Radio Freethinker

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Posts Tagged ‘NASA’

RFT Ep 249 – Killing the CBC Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on April 18, 2014

Download the episode here! 


Whine of the Week  : Killing the CBC

corrigan april 12 2014

As ye sow, so shall ye reap…can also be stated, as ye fast, so shall ye whither, and whither the CBC has. Facing an $100 million budget short fall…thanks to Harper, losing hockey and other factors…the CBC is cutting staff by over 650.

Polling shows the CBC is the most trusted media source in the country, more three-quarters think the government should fund the CBC at a sufficient level…most of those think funding needs to increased.


The Harper government has regularly and consistently slashed the CBC grant budget after budget while spending  the entire CBC budget on a single F-35 jet…or overpriced frigates. What money they are giving, they think would be better spent by just giving it to private media companies…here’s how that would turn out…

Friday, April 11, 2014

Why are we not moving to a BBC style of funding…create a strong, stable and independent broadcaster, whose sole interest to provide the best of Canada.


Seriously the Unfair Elections Act is Important

Moudakis April 10 2014

How did Poilievre become Minister for Democratic Reform, how was the act craft and again…how it can destroy democracy in Canada – The Harper fix is in!


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The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report


Climate Change…even more certainty and dire warnings, again – The IPCC released it latest report on the state of the worlds climate and we’re serious screwed!

Conclusions of the WG1 report (The Physical Science Basis) are summarized below:

  • “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia”.
  • “Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years”.
  • Human influence on the climate system is clear. It is extremely likely (95-100% probability) that human influence was the dominant cause of global warming between 1951-2010.
  • “Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further [global] warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions”.
  • “Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped”

Conclusions of the WG3 report (Mitigation of Climate Change) are summarized below:

  • The global surface temperature increase by the end of the 21st century is likely to exceed 1.5 °C relative to the 1850 to 1900 period for most scenarios, and is likely to exceed 2.0 °C for many scenarios. With the possibility of an increase as much as 4.5°C
  • The global water cycle will change, with increases in disparity between wet and dry regions, as well as wet and dry seasons, with some regional exceptions.
  • The oceans will continue to warm, with heat extending to the deep ocean, affecting circulation patterns.
  • Decreases are very likely in Arctic sea ice cover, Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover, and global glacier volume
  • Global mean sea level will continue to rise at a rate very likely to exceed the rate of the past four decades
  • Changes in climate will cause an increase in the rate of CO2 production.
  • Increased uptake by the oceans will increase the acidification of the oceans.
  • Future surface temperatures will be largely determined by cumulative CO2, which means climate change will continue even if CO2 emissions are stopped.

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Society Is Doomed


NASA funded study shows the not only do civilizations collapse, it happens regularly and is inevitable…but there is an upside.

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RFT Ep 229 – Skeptic Music Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on October 23, 2013


This Week:

MAY3276-1024x813 Don’s Rant about how thanks to the Senate scandal, nomination shenanigans in Brandon—Souris and a thrown speech which didn’t mention accountability…the Conservatives are risking looking there political base in the same way the PC’s did in the 90s. MAY3274-1024x813

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More evidence the Pope may be a closet Atheist when he claims that the church is plagued by “ideology” minded Christians who have, as he put it “lost the faith”.


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Research is in on the Zamboni treatment for MS, and it looks like it does nothing…making the rash actions of Zamboni to treat people before his claims could be proven makes he a dangerous quack!


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We had a large dose of skeptic music from NASA to the Large Hadron Collider and much more


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Download the episode here! 

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Radio Freethinker Episode 211 – Election Autopsy Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on May 21, 2013


This week:
–  A salute to Chris Hadfield,
– Post-Election Autopsy,

– Senate Shenanigans
, and
– Imagine No Religion 3

Download the episode here!


A salute to Chris Hadfield

Canada’s own Chris Hadfield returned to Earth after being the first Canadian to command the International Space Station. While up there he became an international international sensation for his great efforts to popularize science, communicate with students and celebrities (including Captain Kirk aka Canadian William Shatner) via Twitter and live remote-talks, performing student inspired experiments and just generally being the best PR person NASA has had…maybe ever.

Find out more:

Post-Election Autopsy

public_opinion_pollsA look at the past election and how the pollsters and pundits could get it so wrong. We look at polling and the role polls play in elections

Senate Shenanigans

DEA3828sq-1024x1024In the light of the current flood of senate scandals, we ask and answer the question – can you fire a senator?

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Imagine No Religion 3

4319477674-2What are the issues and what do the two main parties have to say about them? We cover Education, the Economy, Healthcare and the Environment.
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Skeptic Highlights

How Physics Works – a History of the Development of Quantum Mechanics

Quantum mechanics is at the root of essentially all aspects of contemporary life. It contains many non-intuitive features, but these are exploited in, for example, all microchip electronic devices.

Dr. Malcolm Longair will explain at a non-technical level the struggles made by experimenters and theorists to develop a fully self-consistent quantum physics. It turns out to provide a splendid example of how physics works in practice, based on the genius of experiment and theory.

When: Monday 27, 4 PM

Where: Hebb Theatre, UBC main campus

Cost: Free

CFI Public Forum Meeting 

We get together for drinks and dinner and then discuss strategies and goals that CFI Vancouver can pursue. With the recent INR3 conference, we’ll be discussing some of the ideas and suggestions we got there.

When: Wednesday May 22nd at 7pm
Where: the Tipper Resturant, 2066 Kingsway, Vancouver
Cost: Donations Welcome
Link: Event Link Here

Life, Liberty and the Right to Die

CFI Vancouver presents a lecture by Rebecca Coad

Rebecca Coad obtained a Bachelors of Arts in Philosophy and a Juris Doctorate from the University of British Columbia. She was first introduced to the legal issues surrounding choice in death as an intern for the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) in 2011

The focus of the discussion will be on the legal arguments made both in favour and in opposition to legalizing a limited form of assisted dying. And an examination of the decision by Justice Lynn Smith of the BC Supreme Court.

When: Thursday, May 31st at 7pm
Where: Room 1700, SFU Harbour Centrer
Cost: Donations Welcome
LinkEvent Link Here

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Radio Freethinker Episode 187 – Zombie Free Will Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on October 30, 2012

This week:

– Gideon give-away at school,
Atheist solemnize marriage,
– More ramifications from dropping long form census, 

– Vaccine recall,
– Scary music,
– Zombie Planet…NOT!and
The illusion of Free Will and Sam Harris

Download the episode here!

Gideon give-away at school

When a parent in Chilliwack thought it might be inappropriate for the Gideons to give 5th graders a free bible, a  fire storm was set off. His concerns were discussed by the school board but in private, the community has (at times) devolved into race-baiting and to even raise the issue has been cast as a condemnation of the community.

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Atheist solemnize marriage

In an effort to create equality in marriage, CFI has challenged the Indiana state law that states that the only people allowed to solemnize a marriage are government officials or church leaders.

CFI is push to remove the separation of the solemnization requirement from the attainment of the marriage licence itself (a strictly state/legal process) . If they win, either solemnization will be open to people ‘not of faith’ or marriage will be complete with the licence and people will be free to ‘publicly celebrate’ their union in their chosen community in what ever way they choose.

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More ramifications from dropping long form census

When Harper arbitrary and impulsively dropped the mandatory long form census last year, people predicted (like RFT) that there would be serious ramifications. Well, it seems they are beginning to be seen. Evidence has arisen to show entire communities are being miss and under represented, the data consistency has been destroyed and this seems to be just the tip of the iceberg.

One issue we missed before is the rapid nature of the change. In the past, when the form changed (as it has over time) StatsCan, tested different ways to execute those changes so they could predict and adjust the results so as to maintain the long-term consistency of the data. This last change was not only ill-advised but done in to much haste for predictions and adjustments to be made.

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Vaccine recall

Don warns skeptics about the possibility of anti-vax people using the recent recall of the Novartis flu vaccine as a reason to question all vaccines. The reason for the recall was not increased or perceived health risks but lack of efficacy due to protein clumping. More clumping…less surface area…less interaction with immune system…lower chance of immunization.

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Scary music

In an attempt to avoid the traditional Halloween music, Ethan reviews some music classics and how scary they truly are.

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Zombie Planet…NOT!

NASA has a science communication fail, as it attempts to retract/clarify a report of a planetary discovery from 2008 but adding “Zombie” to the press release FOR NO REASON other than to get publicity.

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The illusion of Free Will and Sam Harris

Sam Harris was in town to give a couple of talks about his new book – Free Will. We discuss the idea of free will, how convincing Sam Harris’s argument is and the fact none of have a choice in how we feel about it anyway.

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Skeptical Highlights:

Vancouver Skepticamp 2012

Skepticamp is an all day skeptical conference with talks by local skeptics and audience participation. You can register at here.  Breakfast and lunch are provided, and there are also t-shirts, door prizes, give aways, and lots of cool stuff to check out. Skepticamp is at

November 3, 2012, 9:30am to 5pm
Admission suggested donation of 2 to $10
Buchanan Bldg., Block A, Room A201, UBC, Vancouver


Media Democracy Day (MDD) is about democratization both through the media, and of the media. This means using the media for democratic self-governance; and reshaping the media themselves to make them more accessible, accountable, representative.
Panel discussion: Decolonizing Media, Who’s Watching You? – the politics of surveillance, Big data and political marketing, and Muzzled Scientists.
There will be a feature film as well as hands-on Workshops

Friday Nov 02 | 1:00-11:0PM
Saturday Nov 03 | 12:00-5:30PM

Admission suggested donation of 2 to $10
Buchanan Bldg., Block A, Room A201, UBC, Vancouver

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The Department of Science

Posted by Don McLenaghen on May 13, 2012

Well, it looks like we’ve finally done it. It’s a high bar to clear but we made it. What, you may ask? Well, at least in one regard, Canada is more  screwed up than the USA.

I was reading in the Ottawa Herald about the difficulty one reporter had to get a simple interview with a Canadian scientist in the employ of government…well-funded by the National Research Council.

Apparently the reporter Tom Spears heard of some research NASA was doing to measure snow fall. He had learned that NASA had teamed up with Environment Canada, the NRC and several universities to fly through and over falling snow in southern Ontario this winter. It used specialized equipment to analyse falling snow in different weather conditions.

He contacted NASA and was talking to one of the research scientist in “15 min”. Now being a proud Canadian, Spears wanted to get the Canadian angles which he though would be interesting considering the large contribution we had made to the project.

In the USA, he could just contact the scientist directly and conduct an informative interview…Harper put an end to that tom foolery. To talk to a government related scientist (employed by or funded via research grants from agencies like the NRC) in Canada, you have to put in a request with a federal department; which he did. After waiting about 2 days, Spears had to publish without his interview or the information he was hoping to include. He did receive some bland generic talking points and an inventory of the plane.

Curious about how the agency handled his request, he filed a Freedom of Information Request and received over 50 pages dealing with his simple request. The long and the short of it, the lower government agents wanted to arrange an interview promptly but were shot down by more senior management who thought it not appropriate and simply wanted to give a paragraph or 4 about the technical details…i.e. what type of plane, the instruments, etc.

Junior agents pointed out that was not really what the reporter wanted, which it was not, but followed orders. Spear just wanted to ask “So why study snow? Is Ontario snow special? do we have special knowledge on this, what is the state of Canadian snow science?” That sort of thing; he was hoping to place a spot light on our scientists and their work. Spear wrote his story with only a perfunctory nod to the NRC participation and not the human interest or nationalist angle he was hoping for.

In an ironic twist, the document he received mentioned the departments reaction to the published article commenting on how the NRC was only mentioned in passing once and the absence of any mention about the Canadian scientific contribution to the project…but that was okay, the journalist didn’t really want anything more than confirmation of the NRC involvement…which was NOT what he wanted.

As a good skeptic I was both dismayed and alarmed by this story. It seems the default position of our government is to provide as little information as possible. There was no political agenda here, no sensitive or controversial material…it just seemed the bureaucrats, taking their lead from their ruler Harper, thought that the less the people know what the government is doing the better.

This leads to a bigger question…why are we muzzling Canadian scientist?

This is not an isolated event, there have been a number of incidences where the Harper government has directly told scientist to NOT speak to reporters. In fact at a recent Montreal conference, Harper added intimidation to the list of ways to NOT inform the people. Attendees were told NOT to grant interviews and to pass along any request to a ‘press agent’ of the NRC who would arrange things. Also, the NRC ‘press agents’ would record everything said…‘for clarification and reference in case there is a discrepancy between the news story and the official line’.

Since the Conservative government won its majority there has been a constant attack on environmental and regulatory entities both in and out of government. Our scientist are some of the best in the world and have been doing great research into many important areas including a number inconvenient to the Harper agenda – climate change, fish farms, environmental health, etc.

Now there is a great political argument to be made against this erosion of our access to OUR OWN science and scientists…that the Harper government is more secretive than the North Korean politburo but I will put that aside for the moment.

What makes this important for the skeptical community is that to be a good skeptic one must be informed. Scientific skepticism is based on empirical evidence and when that is denied to us we can no longer be assured that the answers we derive or support are authentically rational. The free and open flow of information is (almost?) always the best way to run society ESPECIALLY scientific information. An election is 3 years away…there is little we can do now to reverse this governmental trend but we can ensure people know what Harper et al are doing. We can and must ensure that when Elections 2015 rolls around; WE DO NOT FORGET!

<notes found in Ep 163>

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NASA sued by design

Posted by Don McLenaghen on March 30, 2012

NASA is facing a lawsuit by David Coppedge over alleged discrimination against “Intelligent” Design (ID) proponent. Coppedge claims religious discrimination and wrongful dismissal when he was laid off during recent NASA budget cuts. This decease he is a proponent of

First the details of the case:

David Coppedge lost his status as “team lead” after his co-workers complained of harassment and he was let go when the project he was working on ended. He was just one of 246 JPL employees terminated last year due to budget cuts

Coppedge is active in the intelligent design community and runs a website that interprets scientific discoveries through the lens of intelligent design. He admits to handing out to co-workers, video documentaries examining the scientific evidence for intelligent design produced by Illustra Media, where he is a board member.

Coppedge lawsuit asserts that he was not attempting to proselytize, but that his attempts were to share his beliefs. To support his claim of suffering discrimination, he stated that when he expressed support for the anti-gay Proposition 8 and requested the staff holiday party be “re-labeled” Christmas party; that he was deemed a Christian conservative.

Coppedge originally brought suit in April 2010, after his demotion, alleging religious discrimination and harassment, and amended it after he lost his job to include wrongful termination. He is seeking damages and a statement that his rights were violated.

The Discovery Institute which supports Coppedge described his treatment as “part of a pattern. There is basically a war on anyone who dissents from Darwin and we’ve seen that for several years.”

The National Center for Science Education and NASA expressed that they hope this is adjudicated as an employment action and not used as a back-door way of arguing scientific facts…like evolution!

Now there are three aspects to this I think relevant.

First, does the fact he believed in ID give NASA cause to fire him?

Yes and no…but mostly no. I have discussed in the past that one’s personal beliefs should only concern your employer under X specific conditions,

1)   They interfere with your ability to do your work. For example, if Coppedge did not believe in the heliocentric solar system (or would that he called it the terra system?) it would imply that you thought NASA was involved in some huge conspiracy to trick the people into thinking the Sun was the centre of the system. Simply put you could not be trusted to do your job competently.

2)   They bring direct disrepute upon your employer. So, if Coppedge went on a speaking tour as a NASA scientist to advocate his point of view. It is a view that NASA does not support and because you were using its name to create legitimacy for that view without expressed permission from NASA; thus they have a right to interfere and if necessary terminate.

Second, if I share my beliefs/hobbies/interest with my fellow co-workers, does this give NASA (or any employer) cause to fire me?

Maybe, it is not WHAT he was trying to share that is important, but how. That is, if you are creating a negative workplace environment because of the WAY you express those thoughts.

If I am constantly bringing up the subject in spite of the protest of my co-workers, then I have begun to harass them. If I get agitated and ‘aggressive’ in my ‘expression’ of my thoughts, this may make one’s co-workers uncomfortable, again it becomes harassment.

It's not the request, but how insistent it could have been

Coppedge mentioned that he did on several occasions attempt to ‘enlighten’ his co-workers about ID (and one will assume the metaphysics behind it…i.e. A God), the fact he wished to ‘resurrect’ the Christian ‘title’ for the holiday party, and the conviction with which he seemed to hold his beliefs; it seems that what he WAS doing was proselytizing. This can, and obviously did, create a negative work environment and NASA was in its rights to restore a positive environment by first demoting Coppedge and then including him in the lay-off list.

Lastly, IS this a workplace action at all or another attempt by those in the ID community to use the courts to promote their beliefs on a science community that has dismissed it?

The involvement of the Discovery Institute makes me worry about this issue. IF Coppedge wins his lawsuit, it may be interpreted that people should be free to express their ID beliefs anywhere; that to deny it is discrimination. It would seem the end goal may be to elevate the expression and promotion of ID to a legal right.

Now I confess I am unsure how to distinguish ID from freedom of belief. Ironically, those who propose ID insist that it is not theology but science (although that has been debunked in the Dover case). So, if it is theology, then oddly he may have a case for discrimination if he was not harassing his co-workers AND was fired largely for his ID beliefs.

The evidence I have seen exonerated NASA by my accounting, but there is still the worry that the Discovery Institute lawyers may construe this as a rights issue and the US courts may be sympathetic (assuming the judge believes in the “war on religion” propaganda à la Fox News types).

Let’s keep our eyes open on this one.

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Radio Freethinker Episode 158 – Citing Canada Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on March 20, 2012

This week  Selling Canadian Science, NASA sued by ‘Intelligent’ Design, St. Patrick’s day and Don’s interview with Tony Sobrado – Part 2(of 3), conspiracy theories as political ideology.

Download the episode here!


Harper Government plan to make NRC more business friendly!

Two part talk, first it turns out in raw science Canada punched well above its weight class. Although only producing about 1/10 the papers in science as the USA or UK, our papers are cited more. We have the most influential scientist in the world based on citations…and that is everything in the world of academia.
On this topic, word has come out from Ottawa about an ongoing effort to transform the National Research Council’s directions. The NRC is a government agency that funds the majority of research in Canada. The Harper government would like to see the agency focus less on “blue sky” projects and develop a ‘concierge’ or “1-800 number” service for businesses. We take a short and balance look at how this could affect our place in the science community.

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CFI newly “Elected” board of directors

We review the new members and the slow but steady move towards democratic governance and CFI.

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NASA Sued by “Intelligent” Design

NASA is facing a lawsuit by David Coppedge. Coppedge claims religious discrimination and wrongful dismissal when he was laid off during recent NASA budget cuts. We examine his claim and its implications for NASA, the work place and the possibility of legally imposing ‘intelligent’ design.

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St. Patrick’s Day Debate?

We have an interesting discussion about the origins of St. Patrick’s Day and should we as atheist celebrate a Catholic Feast Day? Ethan also questions if the holiday as we now have perpetuating ‘racist’ stereotypes of the Irish.


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Tony Sobrado interview Part 2 – Conspiracy theory as political ideology

This week we start a three part series with Tony Sobrado. Tony Sabrado Tony is a research analyst and social scientist currently based in London. Author of the soon to be published book “Who rules the world: An analysis to conspiracy theory”. He also contributes to the Huffington Post.

Part 2 – We define what a conspiracy is, the sociological history of conspiracy theory and the frame-work Tony has developed to help analyse conspiracy theories from a social/political science perspective.

Learn more about Tony Sobrado:

Skeptical Highlights:

It’s Wrong to Wreck the World: Climate Change and the Moral Obligation to the Future

Kathleen Dean Moore, co-founder of the Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature, and the Written Word and professor of Philosophy at Oregon State University, will talk on the importance of viewing climate change as a moral crisis and taking a moral response towards the issue.
<From the poster>
“In our generation, as Thomas Berry writes, we have done to the Earth what no previous generation has done, because they lacked the technological power, and what no future generation will be able to do, because the planet will never again be so beautiful or abundant. In the process, we have degraded, and perhaps changed forever, the great systems that sustain our lives. This is a scientific and technological crisis, assuredly.  But it is fundamentally a moral crisis, and it calls for a moral response. Why has climate-change science elicited such stunning indifference?  What calls us to act? How can we respond to the crisis in ways that honor duties of compassion, justice, and respect for human rights?  How can we discuss these values across differences?  How do we live, when we truly understand that we live in complete dependence on an Earth that is interconnected, interdependent, finite, resilient, and heart-breakingly beautiful?”

When: Wed. Mar. 21, 7pm,
Location: Alma VanDusen Room, Vancouver Public Library
Cost: Free
SFU Continuing Studies in Science and Environment Lecture Series

Seeing the Strings: Capitalism and You

Our aim is to initiate meaningful deliberation in Vancouver around how capitalism operates, and its reliance on both visible and invisible forms of domination and exploitation in order to function.

Each event will be split into three equally important components that will work to build both personal and community-wide understanding of the topics.
First, a discussion will explore the themes of the event within a historical and theoretical context. This will create a system-wide explanation or “big picture,” demonstrating not only what the specific form of oppression addressed is, but also how it operates within capitalism.
Then, a second speaker will explore the topic in a historically present context, using examples from living communities to reveal the connections between past and present, theory and practice.
The third component of the night will be a participatory workshop, with strong facilitation, involving all attendees. There will be small group discussions with small or large group movement activities that will enable individuals to explore how the topic at hand functions in their own life, to learn about the experiences of others, and to see that oppression functions systemically, affecting everyone in different ways.

When: Fri. Mar. 23, 7pm,
Location: Alma VanDusen Room, Vancouver Public Library
Cost: By donation, no one turned away for lack of funds
Vancouver Media Co-op

University of Lethbridge new chair in Alt-Med

It was recently announced that the University of Lethbridge has received funds and is creating a chair of Complementary and Alternative Health Care.

This is more of a low-light than highlight but something to keep our eyes on. Recent moves in Canada, Australian and the USA by proponents of Alt-Med are intended to bring legitimacy by association where actually achieving scientific success as failed them.

Droog gift establishes Chair in alternative health care

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Science Sunday #24

Posted by Don McLenaghen on November 27, 2011

– and on the seventh day we learn.
Each week I hope to give a synopsis of the interesting science stories I have heard on my plethora of science podcasts I listen to each week plus anything I pick up scanning the inter-web. This week’s top stories:

This week’s top stories:

Filling in holes may make them more bright –

Nano holes filled with gold caps

The nano scale world just never makes sense. In resent research published in Optics Express (published by Optical Society of America) showed that when holes in a metal plate were completely caped (i.e. the hole was covered completely) by a metal particle, up t0 70% MORE light passed through.

Their complete results report (i) the observation of light transmission through the holes blocked by the metal disks up to 70% larger than the unblocked holes; (ii) the observation of tuning the light transmission by varying the coupling strength between the blocking disks and the hole array, or by changing the size of the disks and holes; (iii) the observation and simulation that the metal disk blocker can improve light coupling from free space to a sub-wavelength hole; and (iv) the simulation that shows the light transmission through sub-wavelength holes can be enhanced, even though the gap between the disk and the metal film is partially connected with a metal.

Why is this important?

Current wisdom with regards when you want to block all light you can ignore the nano scale.  In very sensitive optical instruments, such as microscopes, telescopes, spectrometers and other optical detectors, for example, it is common to coat a metal film onto glass with the intention of blocking light. Dust particles, which are unavoidable in metal film deposition, inevitably create tiny holes in the metal film, but these holes have been assumed to be harmless because the dust particles become capped and surrounded by metal, which is thought to block the light completely.

Conversely, on aspect of this discovery is the ability to fine tune the light. This approach may be used to make better and more accurate microscopes by boosting the amount and kind of light delivered to the target.

How does it work?

The metal disk acts as a sort of “antenna” that picks up and radiates electromagnetic waves. In this case, the metal disks pick up light from one side of the hole and radiate it to the opposite side. The waves travel along the surface of the metal and leap from the hole to the cap, or vice versa depending on which way the light is traveling.

Science Daily

Extraordinary light transmission through opaque thin metal film with subwavelength holes blocked by metal disks

Blocked Holes Can Enhance Rather Than Stop Light Transmission


Supercool!! –

Water 'crystals' turn hexagonal as freezing occures

Most people naively think that water freezes at 0o C. Some will know that you can supercool water below that point under special conditions but until research published in Nature, the absolute lower limit was not known.

Super-cooled liquid water must become ice at minus 55 F not just because of the extreme cold, but because the molecular structure of water changes physically to form tetrahedron shapes, with each water molecule loosely bonded to four others, according to the new study by chemists Valeria Molinero and Emily Moore.

The findings suggest this structural change from liquid to “intermediate ice” explains the mystery of “what determines the temperature at which water is going to freeze,” says Molinero.

However, in the strange and wacky world of water, tiny amounts of liquid water theoretically still might be present even as temperatures plunge below minus 55 F and almost all the water has turned solid — either into crystalline ice or amorphous water “glass,” Molinero says. But any remaining liquid water can survive only an incredibly short time — too short for the liquid’s properties to be detected or measured.

So, why is this important?

Atmospheric scientists studying global warming want to know at what temperatures and rates water freezes and crystallizes into ice. “You need that to predict how much water in the atmosphere is in the liquid state or crystal state,” which relates to how much solar radiation is absorbed by atmospheric water and ice, Molinero says. “This is important for predictions of global climate.”

Liquid water as cold as minus 40 F has been found in clouds. Scientists have done experiments showing liquid water can exist at least down to minus 42 F.

Why doesn’t it freeze at 0o C?

“If you have liquid water and you want to form ice, then you have to first form a small nucleus or seed of ice from the liquid. The liquid has to give birth to ice,” says Molinero. Yet in very pure water, like that can be found in the high atmosphere, no nucleation points are available.

Science Daily

Eureka Alert

Structural transformation in supercooled water controls the crystallization rate of ice

God particle missing –

Higgs Explained

It seems physicists may soon be atheists all over again as their search for god turns up a blank. No, not god in the theological sense but the illusive ‘god particle’ (which it is not, and I hate articles the use the term…which means I hate this article – damn logic!).

There was much hope that the Large Hadron Collider would be able to discover the Higgs Boson, that theoretical sub-atomic particle that is supposed to provide mater its weight.

At a conference in Paris on 18 November, teams from ATLAS and the CMS experiments presented a combined analysis that wipes out a wide swathe of potential masses for the Higgs particle. Gone is the entire mass range from 141 to 476 giga­electronvolts (GeV; energy and mass are interchangeable in particle physics). Together with earlier results from the 1990s, the analysis leaves a relatively narrow window of just 114–141 GeV in which the Higgs could lurk.

Analysis of the very latest data from this autumn — which Murray isn’t yet ready to share — will scour the range that remains. If it turns out to be empty, physicists may have to accept that the particle simply isn’t there.

What is the Higgs Boson? First, some background.

Subatomic line-up

Four fundamental forces are at work in nature: gravity, the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force and electromagnetism. Since the mid-1960s, physicists have strongly suspected that the weak and electromagnetic forces are actually different aspects of a single ‘electroweak’ force. This is partly because the photon, the force-carrying particle of electro­magnetism, is highly similar to the force-carrying particles of the weak force — the W and Z bosons. Moreover, a single electroweak theory successfully predicts the interactions of fundamental particles.

No place to hide

There is one problem, however: the W and Z bosons are extremely heavy, nearly 100 GeV, whereas the photon is massless. To explain the difference, a number of physicists (including Peter Higgs in 1964) proposed a new field and particle. The eponymous Higgs mechanism would interact with the W and Z bosons, giving them mass, but would ignore the photon, allowing it to remain massless. Relatively straightforward tweaks to the Higgs machinery allow it to endow other particles, such as quarks, with their observed masses as well.

What if it doesn’t exist?

Well, mostly it’s back to the drawing board. One theory holds that there is not A Higgs boson but a set of them. However, if that is true, finding THEM only amplifies the detection problem. The Higgs itself is only leaves a small mark as it decays into the W and Z boson; if there are 2 (or more) each will be leave an even small mark.

Higgs hunt enters endgame

Hint of Higgs, but little more


In Praise of Nuclear Power –

The map of Curiosity

Just this week NASA launched Curiosity, a large rover to explore Mars. However, due to its size, the extent of the mission and the desire to ‘move quickly’; NASA decided not to use solar panels to provide power but opted for a nuclear power plant. Well, not nuclear so much as radioactive. The power supply does not use fission to provide power but heat generated by radioactive decay.  The Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator is the latest “space battery” that can reliably power a deep space mission for many years

Past and future power plants

This will be the 26th mission using this style of power supply however the unit itself is the latest generation of “Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator”. It currently provided 145 watts of power and weighs 44 kg; future versions are expected generate 250w while others are going for size generating only 50w but weighing only 7 kg. The biggest advantage to these is both the reliability and quantity (remember the farther from the sun, the less effective solar panel become) of power but they have a life time of 14 yrs +/-.

However there is an Achilles heal to this story. The radioactive source is Plutonium 238 was weapons production reactors…these have been shut down for over 2 decades. The stock pile NASA has is expected to run out by 2018. It takes about 8 yrs for current facilities to produce 5 kg at a current cost of 150 million.  Curiosity is using about 5kg. The current state of US politics and the impending deadline means future outer-solar missions may be canceled due to lack of an appropriate power source.

Science Daily

Eureka Alert

Nuclear fuel for spacecraft set to run out in 2018

NASA feels ‘plutonium pinch’

MSL Curiosity Rover

What’s a multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator?


Electronic Eye –

Simply put

Babak Praviz of the University of Washington has demonstrated a first for contact eye wearers. He created and demonstrated the operation of a contact lens display powered by a remote radio-frequency transmitter in free space and on a live rabbit

The test lens was powered remotely using a 5-millimetre-long antenna printed on the lens to receive gigahertz-range radio-frequency energy from a transmitter placed ten centimetres from the rabbit’s eye. To focus the light on the rabbit’s retina, the contact lens itself was fabricated as a Fresnel lens – in which a series of concentric annular sections is used to generate the ultra-short focal length needed.

more complexity

They found their lens LED glowed brightly up to a metre away from the radio source in free space, but needed to be 2 centimetres away when the lens was placed in a rabbit’s eye and the wireless reception was affected by body fluids. All the 40-minute-long tests on live rabbits were performed under general anaesthetic and showed that the display worked well – and fluorescence tests showed no damage or abrasions to the rabbit’s eyes after the lenses were removed.

A key challenge of the research was testing whether they could project an image onto the lens in such a way that the eye could see it. Because the human eye normally is unable to focus on anything closer than 15 centimeters, Parviz and his team compensated for the problem by incorporating a miniature Fresnel lens into their contact lenses. Fresnel lenses—originally designed for lighthouses—are flat and thin, and allow for a large aperture and a short focal length. “If an image is placed on a Fresnel contact lens, I can force the light rays to converge on the retina, making the light source more in focus,” Parviz says. “In a sense the lens tricks the eye into thinking that the image is farther away so it can focus on it.”

A single-pixel wireless contact lens display

Scientific American

New Scientist

Smart contact lenses for health and head-up displays

Augmented Reality Makes Commercial Headway

Bionic contact lens ‘to project emails before eyes’

Augmented Reality in a Contact Lens

Computerised Contact Lens Could Lead To Hands-Free Email, Movies And Gaming, Researchers Claim

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Science Sunday #21

Posted by Don McLenaghen on November 6, 2011

– and on the seventh day we learn.
Each week I hope to give a synopsis of the interesting science stories I have heard on my plethora of science podcasts I listen to each week plus anything I pick up scanning the inter-web. We are going to try something different this week. I listen to over 30 podcasts and read over 1000 articles a week; limiting stories here to 5 +/- items seemed limited. So, less text and more stories…feedback welcome. This week’s top stories:

This week’s top stories:


Unraveling the causes of the Ice Age megafauna extinctions-

A study, just published online in the journal Nature, reveals that neither climate nor humans alone can account for the Ice Age mass extinctions. Using ancient megafauna DNA, climate data and the archaeological record, the findings indicate dramatically different responses of Ice Age species to climate change and humans.

For example, the study shows that humans played no part in the extinction of the woolly rhino or the musk ox in Eurasia and that their demise can be entirely explained by climate change. On the other hand, humans aren’t off the hook when it comes to the extinction of the wild horse and the bison in Siberia. Our ancestors share responsibility for the megafauna extinctions with climate change. While the reindeer remain relatively unaffected by any of these factors, the causes of the extinction of the mammoths is still a mystery.

Science in Action Podcast

Material World Podcast

Species-specific responses of Late Quaternary megafauna to climate and humans

Unraveling the causes of the Ice Age megafauna extinctions

Humans and climate contributed to extinctions of large ice-age mammals

Return of the dust bowl –

Haboobs, giant dust storms, walloped Arizona last summer — some close to 2 kilometers high and 160 kilometers wide — knocking out electricity, creating traffic jams and grounding airplanes. Even old-timers say they can’t remember anything quite like this year’s aerial assaults. Meanwhile Texas is experiencing one of the most extreme droughts in recent history, with almost 90 percent of the state in the most extreme level of drought. Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and other states are also experiencing drought conditions. The worry is that this might just be the start of a trend, as EARTH reports in the November issue: Over the next couple of decades, researchers say, the American West will transition to an environment that may make the 1930s Dust Bowl seem mild and brief.

The problem is that rising temperatures will contribute directly and indirectly to there being more dust in the air. Then, persistent droughts, increasingly violent and variable weather patterns, urban and suburban development and even off-road recreational vehicle usage compound the problem. So, is the West doomed? Or is there any reason to believe that this forecast may not come true?

Return of the Dust Bowl

Eureka Alert


Latex gloves lead to lax hand hygiene in hospitals –

Healthcare workers who wear gloves while treating patients are much less likely to clean their hands before and after patient contact, according to a study published in the December issue of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, the journal of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America. This failure of basic hand hygiene could be contributing to the spread of infection in healthcare settings, the researchers say.

Glove use is appropriate for situations when contact with body fluids is anticipated or when patients are to be managed with contact precautions. However, use of gloves should not be considered a substitute for effective hand hygiene practices taking place before and after patient contact. Although gloves can reduce the number of germs transmitted to the hands, germs can sometimes still get through latex. Hands can also be contaminated by “back spray” when gloves are removed after contact with body fluids.

The researchers, led by Dr. Sheldon Stone of the Royal Free Hospital NHS Trust, observed more than 7,000 patient contacts in 56 intensive care and acute care of the elderly wards in 15 United Kingdom hospitals, making this one of the largest and most detailed studies on gloves and their impact on hand hygiene. Overall, the study found that hand hygiene compliance was “disappointingly low,” at just 47.7 percent. Compliance was even lower in instances where gloves were worn, dipping to just over 41 percent.

Eureka Alert


New Evidence for the Earliest Modern Humans in Europe –

The timing, process and archaeology of the peopling of Europe by early modern humans have been actively debated for more than a century. Reassessment of the anatomy and dating of a fragmentary upper jaw with three teeth from Kent’s Cavern, Devon, in southern England has shed new light on these issues.

The Kent’s Cavern human joins the human skull and lower jaw from the Peştera cu Oase, Romania, in establishing the presence of modern humans at both ends of Europe (northwest and southeast) by at least 40,000 years ago.

Science in action Podcast

Jawbone Found in England Is from the Earliest Known Modern Human in Northwestern Europe

New Evidence for the Earliest Modern Humans in Europe

The earliest evidence for anatomically modern humans in northwestern Europe


March of the Titans reviled in their teeth –

Fossils of dinosaurs often allow us to build reconstructions of what they looked like, but only rarely do we get insight into what they did – their behaviour.  For example, while many paleontologists have assumed that some dinosaurs migrated, the evidence for this has been scanty.  Now, Dr. Henry Fricke, a geochemist from Colorado College in Colorado Springs, and his colleagues, have found evidence in fossil teeth that 150 million years ago, giant sauropods called Camarasaurs migrated seasonally. They traveled a distance of 300km from lowlands to highlands, probably to ensure a good supply of food to fuel their giant bodies.

Quirks and Quarks Podcast

March of the titans: fossil teeth show dinosaurs heading for the hills

Best Evidence Yet for Dinosaur Migrations

Lowland–upland migration of sauropod dinosaurs during the Late Jurassic epoch


‘Saber-Toothed Squirrel’ – 

Paleontologist Guillermo Rougier, Ph.D., professor of anatomical sciences and neurobiology at the University of Louisville, and his team have reported their discovery of two skulls from the first known mammal of the early Late Cretaceous period of South America. The fossils break a roughly 60 million-year gap in the currently known mammalian record of the continent and provide new clues on the early evolution of mammals.

The new critter, named Cronopio dentiacutus by the paleontologists, is a dryolestoid, an extinct group distantly related to today’s marsupials and placentals.

Cronopio was shrew-sized, about 4-6 inches in length, and was an insectivore with a diet of the insects, grubs and other bugs of the time. It lived when giant dinosaurs roamed Earth — more than 100 million years ago — and made its home in a vegetated river plain.

The skulls reveal that Cronopio had extremely long canine teeth, a narrow muzzle and a short, rounded skull. “These first fossil remains of dryolestoids … give us a complete picture of the skull for the group,” John R. Wible, Ph.D., curator of mammals at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, said. “The new dryolestoid, Cronopio, is without a doubt one of the most unusual mammals that I have seen, extinct or living, with its elongate, compressed snout and oversized canine teeth. What it did with that unusual morphology perhaps may come to light with additional discoveries… .”

 First Known Mammalian Skull from Late Cretaceous in South America

National Geographic – Ancient “Saber-Toothed Squirrel” Found


NPR – Scientists Unveil Fossil Of ‘Saber-Toothed Squirrel’ That Lived Among Dinos

11/11/11: Maya Scholar Debunks Doomsday Myths –

In a paper presented in January at the Oxford IX International Symposium on Archaeoastronomy in Lima, Peru, University of Kansas anthropologist and Maya scholar John Hoopes tracks the 2012 Maya myth origins through various revivals into the 21st century. The myth is rooted in an early 16th-century European combination of astrological and biblical prophecies to explain the new millennium. Columbus believed that his discovery of the world’s “most remote land” would lead to Spain’s re-conquest of Jerusalem and fulfill world-end events described in the Book of Revelations.

To validate his convictions, Columbus wrote his own Book of Prophecies that included an account of his interview with a “Maia” leader in 1502. The reference inspired early speculation by explorers and missionaries, indirectly influencing crackpots as well as scholars to link ancient Maya — before any contact with Europeans — with the astrological and religious beliefs popular in Europe in the 1500s.

Misinterpretations and distortions flowed with each revival of interest in Maya culture. In the 1960s, the myth re-flowered as the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, enjoyed a resurgence in Y2K and thrives today. Hoopes adds that the Occupy Wall Street movement clearly reflects a nostalgia for the progressive culture of the 1960s.

Science Daily

Maya scholar uses 11/11/11 predictions to teach critical thinking

Brains Come Wired for Cooperation –

The brain was built for cooperative activity, whether it be dancing on a reality television show, constructing a skyscraper or working in an office, according to a study led by Johns Hopkins behavioral neuroscientist Eric Fortune and published in the November 4 issue of the journal Science.

The research used the plain-tailed wrens. These chubby-breasted rust-and-gray birds, who don’t fly so much as hop and flit through the area’s bamboo thickets, are famous for their unusual duets. Their songs — sung by one male and one female — take an ABCD form, with the male singing the A and C phrases and the female (who seems to be the song leader) singing B and D.

“In both males and females, we found that neurons reacted more strongly to the duet song — with both the male and female birds singing — over singing their own parts alone. In fact, the brain’s responses to duet songs were stronger than were responses to any other sound,” he said. “It looked like the brains of wrens are wired to cooperate.”

“Brains among vertebrate animals — frogs, cats, fish, bears and even humans — are more similar than most people realize,” Fortune said. “The neurotransmitter systems that control brain activity at the molecular level are nearly identical among all vertebrates and the layout of the brain structures is the same. Thus, the kinds of phenomena that we have described in these wrens is very relevant to the brains of most, if not all, vertebrate species, including us humans.”

Brains Come Wired for Cooperation

Neural Mechanisms for the Coordination of Duet Singing in Wrens


Volunteers End Simulated Mission to Mars –

The record-breaking simulated mission to Mars has ended with smiling faces after 17 months. Mars500’s six brave volunteers stepped out of their ‘spacecraft’ Nov. 4, 2011 to be welcomed by the waiting scientists — happy that the venture had worked even better than expected.

The international crew were isolated in their interplanetary spacecraft mock-up, faithfully following the phases of a real mission: a long flight to Mars, insertion into orbit around the planet, landing, surface exploration, return to orbit, a monotonous return flight and arrival at Earth.

Science Daily

Astronauts ‘Return’ Home This Week After Mock Mars Mission

NPR Podcast – Fake Mission Accomplished For Mars500

6 Mock Mars Explorers Emerge from 17-Month “Mission”


To boldly go where no man-made object has gone before…and keep it going –

NASA’s Deep Space Network personnel sent commands to the Voyager 2 spacecraft Nov. 4 to switch to the backup set of thrusters that controls the roll of the spacecraft. Confirmation was received today that the spacecraft accepted the commands. The change will allow the 34-year-old spacecraft to reduce the amount of power it requires to operate and use previously unused thrusters as it continues its journey toward interstellar space, beyond our solar system.

Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are each equipped with six sets, or pairs, of thrusters to control their movement. These include three pairs of primary thrusters and three backup, or redundant, pairs. Voyager 2 is currently using the two pairs of backup thrusters that control the pitch and yaw motion of the spacecraft. Switching to the backup thruster pair that controls roll motion will allow engineers to turn off the heater that keeps the fuel line to the primary thruster warm. This will save about 12 watts of power. The spacecraft’s power supply now provides about 270 watts of electricity. By reducing its power usage, the spacecraft can continue to operate for another decade even as its available power continues to decline.

Voyager 2 to Switch to Backup Thruster Set

NASA – Voyager Mission Status Report


Nature’s laws may vary across the Universe –

One of the laws of nature may vary across the Universe, according to a study published today in the journal Physical Review Letters.

The study found that one of the four known fundamental forces, electromagnetism – measured by the so-called fine-structure constant and denoted by the symbol ‘alpha’ – seems to vary across the Universe.

NPR Podcast

Indications of a Spatial Variation of the Fine Structure Constant

Another Law of Physics Broken?

Nature’s laws may vary across the Universe


First Quantum Cloning Machine to Produce Four Copies – 

Xi-Jun Ren and Yang Xiang from Henan Universities in China, in collaboration with Heng Fan at the Institute of Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, have produced a theory for a quantum cloning machine able to produce several copies of the state of a particle at atomic or sub-atomic scale, or quantum state, in an article about to be published in The European Physical Journal D. The advance could have implications for quantum information processing methods used, for example, in message encryption systems.

Quantum cloning is difficult because quantum mechanics laws only allow for an approximate copy—not an exact copy—of an original quantum state to be made, as measuring such a state prior to its cloning would alter it.

In this study, researchers have demonstrated that it is theoretically possible to create four approximate copies of an initial quantum state, in a process called asymmetric cloning.

Not One, Not Two, Not Three, but Four Clones

Optimal asymmetric 1 → 4 quantum cloning in arbitrary dimension

First quantum cloning machine to produce four copies

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Science Sunday #6

Posted by Don McLenaghen on July 24, 2011

– and on the seventh day we learn.
Each week I hope to give a synopsis of the interesting science stories I have heard on my plethora of science podcasts I listen to each week plus anything I pick up scanning the inter-web. This week’s top stories:

Words of the Week:

Pyroelectricity  – the ability of certain materials to generate a temporary voltage when they are heated or cooled. Pyroelectricity is the property presented by certain materials that exhibit an electric polarization Pi when a temperature variation δΘ is applied uniformly: Pi piT δΘ.

Narcissistic – Narcissistic personality disorder described as being excessively preoccupied with issues of personal adequacy, power, prestige and vanity.[2] Narcissistic personality disorder is closely linked to self-centeredness. (DSM-IV – Diagnostic Criteria)


Fundamental Constants ‘Change’ –

The electromagnetic force has gotten a little stronger, gravity a little weaker, and the size of the smallest “quantum” of energy is now known a little better. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has posted the latest internationally recommended values of the fundamental constants of nature.

The values are determined by the Committee on Data for Science and Technology (CODATA) Task Group on Fundamental Constants, an international group that includes NIST members. The adjusted values reflect some significant scientific developments over the last four years.

Often the biggest news in a fundamental constant value is a reduced uncertainty — scientists know the value better. The uncertainty in the value of the fine-structure constant alpha (? = 7.297 352 5698 x 10-3), which dictates the strength of the electromagnetic force, has been slashed in half to 0.3 parts per billion (ppb). Since alpha can be measured in a uniquely broad range of phenomena from the recoil of atoms to the magnetic properties of electrons, the consistency of the measurements acts as a barometer of scientists’ general understanding of physics. Alpha will also be a critical constant after a redefinition of the SI: it will remain an experimentally determined constant, while quite a few others’ values will be fixed to define the basic measurement units.

Science Daily


Narcissists need no reality check –

Narcissists make spectacles of their supposedly awesome selves, but they don’t see the world entirely through rose-colored glasses.

These sultans of self-regard accurately appraise their own personalities and reputations, say psychologist Erika Carlson of Washington University in St. Louis and her colleagues. Carlson’s team unexpectedly finds that narcissists acknowledge their own narcissism and assume that their arrogant strut gets frowned on by others.

In a further reality check, narcissists tend to realize that they make good first impressions that rapidly turn sour, the researchers report in the July Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (in a paper titled “You Probably Think This Paper’s About You”).. – Narcissists need no reality check


Reducing animal experiments – 

On Monday last week the UK government announced plans to reduce the use of animals in scientific research and to end animal testing of household products. The UK National Centre for Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) will lead the process. Quentin speaks to Dr Vicky Robinson, Chief Executive of the NC3Rs and Professor Roger Morris of Kings College London, whose Biomedical Sciences department uses animals for research.

An interesting debate on the tension between the need to use animal analogues for effective medical research and the rights of animals (or perhaps you tolerance for suffering of individuals of other species)

BBC – Material World


The pending extinction of the common banana –

America’s most widely eaten banana type, the Cavendish, is threatened by a fungus that could wipe out U.S. banana supplies if it spreads to Latin America. Banana expert Dan Koeppel discusses the problem of banana monoculture, and why he says we should demand banana variety.

The banana as we know it may soon be extinction from our grocery stores. For scientists, the battle to resuscitate the world’s favorite fruit has begun—a race against time that just may be too late to win.

Many people do not realize that the common banana now, the Cavendish, is itself a replacement of the ‘common banana’ of a 100-50 yrs ago. The “Big Mike” was the big banana until it was driven to commercial extinction by a Panama disease in the 1960’s.

NPS – Yes, We Do Have Bananas, For Now

Popular Science – Can this fruit be saved?


Russian space telescope – 

A giant new Russian space telescope on Saturday unfurled its dish-like antenna which will observe radio waves from galaxies and black holes billions of light years away.

The operation to deploy the 10-metre-diameter antenna of the Spketr-R telescope, which was launched into orbit on Monday, has been successfully carried out, space agency Roskosmos said in a statement.


Space Flight Now

New Scientist – Space telescope to create radio ‘eye’ larger than Earth


Memories May Skew Visual Perception – 

Taking a trip down memory lane while you are driving could land you in a roadside ditch, new research indicates. Vanderbilt University psychologists have found that our visual perception can be contaminated by memories of what we have recently seen, impairing our ability to properly understand and act on what we are currently seeing.

“This study shows that holding the memory of a visual event in our mind for a short period of time can ‘contaminate’ visual perception during the time that we’re remembering,” Randolph Blake, study co-author and Centennial Professor of Psychology, said.

“Our study represents the first conclusive evidence for such contamination, and the results strongly suggest that remembering and perceiving engage at least some of the same brain areas.”

Science Daily

Visual working memory contaminates perception


Face Value – 

Looks of Political Candidates Are Key Factor Influencing Low-Information Voters.

The looks of political candidates are a key factor influencing voters, a phenomenon identified by a number of scholars in recent years. Now, a new study by MIT political scientists adds to this body of research by detailing which types of citizens are most influenced by candidate appearances, and why: The tendency is most prevalent among low-information voters who watch a lot of television.

Using data from the 2006 U.S. Senate and governors’ races, the study shows that for every 10-point increase in the advantage a candidate has when rated by voters on his or her looks, there will be a nearly 5 percent increase in the vote for that candidate by the uninformed voters who are most firmly planted on their couches. Yet that same advantage in looks is worth only about a 1 percent increase among low-information voters who watch little television.

“It’s not that this effect influences all voters exactly the same way,” says Chappell Lawson, an associate professor of political science at MIT and a co-author of the study. “Voters who watch a lot of television but don’t really know much about the candidates, besides how they look, are particularly susceptible.”

Science Daily

American Journal of Political Science


Lingering Lies – 

The Persistent Influence of Misinformation – The brain holds on to false facts, even after they have been retracted

After people realize the facts have been fudged, they do their best to set the record straight: judges tell juries to forget misleading testimony; newspapers publish errata. But even explicit warnings to ignore misinformation cannot erase the damage done, according to a new study from the University of Western Australia.

Psychologists asked college stu­dents to read an account of an ac­cident involving a busload of elderly passengers. The students were then told that, actually, those on the bus were not elderly. For some students, the information ended there. Others were told the bus had in fact been transporting a college hockey team. And still others were warned about what psychologists call the continued influence of misinformation—that people tend to have a hard time ig­noring what they first heard, even if they know it is wrong—and that they should be extra vigilant about getting the story straight.

Students who had been warned about misinformation or given the alternative story were less likely than control subjects to make inferences using the old information later—but they still erred sometimes, agreeing with statements such as “the pas­sengers found it difficult to exit the bus because they were frail.”

This result shows that “even if you understand, remember and believe the retractions, this misinformation will still affect your inferences,” says Western Australia psychologist Ullrich Ecker, an author of the study. Our mem­ory is constantly connecting new facts to old and tying different aspects of a situation together, so that we may still unconsciously draw on facts we know to be wrong to make decisions later. “Memory has evolved to be both stable and flexible,” Ecker says, “but that also has a downside.” [For more on how memory relies on connections and makes inferences, see “Making Connections,” by Anthony J. Greene; Scientific American Mind, July/August 2010.].

Scientific American

Making Connections


Where should the next Mars rover land? – 

NASA’s next rover to land on Mars will touch down in a place called Gale crater, a site that scientists say will offer the best chance for studying whether the red planet could have supported life.

National Geographic News

New Scientist


Disputes Over Content of Wikipedia  – 

Disputes over the content of articles in the internet encyclopaedia Wikipedia can serve as an indicator for the political stability of a country. This was proposed based on a “Wikipedia Dispute Index” developed by researchers working at Heidelberg University. This index measures the frequency of pages linked to a country that are disputed by users of the online encyclopaedia. The ranking of countries based on this index is similar to other, much more complex indices relating, for example, to governance or the economy. To calculate the index, the scientists used methods similar to those applied to biological networks and applied them to the cross-linked information in Wikipedia.

“The evaluation of our ranking for the most cross-linked countries suggests that debates in Wikipedia correlate with regional instabilities all over the world,” Prof. Robert Russell of Heidelberg University’s Cluster of Excellence CellNetworks explains. “Here our Dispute Index is in very good agree­ment with indicators that are much more difficult to elaborate and are usually based on a combination of different political and economic metrics. The Index is not entirely free of subjectivity, but it is easy to calculate and is independent of complex data capture or expert questioning.”

Science Daily

Wikipedia Dispute Index



Killing of Bin Laden Worsened Americans’ Views of U.S. Muslims – 

Instead of calming fears, the death of Osama bin Laden actually led more Americans to feel threatened by Muslims living in the United States, according to a new nationwide survey.

In the weeks following the U.S. military campaign that killed bin Laden, the head of the terrorist organization Al Qaeda, American attitudes toward Muslim Americans took a significant negative shift, results showed.

Americans found Muslims living in the United States more threatening after bin Laden’s death, positive perceptions of Muslims plummeted, and those surveyed were less likely to oppose restrictions on Muslim Americans’ civil liberties.

Science Daily

The “Bin Laden” effect

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