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.
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.
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.
19 Nov 2012 Leave a Comment
The World Bank has a report out. It’s not pretty:
“Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided,” (pdf) warns we’re on track for a 4°C warmer world marked by extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise.
Moreover, adverse effects of a warming climate are “tilted against many of the world’s poorest regions” and likely to undermine development efforts and global development goals, says the study by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics, on behalf of the World Bank. The report, urges “further mitigation action as the best insurance against an uncertain future.”
Coral reefs are acutely sensitive to changes in water temperature and acidity levels. The report warns that by the time the warming levels reach 1.4° C in 2030s, coral reefs may stop growing. This would be a result of oceans becoming more acidic as a result of higher CO2 concentrations. And with 2.4° C, coral reefs in several areas may actually start to dissolve. This is likely to have profound consequences for people who depend on them for food, income, tourism and shoreline protection.
A 4°C warmer world would also suffer more extreme heat waves, and these events will not be evenly distributed across the world, according to the report.
Sub-tropical Mediterranean, northern Africa, the Middle East, and the contiguous United States are likely to see monthly summer temperatures rise by more than 6°C. Temperatures of the warmest July between 2080-2100 in the Mediterranean are expected to approach 35°C – about 9°C warmer than the warmest July estimated for the present day. The warmest July month in the Sahara and the Middle East will see temperatures as high as 45°C, or 6-7°C above the warmest July simulated for the present day.
As global warming approaches and exceeds 2°C, there is a risk of triggering nonlinear tipping elements. Examples include the disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet leading to more rapid sea-level rise, or large-scale Amazon dieback drastically affecting ecosystems, rivers, agriculture, energy production, and livelihoods. This would further add to 21st-century global warming and impact entire continents.
In the report they note this:
It is also useful to recall that a global mean temperature increase of 4°C approaches the difference between temperatures today and those of the last ice age, when much of central Europe and the northern United States were covered with kilometers of ice and global mean temperatures were about 4.5°C to 7°C lower. And this magnitude of climate change—human induced—is occurring over a century, not millennia.
So, really this has the very real potential of being catastrophic. That means we should have bipartisan agreement:
But energy and environmental analysts warn that idealistic calls to action may end up hurting climate change policy efforts: With Republicans controlling the House and Democrats the Senate, and the nation facing a hard economic path, they argue any gains need to be made through consensus from both sides of the aisle.
“Sandy has helped put climate change back on the map . . . but it’s not like the bulk of the American people now say that climate change matters more than anything else,’’ said Michael A. Levi, director of the Program on Energy Security and Climate Change for the Council on Foreign Relations, a bipartisan think tank. Levi recently wrote blog posts calling for environmentalists and oil and gas interests to compromise to get past the stalled climate status quo.
“If you can put together a package that expands opportunity for oil and gas development while curbing emissions from fossil fuels, that is something that moves us” forward, he said.
Hmm, let’s see what the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee thinks:
But Vitter said he has serious doubts, despite significant scientific support that global warming is real and a significant threat.
“I certainly think it’s significant and not adequately explained away, as folks have tried to do, the scandals that went on in climate science in the last five years and the doctoring of data that went on,” Vitter told the E & Reporter. Vitter alluded to the so-called Climategate incident in which stolen emails from researchers indicated a willingness to manipulate data. Several independent investigations cleared the researchers, but critics of global warming theories were unconvinced.
Vitter said one reason he believes global warming isn’t as critical an issue, at least in Congress, is that his colleagues, both Republicans and Democrats, have overwhelmingly opposed legislation to impose stringent new carbon emissions standards. And he said senators have tools to block Obama administration regulations.
Vitter and others have held up nominations when they opposed administration policy during President Barack Obama’s first term.
That bipartisan effort doesn’t look very likely. Ah well, it was a nice planet while it lasted.
24 Oct 2012 Leave a Comment
This really is quite crazy:
Defying assertions that earthquakes cannot be predicted, an Italian court convicted seven scientists of manslaughter Monday for failing to adequately warn residents before a temblor struck central Italy in 2009 and killed more than 300 people.
The court in L’Aquila also sentenced the defendants to six years each in prison. All are members of the national Great Risks Commission, and several are prominent scientists or experts on geological disasters.
and this is the natural consequence:
Four top Italian disaster specialists quit their posts Tuesday, saying the manslaughter convictions of former colleagues for failing to adequately warn of a deadly 2009 earthquake mean they cannot effectively perform their duties.
Why exactly would any scientist give any prediction for the Italian government if they can be prosecuted if they’re wrong?
16 Oct 2012 1 Comment
Do you see a plateau at the end there? Neither do I. If you’re in the business of saying Global Warming is a hoax, you do and this says more about you than the science.
07 Oct 2012 Leave a Comment
Every once in a while this comes up:
In the past five years, the fact that human-generated carbon emissions are making the ocean more acidic has become an urgent cause of concern to the fishing industry and scientists.
The ocean absorbs about 30 percent of the carbon dioxide we put in the air through fossil fuel burning, and this triggers a chemical reaction that produces hydrogen, thereby lowering the water’s pH.
The sea today is 30 percent more acidic than pre-industrial levels, which is creating corrosive water that is washing over America’s coasts. At the current rate of global worldwide carbon emissions, the ocean’s acidity could double by 2100.
As I noted back in 2008, this is another reason to care about all that extra carbon dioxide we’re throwing into the atmosphere–it’s having implications right now:
The decline in pH will likely disrupt the food web in many ways. It is making it harder for some animals, such as tiny pteropods and corals, to form their shells out of calcium carbonate, while other creatures whose blood chemistry is altered become disoriented and lose their ability to evade predators.
a team of researchers led by Oregon State University professor George Waldbusser found that the pH in the lower part of the Chesapeake Bayis declining at a rate that’s three times faster than the open Pacific Ocean, partly because of increased nutrient runoff from farming and other activities. This stream of nutrients causes phytoplankton to take more carbon dioxide out of the upper Bay; as the plankton release CO2 as they move to the lower Bay, it increases carbon concentrations and lowers the overall pH.
A.J. Erskine, aquaculture manager for the Kinsale, Va.-based Bevans Oyster Co., and Cowart Seafood Corp. in Lottsburg, Va., said they started focusing on the issue when “two years ago we were seeing production losses, and we didn’t know where it was from.”
Oyster farmers off the coasts of Washington and Oregon were the first to see how ocean acidification threatened their business. Alan Barton, an employee at Oregon’s Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery, suspected that lower pH waters were killing off oyster larvae, or spat. Working with Oregon State University and NOAA researchers, they were able to prove it was the case, and now time their intakes to ensure that their oysters are exposed to less-acidic water.
30 Sep 2012 Leave a Comment
It seems that gender bias is alive and well:
In a randomized double-blind study (n = 127), science faculty from research-intensive universities rated the application materials of a student—who was randomly assigned either a male or female name—for a laboratory manager position. Faculty participants rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and hireable than the (identical) female applicant. These participants also selected a higher starting salary and offered more career mentoring to the male applicant. The gender of the faculty participants did not affect responses, such that female and male faculty were equally likely to exhibit bias against the female student.
This is another data point showing overt bias, as opposed to genetics, is what leads to gender differences.
27 Apr 2012 Leave a Comment
This is a very good message to hear (the two Republicans are Robert Dold of Illinois and Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania):
Together with two House Republicans and a coalition of major science associations, Cooper has created the first annual Golden Goose Awards to honor federally funded research “whose work may once have been viewed as unusual, odd, or obscure, but has produced important discoveries benefiting society in significant ways.”
Federally-funded research of dog urine ultimately gave scientists and understanding of the effect of hormones on the human kidney, which in turn has been helpful for diabetes patients. A study called “Acoustic Trauma in the Guinea Pig” resulted in treatment of early hearing loss in infants. And that randy screwworm study? It helped researchers control the population of a deadly parasite that targets cattle–costing the government $250,000 but ultimately saving the cattle industry more than $20 billion, according to Cooper’s office.
The group also wants their colleagues–and the broader public–to understand that investing in science means that the research failures are part of the process, as well. “There has never been a scientific project with guaranteed success…a single breakthrough can counter a thousand failures,” says Cooper.
The whole idea of government funded research is to fund things that private businesses do not (usually because the money isn’t there), because every once in a while it leads to very important results (the internet for example). It’s nice to see that there are some people in Congress that know this
20 Dec 2011 Leave a Comment
I’m not sure why I’ve never seen this, but I haven’t. Here’s an explanation of why a plane can fly. It can’t really be summarized, but has to do with the angle of the wing which diverts air down and Newton’s laws–it does not have to do with the shape of the wing or the difference in air speed above and below the wing. Fun stuff.
22 Oct 2011 Leave a Comment
Here are two stunning pictures. The first is of the North American Nebula (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech):
18 Aug 2011 Leave a Comment
The scientists who cracked the problem weren’t initially studying the coffee ring effect at all. Peter Yunker and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania were studying how different-shaped particles — like spheres, egg-shaped, or even more elongated particles — pack together when the liquid they are in evaporates.
So first they looked at what happened when liquids with spherical particles evaporated; these formed a ring like coffee does.
“But when we evaporated the drop with the elongated particles, instead of forming a ring, they were spread out across the entire area covered by the drop,” Yunker says.
There’s a good video at the bottom of the article, but wordpress doesn’t let me embed it so you’ll have to go to the article to look, which you should.
Update: Ah, I found the UPenn site which has a bit more:
The edges of a water drop sitting on a table or a piece of paper, for example, are often “pinned” to the surface. This means that when the water evaporates, the drop can’t shrink in circumference but instead flattens out. That flattening motion pushes water and anything suspended in it, such as coffee particles, to its edges. By the time the drop fully evaporates, most of the particles have reached the edge and are deposited on the surface, making a dark ring.
Spherical particles easily detach from the interface, and they flow past one another easily because the spheres do not substantially deform the air-water interface. Ellipsoid particles, however, cause substantial undulation of the air-water interface that in turn induces very strong attractions between the ellipsoids. Thus the ellipsoids tend to get stuck on the surface, and, while the stuck particles can continue to flow towards the drop’s edges during evaporation, they increasingly block each other, creating a traffic jam of particles that eventually covers the drop’s surface.
and the video:
04 Feb 2011 Leave a Comment
It seems that some scratch tickets might be able to be cracked. Why?
There was a time when scratch games all but sold themselves. But in the past two decades the competition for the gambling dollar has dramatically increased. As a result, many state lotteries have redesigned their tickets. One important strategy involves the use of what lottery designers call extended play. Although extended-play games—sometimes referred to as baited hooks—tend to look like miniature spreadsheets, they’ve proven extremely popular with consumers. Instead of just scratching off the latex and immediately discovering a loser, players have to spend time matching up the revealed numbers with the boards. Ticket designers fill the cards with near-misses (two-in-a-row matchups instead of the necessary three) and players spend tantalizing seconds looking for their win. No wonder players get hooked.
The two pieces here mean that cards are not random and clues to the algorithm used to make the tickets are on the ticket. In this case it turned out the clues were pretty obvious:
Srivastava was looking for singletons, numbers that appear only a single time on the visible tic-tac-toe boards. He realized that the singletons were almost always repeated under the latex coating. If three singletons appeared in a row on one of the eight boards, that ticket was probably a winner.
The statistical problem is that it’s difficult to get really random numbers and even more difficult to get somewhat random numbers with a certain property. This is hard statistics and it involves billions of dollars.
In other news, it seems that electrical stimulation strategically placed in the brain can make people better at solving problems:
Once we have learned to solve problems by one method, we often have difficulties in generating solutions involving a different kind of insight. Yet there is evidence that people with brain lesions are sometimes more resistant to this so-called mental set effect. This inspired us to investigate whether the mental set effect can be reduced by non-invasive brain stimulation. 60 healthy right-handed participants were asked to take an insight problem solving task while receiving transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to the anterior temporal lobes (ATL). Only 20% of participants solved an insight problem with sham stimulation (control), whereas 3 times as many participants did so (p = 0.011) with cathodal stimulation (decreased excitability) of the left ATL together with anodal stimulation (increased excitability) of the right ATL.
I find this type of stuff to be fascinating, trying to understand how things work and trying to understand what makes us ourselves. It seems that other people are different:
By now the entire planet has heard O’Reilly’s bizarre litany about tides, and how he claims they prove the existence of God. As he has said on many an occasion, “tide goes in, tide goes out, never a miscommunication.” By this he means that the harmony of nature, the amazing interconnection between things, clearly argues for God.
I understand (or at least I hope this is what he meant) that O’Reilly wasn’t saying that no one knows why there are tides or where the moon, planets , or sun was formed. I think he was looking at the philosophical why more than a how (as in: why was the universe made so that tides would work they way they do?). Still, this shows an attitude of not caring about how things work, since the ultimate answer is always: God. And I really don’t understand this.
02 Feb 2011 Leave a Comment
Now it seems the immune system, and infections that stimulate it, can influence our moods, memory and ability to learn. Some strange behaviours, such as obsessive compulsive disorder, may be triggered by infections, and the immune system may even shape our basic personalities, such as how anxious or impulsive we are.
It was meant to be a new way to fight cancer. The idea was that injecting a certain bacterium into people would stimulate their immune systems to destroy tumours. Unfortunately, the treatment had little effect on the survival of the terminally ill lung cancer patients in the first trial. It did have one unexpected effect, though: those injected with the bacterium experienced a radical improvement in their mood and quality of life.
I can’t get the article online (it is online through NU but it’s delayed), so I’m going to have to go read it. It really is interesting to see how evolving science can radically change how we see ourselves–if your attitudes can partially depend on infections, then what exactly are we? Could someone become succesful (or not) because of an infection which changes their way of thinking? This is a question that cries out for a philosophical discussion, but not by me.
21 Jul 2010 Leave a Comment
I think this picture (Credit: NASA Earth Observatory/Image by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon/Based on data from Michael Lefsky) of the United States is fascinating (click on it):
It’s interesting to see how much of New England is forested and how little of much of the rest of the country (the darker the green, the taller the trees are on average). There’s also a map of the world at the post, but it doesn’t work for me.
27 May 2010 Leave a Comment
Well then. I might have seen this before but it didn’t register. It seems that much, maybe even most, of rain and snow is caused by bacteria:
The accepted precipitation model is that soot, dust and other inert things form the nuclei for raindrops and snowflakes. Scientists have found these bacteria in abundance on the leaves of a wide range of wild and domestic plants, including trees and grasses, everywhere they have looked, including Montana, Morocco, France, the Yukon and in the long buried ice of Antarctica. The bacteria have been found in clouds and in streams and irrigation ditches. In one study of several mountaintops here, 70 percent of the snow crystals examined had formed around a bacterial nucleus.
The bacteria then use the snow to attack plants to get nutrients. Hmm, does that mean if we want sunny days or less snow we should encourage plants to use antibacterial soap?
In any case, this is another clear indication of the complicated nature of life and the weather.
Another interesting piece is some of the new knowledge of corn. It seems that corn was first cultivated about 9000 years ago and took perhaps 1000 years to change into the form it currently takes (it seems that they were bred from a grass). This is pretty impressive, but the ability to figure this out is also pretty impressive.
04 Mar 2010 Leave a Comment
One’s a bit of a nit:
When people think of knowledge, they generally think of two sorts of facts: facts that don’t change, like the height of Mount Everest or the capital of the United States, and facts that fluctuate constantly, like the temperature or the stock market close.
The problem is that the height of Mount Everest is increasing. Of course it’s so slow (it’s estimated that it’s gaining a couple millimeters a year) that our estimate of the height won’t change for quite a while (and what is the height anyways–Everest is officially the mountain that is the highest above sea level, as opposed to highest above the plane or in total height or …).
The other problem is bigger and shows he doesn’t read James Fallow:
For these kinds of facts, the analogy of how to boil a frog is apt: Change the temperature quickly, and the frog jumps out of the pot. But slowly increase the temperature, and the frog doesn’t realize that things are getting warmer, until it’s been boiled. So, too, is it with humans and how we process information. We recognize rapid change, whether it’s as simple as a fast-moving object or living with the knowledge that humans have walked on the moon. But anything short of large-scale rapid change is often ignored. This is the reason we continue to write the wrong year during the first days of January.
The problem is that the frog does realize it’s getting warmer and will try to get out if the water gets too hot … unless it doesn’t have a brain:
“Goltz observed that a frog, when placed in water the temperature of which is slowly raised towards boiling, manifests uneasiness as soon as the temperature reaches 25° C., and becomes more and more agitated as the heat increases, vainly struggling to get out, and finally at 42° C., dies in a state of rigid tetanus. The evidence of feeling being thus manifested when the frog has its brain, what is the case with a brainless frog? It is absolutely the reverse. Quietly the animal sits through all successions of temperature, never once manifesting uneasiness or pain, never once attempting to escape the impending death.”
Still, although the posting is not very active, the blog does have some interesting graphs so go look.