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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Field Notes

Dispatch From the Sonia Sotomayor Hearings
Richard Just: We've heard a lot of debate about whether constitutional law can possibly survive close contact with the concept of empathy. But after spending the afternoon at the Sotomayor hearings, listening to senators left and right prattle about empathy and its relationship to justice, I have another question: Can the concept of empathy survive close contact with constitutional law? I ask because empathy has become the watchword of these hearings—and in the process it is getting battered, vilified, and badly distorted. (NPR)

What Questions Can Science Answer?
We can more or less agree on what “science” means, and still disagree on what questions it has the power to answer. So that’s an issue worth examining more carefully: what does science actually have the power to do? (Sean Carroll, Cosmic Variance, Discover)

Bishop Calls for Removal of Holy Water to Prevent Spread of Swine Flu
Holy water can pass on more than just a priest’s blessing—it can also transmit the swine flu virus, a British bishop says. That’s because churchgoers dip their fingers into one container of liquid, then touch their nose or eyes, thereby giving the virus a free ticket into their body. For this reason, the bishop is urging priests in Essex, UK, to remove holy water from their churches to prevent cases of the flu. (Allison Bond, Discoblog, Discover)

People More Likely to Return a Lost Wallet if There's a Baby Photo Inside
According to Richard Wiseman, a psychologist, the result reflects a compassionate instinct towards vulnerable infants that people have evolved to ensure the survival of future generations. “The baby kicked off a caring feeling in people, which is not surprising from an evolutionary perspective,” he said. Scientists argue that it would be difficult to genetically code for feeling empathy exclusively towards your own child and much easier to code for feeling empathy towards all children. (Hannah Devlin, The Times)

"Brüno" Banned in Ukraine
When Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan hit cinema screens in 2006, few were surprised that the real-world home of Borat, the idiot-innocent Kazak main character, decided to ban the film as a matter of pride. But now censors in Ukraine are giving his latest film, Brüno, the same no-show treatment, claiming morality—not hurt feelings—as the reason. (James Marson, TIME)