Category Archives: Science

Rule Five Friday

2014_04_11_Rule Five Friday (1)Some interesting work done on crime rates vs. regional gun control laws to go along with some summery Friday Rule Five:  An examination of the effects of concealed weapons laws and assault weapons bans on state-level murder rates.  (link leads to a pdf document.)  Key excerpt from the abstract:

Using data for the period 1980 to 2009 and controlling for state and year fixed effects, the results of the present study suggest that states with restrictions on the carrying of concealed weapons had higher gun-related murder rates than other states. It was also found that assault weapons bans did not significantly affect murder rates at the state level. These results suggest that restrictive concealed weapons laws may cause an increase in gun-related murders at the state level. The results of this study are consistent with some prior research in this area, most notably Lott and Mustard (1997).

2014_04_11_Rule Five Friday (2)And another from the conclusion:

Given that the average gun related murder rate over the period in question was 3.44, the results of the present study indicate that states with more restrictive CCW laws had gun-related murder rates that were 10% higher. In addition, the Federal assault weapons ban is significant and positive, indicating that murder rates were 19.3% higher when the Federal ban was in effect. These results corroborate the findings of Lott and Mustard (1997). These results suggest that, even after controlling for unobservable state and year fixed effects, limiting the ability to carry concealed weapons may cause murder rates to increase.

There may, however, be other explanations for these results. Laws may be ineffective due to loopholes and exemptions. The most violent states may also have the toughest gun control measures. Further research is 2014_04_11_Rule Five Friday (3)warranted in this area.

Further research may be warranted, but the evidence that gun control has little to no effect on crime rates is better supported now than, say, anthropogenic climate change.  The positive effects of liberalized concealed-carry laws is just as well documented.

Which makes the arguments – the tired, stale, old arguments – of gun control proponents all the more baffling.  When Colorado’s concealed-carry law was being debated in the State legislature, we heard them all:

  • 2014_04_11_Rule Five Friday (4)There will be shootouts over parking spaces.
  • People will be killed with their own guns.
  • More handguns in the hands of citizens will mean more crime.
  • Carnage will ensue from untrained people carrying guns.

None of these dire predictions came true – not anywhere.  In fact, CCW permit holders are, as a group, some of the most law-abiding folks you’ll find anywhere.

But statistics aside, there is a matter of principle involved.  Studies such as the one referenced above are useful in making arguments 2014_04_11_Rule Five Friday (6)for public policy, to be sure, but the fact is that a free citizen should be able to make the choice for him or herself as to whether to carry a firearm for self-defense or defense of others.

I carry a gun for a variety of reasons; I’m too young to die and too old to get my ass kicked, I can’t carry a cop, I’d rather take my chances with twelve jurors than six pallbearers, and so on.  But the primary reason I carry is this:  I am a free, law-abiding citizen and it suits me to do so.

If we truly are a free country – if individual liberty still has any meaning – what other reason should be required?

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Animal’s Daily News

Facepalm-bearToday, from News of the Stupid:  Anti-Vaccine Movement is Giving Diseases a Second Life.  Excerpt:

Recent measles outbreaks in New York, California and Texas are examples of what could happen on a larger scale if vaccination rates dropped, says Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s director of immunizations and respiratory diseases. Officials declared measles, which causes itchy rashes and fevers, eradicated in the United States in 2000. Yet this year, the disease is on track to infect three times as many people as in 2009. That’s because in most cases people who have not been vaccinated are getting infected by others traveling into the United States. Then, Schuchat says, the infected spread it in their communities.

The 189 cases of measles in the U.S. last year is small compared with the 530,000 cases the country used to see on average each year in the 20th century. But, the disease — which started to wane when a vaccine was introduced in 1967 — is one of the most contagious in the world and could quickly go from sporadic nuisance to widespread killer.

But here’s the real kicker from this story:

Such measures offend Sarah Pope, a Tampa mother of three, and Shane Ellison, a father of three in Los Angeles. They both decided against vaccinating their kids because they fear the potential side effects.

In 2006, all three of Pope’s children — now 9, 11 and 15 — contracted whooping cough, the same disease that killed Brady. Seven years earlier, Pope had decided against vaccinating any of her children. After seven weeks of coughing, and with treatment by a holistic doctor and natural supplements, all three recovered without complications, she says.

There’s a word for people like Sarah Pope – and it’s “moron.”  Her children are lucky to be alive, and owe no thanks to their idiot mother for their survival – not with her horseshit New Age “holistic doctor” and “natural supplements.”

Yes-YOU-bearFortunately her kids had decent immune systems.  But that doesn’t excuse Pope’s overweening stupidity in subjecting her kids to a potentially fatal disease – and what’s worse, possibly spreading that disease to who knows how many other kids?

Charlatans like these “holistic doctors,” more accurately described as liars and purveyors of snake oil, should be reviled and ridiculed, not held up as authorities.  And Mrs. Pope is – let’s make no mistake about it – a careless and stupid parent.  She should be ashamed of herself, and hopefully her example will serve only as a deterrent.

In sudsier news, here is a tidbit on the Geography of Beer.  Enjoy.

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!
Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Thanks again to Robert Stacy and Smitty for the Rule Five linkage – and also to our pals at The Daley Gator for the same.  Now, on to some geological news:  4.8 Earthquake Shakes Yellowstone.  Excerpt:

The University of Utah Seismograph Stations reports the earthquake occurred at 6:34 a.m. about 4 miles north-northeast of the Norris Geyser Basin. The university reports it was felt in the Montana border towns of West Yellowstone and Gardiner, both about 20 miles from the epicenter.

 Some folks will no doubt fret about the Yellowstone Supervolcano, which will inevitably erupt – someday – and wipe out a good portion of North America, not to mention knocking the earth’s climate into a cocked hat for what may be quite a few years.  Being of a somewhat more sanguine nature than some, I tend to adopt a “What, Me Worry?” attitude towards such things – there’s really no point in worrying about things you can’t change, one way or another.  And these Yellowstone quakes are nothing unusual; the area of the caldera has been geologically active for a long, long time.

Folks living in southern California, now they may have a little more reason to be concerned.  Excerpt:

What, Me Worry?

The Puente Hills thrust fault, which brought Friday night’s magnitude-5.1 quake centered in La Habra and well over 100 aftershocks by Sunday, stretches from northern Orange County under downtown Los Angeles into Hollywood – a heavily populated swath of the Los Angeles area.

A magnitude-7.5 earthquake along that fault could prove more catastrophic than one along the San Andreas, which runs along the outskirts of metropolitan Southern California, seismologists said.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that such a quake along the Puente Hills fault could kill 3,000 to 18,000 people and cause up to $250 billion in damage. In contrast, a larger magnitude 8 quake along the San Andreas would cause an estimated 1,800 deaths.

Smiling BearStill – worrying won’t change it.  One has to feel for the residents of SoCal, though; if the fiscal condition of their state and the peripatetic lunacy of their state government wasn’t bad enough, then to have to add earthquakes to the list of things that can go south…  Well, Colorado by comparison looks mighty good.

Animal’s Daily News

Big Bang Discovery Opens Door to the Multiverse.  Excerpt:

ThisBig-BearGravitational waves rippling through the aftermath of the cosmic fireball, physicists suggest, point to us inhabiting a multiverse, a universe filled with many universes. (See: “Big Bang’s ‘Smoking Gun’ Confirms Early Universe’s Exponential Growth.”)

That’s because those gravitational wave results point to a particularly prolific and potent kind of “inflation” of the early universe, an exponential expansion of the dimensions of space to many times the size of our own cosmos in the first fraction of a second of the Big Bang, some 13.82 billion years ago.

“In most models, if you have inflation, then you have a multiverse,” said Stanford physicist Andrei Linde. Linde, one of cosmological inflation’s inventors, spoke on Monday at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics event where the BICEP2 astrophysics team unveiled the gravitational wave results.

I have to admit that it’s hard to wrap the old brain pan around these kinds of concepts, unless you are a theoretical physicist.   But imagine if you will the idea of a gazillion or so alternate universes – if the number is large enough, would some of those be similar enough to ours to allow other sentient life to evolve?

bears-cute-awesome1-11For a fun if somewhat long-winded look at this idea, take a browse through Robert Heinlein’s Number of the Beast.  The two heroes and two heroines of that piece take a romp through just such a multiverse, using an interdimensional ship that can travel though all the universes – that number being not six hundred and sixty-six, as the title suggests, but rather six to the sixth power to the sixth power.   They discover that each universe is the product of a work of fiction from ours, or rather, than each universe somehow generated a corresponding work of fiction.  They visit Barsoom, and Oz, and the Lensman’s universe, and a bunch more – before running into the inevitable Lazarus Long in a dragged-out and somewhat predictable ending, which was the bane of Heinlein’s later works.

It’s still worth the read.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!
Happy Hump Day!

Another Mittwoch, another week halfway through.

I find it more than a little disappointing that the Smithsonian magazine, a publication nominally concerned with science, would stoop to this:  On the Trail of Florida’s Bigfoot – The Skunk Ape.  Excerpt:

The first time Dave Shealy saw a skunk ape, he says, he was ten years old. It was 1974, a few years after his father had come upon a set of footprints left by the creature—an Everglades version of Bigfoot named for its supposedly pungent odor. Dave was out deer hunting with his older brother, Jack, in the swamp behind his house, in what’s now Big Cypress National Preserve, when he encountered the ape incarnate.

“It was walking across the swamp, and my brother spotted it first. But I couldn’t see it over the grass—I wasn’t tall enough,” Shealy says. “My brother picked me up, and I saw it, about 100 yards away. We were just kids, but we’d heard about it, and knew for sure what we were looking at. It looked like a man, but completely covered with hair.” He and his brother stared at the creature, mouths agape, but almost at the same time, as he tells it, the skies opened and rain poured down. The ape hurried away, into the cypress hummocks scattered amongst the marsh. “Holy crap,” he remembers thinking. “I finally saw this damn thing, and it got away, just like that.”

An expert.
An expert.

Here’s the point:  He didn’t see a skunk ape.

There aren’t any skunk apes.

There aren’t any Bigfoots (Bigfeet?) Yetis, or any other mysterious, hairy, bipedal apes.

Why so confident, you ask?  Simply this:  Biology.  There can’t be just a few of these creatures running around – there has to be a population.  A genetically viable, breeding population – thousands of animals.  In the heavily settled Southeast, it’s staggeringly unlikely that a population of thousands of giant, hairy bipedal apes exists and yet not one has been killed by a car, or shot by a hunter, or died and left remains anywhere where a human could stumble across them.

A corpse, now that would be proof – inarguable proof.  But we don’t have a corpse, we’ve never had a corpse, and unless the dumbfoundingly unlikely actually happens, we won’t have a corpse.  And what’s more, in this era where every cell phone has a camera, nobody manages to get an unarguable photo.  Let a cop start smacking around a gang punk and everyone and their brother is taking video, but a giant, bipedal hairy ape?  Somehow we’re still stuck with grainy, crappy video that could be anything from a man in a gorilla suit to a rerun of I Love Lucy.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.  In this case, there just isn’t any.

But still – videos keep surfacing:


Rule Five Friday

2014_02_28_Rule Five Friday (1)I love Japan.

While all you True Believers enjoy today’s dose of summery totty from the Land of the Rising Sun, consider also the fact that HOLY SHIT IT’S COLD.  Excerpt:

The number of days with subzero temperatures has reached record or near-record levels for many Midwest cities this winter. We have the rankings for several of these cities, starting with two locations that will log day 70 of subzero temperatures on Friday.

Note: A subzero day is one where the temperature fell below zero at any one point during a particular calendar day.

2014_02_28_Rule Five Friday (2)If you grew up in the upper Midwest, like yr. obdt., you’re used to cold winters.  But this year, with the jet stream still stuck somewhere around the Gulf Coast, sucking a bunch of Arctic air down across the country’s midsection, the cold is just hanging on.

And hanging on.

And on.

Now tomorrow is the first of March, and we’re still stuck in January temperatures.  Honestly, Mr. Gore, where is all this global warming?  We could use a little bit of that right now.

One thing, by the way, that’s hard to understand about the whole climate-change controversy.  The fact that the climate changes over time isn’t in doubt.  The question of how much human activity affects 2014_02_28_Rule Five Friday (3)climate is subject to debate.  But consider this; what also isn’t in doubt is that over most of the Earth’s 4.55 billion year history, it’s been warmer than it is now.  As recently as 2,000 years ago, the Romans were growing wine grapes in Britain – an act of agronomy that requires warmer climes than those isles see today.

So who are we to say that the average climate we see today is the “correct” climate?  Who are we to say what the proper temperature is?  Just because this is where it’s been since, say, the Middle Ages?

The fact is, the planet doesn’t have any “correct” temperature.   Many factors affect climate – the Sun, volcanoes, plant life, the positions of the continents as they slide around the Earth at the rate of a fingernail growing, ocean currents and, yes, people.  And all of those factors add up to one thing – an unimaginably complex system that we can’t hope to understand completely, much less model.

2014_02_28_Rule Five Friday (4)And if the Earth were to warm up a few degrees?  Some bad things would happen – coastal areas in particular would have some problems.  But Siberia would blossom into an Asian breadbox.  Alaska’s Matanuska Valley would likewise bloom.

Those who would have us clamp down on all manner of economic activity, like the Keystone pipeline, in the name of “climate change” are peddling a line of buncombe.  Examine carefully their motives- it 2014_02_28_Rule Five Friday (5)generally isn’t about science.

The other side of the unfortunate coin is this:  The unsettled question of climate change has led many – mostly on the right – to include other areas of scientific endeavor in their skepticism, whether their doubt is warranted or not.  And that’s not a good thing.

In the meantime, the deep freeze continues.


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Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!
Happy Hump Day!

Once more into the Hump Day breach!

One wonders about all the implications of this science-y tidbit:  Dad May Join Two Moms for Disease-Free Designer Babies.  Excerpt:

A new technology aimed at eliminating genetic disease in newborns would combine the DNA of three people, instead of just two, to create a child, potentially redrawing ethical lines for designer babies.

The process works by replacing potentially variant DNA in the unfertilized eggs of a hopeful mother with disease-free genes from a donor. U.S. regulators today will begin weighing whether the procedure, used only in monkeys so far, is safe enough to be tested in humans.

Because the process would change only a small, specific part of genetic code, scientists say a baby would largely retain the physical characteristics of the parents. Still, DNA from all three — mother, father and donor — would remain with the child throughout a lifetime, opening questions about long-term effects for this generation, and potentially the next. Ethicists worry that allowing pre-birth gene manipulation may one day lead to build-to-order designer babies.

It takes some doing to wrap the brain around this one.

We’re only really beginning to unravel the mysteries of genetics.  At the moment we can’t guess at what all may be possible – although a lot of ink and pixels have been burned up in speculation, both in fiction and non-fiction.  Robert Heinlein’s entertaining work Friday is one such, the story of a genetically engineered superwoman trained as a combat courier.   A common saying among the artificial humans in that work is this:  “My mother was a test tube – my father was a knife.”

Thoughtful-BearAt the present, here in the real world, there’s no evidence that genetic manipulation could be used to produce designer babies, much less supermen.  But fifty years from now?

Who knows?

Rule Five Friday

2014_02_21_Rule Five Friday (1)Meet Svante Pääbo.  Who is he and why is he interesting?  He’s the Neandertal Hunter, and he’s uncovering some fascinating new information on what makes up modern humans – at least those of us of European, Asian and Middle Eastern descent.

That information?  Neandertal DNA.  Excerpt:

Fired by his early success, Pääbo announced, in 2006, his group would sequence a full Neanderthal genome made of nuclear DNA within two years. In the end, the project was beset by tribulations – contamination, dastardly tricks by rival geneticists, dwindling supplies of Neanderthal bone – and Pääbo was more than a year late in completing the project.

2014_02_21_Rule Five Friday (2)His results provided a shock for both researchers and the public. When he compared his newly created Neanderthal genome with those of modern humans, he found a small but significant overlap in many of them. About 2% of Neanderthal genes could be found in people of European, Asian and far eastern origin. People from Africa had no Neanderthal genes, however. “This was not a technical error of some sort,” Pääbo insists. “Neanderthals had contributed DNA to people living today. It was amazingly cool. Neanderthals were not totally extinct.”

Most scientists, including Pääbo, now account for this result by arguing that modern humans – when they first emerged from Africa – encountered and mated with Neanderthals in the Middle East. Their offspring carried some Neanderthal genes and as modern humans swept through Asia and Europe they carried these genes with them.

2014_02_21_Rule Five Friday (3)There’s a down side, apart from the effect of the Neandertal genes on a couple of my cousins; as Pääbo’s work has uncovered, those genes may also be the cause of some chronic diseases:

Just what that input of Neanderthal DNA has done for Homo sapiens’s evolution is less clear. Pääbo speculates that changes in sperm mobility and alterations in skin cell structure could be involved. In addition, US researchers have recently proposed that Neanderthals passed on gene variants that may have had a beneficial effects in the past but which have now left people prone to type 2 diabetes and Crohn’s disease. “This is work that is going to go on for years,” he adds.

So what’s the upshot of these findings, when we seek to get a little insight into human behavior?  That’s simple:

2014_02_21_Rule Five Friday (4)Sex.  (Thus making this a great topic for a Rule Five Friday post.)

Humans like sex.  And sometimes – maybe much of the time – they aren’t too picky about who they have sex with.

The Neandertal were a controversy for many years.  Initially the preponderance of opinion was that smarter, more adaptable H. sapiens crowded the Neandertal out of Europe and the Levant.  A few enigmatic skeletons seemed to combine modern human and Neandertal features, but none of them were conclusive.

But now we have genetic evidence.   If your ancestry is European, Asian or Middle Eastern, you likely have some Neandertal DNA.  Interesting stuff.

2014_02_21_Rule Five Friday (5)Oh, and Pääbo’s work also uncovered an entire new species of early human – the enigmatic Denisovans.  (To be fair the discovery was made by Russian archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of Novosibirsk, but Pääbo did the genetic analysis that established them as a distinct form.)

It’s a fascinating time to be working in paleoanthropology – or even have it as a particular interest.

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Animal’s Daily News

Scared_smallLouisiana Woman Forced Out of Apartment by Bats.  Bela Lugosi was unavailable for comment.  Excerpt:

Kiara Keasely, who was living in an apartment in the New Orleans suburb was basically forced out of her home when bats that had been living outside the building decided to move inside. She told WVUE, “I decided to move out, pack my stuff and move out because the exterminator wanted to open the vents to free the bats but I didn’t want them to be over my furniture so I moved everything out.”

An exterminator has removed more than 200 of the little guys from the apartment, and plans to release them outside of town, as is required by state law that mandates the bats not be killed. In the meantime, building owner Wendy Whitsett is working on preventing more from coming in.

The exterminator, a well-known bat expert.
The exterminator, a well-known bat expert.

She told the station, “We closed the windows, we sealed up the building wherever they had holes so they can’t come into the building. We caulked the whole building.”

Bats are normally pretty inoffensive little creatures who spend balmy summer nights gulping down millions of mosquitoes and other nasty insects.  On the other hand, they are a known rabies vector.  You really don’t want a few thousand of them bumming around your apartment, drinking your beer and eating all your Cheetos.

Facepalm-bearIn other sort-of science news:  Getting Shot in the Face is Bad.  I believe the appropriate response is “no shit, Sherlock.”  Excerpt:

Published this month in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, “Gunshot wounds and blast injuries to the face are associated with significant morbidity and mortality: Results of an 11-year multi-institutional study of 720 patients” brings scientific precision to the common-sense proposition that bullets to the face are really bad.

Well, at least that’s cleared up.

Animal’s Science Thursday News

Science!Some tidbits from the wonderful world of science!

A Precursor to RNA?  Excerpt:

If RNA was indeed the first biological molecule, discovering how it first formed would illuminate the birth of life. The basic building blocks of RNA were available on prebiotic Earth, but chemists, including (Georgia Institute of Technology chemist Nicholas) Hud, have spent years trying to assemble them into an RNA molecule with little success. About 15 years ago, Hud grew frustrated with that search and decided to explore an alternative idea: Perhaps the first biological molecule was not RNA, but a precursor that possessed similar characteristics and could more easily assemble itself from prebiotic ingredients. Perhaps RNA evolved from this more ancient molecule, just as DNA evolved from RNA.

What’s interesting about this?  We really don’t know much about how life came to be on Earth.  We know quite a lot about what happened once there was life, but the study of life’s origins – abiogenesis – is still working out the basic details.  This may be a step towards a better understanding, maybe even a hypothesis.

Mating With Neandertals Was Hard.  I’ll forgo the obvious joke.  Excerpt:


While past studies have suggested that interbreeding improved immunity and genetics related to disease resistance, it turns out that Neanderthals might have actually passed along some harmful genes, as well.  Studies suggested that genes associated with increased risk of lupus, biliary cirrhosis, Crohn’s disease, and smoking addiction were all inherited from the Neanderthals.

Whoops.  While it’s interesting to know that there are traces of these hardy, resilient humans left, we could probably do without the disease aspects.

One more, this one presenting the possibility of a revolutionary material:  Lighter Than Water, Stronger Than Steel.   Excerpt:

Materials shape human progress – think stone age or bronze age. The 21st century has been referred to as the molecular age, a time when scientists are beginning to manipulate materials at the atomic level to create new substances with astounding properties.

Taking a step in that direction, Jens Bauer at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and his colleagues have developed a bone-like material that is less dense than water, but as strong as some forms of steel. “This is the first experimental proof that such materials can exist,” Bauer said.

Hank Rearden could not be reached for comment.

On that note, we return you to your Thursday, already in progress.