Science -Technology Roundup

The “High Quality Research Act,” sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), would strip the peer-review requirement from the National Science Foundation (NSF) grant process, inserting a new set of funding criteria that is significantly less transparent. Smith, sponsor of the highly controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that would expand U.S. oversight over copyrighted intellectual property on the internet, published an editorial in Roll Call describing how his vision of science funding is based not upon the impacts new research may have on the scientific community, but whether that research will “create jobs.” He went on to boast about how much of the House science committee’s $39 billion in agency budgets gets dumped onto nuclear, fracking and “clean coal” projects. Smith has no background in science.  But then, neither do any of the members of the majority party on the House Science Committee.

TEDTalksTop100Deepak Chopra weighs in upon the firestorm over whether TED, the organization that stages wildly popular international Chautauqua lectures, was right to ban from its site talks by psudo-science promoters and “alternative medicine” hucksters.  From my language, you can tell that my sentiment runs against the tide — the tsunami — of howls crying out “repression of free enquiry!”  A storm that Dr. Chopra joins.

But no, I won’t.  As author of The Transparent Society, I am hugely in favor of openness, transparency and reciprocal accountability.  But the aim of having a wide-open civilization is not – as some would have you believe – that all opinions are equal.  It is that true Reciprocal Accountability is the way that pearls rise out of manure piles.  It is how we figure out which revolutionary or impudent ideas merit further attention and which sink into the simmer of crap, of which Ted Sturgeon called “90% of everything.”TED has proved itself to be a marvelous center of entertainment, ideas and discussion.  It should be wide open to concepts that have at least some, tentative balance of evidence in their favor and demonstrably repeatable phenomena to convey.  But we do our fellow citizens, many of whom have proved stupendously gullible (e.g. vaccination panic and climate denialism) no favors when we have ZERO pre-vetting according to the scientific standards that have served our civilization so well.

Impudence?  Yes!  Tilting at paradigms?  Sure thing. Quasi-religious quackery by men who have spent fifty years evading accountable and verifiable experimental disproof of their bald-faced jabber?  Um… I think that, having proved that I am liberal minded, I don’t have to drop all of the standards I was trained, as a scientist, to bring into a world that desperately needs them.

==Human Nature and the Blank Slate==

StevenPinkerProf. Steven Pinker, author of The Better Angels of our Nature (proving that violence has declined, steeply (per capita), worldwide since 1945), does a TED talk about Human Nature and the Blank Slate — a topic he dealt with in his his older tome The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. Fascinating as usual.

Our children will have so many diagnostic tools to focus on THEIR kids than we clueless parents had.  For example: new research from Bristol and Cardiff universities shows that children whose brains process information more slowly than their peers are at greater risk of psychotic experiences. These can include hearing voices, seeing things that are not present or holding unrealistic beliefs that other people don’t share. These experiences can often be distressing and frightening and interfere with their everyday life.

==Marvels of Earth and Space== 

ExoplanetNASA’s Kepler mission has discovered more than 2000 confirmed planets orbiting distant stars. Planets with a known size and orbit are shown in this animated graphic from the New York Times, including five planets orbiting Kepler 62, two of which are only 50% larger than Earth and orbit in their somewhat smaller sun’s Goldilocks Zone.  These are only the confirmed exoplanets.  There are more than a thousand potential candidates. You live in a civilization that does stuff like this!

Ponder that again. You live in a civilization that does stuff like this! Did that feel good? Now, get righteously pissed off at the fools (of both right and left) who seem hell-bent on repressing anyone, at any time, from feeling the way that you just did.

== And now more ==

Sunjammer spacecraft will ‘sail’ toward the sun next year — using a 13,000 square foot sail, a collaboration of the UK Space Agency and NASA.

New measurements suggest the Earth’s inner core is far hotter than prior experiments suggested, putting it at 6,000C – as hot as the Sun’s surface.

A major mystery of life on Earth is that organisms are exclusively made up of left-handed amino acids (Chirality). One theory is that star-forming regions sometimes exhibit circular polarization of the light from a powerful star, and this polarization may affect the molecules forming near other new stars in the region, causing most or all of the pre-biotic “soup” molecules to prefer one orientation over the other.  Hence, sibling systems born from the same nebula might tend all to be the same molecular twist… and another region will be opposite, with nothing for the first group to eat.

Off the coast of Sri Lanka, photographer Shawn Heinrichs captured a dramatic battle between sperm whales and orcas.  Nature is important and beautiful.  But also very tense and not sweet.

Earth warmed more in the last three decades of the 20th century than it has during any 30 year period in the last 1,400 years. Over the past 1,400 years, the Earth experienced a gradual cooling, according to the study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience. Between 1971 and 2000, all of the cooling was entirely reversed.

Investors in carbon-intensive business could see $6 trillion losses as policies limiting global warming stop them from exploiting their coal, oil and gas reserves. Excuse me while I fail to weep.  It used to be “conservative” to want efficiency and to believe in waste-not, and to dislike fouling one’s own nest.

==Technology Advances==

EyeTrackerAn Eye Tracker in every smart phone? Gaze and eye tracking are becoming ever-more off-the shelf. Someday I’d like to explore whether my idea from SUNDIVER exploring the latency effects of the unconscious recognizing scenes before the conscious mind does, might lead to a lie detector and personality profiler.  A terrible curse if monopolized by some elite but the best tool to save the Enlightenment, if shared by all.

The small molecule universe, or SMU is the set of all feasible organic molecules below a certain weight. Now, Duke University and the University of Pittsburgh created a virtual library of every compound that could exist. The sections are all marked out–now chemists can get to work filling them in.  Mind you, much attention is now shifting to proteins and large molecules.  Still, the SMUniverse is ripe with opportunities and this may help researchers organize their efforts.  E.g. “the team found vast regions of emptiness, small molecule dark matter, where countless new compounds may fit in like unknown puzzle pieces.”

A fascinating article about some NASA engineers meticulously disassembling an Apollo era F-1 Saturn engine and digitizing it so that a new version (modernized) might be reborn in the new Space Launch System (SLS).

The end of the spacesuit? Nano suit (now only in the larval stage)  could revolutionize space travel.

OpenWorm: an Open Source Virtual Worm simulation, accurate in biology and behavior, to help researchers in biology research.

A filter based upon NASA technology is so powerful it gets rid of everything in the Coke that makes it Coke, and turns it into … plain water.

Alan Alda is teaching new scientists on how to speak plainly and how this will benefit science.

New methods of generating large volume high density toroidal air plasmas. Just envisioning it gives me the willies!

Roundup… the most-used herbicide… is it a danger to your health? In 2007, as much as 185 million pounds of glyphosate was used by U.S. farmers. And Europe bans three commonly-used pesticides in an effort to protect honeybee colonies.

The marvelous xkcd on scientific outreach !!!!!

Final note:  I’ll be talking about this later, but the implications just to science are chilling.  How our ability to deal with modern problems with traditional American agility is being dragged down by those who believe (fervently) that the End of Times are nigh.

1 Comment

Filed under science, space, technology

One response to “Science -Technology Roundup

  1. Bill Jackson

    TED is correct in denying the so-called ‘fake science’ espousers a forum. Science is all about repetition and verification, whereby new discoveries are made, and in turn verified. The fake science seems based on a revenue generation model that gathers money from people with no ability to test and asses the blather they are funding. The funds are indeed spent and more money asked for because a new discovery is ‘just ’round the corner’, needing your pence to put it over the top.
    These guys are experts at being charlatans and the language they couch their appeals for $$ in has enough warnings and escape clauses to avoid criminal charges.
    I have a rich friend who has spent $50,000 on trying to perfect a free energy mechanism based on magnets and polyphase motors – all sprinkled with essence of Tesla – magical words indeed. I look at it, and it is pure fakery. I am a graduate engineer, but he believes this monkey and spends $$, so I have learned to tune him out, the $50,000 is a pittance to him – I hate to see it wasted.
    Keep that crap off TED, or TED will become a fund raising arm of these fakers.
    I am in the mining business, this reminds me of the Desert Dirt frauds

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