Posts Tagged ‘Miscellaneous’

Noted in Passing 12th January 2013

January 12, 2013

My hope is to make “Noted in Passing” a regular, weekly post but I am not sure if I will have the discipline to maintain it. I shall try to confine myself to 3 topic areas: “Science and Behaviour”, “Engineering and Technology” and “Bad Science”. I’m trying to avoid politics as a topic in its own right but politics may well creep in under “Behaviour”.

Science and Behaviour

Polar bear numbers world-wide are up and here’s  a marvellous image of a polar bear in winter.

polar bear aurora_borealis_3-t2 free

Polar bear and the aurora borealis (from polar bear science)

Some people apparently believe that  too much genetic information could be a bad thing. Virginia Hughes disagrees strongly and I am inclined to agree with her. Genetic sequencing is here to stay and even if interpretation may lead to new challenges and new dilemmas, this genie cannot be stuffed back into the bottle.

Why did our fingers eveolve wrinkles? Was it perhaps to better be able to grip smooth objects?

John Hawks begins his descent through Darwin’s Descent of Man and has posted his “introduction” which is fascinating and – especially for a layman like me – eminently readable. “Experts” in my opinion are those who explain and not those who try to mystify (usually to inflate their own egos).

David McNeil believes that a gesture-speech unity lies at the origins of language but I am not convinced. When speech began – and that is a story in itself – gestures may well have added to man’s vocabulary but I am skeptical as to the role of gesture in the development of language and the grammar associated with language. But what seems obvious to me is that for the origins of speech as well as the origins of language we have to look to the increasing need for communication as the driving force.

In the meantime miR-941 is now being slated as a specific gene that contributed to how early humans developed tool use and language (in contrast to the FoxP2 gene which is thought to be a more general enabler). A study by psychologists claims that language learning begins before birth but I think they jump far too quickly from sound recognition to language learning and the study does not convince.

Recent excavations at an Australian site provides evidence of inhabitation ” certainly” at 41,230 years ago with the dating of charcoal found at the site. However the earliest inhabitation was much older since stone tools were found in deeper layers than the charcoal, but these have yet to be dated. This seems more consistent with the main human expansion Out of Africarabia first happening before Toba.

Even bloggers on the right are questioning the US love affair with semi-automatic weapons but I don’t expect any significant change to the gun laws in the US anytime soon.

Good grief! Greg Laden believes that summer in the Southern Hemisphere must be a sign of global warming. It’s -6°C outside my window right now and its been snowing in Jerusalem and the Lebanon, so I suppose the Northern Hemisphere must be entering a Little Ice Age.

The luminosity of our Sun varies just 0.1% over the course of its 11-year solar cycle. There is, however, a dawning realization among researchers that even these apparently tiny variations can have a significant effect on terrestrial climate. Tony Phillips from NASA comments on  “The Effects of Solar Variability on Earth’s Climate”  issued by the National Research Council.

Engineering and Technology

The technology for drones that today are used to kill could have more peaceful purposes. A Dronenet for a human free package delivery service  is attractive and does not sound so absurd.

Livefist reports that Airbus has beaten out the Russians to win the Indian Air Force’s new generation of  mid-refuelling tankers while Boeing is still going through teething troubles with the 787 Dreamliner.

The pressures on the supply of neodymium, dysprosium, and other rare-earth metals for the manufacture of strong magnets is leading to a surge in the use of nanotechnology to find alternatives.

Bad Science:

  1. Another idiot study about how our fists evolved in response to fighting!  An excellent takedown by  T. Ryan Gregory. “The most impressive thing about this study is that it managed to gain so much attention with so little substance”. 
  2. ChemBark has this update on serial data fabricator Bengu Sezen who has been hired by the Gebze Institute of Technology.
  3. Simon Kuper has some sympathy for Diederik Stapel who now finds himself in an unforgiving Dutch society. His take on the Stapel affaire is in the FT.
  4. The American Psychiatric Association would seem to be in thrall to the pharmaceutical industry as DSM -5 is adjusted to sell more drugs.
  5. John Hawks has a scathing post about Mark Lynas as “someone who had never read a scientific study on the subject, purporting to be an advocate in the popular press, and having his ignorant statements printed widely by multimillion-dollar media organizations” and the shoe fits whether Lynas is pontificating about GMO or global warming.
  6. Further retractions of social psychology papers: “Fraud committed by any social psychologist diminishes all social psychologists” and reinforces the view that social psychology is mainly for headlines and is still a long way from being a science.
  7. Most junior scientists accept academic theft by their advisors as a way of life and only a very few decide to make any noise about it.

Noted in passing 5th January 2013

January 5, 2013

Wildlife gallery from Greenland: Photo: Uri Golman

A stunning gallery of wildlife pictures from Greenland.

In the ever-changing world of the web and personal computing, a reminder of the MS wrist-watch and other 10 EPIC CES fails.

Science Fraud – Another web-site silenced by legal threats and the University of Regensburg has rescinded the doctorate of a dentist who had submitted a dissertation that was essentially that of her husband’s.

A new open-access paper in Earth System Dynamics showing that recent global warming is not statistically significantly related to anthropogenic forcing. Matt Ridley has 2 interesting pieces on how fossil fuels have actually greened the planet and how Europeans seem intent on making their future as bad as they can.

A new kidney transplantation racket revealed in India where the price of a kidney varies between Rs. 70,000 and 300,000 ($1,400 to $6,000). Indian Supreme Court reacts to over 2,200 deaths in clinical trials carried out by international pharmaceutical companies in India.

Some modern humans who live natural lifestyles in the forests of Earth still climb more or less like a chimpanzee and ‘Lucy’ could climb like chimpsJumping genes and horizontal gene transfer leads to the conclusion that cows are more closely related to snakes than to elephants!

Wallace’s letter to Darwin in 1864 doubting the assertion that the aristocracy are more beautiful than the middle-classes. Lead concentration in Greenland ice shows that when Rome fell there was a real reduction of industrial activity which lasted almost a millenium. It could be that climate change is not the great destroyer but is the great enabler and that many of the evolutionary developments of modern humans have been driven by natural – and rapid – climate change. Archaeological sleuthing sheds more light on the strange goings-on during the mutiny on the VOC Retourschip Batavia, in 1629.


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