science


3-D scans turn fossils into print replicas

Nearly 20,000 fossils in Britain have been scanned and uploaded onto the Web, allowing the public to download them and print intricate replicas.

Thousands of prehistoric fossils have been rescued from dusty museum archives and made available online by the British Geological Survey as highly detailed 3-D models.

Researchers and the public can now access almost 20,000 virtual fossils and print 3-D replicas. There are also plans in the works to digitally scan dinosaur fossils.

The blog of the 3D fossil project is here.

via 3-D scans turn fossils into print replicas.


Cloning brains with Science » Pharyngula

While we’ve been waiting and waiting for the physicists to get their act together and deliver on Mr Fusion home energy sources and flying cars, the biologists have been making great progress on the kinds of things that turn biologists on. The latest development: growing tiny little human brains in a bucket. Only let’s not call them brains…they are cerebral organoids. Hugo Gernsback would be so proud.

via Cloning brains with Science » Pharyngula.


Are We Causing Animals to Grow Bigger Brains? : Discovery News

Humans may be responsible for a jump in brain growth among mice and some other small mammals living around us in both urban and rural settings, a new study finds.

Small mammals that either produce a lot of babies or eat a lot of bugs exhibited the greatest cranial capacity (i.e. brain growth) due to human-caused environmental changes over the past century, suggests the study, which is published in the latest Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

“Small mammals with high fecundity (such as deer mice and meadow voles) show the most pronounced differences in cranial capacity between urban and rural environments, having larger cranial capacity in urban environments,” lead author Emilie Snell-Rood told Discovery News.

Are We Causing Animals to Grow Bigger Brains? : Discovery News.


Take the sugar pill, Neo

This is a reply I made to a reply to something I said on Facebook. I thought it was worth sharing, with an added link for more information.

I have nothing but respect for the placebo effect. Give me a sugar pill and explain that it’s a drug that’s been clinically tested and tell me a bit about how it will work and the chances are that my body will respond and alleviate the problem at least a little. Feed me the pill and tell me it’s going to work because of water’s memory and I’ll know there’s nothing there so it won’t work.

Obviously, I’d rather have the drug itself to go with the pep talk and explanation.

I don’t know just how much the placebo effect is understood, but I have read (in this Wired article from 2009) about trials where they tested the difference between just being handed the drug (or sugar pill) and having a doctor talk about what it would do. The subjects who were kept informed responded better than those who just taking the same pills. Homeopathy is about convincing you to cure yourself. If you could team the psychology with drugs that have been proven to work,then you’d be able to work wonders.


The Solar System for simpletons

Bill O’Reilly is a well known and, sadly, influential US TV pundit. He specialises in a brand of arrogant ignorance which is amusing until you realise that a lot of Americans take it as guiding principles. He recently outdid himself by claiming that tides were evidence for God. When it was pointed out to him that it’s been known for centuries that tides are driven primarily by the Moon (with a 30% or so input from the Sun) he came back with a selection of questions designed to silence his critics-

“How’d the moon get here? Look, you pinheads who attacked me for this, you guys are just desperate. How’d the moon get here? How’d the sun get there? How’d it get there? Can you explain that to me? How come we have that and Mars doesn’t have it?”

Tough, tough questions. Which have all been answered, of course. Starts with a Bang gives short, coherent answers to all of O’Reilly’s questions. It’s just a shame that neither he nor the majority of his followers will bother to read them and actually learn something.

But, as a bonus, here’s a clip from The Colbert Report which was included in the post-


There’s science in Creationism? Really?

A creationist writes, without any indication that he recognises the irony

Too many people still believe in the “science” put out for political reasons. People argue with me about Creation vs evolution science. Most concentrate on issues like why am I a Creationist rather than whether the actual science backs one or the other. I think, though, that people are waking up to the fact that we are being fed incredible lies to fool us into becoming even more controlled.

The only “science” put out for political reasons in the debate between creationism and reality (sorry, evolution) is that made up by the creationists. The word science always has implicit quote marks around it when used by creationists to describe what they think is evidence for their beliefs. Creationists are the ones who want people to remain uninformed and unquestioning- just keep believing the lines they’re fed so their would be leaders can keep taking advantage of them.

Also, there’s no need to “believe” in evolution. Believing is what the creationists have to fall back on because they don’t have any evidence or a coherent theory. You understand evolution rather than believe in it. It’s been coherently explained by a large number of people. Understanding evolution is harder for some than believing in Creationism, because they can’t accept the freedom of no longer being told what to do. Which is a shame, because they then go on to tie themselves in knots as they try to explain all the logical inconsistencies thrown up by saying “God made it!”

I’ve participated in online debates with creationists, and read through others, and it’s always the creationists who don’t want to talk about whether the science backs their beliefs. Faced with evidence that just keeps piling up, they’re the ones who will steer the conversation to why people “believe” in evolution, as they desperately try to run away from the realisation that they’re wrong.

There’s no science behind creationism, just a desire to manipulate people, anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.


SimEverything

Scientists are proposing a project they’re nicknaming The Knowledge Collider, which will do for global data collection and analysis what The Large Hadron Collider aims to do for particle physics.

An international group of scientists are aiming to create a simulator that can replicate everything happening on Earth – from global weather patterns and the spread of diseases to international financial transactions or congestion on Milton Keynes’ roads.

Nicknamed the Living Earth Simulator (LES), the project aims to advance the scientific understanding of what is taking place on the planet, encapsulating the human actions that shape societies and the environmental forces that define the physical world.

This is pure science fiction, which we’re now reaching the processing power to make fact. I have visions of sexy young scientists- led by someone with an eyepatch, though I don’t know why that’s significant- running simulations and dispatching doctors, soldiers or super spies to potential trouble spots to do whatever is needed to head off problems before they really begin.


Proposal: The ….For Smartys series of books

During a conversation a few weeks ago I suggested there would be merit in going through The Da Vinci Code and editing out all the bits where Dan Brown treats his readers like idiots. Stuff like the horrendous flashback used to explain phi and the redundant repetition of information because he assumes his readers have tiny attention spans. I reckoned I could cull nearly a third of the verbiage and make it a less painful book to read. It still wouldn’t be great, because it’s a dumb premise, but it could be easier to get through. We’d call it Dan Brown for Smartys.

Over the weekend I got thinking about other possible ….for Smatys books. The idea could lend itself to so many better uses than improving Dan Brown’s prose. The series title, obviously, is a play on the ….for Dummies books, and they would serve a similar purpose. Despite their name, the ….for Dummies books don’t assume you’re some sort of idiot. I’ve got Blender For Dummies and it’s a great resource. It presumes the reader is an intelligent person who simply hasn’t used the software before and can grasp the concepts providing they’re explained well. The …..for Smartys books would expect intelligent readers and cover areas where the main, or at least loudest, people talking about them assume their audience are morons and can be lied to with impunity.

Yes, …..for Smartys would mostly cover tabloid fodder and stuff which attracts loud and dissembling deniers. The books would look at claims made around a controversial subject and fact check them, much like blogs such as Five Chinese Crackers do. They would also present the data in cool infographics, just because I’m a fan of cool infographics. Weight would be given to data based upon how many times it had been corroborated, rather than by how much it appealed to the readers presumed prejudices.

Immigration for Smartys would trace the population of the country back through many censuses as well as using Freedom of Information requests to get councils to reveal who gets to live in council houses (just a hunch, but I doubt “newly arrived immigrants” will top the list, no matter what the Daily Mail may say).

Climate Change for Smartys would look at the scientific evidence for and against man-made climate change. It would examine the more outlandish claims made for global warming as well as the those that it’s not happening at all. It would also run a side by side projection for a do-nothing family and a make-a-change family to see who is better off, even if all the evidence is wrong and there is no climate change. The no-changers would keep their car, not bother insulating their house etc. The make-a-changes would trade in for a smaller, more efficient vehicle, which they used less, upgrade insulation, upgrade their heating, install solar panels etc. There would be a comparison of expenditure, which would be easy enough, and a less scientific look at quality of life.

I don’t know if an Evolution for Smartys would be necessary. I’d mostly point people at The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. Dawkins can be strident, but he knows his subject and explains it well.

Religion for Smartys would be a tricky one, because some people can’t help but get violent over their choice of deity. I imagine it as a timeline from the earliest known religions through to the present day with pullouts for similarity of themes and recurring motifs. There’d also be a “Who do you hate and who do you love?” section which would list the various things and peoples considered evil or divine across several holy books.

All I need now is a publisher willing to put up the money needed to fund me whilst I do the research and design the graphics.


Atheists are Nazis and promoting health and prosperity is more evil than child abuse? Papally inspired stupidity 8

So, it’s been the first day of the Pope’s long weekend in Britain. He got off to a good start by implying that Nazism arose from atheism and modern secular society is headed down a similar path. It’s basically that old unfounded Christian lament that the belief system which still holds an unwarranted influence over the country’s politics is being discriminated against, but with added “unbelievers are evil!”. Hitler’s beliefs are open to debate, as they are in this comment thread on Richard Dawkins’ site, but a great many Nazis professed to be Christians, the Catholic church’s record during WW2 was less than perfect and it was the godless hordes of Soviet Russia who sacrificed the most to put an end to the evil.

Pope Rat should sack his speech writers and any advisers who thought that spouting this sort of nonsense was a good idea.

A selection of eminent humanists wrote a letter to the Guardian attacking the elevation of the Pope’s visit to that of a state visit, pointing out some of the crimes the Vatican “state” is guilty of and questioning its right to be given the same recognition as real countries. Stephen Fry is justifiably proud of being vilified by the Daily Mail for his signing of the letter. I’m jealous, I’ve long wanted to be hated by the Daily Mail. It’s been one of my ambitions for several years. Sadly I am not as eloquent as Mr Fry, nor yet known, let alone as well known as he. Maybe one day.

The letter also attracted the attention of Stewart Cowan, one of the less enlightened bloggers I follow for entertainment value. Cowan throws around some stupid insults, but makes no intelligent or coherent points and no doubt, in his head, thinks he’s won the argument. In Cowan’s bizarro world family planning, disease prevention, compassion and education are all greater evils than child abuse. Thinking like Cowan’s and the Pope’s is the cause of far more harm than anything done by the people they want to blame.


links for 2010-09-08

  • Described as a 'train enthusiast's paradise', this semi-detached house has gone on the market for £105,000 – complete with its very own 1,000ft railway in the back garden.

    The extensive miniature display features passengers waiting on the platform and a handmade model village.

    The centre piece of the track is a huge Koi carp pool with bridges and waterfalls, where workmen can be seen maintaining the tracks.

    (tags: model)
  • If you were invited to address Benedict XVI during his UK visit, what would you say to him? Richard Dawkins, Philip Pullman, Claire Rayner, Ben Goldacre and many more take part in our Pope quiz. Illustrations by Ralph Steadman
    (tags: pope religion)
  • These eye-opening images bring the devastation of the Blitz into the modern world.

    As a nation reflects on the 70th anniversary of one of the most brutal examples of 'total war' these montages blend vintage black and white shots of the carnage of 1940 with colour images of the same locations today.

    One image shows a huge crater next to the Bank of England in London – perfectly merged with the same location as it looks today to bring home the dangers and privations that affected every Londoner – and indeed the inhabitants of most of Britain's major towns and cities.

    (tags: WW2)
  • Scientists say they've carried out the first rigorous analysis of dance moves that make men attractive to women.

    The researchers say that movements associated with good dancing may be indicative of good health and reproductive potential.

    "When you go out to clubs people have an intuitive understanding of what makes a good and bad dancer," said co-author Dr Nick Neave, an evolutionary psychologist at Northumbria University, UK.

    "What we've done for the very first time is put those things together with a biometric analysis so we can actually calculate very precisely the kinds of movements people focus on and associate them with women's ratings of male dancers."


Scotland’s creationists are devolving 6

Wannabe Scottish holy warrior Stewart Cowan has started what may be an ongoing series on “The Myths and Hoaxes of the 20th Century”. That he’s started with a weak swing at evolution should come as no surprise, neither should the fact that he fails to put forward a coherent argument.

Cowan bases his argument on a wilfull or genuine failure to understand an 18th century theory called uniformitarianism. (It’s doubly amusing that he links to the wikipedia page about it because whenever he or his cronies are presented with a wikipedia page which proves them wrong or shows up a weakness in their arguments they fall over themselves to claim the site is a liberal conspiracy.) He then ignores centuries of research, discoveries and advances and implies that this one theory is the only thing scientists have ever used to figure anything out. From this nonsensical conceit he wanders off into a bunch of Creationist talking points and fails to prove anything. He cites research with blind cavefish which he thinks proves his point, completely failing to see that it does the opposite.

Stewart Cowan’s never presented a coherent or convincing argument against evolution, but this one’s even weaker than normal. As the only people who can be bothered to continually comment on his blog are equally uninformed and blinkered he has no need to improve his arguments, so they seem to be devolving.


I don’t believe in you!

The New Scientist has a special report on the roots and methods of denialism. Should be useful reading for anyone who ever finds themselves talking to creationists/climate change deniers/9/11 Truthers/anti vaccination types/that bloke in teh pub who knows what really happened to Elvis.

How to be a denialist

Martin McKee, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who also studies denial, has identified six tactics that all denialist movements use. “I’m not suggesting there is a manual somewhere, but one can see these elements, to varying degrees, in many settings,” he says (The European Journal of Public Health, vol 19, p 2).

1. Allege that there’s a conspiracy. Claim that scientific consensus has arisen through collusion rather than the accumulation of evidence.

2. Use fake experts to support your story. “Denial always starts with a cadre of pseudo-experts with some credentials that create a facade of credibility,” says Seth Kalichman of the University of Connecticut.

3. Cherry-pick the evidence: trumpet whatever appears to support your case and ignore or rubbish the rest. Carry on trotting out supportive evidence even after it has been discredited.

4. Create impossible standards for your opponents. Claim that the existing evidence is not good enough and demand more. If your opponent comes up with evidence you have demanded, move the goalposts.

5. Use logical fallacies. Hitler opposed smoking, so anti-smoking measures are Nazi. Deliberately misrepresent the scientific consensus and then knock down your straw man.

6. Manufacture doubt. Falsely portray scientists as so divided that basing policy on their advice would be premature. Insist “both sides” must be heard and cry censorship when “dissenting” arguments or experts are rejected.


Would you trust Benedict brand condoms?

A junior civil servant has been “put on other duties” after distributing a memo with some silly, and quite funny, suggestions for events to mark Pope Benedict’s visit to the UK in September.

The Foreign Office has apologised for a “foolish” document which suggested the Pope’s visit to the UK could be marked by the launch of “Benedict” condoms.

Called “The ideal visit would see…”, it said the Pope could be invited to open an abortion clinic and bless a gay marriage during September’s visit.

…..

The document went on to propose the Pope could apologise for the Spanish Armada or sing a song with the Queen for charity.

It listed “positive” public figures who could be made part of the Pope’s visit, including former Prime Minister Tony Blair and 2009 Britain’s Got Talent runner-up Susan Boyle, and those considered “negative”, such as Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney and prominent atheist Richard Dawkins.

If anyone should be apologising at the moment it should be the Catholic church, for so many things I won’t even start listing them.