Category Archives: Science

Rule Five Space Force Friday

Do we need a space force – a space navy, if you will – to protect commerce from Earth orbit to the Moon and beyond?  The serving Top Man at NASA thinks so.  Excerpt:

NASA’s administrator is a strong defender of President Donald Trump’s proposals for space — including an armed force and a permanent presence on the moon — and says he wants Americans to realize how much their well-being depends on what happens far above Earth.

“Every banking transaction requires a GPS signal for timing,” Jim Bridenstine said in an interview. “You lose the GPS signal and guess what you lose? You lose banking.”

“If you look at what space is, it’s not that much different than the ocean,” added Bridenstine, who made 333 aircraft-carrier landings as a Navy pilot. “It’s an international domain that has commerce that needs to be protected.”

Bridenstine was in his third term representing a congressional district in Oklahoma when Trump nominated him to lead the $21 billion space agency. He was confirmed in the spring despite criticism over his lack of scientific or engineering experience and his previous statements questioning climate change science — though he said in hearings that human activity was the chief cause of global warming.

Last summer, when he was still in Congress, Bridenstine supported a measure that would have created a “space corps.” It passed the House but was removed from the final defense spending bill. Then last month, Trump called for the Pentagon to develop a sixth branch of the American armed services that would protect national and commercial interests in space.

I’m of mixed feelings on this one.

Pros:

  1. The kid in me, who loved Star Trek, thinks the very idea is just cool as hell.  Were I younger, I’d join up.
  2. There will eventually be commerce in space; there are just too many riches out there (asteroid belt, for example, a wealth of rare earths and precious metals) and that commerce will need to be protected.
  3. If the United States isn’t the first to do this, someone else will be.

Cons:

  1. We’re broke.  How the hell are we going to pay for it?
  2. We’re broke.  How the hell are we going to pay for it?
  3. We’re broke.  How the hell are we going to pay for it?

I have a novel idea, though; there’s another way to skin this particular cat.  As noted, there are a wealth of resources around the Solar System, much of it inside the orbit of Jupiter, that private enterprise will eventually want to go get.  OK, I’m in favor of private enterprise, and have long held that when practical space travel is developed, it will be private enterprise that does it.  So, OK, let those private organizations develop their own armed ships and security forces, as a cost of doing business in, say, the asteroid belt.

“But Animal,” you might ask, “what happens in the event of a conflict with another nation, a nation that has their own forces in space?”  Simple answer, one that goes back to the 18th century; give the private ships a letter of marque to conduct offensive operations under the U.S. flag.  Resurrect the concept of the privateer.

Seems like the answer to me.  Thoughts?

Animal’s Daily Loony Flat-Earther News

Any of you True Believers from Australia? (We do get a few dozen hits a day, on average, from Down Under.)  If so, you may be surprised to hear that you apparently don’t exist.  Excerpt:

Australia is one of the biggest hoaxes ever created, and you have all been tricked. Join the movement today, and make it known that they have been deceived.

Make it known, that this has all just been a cover-up. The things these “Australian” says to be doing, all these swear words and actions based on alcoholism, MDMA and bad decisions, are all ways to distract you from the ugly truth that is one of the greatest genocides in history.

162,000 people was said to have been transported to this imaginary land during a mere 80 years, and they are all long dead by now. They never reached that promised land.

Tell the truth. Stand up for what is right.Make sure to spread the world – Australia is not real. It’s a codeword for the cold blooded murder of more than a hundred thousand people, and it is not okay. We will not, accept this.

Stand up for the ones who died. Let it be known, that Australia does not exist. [sic]

Uh huh.

Matthew Quigley begs to differ.

Now, to be clear, the article linked isn’t supporting the flat-earth view; it is, like we are doing here, poking fun at it.

What’s really odd is that there are actual organizations out there supporting this horseshit; see here and here for examples.  In this amazing modern era we live in, the idea that anyone could actually believe such an enormous, steaming pile of codswallop is… baffling.  But don’t worry overly much, Aussies; I haven’t been Down Under yet myself (it’s on my bucket list, though) but several people I know and trust have been, and they all tell me that yes, you really do exist.

As for the flat-earthers, well, there are people out there who believe all sorts of weird shit.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

Yes, yes,  President Trump is at the moment either a blatant traitor to Truth, Justice and the American Way, or the best 4D chess player ever, with almost nobody taking anything like a middle ground.  I get that.  I’ll probably have something to say about the Helsinki thing after the overt RHEEEEEEE from, honestly, both sides has stopped, and I’ve done some reading and had some time to think things over.  I’m of a rather deliberate nature concerning these things.

But in other news, it turns out that there may well be something like a quadrillion tons (or tonnes, if you prefer) of diamonds in the ground.  Problem is, we can’t reach them.  Excerpt:

Cratonic roots are the most ancient sections of rock under tectonic states, shaped like upside-down mountains.

The researchers estimate that the roots may have 1-2% diamond, meaning that about a quadrillion tons of diamond are buried there.

Given that a ton of diamond is 50,000,000 carats, worth at least £3,000 each, that comes out at a tasty £150,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 by our relatively unscientific calculations.

‘This shows that diamond is not perhaps this exotic mineral, but on the [geological] scale of things, it’s relatively common,’ says Ulrich Faul, a research scientist in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences.

‘We can’t get at them, but still, there is much more diamond there than we have ever thought before.’

The researchers concluded that there were diamonds down there due to an anomaly in seismic data – where sound waves seemed to speed up.

Faul and his colleagues calculated that the anomaly could be caused by 1%-2% of diamonds in the ‘cratonic roots.’

My first thought was, “well, OK then.”  Can’t see how this is much of a concern any way you look at it.

But just imagine someone managed to figure out how to get down that far and found, yes, diamonds by the metric shitload (a metric shitload, in case you were wondering, is 1.14 Imperial shitloads) were down there; postulate a real-life Tony Stark came up with a Reverse-Gungaplexic Force Modulated Hyper-Drill that was able to reach these very roots of the Earth’s crust and bring up tons and tons of diamonds.

What an economic mess that would be.  The DeBeers folks wouldn’t be too happy about it, but the implications would go a lot deeper.  This would throw world markets in a tizzy, when a previously rare, extremely valuable resource suddenly becomes as common as gravel.

Here’s the catch; there are giga-tons of precious metals and other valuable stuff out in the asteroid belt, and that stuff is actually easier to get to.  Now think on that.

Our kids and grandkids may see some interesting times.

Animal’s Daily Tree Chicken News

Thanks once again to The Other McCain for the Rule Five links!

Invasive iguanas have been a problem in South Florida for some time, and for some time I’ve been offering a solution to the problem:  Tell the local rednecks that they are good to eat.  Such solution, with a few variations, seems to be in the works.  Excerpt:

While many people view South Florida’s invasive iguana population as an annoyance at best and a pandemic at worst, Ishmeal Asson sees something else: lunch.

The Fort Lauderdale resident and native Trinidadian considers eating iguanas to be a way of life. Growing up, Asson learned to roast the island critters at roadside and backyard gatherings. Iguana is a staple in the Caribbean, where the reptiles are a native species and are known as “pollo de los árboles,” or chicken of the trees. Their meat contains more protein than chicken, and members of some cultures believe it has medicinal properties.

In South Florida, Asson is hardly alone in his taste for cooked iguana. He has more than a dozen friends who eat the animal, and they frequently hunt them using nets, snares and traps. “We are having a cookout this weekend,” he said earlier this week.

Asson said he and his friends use a traditional method of preparing iguana. “First, we cut off the head, then roast [the body] on the fire. You have to roast it with the skin on because it’s easier to take the skin off once it’s roasted,” he said. “Then, we cut it up into pieces and season it with a lot of fresh produce like chives and onions. I love to season it with curry and hot pepper, too. It tastes like chicken.”

As someone who has eaten iguanas his entire life, Asson still finds humor in eating the prehistoric-looking reptiles. “I prefer to eat it with the skin on,” he said, “because then I know what I’m eating. It kind of gives you a sense of humor, like, ‘This is iguana,’ you know?”

I’d try it.  I’ve eaten all sorts of critters in my day, from raccoon to opossum to rattlesnake to javelina, and dozens of others; iguana would just be one more, and there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t be tasty, properly prepared.   Iguanas are plant eaters, the ones I’ve seen in the wild in places like Puerto Rico (where they are also an invasive species) look big, meaty and healthy.

Since these are an invasive species, and since no license is required to hunt or trap them and there are no bag limits, maybe a trip to Florida with a really good .22 rifle is in order.  Any True Believers down that way who might be able to direct me to a good hunting ground?

Animal’s Daily Alpha Centauri News

The Future.

This isn’t exactly new, but it’s been confirmed by recent observations with better equipment; our nearest stellar neighbors are good candidates to have Earth-like planets.  Excerpt:

The three stars that make up Alpha Centauri aren’t exactly created equal, with some more hospitable to life than others. The two brightest stars in the system are a pair known as Alpha Cen A and Alpha Cen B (AB for short), which orbit each other so closely that Chandra is the only observatory precise enough to differentiate their X-rays. Farther out in the system is Alpha Cen C, known as Proxima, which is the closest non-Sun-like star to Earth. The AB pair are both remarkably similar to our Sun, with Alpha Cen A almost identical in size, brightness, and age, and Alpha Cen B only slightly smaller and dimmer.

In regard to X-ray radiation, Alpha Cen A actually provides a safer planetary environment than the Sun, emitting lower doses of X-rays to its habitable zone. Alpha Cen B creates an environment that’s only marginally worse than the Sun, releasing higher amounts of X-rays by only a factor of five.

“This is very good news for Alpha Cen AB in terms of the ability of possible life on any of their planets to survive radiation bouts from the stars,” Ayres said. “Chandra shows us that life should have a fighting chance on planets around either of these stars.”

Four light years away is, of course, just next door in astronomical terms, but several lifetimes away with current technology.  And it would be the wildest of long shots to send a ship there without knowing if there are planets at all, much less habitable ones.

But who knows what we’ll be able to do a generation or two from now?  My grandparents went from horses and buggies to seeing men – Americans – walking on the moon.  My Dad went from the Model A Ford era to the Internet.  Who knows what my grandchildren will live to see?

Today’s questions are answered by tomorrow’s technology.  If we ever lose that urge to innovate, that’s the beginning of the end for humanity.  I may not live to see it, but I sure do hope it’s the stars that pull us outward.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

If this works out, a new nuclear battery may prove revolutionary.  Excerpt:

Russian researchers from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT), the Technological Institute for Superhard and Novel Carbon Materials (TISNCM), and the National University of Science and Technology MISIS have optimized the design of a nuclear battery generating power from the beta decay of nickel-63, a radioactive isotope. Their new battery prototype packs about 3,300 milliwatt-hours of energy per gram, which is more than in any other nuclear battery based on nickel-63, and 10 times more than the specific energy of commercial chemical cells. The paper was published in the journal Diamond and Related Materials.

Here’s the kicker:

The work reported in this story has prospects for medical applications. Most state-of-the-art cardiac pacemakers are over 10 cubic centimeters in size and require about 10 microwatts of power. This means that the new nuclear battery could be used to power these devices without any significant changes to their design and size. “Perpetual pacemakers” whose batteries need not be replaced or serviced would improve the quality of life of patients.

This is my industry, True Believers, and believe you me, a battery like this would have an enormous impact on quality of life for patients with long-term implants.  Not just pacemakers – spinal cord stimulators, insulin pumps, intrathecal drug pumps, deep-brain stimulators, all are dependent on implanted batteries that now have to be changed regularly.  That’s an invasive surgical procedure to change that battery, mind you, with the risks and hospital stays that entails.

If someone could produce a more powerful battery that might last the better part of a patient’s lifetime, that’s world-changing for people whose life and comfort depend on these devices.

Rule Five Oncological Friday

No, we’re not talking about human cancer; we’re talking about cancer in wild animals, and whether human activity may be causing it.  Excerpt:

As humans, we know some of the factors that can cause cancer to develop in our bodies. Smoking, poor diets, pollution, chemicals used as additives in food and personal hygiene products, and even too much sun are some of the things that contribute to an increased risk of cancer.

But, are human activities also causing cancer in wild animals? Are we oncogenic — a species that causes cancer in other species?

Researchers from Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences think so and are urgently calling for research into this topic. In a paper published online today in Nature Ecology & Evolution, Mathieu Giraudeau and Tuul Sepp, both postdoctoral researchers in the lab of ASU life sciences Professor Kevin McGraw, say that humans are changing the environment in a way that causes cancer in wild animal populations.

“We know that some viruses can cause cancer in humans by changing the environment that they live in — in their case, human cells — to make it more suitable for themselves,” said Sepp. “Basically, we are doing the same thing. We are changing the environment to be more suitable for ourselves, while these changes are having a negative impact on many species on many different levels, including the probability of developing cancer.” 

How can this happen?

Sepp said: “It is already known in human studies that obesity and nutrient deficiency can cause cancer, but these issues have been mostly overlooked in wild animals. At the same time, more and more wild species are in contact with anthropogenic food sources. In humans, it’s also known that light at night can cause hormonal changes and lead to cancer. Wild animals living close to cities and roads face the same problem — there is no darkness anymore. For example, in birds, their hormones — the same that are linked to cancer in humans — are affected by light at night. So, the next step would be to study if it also affects their probability of developing tumors.”

OK, while the jury (hah) seems to still be out on this, let’s say that continued research does uncover increased rates of cancer in mammals and birds caused by human agriculture and nighttime lighting.  If that is at some point known to be the case, I would have one question:

And therefore, what?

Are we to stop growing agricultural crops?  Shut off all our streetlights, yardlights, airport runway lights, house lighting, traffic lights, and the bazillion other ways humans have chosen to illuminate the dark hours?

This strikes me as research with no real purpose.  Speaking as a biologist and an outdoor enthusiast, I am certainly all in favor of taking proper care of our environment and not carelessly doing damage to populations of wildlife; but this if this is shown to be a problem, I can’t see how it can be solved.

Every species in the billions of years life has been on this planet has had effects on other species in their environment.  Humans are unique in that we are aware of our impact and care about it.  But there are limits; we have to have food crops and we are going to use artificial lighting in hours of darkness.  That’s not going to change.  Perhaps the work of McGraw and his team will find some reasonable ways to attenuate that effect, but we’ll never eliminate it.

Rule Five Alien Octopus Friday

I can’t believe that the editors of the Express published this with a straight face. Science news: Octopuses came to Earth from space as frozen eggs millions of years ago.  Excerpt:

Octopuses are “aliens” which evolved on another planet before arriving on Earth hundreds of millions of years ago as “cryopreserved” eggs via a process known as panspermia, radical new research has suggested.

The extraordinary claims were made in a report entitled Cause of Cambrian Explosion – Terrestrial or Cosmic? which was co-authored by a group of 33 scientists and published in the Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology journal.

The paper suggests that the explanation for the sudden flourishing of life during the Cambrian era – often referred to as the Cambrian Explosion – lies in the stars, as a result of the Earth being bombarded by clouds of organic molecules.

But the scientists go on to make an even more extraordinary claim concerning octopuses, which seem to have evolved on Earth quite rapidly something like 270 million years ago, 250 million years after the Cambrian explosion.

The paper states: “The genome of the Octopus shows a staggering level of complexity with 33,000 protein-coding genes more than is present in Homo sapiens.

And:

“One plausible explanation, in our view, is that the new genes are likely new extraterrestrial imports to Earth – most plausibly as an already coherent group of functioning genes within (say) cryopreserved and matrix protected fertilized Octopus eggs.

About this article, I can only say this:

What utter horseshit.

For crying out loud, the place in the Earth’s tree of life occupied by cephalopods has been known for a long time now.  Yes, octopuses are rather unique; they are quick to learn, adaptable and capable of exploiting lots of different environments.

But then, so are lots of other animals.  Like, for example, us.

This is pseudo-scientific woo along the lines of anti-GMO or anti-vaxxer hysteria; clueless and utterly unsupported by anything with a remote resemblance to a fact.

Not only is the evolutionary and genetic relationship of the cephalopoda well documented, there’s another problem with this idea:  We have several metric tons (or tonnes, if you prefer) of meteorites to examine, and to date not one iota of genetic material has been found in any of them.

To the authors of this research, I can only say this:  Gwyneth Paltrow called.  She wants her bullshit back.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

Surprise – eating pills made of raw rattlesnake meat isn’t good for you.  Excerpt:

In its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the CDC includes notification of two cases occurring in late 2017 of people falling seriously ill with salmonella – both linked to the consumption of rattlesnake pills.

In the first case, in Texas, salmonella was found both in the patient and in the pills he had been taking as part of a “natural health” regime. The particular salmonella strain isolated by whole genome sequencing was found to be a close match for that found in another patient, a man from Kansas.

The Texan victim refused to be interviewed by CDC investigators, but the Kansas gent admitted to having travelled to the state of Chihuahua in Mexico, and purchasing five homemade rattlesnake pills – or, as they are also known, pastillas de víbora de cascabel. He had swallowed all of them.

The pills, made from dehydrated and smashed up snake flesh, are popular in Mexico and among some Hispanic communities in the US. They are marketed as cures for acne and cancer.

They have been associated with salmonella, sometimes lethally, on several occasions. In 1994, they were blamed for three deaths in Los Angeles County.

Here’s the kicker:

“If you really have a yen to consume rattlesnake, avoid the pills and just go for the meat — but make sure it’s properly treated (i.e., cooked) to eliminate the risk of bacterial contamination,” author Ruth Kava suggested.

“Better yet, leave the snakes alone, after all, most other sources of meat don’t have dangerous venom and the means of delivering it.”

This, True Believers, is Gwyneth Paltrow-level woo.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  There comes a certain point where a fool and his money deserve to be parted.  “But Animal,” you might ask, “what about public health?  These assholes are endangering public health by spreading a dangerous disease.”  Now salmonella is a food-borne disease, but carriers of that disease can spread it to others by handling food and drink, even casually.  I learned that the hard way, having once suffered a bout of what I am fairly certain was salmonella poisoning.  That bout  had me spend two days in the fetal position in a hotel room bed in Japan, alternating between vomiting, diarrhea and flop-sweats.  Never want to do that again.

It seems to me one would realize exactly the same benefit from eating cooked rattlesnake as from eating raw rattlesnake – none – but what the hell, a big rattler can make a tasty soup.  And that’s about the best benefit you’ll ever realize from them.

Rule Five CDC Lies By Omission Friday

Familiar with the concept of lying by omission?  Here’s a definition:

Lying by omission, otherwise known as exclusionary detailing, is lying by either omitting certain facts or by failing to correct a misconception. In the case of the former, an example of this would be a car salesman claiming a car to have amazing fuel economy while neglecting to mention that it has no engine and is completely immobile. In the case of the latter, it could be a situation in which a misconception exists that the claimant is aware of but fails to correct, such as a person who wanders around a hospital dressed as a doctor, offering treatment while failing to mention that she is in fact just getting a kick out of pretending to be a doctor.

Turns out that the CDC has been doing this for a good long while now.  Surprised?  Excerpt:

You wouldn’t know it, but the CDC actually collected data on defensive gun use for three years (in 1996, 1997, and 1998) in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) surveys. This data collection was not discovered until Kleck came across it looking for data on another topic. He is analyzing that data and comparing it to his own, but…something is amiss.

For 20 years, this data went unnoticed. Like some buried treasure, (Criminologist Gary) Kleck stumbled across this data. He wasn’t looking for it because, like the rest of the world outside of the CDC offices, he had no idea it existed. It was not discovered until 20 years after the fact.  Given how often questions about defensive gun usage come up and the wide range of estimates (from around 116,000 per year to millions, depending on the source) as well as the CDC’s clear interest on the topic, one may wonder why this data was never acknowledged.

Perhaps it was simply forgotten, by however many people worked on the BRFSS over the span of three years writing the survey, collecting the data, formatting the data, analyzing the data, and presumably presenting it to someone at CDC. Maybe it was misplaced. Maybe it was lost in a flood.

Maybe. Or perhaps the CDC didn’t report the data because the findings weren’t convenient.  It is hard to advocate banning firearms when the evidence shows a sizeable number of Americans using firearms to defend themselves every year in the United States. Is that more or less likely than a team of researchers forgetting they collected data on a hot-button topic?

It’s hard to come up with an innocent explanation for this, other than the obvious one:  The CDC’s results didn’t fit the agenda, so the results were ignored.

That’s not how science is done, True Believers; that’s how politics is done.  The CDC is supposed to be doing science.  And when the CDC does research on a hot-button issue of the day like this, and when they do it with taxpayer dollars, then the taxpayers damn well have a right to know what the findings were, agenda or no.

They are spending our money, after all.

It’s easy to assume that the CDC was attempting to duplicate the deeply flawed Kellerman study.  But the CDC’s portfolio is supposed to be science – and in science, actual science using recognized scientific method, you make a hypothesis and then gather data and/or do experiments to verify that hypothesis – and if your data contradicts your hypothesis, you change your hypothesis.  CDC did not do this; they just ignored and, worse, hid the inconvenient findings.

This is inexcusable behavior for people supposedly doing research on the public’s dime.