30 Dec

Cheap invention makes ocean water drinkable


“Chemists with the University of Texas and the University of Marburg have devised a method of using a small electrical field that will remove the salt from seawater.

Incredibly this technique requires little more than a store-bought battery.”

(Via New Invention Makes Ocean Water Drinkable | TruthTheory.)

Of immense important to islands that often don’t have easy access to natural water supplies. Of importance to coastal regions.

And should bring down water makers on boats to even cheaper levels.

13 Jun

Earth on edge of Goldilock’s zone, not center, could have been like Venus


“If the latest models are accurate, Earth and Venus really might have been twins, had the orbit of one been just a tiny bit different. But rather than two clement Earths, there might have been two infernal Venuses. That’s a doubly humbling thought.”

(Via Is Earth’s orbit scarily close to Venus’s sultry zone? – opinion – 13 June 2013 – New Scientist.)

11 Jun

Sam Neill is funny about science


Ladies and gentlemen, Sam Neill (readers point out this site is a satire site, I just didn’t realize it wasn’t actually Neill that wrote this. I’m assuming Sam Neill said something stupid about science, then, and this was the result. Still hilarious dry wit, so kudos to whoever wrote it!):

“…as my career ascended so too did the value of the new things I learned. When I filmed The Hunt for Red October, I was amazed to discover that beneath the water there was a whole other area known as ‘under’water. What I didn’t know then was that we had this ‘under’water thanks to something called science. At the time I asked Sean Connery if he knew anything about science, but I was unable to understand anything he said, as he is Scottish.”

(Via Opinion: I’m not a scientist, but allow me to say a few things about science.)

17 May

Teenage chemistry experimenter won’t be charged, gets to go to space camp


The young girl expelled for testing chemistry out won’t be criminally charged (WTF?) and NASA scientist Homer Hickham raised money to send her to space camp:

“In the meantime, the Internet has created a nice happy ending here. Homer Hickam — the writer and former NASA engineer whose memoir is the basis of the movie October Sky — started a Crowdtilt campaign to send Wilmot and her twin sister Kayla to the Advanced Space Academy program at the U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala.. The cost of space camp can run upwards of $1200. Hickam paid for Kiera Wilmot to go and the Crowdtilt campaign raised the other $1200 for her sister, plus extra money for their travel expenses. The campaign hit its $2500 goal in just two days and is now up to $2920. Hickam says the extra money is going to the girls’ mother.”

(Via Teenage chemistry enthusiast won’t be charged with felony, will go to space camp – Boing Boing.)

I chipped in some cash as the Crowdtilt link. A good ending should come of this, for sure. And yay Space Camp! As a science fiction writer how could I refuse?

16 May

Climate research pretty unanimous on cause

Pretty straightforward consensus:

“A survey of thousands of peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals has found 97.1% agreed that climate change is caused by human activity.

Authors of the survey, published on Thursday in the journal Environmental Research Letters, said the finding of near unanimity provided a powerful rebuttal to climate contrarians who insist the science of climate change remains unsettled.”

(Via Climate research nearly unanimous on human causes, survey finds | Environment | guardian.co.uk.)

05 Apr

Florida DJs cause ‘di-hydrogen monoxide’ tap water scare

This is what happens when you have a barely scientifically literate listening population, I guess:

“Florida country radio morning-show hosts Val St. John and Scott Fish are currently serving indefinite suspensions and possibly worse over a successful April Fools’ Day prank. They told their listeners that ‘dihydrogen monoxide’ was coming out of the taps throughout the Fort Myers area. Dihydrogen monoxide is water.”

(Via Florida DJs May Face Felony for April Fools’ Water Joke Worse Than Rubio’s – Alexander Abad-Santos – The Atlantic Wire.)

21 Mar

Senate burns scientific process down with amendment to limit science investment

Well, that’s a foolish way to stop investing in the future:

“This afternoon, the United States Senate delivered a devastating blow to the integrity of the scientific process at the National Science Foundation (NSF) by voting for the Coburn Amendment to the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013.
Senator Coburn (R-OK) submitted an amendment (SA 65, as modified) to the Mikulski-Shelby Amendment (SA 26) to H.R. 933 (Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013).  The amendment places unprecedented restriction on the national research agenda by declaring the political science study of democracy and public policy out of bounds.  The amendment allows only political science research that promotes ‘national security or the economic interests of the United States.’ “

(Via Senate Delivers a Devastating Blow to the Integrity of the Scientific Process at… — WASHINGTON, March 20, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ —.)

See also, Lysenkoism, USSR:

In 1948, genetics was officially declared “a bourgeois pseudoscience”;[10] all geneticists were fired from their jobs (some were also arrested), and all genetic research was discontinued. Nikita Khrushchev, who claimed to be an expert in agricultural science, also valued Lysenko as a great scientist, and the taboo on genetics continued (but all geneticists were released or rehabilitated posthumously). The ban was only waived in the mid-1960s.

Thus, Lysenkoism caused serious, long-term harm to Soviet knowledge of biology. It represented a serious failure of the early Soviet leadership to find real solutions to agricultural problems, throwing their support behind a charlatan at the expense of many human lives.

Republicans, between this amendment and the consistent, radical opposition to all mentions of climate change and global warming, have often embodied modern day Lysenkoism. Fortunately there’s a two party system, the damage isn’t nearly as bad as it could be. But this is shooting yourself in the foot.

Sure, ‘public policy and democracy’ studies are vaguely worded. But have no doubt climate change, economics (particularly austerity studies) will be in this line up that get metaphorically shot after being put up against the wall.

18 Mar

Why Americans Are the Weirdest People in the World

On Facebook Daniel Spector hit me up with this link. Researchers who began to take cognitive puzzle studies that they assumed showed the basic underlying way of human thinking to other cultures were startled to find that things like basic economics games/puzzles and even our perception of images on paper differ. And:

” ‘The Weirdest People in the World?’ (pdf) By ‘weird’ they meant both unusual and Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. It is not just our Western habits and cultural preferences that are different from the rest of the world, it appears. The very way we think about ourselves and others—and even the way we perceive reality—makes us distinct from other humans on the planet, not to mention from the vast majority of our ancestors. Among Westerners, the data showed that Americans were often the most unusual, leading the researchers to conclude that ‘American participants are exceptional even within the unusual population of Westerners—outliers among outliers.’”

That’s not a problem. It’s interesting to find out that a culture is not normative, culture varies all over the world. The problem is this:

. The human brain is genetically comparable around the globe, it was agreed, so human hardwiring for much behavior, perception, and cognition should be similarly universal. No need, in that case, to look beyond the convenient population of undergraduates for test subjects. A 2008 survey of the top six psychology journals dramatically shows how common that assumption was: more than 96 percent of the subjects tested in psychological studies from 2003 to 2007 were Westerners—with nearly 70 percent from the United States alone. Put another way: 96 percent of human subjects in these studies came from countries that represent only 12 percent of the world’s population.

That simple, ethnocentric assumption among researchers and scientists, that failure to test even MRI responses to neuro-cognition outside of non-Western culture subjects, means that most of our understanding of thought processes actually doesn’t apply to humanity as a whole, but mostly American subjects.

That’s a problem, because American subjects, the new research finds, aren’t particularly normative of most of the human population. So what we know is how Americans or westerners respond to economic games, MRIs, neuro-cognitive research, and so forth.

But that isn’t necessarily the underly circuitry, as such.

This has implications from diplomacy, to war, to international trade, to everything.

But the truth is, one thing I love about this story is the description of how science works embedded in it. A glaring omission due to a major fundamental base assumption, overturned by straight forward, falsifiable research. Once the researcher ran these neuro-cognitive tests on a variety of non-western cultures and reported the data, scientists had to react. And many of them did so by realizing the data was right, and beginning to reexamine base assumptions across their research. Making it more right. Meaning the science gets better.

Well done, guys.

(Via Why Americans Are the Weirdest People in the World.)

23 Dec

A placebo, even if you know about it, might still help!

Here’s an interview with the author of a new study about placebos that might shake things up a bit!

A provocative new study called “Placebos Without Deception,” published on PLoS One today, threatens to make humble sugar pills something they’ve rarely had a chance to be in the history of medicine: a respectable, ethically sound treatment for disease that has been vetted in controlled trials.