Scientific Uncertainty

As we progress and advance through science and technology, we are starting to find that science today does not command the trust and respect that was seen years ago. Science is no longer on the pedestal of knowledge. There are several reasons for this decline. Scientists have lost their autonomy and are now political figures themselves (Arnoldi, 2009, 88). The scientific professionals are not seen with the integrity of higher knowledge, but as advocates for chosen causes. Some scientists even manipulate their framing of experiments to either give more significance to the data that supports their hypothesis or down plays the data that refutes their hypothesis (Arnoldi, 2009, 90). They strive to produce data and conclusions that will either support their professional value system or will gain the support of institutions that will fund further research

But even without taking into account the dishonesty in the presentation of results from some scientists, science itself creates uncertainties every time we advance in a subject. Whether it is the uncertainties of the side effects of the creation of new technology or the creation of unknown possibilities for every new scientific certainty (Arnoldi, 2009, 87). Although we do have uncertainty in our views of the scientific world, that does not diminish the importance of science in today’s society. We may be frustrated with the lacking element of scientific research on either positive or concrete conclusions, but we will always need to rely on our scientific professionals to help illuminate the immediate risks that our population faces .



The term “risk” is not so easily defined. There are many ways one could define risk, in his or her own sense. As Jakob Arnoldi summarizes, “Risks are potential dangers. We take and avoid risks both consciously and unconsciously. Risks are social and political problems.” Then, within the political sphere, it is even more difficult to narrow down the topic of risk. What some nations, governments, and political figures find risky can depend on a multitude of variables. Risk also change as science and technology is modified. From the time of antiquity until now, risk has evolved in various ways. Regardless, there is one common ground that humans at any time can share about risk; throughout the history of times humans are always trying to insure themselves with security of good health for a prolonged future through measuring out risks.

Looking at a timeline, it is apparent to see how risk has changed in human culture. Back when science was not understood, humans did not see the ability to measure out risk. For example, as Jakon Arnoldi quotes, “before modernity humans did not know of risk, but instead thought of possible misfortunes in religious terms, that is, as acts of god(s). With modernity, humans came to see themselves as masters of their own destiny, hence became interested in calculating the likely outcome of their actions.” This calculation Arnolid mentions is what we know as risk today. One must note, uncertainty is immeasurable. These actions that humans presumed as actions of god(s) were considered to be immeasurable because the actions of god(s) were random. It was not fully understood, so the uncertainty about everything was extremely high. For this reason, one could say humans just went along with whatever situation that came about to them. Natural disasters, illness outbreaks, and other threats were just as naturally accepted as life on Earth. So, one could potentially say there was no ‘risk’ during this time period because there was no attempts to mathematically measure threats in order to control or manage potential future threats. It wasn’t until “with modernity, humans came to see themselves as masters of their own destiny, hence they became interested in calculating the likely outcome of their actions.” This is the first account of the evolution from uncertainty to risk. Risk as we know it today can be viewed through this definitions. Since the revelation came that our own actions account for our future, human attempt of managing their futures is one of the prominent goals of life. Although, presently there is also a population of humans that have lost all faith in calculating risk because of the belief their destiny is controlled by not themselves, but other humans. In this last definition, Arnoldi states, “humans are left with neither religion nor science.” By this, Arnoldi means that the humans that believe they cannot manage their destiny not because of workings of a supernatural, but because of their circumstances. This can include to the loss of faith in a higher power as a whole, and the loss of faith in humanity. Overall, humanity went from embracing uncertainty/not knowing their potential to control risk, to managing some forms of risk, and lastly, to accepting the realization of risk but doubting their ability to manage risk. This issue can largely be due to the trust (or mistrust) by citizens of a government.

When risks became measureable, as Arnoldi puts it, “an avalanche of numbers led to the creation of new and powerful ways whereby the state could govern.”  These numbers, or statistics, provided that the government should provide “insurance and means of social insurance, one of the prime security for its citizens.” The evolution of uncertainty to risk eventually evolved governments to a new government. By the term ‘new government’, it means the government had the same democratic policies as the previous, however, there was more of a stress of managing social risks for its citizens. This was all due to the fact “risk had become mathematized.” Additionally, “this new understanding of risk…risks are no longer due to chance but are rather subject to human knowledge, they also cease to be purely natural. Nature might behave unpredictably, but once humans have the ability to fathom this behavior, nature also become a social and political problem.” This concept can be exampled in history, and the account for natural disasters. Thousands of years ago, during the time of the great poetic writer, Homer, natural disasters involved grand stories of sea monsters and such. No mention of social or political construct. Presently, natural disasters such as devastating hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, and earthquakes all effect national and (depending on how disastrous) global economy and politics. Due to these new insights, these natural disasters are viewed as impossible to completely avoid all.   Nonetheless, humans began to understand that the incidence and pattern of the occurrence and begun to control the outcomes to some degree. Above all else, goal was to “turn as much uncertainty as possible into risk.” The idea was to objectify and control the future.”

Out of all the spheres of risk, whether it be risk associated with: technology and nature, knowledge and uncertainty, culture, mass media, pleasure and capitalism, risk is most difficult to measure in politics and government. It is apparent as Arnoldi states, “risks are political,” and within a contemporary society is the “political significance of risks.” Worries about risks that call for regulation measure created a new area of responsibility for the government. Moreover, the governments focused “much less on the abolishment of risk, and more of risk prevention and risk management.” Now risk has become a tool for governing creating “new areas of government intervention and new techniques for intervention.” Arnolid also mentions that governments deal with “government of risk, and government with concepts of risk.” The first focuses on political struggles of risk management and distribution. While the latter focuses on how the concepts of risks are “subsequently used in various forms of government including penal systems, social insurance, health systems, and other institutions.” This forces policy makers the government to have more responsibilities with the new dynamic of politics. Arnoldi also argues the political powers that are able to define what is considered risky in the nation are “granted a new kind of influence” and are “democratically important.” Overall, there is “political power in playing the leading roll in the social amplification process.”

Moreover, trust and accountability of a government plays a critical roll in political risks and society. Not to mention, Arnoldi claims “legal accountability is difficult because the polluter might be in another country, or because it is simply impossible to establish who the culprits are.” This concept surrounds the nature of human history. It is near impossible to find the culprits of countless genocides and wars. Additionally, this legal accountability can be taken in a literal sense. For example, a primary pollution polluter is China, and the pollution of China is affecting the quality of our very own West Coat California.   It is also mentioned how there are spatial mismatch between national territories and government responsibility. This can also be exampled globally. In the Middle East there are endless arguments of land and territory ownership. This leads to military action that also hurts innocent civilians. Then, there is a question of who is responsible for the deaths, and which government (near or far) will take action in order to stop this injustice.   Nonetheless, the risk of terror is certainly put on a security high politically. The risk of terror can completely change a government’s principles for a particular time being. This is best exemplified when United States allowed the use of torture when interrogating terror suspects. This came as a complete shock to the world because it goes against all human rights principles. Politics as a whole struggle “now so much over which future is best but over which future dangers must most urgently be avoided.”

The study of risk and government politics can best be exemplified in modern society with the situation of the rise with ISIS. ISIS stands for the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq. The documentary, The Rise of ISIS on explains the current situations and past risks involving the decisions on weather to attack ISIS or not. The there are three key players in this situation: former Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki, current United States Obama administration, and the Al-Qaeda formed ISIS terror group.

Mr. Maliki was the Prime Minister put in charge of Iraq when the United States troop had left. He was given the right and was trusted to run Iraq as a sovereign nation without any aid from the United States. However, when Mr. Maliki learned that his actions are not controlled by the United States, he took full advantage of this power. Mr. Maliki had a fear of Sunni people (Sunni Muslims were the sect of the previous Sadam Hussain dictatorship). This paranoia led Maliki to wrongfully accuse and kill many Sunnis. The risk Mr. Maliki was considering was in terms of protecting his government from the previous Sunni dictatorship. However, this risk was not numerically calculated, so it could be considered more as an uncertainty. Mr. Maliki feared any uncertainty that his government would be overthrown. For this reason, the wrongfully accusing, jailing, and killing of peaceful protestors proved to show that Mr. Maliki incorrectly measured out risk. He took the ‘risk on terror’ approach and sacrificed his government’s morals in order to keep a rebel power of taking over. Unfortunately, his fear is what led him to the downfall of the Iraqi government.

The Sunni population did not like Mr. Maliki’s government. The Sunni citizens began to lose faith in this government. Once Maliki had allowed the use of heave artillery (such as takes, heave machinery guns, and missiles) on peaceful protestors, it was apparent the Iraqi government could not be trusted. From the protests against Maliki, the Sunni did not realize they were risking their lives. As mentioned earlier, the trust and accountability of a government is critical. Once Maliki started to lose that from his Sunni population, things in Iraq eventually started to go downhill.

Al-Qaeda at the time was very weak due to the eight-year occupancy of the United States. However, Al-Qaeda moved from the western desert of Iraq into Syria. Syria’s government at the time was under turmoil. Al-Qaeda helped fight the government and started to gain power. A lot of Al-Qaeda were Sunnis, so they ran off donation from wealthy Sunni Muslim in other countries. These wealthy Sunni Muslims did not pay much attention or to the risk to where their money was going. Their main concern was Maliki’s ill treatment of Sunni Muslims and to help Sunnis. When the Iraqi Sunnis concluded their own Iraqi government was against them, and they needed protection (weather they agree with Al-Qaeda or not), the Iraqi Sunnis started to join the Al-Qaeda forces. The political risk Al-Qaeda calculated was carefully managed. Al-Qaeda chose men with good leadership experience to gain more support of others. For example, the leader, Baghdadi, had done something no other terror leader at done- he held a prayer sermon in the second biggest city of Iraq, Mosul. This act gained a lot of support from the religious and praise. Since faith was lost in the Iraqi government, the Sunni started to put some faith into Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda changed to ISIS with Bhagdadi realized he wanted a structured Islamic State, not just a theory society many terror groups dream of. Bhagdadi called upon a caliphate, that is, an Islamic State with no borders and an Islamic nation representing the Muslim faithful for those who knew and felt it to be a religious obligation. The strive for a caliphate ISIS gained even more support from citizens that had previously believed their destiny is not controlled on their own. Joining ISIS would mean they could be apart of a new, revolutionary, excelling group. The risk was between living one’s boring life in which there isn’t much going for you, or joining a life of “exciting” extreme and powerful group. This mindset is how ISIS gained international fame. The risk that ISIS had calculated was completely ignored. From their actions it is very apparent that the risk of death was not risky enough. ISIS had a do or die mentality. No risk was far too great for them.

While ISIS was rising to power, the United States had many opportunities to intervene. The matter wasn’t unknown of ISIS. However, the spatial mismatch mentioned earlier between countries was a big reason the Obama administration didn’t get involved. Even when the United States Ambassador of Syria was telling Mr. Obama that ISIS must be stopped as soon as possible, our government didn’t do much. The risk of terror seemed very thin- it might have threatened the Middle East, but the risk was not threatened to the United States. Another interesting fact to point out, is that many of these leaders of ISIS were former prisoners in Iraqi and United States prisons. To this day, it is hard to understand why/how Bhagdadi was released from a United States prison without the United States seeing him as any risk. It wasn’t until ISIS took over Kirgizstan and threatened the energy resources of the United States (Chevron and Exxon) did the United States willingly get involved. The risk of ISIS taking over our energy resources is what caught the attention of the United States after three years of the first threat of Al-Qaeda formed ISIS. At this time the United States constructed a plan to attack ISIS with our military, and forcibly take out Maliki.

In conclusion, the political spheres of risk are measured differently. Maliki measured risk based on previous culture and fear. The Sunni measured risk through their lack of trust. The Al-Qaeda/ISIS measured risk through cultural/religious/social movement. Lastly, the Obama Administration had carefully calculated risks but the political situation with global politics and economies put many more variables on weather the risk was of high importance for the United States or not. Through all these spheres and ideas of risk, the actions taken and resulting outcomes also came out to be more unpredictable than calculated.

Works Cited

Arnoldi, Jakob. Risk: An Introduction. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2009. Print.

“The Rise of ISIS.” PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.

Ebola Fighters: 2014 Persons of the Year

As you may know, TIME Magazine recently released their annual “Person of the Year” issue and on this year’s front cover were the masked faces of the men and women who risked their lives to fight Ebola internationally and within the United States.  These “fighters,” as they are referred to, beat out Vladimir Putin, Massoud Barzani, Jack Ma, and the Ferguson, MO protesters to earn the honorable title of “Person of the Year” for their immense bravery and heroism in the midst of grave danger and disease.

In 2014, Ebola outbreaks hit Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Mali, Spain, Germany, and the United States.  The epidemic took third-world nations by surprise and demolished public-health infrastructures that were already weak to begin with.  Governments were not equipped to respond, the World Health Organization hesitated to get involved, and doctors and nurses quickly became outnumbered.  Enter the field volunteers – men and women of natural disaster relief groups such as Doctors Without Borders, faith-based mission teams, and local citizens alike – to fight alongside the doctors and nurses, ambulance drivers, and burial teams in a valiant effort to treat illness and contain the spread of disease.

To call these individuals heros does not seem sufficient enough.  Many of the volunteers became victims themselves.  Many endured unbearable pain as a result.  Others did not survive.

Despite praising the courageous efforts of the men and women on the volunteer frontline, the TIME article also heavily criticizes the worldwide response to the epidemic, reprimanding nations from Africa to America alike.  The epidemic exposed corruption and mistrust, and it shook peoples’ faith and caused great fear.  TIME calls Ebola “a war and a warning.”  It uncovered a global health system that is lacking strength and support.  Yet, in the wake of it all, a group of brave and merciful souls emerged to rise and fight — the TIME 2014 Persons of the Year.


Extra Credit: The Great Firewall of China

The debate over Internet censorship in China is a very controversial one. And I find it especially interesting that the United States has become such an invested player because China exists 7000 miles around the world from us.

As the four panelists point out, the Chinese government has developed what is quite possibly the world’s most complicated and most sophisticated method of Internet filtering. As of now, Chinese censorship monitors nearly all Internet sites within the nation’s web sphere. The government closely monitors all websites with user-generated content and is known to block entire web addresses if the sites belong to outlawed organizations or often discuss taboo subjects. There is even rumor that cell phones and text-messaging threads are monitored as well. Rebecca Mackinnon offers specific examples of the strict regulations:

All Internet content companies are required to censor. Web sites providing news can only post news from government-approved sources. Search engine companies are required to filter out long lists of politically sensitive words… Automated software either prevents [chat room and blog] users from posting text containing certain keywords or notifies an administrator when sensitive subjects are discussed, so that the content can then be examined and possibly taken down.

Jeremy Goldkern, another panelist, also points out that all Web servers must be registered with the Ministry of Information Industry. As you can see, the rules are strict and are designed to cover nearly every Internet domain. Yet the focus of the censorship is primarily political.

Despite the extensive Internet censoring, many Chinese citizens are still excited because it means that they finally have access to the World Wide Web. Just ten years ago, this was not even a possibility. In “pre-Internet China,” information sources were scarce; aside from local neighborhood gossip, state-owned media was essentially all that was available. Most Chinese citizens today consider access to the Internet, how ever it is censored, a privilege. Mackinnon sums it up perfectly, “[the] Chinese are wiling to accept a fair amount of censorship in exchange for being allowed to do more than was previously possible.” In many cases, in fact, businesses and individuals are self-censoring in order to avoid trouble and possible jail time. Journalists avoid sensitive stories and bloggers stick to cultural and social rather than political topics. In Hong Kong even, where Internet censorship is less heightened and individuals are still guaranteed free speech, people self-censor simply in caution and in order to protect their associations that are more subject to the censorship regulations. But still, the Chinese citizens revel in their freedom to surf the web and express themselves online.

The controversy then lies in the foreign involvement of third-party nations, such as the United States and England, trying to protest Chinese censorship rules. In many cases, it seems that the Westerners are more upset by China’s regulations than the Chinese are. OpenNet Initiative is just one Western organization that seeks to raise awareness about Internet censorship both in China and in other states around the world. Goldkern recognizes, “As Westerners, we are fixated on the idea of free speech in a way that seems outs of proportion to many Chinese people.” Mackinnon reinforces his statement: “The Chinese complain that the Western media focuses on censorship to the exclusion of many other important things happening online in China… Chinese Internet users feel tremendously empowered by the new communication tools they have. They are expressing themselves in ways that would have been completely impossible even a decade ago.”

In the end, I tend to side with those who are against Western involvement in China’s Internet sphere, but I can see valid arguments on both sides. As Americans, we believe in democracy, free speech, and freedom of expression – but why must we force it on other countries as well? Is it not enough to appreciate and uphold these values in our own nation? That said, American and other multinational IT companies do have a substantial presence in China’s Internet sphere as web providers so the lines are fuzzy as to where exactly their jurisdiction resides. I also tend to disagree with the belief that China is becoming freer. With new every new “freedom” they receive, such as Internet accessibility, new limitations and controls on said freedoms present. As Yan Sham-Shackleton points out, “censoring the Internet is not just a technical project, there is a very human decision-making process within it as well. Technology doesn’t censor… those in power do.” It will certainly be interesting to watch how the debate plays out. I have no doubt that American news sources will continue to stay up to date on the progress and unfoldings.

Internet Freedom in China

I found Frontline’s interview of Rebecca MacKinnon and the other panelist very interesting. I had heard about internet censorship in China, but did not realize how far it went. I found the idea of censoring text messages particularly alarming. Texting is normally a personal discussion meant only for the eyes of the sender and receiver. Of course, I do censor myself by not sending anything too private that I wouldn’t want somebody to accidentally read if they picked up my phone when a text was up. That’s a personal choice though; I cannot imagine having the government censor my private discussions.

The panelists’ discussion of free speech on the internet made me think of how people like to throw out that term when posting on Facebook. I subscribe to a few groups on Facebook and every once in a while when a user posts language that does not comply with the set guidelines they spout “free speech.” I think there are two sides to the free speech argument: A. Free speech doesn’t really apply to voluntary user groups with defined language guidelines. B. Some people need to learn to pick their battles when deciding what is offensive. In most cases when you allow people “free speech” on the internet they will say things that reflect their true opinions and personality. When people expose who they really are via their choice of language or topic of discussion on the internet they are almost doing me a favor by letting me know that I should or should not be associating with such a person. Cyber bullying is another story altogether and should be immediately turned into the authorities to protect the lives the innocent.

After reading the question in regards to the Chinese media’ self-censorship I had to consider how the United States media presents news stories to the masses. China has limited topics that their reporters are allowed to cover or face consequences. In the U.S., sometimes I think that our media needs a pause button before they are allowed to post the news. Our twenty-four hour news cycle has the tendency for posting partial facts before they have been verified in the rush to beat their competitors to the story. There are times when you will watch reporters reading jury rulings on the air contradicting themselves as they go saying “It says ____” and then two seconds later it will be “no, wait a minute… on page ten it says this.” How about not reporting the story until you’ve had a chance for an expert to read the whole ruling and then go on the air and state what the facts are?

Similar problems exist when it comes to everyday citizens posting on the internet in the middle of breaking news events. While I am definitely in support of free speech on the internet; it can be hard to keep the facts straight when so many people are acting as amateur reporters. I think the most important thing to get from discussing our woes in American media and the interview on censorship in China is how vital it is to teach people how to be critical thinkers when it comes to trusting news sources. We need to give people the tools (education) to be able to figure out how to fact check a web site that sounds like it might be biased or not reporting the whole story. We all come with a tendency to seek out news that will support our own preexisting personal beliefs though so I’m not sure what the answer is.


Is Big Brother Becoming a Reality?

Response to Roundtable: “The Struggle to Control Information”

An overarching theme I found among most of the panelists in discussing Internet censorship in China was how it would be impossible without the consent of private business and the public. An Americanized view of the censorship in China is that the citizens must be itching for more Internet freedom, yet many panelists suggest that the economic prosperity and growth in China has improved the lives of citizens to such an extent that they are willing to sacrifice certain political freedoms.
Western and American ideals make this notion difficult to accept. Freedom of speech and the promotion of democracy are two pillars of our nation and of our culture, yet its human rights groups, international organizations, and western media that try to put pressure on the Chinese government to end the ‘Great Firewall of China’. Why? Because China is too much of an economic powerhouse, and foreign policy concerns fall into the realm of GDP, growth, and trade – Internet freedom is too low on the totem pole to warrant significant political pressure for reform. This rational is the same reason that multinational companies agree to the Chinese government conditions of filtering and information processing. Human Rights Groups are free to reprimand China’s Internet censorship because they do not have significant economic stakes in the region – the US Government and multinational companies do. So do economic interests always take precedence over political freedoms and interest? At what point is a ‘red line crossed’ – where individual freedoms take precedent over Chinese economic ambitions, or any countries economic ambitions for that matter. Governments have a responsibility first and foremost to their citizens, and if Chinese citizens are willing to accept certain limitations to the information available on the Internet because they lead comfortable economic lifestyles thanks to other government policies then there is little pressure for reform.
‘The Great Firewall of China’ is a known phenomenon. Chinese citizens know that the filtration system exists, that the government has access to their personal information via their website address, that “big brother” could be watching. This was not the case in the United States until Edward Snowden leaked information to the public that the NSA was collecting data information from American citizens via the Internet—Facebook history, Google searches, even text messaging. Now, at least the Chinese government is up front about the fact that information is not always readily accessible – but the US government collected information on its own citizens while publicly advocating for the promotion of freedom of speech and the right to privacy. This information would have never come to light had Edward Snowden, an NSA employee, leaked classified information to the American public. How can we as a nation reprimand others for ideals we’re not willing to uphold ourselves? The Internet has spurred globalization to new heights, and made virtually any information accessible anyone. This open access also means that privacy is limited, almost non-existent. Violating the privacy of its citizens, censoring information available to people for political purposes – these are attributes we find in Orwell’s novel, 1984, and if people today continue to allow governments to encroach upon political freedoms just because they’re comfortable economically then we just might find ourselves in a society resembling that of ‘Big Brother’s’.

History could become real

Stem cell research is and will be a contested issue in the US. The idea of cloning anything into a deeply rooted religious civilization will always be engrained in our society. Dolly, the sheep that was cloned in 2003 and started a movement that would continue to this day. The idea, to some on both sides of the political realm, feel that “playing God” is immoral and should not be done. However, others try to look at the benefits of being able to produce a living thing from the genetic information of something that was dead. I could try to argue the benefit of being able to clone an almost exact copy for medical benefits but that is not my intentions.

In 2013, a very-well preserved Mammoth carcass was found in Siberia. What they found was a black kind-of ooze coming from the Mammoth and scientists have found it to be blood from the animal. The scientists want to find the genetic information from the mammoth and potentially clone this magnificent creature. If scientist could find enough genetic material to begin the process of cloning this creature, it would allow us to truly see how the mammoth functions in all levels. However, an issue that has come to light is that it may not produce enough of the need information to produce a true mammoth. If this is the case scientist could code it with another animal, such as an elephant to produce the desired outcome. Either way, science has given to us a chance to truly look at history and relive a certain part of history that there are virtually no records for.

A well-preserved mammoth was unearthed in Siberia in 2013.
Credit: Renegade Pictures