Category Archives: Science

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!
Happy Hump Day!

Let’s talk about more science stuff today; Anti-GMO Activists Are Harming Hungry Africans.  Excerpt:

African crop yields lag well behind those of the world’s developed countries, and the continent’s food security is shaky at best. Starvation is an ever-present threat for many, and the impending effects of climate change loom ominously in the distance. But scientists have solutions, genetically modified crops that are resistant to droughts, pests, and disease, that, pending government approval, are ready for planting. Dismayingly, Luddite anti-GMO campaigners have smeared these potential problem-solvers as unsafe and unnatural, and as a result, to-date no African government has approved the use of GM crops.

Looking for a logical argument coming from the kind of eco-Luddites who oppose things like GMO crops and vaccines is like looking for a piece of straw in an enormous stack of needles, but even that isn’t the worst of it.  The thing is this:  Africa should be a wealthy continent.  The place is huge; you could drop the United States and Russia into Africa and have room left over for a Europe or two.  It has enormous mineral wealth, some of the world’s best farmlands, and plenty of manpower.

So, what’s holding Africa back?

Sleepy-bearGenerations of fundamentally corrupt governments, for one thing.  In some places – like Sudan – Islamic nutballery is a big part of the problem.  But the West has limited ability to affect those things.  What can we affect?

We could – and should – stop helping them.

Heartless?  Not at all.  The GMO controversy is just one way in which well-meaning but ignorant outsiders are preventing the spread of technology that could revolutionize African agriculture.  And yes, the anti-GMO protestors are ignorant; no reputable study has ever found a threat to human health from GMO crops (see here and here.)

What’s interesting is that the anti-GMO nuts are almost invariably members of the political Left.  I thought the political Left was supposed to be pro-science?

In all candor, in our country at least, this is probably more a symptom of the United States’ utter failure in basic science education than anything else.

Animal’s Daily News

Smiling BearThanks as always to The Other McCain for our inclusion in the Sunday Rule Five index!

This morning, let’s look at some tidbits from the world of science.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Is a Fucking Idiot.  ‘Nuff said.

Check out the vehicle that people could drive on Mars.  I doubt you’ll see one at a showroom near you any time soon.  Too bad.

The Secret of Natural Sandstone Arches.  Sandstone arches, not Golden Arches; the only secret to the latter is how they manage to stay in business while serving such crappy food.

What Happened When A State Accidentally Legalized Prostitution.  Thumbnail:  Rape cases decreased.  Specifically:  “The statewide incidence of gonorrhea among women declined by 39 percent, and the number of rapes reported to police in the state declined by 31 percent, according to the paper.”

Finally, in answer to a question that nobody had ever asked until now:  Scientists Use MRI to Measure Precisely How Your Butt Deforms When You Sit Down.  Excerpt:

The complex deformation of buttocks tissue seen in this case study may help explain the inconsistent results reported in finite element models. 3D imaging of the seated buttocks provides a unique opportunity to study the actual buttocks response to sitting.”

Uh… OK?

And on that note, we return you to your Tuesday, already in progress.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!
Happy Hump Day!

This just in from the wonderful world of astro-science – or, perhaps, astro-speculation.  NASA: Humans Will Prove ‘We Are Not Alone In The Universe’ Within 20 Years.  Excerpt:

Speaking at NASA’s Washington headquarters on Monday, the space agency outlined a plan to search for alien life using current telescope technology, and announced the launch of the Transiting Exoplanet Surveying Satellite in 2017. The NASA administrators and scientists estimate that humans will be able to locate alien life within the next 20 years.

“Just imagine the moment, when we find potential signatures of life. Imagine the moment when the world wakes up and the human race realizes that its long loneliness in time and space may be over — the possibility we’re no longer alone in the universe,” said Matt Mountain, director and Webb telescope scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, which plans to launch the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018.

Let’s forget the technical aspects of this for a moment, and let’s also forget the likelihood of NASA actually finding life – in fact, let’s forget about intelligent life altogether, since we’re still looking for that right here on Earth in the Imperial City.  Instead:  Imagine the consequences if NASA (or anyone else) were to find evidence of life somewhere other than Earth.  Some good candidates are present right here in our own solar system, after all – plenty of biologists are just dying to know what might be lurking under Europa’s ice pack.

Space ChicksFirst:  Earth loses it’s one-of-a-kind status.  We’re no longer the special exception.  Life exists elsewhere, and presumably – since in all the vastness of the Universe, we have found it on another world in our tiny little sphere of perception, life exists lots of places.

Second:  Imagine the consequences for the world’s religions.  Not being religious myself it’s probably easier in some ways to imagine the impact, but in other ways it’s doubtlessly harder.  What happens to adherents to mainstream religions when it is proven that Earth’s life-bearing status is not unique?

Finally:  If life is found elsewhere, how long will it be before the not-so-intelligent life in the Imperial City tries to a) tax it and b) regulate it?

Thoughts?

Animal’s Daily (Science) News

Harp BearA few tidbits from the world of science:

It seems there is now a super-banana.  The bananas are engineered to contain boosted levels of several essential vitamins.  One wonders if this will get the anti-GMO nitwits all spun up, and if they will attempt to deprive African children of a tasty source of essential vitamins.

Star within a star discovered.  Insert the obligatory joke about the marital lives of Hollywood actors here.

On that note:  Why are these bears having oral sex?  Now there’s a question you didn’t expect to see asked.

From the “answers to questions nobody is asking” category:  Mystery solved:  why a Turkish family walks on all fours.

What if the Earth stopped spinning?  (video.)  Maybe all of the politicians would be flung into space – in which case it would be tempting to conclude it was worth it.

Finally, bonobos reveal the evolution of human kindness.  Since there seems to be a rather dramatic shortage of human kindness going around the world at the moment, maybe we should ask the bonobos for a refresher lesson?

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

Animal’s Daily Science News

Science!
Science!

It’s time for a Science Thursday.

First, for something cheerful:  Global Catastrophic Risks.  Yeah, why not?  Of course, from my personal viewpoint, humanity will end with me.  Or to put it another way:  I intend to live forever, and from my perspective – I will.

But then, we might be able to outrun a catastrophe – we were evolved to be marathoners.  Excerpt:

For our size, we humans have the biggest brains in the animal kingdom, but physically we appear pretty mediocre.

Surprisingly, it turns out that your average fit human can outrun a deer. In fact, a theory claims that we humans evolved the ability to be good endurance runners, so we could chase animals for hours, run them to a Derp Bearstandstill, and kill them. The theory continues that their high-density protein and energy helped our brains evolve bigger and bigger.

Too bad, given that evolutionary heritage, that brains seemto be in such short supply in the Imperial City.

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

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!
Happy Hump Day!

Interesting news from the world of science!

Have we found the biggest dinosaur ever?  In true scientific fashion – science being by necessity a tentative discipline – the answer is “maybe.”  Excerpt:

Paleontologists working in Argentina have uncovered the bones of what may be the largest dinosaur ever. I want to stress the uncertainty in that opening sentence. Despite various news outlets already calling the contest, we don’t yet know which titanic dinosaur wins the superlative of “biggest creature ever to walk the Earth.”

Don’t misunderstand me – the new find is certainly worth getting excited about. Found by a farm worker in the vicinity of La Flecha, Argentina, and excavated by a crew from the Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio, the 95 million year old site contains over 150 bones belonging to seven individuals of  the same long-necked, heavy-bodied species. Even better, the dinosaur might be new to science, and the presence of so many specimens in one spot could yield detailed insights into the growth, ecology, and behavior of the dinosaur.

Smiling BearMind you that behavior doesn’t fossilize, but fossils – and especially groups of fossils- can lead to insights about behavior.  How?  Herd makeup, for one thing, the ration of male to female, young to old, and so forth.  Better still, sometimes paleontologists find preserved trackways, behavior literally recorded in time for us to decipher.

I remain as excited about dinosaurs as when I was a little tad.  The new discoveries now are coming fast and furious, at least by the standards of the 1960s when I first started following dino-news.  Who knows what they’ll find next?

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!
Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Thanks to The Other McCain for the Rule Five linkage!

MIT astronomerSara Seager is determined to find another Earth.  Excerpt:

Two months shy of turning 40, the MIT astronomer Sara Seager decided to throw herself a highly unconventional birthday party. She rented a wood-paneled auditorium in the university’s Media Lab. She invited a few dozen colleagues, including an influential former astronaut and the director of the Space Telescope Science Institute. In lieu of presents, she asked 14 of her guests to respond to a challenge: help her plot a winning strategy to find another Earth, and do it within her lifetime.

“Hundreds or thousands of years from now, when people look back at our generation, they will remember us for being the first people who found the Earth-like worlds,” Seager began. She paced tightly, dressed all in black except for a long red-and-pink scarf, and spoke in her distinctive staccato voice into a hand-held microphone. “I’ve convened all of you here because we want to make an impact and we want to make that happen. We are on the verge of being those people, not individually but collectively.”

Think about this for a moment.  Forget all the exoplanets we’ve found already – think of the implications of finding an Earth-size planet in another system, one in the habitable zone that shows spectral lines for water vapor and, say, chlorophyll in it’s atmosphere.  Thing of what happens if we see spectra implying Thoughtful-Bearsomething is burning hydrocarbons in that atmosphere.

In fact, forget intelligent life.  Imagine an exoplanet with evidence of any life at all.  Think of the impact that will have on the world’s religious communities.  Think of what it will mean to our perception of ourselves, knowing that in the broadest sense, we are not alone.

Isaac Asimov brilliantly titled one of his Empire novels The Stars, Like Dust.  it will be amazing to find living beings on one of these otehr dust motes.

Animal’s Science Tuesday News

Science!
Science!

A few science-y stories today.

White Holes Could Exists – But That Doesn’t Mean They Do.  Presumably a white hole is the other end of a black hole – not that anyone is anxious to go through a black hole to test that theory.

It seems the first Earthly colonists to Mars may be bacteria.  Only a few years ago everyone assumed that harsh conditions in space would kill any Earthly hitchhikers, but that’s no longer a safe assumption; discover and study of extremophiles has shown that some bugs can live damn near anywhere.

Lawrence Livermore has discovered element 117.  The new element has not been named; given the predilection for naming these super-heavy elements after Roman dieties, I would suggest the name Penianium after a minor Roman god of poverty.  Why?  Because it’s funny, in a mildly juvenile way.  Sound it out.  Right?

Science!While I’m on the topic of immaturity, it seems a certain protein can return aged brains (and bodies) to youthful vigor – in mice.  Still, an interesting find.  How long would it take to get this protein into mass production?

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

Rule Five Friday

2014_05_02_Rule Five Friday (1)Is Skynet Inevitable?  Excerpt:

In the latest Spike Jonze movie, Her, an operating system called Samantha evolves into an enchanting, self-directed intelligence with a will of her own. Samantha makes choices that do not harm humanity, though they do leave viewers feeling a bit sadder.

In his terrific new book, Our Final Invention, documentarian James Barrat argues that visions of an essentially benign artificial general intelligence (AGI) like Samantha amount to silly pipe dreams. Barrat believes artificial intelligence is coming, but he thinks it will be more like Skynet.

2014_05_02_Rule Five Friday (2)In the Terminator movies, Skynet is an automated defense system that becomes self-aware, decides that human beings are a danger to it, and seeks to destroy us with nuclear weapons and terminator robots. Barrat doesn’t just think that Skynet is likely. He thinks it’s practically inevitable.

Is it really inevitable?

At present we are in the midst of mankind’s third great cultural revolution.   The Agricultural Revolution made it possible for people to produce more than they consumed; it made possible trade, a 2014_05_02_Rule Five Friday (3)division of labor, the birth of villages, towns, cities.

Later, the Industrial Revolution gave us mass production, factories, consumer goods; it gave us railroads, automobiles, aircraft, travel, and leisure time.  It gave us the first modern standard of living.

Now, we find ourselves in the Information Revolution, and it will be as world-changing as the first two – it already has been, even now, in its infancy.  Who is to know what the next hundred years will bring?

Reason.com concludes:

Barrat concludes with no grand proposals for regulating or banning the development of artificial intelligence. Rather he offers his book as “a heartfelt invitation to join the most important conversation humanity can have.” His thoughtful case about the dangers of ASI gives even the 2014_05_02_Rule Five Friday (4)most cheerful technological optimist much to think about.

Much to think about – but predictions are notoriously hard to make, especially when they’re about the future.  AI may prove difficult to produce, and fickle when it’s realized – or it may be as predictable and reliable as the rising sun, and as gentle as the morning rain.  We can’t know, and won’t – until it happens.

2014_05_02_Rule Five Friday (5)

Goodbye, Blue Monday

2014_04_28_Goodbye, Blue Monday
Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Apparently – according to The Conversation – the discovery of habitable planets may not bode well for mankind.  Excerpt:

Last week, scientists announced the discovery of Kepler-186f, a planet 492 light years away in the Cygnus constellation. Kepler-186f is special because it marks the first planet almost exactly the same size as Earth orbiting in the “habitable zone” – the distance from a star in which we might expect liquid water, and perhaps life.

What did not make the news, however, is that this discovery also slightly increases how much credence we give to the possibility of near-term human extinction. This is because of a concept known as the Great Filter.

The Great Filter is an argument that attempts to resolve the Fermi Paradox: why have we not found aliens, despite the existence of hundreds of billions of solar systems in our galactic neighbourhood in which life might evolve? As the namesake physicist Enrico Fermi noted, it seems rather extraordinary that not a single extraterrestrial signal or engineering project has been detected (UFO conspiracy theorists notwithstanding).

This apparent absence of thriving extraterrestrial civilisations suggests that at least one of the steps from humble planet to interstellar civilisation is exceedingly unlikely. The absence could be caused because either intelligent life is extremely rare or intelligent life has a tendency to Shy Beargo extinct. This bottleneck for the emergence of alien civilisations from any one of the many billions of planets is referred to as the Great Filter.

The tenor of this article is pessimistic – the main thrust being that intelligent life has a near-inavoidable tendency to self-destruction, which is why no near neighbors have yet paid us a call.

But, given the vastness just of our own galaxy, that doesn’t necessarily make sense.  Our own Milky Way contains somewhere between 100 and 400 billion stars.  If one in ten of those stars has planets, that’s somewhere between ten and forty billion solar systems – if one in a thousand of those systems has a habitable world, that’s somewhere between a ten and forty million habitable worlds.

That’s a lot of real estate, True Believers.  Most of it hundred or thousands of light years away.

And we’re worried about the destructive tendencies of all intelligent life because, out of all that vastness, we haven’t picked up a radio signal in the paltry few decades we’ve been listening?  That’s far from enough to be convincing.  And, besides, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Although, personally, and just for now, I’d be pleased with some evidence of intelligent life in Washington.