Tag: Science

Scientists are scamming us

May 3, 2012 | By | 2 Replies More
Scientists are scamming us

I didn’t catch this Daily Show video when it first aired in October, 2011. Well worth watching:

On a more serious note, this dysfunctional thinking by many conservatives is coming under increasing scrutiny. This is both good and bad news. It is becoming ever clearer that though Republicans tend to have serious issues with at least some scientific findings (but not all–not, for instance the science that we use to develop new weapons), all of us are susceptible to gross distortions. Chris Mooney has written a new book that focuses on Republican lapses. Here’s an excerpt from a spin-off article from The Atlantic:

Why is the American political system so irrational? Why is it that, even though a lot less partisanship and a lot more compromise would be good for the country, nobody can seem to get us there? The good news is that science is starting to figure this out. The bad news is that it seems to be fundamentally rooted in who we are — creatures who can detect bad and emotional reasoning when others are guilty of doing it, but not so much when we’re doing it ourselves.

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For want of a half penny, a future was lost…

March 13, 2012 | By | 4 Replies More
For want of a half penny, a future was lost…

Yesterday, my son shared the video below – Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “We Stopped Dreaming (Episode 1)”. It took me back to childhood memories when I was inspired to be a scientist. I remember watching the Apollo launches. I think I remember listening to the Gemini 4 space walk – I was four, and my father recorded it on reel-to-reel, but I don’t remember him ever replaying it. I remember staying up late and falling asleep…thankfully to be awoken by my mother just before Apollo 11 landed on the moon. …Skylab, …the test flight of the Space Shuttle Enterprise.

Years later, I left behind aspirations of a science career (practicalities…how much money does the average physicist make anyway?) for one of engineering, but the love of space, cosmology, NASA…all still with me…which is why what Neil deGrasse Tyson is saying in this video saddens me all the more.

I worry that decisions Congress makes doesn’t [sic] factor in the consequences of those decisions on tomorrow.

Apart from the applicability of that to just about any of the current Congress’s decisions, he’s dead right in this specific instance. We are not funding science. We are not encouraging and developing engineers. We are failing in educating our young people, not only in the technical fields, but in general.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) compares 15 year olds in 65 industrial countries. From the 2009 report:

The OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a collaborative effort among OECD member countries to measure how well 15-year-old students approaching the end of compulsory schooling are prepared to meet the challenges of today’s knowledge societies. The assessment is forward-looking: rather than focusing on the extent to which these students have mastered a specific school curriculum, it looks at their ability to use their knowledge and skills to meet real-life challenges. This orientation reflects a change in curricular goals and objectives, which are increasingly concerned with what students can do with what they learn at school.

“…to meet real-life challenges.” Care to guess how the U.S.A. fared in the latest, 2009, assessment? You can see here for yourself, but I’ll spoil it:

  • Reading – 17th (out of 65)
  • Mathematics –31st (significantly below the average)
  • Science – 23rd

We fail. We fail across the board. We fail where it matters. I’m not sure how we will fare in the 2012 PISA, but I seriously doubt we’ll improve. Our system doesn’t support it anymore.

Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum, in their book “That Used to Be us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back”, quote Matt Miller, one of the authors of a 2009 McKinsey & Company report titled The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools, who said

They [American students] are being prepared for $12-an-hour jobs – not $40 to $50 an hour.”

I don’t know what the answer is. I admit a selfish cop out – we home educate our children – so I don’t think often on what can or should be done; we’ve taken responsibility for preparing our children ourselves. Still, one simple solution seems to be to promote science, math and engineering.

And we start doing that by not cutting NASA’s budget.

Fat chance. How much would YOU pay for the universe?

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Clean Energy 101

October 5, 2011 | By | Reply More
Clean Energy 101

If you want a good starting point for learning the facts about clean energy, The Union of Concerned Scientists is offering an excellent resource, “Clean Energy 101.” If you’d like to learn about the pollution caused by coal plants, and how sustainable energy would cut this pollution, check the article called “Benefits of Renewable Energy.”

A Typical Coal PlantA typical 500-megawatt coal plant produces 3.5 billion kilowatt-hours per year — enough to power a city of about 140,000 people.
It burns 1.4 million tons of coal (the equivalent of 40 train cars of coal each day) and uses 2.2 billion gallons of water each year. In an average year, this one plant also generates the following:

10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide
10,200 tons of nitrogen oxide, equivalent to half a million late-model cars
3.7 million tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to cutting down 100 million trees
500 tons of small particles
220 tons of hydrocarbons
720 tons of carbon monoxide
125,000 tons of ash and 193,000 tons of sludge from the smokestack scrubber
170 pounds of mercury, 225 pounds of arsenic, 114 pounds of lead, 4 pounds of cadmium, and other toxic heavy metals
Trace amounts of uranium

Here are each of the main topics covered:

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How to destroy science education in America

March 21, 2011 | By | 4 Replies More
How to destroy science education in America

Try to think of a great way to destroy math and science education in the United States. Think of something that Osama bin Laden would have tried to do if he had tried to destroy math and science education in the United States. You might propose this: Defund the STEM Fellows GK-12 Program. Guess what? The U.S. National Science Foundation has done just that. Here is an excerpt from page 29 of the March 4, 2010 edition of Science (full article available online only to subscribers):

Researchers are shocked and upset by a decision by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) to cancel a high-profile and successful fellowship program that is brought more than 10,000 graduate students into elementary and secondary schools around the country. A recent evaluation says the graduate Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (stem) Fellows in K-12 education program, begun in 1999, brings science to life for students, improves the skills of their teachers, and offers graduate students valuable training in the classroom. So participants don’t understand why the president’s 2012 budget request would abandon a $55-million a year program that addresses key aspects of the Obama Administration’s push to improve US science and math education.

Officials at NSF say that the program has been effective but claim that it is now time to move on. The scientists involved in the program aren’t buying this piece of garbage explanation, however. They know that the program was wildly successful, and that it has been highly touted, even by NSF in its recent budget requests to Congress. In its most recent independent evaluation, last fall, this program was declared to be achieving most of its goals pursuant to “substantial and credible evidence.” It has been a win win win program, except that it had a “modest impact on the graduate students’ research skills. Of course it has, since these graduate students are spending more time learning to be good teachers.

The fellows became better teachers, learning how to work collaboratively and how to communicate science to a non-technical audience. The public school teachers improve their knowledge of science and welcome to having graduate science students in the classrooms. The fellows’ new skills made them better college instructors, and their off-campus experiences gave them an edge in finding full-time jobs after graduation.

Consider what the NSF has recently said about STEM Fellows:

This program provides funding for graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines to bring their leading research practice and findings into K-12 learning settings. Through collaborations with other graduate fellows and faculty from STEM disciplines, teachers and students in K-12 environments, and community partners, graduate students can gain a deeper understanding of their own research and place it within a societal and global context. The GK-12 program provides an opportunity for graduate students to acquire value-added skills, such as communicating STEM subjects to technical and non-technical audiences, leadership, team building, and teaching while enriching STEM learning and instruction in K-12 settings. This unique experience will add value to the training of U.S. graduate students and will energize and prepare the students for a broad range of STEM careers in a competitive globalized marketplace. Furthermore, the GK-12 program provides institutions of higher education with an opportunity to transform the conventional graduate education by infusing and sustaining GK-12 like activities in their graduate programs.

By slashing the STEM Fellows program, the Obama administration will now save $55 million per year. Let’s put that in perspective. This country spends more than $2 billion per week pretending to fight a war in Afghanistan while actually propping up corrupt leaders and the poppy crop and antagonizing dirt-poor civilians– Afghanistan is a place where the U.S. military struggles to find even 100 members of Al Qaeda, according to the CIA. The war has nothing at all with which to commend itself, and yet we spend more than $2 billion per week on this “war.” That comes out to about $1 million for every five minutes. In other words, we have just destroyed a perfectly good science and mathematics education program, a program that brought 10,000 math and science graduate students into elementary schools and high schools, at a time when we are desperate to find ways to teach those students science and mathematics. We destroyed STEM Fellows GK-12 to “save” $55 million per year, the amount of money we burn in Afghanistan every five hours.

This is an absolutely pathetic display of bad priorities by our Peace President (who is also willing to toss out hundreds of billions of dollars to his buddies on Wall Street). I can’t think of a better way to move the United States toward second world or third world status.

[Lest there be any confusion, I voted for Obama and I am sorely disappointed with him, yet I still consider him a much better President than John McCain would have been–I am not claiming that Obama is trying to destroy math and science education, only that he has made a terrible decision.]

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Pressure, Temperature, Volume!

October 14, 2010 | By | 6 Replies More
Pressure, Temperature, Volume!

Warning – Science Geekery ahead!

Am I the only person in the world who gets that we can control for Boyle’s Law?

While reading a (Science Fiction) book, by a very respected author*, I encountered a scene where a character brews some coffee. Yum! I love coffee! But my delightful anticipation was immediately spoiled by the character’s complaints about how the low ambient pressure makes for lukewarm coffee!

Seriously?

Have people never heard of these amazing newfangled devices called pressure cookers? Heck, Europeans have had little stovetop espresso makers for many many years, that are essentially little one-shot pressure cookers! With the correct setup such equipment can produce strong, hot coffee regardless of the ambient pressure!

Whenever I come across such obvious stupidity it kills the story for me.

Get the little details right, people! Let me enjoy my stories and enjoy my coffee (regardless of ambient)!

* in defense of the Author, he is an older American, so can be excused for not really understanding the difference between coffee and the pale brown caffeinated beverage that shares that name in the States.

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Neutrinos may not be neutral after all!

August 24, 2010 | By | 58 Replies More
Neutrinos may not be neutral after all!

Do neutrinos affect radioactive decay? That’s what new research at Purdue seems to suggest.

When researchers at Purdue were looking for a reliable way to generate random numbers, they thought they were smart to use radioactive decay – after all the rate of decay was a known constant (for a given material) but the decay of any particular atom was truly random. But what they discovered may have huge implications for the Standard Model, for physics and for cosmology.

As the researchers pored through published data on specific isotopes, they found disagreement in the measured decay rates – odd for supposed physical constants.
Checking data collected at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island and the Federal Physical and Technical Institute in Germany, they came across something even more surprising: long-term observation of the decay rate of silicon-32 and radium-226 seemed to show a small seasonal variation. The decay rate was ever so slightly faster in winter than in summer.

In addition, during a solar flare event in Dec 2006, a Purdue researcher, observing day in manganese-54, noticed that the decay rate began to drop almost 36 hours before the flare event

became visible on earth. In a series of published papers, the Purdue team showed that the observed variations in decay rates were highly unlikely to have come from environmental influences on the detection systems.

Their findings strengthened the argument that the strange swings in decay rates were caused by neutrinos from the sun. The decay rates dropped as the Earth came closer to the sun (where it would be exposed to more neutrinos) and rose as the Earth moved farther away.

So there was good reason to suspect the sun, but could it be proven?

Enter Peter Sturrock, Stanford professor emeritus of applied physics and an expert on the inner workings of the sun. Sturrock knew from his experience that the observed neutrino intensity varies on a regular basis as the sun revolves and shows a different face to the Earth. He suggested that Purdue: Look for evidence that the changes in radioactive decay on Earth vary with the rotation of the sun.

Looking again at the decay data from the Brookhaven lab, the researchers found a recurring pattern of 33 days, which differed from the observed solar rotation period of about 28 days. They explain this by suggesting that the core of the sun – where nuclear reactions produce neutrinos – spins more slowly than the surface.

The evidence points toward a conclusion that emissions form the sun are directly influencing radioactive isotopes on Earth.

However, no one knows how neutrinos could interact with radioactive materials to change their rate of decay. This result holds promise in many ways: as an early warning system for Solar Flares; as an avenue for new research on neutrinos; or as the first inking of even stranger new particles. “It would have to be something we don’t know about, an unknown particle that is also emitted by the sun and has this effect, and that would be even more remarkable,” Sturrock said.

H/T: io9 and Symmetry Magazine

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Richard Dawkins discusses the Greatest Show on Earth

August 8, 2010 | By | 5 Replies More
Richard Dawkins discusses the Greatest Show on Earth

In this Fora.TV video of a talk he gave at U.C. Berkeley, Richard Dawkins discusses his most recent book, The Greatest Show on Earth. In the early minutes of the talk, he explains why fossils are “icing on the cake” and he illustrates the “problem” with gaps by use of a humorous story.

At minute 43:00, Dawkins explore the anthropic principle. At minute 49:00, Dawkins comments on the use of the word “why,” as part of his comment on the question “Why are we here?” He explains: It’s no more deserving of an answer than the question: “Why are unicorns hollow?” Dawkins also comments on the mechanism the creates conscious pain at minute 52:00, before declaring his own attempt to explain it to be incoherent. On the likelihood of a random mutation improving an organism, Dawkins points out that it is highly unlikely: “There are many more ways of being dead than alive.”

This video offers lots more engaging back and forth in the comments portion, following the main presentation.

[More . . . ]

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Mark Tiedemann Interview – Parts IV and V

July 19, 2010 | By | Reply More
Mark Tiedemann Interview – Parts IV and V

This is a continuation of my interview of Mark Tiedemann, who is both an established science fiction writer and an author here at Dangerous Intersection.

In the first video in this post, Part IV, Mark discusses science, religion and morality. In the second video in this post, Part V, he discusses sex.

I had an extensive discussion with Mark, and I will actually have one more post featuring video of our conversation. I expect that those will be published tomorrow night.

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Mending Fences, Part IV – The many things we have in common

July 14, 2010 | By | 4 Replies More
Mending Fences, Part IV – The many things we have in common

This is Part IV of a series of post titled “Mending Fences.” Part I begins here.

The many things we have in common

Drawing stark lines to divide people into groups often invites suspicion and hostility. Instead of bifurcating humanity into two mutually exclusive groups–believers and atheists—we should carefully reconsider the degree to which atheists and believers are different. To the extent that we discover that we actually share interests, including a mutual interest in better understanding our differences, we dissolve big hurdles to working together.

Whether we see each other as essentially similar or essentially different depends on whether we are focusing on our similarities or our differences. When we consider the ways that believers and atheists are similar, we can quickly think of enough things we have in common to fill encyclopedias. Most of us enjoy good food, good music and fresh air. We contribute to flood victims together. We throw muggers in jail together. We want our children learn to appreciate Shakespeare, mathematics and history together at school. We shop together, work together, celebrate most of our holidays together (even religious holidays) and we all struggle to understand how it was that we ended up on this spinning planet. Most believers and most atheists have another thing in common: they are both attacked by religious fundamentalists. We are so much alike in so many ways that a Venn diagram illustrating the overlap of atheists and believers would present itself as an eclipse.

Truly, a Martian anthropologist who carefully observed the day-to-day behavior of most believers and most atheists would be perplexed to hear us grumbling about our differences. For that anthropologist, trying to differentiate humans based on our outward behavior would be as difficult as it is for humans trying to discern differences among the worker ants in an ant colony. Well, except for one hour per week when the believers went into a building with a steeple on top. Except for that hour, though, it would be almost impossible to tell who is who based on the way we live our lives.

[More . . . ]

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