Noted in Passing 26th January 2013

A weekly post on things that were interesting or which I would have liked to have blogged about …….

Science and Behaviour

Half a million DVDs of data could be stored in gram of DNA according to Harvard researchers. Unfortunately the credibility of the claim is severely impaired since this comes from the lab of Dr. George Church of Neanderthal baby fame and I have to take even the memory claim with a large bushel of salt. Dr. Church seems very keen on publicity just now. (This item almost made it to the Bad Science category but the memory item gets the benefit of the doubt). The Neanderthal nonsense was taken down comprehensively by Svante Pääbo and others of the  Neanderthal Genome Project.

Protons are 4% smaller than was thought and new particles are expected to be found.

Ferdinand Balfoort posts on Stockholm’s violent past from the peaceful present and a New Zealander is causing waves with his campaign to rid his country of cats.

One hundred and one year old Fauja Singh will run his last marathon in Hong Kong in February just before his 102’nd birthday, but plans to continue running for 4 hours a day.

Scrolls of 2,000 year old Buddhist texts have been found  preserved on long rolls of birch-tree bark and written in Gandhari.

Against conventional wisdom earthquakes can occur even at zones considered stable and this is what may have happened in 2011 when the magnitude 9.0 Tohoku-Oki earthquake was followed by a devastating tsunami.

Alarmist conservationists would like us to believe that humans are on the verge of causing a catastrophic loss of biodiversity but as with most alarmist dogmas, extinction rates of species are not as bad as has been assumed.

We all believe to some extent that looks reveal  traits and humans have been associating facial features with criminality for at least 2,000 years  (“Cassius has a lean and hungry look”) and “scientifically” for at least 300 years. But a new study debunks some of the myths.

Comet ISON was discovered by Russian astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok in Sept. 2012. It bears the name of their night-sky survey program, the International Scientific Optical Network and NASA reckons it could be spectacularly visible in broad daylight this year.  On Nov. 28, 2013, this “dirty snowball” will fly through the sun’s atmosphere little more than a million km from the stellar surface and if it survives it could be a grand display.

Are Asians disadvantaged in US academia and industry? Lilian Gomory Wu and Wei Jing think so. The makings of some new urban myths lies in that those who multi-task are least capable of multi-tasking.

Engineering and Technology

Being blinded by the sun low in the sky is a pretty common hazard while driving here during winter in Scandinavia. But the development of Haptic steering wheels which vibrate could help solve this problem until cars are built that drive themselves (and they are closer than one might think).

French car manufacturer PSA Peugeot  Citroen believes it can put an air- powered vehicle on the road by 2016. The system works by using a normal internal combustion engine, special hydraulics and an adapted gearbox along with compressed air cylinders that store and release energy. This enables it to run on petrol or air, or a combination of the two.

A team of scientists from Scotland and the Czech Republic has created a “tractor” beam – a la Star Trek – which for the first time allows a beam of light to attract objects.

Materials science has always been in symbiosis with the other sciences at the transition from science to engineering and the discovery of metamaterials which can bend light, X-rays and radio waves promise a wide array of new applications in radio communications, security and automotive safety and now in imaging.

Bad Science

Paul Brookes was forced to take down his Science Fraud website last week after receiving legal threats (from some who later retracted – or had retracted – the papers that ScienceFraud exposed). Now he is marshalling support to open a new web-site to expose bad science.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is accused of bowing to political pressure in a study of bee decline which implicates some specific insecticides. The insecticide manufacturers are not amused.

A study on the impact of banning affirmative action (a pseudonym of course for discrimination) seems not only misguided but also one with a high level of confirmation bias. It looks like advocacy posing as science.

Geoffrey K. Pullum takes bad science backed up by bad journalism at the New Scientist and the Washington Post severely to task.

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