Thursday, July 31, 2014

HIV, Malaria, TB, and bubonic plague

Article: HIV global death estimates are wrong
The researcher behind a recent Lancet study says we have overestimated Aids epidemic and underestimated malaria deaths
Malaria, and deaths due to malaria, are down world-wide, but went up in Africa to 2004, then decreased.

TB is also down world-wide.

Article: Was Quarantine The Right Move?
Yesterday, Chinese authorities finally lifted a nine-day quarantine of 151 individuals from the northwestern city of Yumen, instituted after a 38-year-old man died of a bubonic plague infection last week. Entry and exit points were also sealed off, trapping nearly 30,000 residents. In the end, no other cases of bubonic plague developed.
A developing nation, that has been harshly criticized previously for an inadequate response to a disease outbreak, diagnoses a person with the plague. They react swiftly and thoroughly. People in the comfort and protection of the country with the most advanced system of treating and tracking people in world criticize them for taking measures that, for them and for their level of development, work.

In hindsight, and from our exalted viewpoint, it looks like an over-reaction. But if the 151 individuals had had bubonic plague, it might have been ground zero for a world-wide outbreak.

This is not me, hyperventilating: Yersinia pestis and the Plague of Justinian 541—543 AD: a genomic analysis. The article notes that bubonic plague remains a real possibility.

The CDC and Ebola: A status update [updated and bumped]

Article: Centers For Disease Control Releases Update On Current Ebola Outbreak Status, Ensuring Virus Is Unlikely To Leave West Africa

CDC update dated 7/28/14.

New update:  United States issues travel warning for 3 African countries hit by Ebola outbreak

Dealing with the outbreak is “more of a marathon than a sprint.”
In four months, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has broken records for being both the longest lasting outbreak and also for claiming more lives than ever before in history.
The CDC believes:
  • "...The likeness of the outbreak spreading outside of West Africa is low.”
  •  Ebola “is not that easily spread in a typical airline environment...”
  • "Using past instances of Lassa fever as model, in case the virus were to enter U.S. soil, its chances of spreading with the same force as it has spread in West Africa is unlikely."
  • "The CDC's... main objective was to raise the level of awareness of Ebola in all U.S. emergency rooms and front line places for primary care."
Update article: Ebola outbreak: Victim who sparked fears of global epidemic was on way home to US

 An Ebola victim who was allowed to board an international flight was an American citizen on his way home to the United States, it has emerged.
Patrick Sawyer worked for the Liberian government and was visiting his sister there when he developed symptoms while on a plane to Nigeria. He was quarantined on arrival in Lagos and died on Friday.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Demographics and the big screen.

I was on Facebook and took part in a thread. The origin of the thread was this article: Lucy: Why I'm Tired of Seeing White People on the Big Screen

Demographically, if you want a cast that "looks like America," the casting director would need to cast 77% white (including 17% Hispanic), 13% black/African American, 5% Asian, 51% female, 1.2% Jewish, 0.6% Muslim, and no more than 3% gay/lesbian.

Take a typical cop show on TV. Generally, there are 8-10 main characters: 2-4 leads and the rest major "supporting" actors. 

If you do have 10 characters, 6 should be white, 3 should be Hispanic/Black/African-American, and 1 "other" including Asian.  Additionally, gay/lesbian (or LGBT) people should account for no more than 3 out of a hundred characters on the show. No more than 1 in one hundred should be Jewish or Muslim or American Indian. 

Of the three currently running crime shows we watch: 
Castle has 5 whites, 1 Hispanic and 1 Black

NCIS has 5 whites, 1 Black, and 1 Jewish, non-American female.  

Bones has almost all whites, with 1 black. 

Classic CSI had 5-6 whites with 1 black.

In other words, the major demographic groups are more-or-less covered. 

Although, NCIS and Bones take place in Washington DC, and Castle in NYC. One would expected that the demographics of the area would skew far more minority than is represented on the shows.

Science Links, 7/30/14

Ebola, Roger Pielke, Jr. and climate change, Siberian holes, and autism

Article: Sierra Leone's top Ebola doctor dies from virus
The doctor leading Sierra Leone's fight against the worst Ebola outbreak on record died from the virus on Tuesday, the country's chief medical officer said.
The death of Sheik Umar Khan, who was credited with treating more than 100 patients, follows those of dozens of local health workers and the infection of two American medics in neighboring Liberia, highlighting the dangers faced by staff trying to halt the disease's spread across West Africa.

Link to graphic.

Article: Burn the Witch! Roger Pielke Jr. Out at FiveThirtyEight

FiveThirtyEight: "the site has published articles – typically creating or analyzing statistical information – on a wide variety of topics in current politics and political news.  These included a monthly update on the prospects for turnover in the U.S. Senate; federal economic policies; Congressional support for legislation; public support for health care reform, global warming legislation, gay rights; elections around the world; marijuana legalization; and numerous other topics."

Roger Pielke, Jr., is a well known, and widely respected, climate change skeptic with his own blog.

The stated purpose of "538" is to provide a statistical analysis. Pielke did so.

The stated purpose of "538" is to provide statistical analysis of global warming. Pielke did so.


He analyzed the statistics concerning the cost of natural disasters. He found that "...the increased cost of natural disasters is not the result of climate change — a premise that was heavily criticized."

He also found no trend in natural disasters, especially weather and climate related disasters.

Ad hominen logical fallacies were employed ("Disinformer." "Trickster"). Constructive criticism of his work, less so.

An interview with Roger Pielke, Jr., about the departure.

Article: Two New Mysterious Holes Discovered In Siberia

Article: Giant Hole Forms In Siberia, And Nobody Can Explain Why

One measured 260 feet across, another (?) was 230 feet deep.

The articles have cool pictures.

Meteors? Melting permafrost? Natural gas explosion?

Article: For children with autism, brain inflexibility may explain behavior
New research has found that the brains of children with autism are relatively inflexible at switching from rest to task and this inflexibility is correlated with behaviors characteristic of the disorder.
“One of the core clinical symptoms of autism is restricted interests and repetitive behaviors,” senior study author Vinod Menon, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine, told “Autism is characterized by significant behavioral inflexibility and we were interested in finding out the brain basis of inflexibility.”

To study the autistic brain, Stanford researchers worked with two groups. The first group of 17 children with autism and 17 typically developing children did social face recognition tasks that required them to respond when there was a different face presented in the screen. The second equally sized group did a simple math problem solving task.

Researchers used the face recognition task because autism is characterized by social deficits. The math task was used because children with autism typically do not have deficits in that area.

All participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans during rest and during the tasks.

Compared to the typically developing participants, children with autism showed reduced differentiation between brain connectivity during rest and task— a phenomenon the researchers refer to as brain inflexibility. Additionally, researchers found a correlation between the degree of brain inflexibility shown in the fMRI scans and the severity of restrictive and repetitive behaviors in children with autism.

Demograhics: US Census Bureau Quick Facts Page

Website: US Census Bureau Quick Facts Page

Estimates as of 2013:
  • US population - about 316,000,000 people
  • 23% under 18 years of age
  • 14% 65 years of age or older
  • 77% white (including Hispanic)
  • 17% Hispanic only
  • 13% Black/African-American
  • 2.4% mixed race
 Wikipedia: Demographics of the United States
 Religious affiliations (as of 2008, unless noted):
  • Christian (all) - 76% (down 10% in the last 18 years)
  • Catholic - 25%
  • Christian, non-Catholic - 51%
  • Jewish - 1.2%
  • Muslim - 0.6%
  • None/no religion, total - 15% (up 7% in the last 18 years)
  • Atheist/agnostic - 1.6% (up 0.9% in the last 18 years)
The total fertility rate in the United States estimated for 2013 is 1.87 children per woman, which is below the replacement fertility rate of approximately 2.1.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

101 Geysers Mapped on Ocean-Bearing Saturn Moon Enceladus

Article: 101 Geysers Mapped on Ocean-Bearing Saturn Moon Enceladus

Artist's concept showing a cross-section of the ice shell beneath one of Enceladus' "tiger stripe" fractures, from which geysers of water vapor and ice blast into space.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Do the geysers originate near the surface due to friction between different pieces of the crust? Or do they originate from deep within the crust from the salty "ocean." below it?

Because the geysers erupt from specific vents, it is more likely that they arise from deep beneath the crust.

I understand why scientists have called these geysers. They are mostly made up of water.

However, they seem to be more analogous to our volcanoes: Molten fluid from deep in the crust or below it. A vent traveling through the solid of that liquid. The fluid then venting onto the surface, hardening, and becoming a part of that surface.
Article: Origins of Mysterious World Trade Center Ship Revealed

Archeological find discovered in the excavation for the new World Trade Center.

While mostly made of oak, the keel of the ship used hickory. This allowed the researchers to narrow the field to eastern North America. Study of the tree rings of the oak further narrowed the origin to the Philadelphia region. Seems that the trees rings of the boat's oak matched tree rings found in the oak of Independence Hall, and other historically verified wood samples.

Study of the tree rings also allowed the researchers to date the construction of the wood to the 1770's.

The wood had been damaged by borers, common in tropical waters. And the boat had become encrusted with oysters before its final burial. The boat was about 20 years old when buried (dated by artifacts surrounding the boat).

Therefore, the boat was made in the Philadelphia region in the 1770's traveled at least once to the tropics (probably the Caribbean), on its final voyage went to New York, specifically lower Manhattan where it was tied up for some time prior (allowing the oysters to grow) before its final burial.
Article: This Mysterious Signal 'Could Not Be Explained By Known Physics,' Astronomers Say

"Signal" is a misleading word. It implies an intelligent source. It is not.

When excited atoms release energy, they release the energy as specific wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation. Sodium vapor or mercury vapor lights in parking lots are an example. Sodium vapor lights only release energy in the yellow part of the visible light.

Researchers were observing the electromagnetic spectrum from the Perseus Cluster. It "is surrounded by a cloud of superheated gas, which contains ions that each emit their own 'line' in the x-ray spectrum."

They found lines in the spectrum that could not be accounted for by any known ions.

They speculate that they may have found evidence for so-called "dark matter."

Dark matter is called that because we cannot detect it other than by the effects of its mass on galaxies and clusters of galaxies. It has to be there to provide the gravitational attraction that holds galaxies together. It is otherwise invisible.

Or it may be due to something else entirely.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Global Warming Links #3 [Updated and bumped]

Article: NOAA: Global Analysis - June 2014

: Global temperature reaches record high in June following record warmth in May

Article: World breaks monthly heat record 2 times in a row

[Update is below. Doubt my cynicism about NOAA, but the satellite data is in, and it SHOUTS a very different story than NOAA's.]

Yes, May and June, according to NOAA, have the highest temperatures on record.

I will wait for NASA's satellite data. NOAA is less than trustworthy.

If you read the "Global Highlights," it is full of record high temperatures. There is no mention of the cool temperatures in the US, or other parts of the earth.

It also shows the eastern US being warmer than usual for June. Is that the way anyone in PA or the rest of this area remembers June at all?

Article: Should you trust NOAA claims about May and June records?

The answer is, "No."

This is the satellite data since 1995. It clearly shows the high point that occurred in 1998. It does not show any hot May or June 2014.

It also clearly shows the hiatus over the last 16 years.

The green line is CO2, the blue line is the NASA satellite data.

This data, unlike NOAA's data is not manipulated, adjusted, or tweaked. Nor is it checked to see if it conforms to the "consensus."

Genetics and colonizing distance worlds

Article: Want to Colonize an Alien Planet? Send 40,000 People

One of the major obstacles to colonizing a distant planet has to do with genetics.

It would take at least 150 years to get from Earth to some other, colonizable world and thus at least 6 generations.

In order for the colony to be viable in the long term there has to be enough genetic variation to avoid what is called the "founder effect" or a "genetic bottleneck." Only having a small population to start with concentrates "deleterious" genes due to in-breeding.

The authors estimated that about 40,000 people would be necessary for such a long-duration space flight and for colonizing the world.

It would help if the population chosen would be made of people of diverse ethnic/racial backgrounds. 

One way in increase genetic diversity, not discussed, would be send along a large number of any of the following: sperm samples, frozen eggs, or embryos.

Babies in womb start learning earlier than thought

Article: Evidence suggests babies in womb start learning earlier than thought: study
Babies in the womb show evidence of learning by their 34th week, three weeks earlier than previously thought, new research has found.
Since the third trimester is from the 28th week to 42 weeks, this is well back into the middle of the third trimester.
Krueger had the women repeat three times out loud a set 15-second nursery rhyme, and do it twice a day for six weeks. The selected rhyme was previously unknown to the mothers.

The fetuses’ heart rates were monitored at 32, 33 and 34 weeks as they listened to a recording of a female stranger recite the rhyme.

By the 34th week, Krueger said, the heart rates of the tested fetuses showed an overall slight decline while listening to the recording, compared with a control group of fetuses whose heart rates slightly accelerated while listening to a recording of a new nursery rhyme.

Krueger said a decelerating heartbeat has long been associated with a fetus recognizing something familiar, compared with an accelerated heartbeat response to a novel sound or experience.

"We cautiously concluded, because it was not statistically significant, that learning emerged by 34 weeks gestational age," she said.
So, babies can learn at this point. They also can recognize novel sounds as well.

Previous research has already shown that babies recognize their mother's voices, but I do not remember when in pregnancy that starts. Obviously at least by the third semester.

One implication has to do with abortion. First, the article has "baby" in both the title and five times in the article; fetus was also used 5 times.

Second, what constitutes being human?

We already know that babies born in the 3rd trimester are viable, and we have known that for decades. Once born, no one has a problem saying that the baby is human and deserve protection and rights. Most people who call themselves pro-life have no problem with saying that the fertilized egg is alive, human in some way, and deserves to be accorded some protection.

Learning is one of the things that make us human.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Article: Natural-terrain schoolyards reduce children's stress, says study

I am not surprised by this. I read years ago that humans are hardwired to like a certain terrain. It might be called a savannah, or an open forest, terrain. Think of a favorite park. It is usually a grassy area interspersed with mature trees. Clear sight lines (think hard-wiring for hunting and for keeping an eye on the nasty sabre-toothed tigers of pre-history).

The posting, below, about how native Americans maintained the forests of California. Same idea.
Playing in schoolyards that feature natural habitats and trees and not just asphalt and recreation equipment reduces children's stress and inattention, according to a study.
An environment that simulates what our hard-wiring likes will be less stressful.

K-12 students were studied, including special needs children and children in the regular classroom.

'Quack' child psychology practices identified

Article: 'Quack' child psychology practices identified by study

A recent poll of 139 experts has been conducted to discredit “quack” treatments and assessments for children. The study identifies and rates pseudoscientific and potentially harmful practices. “Building consensus about what does not work for youth is an important counterpart to evidence-based research on what does work,” said the lead researcher and co-author.
I  hope that other publications pick up this as well.
Experts rated 67 psychological treatments and 35 assessments for children and adolescents on a continuum from “not at all discredited” to “certainly discredited.”

The poll asked those experts to weigh in on the merits of both assessments and treatments. Enneagrams, the Szondi Test, Brain Balance, biorhythms, handwriting analysis and the Fairy Tale Test were strongly discredited for assessment among children and adolescents.

Treatments that were strongly discredited include past life regression therapy, crystal healing, or withholding food or water.
I am not familiar with most of the "assessments."

The fire ecology of pre-historic California

Article: Fire ecology manipulation by California native cultures
California native cultures burned patches of forest in deliberate sequence to diversify the resources available within their region. The first year after a fire brought sprouts for forage and basketry. In 3 to 5 years, shrubs produced a wealth of berries. Mature trees remained for the acorn harvest, but burning also made way for the next generation of trees, to ensure a consistent future crop. Opening the landscape improved game and travel, and created sacred spaces.

"They were aware of the succession, so they staggered burns by 5 to 10 years to create mosaics of forest in different stages, which added a lot of diversity for a short proximity area of the same forest type," Lake said. "Complex tribal knowledge of that pattern across the landscape gave them access to different seral stages of soil and vegetation when tribes made their seasonal rounds."
It is known that the East Coast tribes practiced this kind of manipulation. Some places, like the "pine barrens" of New Jersey and Long Island, were obvious. The pines would have been out-competed by oaks and other trees fairly quickly if the barrens were not burned over regularly.

The fascinating thing about this for me is the depth of knowledge still available. In the East Coast, this was lost due the destruction, and even extinction, of the local tribes.

Apparently, restoring the fire ecology of some of these areas would also restore some of the salmon runs.

Another thing, the ecology of pre-historic North America was not "wild." It was manipulated by human beings for the benefit of human beings.

There is a "pernicious paradigm" that Western colonists destroyed the wild and natural ecology of the Americas. Sorry, it had already happened.

US energy boom

Article: There's A U.S. Energy Boom, No Thanks To Obama

Alternative title: US energy boom, doomsayers and environmentalists hardest hit. 

Much good news. And increasing oil/natural gas means lower prices for consumers, which helps the poorest among us.

1) [A ]...35% increase in America's oil and natural gas production since President Obama took office.
2) Since Obama took office, oil and gas production... on federal lands has dropped sharply due to a cutback in leasing of deepwater areas for energy development.
3) U.S. dependence on imported petroleum products has fallen from more than 60% in 2005 to less than 33% in 2013. It's expected to drop to 22% in 2015....
4) U.S. natural gas production has been an equally remarkable success story. The shale-gas revolution has transformed the U.S. into the world's No. 1 gas producer.

Globe trotting climate change advocate

Article: Harvard historian: strategy of climate science denial groups 'extremely successful'

Why are conspiracy theories respectable? 

Article: Globetrotting Harvard Prof Takes Break From Jet-Setting To Gripe About Climate Change Deniers

Two questions:
1) If the science is so "settled" why is necessary to use ad hominen logical fallacies?
2) If global warming/climate change is such a crisis, why not act like it is a crisis? And reduce one's own, personal carbon footprint?

Quote from the 2nd article:
Naomi Oreskes, a Harvard University professor [she is a geologist, specializing in the history of science] who flies around the world in pollutant-spewing jumbo jet airliners to proclaim that climate change is a terrible menace, has co-written another book warning about the planet’s dire environmental situation.

Just since June 2008 when then-candidate Barack Obama promised that his presidency would usher in “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal,” Oreskes has visited Norway, Germany, Denmark, New Zealand and Switzerland — just to name a few places. She also took an extensive tour of Australia in 2010 to promote a book she co-wrote....
Logical fallacies employed in the two articles:
1) Ad hominen - Quote:
Finally there is the power of rationalization—people whose bread really is buttered by the fossil fuel industry [ed., as opposed to one whose bread is buttered by the climate change industry?], or people who are heavily invested in the industry in one way or another, and just don’t want to accept that there is a fundamental problem.
I have seen this conspiracy theory charge repeatedly, with no citations. There is one exception, repeatedly used. An MIT professor, who is a skeptic, admitted to taking a small honorarium, decades previously, from a symposium sponsored by an oil company. If you have to dig this deep, and go this far back, for such a small amount of money, and with such a tenuous connection to the "industry," it proves that your charge is false.

2) Ad hominen - repeated use of the "denier" label (based on "holocaust denier").

3) Straw dog? Reverse ad hominen? - Quote:
The professor describes “the denial industry” [ed., conspiracy theory again] as a motley crew of “very cynical individuals” “with little or no regard to the consequences for others” as well as people who believe that environmentalists are “green on the outside, red on the inside — and that climate change is just an excuse to bring in socialism by another name.”
Since this charge is objectively true, what is the issue with it? In the Guardian (a UK socialist/communist newspaper) interview, she talks about free-market failure, that is, the failure of capitalism. This is a standard communist critique. Why make it, unless you believe it? Why make it, unless you want the communist/socialist solution put into effect?

"No regard for the consequences for others," you are calling your political opponents evil.

4) [Double] ad hominen and straw dog  - "American Tea Baggers." Admittedly, this was by the Guardian interviewer, but she did not object. "Tea bagger" refers to a (usually) homosexual act, not a political group. And "American tea parties" have generally not been focused on global warming as an issue. Mostly, the tea parties want to restore a limited federal government. This is vilified by the left, which is totalitarian and collectivist. Double ad hominen. As for the straw dog logical fallacy: "this group of stupid, uneducated Americans believes..., which everyone knows is stupid."

Hat tip to the Instapundit:
I’LL BELIEVE IT’S A CRISIS WHEN THE PEOPLE WHO KEEP TELLING ME IT’S A CRISIS START ACTING LIKE IT’S A CRISIS: Globetrotting Harvard Prof Takes Break From Jet-Setting To Gripe About Climate Change Deniers.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Article: Human Genome Is Mostly 'Junk DNA,' With Only 8.2% Functional
“We found that 8.2 percent of our human genome is functional,” said Dr. Gerton Lunter of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at Oxford University and joint senior author of the study. This means, Lunter explains, the rest of our genome is just leftover evolutionary material — if the genome were a house, this would be all the unused stuff stored in the attic — part of the genome that has undergone losses or gains in the DNA code. Even more, among the significant 8.2 percent, not all of that DNA is equally important. A little over one percent codes for proteins carrying out the critical biological processes in the body, while the other roughly seven percent is thought to be involved in the switching on and off of genes — at different times, in response to various factors, and in different parts of the body.
So 92% of our DNA is still "useless."

Science links - 7/24/2014

Fossils, dogs and jealousy, Apollo 11 technology, Mount St Helens, burning wood and global warming, genes and menarche

Article: Wyoming cave with fossil secrets to be excavated
For the first time in more than 30 years, paleontologists are about to revisit one of North America's most remarkable troves of late Pleistocene fossils: The bones of tens of thousands of animals piled at least 30 feet deep at the bottom of a sinkhole-type cave.
Fossils should range in age from 14,000 to 100,000 years old. The most recent fossils would coincide with the arrival of humans beings and the Pleistocene extinction event.

One of the goals is to see if DNA can be collected from the bones and analyzed.

The sinkhole is 85 feet deep. Researchers will repell down, but have to climb 85 feet back up.

Article: Dogs are capable of feeling jealousy: U.S. study
The owners of 36 small dogs were asked to do three things in the test - shower affection on a plush animatronic dog, shower affection on a plastic jack-o-lantern pail and read a children's book aloud - while ignoring their pet.

Researchers then watched how the dogs reacted.

Roughly 80 percent of the dogs pushed or touched their owner when they were coddling the toy, almost twice as often as when the owner played with the pail and about four times as often as when the owner was reading.

A quarter of the dogs even snapped at the toy, which barked, whined and wagged its tail, while the owner was playing with it. Only one dog snapped at the pail and the book.

"We can't really speak to the dog's subjective experiences, of course, but it looks as though they were motivated to protect an important social relationship," Harris said in a statement accompanying the study.
It is already known that some breeds are more attached to their owners than others; dogs that are considered to be companion dogs.

A higher percent of the behavior of dogs is hard-wired; this lends credence to the idea that this behavior has a large genetic component.

Dogs, of course, can help themselves. Humans can overcome hard-wiring. Humans can feel jealousy or envy; but do not have to act on those feelings.

Article: Apollo 11's Vintage Tech: The Most Amazing Moon Landing Innovations
The computing technology of the average cell phone far exceeds the combined computing power of the two spacecraft that got humans to the moon and home safely
The Saturn V rocket, the Lunar Lander, computers, and spacesuits.

Article: U.S. scientists to map interior of Mount St. Helens volcano
A series of explosions set off by a team of scientists were expected to rattle Washington state's Mount St. Helens on Wednesday as researchers map the interior of the volcano, whose 1980 eruption was the deadliest in U.S. history.

The instruments will help create a sort of CAT scan on the interior and will "illuminate the architecture of the greater Mount St. Helens magmatic system from slab to surface," according to researchers from the project, called Imaging Magma Under St. Helens, or iMUSH (

Residents living near Mount St. Helens were unlikely to feel the shots because of their depth, but their insertion approximates a magnitude 2 earthquake, scientists said.

In May, the U.S. Geological Survey said that magma levels were slowly rebuilding inside Mount St. Helens, but there was no sign of an impending eruption.
Article: Concerns over carbon emissions from burning wood
Burning wood to fuel power stations can create as many harmful carbon emissions [aka, carbon dioxide] as burning coal, according to a [UK] government report.

Burning biomass - such as wood - is not a zero-pollution option. It creates greenhouse gases to cut and transport the wood, and when the wood is burned.

But supporters say that so long as the burned vegetation is replaced by new plants to absorb CO2 that should confer a significant advantage over using fossil fuels.

And it counts as renewable energy because new trees soak up the CO2 emitted by the burned trees.

Burning whole logs from natural forests would be counter-productive, the report says, whilst generating power from wood waste that would otherwise be burned at the roadside could provide benefits for the environment overall.
There is no perfect energy source. All have downsides. Coal is cheap, but the worst for CO2 emission. Natural gas is mostly methane which is, in itself, a greenhouse gas. Nuclear power can be cheap and has no carbon emissions, but it the fuel is, well, radioactive and the waste is toxic.

Article: Genetic clues to age of first period
The timing of when a girl reaches puberty is controlled by hundreds of genes, say scientists.

And age at first period may vary in daughters from the same family because of genetic factors, research shows.

The findings, published in Nature, could give clues to why early puberty may be linked to an increased risk of health conditions.

Scientists at 166 institutions analysed the DNA of more than 180,000 women in one of the largest studies of its kind.

They found that hundreds of genes were involved in the timing of puberty.
Continue reading the main story   

Unusually, a girl's first period was also influenced by imprinted genes - a rare event where genes from either the mother of father are silenced.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Article: We’re heading into a jobless future, no matter what the government does

Any article that presumes to predict the future always has to cherry pick trends and assume that they continue. The problem is that no trend continues forever. It is called the "fallacy of extrapolation." Examples are here and here.

This had been the basis for the global warming scare: The earth is warming. IF this trend continues, all life on earth will be destroyed (and, yes, that argument has been made, although not usually by a climate scientist.)
In his debate with me [the author], [futurist Ray] Kurzweil said: “Automation always eliminates more jobs than it creates if you only look at the circumstances narrowly surrounding the automation. That’s what the Luddites saw in the early 19th century in the textile industry in England. The new jobs came from increased prosperity and new industries that were not seen.” Kurzweil’s key argument was that just as we could not predict that types of jobs that were created, we can’t predict what is to come.
My feeling is that we will not have a jobless future. People who want to work will find work. The old and disabled will have their safety net. Drones who want to live off the gainful employment of others will do so.
The only solution that I see is a shrinking work week. We may perhaps be working for 10 to 20 hours a week instead of the 40 for which we do today. And with the prices of necessities and of what we today consider luxury goods dropping exponentially, we may not need the entire population to be working.
Currently, the price of necessities are going up. There is a massive amount of food inflation that is not being tracked because food was dropped from the cost-of-living index during the Bush administration.

On the other hand, the price of luxury goods have been dropping all during my lifetime. Fifty years ago, a home movie theater existed only in the homes of the very rich. And even they did not have movies on demand the way we do. A recent "factoid" that I read said something like, more photos were taken in 2013 than in the entire history of photography. Exotic cheeses and bean coffee are available everywhere.
...[A]t best we have another 10 to 15 years in which there is a role for humans. The number of available jobs will actually increase in the U.S. and Europe before it decreases.

An observation from the Star Trek universe. The people of the Federation had unlimited energy and replicators that could make all basic needs. People who wished to work, but did not want to work for the government, became entrepreneurs, travelers, craftsmen. One character was a wine maker, another ran a restaurant, still another was a tailor. A groundskeeper was a pivotal character. Exotic religions seem to have flourished.  These occupations generate work for others. Craft work will always be in demand.

Not to mistake Star Trek for reality.

However, I do think that a lot of people are hard-wired to be busy; the "what" of the busy-ness varies.

Tech people, as the article observes, will also always be in demand. And, until we get "holodoctors," the real thing, and nurses, etc., will also always be needed.
Article: History Of Autism And Vaccines: How One Man Unraveled The World’s Faith In Vaccinations

Nice info-graphic covering most of the FAQ.

Take one, now-discredited and "struck off" quack in the UK. Add an ambulance chasing lawyer (who financed the "research" and then harvested the lawsuits), some crackpot starlets and a minor scion of a once prominent political family. Stir in fear-mongering headlines. And the anti-vax, anti-science movement has the blood of thousands of children on their hands.


Race and aging

Article: Does your race determine your biological age? Controversial research claims black people age more quickly - and are up to THREE YEARS older in health terms

Authors: Morgan Levine and Eileen Crimmins of the University of Southern California’s Davis School of Gerontology. wrote in the journal Social Science and Medicine.

Yet another data point in the discussion about race.

How they did it:
The current study uses data on 7,644 black and white participants, ages 30 and above, from the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

The researchers calculated each participant’s 'biological age' by looking at 10 biomarkers that have been linked to aging, including C-reactive protein, serum creatinine, glycosylated hemoglobin, systolic blood pressure, and total cholesterol.

The team compared then compared biological ages of blacks and whites as indicated from the biomarkers.

Black people age more quickly than white people, a controversial new study has claimed.

Researchers say that the researcher could shed new light on higher mortality rates in black people.

They say the biological age differences by race increase up until ages 60-69, and then decline.

Differences in biological age between blacks and whites appear to increase up until ages 60-65 and then decline, presumably due to mortality selection.

The team say the cause could be stress-related.

'Everyday stressors associated with being black may negatively impact physiological functioning and, under chronic exposure, accumulate over the lifespan and contribute to growing disparities in biological risk,' the authors wrote.

'Furthermore, if such environmental, behavioral, and mental factors contribute to an acceleration of the aging process, we would expect that persons who are aging the fastest should have the highest risk of mortality, and thus (have a) lower life expectancy.'
The hypothesis, that the aging may be stress related, can be tested by looking at the levels of those hormones that are related to stress in the same population.

Another hypothesis is obvious even if the authors/reporters will not touch it with a ten-foot pole. Race differences are hard-wired genetic differences. We already know that there are genetic components to aging. The difference in rate of aging may be due to genetic differences between blacks and whites.

This article links to the actual research paper.

I have posted a second discussion of this at the "Rooted in Him" blog: Should race matter to a Christian?

Sexual orientation and the National Health Interview Survey [Updated three times]

Article: Sexual Orientation and Health Among U.S. Adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2013
National Health Statistics Reports. Number 77. July 15, 2014. From the CDC.

[with updates, below]

So, before you read any further, guess the percentage of Americans who self-identify as homosexuals.

The number I heard as a young adult were those from the Kinsey Reports and the Masters and Johnson reports: about 10% of the American population was homosexual.

About 10-15 years ago, I begin hearing numbers below 5%, then settling around 3%.  

If you base your numbers on the proportion of gay/homosexual characters on TV shows, you might think between 10-20%.  [Update: according to the article linked first, over 30% of Americans think that the percentage of homosexuals in the US is 25%.]
Based on the 2013 NHIS data, 96.6% of adults identified as straight, 1.6% identified as gay or lesbian, and 0.7% identified as bisexual. The remaining 1.1% of adults identified as ‘‘something else,’’ stated ‘‘I don’t know the answer,’’ or refused to provide an answer.
As to the health aspects:
1) On average, people who self-identified as straights smoked less, drank to excess less and got less exercise than those who self-identified as homosexual.
2) On average, people who self-identified as straights and homosexuals had the same levels of obesity and virtually the same levels of "serious psychological distress in [the] past 30 days."

The latter is good news because people on both sides of the "homosexuality is right/wrong" issue have made the case that homosexuals suffer more psychological distress than straights.

Update #1: Why aren't there more gay people?
This is an interesting take on the research above from a conservative atheist.

His major point is that, based on the numbers, the Christian right, the mild left, and the radical left all have reasons to over-state the number and cultural impact of homosexuals.

In effect, the religious right and the cultural left have formed a kind of Baptist-and-bootlegger coalition to inflame this particular cultural issue beyond its actual importance in the real word. A conservative friend of mine recently noted to me how bizarre it will be a decade from now to find out that still just 2 percent of Americans are gay, that perhaps 15 percent of them are married, and that the country overturned millennia-old traditions and had a huge culture war to accommodate the sensitivities of about half a million people.
Update #2: How Many Americans Are Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual?

A New York Times interview with Gary J. Gates, a demographer at the Williams Institute at the U.C.L.A. School of Law, specializing in the LGBT population.

Dr. Gates believes the survey above does underestimate the LGBT population because of stigma (especially among bisexuals) and because the survey did not measure gender identity.

The problem with the first objection is that the numbers for gay/lesbian people in the US has remained stable for over 30 years, while the stigma has mostly been removed. His percentages are much higher than the "consensus" numbers (over twice the size). Both sets of numbers cannot be correct.

The second objection, for me, is probably explained by the small numbers for those of alternate gender identity. The margins of error on the survey would probably be larger than the numbers of people who identify, so it would not be statistically valuable to ask those questions. The survey would need a much larger population of people surveyed (and, therefore, be much more expensive).

Update #3: State agencies launch LGBT data-collection effort

New York state wants 8 state agencies to collect volunteered data from people about their sexual orientation.
O’Connell [Dan O’Connell, director of the state Health Department’s AIDS Institute] said the new data collection effort represents a transformation in the way the state and the government treat non-heterosexual New Yorkers.
“You’re taking something that 40 years ago was a crime and we’re at a place where people are openly talking about it,” he said. “It’s an important moment and what this shows is that we want this to be as routinely captured as any other information we gather about any other human being.”
It has been the left, progressives, that have argued to keep the government out of the bedroom. Now they advocate for it? 

Why does anyone want the government to know their sexual orientation?

I realize that many people view the government as good, and kind, and beneficent. But every government has abused its power, and this program certainly has its potential for abuse.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Global Warming Links #4

Article: Replacing coal, oil with natural gas will not help fight global warming, expert argues

By Dr. Robert Howarth, a professor of ecology and environmental biology, and an advocate of eliminating all fossil fuels as energy sources.

His specialty is nutrient cycles, which includes studying traces gases in the atmosphere.

Sometimes, I know enough about the claims made in an article, or can follow the reasoning well enough, to judge whether or not the claims are valid. There are things that seem "off" about this article, but I would like to see an expert discuss this. There are some things that I have noted.

This is a review article. It reviews his original publication (from April 2011) and concludes he was right the first time. (ok, a little snarky; but why did the journal commission a review article to review the author? It is like saying that actors and directors should be the people who do reviews of their own movies.)
"While emissions of carbon dioxide are less from natural gas than from coal and oil, methane emissions are far greater. Methane is such a potent greenhouse gas that these emissions make natural gas a dangerous fuel from the standpoint of global warming over the next several decades," said Dr. Howarth. "Society should wean ourselves from all fossil fuels and not rely on the myth that natural gas is an acceptable bridge fuel to a sustainable future."
Another example of having the conclusions and then finding data to fit them.

Even if Dr. Howarth is correct, would not better control of the wells and their emissions decrease the leakage? Rather than just using this research to justify ending fracking? Or ending the use of fossil fuels? But to ask that question is to answer it.

He already has his conclusions. The data must fit them.

Dr. Howarth at the end of his article:

Society needs to wean itself from the addiction to fossil fuels as quickly as possible. But to replace some fossil fuels (coal, oil) with another (natural gas) will not suffice as an approach to take on global warming. Rather, we should embrace the technologies of the 21st Century, and convert our energy systems to ones that rely on wind, solar, and water power. 
First, no mention of nuclear energy. It is the least polluting energy source currently available. It releases virtually no carbon dioxide or methane. So why no mention?

Second, we are not going to increase reliance on water energy. Dams are environmentally incorrect. They are opposed everywhere. He is supposed to be an expert of rivers (as per his posted curriculum vita). Yet, he advocates water power?

Third, wind and solar are currently not economically viable. To be viable,energy prices would have to rise considerably, at the detriment to the poorest and the lower middle class. Wealthy people, or even upper middle class like Dr Howarth, would be less hurt. 

Odd note: He has lent his voice to accusations that Google helps the gas lobby support fracking. Google is rather left-wing, so this is a little far-fetched.

Global Warming Links #2

Second up, a set of articles concerning the ENSO and global warming
El Niño Southern Oscillation, or ENSO, refers to the effects of a band of sea surface temperatures which are anomalously warm or cold for long periods of time that develops off the western coast of South America and causes climatic changes across the tropics and subtropics. The Walker Circulation was discovered by Gilbert Walker at the turn of the 20th century. The 'Southern Oscillation' refers to variations in the temperature of the surface of the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean (warming and cooling known as El Niño and La Niña, respectively) and in air surface pressure in the tropical western Pacific. The two variations are coupled: the warm oceanic phase, El Niño, accompanies high air surface pressure in the western Pacific, while the cold phase, La Niña, accompanies low air surface pressure in the western Pacific. Mechanisms that cause the oscillation remain under study.
"Under study" means that no one know what causes them.

Article: Recent slowdown in atmospheric warming thanks to La Niña

There appears to be correlation between el Nino events and warming, and la Nina events and cooling (or, at least, a pause in warming). The hottest year in modern record keeping (if you discount the 1930's) coincided with a major el Nino event.

Climate modeling. Some problems with this research.They took a standard climate model that failed to predict the current hiatus, then modified it and compared the results. "The [modified] version used these same inputs but also forced the model to use the actual sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific rather than letting the model itself generate them."

In other words, they put in cooler sea surface temperatures for the equatorial Pacific and found that the model "predicted" cooler surface temperatures on earth. If you force your model to run on low temperatures, of course it is going to predict lower temperatures.

Now, they do make a testable prediction: that when we have a run of el Nino events in the future, global warming will return.

However, this is still a "correlation does not equal causation" logical fallacy. Just because the events are coincidental is not proof of causation.
It adds up to a pretty coherent picture pointing to a cluster of La Niñas as the cause of the slowdown in atmospheric warming. But why all the La Niñas? The researchers chalk it up to natural variability....
Except the Wikipedia article referenced above (with its accompanying graph) makes it clear that it is the el Nino events that are increasing in size and frequency.
Also in accordance with reality, energy trapped by greenhouse gases continued to increase in the model, with ocean heat content rising apace. The modeled climate system didn’t cease warming; it just didn’t show up strongly in the atmosphere.
Except it did not end up in the ocean. See the posting below.

Article: Lewandowsky and Oreskes Are Co-Authors of a Paper about ENSO, Climate Models and Sea Surface Temperature Trends (Go Figure!)

The author of this article rips into the Lewandowsky article for "a number of curiosities."

The first one is that the authors cherry-pick climate models that match the hypothesis (that is, selecting the results to prove the hypothesis). As Arthur Canon Doyle has Sherlock Holmes say, "It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.  Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts."

Another "curiosity" is that after choosing the "best" and "worst" models, the authors do not actually say whose models. So that not only do they chose models that best fit their conclusions, but refuse to tell whose models they chose so that they cannot be tested independently.

This lack of transparency is means that their research cannot be checked, cannot be reproduced, and can neither be confirmed or refuted.

Additionally, THE ACTUAL AUTHORS OF THE MODELS can not comment on how their own models are being used.

It is not science to make statements that cannot be tested.

It is the classic "appeal to authority" logical fallacy. "We are scientists; what we say must be taken as true on the basis of our authority."

A third curiosity is that the four "best" models fit 15 years of the hiatus and simulate ENSO. However, out of dozens of models, they found 4 that "work" and they work for a 15-year period. There is not mention of whether or not they work for longer periods of time (and all models have much longer than 15 years of running time.)

In other words, it is another appearance of the "correlation is not causation" logical fallacy. Just because four (out of dozens) work for 15 years does not actually show causation.

There are several other curiosities. However, I am going to end here

Global Warming Links #1

Lots of links, with some point-counterpoint

First up, a set of articles concerning the hiatus.

Article: Global warming 'pause' since 1998 reflects natural fluctuation

Article: Claim: natural variation ‘masked’ global warming, creating ‘the pause’
Statistical analysis of average global temperatures between 1998 and 2013 shows that the slowdown in global warming during this period is consistent with natural variations in temperature, according to research. The study concludes that a natural cooling fluctuation during this period largely masked the warming effects of a continued increase in human-made emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
My problem: this is a variation of the "correlation is not causation" fallacy. A statistical anlysis shows that the slowdown is consistent with natural variations... Fine. However, neither does it prove that the slowdown down is caused by natural variations, just that it is consistent with the natural variations.

The analysis shows that the hiatus could be a natural variation, not proves it to be so.

Another problem from my point of view. The models that are used to predict global warming make it clear that this this kind of hiatus/pause should not happen. So even if the author is correct, it still does not let the climate models off the hook.

Also, yes, short-term variations up and down are, in fact, the rule in earth's climate. So are long-term variations up and down. Are we in a short-term or long-term variation?

As a commenter on the 2nd article notes, why is cooling the "natural variation," but warming is not?

As another commenter noted, the natural variation that masked the warming was exactly the same size as the warming. How likely is that?

Black holes and white holes

Article: Do black holes EXPLODE when they die? Theory claims they become white holes at the end of their life
A new theory suggests that black holes might die by transforming into a 'white hole,' which theoretically behave in the exact opposite manner as a black hole - rather than sucking all matter in, a 'white hole' spews it out. explains the new theory as suggesting 'that the transition from black hole to white hole would take place right after the initial formation of the black hole, but because gravity dilates time, outside observers would see the black hole lasting billions or trillions of years or more, depending on its size. If the authors are correct, tiny black holes that formed during the very early history of the Universe would now be ready to pop off like firecrackers and might be detected as high-energy cosmic rays or other radiation
And a "cool science" mention:
'We are learning about some of the most exotic and powerful objects in the universe,' he said in an email. 'This is cool science.'

Article: Deep Oceans Are Cooling Amidst A Sea of Modeling Uncertainty: New Research on Ocean Heat Content
Two of the world’s premiere ocean scientists from Harvard and MIT have addressed the data limitations that currently prevent the oceanographic community from resolving the differences among various estimates of changing ocean heat content. They point out where future data is most needed so these ambiguities do not persist into the next several decades of change. As a by-product of that analysis they 1) determined the deepest oceans are cooling, 2) estimated a much slower rate of ocean warming, 3) highlighted where the greatest uncertainties existed due to the ever changing locations of heating and cooling, and 4) specified concerns with previous methods used to construct changes in ocean heat content... They concluded, “Direct determination of changes in oceanic heat content over the last 20 years are not in conflict with estimates of the radiative forcing, but the uncertainties remain too large to rationalize e.g., the apparent “pause” in warming.”
There has been a pause in warming lasting now 18 years. If the earth is still heating, then where is the heat going to? One hypothesis is that the heat is being transferred to the oceans, specifically to the deep oceans.

And since other parts of the ocean are also cooling, or are warming slightly, it is obvious that the "ocean heat sink" hypothesis does not explain the current hiatus.

The hypothesis has been falsified.

As noted in a post below, the earth's atmosphere is not warming, but stable. Specific areas of the earth, especially the Arctic, are still catching up to the new equilibrium, so some climate change is to be expected.

But then, climate change is always expected. It is normal.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Why NASA is stagnant

Article: Why NASA Is Stagnant 
"We choose to go to the Moon. We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard...."
                                — John F. Kennedy, Rice University, September 1962
July 20th is the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. 
Over the course of its life, NASA has employed two distinct modes of operation. The first prevailed during the period from 1961 to 1973, and may therefore be called the Apollo Mode. The second, prevailing since 1974, may usefully be called the Random Mode.

In the Apollo Mode, business is conducted as follows. First, a destination for human space flight is chosen. Then a plan is developed to achieve the objective. Following this, technologies and designs are developed to implement the plan. These designs are then built, after which the mission is flown.

In the Random Mode, projects are undertaken on behalf of various internal and external technical-community pressure groups and then defended using rationales (not reasons). In the Apollo Mode, the space agency’s efforts are focused and directed. In the Random Mode, NASA’s efforts are scatterbrained and entropic.
The author makes the point that, after adjusting for inflation, the amount of money NASA had available, per year, 1961-1973 was only 18% more than 2001-2014. What is missing is the will to do something.
Article: Brandolini’s Law
“The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.”
First known usage was on January 11, 2013 by Alberto Brandolini, an Italian independent software development consultant.

Stroke rates are declining

Article: Stroke Rates Are Declining

Another intriguing article that I will just quote.
The incidence of stroke in the United States has declined significantly over the past two decades, a new analysis has found.

The decreases were apparent in people older than 65, the most common age group for stroke, and were similar in men and women and in blacks and whites.

Researchers followed 14,357 people, ages 45 to 64 at the start of the study, from 1987 to 2011. After accounting for coronary heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, smoking, statin use and other factors, they found that the incidence of stroke decreased by about 50 percent over the period of the study, and stroke deaths by about 40 percent.

Smoking cessation and better treatment of hypertension and high cholesterol accounted for part of the decrease...

Falling global inequality

Article: Income Inequality Is Not Rising Globally. It's Falling.
Author: Tyler Cowen is professor of economics at George Mason University.

I found this intriguing. I am just going to post mostly quotes from the article.
...Income inequality for the world as a whole has been falling for most of the last 20 years. It’s a fact that hasn’t been noted often enough.

The economic surges of China, India and some other nations have been among the most egalitarian developments in history.

International trade has drastically reduced poverty within developing nations, as evidenced by the export-led growth of China and other countries. Yet contrary to what many economists had promised, there is now good evidence that the rise of Chinese exports has held down the wages of some parts of the American middle class.

At the same time, Chinese economic growth has probably raised incomes of the top 1 percent in the United States, through exports that have increased the value of companies whose shares are often held by wealthy Americans. So while Chinese growth has added to income inequality in the United States, it has also increased prosperity and income equality globally.
Observation not noted in article: cheap imports disproportionately benefit poorer Americans. While the top 1% may benefit, so does the rest of the country.  
From a narrowly nationalist point of view, these developments may not be auspicious for the United States. But that narrow viewpoint is the main problem. We have evolved a political debate where essentially nationalistic concerns have been hiding behind the gentler cloak of egalitarianism. To clear up this confusion, one recommendation would be to preface all discussions of inequality with a reminder that global inequality has been falling and that, in this regard, the world is headed in a fundamentally better direction. [emphasis added]
The message from groups like Occupy Wall Street has been that inequality is up and that capitalism is failing us. A more correct and nuanced message is this: Although significant economic problems remain, we have been living in equalizing times for the world — a change that has been largely for the good. That may not make for convincing sloganeering, but it’s the truth.

Still, to the extent that political worry about rising domestic inequality is justified, it suggests yet another reframing. If our domestic politics can’t handle changes in income distribution, maybe the problem isn’t that capitalism is fundamentally flawed but rather that our political institutions are inflexible. Our politics need not collapse under the pressure of a world that, over all, is becoming wealthier and fairer. [emphasis added]

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Article: Suddenly, the sun is eerily quiet: Where did the sunspots go?

We are in the middle of a sunspot cycle and there should be lots of sunspots, but for several days in a row now there were none.

A strange event, but not unheard of.

This is also a "weak" cycle with below normal levels of sunspots.
"It all underlines that solar physicists really don't know what the heck is happening on the sun," Phillips said. "We just don't know how to predict the sun, that is the take away message of this event."
Donald Rumsfeld
There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don't know.
We know there is a solar cycle of sunspots. We understand some of the mechanisms. But this is a large unknown. It is against predictions and unexplained. "Cool science always generates more questions." 

Wikipedia article: The Maunder Minimum
The Maunder Minimum, also known as the "prolonged sunspot minimum," is the name used for the period starting in about 1645 and continuing to about 1715 when sunspots became exceedingly rare, as noted by solar observers of the time.

Astronomers... named the period after the solar astronomers Annie and E. Walter Maunder (1851–1928) who studied how sunspot latitudes changed with time.

Like the Dalton Minimum and Spörer Minimum, the Maunder Minimum coincided with a period of lower-than-average European temperatures.
Bonus fact:
The Astronomy of the Bible by E. Walter Maunder (1908). I have read about 2/3's of the book. Herr Maunder was very much a Christian. The book is informative about the Bible, astronomy, and related topics.
Article: The bend in the Appalachian mountain chain is finally explained

The 1500 mile Appalachian mountain chain runs along a nearly straight line from Alabama to Newfoundland -- except for a curious bend in Pennsylvania and New York State. Researchers now know what caused that bend -- a dense, underground block of rigid, volcanic rock forced the chain to shift eastward as it was forming millions of years ago.

The article does not talk about the origin of the "dense, volcanic rock" that caused the bend.

The article does mention the possible application of the research to fracking or "hydrofracking" as they call it. 

The Ten Stages of Clueless Gardening

Article: The Ten Stages of Clueless Gardening
Stage 9: Darwinism 
You finally go back out there and see that your green beans are doing pretty well, actually. You can probably get enough to serve with supper. You also find a couple decent cucumbers and a few tomatoes that haven't been sucked dry by stink bugs. The squash? You pull them all up and end their misery. And you feel remarkably better. Survival of the fittest, baby. If a plant can live through the onslaughts of nature without your constant attention and still produce something edible, it can stay. If not, buh-bye.




Oh, this is so true.

My garden is good at tomatoes and onions. The rest is bonus.
Article: Jet Engineer Designs a Saucepan That Boils Water Ridiculously Fast

The fins work by creating channels along the exterior of the pot that guide the flames further along its surface, keeping them akimbo to the pan and heating it more thoroughly.
The fins also transfer heat to the inside of the pot. That is the reverse of fins found on electronics which are trying to get rid of excess heat. 

The pan comes out in England, in August and will cost 100 pounds.

The current model will heat water 30% faster than ordinary pans. The prototype heated water in half the time it took an ordinary pan, but was neither practical nor esthetic.

SETI and the Fermi Paradox

Wikipedia article: The Fermi Paradox
The Fermi paradox (or Fermi's paradox) is the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilization and humanity's lack of contact with, or evidence for, such civilizations. The basic points of the argument, made by physicists Enrico Fermi and Michael H. Hart, are:

    1. The Sun is a typical star, and relatively young. There are billions of stars in the galaxy that are billions of years older.
    2. Almost surely, some of these stars will have Earth-like planets. Assuming the Earth is typical, some of these planets may develop intelligent life.
    3. Some of these civilizations may develop interstellar travel, a technology Earth is investigating even now (such as the 100 Year Starship).
    4. Even at the slow pace of currently envisioned interstellar travel, the galaxy can be completely colonized in a few tens of millions of years.
Article #1: The Fermi Paradox

Article #2: The Fermi Paradox

Article #3: Eavedropping on ET: Two New Programs Launching to Listen for Aliens
The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) program recently announced two new methods to search for signals that could come from life on other planets. In the Panchromatic SETI project, multiple telescopes will scan a variety of wavelengths from 30 stars near the sun; the project will look for powerful signals beamed into space, potentially by intelligent extraterrestrials. SETI is also launching an interplanetary eavesdropping program that is expected to search for messages beamed between planets in a single system.

Hiring in STEM and gender bias

Article: New research proves gender bias extraordinarily prevalent in science, technology, engineering and math fields
     Written by Ernesto Reuben, assistant professor of management at Columbia Business School.

Obligatory acknowledgment: Yes, men vastly outnumber women in the STEM fields.

Real title #1: Researcher cannot tell the difference between fantasy and reality. Claims "bias extraordinarily prevalent."

With everyone from the federal government to corporate America working to encourage more women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math fields, you would think the doors would be wide open to women of all backgrounds. A new study shows that this could not be further from the truth and that gender bias among hiring managers in STEM fields is extraordinarily prevalent.
This is the experiment:
To test the biases of hiring managers, Reuben and his research partners designed an experiment in which about 150 participants, in the role of job candidates, would be hired to perform a math assignment: correctly summing as many sets of four two-digit numbers as possible over a period of four minutes. Previous studies have shown that this type of arithmetic task is performed equally well by men and women. All of the candidates completed the task and were given their scores. In some versions of the experiment, the candidates were allowed to tell the managers how well they had performed, while in others their test results were not revealed.

Close to 200 other subjects, in the role of hiring managers, decided whether to hire a particular candidate to perform the task. The hiring managers also completed computer-based behavioral testing that indicated the degree to which they held stereotypes about the performance of men and women in science and math.
Do you see the flaw?

The author claims that bias exists in hiring in the real world. But they do not use real world hiring managers. They used "subjects," probably college students. And since the research was done at a business school, the subjects may not have even been STEM students. Potentially, the "hiring managers" might not even know many STEM women.

Real title #2: Researcher finds bias against women STEM workers in college students at elite university.

Actually, they did find bias at all. What they found was that the "hiring managers" had stereotypes that they acted on. "Bias" implies that the "hiring managers" were acting out of dislike or deliberate unfairness. So...

Real title #3: Researcher finds that college students at elite university have stereotypes about female STEM workers.

But real world "hiring managers" are trained NOT to be biased. They are legally forced to be unbiased. A real "hiring manager" behaving this way would lose his/her job. And the human resource director he/she might report to would not/could not tolerate it.

Crime and gun control statistics

Article: What’s Happening in One of the Most Progressive Cities in the U.S. Seemingly Undercuts Key Anti-Gun Argument

Article: Detroit Police Chief: Concealed Carry Deters Crime, Saves Lives
The city of Detroit has seen 37 percent fewer robberies in 2014, compared to the same period in 2013. Further, there have been 22 percent fewer break-ins of businesses and homes, and 30 percent fewer carjackings.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig says the dramatic drop in these crimes is partly due to more residents arming themselves and fighting back against criminals. The police chief, who has repeatedly argued armed citizens deter crime, said “there’s no question in my mind it has had an effect.”
Article: Murder rate drops as concealed carry permits rise, study claims
The study by the Crime Prevention Research Center found that 11.1 million Americans now have permits to carry concealed weapons, up from 4.5 million in 2007. The 146 percent increase has come even as both murder and violent crime rates have dropped by 22 percent.
Correlation does not equal causation.

The reasoning is that if more people are defending themselves with concealed-carried guns then potential murderers, muggers, burglars, etc., will be more cautious. This assumes that criminals are rational actors, thinking about their own self-interest.

I would assume that some of the decrease is probably due to concealed-carry.

I would like to note that the same correlation/causation argument applies to global warming.

Knowing that carbon dioxide captures heat and transfers it to the atmosphere is analogous to knowing that criminals will be intimidated by concealed-carry. Global warming is correlated to increased carbon dioxide, just as decreased crime is correlated to increased concealed carry.

In both cases, it is reasonable to assume that some of the change is due to the cause. It is unreasonable to assume that ALL of the change, in either case, is due to the cause.

Food for thought:
Since the 1950s, all but two mass shootings have occurred in locations where victims were restricted from carrying weapons for self-defense, his [Eric Dietz, Ph.D., the former director of Homeland Security for the state of Indiana, 22-year Army veteran, and professor at Purdue University] work says. This stunning statistic led the university to question the effectiveness of so-called “gun free zones.”

How existing cropland could feed billions more

Article: How existing cropland could feed billions more

The article points out a number of ways for increasing cropland productivity while at the same time reducing the environmental impact of farming.

Increasing efficiency of the farming itself, better use of irrigation water, shifting grains away from feeding cattle, increasing yield (especially in Africa).

For me, a major point is figuring out to reduce excess nutrients on farmland. While that will not increase yield directly, shifting fertilizers away from areas where they are over-used (the US and Europe) to areas where they are under-used (Africa and Asia) would.
Article: Court KOs New Jersey bid to block ocean blasting

Article: Hunt for oil and gas to begin off East Coast

Article: Obama administration hands oil industry a big win

Alternate title: Obama administration hands poor people a big win: Cheaper energy possible.

Exploration for oil has not been permitted off the East Coast of the US in over 30 years.

Actual drilling is still prohibited by the Obama Administration.

One thing that I find odd about the Obama Administration is how "right wing" a number of their environmental decisions have been. Their original director of the EPA issued a report favorable to fracking, for example. The EPA also cleared the Keystone XL pipeline (although Mr. Obama, himself, has stalled approval in the face of hard-core left opposition to it).

Side note: 30 years would put the beginning of the moratorium right in the middle of the Reagan Administration. Why not say so? Or do the authors/editors not wish to give credit to the Reagan Administration for doing something regarded as environmentally favorable?

Big money, leftist causes, but no corrupt politics

Article: Tom Steyer struggles to find big-money donors

Article: Tom Steyer is having fundraising trouble for his global warming, anti-Keystone XL agenda

Alternate titles:
Democrat fat cat fails in campaign to keep energy prices high.

Rich leftist hates poor people: Fights to keep cheap oil from flowing.

Tom Steyer has committed $50,000,000 of his own money to defeating the Keystone XL pipeline, but has been unable to entice other big-spending leftists to help defeat the pipeline.

One of the major reasons is that the pipeline is politically popular, and only the hard-core left oppose it.

Side note: 0.001 percenter, Warren Buffett, is one of the major beneficiaries of not building the pipeline. As long as it is not built, most of the oil moves by trains owned by Berkshire-Hathaway, Warren's company. Buffet primarily donates to the left.

One of the common tropes of the left is how big donors corrupt politics. And the Koch brothers are always trotted out for ritual demonization and the two-minute hate.

Never noted is that the Koch Industries ranks 58th in corporate donors to political issues. And the top 50 are heavily loaded with donors who give to lefty causes. Ten of the top 15 donate to Democrats. The remaining 5 are "fence-sitters" who donated to both parties.

Koch Industries gave $19,000,000 to Republican causes between 1988 and 2014. Tom Steyer has offered $50,000,000 for one cause, in one election.

George Soros have given openly $550,000,000 for leftist causes over the last 10 years.

If big money corrupts politics, why is it only money spent on the right that is a problem? 

Bonus hypocrisy: Aims of Donor Are Shadowed by Past in Coal

Tom Steyer, hedge-fund billionaire, member of the 0.001%, and pro-environmental activist, has been and remains a major investor in Australian coal mining. And coal is the worst offender, of all the fossil fuels, for carbon dioxide and pollution production.