Friday, May 28, 2010

Science Impotence, Archaeo-Alcohology, Acupuncture, Bird Feathers, Ball Lightning

From slashdot comes an article about "scientific impotence". It's an idea I've been exposed to, it seems that
regardless of whether the information presented confirmed or contradicted [the subjects'] existing beliefs, all of them came away from the reading with their beliefs strengthened.

Sequoia posted a link that talks about a group that resurrected an old alcohol recipe. Amongst other ingredients are cacao and chili. I feel I must try this.

From Scientific American's 60 second science comes a stort that details a possible mechanism behind acupuncture. I won't lie, this sent my skeptic sense a-tingling. Largely because after the discovery of a way of blinding acupunture trials it is increasingly to be found to be adequatly described by the placebo affect. Luckily for me a blog gives it a much less credulous coverage.

Finally from one of the more recent episodes of the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe come two interesting stories. The first was that early bird feather's were not made for flight.
and the second is a possible explanation for ball lightning. Although as Steven Novella points out in the podcast the conditions are so exacting that, if it is an explanation at all, it's not likely to be the only one.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Patenting synthetic life, smallpox vaccine helps fight HIV, organic Food (is bullshit), wine tasting.

I shall apologise in advance. This weeks post is likely to be ranty.

After the awesometastic synthetic life creation I blogged about previously the guy in charge has done something lame: tried to patent it. I won't lie. I think the whole idea behind patents and IP is bullshit. On one level because there is a implicit assumption that whosoever is granted a patent is a genius and noone could possibly ever have come up with such a great idea without seeing his first, but also because it seems to be used to quash competition rather than the much touted benefit of encouraging innovation. In my opinion the latter doesn't even make much sense since the options are to (watch as I make a false dichotomy) a) sit on your patents collecting money b) be forced to innovate cos everybody's always stealing your stuff. Anyway another factoid was revealed to me that makes me feel somewhat better about what, as far as I can tell, is just an opinion: the fashion industry lacks copyright.

Moving right along. From 60 second science comes a paper that suggests the smallpox vaccine may have offered partial protection against HIV. It tickles my irony bone to think that a vaccine was so successful at wiping out an illness that it stopped being used, despite conferring other benefits people were unaware of.

Finally Steven Novella wrote an article on whether organic food is more healthful. It basically breaks down a systematic review and in general the scientific results have found that organic food is not more nutritious, doesn't taste better, isn't better for the environment and isn't better for people. (The article and posts in comments will fill in any links I can't be bothered finding). However further from this I discovered that expensive wine tastes better. I didn't realise this had actually been studied. Having been to a few wine tastings at various conferences as far as I'm concerned wine tastes like wine. I was also often puzzled by a room of scientists being happy to have someone stand up, tell them what the wine is supposed to taste like, and then taste it!

Actually that wasn't as bad as I thought it'd be. Carry on.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Schedule 4 Submission

Wednesday 26 May 2010 is the last opportunity to make a submission regarding the review of Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals act. You can make a submission online from here. My submission was as follows

Q1 On the areas proposed for removal from Schedule 4:  
Section 7 of the discussion paper sets out the areas proposed for removal from Schedule 4. Do you think these areas should be removed from Schedule 4 so that applications for exploration and mining activity can be considered on a case-by-case basis? Yes or No? And why? (Your response may be in relation to any one or more of the areas discussed. Please clearly identify the area(s) to which your response relates.)  

No. If you are considering a case-by-case basis then it would seem more sensible to have Schedule 4 protection also removed on a case-by-case basis. A tragic outcome would be for some company to pick up the land for cheap should no other company want it.

Q2 On the areas proposed for addition to Schedule 4:  
Section 8 of the discussion paper sets out the areas proposed for addition to Schedule 4. Do you agree with the proposal to add these areas to Schedule 4? Yes or No? And why? (Your response may be in relation to any one or more of the areas discussed. Please clearly identify the area(s) to which your response relates.)  

I'm indifferent to this. On the one hand if the proposed land has notable conservation status then it should be added to Schedule 4, regardless of what happens to any other land. On the other hand if it is being proposed, as I suspect, to make people feel good about giving up pre-existing Schedule 4 then I don't think it should be. In one sense if it isn't worth putting in schedule 4 it shouldn't be put there, and secondly that it sets a precedent that Schedule 4 land could be taken out later if the powers that be change their mind about the worth of the land.

Q3 On the assessment of areas:  
The assessment of areas covered by Schedule 4 and those proposed for addition is outlined in sections 7 and 8 of this document and Appendices 1 and 2.  
(a) What are your views on the assessment of the various values (conservation, cultural, tourism and recreation, mineral, other) of the land areas discussed?  

In general fine. I do note that seemingly when the mineral wealth is potentially high usually removal is proposed only if there are no cultural values attached, conservation values seem to be ignored in terms of making the final decision.

(b) Do you have any additional information that may be important for Ministers to make their decisions?  

The maps seem a bit vague conservation wise. It seems to me that it would have been sensible to look within schedule 4 at where important populations of native flora and fauna are centered and then overlay the proposed areas for mining. Afterall conservationally not all land is equal.

(Your response may be in relation to any one or more of the areas or values discussed. Please clearly identify the area(s) to which your response relates.)  
Q4 On the proposal to further investigate the mineral potential of some areas:  
The Government is carrying out a research and investigation programme on the mineral potential of areas with significant mineral potential over the next nine months.  
Areas include the Coromandel, parts of Paparoa National Park and Rakiura National Park, and a number of non-Schedule 4 areas.  
(a) Do you have any comments on the type of information that would be the most useful to mineral investors?

(b) Are there any particular areas that the Government should consider including in its investigation programme?  

I'm probably going to get myself into trouble for saying this but I don't think anywhere should not be considered for investigation (note I say this not being fully aware of how destructive, if at all, investigation is). Even if it's not pursued in the immediate future it seems sensible to know approximately what mineral worth is located where.

Q5 On a new contestable conservation fund:  
Section 9 describes a proposed contestable conservation fund the Government proposes to establish, which would be made up of a percentage of the money the Crown receives from minerals (except petroleum) from public conservation areas.  
(a) A broad objective, to enhance conservation outcomes for New Zealand, is proposed for the fund. Do you agree with the proposed objective?  

I would have to say I'm against this. Firstly "The fund would not be used to mitigate the effects of modern mine sites or to provide compensation as appropriate for mining activities. Mining companies would be responsible for that themselves (it would continue to form a part of their resource consent and access conditions)." although mining companies should indeed make sure the impacts are minimal there is no mention here of how it would be monitored. Having the companies themselves also monitor it seems a recipe for disaster.

I'm not clear why DOC has been ruled out of receiving it.

Additionally "It would not be restricted to public conservation areas." seems rediculous. So land is taken out of schedule 4 for mining, generates revenue, and that money potentially doesn't go back into public land?! Really?

(b) What do you think the fund should be used for? What should its priorities be?  

Dammit Jim, I'm a mathematician not an ecologist.

(c) An independent panel appointed by the Minister of Energy and Resources and the Minister of Conservation is proposed to run the fund. Do you think this is a good idea?  

Potentially, although it seems to be lacking people concerned with tourism and/or cultural values.

(d) It is proposed that half of royalties from public conservation areas are contributed to the fund, with a minimum of $2 million per year for the first four years, and a maximum of $10 million per year. Do you think the amounts proposed for the fund are appropriate?  

I don't know enough to answer that question.

(e) Do you have any other comments that might help the Government to make decisions on a new conservation fund?

How could DOC and other related organisations fit into the scheme? Presumably there shall be similar aims and requirements for expertise that DOC, et al. probably already have.
Q6 On approval of access arrangements:  
In section 6 it is proposed that the joint approval of the land-holding Minister and the Minister of Energy and Resources be required for an access arrangement on Crown land for mineral exploration or development. Do you think this is appropriate? Why or why not?  

Not completely. Surely the Minister of Conservation should be in there as well since it seems likely a lot of the mining will be happening within or next to conserved land.

Q7 On any other issues:  
Do you have any further suggestions or comments on what has been said in this document?


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Facebook WWII, The Unincorporated Man, Boltzmann Equation, Cellphone Inventor Taunting, Top Species for 2010, Synthetic Genome

From Hamish comes a description of WWII for the FB generation.

From James, my favourite economist, comes a link that talks about a book titled The Unincorporated Man. It explores the idea that a person's income stream can be bought and sold. The link includes the following quote:

"What if," answered Hektor, without missing a beat, "instead of giving two, three, four dollars a month for a charity's sake, you gave ten dollars a month for a 5 percent share of that kid's future earnings?  And you, of course, get nothing if the kid dies.  Now you have a real interest in making sure that kid got that pair of shoes you sent.  Now it's in your interest to find out if he's going to school and learning to read and write.  Now maybe you'll send him that box of old clothes you were thinking of throwing away.  Under your system you write a check and forget about the kid, who'll probably starve anyway.  Under our system, you're locked into him.

In maths news a pair of Penn State University mathematicians have found solutions to the Boltzmann Equations. I don't know that I'd heard of them before but via the article I discovered fractional derivatives. They break my mind a bit. It involves finding fractional, or even complex, powers of the differential operator.

From Sequoia comes an amusing tale that the inventor of the cellphone used the first call to taunt his rival. Marty Cooper's phone call was

Joel! This is Marty Cooper. I'm calling you from a cellular phone. But a real cellular phone. A handheld portable cellular phone.

From Gillian the International Institute for Species Exploration has released a Top 10 new species.

Dan posted a link detailing the first functional glucose biofuel cell in a living animal.

Finally a post about a scientist that appears to have completely synthesised a genome and implanted it in another cell. Gillian was good enough to find the original paper for me.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

LED data transfer, cognitive biases, staring at boobs, German stabbing bot arms

From Sequoia I received two links the first is a claim from researches at the Chinese Academy of Sciences that that can successfully transmit data using LEDs. I tried to find the original paper without success seemingly they achieved 2Mbs-1 and the flickering was so inperceptible that it could be used for room lighting.

The second was a visiual study guide for cognitive biases. There are a lot. Some I suspected existed, some I had no idea about. But you should totally look at the article---it has pictures!

From The CUSP episode 4 is an article that staring at boobs daily prolongs a man's life by 5 years. Much to my chagrin it turns out not to be true.

Finally from the Amateur Scientist podcast comes information of a study from German Researchers that were trying to teach a knife welding robot arm to tell when it was stabbing was soft tissue. I tried to find the original study but the PDF results from google scholar seemed to all be dead. At any rate switched on has a good deal of detail and video, including one of a researcher allowing the robot to stab him.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Getting a Tattoo, Eugenie Scott, Meditiation helps Visual Perception, The Ship of Theseus, Life Expetency and Marriage, Watching TV makes you smarter!

First on a light note we have a flow chart on how to decide whether or not to get a tattoo.

Then an hour long lecture given at SkeptiCal by the awesome Dr Eugenie Scott talking about how science and scepticism are related.

From UC Davis comes a study suggesting visual perception is heightened by meditation training. Unfortunately they don't seem to include a control group in the study which seems shouldn't have been too difficult, just send the control on a holiday for the same amount of time, so I don't know that I'm particularly confident in the results.
Edit: There was a control group, mea culpa.

When reading a paper this week I came across an idea from philosophy that discusses the ship of Theseus. It asks about at what point Theseus ship stops to be Theseus' ship whilst you are replacing parts of it (the paper was comparing this to when a genome is made up of a significant amount of LGT). While reading a bit more about it I found an article that suggests the average age of the cells in your body is ten years. It's a somewhat disconcerting thought that there may be a time before which I was made up of completely different set of cells.

From Barbara comes a link about a study from the Max Planck Institute that finds the greater the age difference between a wife and her partner the shorter her life expectancy.. Interestingly the result doesn't also hold for men.

There was an article published by the New York Times that argues watching TV makes you smarter. Although I will say that at the time of writing this post I haven't read the entire thing yet.

Edit: I seem to have omitted an article. The Russians have suggested a solution for the major oil slick in the gulf of mexico: nuke the bastard!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Night Owls have higher IQ, light based computers, green not green,...

From James comes an article about a study that seemingly links IQ of children with their sleep time This comes as a bit of a burn to me being a morning person It'd be interesting to read the original study if anyone knows the link.

From Sequoia comes an article that could see the origin of biological and light based computers

From Hamish is an article about how the color green isn't actually green. I file this under the way hippes tend to be satisfied with the appearance of ecologically friendly without paying attention to the underlying facts.

Finally from episode 251 of The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe has three interesting stories. The first talks about how people listening to charismatic individuals tend to suspend critical thinking abilities. The second has found there is a 6-fold increase of getting dementia if you are the spouse of a dementia sufferer. And the last talks about a thin coating modeled after moth eyes that can make any glass non-reflective.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

First Post!

Before my first attempt at a blog post proper we have a youtube video "Fear the Boom and Bust" by Hayek and Kaynes. Rap about economics: whatever will be next.

From economics to space we have a few articles. The first from Zane about how one of Jupiter's stripes is gone. Tbe big read spot is still there though. The second from Jason where a Hole has been formed in the birth of stars. The associated picture looks almost like an artist's interpretation of the situation.

From Finch come two stories with a Russian theme. the first details how nukes could be used to help the oil slick that currently plagues the coast of the southeast states. The second is about a woman that seems to be treating cats like magic crystals

Finally from episode 101 from the amateur scientist podcast there is an article about how Prince Phillip is the object of a cargo cult of the Yaohnanan tribe in Vanuatu. Wikipedia has a write up and if you would like to know more about cargo cults Skeptoid has a good episode on it.

No dating, thanks, just sex

(via Whitt)
No dating, thanks, just sex

Dating culture is dead - instead, young New Zealand women are regularly getting drunk and cruising around in packs looking for men to have sex with.

I also like
The Sunday Star-Times' Being a Bloke survey last year found that 29% of the 5000 men surveyed felt they had been pressured into having sex or had had sex unwillingly. 

This seems to me to be another case of the following examples that I have come across

  • Once upon a time adults used to criticise teens for spreading STD's. Viagra hits the market and STD rates in the older population skyrocket, and

  • Older women going to, say Africa, to hook up with younger guys

In the sense that one group criticises another group for doing something, then it becomes accepted or available for the criticising party and they start doing it. More evidence that people are people.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Inbreeding Is Bad for Ant Immunity

Inbreeding Is Bad for Ant Immunity
When it comes to ant immunity, the colony is the body. Much like the billions of immune cells that protect us from disease, the horde of ants in a colony coat their nest in antibacterial resin to ward off pathogens. Now, scientists have found more intriguing parallels. For the first time, they have observed ant colonies removing infected larvae to prevent the spread of sickness, a behavior analogous to white blood cells ridding the body of dangerous pathogens and previously seen only in bees. And just like inbred humans and purebred pets, inbred ant colonies have weaker "immune systems": they're slow to detect disease and remove infected larvae, putting the entire population at risk.

Wash Away Your Doubts When You Wash Your Hands

Wash Away Your Doubts When You Wash Your Hands
Washing your hands "wipes the slate clean," removing doubts about recent choices.

'Lord Jesus Christ' Run Down In Crosswalk

'Lord Jesus Christ' Run Down In Crosswalk
The 50-year-old man is from Belchertown. Officers checked his ID and discovered that, indeed, his legal name is Lord Jesus Christ. He was taken to the hospital for treatment of minor facial injuries.

Labour: Private prisons a 'failed experiment'

Labour: Private prisons a 'failed experiment'
Labour says the government is going to repeat a "failed and costly experiment" when it puts Mt Eden-Auckland Central Remand Prison under private management.

New Bionic Arms Are Strong, Sensitive, Human-Friendly

New Bionic Arms Are Strong, Sensitive, Human-Friendly
Robotics and prosthetics designers have been making great advances in the power, sensitivity and humanity of their creations.

Mice Show Pain on Their Faces Just Like Humans

Mice Show Pain on Their Faces Just Like Humans
Mice in pain have facial expressions that are very similar to human facial expressions, according to scientists who have developed the “mouse grimace scale.” The pain expressions of mice could help researchers gauge the effectiveness of new drugs.