Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A look back in time; Ben Stein was also an idiot back then

PZ Myers links to a description of the newest stupidity of Ben Stein's economical advice. It's rather painful. However, even more interestingly, commenter JP points us to an old piece by Ben Stein where he accuses Paul Krugman of having a "limited background in economics".


Paul Krugman is not one to mince words, so his response is quite entertaining.

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Jumping Jupiter's Jets!

Ok, bad headline, but what can I say, I suck at headlines (if you haven't noticed that, you haven't been paying attention to my headlines).

Last March, astronomers observed some spectacular storms in the atmosphere of Jupiter, affecting the jet streams of Jupiter. It's not the first time this phenomenon has been observed, but this time it has lead to an international team looking into it.

According to ScienceDaily the team has been successful in understanding the phenomenon better.

Mystery Of Jupiter's Jets Uncovered

At the end of March 2007, scientists all over the world observed with surprise and awe a rare change in the atmosphere of Jupiter. A giant perturbation occurred amongst its clouds and two extremely bright storms erupted in the middle latitudes of the northern hemisphere, where its most intense jet stream - reaching speeds of 600 kilometers per hour – resides. Research into these unusual storms (previous ones had been seen in 1975 and 1990) and the reaction of the jet to them, undertaken by an international team coordinated by Agustín Sánchez-Lavega, from the Higher Technical School of Engineering of the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), gives a more precise idea about the origin of these current flows and likewise can help to gain a better understanding of terrestrial meteorology.

Quite interesting. A what did they discover - well, let me quote the ScienceDaily article, as it explains it better than I could ever hope to do.

According to the study, the very bright storms are formed amongst the deepest clouds of water on the planet, rising vigorously and injecting a mixture of ice ammonia and water up to 30 km above the visible clouds. The storms move with the maximum velocity of the jet, - more than 600 kilometers per hour, creating disturbances and generating a stele of turbulence of reddish clouds that circle the whole planet. The infrared images show the brilliant festoons that make up the storms abandoning the jet stream to leeward.

Surprisingly, and despite the enormous amount of energy deposited by the storms and the mixture and whirlwinds generated thereby, the jet stream stayed practically still during all this perturbation and, when it was over, this stayed robust, despite the event suffered. The computer models simulating the progress of the phenomenon suggested that the jet stream goes deep into Jupiter’s atmosphere, to more than 100 km below the visible cloud level and where solar energy cannot reach.

This confirms the results previously obtained by the Galileo probe when it penetrated Jupiter’s atmosphere in December 1995. Although the regions studied are meteorologically different, everything points to Jupiter’s jet streams going very deep and suggests that the internal energy source plays an important role in its generation, states Mr Sánchez-Lavega

Quite fascination, though I am a little at lost of what it can tell us about our own planet's meteorology. Since it's way outside my field, I will take their words for it though.

The research is covered in the current issue of Nature, unfortunately behind a pay-wall. If you have access, it can be found here

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

And I though Ron Paul was bad

It's no great secret that I am not a fan of the current crop of Republican candidates. With the possible exception of John McCain, I consider them nearly as bad as the current President, and I even consider Ron Paul worse, because of his well documented ties to extremists. Seems like Ron Paul isn't as bad as Huckabee though.

dogemperor over at Daily Kos has the story:
BREAKING: Mike Huckabee member of Bill Gothard cult

If this is true, and dogemperor certainly presents compelling evidence that it is, then it's really bad news.

You can get a bit of a glimpse of Gothard's character in this article in In These Times, or read dogemperor's earlier posts on the subject.

Huckabee needs to be kept away from any position of influence.

Edit: I should probably make clear that I have no patience with Ron Paul supporters spamming the comments. This post is about Huckabee, not Ron Paul.

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Lazy linking

I have been crazy busy for the last couple of weeks, which is why there has been relatively little blogging from me lately, and I am just now catching up on my favorite blogs. As usually, there are some really good posts out there in the blogsphere.

Over at Feministing Ann Friedman explains how Antichoicers continue to invent side-effects of abortion

Jill, of Feministe pointed us to this article over at AlterNet: For the New Anti-Choice Movement, It's All About the Men by Sarah Blustain, The Nation.
It's in the Reproductive Justice and Gender section at Alternet, which Jill is apparently running. It's a great resource.

One of my old haunts on the internet, Readerville, is a book oriented forum. It started up in 2000, and in 2002 there came a off-shot in the form of a magazine, The Readerville Journal. Unfortunately it folded after only 6 issues. However, it now lives again in an online form: The Readerville Journal.
I still participates in some debates in the forum, though I am not as active as I used to be.

PZ Myers tells us about the newest discovery of an extinct rodent of unusual size: Monster mouse

Over at the Science Based Medicine blog, Steven Novella explains the Placebo Effect.

There is a new Carnival of the Godless up over at Tangled Up in Blue Guy: Peer Reviewed Journal of The Carnival of the Godless. And there is a new Skeptics' Circle up at the Skeptical Surfer: Skeptics' Circle #78 - The "Still High From The Chelation" Edition

The always fantastic Abbie/ERV writes about anti-vaccination in 1888. The more things change, the more they stay the same.


The other side of Mercury

The NASA spacecraft MESSENGER has managed to orbit Mercury, and take a picture of the previously unseen side of Mercury, giving us the first glimpse.

You can see the picture at NASA's MESSENGER website.

Edit: National Geographic has more

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Evolution is not random

We all know that a lot of people misunderstand the concept of evolution, and believes it to be random ("pure chance"), but this is not what the theory states at all.

Now, a new international study shows that the theory is right, and evolution is not random.

Via ScienceDaily:
New Findings Confirm Darwin's Theory: Evolution Not Random

According to Darwin’s theory of evolution, individuals in a species pass successful traits onto their offspring through a process called “deterministic inheritance.” Over multiple generations, advantageous developmental trends – such as the lengthening of the giraffe’s neck – occur.

An opposing theory says evolution takes place through randomly inherited and not necessarily advantageous changes. Using the giraffe example, there would not be a common neck-lengthening trend; some would develop long necks, while others would develop short ones.

Now, the findings of an international team of biologists demonstrate that evolution is not a random process, but rather occurs through the natural selection of successful traits. The collaborative study by researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Israel, the U.S, France and Germany is published in the November 2007 issue of Current Biology (vol. 17, pp. 1925-1937).

To settle the question about whether evolution is deterministic or random, the researchers used various tools – including DNA strand analysis and electronic microscopy – to study female sexual organ development in 51 species of nematode, a type of worm commonly used to better understand evolutionary processes.

The findings showed similar development in the species, which falsifies the idea that the development is random.

The Current Biology article about the study, can be found here:
Trends, Stasis, and Drift in the Evolution of Nematode Vulva Development. It's quite technical, and much of it went over my head. Still, it's worth taking a look at.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Book review: Faust in Copenhagen

Gino Segrè: Faust in Copenhagen - A Struggle for the Soul of Physics

I just finished this book a few days ago, and I quite liked it. I picked it up because I've seen it mentioned a few places, generally positively, and because it relates to Copenhagen.

Segrè tries to not only tell us about a satirical production of Faust made at an informal gathering at the Niels Bohr Institute (in Copenhagen) in 1932, but to use it as a basis for a biography of not only the birth of an entire field of Physics (Quatum), but also provide biographies of several of the people present at that meeting, and explain their contributions to the field.

Considering that most of these people were giants of the field (e.g. Heisenberg or Ehrenfest), and one towered even above them (Niels Bohr), the later alone would seem an impossible task. Yet, Segrè manages not only that, but also manages to explain the role of other important people, like Einstein, Fermi, Oppenheimer, and Schrödinger, and actually gives a quite interesting introduction to the field, and the discoveries that created it.

Segrè is a theoretical physicist himself, and this book is a work of love to the field, and a deep appreciation of those who made it possible.

On a more nationalistic level, it's interesting to see Segrè revere towards Niels Bohr, who is certainly considered a great physicist in Denmark, but is not hold to the same high esteem as Segrè holds him (and which his fellow physicists apparently held him). This esteem comes not only from Bohr's direct contributions to the field, but also to this role as a mentor for some of the greatest minds of the field (Segrè attributes much of the informal tone of theoretic physics to Bohr and his institute).

All in all, I can only recommend the book highly.

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New knowledge about glacier behavior

I wasn't aware that the behavior of outlet glaciers was still clouded in mystery, but from what I can understand from this ScienceDaily article, there have been some unexplained behavior.

Alaska Glacier Speed-up Tied To Internal Plumbing Issues, Says Study

A University of Colorado at Boulder study indicates meltwater periodically overwhelms the interior drainpipes of Alaska's Kennicott Glacier and causes it to lurch forward, similar to processes that may help explain the acceleration of glaciers observed recently on the Greenland ice sheet that are contributing to global sea rise.

Basically, glaciers have some paths through which water can travel, but occasionally, those paths might not be enough, and the whole glacier moves. This has probably started to happen more frequently because of the increased amount of melting that happens because of the increased temperatures.

The study was published in a new monthly scientific journal, Nature Geoscience. To my surprise, it's possible to access the full paper: Response of glacier basal motion to transient water storage

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

I think this will be great news for people working under deadlines

Via ScienceDaily, I see that researchers reverse effects of sleep deprivation

Researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine have shown that the effects of sleep deprivation on cognitive performance can be reversed when the naturally occurring brain peptide, orexin-A, is administered in monkeys.

This is a very interesting finding, since earlier research has shown that it's possible to reach a state where it's no longer possible to catch up on sleep when sleep deprived. See Youngsoo Kim et al (link takes you to the abstract, but if you click on the pdf link in the right side, you can get to the full article).

This is obviously more Coturnix's field of expertise, but I would guess that it will need more research into the long term harmful effects of 'catching up' with this peptide has been investigated. It might be that it's 'cost free' so to speak, but before used on humans, we have to be certain about this (or at least know the costs).

The research was published in the Journal of Neuroscience, and the abstract can be found here. The full article is unfortunately hidden behind a pay wall.

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A new Skeptics' Circle is up

Over at WhiteCoat Underground, the 77th Skeptics' Circle is up.

Go forth and enjoy.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Much needed new blog in town

As most of my readers are probably aware, there is a great new group blog called Science Based Medicine.

It can be considered similar to blogs like The Panda's Thumb and RealClimate, both of which focuses on debunking pseudo- and anti-science related to a specific topic.

Science Based Medicine describes itself thus:

Science-Based Medicine is a new daily science blog dedicated to promoting the highest standards and traditions of science in medicine and health care. The mission of this blog is to scientifically examine medical and health topics of interest to the public. This includes reviewing newly published studies, examining dubious products and claims, providing much needed scientific balance to the often credulous health reporting, and exploring issues related to the regulation of scientific quality in medicine.

Another daily read is added to the long list.

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Seems like exercise can be good for the brain

The always interesting Abel Pharmboy from Terra Sigillata, brings our attention to some research on the effect of binge-drinking on the brain: Binge-drinking, brain damage, and potential reversal by exercise

The fact that alcohol intake can affect your brain badly is hardly news, but the idea that exercise might reverse this effect, is quite interesting. So far it has only been demonstrated on rats, but it seems to me that it's another good reason to get some more exercise.

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