abilities are required for my engineering job. If you can't discriminate based on reasonable qualifications then you could have a burger flipper doing my job and me working as an actor.

Employing people based on their qualifications is discriminatory, it separates people based on their abilities, but it sure as hell shouldn't be illegal.


RE: Whatever
By KristopherKubicki (blog) on 2/23/2008 1:34:32 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
Are you saying that the employer setting qualifications for its employees is discriminatory?

I'm certainly not saying that. But a team of lawyers suing U.S. Airways thinks so. And that's how we continue to set the bar for intelligence in this country ...


RE: Whatever
By ziggo on 2/23/2008 9:34:15 PM , Rating: 2
Sorry, I just was concerned that you were actually supporting such a position. I enjoyed this article, and most of the articles on this site, but the lack of reasoning required to support such a claim would make me reconsider my "viewership" if there is such a thing.

I can't believe anyone would actually sue with that kind of a case. The lawyers cannot possibly believe in this case, and are just looking for a payday. The whole profession just got knocked down a (another) notch in my book.

It makes me sick.


RE: Whatever
By masher2 (blog) on 2/23/2008 10:47:51 PM , Rating: 5
> "The whole profession just got knocked down a (another) notch in my book"

You still have some notches left? I ran out years ago.


RE: Whatever
By pheffern on 3/16/2008 2:24:55 PM , Rating: 2
What, a blanket condemnation of all lawyers in response to frivolous lawsuits undertaken by a few members of the American plaintiffs' bar? Shocking!

Everyone loves to hate lawyers until they're charged with a DUI, injured by a defective product, sued in a messy divorce, fired by a vindictive boss, hoping to leave instructions more complicated than "It all goes to my wife and kids" in their will, etc., etc., etc.

There're good lawyers and there are bad lawyers. Just like there are good journalists and bad journalists, good politicians and bad politicians, good teachers and bad teachers, etc. etc. etc. I've met a few doctors who are egomaniacal jerks, but strangely I don't hear a lot of complaints about the profession at large.

Lawyers are a part of life in modern society. The rules governing our means of living together are complex enough to require a profession trained and skilled in their interpretation. If you don't like the actions of a particular lawyer or lawyers, contact the disciplinary body of your state to see if you have recourse.

The system isn't always perfect, but if you have a problem with a lawyer, and the disciplinary body won't help you, then engage with the political process - find out why you have no recourse for your concern, and make an effort to change the system if you think it's warranted.

Just don't label us all soulless cash-hungry monsters because it's the fashionable thing to do.

/Rant

Porter Heffernan, B.A., LL.B., LL.M.(cand.)
... and proud of it.


RE: Whatever
By borowki on 2/23/2008 7:59:50 PM , Rating: 2
Well, is there a compelling reason for people to memorize that sort of things? It's easy enough to look up the code on a chart or the computer.

Higher standards are not necessarily better. One thing I've notice is that academic standards are always higher in authoritarian or corrupt countries. They are just another way to control people. I'm living in Poland now and I still see vestige of this mechanism in Polish academia. What the Polish professors do is give impossibly difficult questions (it usually involves memorizing something). If you kiss up to them, then you get hints enabling you to get a good grade. If you don't, then you fail.

Come to think of it, it's nothing new. Americans actually invented the practice after Reconstruction. Literacy tests were an effective mean to disenfranchise black voters until the Civil Rights Movement.


RE: Whatever
By masher2 (blog) on 2/23/2008 8:44:06 PM , Rating: 2
> "Is there a compelling reason for people to memorize that sort of things? It's easy enough to look up the code on a chart or the computer."

It's easy enough to look up 2 x 10 on a chart also, but I wouldn't hire an elementary school teacher who couldn't do that one in her head.

Having all airport codes in your head quite obviously allows an agent to work faster and with less error than someone who has to continually pause to look them up.


RE: Whatever
By borowki on 2/24/2008 4:55:28 AM , Rating: 1
quote:
It's easy enough to look up 2 x 10 on a chart also, but I wouldn't hire an elementary school teacher who couldn't do that one in her head.


Then be prepared to explain in a court room how the inability to do 2 x 10 in one's head is impairment to teaching little children.

quote:
Having all airport codes in your head quite obviously allows an agent to work faster and with less error than someone who has to continually pause to look them up.


I doubt you'd be able to prove that in court, given the level of computerization. From what I've observed in airports, translating airport codes to cities is hardly a frequent task. And the potential cost of a mistake means you'd want your employees to NOT rely on their memory.

Meanwhile, it's trivial to show that the requirement has a disparate impact on blacks: in general they have poorer schooling compared to whites. I think there's an even chance the plaintiff would win this (it'll be settled, of course).


RE: Whatever
By masher2 (blog) on 2/24/2008 12:33:41 PM , Rating: 3
> "Then be prepared to explain in a court room how the inability to do 2 x 10 in one's head is impairment to teaching little children"

I don't need to, as passing a basic math test is now (thankfully) a requirement for all public-school teachers.

> "I doubt you'd be able to prove that in court, given the level of computerization"

On the contrary, its trivial to prove it. A computer lookup of the code requires an extra step, and extra keystrokes. That takes time.

In fact, that's the entire reason airport codes were created in the first place. It's a much more efficient system than trying to type names-- faster, and much less prone to error. Airport codes are also unique, which is invaluable for cities without unique names, or in cities with multiple airports.

> "From what I've observed in airports, translating airport codes to cities is hardly a frequent task"

Then you've had your eyes closed.

> "Meanwhile, it's trivial to show that the requirement has a disparate impact on blacks: in general they have poorer schooling compared to whites"

So? If you can't do the job, its not up to the employer to school you, or deal with your incompetence. Correct your deficiency, then reapply for the job.


RE: Whatever
By borowki on 2/24/2008 8:10:27 PM , Rating: 1
quote:
I don't need to, as passing a basic math test is now (thankfully) a requirement for all public-school teachers.


That's a bogus argument. Basic math is not doing arithmetics in one's head. Understanding of mathematical concepts is what matter for educational purpose, not speed.

quote:
On the contrary, its trivial to prove it. A computer lookup of the code requires an extra step, and extra keystrokes. That takes time.


There's this thing called the bar-code reader. There is also this other thing called the relational database, which call up all the flight and passenger information based on the ticket number, including where he is going to and from.

quote:
Then you've had your eyes closed.


If it's so blindingly obvious, then name one situation.

quote:
So? If you can't do the job, its not up to the employer to school you, or deal with your incompetence. Correct your deficiency, then reapply for the job.


I don't know where you've been the last 40 years. Under the Civil Rights Act, it's the burden of the employer to show that a job requirement is reasonable. Disparate impact is in general enough to prove discrimination.

A manager not understanding Title-VII compliance--now that's real incompetence.


RE: Whatever
By masher2 (blog) on 2/24/2008 9:10:51 PM , Rating: 2
> "Basic math is not doing arithmetics in one's head."

Sorry, but memorization of the basic multiplication tables is a critical math skill....which explains why every elementary school I know still teaches it. A teacher cannot easily teach what they do not know.

> "There's this thing called the bar-code reader. There is also this other thing called the relational database"

I guess you don't travel much. Passengers quite often change tickets, flight destinations, or even get entirely new tickets at the counter (via purchase, or for deadheading airline personnel who receive free ones). Also, there are also literally thousands of non-passenger related functions which require airline personnel to direct resources to particular airports.

Finally, even if true, your argument itself is invalid. Passengers quite often have questions for airline personnel which can be answered simply by knowing the destination. If an employee can answer that question just by seeing the code LAX or IUD, that's far faster than having to find a terminal, type in a lengthy ticket number, then wait for a result.

> "Disparate impact is in general enough to prove discrimination."

Oops -- this isn't correct. According to the 1991 Civil Rights Act, adverse impact is only illegal if the employer cannot show the criteria is "job related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity".

Furthermore, you're a little confused on proving disparate impact. You can't simply argue "blacks do poorer in school, therefore this is harder for them". You have to show statistical proof that blacks (or some other protected group) has actually been adversely impacted. In this case, that this criteria has caused them to actually be fired at a substantially higher rate than the general workforce.


RE: Whatever
By 91TTZ on 2/25/2008 8:15:16 AM , Rating: 2
Borowki, give it up. You're arguing in favor of letting dumber people get jobs which makes life miserable for everyone involved.

If you work at an airport and don't even know the airport codes for different places, you shouldn't be working at an airport.

You have no point and you're making yourself look foolish.


RE: Whatever
By MaulBall789 on 2/25/2008 8:37:03 AM , Rating: 2
MAPPING.COM's List of WORLDWIDE AIRPORT CODES

Compiled from FAA, CAA, IATA, OAG, and other sources
Last Updates -- 19 February 2008
Total in Database: 34,580 Locations
(note that 454 IATA/FAA codes represent two locations)

If you think any airport personnel has the capacity to memorize this many codes at near minimum wage, you are big-time fooling yourself.

Repetition, by itself, will train people to know codes to the more frequently traveled destinations.


RE: Whatever
By rdeegvainl on 2/25/2008 10:17:18 AM , Rating: 3
I don't remember who said it, but it went something to the effect of, every day children are memorizing hundreds pokemon, but we can't expect them to know this?

Seriously, I think they should be able to have this as a requirement. Just like when I worked at mcdonalds for minimum wage I had to be able to take orders fast enough. Which did take memorization of the layout of my machine, and the different components of each and every sandwhich, and salad and everything else we did and made there.
All of us minimum wage kids could do it. We even had people who had mental handicaps who could do that. So when people complain they get no sympathy.


RE: Whatever
By MaulBall789 on 2/25/2008 11:47:47 AM , Rating: 1
Ok, hundreds of Pokemon, or 34,000+ codes. You're right, if someone REALLY applied themselves or has a special "rain man" ability, it surely can be done. I, myself, have probably memorized a foolish amount of stats on hundreds of baseball players for fantasy leagues. Even then I still make my own cheat sheet for drafting players. But I doubt even the top level airline execs have all 34,000+ codes memorized. A few thousand, maybe.

The reality is that such a person would have to derive some kind of enjoyment from memorizing these things. Kids really get into Pokemon and, as little sponges do, absorb as much information as they can. Just like me and fantasy baseball. Where's the enjoyment of memorizing thousands of airport codes? I'm sure there's someone out there who does get all excited about airport codes, just not usually the poor souls working at the check-in counter. Enjoyment doesn't seem to be what they are feeling.


RE: Whatever
By rdeegvainl on 2/25/2008 2:17:18 PM , Rating: 2
What it comes down to is if you want to learn them or not. If someone valued their job, they would want to learn the parts their employer ask of them. Since they are asking them to learn airport codes, and not city bus routes, I see no problem.


RE: Whatever
By masher2 (blog) on 2/25/2008 10:19:17 AM , Rating: 2
> "If you think any airport personnel has the capacity to memorize this many codes at near minimum wage"

Oops - airline personnel are NOT required to memorize the whole database, only those codes to which their own airline flies (a few dozen to a couple hundred codes in most cases).

As for "near-minimum wage", the median salary for flight attendants in 2005 was $53,700/year, The lowest paid job at my airport is customer service agent, and the median salary even there is about 2.5X minimum wage, plus extensive benefits.


RE: Whatever
By MaulBall789 on 2/25/2008 11:21:00 AM , Rating: 1
This is exactly what Kris said:

quote:
the company has a policy that every employee must learn the world airport codes.


At first glance it doesn't say some or most of the codes. If it's just the routes the specific carrier flies, you're right, that's not too much to ask. I know about 30 off the top of my head and I only fly about twice a year.

Where I work there are a good number of things I have memorized but even more are written down. Just can't remember every last little thing especially if it's an infrequently used bit of info.

And even at 2.5x minimum wage plus extensive benefits, a very few of the CSA's I've come across would be doing well to know the code of their own airport. But I would guess this new rule should be weeding them out.


RE: Whatever
By 91TTZ on 2/25/2008 10:35:05 AM , Rating: 2
Obviously they aren't required to know them all, just the major ones that the airline flies out of. You're not going to be landing a Boeing 777 on a grass strip in Africa and wouldn't need to know the airport code for that.


RE: Whatever
By borowki on 2/23/2008 7:31:51 PM , Rating: 2
There is no question that Americans are more concern about moral issues than Europeans. In this case though, I think it's just people confusing nanotechnology with bioengineering. I'm very, very doubtful that 700 of 1000 Americans--or people of any nationality, for that matter--have given any thought at all to nanotechnology, let alone the morality of it. This is pure sensationalist stuff.

It's a well-known phenomenon that if you offer three choices to people on a topic they don't they feel they have expertise in, they will choose the "compromise" position. Hence my sugar example. You can pretty much produce any result you want in a survey. A follow-up to the controversial Holocaust survey, asking directly whether it happened or not, showed 90%+ in the affirmative.

Surveys are pretty much useless when it comes to trying to determine the public's attitude, even with issues people are familiar with. Take abortion. If you ask "should abortion be banned in all circumstances?", you'd get a pro-choice answer. If you ask "should abortion be allowed in all circumstances?", you'd get a pro-life sounding answer.

The bottom-line is this: there is no political movement to restrict nanotechnology research. That's a real measure of what the public thinks--not phoney poll numbers.


RE: Whatever
By Proteusza on 2/26/2008 8:19:59 AM , Rating: 2
No, Americans are more concerned with religious issues, lets not confuse the two.

Given a real moral choice, such as between saving a life and not saving a life, I dont think you will find much difference anywhere in the world.

This is different though - I highly doubt that those surveyed knew what nanotechnology was. If they do, I hope they dont use any device containing a microchip - not only they are progessing towards nanoscale sizes, but also are a large part of the motivation towards nanotechnology.


RE: Whatever
By robinthakur on 2/26/2008 9:56:35 AM , Rating: 2
I sometimes think you can get away with anything in the US (or Pakistan) just by tacking on "because it says so in the Bible(Quran)" I can only imagine that most of those hicks which were surveyed hadn't got the foggiest what nanotechnology is, which is sad in itself in a supposedly educated nation, and simply assumed that this unknown technology must be frowned upon by 'God' because let's face it he's not a big fan of progress. Maybe they've all been taught using creationist propoganda.


RE: Whatever
By Ramon on 3/4/2008 3:35:40 PM , Rating: 2
I agree. I suspect that many polls of this ilk are created to make the scientist appear a "hero" who is fearlessly facing the "religious fanatics." I call it the "Copernicus Syndrome."


RE: Whatever
By Farfignewton on 2/24/2008 6:42:36 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
A legal team has declared this practice discriminatory, since potential employees must have "an intricate knowledge of geography to pass this test"


Well. I'd like to know 2 things.

1) Since discrimination is allowed except under specific conditions, (race, sex, etc) which of the disallowed types means you are deficient in geography?

2) Where the **** did they find the idea that knowing airport codes requires even a mediocre knowledge of geography? You can know LAX refers to Los Angeles International Airport without being able to find the airport, Los Angeles, or even California on a map.


RE: Whatever
By borowki on 2/24/2008 8:24:11 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
1) Since discrimination is allowed except under specific conditions, (race, sex, etc) which of the disallowed types means you are deficient in geography?


You are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of education level--unless you can justify it--since education can be (and had been) used as proxy for race. The most common example is requiring a janitor or store clerk to have a high-school diploma. See Griggs v Duke Power Co.


RE: Whatever
By masher2 (blog) on 2/24/2008 9:29:44 PM , Rating: 2
Memorizing airport codes is not a function of education level. As for Griggs v. Duke Power, numerous subsequent court cases have upheld the right of employers to set minimum standards for employees, provides those standards actually relate to on-the-job functions.

For instance, Lanning v. SEPTA, which required police officers to be able to run a certain distance at a certain speed, or Smith v. City of Jackson, where the court allowed younger workers to receive higher raises, according to the business necessity of attracting more applicants


RE: Whatever
By 91TTZ on 2/25/2008 8:20:37 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
You are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of education level--unless you can justify it--since education can be (and had been) used as proxy for race.


In this day and age with free public schools and integrated classrooms, there is no excuse why a black student wouldn't be able to excel like anyone else. If they perform poorly it's not anyone else's fault and laws shouldn't be made to protect people who never bothered listening in geography class. The information was made available to those who wanted to learn, and some people just don't care to learn.


RE: Whatever
By KristopherKubicki (blog) on 2/25/2008 11:50:33 AM , Rating: 3
I'd highly encourage you to check out Chicago's inner city public school system. My girlfriend is a high school math teacher. She spends more of her time babysitting than actually teaching unfortunately.

HBO's season 4 of The Wire illustrates this painfully beautiful.

But, if we make it so jobs do not require anyone to gain any knowledge from academic institutions, I don't see how the public school system would improve.


RE: Whatever
By johnsonx on 2/25/2008 5:21:38 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Where the **** did they find the idea that knowing airport codes requires even a mediocre knowledge of geography?


Yeah, I found that part a bit odd as well. I don't see any geographical connection between airport names and codes. I suppose if one were asked the airport code for John Wayne Airport, then knowing it's in Santa Ana (California) might help them recall that the code is SNA, but even that seems a stretch (if you know where John Wayne Airport is, wouldn't you know the code anyway?). How would knowing geography help one to know that the code for Toronto International Airport is YYZ? Being a Rush fan would help I guess (though I imagine Rush's fan base is largely white, so that's discriminatory too!)

At the end of all this, it's just a bunch of lawyers coming up with bull$hit so they can make money. They don't even have to prove anything in court, just get the airline to settle.


RE: Whatever
By mcmilljb on 2/28/2008 12:18:21 AM , Rating: 2
Yes, but they did know that their computer depends on nanotechnology? I mean come on. The processor is at 45nm and getting smaller. People can just be dumb. A sociey has a hard time judging moral issues. Easiest example is obsencity. It's judge by a jury, so you're damned if you didn't even know it was that bad(rare cases but can happen). Moral issues, should be discussed openly and not surveried by the tiniest faction of society.


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