Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Global warming and local freezing

November 13, 2017

Double click to enlarge

Source: The Real News Network

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How long can they put their heads in the sand?

November 12, 2017

Double click to enlarge

Source: Real News Network.

“Reality,” according to the SF writer Philip K. Dick, “is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

“You can ignore reality,” the philosopher Ayn Rand reportedly said, “but you cannot ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.”

How long can members of the Trump administration ignore the reality of climate change?

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Where have all the flying bugs gone?

October 23, 2017

I can remember when the first thing attendants did when I stopped at a gas station was to clean all the splattered bugs off my windshield.

It’s been years since this service was offered, or was necessary.   Now a study shows that the abundance of flying insects in German nature reserves has decreased 75 percent in a little over 27 years.

There’s no reason to doubt this is worldwide.  It fits in with other information about a decline in the European butterfly population and the honeybee “colony collapse disorder” problem in the United States.

It’s nice to have fewer bug splats and mosquito bites, but we humans depend on insects to pollinate our crops.  Insects also are food for birds, frogs and other creatures.

The German scientists ruled out climate change as the reason for the insect decline.   There’s no proof that it is due to pesticides or other agricultural practices, but these are obvious suspects.

Growing crops without using pesticides on an industrial scale would be a lot more work and expense, but it seems to me that the extra work and expense would be worth it.

Unfortunately, sur current economic system is set up to prioritize elimination of jobs over optimizing human well-being.  We should not have to accept this as a law of nature.   We should have a system that does not prevent us from saving ourselves from disaster.

LINKS

More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in flying insect biomass in protected areas by Caspar A. Hallman, Martin Borg, Eelke Jonjejens, Herik Siepal, Nick Holland, Heinz Schwan, Werner Stenmanns, Andreas Müller, Hubert Sumser, Thomas Hörren, Dave Goulson and Hans de Kroon for PLOS one.

Warning of ‘ecological Armageddon’ after dramatic plunge in insect numbers by Damien Carrington for The Guardian.

Bugocalypse: Environmental Collapse Continues by Ian Welsh.

′Deep Space Gateway′ planned by Russia and US

October 2, 2017

Click to enlarage.  Source: Popular Mechanics

Despite geopolitical conflicts, the United States and the Russian Federation are still working together on  space exploration, as this news item indicates.

Work on a joint US-Russia space station orbiting the Moon is to begin in the mid 2020s. The base is intended to serve as a launching point for manned missions to Mars.Deep Space Gateway (NASA)

The station would be serviced by craft such as the Orion space vessel.

The US and Russia on Wednesday [Sept. 27] announced plans to cooperatively build the first lunar space station.

Roscosmos and NASA, Russia and America’s space agencies, said they had signed a cooperation agreement at an astronautical congress in Adelaide.

The agreement brings Russia onboard to the Deep Space Gateway project announced by NASA earlier this year, which aims to send humans to Mars via a lunar station.

The proposed station would serve as a base for lunar exploration for humans and robots, and as a stopover for spacecraft. 

While the Deep Space Gateway is still in concept formulation, NASA is pleased to see growing international interest in moving into cislunar space (between Earth and the Moon) as the next step for advancing human space exploration,” said Robert Lightfoot, acting administrator at NASA headquarters in Washington.  [snip]

Roscosmos and NASA have already agreed on standards for a docking unit of the future station,” the Russian space agency said.

“Taking into account the country’s extensive experience in developing docking units, the station’s future elements — as well as standards for life-support systems — will be created using Russian designs.”

Source: DW

The International Space Station is a joint project of the USA and Russia, and many of the spacecraft visits to the ISS are launched from the Russian-operated Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

I hope this new project bears fruit.  It shows that the United States and the Russian Federation have more to gain through cooperation than ramping up a new Cold War.

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The changing politics of climate change

June 2, 2017

Hat tip to kottke.org.

A global view of global warming

November 12, 2016

My friend Hal Bauer recommended this video.  It depicts the reality of global warming—a good basic explanation for someone who hasn’t studied the subject, but with new information to some (including me) who think we are well-informed.

It runs for more than 90 minutes, which is a bit long to watch on a small screen.  But it’s broken up into brief episodes, showing the actor Leonardo DiCaprio’s world travel to educate himself about the subject.

The video ends with the USA and China, the world’s two largest industrial economies and the two largest producers of greenhouse gasses, agreeing in principle do set limits.  This was before the election of Donald Trump, who has said global warming is a hoax promoted by China to undermine the U.S. economy.

∞∞∞

Click on this to view the whole thing.

[Revised 11/15/2016]

The Ecology of Freedom: epilogue

September 30, 2016

THE ECOLOGY OF FREEDOM: The emergence and dissolution of hierarchy by Murray Bookchin (1982, 1991, 2005).  Epilogue.  This concludes my chapter-by-chapter review of Murray Bookchin’s great work, which I began last April.  I could and should have completed this project in a few weeks.   But the exercise was worth doing from my standpoint, and I will be pleased if I have stimulated interest in Bookchin’s ideas.

Western philosophers, from the ancient Greeks to the European Renaissance, maintained that human values should be rooted in nature.  Their problem, according to Murray Bookchin, was that they called upon an external factor—God, Spirit, what Henri Bergson later called the “vital force” to bring them together.

murraybookchin.ecologyoffreedom512T99r4GjL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The truth is, according to Bookchin, that no external factor is necessary.   Mutualism, self-organization, freedom and awareness are present in nature, and evidently were latent in the universe from the very beginning.  Matter has self-organizing properties that cause it to become more complex.  Life has self-organizing properties that generate fertility, complexity and interdependence.

The evolution of life is as much a matter of developing new forms that fit in with the whole as it is competition between individuals and species.

Some biologists think that the biosphere itself is like a huge organism, which is able to regulate its internal processes and keep itself in balance.

The cruelty of nature is exaggerated, Bookchin wrote.  Wolves bringing down a sick or aged caribou is part of the cycle of life.  There is nothing in the natural world that is comparable to organized human warfare.

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The human body as the Ship of Theseus

July 9, 2016

Hat tip to kottke.org.

The Ship of Theseus was an ancient Greek paradox.  Over time, every plank and mast in the ship was replaced, yet it remained the same ship.  That is almost true of the human body.

Only one part of your body is as old as you are.  Watch the video to learn what it is.

Looking for meaning in all the wrong places

June 24, 2016

I recently finished reading MIND & COSMOS: Why the Neo-Darwinist Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly Wrong by Thomas Nagel.   If I only read or thought about politics, I’d go crazy.

The book reminds me of a saying of the late, great H.L. Mencken, who once wrote that when you try to combine science and religion, you wind up with something that isn’t really scientific and isn’t really religious.

Nagel9780199919758(RGB)While Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection explains the origin of species, including the human species, Thomas Nagel pointed out that it does not explain the origin of life, consciousness, human reason or morality.

He hopes for a new theory that will not only explain all these things, but give them meaning.  He is not a religious believer, and he looking for things in science that are to be found in art, literature and religious and spiritual practice.

His basic argument is the improbability and implausibility that human life as we know it could ever arise from the blind working of physical and chemical laws.

The problem with the argument from improbability is that in an infinite, or near-infinite, universe, anything that is possible, however improbable, will happen not once, but many times.

And the problem with the argument from implausibility is that most modern people already accept scientific conclusions that are highly implausible in terms of common sense—for example, I would find it hard to believe the earth goes around the sun, let alone the Big Bang and expanding universe, if I had not been taught so in school.

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The blind astronomer of Nova Scotia

June 11, 2016

Via kottke.org and Great Big Story.

How high is up?

June 4, 2016

Source: xkcd: Height

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Most of the universe is off-limits to us

May 14, 2016

Hat tip to kottke.org.

Based on our current knowledge of physics, humanity is limited to a tiny corner of the universe.   Almost all of the known universe is not only out of reach of humanity, but will someday be out of sight.

Then again, it’s not clear whether humanity will be able to maintain industrial civilization long enough to explore our own solar system, let alone reach planets of nearby stars, let alone the billions of stars in our own galaxy and milky way.

High technology depends on availability of energy, which so far depends on fuels that are in limited supply.  We don’t know whether this point in human history is the beginning of a Star Trek-type future or the high point before we revert to a primitive existence.

Or whether there will be changes and breakthroughs that send humanity on a path we can’t now imagine.

Do we need to believe in fairies?

April 10, 2016

fairies653

Source: Calamities of Nature.

Our eight-legged friends

March 19, 2016

humey-toons-toon-16-spiders-540

I set out ant and roach traps, but I never interfere with spiders, except maybe to brush away an overly conspicuous cobweb.  Spiders catch and eat bugs I want to get rid of, so why should I treat them as nuisances.  It would be as foolish the United States government picking fights with countries that are  fighting ISIS and Al Qaeda.

So I enjoyed reading An Open Letter From a Spider to All Humans Everywhere and maybe you will, too.  (Hat tip for the link to Mike the Mad Biologist)

The hierarchies of knowledge

February 21, 2016

fieldsbypurityXKCD435-650x270

xkcd-purity2-by-sansscience-creativecommons-attribution

I lifted these two cartoons from the Biology vs. Theoretical Physics post on the Sans Science web log, which is now private.

The top cartoon is, of course, from Randall Munroe’s xkcd series.

The problem with reductionism

February 21, 2016

nontrivial_subfieldSource: Abstruse Goose.

How should you tell the temperature?

February 16, 2016

xkcd.degrees

Source: xkcd

Something I never knew about Cuba

January 5, 2016

Cuba has 2 percent of Latin America’s population but 11 percent of its scientists

Source: New Republic

The tale of Science and his pal, Spirituality

December 6, 2015

I pulled this off the Wait But Why web log.  Exact links are below.
Religion-CartoonHow Religion Got in the Way by Tim Urban for Wait But Why.

Religion for the Nonreligious by Tim Urban for Wait But Why

The new super-coyotes of eastern North America

November 25, 2015

coywolves20151031_STP001_0

Eastern North America is home to millions of a new breed of coyote, or maybe new species — the coy wolf, which typically has 25 percent wolf DNA and 10 percent dog DNA.

The eastern coyote, or coy wolf, has the cunning of a coyote and the ferocity of a wolf.  Like the western coyote and unlike the eastern timber wolf, it is at home on the open prairie.  Like the timber wolf and unlike the western coyote, it is at home in the deep woods.  Unlike both, it is at home in cities.

An estimated 20 coy wolves inhabit New York City, living on garbage, rodents and small pets.  They have been seen in Boston and Washington, D.C.  Evolution never stops.

LINK

Greater than the sum of its parts from The Economist.

The passing scene: Links & comments 10/24/2015

October 24, 2015

Anxious Hours in Pivotland: Where’s My Sailthrough? by Peter Lee for China Matters.

Neither South Korea nor Australia support the U.S.-Japanese opposition to Chinese efforts to claim islands in the South China Sea.  The Chinese Navy meanwhile made a point about freedom of the seas by sailing through Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.

Trey Gowdy Just Elected Hillary Clinton President by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

Or at least greatly strengthened her bid for the Democratic nomination.  The Benghazi hearings made Republicans look like fools and showed Clinton as someone who is a match for them.

Are Canadian progressives showing Americans the way? by Miles Corak for Economics for public policy (via Economist’s View)

America’s Civilian Killings Are No Accident by Peter Van Buren for We Meant Well.

The bombing of the hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, had many precedents.

What Is life? by Matthew Francis for Mosaic.  (via Barry Ritholtz)

If humans encountered extraterrestrial life, would we know it when we saw it?

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The passing scene – October 7, 2015

October 7, 2015

Why Free Markets Make Fools of Us by Cass R. Sunstein for The New York Review of Books.  (Hat tip to my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack)

The TPP has a provision that many will love to hate: ISDS.  What is it, and why does it matter? by Todd Tucker for the Washington Post.  (Hat tip to naked capitalism)

Hillary Clinton says she does not support Trans Pacific Partnership by the PBS Newshour.

Q: Is the Obama Administration Complicit With Slavery? A: Yes by Eric Loomis for Lawyers, Guns and Money.  Slavery in Malaysia is overlooked for the sake of the TPP.

Houston is a lot more tolerant of immigrants than Copenhagen is on Science Codex.  (Hat tip to Jack)

Science Saves: The Young Iraqis Promoting Evolutionary Theory and Rational Thought to Save Iraq by Marwan Jabbar for Niqash: briefings from inside and across Iraq.  (Hat tip to Informed Comment)

The Amazing Inner Lives of Animals by Tim Flannery for The New York Review of Books.  (Hat tip to Jack)

Is the chilli pepper friend or foe? by William Kremer for BBC World Service.  (Hat tip to Jack)

What would a space alien see on Earth?

September 13, 2015

alienHat tip to my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack and his friend Marty.

It’s a big strange universe out there

August 20, 2015

Hat tip to kottke.org

What it means to be truly pro-life

August 16, 2015

In 2010, a woman named Sarah Gray gave birth to identical twin boys.  One of them had birth defects and died after a few days.  She and her husband Ross donated the Thomas’s eyes and liver, along with cord blood from Thomas and his twin brother Callum, for scientific research.

A few years later Sarah and Ross Gray learned what use had been made of their child’s remains.

The Schlepens Eye Research Institute in Boston used Ross’s eyes in a study that one day might contribute to a cure for corneal blindness.

Sarah Gray looks at RNA sample from donated retinas

Sarah Gray looks at RNA sample from donated retinas.  Source: Philadelphia Inquirer

Thomas’s retinas were given to the University of Pennsylvania, where they were used in a study that one day might contribute to a cure for retinoblastoma, the most common form of eye cancer in children.   The retina tissue is so valuable that some of it is being saved for future research.

Researchers at the Duke University Center for Human Genetics found subtle genetic differences in the cord blood that might help explain anencephaly, the genetic defect that killed Thomas.  The liver went to a biotech company named Cytonet, which used it to study the best way to freeze liver tissue.

Sarah Gray, who already had worked in public relations for non-profit organizations, became director of marketing for the American Association of Tissue Banks.

The Grays’ decision to donate their baby’s remains for scientific research shows what it means to be truly pro-life.

LINKS

Thomas Gray lived six days, but his life has lasting impact by Michael Vitez for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Gray’s Donation, a Radiolab broadcast.