Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Science Links for July 9, 2014

Article: Forgotten vials of smallpox virus found

This does not surprise me. Think about your own home and place at work.

I worked in a lab while I was at college. Even with attempts to maintain inventory lists, I am certain that there were long-forgotten things around. A professor dies, or move on, and stuff can just get left.

It is one major value of a move to have to clean out a place. (When my aunt moved out of her house into the nursing home, we found things in the crawl space dating from long before she moved in.)

Article: Amazon rainforest grew after climate change 2,000 years ago: study
Swathes of the Amazon may have been grassland until a natural shift to a wetter climate about 2,000 years ago let the rainforests form, according to a study that challenges common belief that the world’s biggest tropical forest is far older.
When I was in college, the standard view was any damage to rain forests, for example, clear cutting for lumber or for agriculture, would take in the multiple of thousands of year to recover. This shows that recovery can take mere hundreds of years, possibly only 2-3 hundred years. This is closer to what is known about temperate forests.

This is not to advocate clear-cutting of the Amazon rain forest (or the SE Asian or the African).

This is how science operates. A paradigm develops: Rain forests are fragile. They will take thousands of years to recover. Then new information comes along to modify the original ideas.

The problem is that the old paradigm drove most of the discussion of land use in tropics for 50 years. Tree harvesting has been seen as intrinsically evil; as has been agriculture (other than small-scale slash and burn plots). The forests were viewed as irreplaceable. In one sense of course, they still are.

Hopefully, rain forests can be managed for the benefit of the native inhabitants: some lumbering, some agriculture, and a lot left natural.

Article: Genes that influence children's reading skills also affect their maths
Scientists found that around half of the genes that influenced the literacy of 12-year-olds also played a role in their mathematical abilities. The findings suggest that hundreds and possibly thousands of subtle DNA changes in genes combine to help shape a child's performance in both reading and mathematics.

But while genetic factors are important, environmental influences, such as home life and schooling, contributed roughly the same amount as genetics in the children studied, the researchers said.

The study did not identify specific genes linked to numeracy or literacy, and researchers do not know what the various gene variants do. But they may affect brain development and function, or other biological processes that are important for learning both skills.

The findings build on previous studies showing that genetic variations among British schoolchildren explain most of the differences in how well they perform in exams.
The big issue, here, is the continued eroding of a false paradigm: humans are born blank slates. Social problems, variations in intelligence, differences between the sexes are viewed by some (even in the social sciences) as purely the result of socialization, education, and nurture. The various versions of Marxism are still heavily invested in this idea.

Article: 'Is there life on Mars?': Water can and does exist on the planet says new research
In 2008, the lead researcher of the latest study, Dr Nilton Renno, discovered water beads on the leg of the Phoenix Mars Lander, one of NASA’s Mars rovers, just after it had landed on the planet’s surface.
The research was done on earth, in a laboratory, mimicking Mars conditions. It also explains what appeared to be water droplets on the Rover's legs.

The significance of this is that liquid water is one of the necessary necessary conditions for life. Even then, there are algae which live under the surface of rocks, in the cold deserts of Antarctica.

If life got established on Mars (even if transferred in a meteorite from Earth), it could survive on Mars.

Article: Confirmed: Voyager 1 in Interstellar Space
(With annoying auto-start video)
Voyager 1 made headlines around the world last year when mission scientists announced that the probe had apparently left the heliosphere — the huge bubble of charged particles and magnetic fields surrounding the sun — in August 2012.
Launched in September 1977, and crossed into interstellar space 35 years later.

But it is still not out of the solar system. Paradox? The Oort Cloud surrounds the solar system further out than the edge of the heliosphere. The existence of the Cloud is hypothetical and is used to explain the orbits of some comets.

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