Harvey Blume

Harvey Blume is a writer in Cambridge.

Recent Articles

The Origin of Specious

S tephen Jay Gould, who died of cancer at the age of 60 this past May, defined a place in American culture likely to remain vacant now that he is gone. He was, of course, the country's foremost opponent of creationism and champion of Darwinism, with a unique ability to bring the HMS Beagle and baseball batting averages together in a perfect paragraph or two. But what we may come to value most about him is the lonely stance he took in the Darwin wars. In the heated, often venomous battle over Charles Darwin's legacy, Gould faced a redoubtable crew from the fields of sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, genetics and philosophy. What's more, many of these individuals, including E.O. Wilson, Stephen Pinker, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins and Robert Wright, have literary and polemical talents rivaling his own. Science will decide the relative merits of their arguments over topics such as punctuated equilibrium, speciation and the nature of complexity. But the cultural stakes of the...

Construction: Tunnel Vision

Boston's Big Dig, officially known as the Central Artery/Tunnel Project, is a massive, budget-busting effort to reshape the city's traffic infrastructure by the year 2005—without generating any more gridlock than Boston drivers are already resigned to. The basic idea is to replace the city's eyesore of an elevated highway with a multilane tunnel fit for twenty-first-century flow. The project also calls for a web of other tunnels, connectors, and bridges, and the reallocation of a considerable amount of public land. Its many engineering achievements—including, for example, four tunnels layered beneath South Station (a hub for trains, subway cars, and buses)—are well documented on the Big Dig's Web site, www.bigdig.com . Costs for the undertaking—initially estimated at $2.6 billion, most of it in federal highway dollars—are today approaching $14.5 billion, a price tag that makes the Dig far and away the most expensive urban construction project in American history. Were anything on this...

Cyberbole

W e associate manifestos with big ideas, combative theses itching to change the world. While the roar of the manifesto has pretty much faded from the culture at large, it can still be heard loud and clear in the digital world. Digital culture continues to foster grand ambitions; it nurtures not only the ongoing quest for the killer app but also the search for the one idea that will make sense of most everything. Jaron Lanier's recent "One Half of a Manifesto" has this heaven-storming quality. The 9,000-word document (at www.edge.org/3rd_culture/lanier/lanier_index.html ) flexes the usual manifesto muscles, but with one difference: It is dedicated not to proclaiming a new theory but to deflating one that is already fully formed and, in Lanier's view, primed to wreak havoc on the world. Lanier names that theory cybernetic totalism. It is cybernetic because the computer is at its core; and in a sense, the computer, more than any written document, is its manifesto. It is totalistic...

The Second Coming of What?

O n June 1993, the prominent Yale computer scientist David Gelernter opened a mail bomb sent by Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber, who had singled Gelernter out as a leader of the technological revolution he despised. Badly hurt, Gelernter survived, and as a recent piece by him, "The Second Coming--A Manifesto" ( www.edge.org/3rd_culture/gelernter/gelernter_index.html ), shows, his voice on matters of technology is as strong as ever. But during his long, painful convalescence, he began what amounts to a second career as a right-wing political polemicist and culture critic. Picked for an unwanted celebrity by the Unabomber, he became something of a hero to conservatives--an intellectual after their own hearts, an anti-intellectual sort of intellectual permanently at war with the liberal types conservatives see as dominating cultural discourse. Gelernter's own contribution to conservative theory-building concerns a supposed transformation of the American establishment after World War II...

Open Science Online

On January 1, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) opened an electronic archive on the Web that is intended, eventually, to house or link all biomedical research produced in the United States. But PubMed Central, as the archive is known, has drawn fire from leading figures in academic medicine for threatening to disrupt the established methods of evaluating research for publication. The controversy over PubMed Central is a tale of new technology versus old, of innovation and inertia--and of knowledge in the age of the Internet. The controversy began last June almost immediately after Harold Varmus, then director of NIH, proposed the new archive as "an electronic public library" that would give medical professionals and the general public "absolutely free access to the entire repository of information, with no toll booths, no hesitation." The National Library of Medicine, which is part of NIH, has for years provided online information, including the vast bibliographical database...

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