The government shutdown is over, so here’s a picture of Saturn put together from pictures taken October 10 by Cassini (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/G. Ugarkovic):
18 Sep 2013 Leave a Comment
This is …. um, educational:
On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives was expected to give swift approval to a bill introduced this spring by a bipartisan coalition of legislators in both the House and the Senate. The legislation would allow the president to name not more than three laureates at a time to an unpaid position that could last up to 2 years. The idea was considered so innocuous that it was to be brought up under special rules requiring a two-thirds majority and allowing no amendments.
The bill was never discussed in any committee, however, and Larry Hart of the American Conservative Union hit the roof when he saw it on the House calendar for the next day. (The Washington, D.C.-based group calls itself “the oldest and largest grassroots conservative organization in the nation.”) In a letter to other conservative organizations and every House member, Hart said the bill would give President Barack Obama the opportunity to appoint someone “who will share his view that science should serve political ends, on such issues as climate change and regulation of greenhouse gases.” He also called the bill “a needless addition to the long list of presidential appointments.”
The House Republican leadership reacted immediately, pulling the bill from the floor schedule.
My guess is that a science laureate would be about as visible as the poet laureate, but I guess even that’s too much for the anti-science types. This is even better:
climate skeptic Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute says slowing the pace won’t change his organization’s stance on the bill. “There’s no way to make it work,” Ebell says. “It would still give scientists an opportunity to pontificate, and we’re opposed to it.”
Scientists should be neither seen nor heard. This guy would have been the one who decried Surgeon General Koop talking about AIDs and anyone who talked about the health effects of smoking.
13 Sep 2013 Leave a Comment
07 Sep 2013 Leave a Comment
Let’s see what Republicans are up to now:
House Republicans scouring for evidence of overreaching environmental regulations are taking aim at a two-decade-old, taxpayer-funded scientific study by Harvard researchers that linked air pollution to disease and death.
Even though the landmark study has held up under intense scientific scrutiny since its publication in 1993, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology took the rare step of issuing subpoenas last month demanding access to the study’s raw data about thousands of individual subjects.
The committee also subpoenaed raw data from a 1995 study of American Cancer Society health data on 1.2 million individuals that confirmed the findings of the earlier review, that air pollution is associated with higher rates of emergency room visits for asthma and other respiratory ailments, hospitalizations, and mortality.
Both studies — peer-reviewed and published in prestigious medical journals — have long been on the target list of some in the GOP because they have been repeatedly cited by the Environmental Protection Agency when it justifies the need for new regulations on power plant emissions and other air pollutants. The agency has estimated that tighter Clean Air Act rules adopted since 1990 saved 160,000 lives in 2010 and will save 230,000 lives in 2020.
The Harvard and American Cancer Society study authors have previously permitted outside reviews by researchers who pledged to keep the personal details confidential, including an exhaustive, multiyear analysis completed in 1997 that validated the results of both studies. That 1997 review — performed by the Health Effects Institute, a nonprofit corporation jointly funded by the EPA and the automobile industry — may have settled to the satisfaction of scientists the factual questions about links between pollution and human health. But it did not put the political controversy to rest.
Well then I can see why Republicans don’t believe in the study. The automobile industry is a known leftist group that is anti-business. Now, let’s look at those studies on clean water.
17 Aug 2013 Leave a Comment
According to NASA (Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Huntingdon Institute for X-ray Astronomy/G. Garmire; Optical: ESO/VLT):
this might be the aftermath of a collision between a dwarf galaxy and a larger one. Hot … six million degrees or so.
06 Aug 2013 Leave a Comment
The rover Curiosity landed on Mars one year ago today. Here’s a picture of its path as of June 27 (the blue are to the left is the landing spot while the small blue dot lower down and to the right is its current location. You can see the tracks. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona):
Curiosity is now headed for Mount Sharp.
16 Jun 2013 Leave a Comment
In honor of Father’s Day, here’s a manipulated shot of the moon passing in front of the Sun (Credit: NASA/SDO/LRO/GSFC):
Ok, I don’t know how this connects to Father’s Day, but it’s a nice picture. Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers out there.
27 May 2013 1 Comment
This is one of those stories that come out of medicine every once in a while that show how little we understand our bodies:
Susannah Cahalan was a young New York Post reporter when she started to forget assignments. She became fixated on the idea that her home was infested with bedbugs. Paranoid and irrational, she laughed and cried inappropriately, moods rocketing from euphoria to intense sadness.
She thought it must be stress, or the flu. One doctor told her she had mono. Her parents suspected she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Then she, too, had a seizure.
The women’s slow unraveling could have been the beginning of a psychotic break, followed by a lifetime of hospitalization and medication.
Instead, they were found to have a newly described disease called anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, caused when the body’s immune system goes haywire and attacks a protein in the brain. The protein, the NMDA receptor, helps neurons communicate; it is the same receptor that’s blocked by PCP or ketamine — both drugs that can make a normal person act like someone with schizophrenia.
A long time ago this might have been ascribed to possession, ten years ago it might have been thought to be schizophrenia or some other mental illness. The article speculates that some people who are being treated for schizophrenia might instead have this disease. This is the kind of paradigm shift that happens in medicine at times, the cause and treatment of ulcers is one that I think of. They’re going to start testing with an initial episode of a psychotic episode, it would be great if they found a large percent of these are caused by this disease (they don’t expect this to be true, though).
17 May 2013 Leave a Comment
At some point someone will invent space surfing. Imagine riding a wave of particles going a million mph (hmm, I wonder how well you can judge your speed in space?).
10 May 2013 Leave a Comment
Ok this is really an excuse to put Isaac Newton in a post, but still this is kind of fun:
Newton did something unusual, and even, as Alan Shapiro notes, “almost [we would say entirely] unprecedented in the 17th century”: he averaged all of the differences….None of this reached print….Newton certainly avoided hinting in print that his law of arithmetical progression was adduced by anything other than the most skillful and precise of measurements.
….Newton’s “mean”—the average—was the weapon with which he slew the invevitable dragons of sensual errors. It was a most paradoxical weapon for the times, because it amounted to a method by which error seems to be reduced by committing it repeatedly. No such method appears elsewhere at the time, and it would certainly have seemed odd, to say the least, to most practitioners of the period.
….We have no contemporary record of the reasoning by which he justified this unusual method….Yet Newton used averages early on; he used them frequently and, it seems, consistently….Why did Molyneux and Flamsteed, a decade or two later, do so as well?….Is there some evidence as to what underpinned the average, decades before statistical notions became widespread?
Apparently the answer to that last question is no. The authors produce a bit of evidence that Newton thought of the average as akin to measuring a center of gravity, but that’s about it. It appears that Newton never explained himself, but just quietly went ahead with his use of averages several decades before anyone else. It was the secret behind his famously accurate observations.
I’m not sure this is true, as Wikipedia says that Tycho Brahe did the same thing. I can’t find any primary source that says that Brahe did (in a Google search), so I don’t know if he did. Anyway …. Isaac Newton.
24 Apr 2013 Leave a Comment
NASA has great videos of the Sun that show how it changes over a period of three years. The main one is here. To give you an idea of what it looks like, here’s a time-lapse picture (Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO/S. Wiessinger):
and here’s the actual video (Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center):
You can find a bunch of variations of the video here and you find these interesting bits in the video:
00:30;24 Partial eclipse by the moon
00:31;16 Roll maneuver
01:11;02 August 9, 2011 X6.9 Flare, currently the largest of this solar cycle
01:28;07 Comet Lovejoy, December 15, 2011
01:42;29 Roll Maneuver
01:51;07 Transit of Venus, June 5, 2012
02:28;13 Partial eclipse by the moon
07 Apr 2013 Leave a Comment
I’m a couple days late, but this is the 40th anniversary of the launch of Pioneer 11. This was a low budget project in preparation of the Voyagers, but it still gathered important information and some nice pictures. Such as this one of Jupiter (Credit: NASA Ames):
and this one of Saturn (Credit: NASA Ames):
And here’s a completely different picture, the mountains of Alaska (Credit: NASA/Goddard/Christy Hansen):
26 Mar 2013 Leave a Comment
The obvious (but hard-to-administer) common-sense alternative is to make the rules less numerous, the monitoring tighter, and the sanctions swift, certain, and reasonably mild, and to clearly tell each probationer and parolee exactly what the rules are and what exactly will happen, every time and right away, when a rule is broken. Mildness—or proportionality, if you like—is essential to making the threat credible, and severity turns out to be unnecessary. Experimental evidence from the HOPE program in Hawaii showed that two days in jail is as good a deterrent to drug use as six weeks, as long as the two days actually happen, and happen every time. We don’t know yet whether a day in jail, or a couple of hours in a holding cell, or a weekend of home confinement, or a week of a 9 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew, would do the trick, but we ought to learn.
The evidence seems to be that this type of justice system will decrease crime, reduce the number of people in prisons, and help the people who commit the crimes. The problem is that it needs money upfront and shows results later. Also, the new money would come from localities while the savings would go to the state. It’s the type of thing a federal government is needed for: it’s easier to borrow money, is insulated a bit from local politics, and can organize large-scale experiments. Of course, in our current environment, this isn’t likely to happen, but wouldn’t it be interesting if someone with influence (President Obama for example) pushed for it?
22 Mar 2013 Leave a Comment
This is an interesting picture (Credit: NASA, ESA):
This is an echo of a light burst from a star in the Milky Way. I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as a light echo and this one has a diameter of about 6 light years.
16 Mar 2013 Leave a Comment
08 Mar 2013 2 Comments
Here’s what happened. After the end of the ice age, the planet got warmer. Then, 5,000 years ago, it started to get cooler — but really slowly. In all, it cooled 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit, up until the last century or so. Then it flipped again — global average temperature shot up.
“Temperatures now have gone from that cold period to the warm period in just 100 years,” Marcott says.
I’m guessing this will not only not help convince anyone but will probably be attacked.
Anyway, here’s a picture of the Sun (Credit: NASA/SDO):
03 Mar 2013 2 Comments
It seems a baby who had AIDs has been cured:
A doctor gave this baby faster and stronger treatment than is usual, starting a three-drug infusion within 30 hours of birth. That was before tests confirmed the infant was infected and not just at risk from a mother whose HIV wasn’t diagnosed until she was in labor.
“I just felt like this baby was at higher-than-normal risk, and deserved our best shot,” Dr. Hannah Gay, a pediatric HIV specialist at the University of Mississippi, said in an interview.
That fast action apparently knocked out HIV in the baby’s blood before it could form hideouts in the body. Those so-called reservoirs of dormant cells usually rapidly reinfect anyone who stops medication, said Dr. Deborah Persaud of Johns Hopkins Children’s Center. She led the investigation that deemed the child “functionally cured,” meaning in long-term remission even if all traces of the virus haven’t been completely eradicated.
If this can be replicated, it would be an amazing breakthrough:
About 300,000 children were born with HIV in 2011, mostly in poor countries where only about 60 percent of infected pregnant women get treatment that can keep them from passing the virus to their babies. In the U.S., such births are very rare because HIV testing and treatment long have been part of prenatal care.
This case also shows that either there is something wrong with these parents or with healthcare in the US or both:
In the Mississippi case, the mother had had no prenatal care when she came to a rural emergency room in advanced labor. A rapid test detected HIV. In such cases, doctors typically give the newborn low-dose medication in hopes of preventing HIV from taking root. But the small hospital didn’t have the proper liquid kind, and sent the infant to Gay’s medical center. She gave the baby higher treatment-level doses.
The child responded well through age 18 months, when the family temporarily quit returning and stopped treatment, researchers said. When they returned several months later, remarkably, Gay’s standard tests detected no virus in the child’s blood.
02 Mar 2013 Leave a Comment
22 Feb 2013 2 Comments
A. The Oklahoma Legislature finds that an important purpose of science education is to inform students about scientific evidence and to help students develop critical thinking skills they need in order to become intelligent, productive, and scientifically informed citizens. The Legislature further finds that the teaching of some scientific concepts including but not limited to premises in the areas of biology, chemistry, meteorology, bioethics and physics can cause controversy, and that some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on some subjects such as, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.
B. The State Board of Education, district boards of education, district superintendents and administrators, and public school principals and administrators shall endeavor to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues. Educational authorities in this state shall also endeavor to assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies. Toward this end, teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught. C. The State Board of Education, a district board of education, district superintendent or administrator, or public school principal or administrator shall not prohibit any teacher in a school district in this state from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught.
D. Students may be evaluated based upon their understanding of course materials, but no student in any public school or institution shall be penalized in any way because the student may subscribe to a particular position on scientific theories. Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to exempt students from learning, understanding and being tested on curriculum as prescribed by state and local education standards. E. The provisions of the Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act shall only protect the teaching of scientific information, and shall not be construed to promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or nonbeliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion. The intent of the provisions of this act is to create an environment in which both the teacher and students can openly and objectively discuss the facts and observations of science, and the assumptions that underlie their interpretation.
I would guess that this will have little impact in most classrooms if it passes (it has passed out of committee), because it will be impossible for a student to back up any other position than the accepted scientific one (there’s a lot of evidence that evolution is true while there is none to support creationism, so any paper written that says creationism explains life on Earth should get a failing grade since it will have no real supporting evidence). In fact, it very well backfire in some classrooms–a student would be able to question whether evolution (or other ‘controversial’ theories) is true, but the teacher could then talk about the overwhelming evidence that it is true and the complete lack of evidence that creationism has. The problem is that there are probably some teachers that will use this to make it seem like the evidence for evolution is weak–as long as they teach the ideas needed for the tests, they would be allowed to say that they don’t believe in evolution and play up supposed weaknesses.
I love this bit at the end of the bill:
It being immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health and safety, an emergency is hereby declared to exist, by reason whereof this act shall take effect and be in full force from and after its passage and approval.
If students and teachers aren’t allowed to say things like evolution are wrong, there’s going to be war and plagues I guess.