Showing posts with label science. Show all posts
Showing posts with label science. Show all posts

Monday, July 14, 2014

Science Says: Red Dresses Makes Women Sexier, Annoy Other Women

An article in yesterdays Washington Post forms the basis of this morning's "6 AM eye opener".

This photo was used in experiments 1 and 2. 
Women wearing red are viewed as more sexually threatening by other women
Wearing red doesn’t only draw attention from members of the opposite sex, it can provoke sexual rivalry in women, researchers say. A new study claims that a woman wearing red sets off “mate-guard” impulses in other women, and that a woman is less likely to introduce a woman wearing red to her boyfriend or spouse.

“Certain colors may affect how people perceive us,” said Adam Pazda, a researcher at the University of Rochester, who collaborated with researchers from Trnava University in Slovakia and the Slovak Academy of Sciences on the study, published Friday in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. “It’s very useful to know what messages you’re sending off.”
 Here, let me help you visualize this a little better.
In one experiment, female volunteers were shown an image of a woman, judged to be “moderately attractive,” wearing a strapless dress that was digitally colored either red or white. They were asked to assess the woman on a scale, based solely on the picture, on whether she was interested in sex. Though not by a large margin, the women who were shown the red dress photo judged the woman as more sexually receptive. “Sexual receptivity and promiscuity are closely related concepts, and suggesting that other women are promiscuous may be a strategy for undermining their mate value,” the study said.
Or maybe, some women are just just bitchy about other women trying to get more attention than they are getting.
The women were then asked to imagine they were competing with the woman in the photo for the attention of an attractive man. They were asked to answer on a sliding scale from “yes, definitely,” to “no, not at all,” whether they thought the woman in the photo would cheat on a man or whether she thought the woman had money. Those presented with the photo of the woman in red were significantly more inclined to say that she would be unfaithful. The woman in red’s financial success was seen as less of a threat, the study concluded.

The science is still out on whether social conditioning leads us to perceive women in red as potently sexual, or whether biology inherently makes us associate red with sex, linked with the blushing of skin during sexual excitement. Many believe it to be a combination of both.
 My rule of thumb is that when there is an either or question in biology, the answer is usually at least "both", and may include factors not considered yet. Evolution doesn't really allow individual causes. It's just an illusion of ever changing responses to a multitude of variables.

The study authors said that the fact that the red dress was compared with a white dress may be problematic, since white is a color we are socially conditioned to associate with purity, virginity and marriage. So in another test, women were shown photos of a woman in a red shirt or a green shirt; they rated the woman in red as more sexually receptive.
Pity the poor red-green color blind male.  Or maybe not; maybe then both red and green have the same effect.  Wait! We need another study!
The study says that future research would compare red to different colors, particularly black, which it says is typically “fashionable and sexy.”

Researchers were careful to highlight that “not all women displaying red are necessarily signaling sexual receptivity.”
They had to say that, or they would have their feminist cards revoked.
Pazda’s study shows a tendency for women to be treated or perceived, by both women and men, as open to or seeking sexual advances based merely on a color they are wearing. “You might be seen to be sending the signal that you’re on the sexual prowl,” said Pazda. “It might help you to be more informed you’re putting out that signal.”

He said practical applications of the study may include knowing what not to wear for a job interview. “Or what to wear, depending on the job,” he added suggestively, saying he would leave it to the creativity of reader to figure out what job that might be.
I suggest the little number above for job interviews, especially if you have no particular qualifications for the job, and the interviewer is male.
Since the study admits the findings have absolutely zero bearing on what a woman’s intention is when wearing the color, maybe we all should start checking ourselves for “seeing red.”
In what world don't we know what these clothes are signaling.

Thanks to Theo's, whose regular "Red Friday Totty" theme has been invaluable in the creation of this post.

GOODSTUFF is strutting Jayne Mansfield's stuff this week in his 148th edition. Wombat-socho has the great weekly Rule 5 Sunday post "Electric Avenue" up at The Other McCain on time and under budget.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Scientific Journal Retracts 60 Articles for Peer Review Fraud

From this morning's WAPO: Scholarly journal retracts 60 articles, smashes ‘peer review ring’

I thought the science was settled?
Every now and then a scholarly journal retracts an article because of errors or outright fraud. In academic circles, and sometimes beyond, each retraction is a big deal.

Now comes word of a journal retracting 60 articles at once.

The reason for the mass retraction is mind-blowing: A “peer review and citation ring” was apparently rigging the review process to get articles published.
You’ve heard of prostitution rings, gambling rings and extortion rings. Now there’s a “peer review ring.”

The publication is the Journal of Vibration and Control (JVC). It publishes papers with names like “Hydraulic engine mounts: a survey” and “Reduction of wheel force variations with magnetorheological devices.”
Apparently, among the scientific frauds perpetrated by this group was having one author review his own paper, using a "Sockpuppet", internet parlance for a made up identity for purposes of deception. Given the current electronic systems for article review that I've seen, it would be fairly easy to establish the false identity for the review, but it's up to the editor or assistant editor of the journal to know the scientific reputations of the reviews he (or she, not be sexist), so it sounds to me like someone with the journal was involved. This, should come as no great shock; by and large the editors, assistant editors and reviewer are not paid at all (though most are tenured profs, and have a full salary that presumes service to the community).

Now, this may not sound all that important to you, but I suspect that the kind of papers in this journal are important to airplane and engine construction. I prefer my planes to fly on solid science, how about you?

Monday, July 7, 2014

Pundit Declares Republican Victory in June Jobs Report

The recent jobs report for the country was mildly uplifting, causing the media and democratic spokesmen, but I repeat, to claim victory for the president job plans:
A surprisingly robust job market is energizing the 5-year-old U.S. recovery and driving the economy closer to full health.

Employers added 288,000 jobs in June and helped cut the unemployment rate to 6.1 percent, the lowest since 2008. It was the fifth straight gain above 200,000 — the best such stretch since the late 1990s tech boom.

The stock market signaled its approval. The Dow Jones industrial average surged 92 points to top 17,000 for the first time.
However, as pointed out by Charles Krauthammer, the uplift occurred after the House Republicans forced an end to extended unemployment benefits, which Democrats warned would cause mass starvation in the streets:



Shockingly it appears that once they cut off from extended unemployment benefits some substantial number of people found the motivation to go out and find jobs.

I like to look at human behavior regarding jobs in terms of what biologists like to call "Optimal Foraging Theory:"
Optimal foraging theory is an idea in ecology based on the study of foraging behavior and states that organisms forage in such a way as to maximize their net energy intake per unit time. In other words, they behave in such a way as to find, capture and consume food containing the most calories while expending the least amount of time possible in doing so. The understanding of many ecological concepts such as adaptation, energy flow and competition hinges on the ability to comprehend what food items animals select, and why.
Substitute money and benefits for food and calories, and you have a very accurate description of how human economies function.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Are Scientists Addicted to Grant Money?

The question is raised by Andrew Resnick in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Andrew Resnick has written a letter published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science that suggests researchers are “addicted” to funding, much like drug addicts.
Click to enlarge
To say a scientist in the current environment is addicted to grant money is like saying a anorectic struggling to control her appetite intake is addicted to food.  You must have it even if you sometimes don't like how it makes you feel. Even for tenured track faculty, grant funding is often an essential part of performance evaluations, and universities these days provide negligible research support, so to get work done to write papers and advance requires outside funding.

And don't get me going on soft money, the money that supports many non-tenure and tenure track scientists.  At many institutions they depend on grant funding for all of the their own salary, the salary of their staff, and the research materials, and they often don't care much where the smack comes from.

And just to show that there's a song for everything:



Found at WUWT. Wombat-socho has a generic "Rule 5 Monday" compendium up at The Other McCain.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Give Me Warp Nine and Ready the Transporters, Scotty!

A couple a recent scientific advances in the last week or so that have been hyped in the news as the beginnings of Star Trek type technology.

NASA Working on Warp Drive?
The 100-year Starship Project is a joint endeavour run by Darpa, Nasa, Icarus Interstellar and the Foundation for Enterprise Development. Announced in January 2012, the project has an overall goal of achieving manned interstellar travel by 2112.

To do so it is evaluating a number of different techonolgies, including ‘warping’ space time to travel great distances in short time frames at faster-than-light speeds.

The project is also considering building ‘generation ships’ that move slowly but have a self-sustainable long-term population.  To date Nasa has contributed $100,000 (£60,000) to the project and Darpa $1 million (£600,000).
1.6 million is officially defined in the US government as 1.6 pittances. But if it brings us closer to the days of Star-Trek and Star Trek babes, bring it on!

Using something known as an Alcubierre drive, named after a Mexican theoretical physicist of the same name, Dr White said it is possible to ‘bend’ space-time, and cover large distances almost instantly.

This, in essence, would allow a spaceship to travel almost anywhere in a tiny fraction of the time it would take a conventional spacecraft.
That really does sound like Star-Trek transit times.
Alcubierre's theory was published in 1994 and involved enormous amounts of energy being used to expand and contract space itself - thereby generating a 'warp bubble' in which a spacecraft would travel. Allowing space and time to act as the propellant by pulling the craft through the bubble would be like stepping on an escalator. Despite Dr Alcubierre stating his theory was simply conjecture, Dr White thinks he and his team are edging towards making the realm of warp speed attainable.

This illustration shows Dr White's design in its entirety. Struts around the spacecraft show how it would be directly attached to the rings. At the front is the 'bridge' where the crew would conduct operations on the spacecraft. Towards the back is the cargo area where so-called exotic matter for fuel would be stored.
I need to get me a bucket or two of that there "exotic matter" for household use.
According to Gizmodo, their engine could get to Alpha Centauri in two weeks as measured by clocks on Earth. The process of going to warp is also one that is smooth, rather than using a massive amount of acceleration in a short amount of time.

'When you turn the field on, everybody doesn't go slamming against the bulkhead, which would be a very short and sad trip,' Dr White said. However, Dr White admits his research is still small-scale and is light years away from any type of engine that could be constructed into a spaceship like the USS Enterprise.
Aside from whatever machinery warps space-time in front of and behind the ship, the major limitation is the energy required:
The main limitation is energy - previously it was thought mass equivalent to a planet would be necessary to provide the energy required for a warp jump.
Which doesn't sound so bad, until you consider that the amount of energy consumed by the Hiroshima explosion was approximately that of a mass equivalent to a dime converted to 100% energy.  And we don't have any nuclear process which is anywhere close to 100% efficient at converting mass to energy. Hence the need for "exotic matter" ("di-lithium crystals").

And scientists are making similar (slow) progress on the Star-Trek transporters: Scientists say human teleportation is 'possible' as they transfer atoms three metres in groundbreaking experiment
Nothing in the laws of physics fundamentally forbids the teleportation of large objects, including humans, researchers claim.

They were able to transport an atom three metres with 100% accuracy.
Three meters! Why that's almost the distance between the GPS satellites and the Earth's surface!  Give or take a few orders of magnitude.
Prof Hanson's team showed for the first time that it was possible to teleport information encoded into sub-atomic particles between two points three metres apart with 100% reliability.
And how many did we transport with 100% reliability.

The demonstration was an important first step towards developing an internet-like network between ultra-fast quantum computers whose processing power dwarfs that of today's supercomputers.

Teleportation exploits the weird way 'entangled' particles acquire a merged identity, with the state of one instantly influencing the other no matter how far apart they are.
Giving one particle an 'up' spin, for instance, might always mean its entangled partner has a 'down' spin - theoretically even if both particles are on different sides of the universe.

Albert Einstein dismissed entanglement, calling it 'spooky action at a distance', but scientists have repeatedly demonstrated that it is a real phenomenon.
There you have it, a piece of cake. All we have to do is build a machine that determines and keeps track of all the quantum states of all the particle in a human sized object, and can re assemble fresh atoms into that pattern.

Oh, and by the way, a human sized object contains something on the order of ten trillion trillion atoms, many interconnected in complex ways. An error rate of 0.01% would probably be slowly and painfully fatal.

I think I'll wait until they build the railroad.

Linked at Proof Positive's weekly "Best of the Web" linkfest. And a belated acknowledgement of the Wombat-socho's giant Rule 5 manifesto: "Rule 5 Sunday: Floating."

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Road Salt for Better Butterflies

Butterflies near salted roads grow larger eyes and muscles
To find out if raised sodium levels in roadside plants might affect animals that feed on them, Emilie Snell-Rood at the University of Minnesota, St Paul, and her colleagues assessed local monarch butterflies, which feed on milkweed plants.

The team found that milkweed plants at the roadside contained 16 times as much sodium as those 100 metres away from the road. The butterflies reared on these plants had, on average, 6 times as much sodium in their bodies as those reared on prairie plants, and were less likely to survive beyond the caterpillar stage. But sodium is essential for the development of nerve and muscle tissue in animals, and those butterflies that did survive on high-sodium leaves also experienced a growth spurt: males had bigger flight muscles and females had significantly larger eyes.
Speaking as a scientist, I know how sad they must have felt when they had a finding in contrast to their policy goal, to stop road salting.
To test the effects of varying levels of dietary sodium on butterflies, Snell-Rood's team reared easy-to-raise cabbage whites on artificial diets that were classified as being either low, medium or high in sodium. Only ten per cent of the butterflies on a high-sodium diet survived, but the male cabbage whites that did survive had bigger muscles for flight, just like the monarchs.

Unlike the males, female cabbage whites raised on a medium-sodium diet had smaller flight muscles than their counterparts on a low-sodium diet, but they did have larger brains and eyes.
Maybe we should keep the women on a low sodium diet.
The extra sodium may make male butterflies better fliers, and give the females better vision, says Michael Kaspari at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, who was not involved with the study.

"By inference, road salt should increase health, performance and abundance of herbivores with increased access to it," says Kaspari. "But ecological webs are complicated and yield unexpected outcomes – we need more experiments comparing populations on salted versus unsalted roads."Snell-Rood agrees. In general, road salt is harmful to animals, such as tadpoles. "A slight increase in a limited nutrient can be beneficial, but too much of a good thing is usually bad," she says.
It should be no shock that sodium is good for butterflies.  We see several kinds of butterflies puddling (sipping ground water) along the salty beach routinely, the males in particular need to replace fluids and minerals lost in mating.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Junior Skynet Passed the Turing Test

Computer becomes first to pass Turing Test in artificial intelligence milestone
A programme that convinced humans that it was a 13-year-old boy has become the first computer ever to pass the Turing Test. The test — which requires that computers are indistinguishable from humans — is considered a landmark in the development of artificial intelligence, but academics have warned that the technology could be used for cybercrime.

Computing pioneer Alan Turing said that a computer could be understood to be thinking if it passed the test, which requires that a computer dupes 30 per cent of human interrogators in five-minute text conversations.
Fools one third of scientists in five minutes? That seems like a pretty low bar. Scientists fool each other and themselves all the time.

On the other hand,  know a lot of people who probably wouldn't pass that.
Eugene Goostman, a computer programme made by a team based in Russia, succeeded in a test conducted at the Royal Society in London. It convinced 33 per cent of the judges that it was human, said academics at the University of Reading, which organised the test.

It is thought to be the first computer to pass the iconic test. Though other programmes have claimed successes, those included set topics or questions in advance.

A version of the computer programme, which was created in 2001, is hosted online for anyone talk to. (“I feel about beating the turing test in quite convenient way. Nothing original,” said Goostman, when asked how he felt after his success.)
See, I'm not sure he'd pass. . .

The computer programme claims to be a 13-year-old boy from Odessa in Ukraine.

"Our main idea was that he can claim that he knows anything, but his age also makes it perfectly reasonable that he doesn't know everything," said Vladimir Veselov, one of the creators of the programme. "We spent a lot of time developing a character with a believable personality."
If they gave it the personality of a Marilyn Monroe, and the voice of Scarlet Johannson, I can virtually guarantee they'd fool most of the male judges, but almost none of the women. How much do you expect from a blond

Of course, she could really be one of Skynet's children. . .



Sorry, the dialog is in Russian, but the dialog was never the point, anyway. And a belated acknowledgement of the Wombat-socho's giant Rule 5 manifesto: "Rule 5 Sunday: Floating."

Saturday, June 7, 2014

University of British Columbia Scientist Proposes Ocean Fishing Ban

Gotta save all that Carbon for Global Warming Climate Change, don't you know
Fish and aquatic life living in the high seas are more valuable as a carbon sink than as food and should be better protected, according to research from the University of British Columbia.

The study found fish and aquatic life remove 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year, a service valued at about $148 billion US. This dwarfs the $16 billion US paid for 10 million tonnes of fish caught on the high seas annually.

“Countries around the world are struggling to find cost effective ways to reduce their carbon emissions,” says Rashid Sumaila, director of the UBC Fisheries Economics Research Unit. “We’ve found that the high seas are a natural system that is doing a good job of it for free.”

Sumaila helped calculate the economic value of the carbon stored by life in the high seas by applying prices—which include the benefits of mitigating the costs of climate change–to the annual quantity of carbon absorbed.

The report argues that the high seas—defined as an area more than 200 nautical miles from any coast and outside of national jurisdiction–should be closed to all fishing as only one per cent of fish caught annually are exclusively found there.

“Keeping fish in the high seas gives us more value than catching them,” says Sumaila. “If we lose the life in the high seas, we’ll have to find another way to reduce emissions at a much higher cost.”
I'm going to bet he's vegan.

Fish, of course, pull absolutely zero CO2 from the ocean, that function is reserved to plants that use CO2 to make biomass.  Animals, like fish, eat that biomass, first-, second- or even more hand, and recycle most of that biomass back to CO2 by respiration while sequestering carbon in their biomass, until they too are eaten or die, and their bodies decay back into CO2.  I see no net sequestration in the long run, unless the biomass is buried to prevent its recycling. Some carbon (phytoplankton, feces and dead animals) does sink to sediment and becomes sequestered, but it is difficult to see how stopping fishing will significantly increase this small fraction:


If you're really want to increase carbon sequestration in the ocean, the solution is simple and tested. Add soluble iron, a necessary micronutrient in low concentrations in the ocean, which will encourage algae blooms, and biomass production a million times the mass of the iron added.  As an old (and now departed) colleague, John H. Martin once noted:
"Give me half a tanker of iron, and I'll give you the next ice age."
Of course, it turned out to be not so simple, because, as noted above, animals recycle most of it back to the water. But some will end up being sequestered.  And you can eat some of the extra tuna produced, too.

So eat the fish, and preserve the resulting shit, and you're still doing more for the atmosphere.

Monday, June 2, 2014

2014 Hurricane Forecast - A Few, Maybe, Sometime

Time again for that annual guessing game "How many Hurricanes and Tropical Storms will there be, how many will hit the U.S. and, how much damages will they cause".  Fortunately we have NOAA on the job to be the contestant, and their answer to those questions for the 2014 hurricane season is:
NOAA’s 2014 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook indicates that a near-normal or below-normal hurricane season is likely this year. The outlook calls for a 50% chance of a below-normal season, a 40% chance of a near-normal season, and only a 10% chance of an above-normal season. See NOAA definitions of above-, near-, and below-normal seasons. The Atlantic hurricane region includes the North Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico.
. . .
Based on the current and expected conditions, combined with model forecasts, we estimate a 70% probability for each of the following ranges of activity during 2014:
  • 8-13 Named Storms
  • 3-6 Hurricanes
  • 1-2 Major Hurricanes
  • Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) range of 40%-100% of the median.
. . .
These expected ranges are centered below the official NHC 1981-2010 seasonal averages of 12 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 3 major hurricanes.
In short, a broad range, centered on values a little lower than average, due to an expected El NiƱo.  Not a terribly risky forecast, but still, we could have a terrible year, and then NOAA would have egg on their collective faces.

How has NOAA fared historically on this prediction.  Fortunately, someone else has waded through the data to look at that question: From 2011:

NOAA’s seasonal hurricane forecasts: Do they have any predictive value?

For each of the years, NOAA’s prediction range is about equal to one standard deviation, which implies a 1/3 chance of being right provided it is near the mean. Thus, if they were going by chance, then they should have had 13 (39/3) correct; instead, they were right 16 times. Unfortunately, because of the small data set, we can only say that they are better than chance at about the 80% level. In addition, they under-predicted 10 times and over-predicted 13 times, so there is a very slight tendency to over-predict. With more data, that trend would probably disappear.
Just a little better than rolling the dice.  It's also telling that they tend to overpredict.  Overpredicting is better for a forecasting institution in that people are more likely to be upset by an underprediction that goes horribly wrong than an overprediction that fails and results in a weak hurricane season.

I'd like to see a re-analysis of this with 2012 and 2013 data. 

But lets hope they're right and we have a weak hurricane season.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Cat People vs. Dog People

Who's smarter?  Science says...

"Dog people" and "cat people" really do have different personalities, according to a new study.

People who said they were dog lovers in the study tended to be more lively — meaning they were more energetic and outgoing — and also tended to follow rules closely. Cat lovers, on the other hand, were more introverted, more open-minded and more sensitive than dog lovers. Cat people also tended to be non-conformists, preferring to be expedient rather than follow the rules.

So cat people are more likely to be sociopaths?
And in a finding that's sure to spark rivalries among pet owners, cat lovers scored higher on intelligence than dog lovers.
But what about those of us who like both cats and dogs? Does that make us smarter than everybody?
Part of the reason for the personality differences may be related to the types of environments cat or dog people prefer, said study researcher Denise Guastello, an associate professor of psychology at Carroll University in Waukesha, Wisconsin, who presented the findings here at the annual Association for Psychological Science meeting.
"It makes sense that a dog person is going to be more lively, because they're going to want to be out there, outside, talking to people, bringing their dog," Guastello said. "Whereas, if you're more introverted, and sensitive, maybe you're more at home reading a book, and your cat doesn't need to go outside for a walk."
Dogs are certainly a bigger commitment in time and exercise. We've had both. Dogs are definitely more work, but more reward.
The researchers surveyed 600 college students, asking whether they would identify themselves as dog lovers or cat lovers, and what qualities they found most attractive in their pets. Participants also answered a slew of questions to assess their personality.
You know, if you were to do an intelligence tests on a bunch of people and compared races to intelligence you might conclude. . . Oh, it's just Wisconsin college students? Never mind.

Linked at Pirates's Cove in the weekly "Sorta Blogless Sunday Pinup."  Wombat-socho has the grand
Rule 5 Sunday: Pre-Vegas Review Of Pulchritude linkfest up at The Other McCain.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Newest "Biggest Dinosaur Ever"

At least the biggest for now. Maybe.
Based on its huge thigh bones, it was 40m (130ft) long and 20m (65ft) tall. Weighing in at 77 tonnes, it was as heavy as 14 African elephants, and seven tonnes heavier than the previous record holder, Argentinosaurus.

Scientists believe it is a new species of titanosaur - an enormous herbivore dating from the Late Cretaceous period.

A local farm worker first stumbled on the remains in the desert near La Flecha, about 250km (135 miles) west of Trelew, Patagonia.
That bone would wreak havoc on a plow. How nice of the scientists to come and clear the field for them.
 A film crew from the BBC Natural History Unit was there to capture the moment the scientists realised exactly how big their discovery was. By measuring the length and circumference of the largest femur (thigh bone), they calculated the animal weighed 77 tonnes.

"Given the size of these bones, which surpass any of the previously known giant animals, the new dinosaur is the largest animal known that walked on Earth," the researchers told BBC News. "Its length, from its head to the tip of its tail, was 40m. "Standing with its neck up, it was about 20m high - equal to a seven-storey building."
A mighty fine mount for a Dino-babe!

The most recent pretender to the throne was Argentinosaurus, a similar type of sauropod, also discovered in Patagonia.

Originally thought to weigh in at 100 tonnes, it was later revised down to about 70 tonnes - just under the 77 tonnes that this new sauropod is thought to have weighed.
The picture is muddied by the various complicated methods for estimating size and weight, based on skeletons that are usually incomplete.
What happens when this one is revised downwards? Is every news source that ran this story going to run a revision?  I doubt it.  Biggest is funnest.  It's no fun (and therefore no story) when it turns out to be #2 or #3.

Argentinosaurus was estimated from only a few bones. But the researchers here had dozens to work with, making them more confident that they really have found "the big one". Dr Paul Barrett, a dinosaur expert from London's Natural History Museum, agreed the new species is "a genuinely big critter. But there are a number of similarly sized big sauropod thigh bones out there," he cautioned.

"Without knowing more about this current find it's difficult to be sure. One problem with assessing the weight of both Argentinosaurus and this new discovery is that they're both based on very fragmentary specimens - no complete skeleton is known, which means the animal's proportions and overall shape are conjectural. "Moreover, several different methods exist for calculating dinosaur weight (some based on overall volume, some on various limb bone measurements) and these don't always agree with each other, with large measures of uncertainty.
So, without knowing a little more about the animal than they can gather from the current fragments, it's probably bigger than the last one we discovered.

Wombat-socho has the big "Rule 5 Sunday: Memorial Day Weekend Edition" post up at The Other McCain.

Friday, May 9, 2014

News Flash: Scientists Admit Ignorance

Study: sea level rise acceleration still uncertain, we won’t have statistical certainty until 2020-2030

From Watts Up With That, of course.
The international team of researchers, led by the University of Southampton and including scientists from the National Oceanography Centre, the University of Western Australia, the University of South Florida, the Australian National University and the University of Seigen in Germany, analysed data from 10 long-term sea level monitoring stations located around the world. They looked into the future to identify the timing at which sea level accelerations might first be recognised in a significant manner.

Lead author Dr Ivan Haigh, Lecturer in Coastal Oceanography at the University of Southampton, says:
“Our results show that by 2020 to 2030, we could have some statistical certainty of what the sea level rise situation will look like for the end of the century. That means we’ll know what to expect and have 70 years to plan. In a subject that has so much uncertainty, this gives us the gift of long-term planning.
“As cities, including London, continue to plan for long-term solutions to sea level rise, we will be in a position to better predict the long-term situation for the UK capital and other coastal areas across the planet. Scientists should continue to update the analysis every 5 to 10 years, creating more certainty in long-term planning — and helping develop solutions for a changing planet.”
The study found that the most important approach to the earliest possible detection of a significant sea level acceleration lies in improved understanding (and subsequent removal) of interannual (occurring between years, or from one year to the next) to multidecadal (involving multiple decades) variability in sea level records.
Those pushing the idea of global cooling, global warming, global climate change global climate disruption have long pushed the notion that sea level rise is increasing.  Partly, this plays on the ignorance of the public, who, in general, aren't really cognizant of the fact that sea levels have been rising since the end of the last ice age glacial maximum (much to the chagrin of the former inhabitants of Berengia, Doggerland, and the bottom of the Black Sea), and are prepared to view any rise in  sea level as a new and scary proof that the scientist are on the right track.

Of course, the truth is that sea level has been rising rather consistently since we started keeping tide records, and to a first look at the data, the variability in sea level due to weather and climate overwhelms any signal of increase from recent thermal expansion, or glacial melt:


There are some longer term signals embedded in the data, probably related to longer term climate factors such as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation:

I read this abstract as a bow to the fact that the variation of the record, and the foggy nature of the low frequency contribution will make it very difficult to discern a new anthropogenic signature in the record.  Good for the scientists to admit the limits of their science, but it can't be good for their funding prospects.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Science Finds Purpose for Millennials

Young Blood May Hold Key to Reversing Aging
Two teams of scientists published studies on Sunday showing that blood from young mice reverses aging in old mice, rejuvenating their muscles and brains. As ghoulish as the research may sound, experts said that it could lead to treatments for disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease.

“I am extremely excited,” said Rudolph Tanzi, a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, who was not involved in the research. “These findings could be a game changer.”

The research builds on centuries of speculation that the blood of young people contains substances that might rejuvenate older adults.
So, as long as they're laying around without jobs playing on their Obamaphones, they can serve as blood donors for old farts like me, right?  How much trouble could it be?
In the 1950s, Clive M. McCay of Cornell University and his colleagues tested the notion by delivering the blood of young rats into old ones. To do so, they joined rats in pairs by stitching together the skin on their flanks. After this procedure, called parabiosis, blood vessels grew and joined the rats’ circulatory systems. The blood from the young rat flowed into the old one, and vice versa.

Later, Dr. McCay and his colleagues performed necropsies and found that the cartilage of the old rats looked more youthful than it would have otherwise. But the scientists could not say how the transformations happened. There was not enough known at the time about how the body rejuvenates itself.
Ugh, you'd have to be joined at the hip? But they're so boring!
Amy J. Wagers, a member of Dr. Rando’s team, continued to study the blood of young mice after she moved in 2004 to Harvard, where she is an associate professor. Last year, she and her colleagues demonstrated that it could rejuvenate the hearts of old mice.

To pinpoint the molecules responsible for the change, Dr. Wagers and her colleagues screened the animals’ blood and found that a protein called GDF11 was abundant in young mice and scarce in old ones. To see if GDF11 was crucial to the parabiosis effect, the scientists produced a supply of the protein and injected it into old mice. Even on its own, GDF11 rejuvenated their hearts.
Now you're talking.  Just grind them up and extract the GDF11.  Norman Spinrad, call your office!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Scientists Find First Earth-Sized, Potentially Habitable Exoplanet

A mere 500 or so light years from Earth (or Terra, as we geeks like to refer to it), a weekend jaunt at Warp 9.

So the big question is, is what do their women look like?  Some ideas...
A team of astrophysicists at the SETI Institute and NASA's Ames Research Center has just reached a major milestone in the search for life-supporting planets outside our solar system. For the first time, they have discovered an Earth-sized planet nestled in the temperate, liquid-water supporting distance from its star—the so-called habitable zone.

"This is a historic discovery," says Geoff Marcy, an astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley who was not involved in the research, "it's the best case for a habitable planet yet found."
This is what we call a "SWAG" (scientific wild-assed guess).
The planet, called Kepler-186f, lies 500 light years from Earth. Scientists discovered it using the now-defunct, Kepler telescope. Between 2009 and 2013 (before a mechanical failure crippled the $600 million planet-hunter) the Kepler telescope tracked roughly 150,000 stars in a small patch of sky, searching for stars that dim at regular intervals as planets pass in front of them. And despite the telescope's premature demise, astronomers still comb through the massive trove of publicly available data, which is how planets such as the one announced today continue to tumble out of the sky.

The research team estimates that Kepler-186f is only about 10 percent larger than Earth. It orbits its star every 130 days, and inhabits the chillier end of its star's habitable zone. "The temperature on the planet is likely cool, similar to dawn or dusk on a spring day," Marcy says.
Several times, Terra has gone into Ice Ages, for no obvious reason, including the one called the "Snowball Earth", 660 million years ago whem ice went as far down as the equators, almost extinguishing our first life (and ancestors).
Unlike Earth, Kepler-186f orbits a red dwarf star, one roughly half the size of our sun. Red dwarfs are the most abundant type of stars in the sky—cooler than our sun but more volatile during their early life. Because of Kepler-186f's vast distance from Earth, and the fact that the Kepler telescope's can reveal only the size and orbit of the planet, most of the other details about the planet remain murky at best.

"We can say it's probably rocky," says Tom Barclay, an astrophysicist with the NASA Ames Research Center team. "And because the planet is closer to its star, its days are likely much longer than those on Earth." As for the planet's atmosphere, composition, and whether it harbors liquid water, nobody can say. "And it's important to note that just because this planet is in the habitable zone—that it could support water—that doesn't mean that it is habitable," he says.
 Insectoids would be very disappointing, at least to me.
Nonetheless, the fact that the planet's size and distance from its star are right for life (as we know it) has many researchers excited.

"For literally thousands of years people have wondered: Are there planets like Earth out there?" says Jeff Coughlin, a SETI astronomer with the research team. "And although we've started to find over the years that yes, planets are out there and are quite common, most of them have been rather large gas giants, much like Jupiter. We still haven't found a definitive Earth analogue—a planet with the right size and right temperature. But we are now getting close."


Kepler-186f is so far away that the researchers doubt there will be a follow-up survey for many decades. But for Coughlin, the beauty of this discovery isn't necessarily about the planet itself. Remember, for the Kepler telescope to detect a planet, the planet has to pass directly in front of its star from our point of view. That means many planets, which aren't so perfectly aligned, go undetected.

"Things have to line up just right," Coughlin says, "so when we do find something exciting like this planet, that tells us that there's a lot more out there. We've found one, but that means there's hundreds more."
I'm sure James Tiberius Kirk would be right at home:



'Star Trek': 5 of Captain Kirk's most memorable alien loves

Wombat-socho is either a week behind or on time with this weeks massive two weeks worth "Rule 5 Sunday: The Portland Double-Dip Edition."

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Finally . . .

The tar dropped: 84 year science experiment finally sees results after years of nothing
Since 1930, there has been a science experiment that basically does nothing. Seriously. Scientists watch as a solid—that's actually a liquid 230 billion times more viscous than water—drips down a glass container. But that takes time. A lot of time with a whole lot of nothing. For the past 84 years, the blob of tar has only dripped 8 times. It finally dripped the 9th time.

Sadly though, the scientist who was in charge of the experiment hosted at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia had passed away last year before he could see it drip this 9th time. What's worse, Professor John Mainstone had never seen the pitch drop even before he died. He missed the past 5 drops completely (the first 3 drops occurred when the creator of the experiment, Professor Thomas Parnell, was in charge of it) which means he never saw his experiment go through.
You snooze, you lose.

I blogged this back in 2011, when the drop was expected "any day."  Glad to see science still going forward, however slowly.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Sounds Good to Me!

From the bastion of serious, the Economist: Beer and Barbecue Combo Reduces Cancer Risk
GRILLING meat gives it great flavour. This taste, though, comes at a price, since the process creates molecules called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which damage DNA and thus increase the eater’s chances of developing colon cancer. For those who think barbecues one of summer’s great delights, that is a shame. But a group of researchers led by Isabel Ferreira of the University of Porto, in Portugal, think they have found a way around the problem. When barbecuing meat, they suggest, you should add beer.
That sounds good, but why, and how does it work?
This welcome advice was the result of some serious experiments, as Dr Ferreira explains in a paper in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. The PAHs created by grilling form from molecules called free radicals which, in turn, form from fat and protein in the intense heat of this type of cooking. One way of stopping PAH-formation, then, might be to apply chemicals called antioxidants that mop up free radicals. And beer is rich in these, in the shape of melanoidins, which form when barley is roasted. So Dr Ferreira and her colleagues prepared some beer marinades, bought some steaks and headed for the griddle.
But not all beers are equal.  What to use? It seems a shame to waste good beer by drenching meat in it.

One of their marinades was based on Pilsner, a pale lager. A second was based on a black beer (type unstated). Since black beers have more melanoidins than light beers—as the name suggests, they give it colour—Dr Ferreira’s hypothesis was that steaks steeped in the black-beer marinade would form fewer PAHs than those steeped in the light-beer marinade, which would, in turn, form fewer than control steaks left unmarinated.
Melanoidins are also produce in the browning reaction when sugar and proteins are cooked together, by the Maillard reaction, and are present in bread and pie crusts.


And so it proved. When cooked, unmarinated steaks had an average of 21 nanograms (billionths of a gram) of PAHs per gram of grilled meat. Those marinated in Pilsner averaged 18 nanograms. Those marinated in black beer averaged only 10 nanograms. Tasty and healthy too, then. Just what the doctor ordered.
So, Bud and Miller Lite are definitely out. Dos Equis Dark is probably the most reasonably priced dark beer.  Be sure to include a piece of pie.

Pirate's Cove linked with the weekly "Sorta Blogless Sunday Pinup" post. Wombat-socho has the the long awaited, post tax day, triple stuffed  edition of "Rule 5 Sunday: Ricochet" up at The Other McCain.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Scientist Worries About Influence of Money

Actually, scientists love money, it lets them do the work they want to do, but the Editor-in-Chief of Science magazine, Marcia Nutt recently penned this missive of how she fears that private money could dilute or even counter the effects of federal funding of science:

From behind the paywall: The New Patrons of Research
The news is not all bad on the science funding front. Despite the fact that many U.S. researchers face increasing competition in chasing after federal support that has not kept pace with inflation (see the News special section on p. 24), private support is on the rise. Of course, such investments are not a new phenomenon: Nobel, Carnegie, and many others attached their names to major gifts to science more than a century ago. Today, a growing number of billionaires are likewise investing in scientific research as their personal philanthropy, choosing areas that reflect their deeply held passions. These patrons of science bring a refreshing new perspective to the projects they support, because they are typically unafraid to take risks, abhor bureaucracy, and nimbly cross disciplinary boundaries. Many are directly involved in the foundations they support, putting their personal imprimatur on the direction and operation of the ventures that bear their names. With all of this good news, it is somewhat surprising that this influx of private money has been viewed with some skepticism.
I remember reading, as a lowly post doc, back in the 1980s, a book on the history of science, which showed that since Copernicus' time the number of people engaged in science has grown faster than population growth, and that this century is when the trend must end (that which cannot be sustained, won't).  It has been interesting times, to be sure.
One of the biggest concerns is that private funding for science could be viewed as a replacement for federal funding. However, unlike the federal portfolio, private support is not coordinated. Without adequate federal support, gaps of all kinds can develop—in the balance of exploratory, basic, applied, and translational research; in the support of scientific talent at different levels of training; and in the support of different types of institutions. For example, there are very different long-term impacts on science between a private investment in an institution devoted to basic research and a private investment targeted to globally eradicating a disease, although both are worthy endeavors. Even with new foundations entering the funding scene, the private share remains a small fraction overall and cannot compensate for substantial losses in federal dollars. For these reasons, it is important that scientists and philanthropists make the case to political leadership that private funding does not replace public support for research.
I would not call the federal scientific support "coordinated", it's just too big for the various agencies to do much more than check bases with each other over coffee and bagels at various meetings.  But they do have some interests in common. You won't get any money for promising to overthrow or even threatening the idea of global warming climate change. Don't think of researching something that might make them look bad.

There is a real problem with the growth of a web of governmental support. It has become commonplace for even governmental scientific agencies from local, state and federal levels to rely on government "grants" for a significant fraction of their funding.  For example Maryland Department of the Environment and Department of Natural Resources rely on Federal grants, even competitive grants for a some of their funding.  At some point, those grants begin to feel like entitlements, because no one like having to fire a subordinate because the grant money didn't come this year.  And the grants to other governmental agencies squeeze out funds to schools and other non-profits.  The demand on federal dollars always exceeds the available supply.

Once the government itself develops a taste for the "free" grant money, a bureaucracy within the government grows up to catch and exploit that money.
Another drawback is that some private foundations do not honor the federally negotiated overhead rates for academic institutions, because they want all of their funding to go “directly to science.” The result is that only institutions with other sources of private support (such as unrestricted gifts and/or an endowment) that can cover the utilities, maintenance, etc., can accept awards that are restricted to research alone. The upshot is that well-endowed institutions can benefit from private research dollars, whereas those without flexible funds cannot, thus placing even more emphasis on the importance of large capital campaigns. But even well-endowed institutions may have a difficult time soliciting gifts to support the indirect costs of another donor's program. Scientists who serve on advisory bodies for these foundations can help by making the case that indirect costs are also legitimate costs of doing research.
And the institution are free to turn down, or not apply, for such funds, But you might be shocked at how often the institutions will find a work around for the problem of the low or non "overhead" provisions of private grants. Often they will simply waive the overhead "requirement", figuring that some money is better than no money.  Other times they will also turn things normally covered by overhead funds (lab space, power, some administrative services) into fees that are tacked on to the grant.  And many institutions actually charge some private grants (usually from business interests) higher overhead rates than they do to grants from governmental sources.
A potentially sticky issue is that private funders want to set their own rules, and given the general frustration all around with the number and inflexibility of rules associated with federal funding, private funders generally choose to be more lenient. Following the more lax rules can be acceptable except when issues such as safety or scientific integrity are involved. For example, scientists should follow the standards of their field in terms of data sharing and other aspects of being a responsible citizen, even if not specifically spelled out by the supporting agent.
One point of contention is data freedom.  Governmental grants generally require freedom to share the data with the public, and now, in many cases, a process in place to do so.  Often, however, private grants from business interests (usually technically called contracts, because, they are, in fact contracts) often require data secrecy of some level, either clearance from the sponsor for publication or release of the data, or even forbidding it in rare case.  Most institutions are reluctant to take money with such strings.
Private funding is, and always has been, a huge boon to the scientific enterprise. Universities and researchers have a long history of successfully merging public and private support to profit from the advantages of each funding source, accelerate scientific discovery, and benefit humanity. Given the many causes that could engage the attention of these philanthropists, we are fortunate that so many have chosen to give back to society through science.
 So we'll take your money, but we can't promise anything.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

New Hope for Finding Life on Mars?

From behind the Science paywall: Search for Martian Life Clears Another Hurdle
Members of the Curiosity Mars rover's science team have announced a milestone in their search for signs of ancient life on Mars. After carefully checking recent results, the researchers said last week at the annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference here, they are now reasonably confident that contaminants brought from Earth cannot entirely explain certain carbon compounds Curiosity spotted in martian rock.

If so, these simple organic compounds—chlorine-carrying methane and the like—either came with the tons of never-alive cosmic debris that sifts onto every planetary body or are something far more exciting: remains of martian life from eons ago, when a habitable lake and a rushing stream graced the rover's now-dry landing site.
The big question is did Mars have enough surface, or near surface water for life to evolve, the way it did on earth? If so, traces are likely to remain somewhere; the question is where.  Even more tantalizingly, if it evolved on the surface, there's some chance that some of it adapted to life deep in the subsurface, the way it has on earth.
To reach that conclusion, scientists had to clear some daunting hurdles. First, they had to account for the effects of perchlorate, a corrosive, oxidizing compound that is pervasive on Mars and, when heated, can chew up any complex organic matter into little bits (Science, 12 April 2013, p. 138). They also had to reckon with known sources of contamination in Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument package (Science, 31 August 2012, p. 1032). A chemical reagent brought along for future analyses of organics had somehow leaked into the system, and gases driven off soil and rock samples were reacting with a polymer used to prepare compounds for identification by mass spectrometry. As a result, the rover was making its own organics, including the small chlorinated methanes and the sizable compound chlorobenzene.
As a practicing analytical chemist, looking at trace metals in some of the most dilute and difficult medium, seawater, I sympathize with the chemists who had to sort out the contributions of an inadvertent leak of the same chemicals that they were trying to measure using a special purpose machine built for the purpose located millions of miles from the workers.
To sort out which of the device's detections are truly martian, the team instructed SAM to run blanks: analyses made with empty sample vials. They flushed both blanks and real samples with inert gas and warmed them to drive off the contaminating reagent. On Earth, they ran samples containing known organics through a SAM apparatus under Mars-like conditions. And on the rover, they tried experiments such as analyzing samples three times as big as normal to see whether the yield of particular organics would triple as well.

At the meeting, Caroline Freissinet and Daniel Glavin of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and a score of fellow SAM team members reported that the latest results are persuasive. The new findings offer "compelling" evidence that some of the carbon-containing compounds SAM recently detected such as chlorinated methane, ethane, and propane came from organic matter in ancient martian rock, not from earthly contamination, Freissinet said. And Glavin said that other results are "a good indication" that some of the chlorobenzene is martian as well. Or as one of his slides pointedly put it: "The detection of reduced organic compounds in Martian near-surface samples is a significant step."
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Sounds promising; I'm a little curious why they chose the chlorinated organic compounds for study.  Chlorinated organic compounds aren't terribly common in terrestrial (in the planetary sense) organisms, though they certainly exist, but in a strong oxidizing environment with perchlorate present, they can be created from the perchlorate. Shouldn't they be looking for the kinds of compounds left by terrestrial organisms, the melange of compounds we call petroleum?
Some experts outside the 400-strong Curiosity team are more guarded. "The case for a martian source of carbon builds," responded meteoriticist Mark Sephton of Imperial College London by e-mail. He was not at the meeting but read the four pages of abstracts describing the results.

The case could build further if Curiosity strikes a richer vein of organic matter in future samples. Or SAM team members could try a more sophisticated technique to separate out the organic compounds in rock before the pervasive oxidizing agent chews them up. The next opportunity to drill a new sample will come within a few months when Curiosity is likely to pause on its way to its ultimate target, Mount Sharp.
Alas, we're probably not talking about finding Princess Thuvia's and John Carter's descendents.

Wombat-socho has the the long awaited, post tax day, triple stuffed  edition of "Rule 5 Sunday: Ricochet" up at The Other McCain.

Monday, April 7, 2014

DNA Used to Track Renegade Pond Weed

From the USGS: New DNA Tool Helps Scientists Identify Invasive Species of Aquatic Plants
A new DNA protocol developed by the U.S. Geological Survey helps biologists distinguish between native and invasive species of aquatic vegetation that have almost identical appearances. Until now, measuring the dispersal of these various invasive plants has been hampered by confusion about where and when the plants arrived.

Invasive aquatic plants from Korea, Brazil, and the Indian subcontinent have been spreading through U.S. waterways for decades. The new DNA protocol will help biologists identify species, track their progress, and provide facts to local managers who can develop appropriate control measures.

“When invasive plants appear in a body of water, local people naturally are alarmed” said Nancy Rybicki, the USGS biologist who teamed up with molecular biologists to develop the new DNA testing technique. “Enormous amounts of money are spent on control. Some species may look very nearly identical, but they have unique reproductive and growth characteristics. Identification, the first step for control or eradication, needs to be precise.”

Using this new protocol, Rybicki determined that hydrilla arrived in both the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay earlier than previously thought, a finding that revises earlier ideas of how it was first introduced into the area.

The authors found that hydrilla was in the Potomac River in 1976. Thus, the original introduction of hydrilla to the Potomac was not from National Park Service experiments conducted in 1980 at Dyke Marsh on the tidal Potomac River as previously thought. It is probable that hydrilla was already present, but was misidentified. It may still be undiscovered in many locations today.


Huge beds of Hydrilla are widely credited with helping to clean up portions of the Potomac River. And they make good habitat for another invader, the Chinese Snakehead.

The two biotypes of hydrilla, one first introduced into Florida and the other first introduced into Washington, DC, are both spreading toward Canada, well beyond their predicted range.

“We anticipate that hydrilla will continue to move into colder regions, including, the Great Lakes, where a native plant called elodea is common,” Rybicki explained. “Without DNA verification, misidentification of the two plants is likely.”
New technologies are nice, but it's kind of sad when it gets to where scientists are relying on DNA tests instead of whipping out the cheap dichotomous key and learning what traits distinguish the two species.