Category Archives: Science

Rule Five Hoofed Rats Friday

RealClearScience scribe Ross Pomeroy informs us that whitetailed deer are a menace and we should kill more of them.  I know plenty of wildlife biologists, farmers and rural residents agree.  Excerpt:

In 2017, the total deer population in the United States was an estimated 33.5 million, down from 38.1 million in 2000. Hunters should rejoice over their excellent shooting, and then get outside and kill millions more.

This macabre call to arms might unsettle anyone whose heart ached at viewing the plight of poor Bambi, but it’s a prescription that’s sorely needed, for at their current population, deer are ravaging ecosystems across the country.

This wasn’t the case at the turn of the nineteenth century. Then, after decades of wanton hunting, there may have been as few as 300,000 deer left roaming the wilds of America. Hunting moratoriums, favorable human-caused ecosystem changes (i.e. more farm land), declining wolf and cougar populations (the major natural predators of deer), two world wars (leaving fewer hunters at home), and yes, the influential film Bambi, all combined to send deer populations skyrocketing during much of the 20th century. The recovery was wonderful for deer, but terrible for other organisms.

Deer devoured countless wildflowers close to extinction and devastated saplings of cedar, hemlock, and oak. All of this eating, amounting to more than 2,000 pounds of plant matter per deer per year, might account for widespread declines of North American songbird populations, which rely on many of the plants upon which deer gorged themselves.

Observing the detrimental changes wrought by grazing deer, legendary ecologist Aldo Leopold wrote, “I have seen every edible bush and seedling browsed, first to anaemic desuetude, and then to death. I have seen every edible tree defoliated to the height of a saddlehorn.”

“I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer.”

It’s important to note that Aldo Leopold, an old-fashioned naturalist as opposed to how the term ‘ecologist’ is tossed around willy-nilly today, was himself a hunter and advocated the use of scientifically managed hunting as a vital tool in wildlife management.  In fact, Leopold is generally regarded as the father of modern wildlife management.

I remember when I was a little kid in Iowa in the late Sixties and early Seventies, seeing a deer was kind of a big deal.  It was exciting – “hey, I saw a deer the other day!”  By the time I left for good in the mid Eighties, they were a damned nuisance.

The various states need to open up deer hunting.  Some Eastern states are starting to; in some places you can shoot one doe a day.  And does are what we need to kill.  They’re the ones that breed.  And they’re great eating.

A population that outgrows the land’s carrying capacity is headed for a bad end, by starvation or pandemic.  We’re already seeing the spread of chronic wasting disease in cervids all over North America.  Bringing to population down some would help prevent what might be a catastrophic end to our deer herds.

The bad thing is, numbers of hunters are dropping in the US.  Take a kid hunting!  It’s good for the kid and good for the environment.

Animal’s Daily Underground Living News

Science!

No, I’m not talking about people living in hobbit-houses.  I’m talking about far more primitive life much, much farther underground.  Excerpt:

There’s life on Earth, and there’s life in Earth. And the latter, overlooked for so long, is coming into focus as a wild menagerie of strange, diverse organisms.

We’ve known for some time that life can thrive even under the surface of the planet, within the very crust beneath the ocean floor.

Today a group of international scientists from the Deep Carbon Observatory reports at the American Geophysical Union’s annual meeting on nearly 10 years of discovering such organisms. The life they found beneath the planet’s surface expands our notions of its limits and opens up new terrain in the search off the Earth, for extraterrestrial life.

What Kind of Life We Talking About Here?

The deep biosphere — sometimes termed a “subterranean Galapagos” — is dominated by microbial life, organisms that derive their energy from rocks. Even though two types of microbes, bacteria and archaea, are the main discoveries, other types of life, including multicellular animals, have been found as well. Genetically, life below the surface is as or even more diverse than what’s above.

Where Are These Things?

All over the globe researchers are finding life by boring holes into the crust, examining deep mines or studying cracks in the Earth.

“Nature brings the samples to us through volcanic fluids leaking out of the sea floor,” says Julie Huber, a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution microbiologist specializing in the study of life around underwater volcanoes. “Almost a mile beneath the surface of the ocean we were able to witness deep-sea lava eruptions — molten lava bombs going off. Yet right nearby the erupting pit, there were lush microbial mats and they were shrimp eating.”

The damn near omnipresence of life on Earth, in habitats we would have thought impossible only a few years ago – hell, we would have thought many of them impossible when I was studying biology in college – makes me wonder if life isn’t more prevalent elsewhere than we think.  Maybe life arises plenty of places; maybe conditions being even halfway favorable are enough.

Intelligent life, though?  That’s another story.  I’d be surprised to find intelligent life to be very common at all, especially given the activities of people in our Imperial City.

Animal’s Daily Vaping News

National treasure John Stossel and his mustache weigh in on vaping.  Excerpt:

“Your kids are not an experiment! Protect them from e-cigarettes,” warns former Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy in a CDC PSA.

My former employer, ABC News, which never finds a risk it doesn’t hype, has run more than a dozen scare stores on vaping. A “Nightline” reporter warned about kids “addicted to nicotine before they even graduate from middle school!”

Yet compared to regular cigarettes, e-cigarettes are “extraordinarily less harmful,” says Michelle Minton of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. In my new newest video she says, “We should really be encouraging people to use vaping.”

Calling vaping safer than smoking doesn’t mean the risks are zero. Vapor contains harmful chemicals, too. But scientists say it’s far less harmful than smoking. If smokers switched to e-cigarettes, that would save millions of lives.

Nicotine is what makes both e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes addictive. But nicotine itself isn’t that bad. Like caffeine, it’s a stimulant.

“On the spectrum of drugs that you can become addicted to,” says Minton, “nicotine and caffeine are very similar.”

The big health risks come from the 7,000 other chemicals generated by burning tobacco leaves.

By contrast, e-cigarette smoke is mostly just flavored vapor, which is less likely to harm anyone.

It doesn’t even smell as bad as cigarettes. “Somebody who’s vaping a huge cloud of Vanilla Cherry Blast, or whatever they’re vaping, is way more pleasant than standing next to somebody exhaling smoke from a combustible cigarette,” observed Minton.

Here’s a question for all of you True Believers; here is the United States Constitution.  Show me in there where the Imperial government has the power to rule over tobacco or other, similar substances.

Couldn’t find it?  Me either.  Anyway…

Its interesting to see how many of our supposed betters feel the compelling need to nanny other folks.  As a casual smoker myself (2-3 cigars a week) I can say honestly that my cigars are a choice I make, knowing the risks, and enjoying a fine smoke in moderation is something I will continue to do.

But the anti-vaping RHEEEE is something I find baffling.  It seems to me that vaping is a valuable tool for helping long-term smokers wean themselves off cigarettes; I would have thought government would want to encourage that.  As for teenagers, would you rather a booming black market grow around vaping – or tobacco?  Because that’s what would happen.

Trust me on this.  When I was in high school in the Seventies, marijuana was very illegal, especially for teens, and yet, nobody had any trouble getting a dime bag if they wanted one.

Maybe someday the nanny-staters will learn.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

There is, apparently, plenty of cash in pseudo-scientific woo.  Just ask Gwyneth Paltrow, but there are other purveyors of all manner of nitwittery.  Excerpt:

Misleading research is costly to society directly because much of it is supported by the federal government, and indirectly, when it gives rise to unwise, harmful public policy.

Social science studies are notorious offenders. A landmark study in the journal Nature Human Behaviour in August reported the results of efforts to replicate 21 social science studies published in the prestigious journals Nature and Science between 2010 and 2015. 

The multi-national team actually “conducted high-powered replications of the 21 experimental social science studies — using sample sizes around five times larger than the original sample sizes” and found that “62% of the replications show an effect in the same direction as the original studies.” One out of the four Nature papers and seven of the seventeen Science papers evaluated did not replicate, a shocking result for two prestigious scientific journals. The authors noted two kinds of flaws in the original studies: false positives and inflated effect sizes.

Science is supposed to be self-correcting. Smart editors. Peer review. Competition from other labs. But when we see that university research claims – published in the crème de la crème of scientific journals, no less — are so often wrong, there must be systematic problems. One of them is outright fraud – “advocacy research” that has methodological flaws or intentionally misinterprets the results.

Science, first off, isn’t a “thing,” or even, really, an occupation.  It’s a method of examining data and arriving at conclusions.  In my consulting business, I spend a lot of time teaching organizations how to examine data and follow it to a conclusion – and I always push them to forget any of their preconceived notions and assumptions; to follow the data where it leads, to form conclusions, and to test those conclusions.

A renowned scientist with his assistants.

The problem is that plenty of folks think of the word “scientist” and get some vague idea of a guy like the Professor in Gilligan’s Island, who could make a cold fusion reactor from three lengths of vine and a coconut.   That allows some who work in scientific disciplines to speak freely on topics they know little about, while maintaining a cloak of respectability.  Take Dr. Neal DeGrasse Tyson, who is an awesome cosmologist; but I once saw him opining about economics, a subject about which he clearly lacks a notion of the difference between ass and face.

And plenty of folks with barely a nodding acquaintance with the scientific disciplines know just enough to sell horseshit to the gullible.  That’s too bad, because while I honestly feel there comes a point where fools and their money deserve to be parted, all too often it’s the very young, the very old, the ignorant and the desperate that are taken advantage of by these charlatans.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

Thanks to our blogger pals over at The Daley Gator for the link!

In our ever-increasingly technological age, want to know what’s coming next?  Smart toilets.  Yes, really.  Excerpt:

AI that screens out spam and recognizes your mom’s face is so 2017. Get ready for smart toilets that’ll scan your poop using artificial intelligence to save you a trip to the doctor.

That’s what Sanjay Mehrotra, chief executive of memory chipmaker Micron Technology, expects as AI spreads to yet another corner of our lives.

“Medicine is going toward precision medicine and precision health,” Mehrotra said at the Techonomy 2018 conference in Half Moon Bay on the Pacific coastline south of San Francisco. “Imagine smart toilets in the future that will be analyzing human waste in real time every day. You don’t need to be going to visit a physician every six months. If any sign of disease starts showing up, you’ll be able to catch it much faster because of urine analysis and stool analysis.”

OK, I have a question:  How long do you suppose it will be before some statist fuckwit gets the bright idea to propose that all smart-toilets be networked into a monitoring system?  Say you don’t eat enough fiber one week, or the potty informs Nanny that you binged on an entire gallon of ice cream last Friday night.  What then?  Will the health police start monitoring your output, the better to control your intake?

Well, that’s probably pretty unlikely.  But this really seems like a solution in search of a problem.  Instead of messing with smart toilets, how about just lifting the damn one-gallon flush regulation so we can get a loo that will actually flush with some force?  Back in the day we had toilets that would flush a cinder block.  Those damn things flushed with some force.

Ah, those were the days.

Animal’s Daily Sky Rat News

Urban Sky Rats

Plenty of urban, suburban and rural residents have wondered this; why the hell are there so many pigeons?  Excerpt:

By the 1600s, rock doves — non-native to the United States — had reached North America, transported by ships in the thousands. Rather than being a food source, it’s most likely that the birds were brought across from Europe to satiate the growing pigeon-breeding trend among hobbyists, said Michael Habib, a paleontologist in the Dinosaur Institute at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, and the University of Southern California.

Inevitably, birds escaped captivity, and began to breed freely in American cities. “We created this novel [urban] habitat and then we basically engineered an animal that does very well in that novel habitat,” Habib told Live Science. “They were successful in cities because we engineered them to be comfortable living around humans.” [Do Birds Really Abandon Their Chicks If Humans Touch Them?]

Cities became the perfect backdrop for the pioneering pigeons’ success. “Pigeons are naturally cliff-dwellers and tall buildings do a pretty great job at mimicking cliffs,” Carlen told Live Science. “Ornate facing, window sills and air-conditioning units provide fantastic perches for pigeons, similar to the crevices found on the side of a cliff.”

Another trait that makes pigeons more adaptable is their appetite. While other bird species have to rely on supplies of berries, seeds and insects, pigeons can eat just about anything that humans toss in the trash. “Other species are specialists and pigeons are the ultimate generalists,” Portugal said. “And the food is endless: I don’t think too many pigeons go to bed hungry!”

The pigeon’s unusual breeding biology seals the deal: Both parents rear their chicks on a diet of special protein- and fat-rich milk produced in a throat pouch called the crop. So, instead of having to rely on insects, worms and seeds to keep their young alive — resources that would be scarcer in cities — pigeons can provide for their offspring no matter what, Portugal says: “As long as the adults can eat, they can feed their babies, too.”

I actually kind of admire pigeons, in the same way that I kind of admire rats and cockroaches – they’re all great survivors.  But pigeons, unlike those others, can be good eating.  When I was a kid back in Iowa, we routinely shot clean farm pigeons and tossed them in the crock-pot with onions, carrots and potatoes, making for some fine eating.

Some animals find humans troubling; we cut their forests, encroach on their habitats, interfere with their migrations.  But plenty of other animals do very well around humans, not only the aforementioned rats, pigeons and roaches but also white-tailed deer, black bears, raccoons, coyotes, squirrels, and many more.  Pigeons are just one of those lucky species, albeit one with a long, long history of co-cohabiting with humanity.

There are so many pigeons because they are adaptable.  Adaptability is a great survival strategy.  Our own ancestors learned that once.

Animal’s Daily Doggone News

Thanks to our pals over at The Daley Gator for the linkback!  If you don’t look at that site daily (or Daley) you should.

Moving right along:  Apparently folks in China have cloned twenty different breeds of dogs, and they claim humans are next.  Excerpt:

A 12-year-old schnauzer has become the latest canine to undergo the process, which involves taking a skin sample from the animal.

Wang Yinqing, who is the dog’s owner, showed off the puppy to its “father clone” name Doudou in a recently-released snap.

However, despite the dogs having the identical DNA, scientists have said they may have a different temperament as this is shaped by its upbringing.

According to Chinese news, there have now been 200 different types of dog cloned in the country.

And last month, the world came closer to carrying out mass human cloning.

Japanese experts revealed they made human egg cells from blood using a cutting-edge stem cell testing technique.

Although these eggs cannot be grown into babies as they are too immature, the research is paving the way for this type of experiment.

Now I will confess when I saw this article, my first thought was “Is there suddenly some shortage of people in China?”  It doesn’t seem like they’re desperate enough for population to start cloning, although I seem to remember that Russia has a pretty significant demographic problem; maybe China could sell them some cloning clinics.

Gypsy in her favorite surroundings.

Back to dogs.

I had a dog in a million once.  Gypsy was an English Springer Spaniel of the field strain, a long-legged, rangy, fast, tough dog, small enough to share a pickup cab easily with her owner (45 pounds or so) but big enough to retrieve big pheasants and mountain grouse.

She died in 1999.  I cut my elk hunt short that year to rush home and spend Gyp’s last few hours with her.  I loved that dog.

Would I have cloned her, had the technology existed then?  No.

I know this is becoming a vanity thing, cloning a beloved pet, but as even the article above notes, the cloned animal won’t be a duplicate.  You can’t step into the same river twice, and you can’t exactly reproduce a good gun dog by cloning; the unique combination of genetics and environment will never be exactly the same.

I’d rather remember Gyp the way she was, and when the time comes when I can give up my semi-nomadic existence and have another gun dog, I’ll get another dog entirely.

China can keep their clones.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

I’m not saying it was aliens – but it may have been aliens.  Excerpt:

In August 2017, the Breakthrough Listen team discovered 21 fast radio bursts from FRB 121102 during five hours of observations made by a radio telescope in Green Bank, West Virginia. In their latest study, which will be published in an upcoming issue of the Astrophysical Journal, the researchers deployed a specialized AI technique known as deep learning to see if any signals had been overlooked in their initial research.

Siemion gave Yunfan “Gerry” Zhang, a doctoral student at Berkeley, the job of training a deep learning algorithm to hunt for the additional bursts. The trained AI was turned loose to sort through 400 terabytes of observational data — a huge trove containing about as much data as is contained in 40,000 hours of 4K video.

After a month of work, Zhang strolled into Siemion’s office and told his stunned mentor that he had discovered about 100 previously undetected bursts. To be sure Zhang was right, the researchers used standard computer software to clean up the messy signals — and confirmed the existence of at least 72 additional bursts.

The same AI approach could help astronomers find new repeating sources of fast radio bursts closer to Earth than FRB 121102. If closer repeater sources do exist, astronomers might be able to get a better look at them using optical and X-ray telescopes, says Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb, the science theory director for all initiatives funded by the Breakthrough Prize Foundation.

Here’s the catch:  The FRB’s they have detected left their points of origin millions of years ago.  So if these are somehow signals from an alien civilization, then it’s highly probable that the civilization that produced them has either died out or grown to become so advanced as to be beyond our comprehension.

I suspect that there will be some natural explanation uncovered for fast radio bursts.  But if they do turn out to be produced by some alien intelligence, one that lived a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away – I wonder what they’ll be saying?  It would be disappointing to have the first message from an alien intelligence be their equivalent of a cat meme.

Animal’s Daily Friend Zone News

Suffering from a shortage of good friends?  Turns out folks may like you more than you think.

Or do they?  Excerpt:

Erica Boothby of Cornell University, and her colleagues Gus Cooney, Gilliam Sandstrom, and Margaret Clark, of Harvard University, University if Essex, and Yale University, conducted a series of studies to find out what our conversation partners really think of us. In doing so, they discovered a new cognitive illusion they call “the liking gap:” our failure to realize how much strangers appreciate our company after a bit of conversation.

The researchers observed the disconnect in a variety of situations: strangers getting acquainted in the research laboratory, first-year college students getting to know their dorm mates over the course of many months, and community members meeting fellow participants in personal development workshops. In each scenario, people consistently underestimated how much others liked them.

The discrepancy in perspectives happened for conversations that spanned from 2 minutes to 45 minutes, and was long-lasting. For much of the academic year, as dorm mates got to know each other and even started to develop enduring friendships, the liking gap persisted. 

The data also revealed some of the potential reasons for the divide: we are often harsher with ourselves than with others, and our inner critic prevents us from appreciating how positively other people evaluate us. Not knowing what our conversation partners really think of us, we use our own thoughts as a proxy—a mistake, because our thoughts tend to be more negative than reality.

We’re social animals, that’s for sure and for certain.  And reading this was interesting for me, a peripatetic consultant, a guy who has been happily self-employed for over fifteen years and who has been pretty good at it.  In the course of this I’ve learned a few things, not least of which was how to talk with folks.  Why is this important?

Because people like to do business with people they like.

Social discourse is important to almost everyone, and for a variety of reasons.  But for those of us who make their livings as independent contractors, it’s essential.  I’m apparently lucky to have been outfitted since my youth with what Mrs. Animal describes as “farm-boy charm” but the main thing in such matters is to be open, honest and forthright.

People like to do business with people they like.  And, as we are social animals – and political animals – people who engage are usually seen as more likable.

If these Ivy League researchers had’a asked me, I could’a told ’em.

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Thanks as always to Pirate’s Cove and The Other McCain for the Rule Five links!

Moving along:  It seems beer has been with us for a lot longer than many folks suspected.  Excerpt:

A new study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports suggests beer brewing practices existed in the Eastern Mediterranean over five millennia before the earliest known evidence, discovered in northern China. In an archaeological collaboration project between Stanford University in the United States, and University of Haifa, Israel, archeologists analyzed three stone mortars from a 13,000-year old Natufian burial cave site in Israel. Their analysis confirmed that these mortars were used for brewing of wheat/barley, as well as for food storage.

“Alcohol making and food storage were among the major technological innovations that eventually led to the development of civilizations in the world, and archaeological science is a powerful means to help reveal their origins and decode their contents,” said Li Liu, PhD, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, Stanford University, USA. “We are excited to have the opportunity to present our findings, which shed new light on a deeper history of human society.”

The earliest archaeological evidence for cereal-based beer brewing even before the advent of agriculture comes from the Natufians, semi-sedentary, foraging people, living in the Eastern Mediterranean between the Paleolithic and the Neolithic periods, following the last Ice Age. The Natufians at Raqefet Cave collected locally available plants, stored malted seeds, and made beer as a part of their rituals.

The only ritual I generally use beer for is the normal Friday night beer-and-pizza blowing off steam that is part of the normal routine at the Casa del Animal, wherever that Casa happens to be at the moment.

But it’s interesting to see how far back that highly enjoyable mug o’ suds goes.  One suspects that today’s aficionados would have a hard time recognizing what those long-ago folks called beer, but that doesn’t mean it might not be enjoyable.

And, of course, as with other alcoholic beverages (like wine, another adult beverage with a long history), in those long-ago times many folks quaffed beer because it was safe to drink.  That couldn’t always be said for the water.

Hell, it can’t be said for the water in plenty of places now.  Were I for some unknown reason having a meal today in, say, Flint, Michigan, I think I’d rather have some of Alley-Oop’s beer than the local water.

So, here’s to the suds!  May they long be with us.

Deep thoughts, news of the day, totty and the Manly Arts.