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Author Howard Friel has published a cite-by-cite takedown of Lomberg's 'skeptical' anti-climate-change books.  He basically followed up every reference and every citation, and quelle surprise most of them are bogus either in fact or interpretation.  If Lomberg was an academic, this would have been picked up in peer review -- which is one of the strengths of the method.

See, references make a thing look academic.  They lend an aura of truthiness to a publication.  Truthiness is a Colbert neologism very apt to pop-sci: truthiness is the feeling of truth, as opposed to the presence of it. 

Hell, I once wrote a parody paper that appeared to support Breatharianism's absurd claims by showing an entirely bogus mechanism for human photosynthesis.  Given an eyeball test by graduate biochemists, it fooled half of them; it fooled everyone non-scientific who wasn't aware of the Breatharians and their dangerous silliness.  Part of the effect of the paper was the liberal splashing of references, some solid and obvious, some utterly made up, some Pythonesque.

Nobody checks.  They see references and grunt "ah, s'academical, all very truthy." 

Which leaves a tricky problem: how can you tell which pop-sci titles are credible, and which are Von Daniken-esqe ravings?  I'm not sure you can, not reliably: the general reader might look for a particular imprint or name (BBC / Attenborough, say) as sound, but that's reputation and reputation is more damn truthiness, just truthiness over time.  Academic credentials for the author?  Not always relevant (see Monckton et al) and not always solid (plenty of academics 'go emeritus'). 

How then to lift the solid science above the dreck?  Especially when policy decisions, and votes, are hinged on perception of that science?  Watching Lomberg influence climate policy is like watching Richard 'face on Mars' Hoagland influence space policy, but climate policy actually matters
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This really has made my day:

@MarsPhoenix -- 1st day of Martian spring (north hemi) is Oct 26. The team will wait til January (& longer sunlight hours) before attempting contact.

It's probable that Phoenix is a dead stick.  It outlived its planned end-of-mission date in August 2008, giving a last 'peep' on November 2nd.  The dim light of the Martian polar winter was too weak to charge its batteries, so after reboots and brownouts, Phoenix shut down.

It's been frozen in drifts of CO2 ice since then.  In fact, Phoenix's lidar spotted falling snow in high cloud (this is water ice; the CO2 comes when it gets colder!) before it went down.  It is likely that the winter has killed the old bird (Phoenix was not designed to survive the winter, and extreme cold is ever so bad for electronics), but it has a 'Lazarus mode' : if there's power, it'll try to boot and say hello.  If the boot fails or the communications fail, it shuts down and tops up its batteries for a while before having another go; if Phoenix is capable of life, then eventually it should start up fully.

That would be awesome on a scale like unto the Incredible Rovers That Just Will Not Die. 

And I just want to hear it tweet again.  :)
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Stanford boffins have broken the one-bit-per-atom storage barrier.  They're encoding data in electron interference patterns - subatomic holograms. 

In this experiment we've stored some 35 bits per electron to encode each letter," says the prof, "and we write the letters so small that the bits that comprise them are subatomic in size. So one bit per atom is no longer the limit for information density. There's a grand new horizon below that, in the subatomic regime. Indeed, there's even more room at the bottom than we ever imagined."

(Article at the Reg, with further links to the hard science.)

Wow.  I don't think even the Singularity freaks predicted this one.  

Look up!

Nov. 28th, 2008 08:26 pm
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The 10th anniversary of the ISS led my, via some forum shenanigans and a big fat Jupiter, to  My inner spacefan is all a-squee over this: plug in your location and it'll work out locations and times for a whole raft of groovy phenomena, from a regular starfield (ah, so it was Venus and Jupiter that were big and bright tonight!) to the visible passes of the ISS and the Iridium sat-phone satellites (so bright they're visible in the day - next good one is Monday afternoon).

It almost makes me wish I had kids, so I could point up and say, "there's people in that!" -- and then take 'em to NASA's mission TV site so they could see them.  Mmm, science.

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Last year I realised that I've been cycling for a quarter century.  I wanted a tattoo to mark that... but what to get, when every bike would exclude some other sort of bike (even a "cogs 'n' chains" design would kybosh the penny farthing!)?  Eventually I settled on a bit of Science, the power formula for bikes, which describes how hard you have to work to overcome the various resistances I've resisted every week since I was eleven.
Pics after the cut )
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"Look, it's a 10^-19 chance, and you've got a 10^-11 chance of suddenly evaporating while shaving."
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The Mars Rovers have a Twitter stream too, now: marsrovers.  Oppy has left the crater!  W00t!
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People go on about the "evolution" of language all the time, but in woolly terms.  No more!  Some Edinburgh boffins have done an experiment where they start with gibberish and end up with a structured language with grammar and everyfink. 

Kirby and his team showed people a collection of pictures paired with gibberish words, and later tested which pairs they could recall. Whether or not the recollections were accurate, they were recorded and used as the basis of the next group's language training. As the process was repeated, patterns emerged: a certain word might be used, for example, to describe anything that moved horizontally, and another to indicate objects that bounced...

"Over many generations, the grammar goes from ad-hoc and inexpressive into a language that's cleanly structured and expressive," he said. "But what's evolving here isn't the agents" -- the speakers -- "but the language itself. It has its own evolutionary imperative. It wants to be passed on, and finds ways of doing that. We're its hosts."

(Wired article here, refutation of more obvious objections here, paper not yet online)
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As in the consensus of the scientific community that anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is real and dangerous.  See, "consensus" just means "something agreed upon" - and that makes it sound like a matter of opinion.  And that, in turn, makes it sound like "just" a matter of opinion, as if the opinions were what mattered.  The word "consensus" makes it sound like it belongs down among philosophy and politics and religion. 

But this isn't an opinion like that.  This isn't a coffee-house blathering about Kant or a reactionary blog "me too"-ing about the evils of immigration.  This is an opinion about observed fact.  It's closer to the consensus that 2 + 2 = 4 than the consensus that no man is an island.  Agreed observation, not agreed opinion.  The difference matters.

Meh, I'm letting the Viscount Upper-Class Twit Monckton affair get to me.  Partly that's because The Register, an IT webrag which gives a sardonic and amusing slant on the trade, has taken up a denialist stance.  And frankly, if they can boost such bad science, I have to take the rest of their reporting with the same bushel of salt.  Sorry, Reg, you've lost a reader. 
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It is the nature of science that one discovery stands upon another, and so on back to the simplest observations and most rudimentary hypotheses.  On the back on Euclid's space stands Newton's optics; on the back of Newton's gravity is Einstein's relativity; on the back of Einstein, Hawking, and so on.  And on the back of Newton's optics, Galileo's microscopes, Pasteur's bugs, and so on.

The names we remember are not the only ones.  There are many, many other researchers clambering onto those famous shoulders: we only remember the ones whose work moved the field forward.  The others were either wrong (which bears no shame), or beaten to it (which engenders deep sympathy) or charlatans who had no business being there (Fleischman, Pons, Hwang, I'm looking at you).  And, of course, this is an oversimplification of a human endeavour.  Still, the model serves: we clamber onto the shoulders of giants, and then we add out height to the pile, and one day maybe we'll reach high enough to see everything.

Detractors of science often take the route of pulling down one of the guys on the top of the pile, and then saying, "See?  Scientists!  They're all rubbish!"  Which is, needless to say, a logical fallacy and a serious misunderstanding of the whole nature of scientific enquiry.  We see this a lot right now in climate science.  For example, Hurricane Bertha's track took it south of most computer models.  "Pah!" say the detractors, "see how little these so-called scientists know!  You can't trust 'em about climate!"

One model got it pretty close, but the detractor doesn't mention that.  Which is a pity, because that model's authors are the ones most likely to stay on top of the shoulders of their predecessors.  The ones he derides are not so good, but that "less than perfect" value gets shouted down to zero in the antiscience argument. 

An argument often made on the internet by well-fed disease-free long-lived people in comfort in a world which is well-known.  Ah, the irony: a philosophical position that science "ain't all dat", posted on bleeding-edge technology by a person doubtless treated for many previously-nasty diseases and injuries, fed on technological agriculture flown around the world, in a world of mostly-predictable weather and up-to-the-minute news.  Science is all dat.  Everything else is subsistence farming and shamanism.
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New Scientist has a piece with video of a monkey feeding itself using a robot arm wired up to its brain.  This is a first - and an important first for properly intent-driven prosthetics.  Electrodes in the monkeybrain's motor cortex send signals to a computer which translates into command for the robot arm.  It sounds obvious but so far, ain't been done before.  You can see how easy the little fellow finds it from the bored "mmm, nom nom nom" face he's pulling.
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Can't buff up my brain so news like this is always welcome.  Go Science!  
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Thanks to [personal profile] estaratshirai for pointing me to this damnfine webcomic: Dresden Codak.  Laugh-out-loud physics and philosophy gags.  And hot chicks with goggles.  You know you want to click it.

And while we're at it, take a look at Rice Boy.  Beguiling simplicity and charm.
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First, they've declared that the cervical cancer jab should be rolled out to girls.  Yay!  A jab against cancer!  Bloody marvellous - and so good to see that they haven't got bogged down in the rubbish that snarls the Americans, where HPV's status as a sexually-transmitted disease means that the fundies are upset about injecting young kids.  Um, hello? The idea is you inoculate them before they're active.  In the real world, 12-13 is ideal.  This is a jab for a nasty cancer.  Moral balance, you doofs.

A second bunch of boffins have said that a badger cull would be useless in preventing TB in cattle.  It would only work if one could totally extinctify the wheezy brocks, which I'm glad to say is as technically impossible as it is morally repugnant.  Various farmers who haven't read the science are grumbling about how the Government really ought to commit speciecide to protect their profits - I'm embarassed to say, most of them seem to be from round here. 

And yay to Jessie Jacobsen for coming up with a transgenic model for Huntington's.  Morality of animal experimentation and transgenic programmes?  I say go for it.  I would.  I'm the one with the spongy brain, who stuck his Dad in a box from the same thing earlier this year.  If you oppose this but haven't got a direct link, a direct reason to be interested, just think of the Lottery logo: It could be you.  Next.  Soon.  and frankly if you're not a vegan anyway, you can sod right off for the hypocrite you are.  Thanks, Jessie.
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Get above the atmosphere, where you're exposed to cosmic particles.  Close your eyes.  Those blue flashes you see are Cherenkov radiation - the photonic equivalent of a sonic boom - caused by cosmic particles moving through the liquid in your eyeballs at a speed greater than the speed of light in your eyeball. 


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