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Still more on the color illusion

Why Evolution is True Feed - 6 hours 3 min ago

Well, a reader demonstrated in an email that the hearts in the color illusion below really were slightly different colors. That reader won an autographed book from Matthew.

There appear to be greenish hearts and bluish ones, though they are the same color.

— Akiyoshi Kitaoka (@AkiyoshiKitaoka) February 16, 2018

HOWEVER, reader Mel made his own illusion, so we know that here the colors of the squares are really identical. His notes:

To demonstrate the phenomenon a bit more cleanly I constructed the following image using a spreadsheet. I used very small cells (0.3 cm x 0.3 cm) and filled them with various colors and then took a screenshot. The image still shows the illusion and only three colors were used in constructing the image (magenta, orange, blue-green).

And another demonstration using magic markers. I think the efficacy of the lines in fooling viewers about the color has been shown. We’ll now leave this illusion behind and move on.

How to make a lightness illusion

— Akiyoshi Kitaoka (@AkiyoshiKitaoka) February 18, 2018

Categories: Science

Sunday: Hili dialogue

Why Evolution is True Feed - 6 hours 48 min ago

Good morning on Sunday, February 18, 2018. It’s It’s National “Drink Wine” Day (why the scare quotes?), which I commemorated yesterday but was wrong. That day is today, so drink some wine.

I have little to say about this day because I prepared a dialogue yesterday and the events all turned out to be on NOVEMBER 18. For some reason I can’t fathom, I’m always confusing November and February (perhaps I have a mirror image of the year). So here are a few events as I recoup:

On this day in 1885, Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) published  the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in the U.S. Now schools are busy banning it. As Wikipedia notes, on February 18, 1911, “The first official flight with airmail takes place from Allahabad, United Provinces, British India (now India), when Henri Pequet, a 23-year-old pilot, delivers 6,500 letters to Naini, about 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) away.” Why they would use a plane to fly 6500 letters only 10 km, unless it was an experiment, is a mystery to me. On this day in 1930, Pluto was discovered by astronomer Clyde Tombaugh while studying photos taken the previous month. It’s now classified not as a planet, but as a “dwarf planet.”  I reject that classification. There are nine planets in our solar system: the first is Mercury and the last is Pluto. (Do not attempt to argue with me.)  On this day in 1954, the first Church of Scientology opened in Los Angeles. To see what that “faith” does to people, watch the following video featuring Tom Cruise and David Miscavage. It includes Cruises’ famous Scientology meltdown and clips of him receiving an award from Miscavage at the Scientology convention in 2004.

On this day in 1970, the Chicago Seven were found not guilty of inciting riots during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. (The more of them you can name, the older you are! I came up with five.)  On this day in 2010, WikiLeaks published the first of a gazillion classified documents disclosed by the soldier now called Chelsea Manning. Finally, on February 18, 2013, the Great Diamond Theft occurred at the Brussels Airport, with thieves taking $50 million worth of diamonds. 31 people were arrested for this in May of that year, and some (but not all) of the diamonds were recovered.

Notables born on this day include Wallace Stegner (1909), Helen Gurley Brown (1922), Yoko Ono (1933; she’s 85 today), Cybill Shepherd (1950), John Travolta (1954), Vanna White (1957), and Molly Ringwald (1968). Those who breathed their last on February 18 include Fra Angelico (1455), Michelangelo (1564), J. Robert Oppenheimer (1967), Harry Caray (1998, who now consorts with real Holy Cows), and Dale Earnhardt (2001).  As far as I can see, Michelangelo never drew a cat, but many have been created under his inspiration, like these:

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili smells something odd:

Hili: Facinating! A: What? Hili: Exactly—what? In Polish: Hili: Fascynujące!
Ja: Co?
Hili: No właśnie, co?

Here’s a tweet found by Matthew, which pretty much holds for all pet cats:

Cat's busy #Caturday schedule:
-post-breakfast prowl
-2nd breakfast
-pre-sleep snooze
-Main Sleep
-another snooze
-global domination
-harrass human for supper
-feign death from starvation
-turn up nose at supper
-flounce off in huff
-eat supper

— Kate Bevan (@katebevan) February 17, 2018

And there was a big catfight on Downing Street yesterday between Larry, the Official Mouser to the Cabinet Office, and Palmerston, the Foreign Office cat. Larry (left) clearly lost; he’s always been a wuss, and can’t even mouse properly!

Drama at Downing Street this morning – Larry the cat has a face off with Palmerston from the Foreign Office. Fur and collar ripped off in the cat fight. @GMB

— Nick Dixon (@NickDixonITV) February 16, 2018

Sheep ball!

Animals are amazing! RT if you agree!

— The Humane League (@TheHumaneLeague) November 24, 2017

This is sweet and very sad:

My youngest has had my old phone for a couple of years. Just for games, which I download for her before disconnecting the internet. Still has my old contacts though & it turns out she’s been messaging my dad, who died 5 years ago. I may have something in my eye.

— James O'Brien (@mrjamesob) February 17, 2018

Grania found an interesting-looking tuxedo cat fascinated with her tail:

Human: My cat has an easy life

— Curious Zelda (@CuriousZelda) December 20, 2017

Categories: Science

Wake up! Baby goats are prancing!

Why Evolution is True Feed - 7 hours 46 min ago

Nobody should be sleeping now if there’s this to watch. (Be sure to turn the sound on.)

Categories: Science

An A+ rating from the NRA ought to disqualify you from political office

Pharyngula Feed - Sat, 02/17/2018 - 5:24pm

In the Minnesota caucuses, Democrat Tim Walz came out in first place in the race for governor. He was my last choice. He’s a Democrat who is good at getting the rural — that is, conservative Democrat — vote, and I scratched him off my list for consideration on the basis of one crucial fact: he’s got an A+ rating from the NRA. Nope. That’s like getting praise from the KKK; it might appeal to a certain demographic, but that’s one demographic I’d like to see ignored.

Among the Minnesota Democrats, they’re now distinguishing themselves with their gun control plans. That’s a good development.

State Rep. Erin Murphy, a former House majority leader from St. Paul, went the furthest. She outlined a six-point plan that includes limits on sales of certain ammunition, expanded background checks and a ban on sales of AR-15 rifles in Minnesota.

“The AR-15 was used in the Sandy Hook shooting, in the Pulse night club in Orlando, in the church in Texas, in Las Vegas and now in a classroom in Florida,” Murphy said. “It seems to me this is becoming a weapon of choice for mass shootings like this and they are creating mass casualties.”

She spoke proudly of the failing grade she received from the National Rifle Association for her past votes and positions on gun legislation, a not-so-subtle criticism of the race frontrunner, Tim Walz. The Democratic congressman has touted his support from the NRA in prior campaigns, donning a camouflaged NRA hat while running in a southern Minnesota district filled with rural towns.

“I do have an ‘F’ rating. He has an ‘A+’ rating,” Murphy said of Walz during a telephone interview Thursday. “That means he’s done their work plus the extra credit to get the plus. Minnesotans will have to judge for themselves what that means for Minnesota and their future. I think it’s important to draw the contrast.”

Walz is now trying to distance himself from the problem, after embracing it for so many years.

Walz, an avid hunter, defended his record and said he hasn’t been shy about breaking with the lobby for gun manufacturers and owners.

“I have voted for universal background checks more than anybody in this race,” Walz said. He said he has never personally been an NRA member and voted more than 30 times to bring up a background check measure “and not just since I’ve been running for governor but for the past several years.”

Walz said he has donated the equivalent of past contributions from the NRA to charity. Records show he and a political fund he controls received $18,000 over the years; recent campaign reports show him directing the money to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.

But, he added, “I’m also not going to shy away that I have been a staunch supporter of the constitutional right of law abiding and lawful gun owners to own firearms.”

That’s nice. A representative should abide by and support the Constitution. They should also possess some sense of ethics and recognize when bad laws exist, and work to change them. Our constitution supported slavery; it was a long time coming, but eventually that was changed. There is a legal, constitutional mechanism for stripping bad ideas out, as was done with the 13th amendment.

Banning specific weapons is an OK idea, as is requiring more gun checks and waiting periods. I’m looking for a politician who will endorse an amendment to repeal the 2nd. How about it, Tim Walz? I might change my mind and support you if you were to stop relying on your dogmatic support for one amendment over the lives of your constituents.

The kids are all right. They know what needs to be done.

Categories: Science

I’ve been learning advanced physics today!

Pharyngula Feed - Sat, 02/17/2018 - 4:37pm

It’s easy and exciting!

It’s OK that my instructors are Joe Rogan and Alex Jones, a pair of world-class assholes, right?

Categories: Science

Crows pulling tails

Why Evolution is True Feed - Sat, 02/17/2018 - 11:45am

In my dotage I’ve decided to cut back on work on Saturday, and I’m sure readers will forgive me if I take a weekly break (that means lighter posting, not no posting). So let’s end Professor Ceiling Cat’s writing day with a simple series of photographs of “Tail pulling” given on The Corvid Blog.

Corvids are species in the family Corvidae, and include crows, ravens, rooks, and jackdaws, magpies, jays, and sundry other species (120 species total). They’re known for their intelligence, and I’ve posted about them fairly often (see here). As Wikipedia notes,

Corvids display remarkable intelligence for animals of their size and are among the most intelligent birds thus far studied.  Specifically, members of the family have demonstrated self-awareness in mirror tests (European magpies) and tool-making ability (crows, rooks), skills which until recently were thought to be possessed only by humans and a few other higher mammals. Their total brain-to-body mass ratio is equal to that of great apes and cetaceans, and only slightly lower than in humans.

You can see how smart they are by clicking on the last link above. But they’re mischievous, too! Here are corvids pulling tails, including each other’s:

A quote from the Blog’s piece:

This behavior is so common it’s noted in many scientific papers, with a nice summary from Lawrence Kilham in his 1989 book The American Crow and the Common Raven, page 34-35:

Tail pulling is a habit common to a number of corvids (Goodwin 1976). The crow that robbed the otter by pulling its tail could have done so by happenstance or as a deliberate piece of strategy.  It is hard to know.  The crows had pulled the otters’ tails many times before, to no seeming purpose except an urge, shared by Black-Billed Magpies (Lorenz 1970) and Common Ravens, to provoke animals larger than themselves, whether there is any immediate advantage to doing so or not.  Bent (1946) reported three Common Ravens robbing a dog of a bone, one bird pulling the dog’s tail while others stood by its head.  It is conceivable that crows, like ravens, are capable after trial and error of seizing upon the right movement for pulling a tail to advantage.  Another use of tail pulling can be to get a larger bird or mammal to move from a carcass, as I describe later for Common Ravens contending with Turkey Vultures and as Hewson (1981) did for Hooded Crows contending with a Buzzard.  Goodwin (1976) described crows and magpies pulling the tails of mobbing predators. 

The behavior appears to be innate, for one of my hand-raised crows pulled a sheep’s tail and a hand-raised raven a cat’s tail when they were less than three months of age.

This is WRONG!:

But this is RIGHT; a d*g gets the pull:

h/t: Charleen

Categories: Science

How the Republicans will win the next election

Pharyngula Feed - Sat, 02/17/2018 - 9:10am

They’re going to be flooded with donations.

They’re also going to solve the school shooting problem by installing cabinets with emergency supplies in all schoolrooms.

Finkelstein explained that the cabinets would be installed in both elementary and high schools across all 50 states within the next two years, with plans to extend the scheme to college campuses at some point in the future. Each cabinet will contain a selection of thoughts and prayers from both politicians and pro-gun lobbyists, and each student will be provided with their own American flag to hide under whilst they wait to be murdered in what should be a place of safety. It is believed that some cabinets will also be fitted with speakers that will play the national anthem at a volume loud enough to drown out distant screams, but not so loud that it draws the attention of the shooter.

The Democrats might as well give up. No way they’re going to raise enough thoughts & prayers before the next election. We have a T&P gap.

Categories: Science

Penn faculty and students brutally attack law professor for her conservative op-ed; Dean asks her to take a leave of absence

Why Evolution is True Feed - Sat, 02/17/2018 - 9:00am

Today’s Wall Street Journal contains another tale of university censorship, in this case involving Amy Wax, the Mundlein Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School in Philadelphia. The screenshot links to the essay, but it’s mostly paywalled, though judicious inquiry might yield you a copy. The article also notes that “This essay, adapted from a speech that she delivered in December, is reprinted by permission of Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.”

Wax recounts one of those authoritarian horror stories that makes me glad that, when I was teaching, I was at the University of Chicago, which would never pull a stunt like Penn did on Wax.

It started when Wax and Larry Alexander (a professor at the University of California School of Law) wrote a joint op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer last August. Click on the screenshot to see it (it’s free). The title and photo of John Wayne alone tell you that Wax and Alexander were in for trouble.

It’s a conservative editorial decrying the breakdown of bourgeois values that America had in the 1950’s, and here’s some of the stuff that angered Wax’s liberal colleagues and many students:

That culture laid out the script we all were supposed to follow: Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.

These basic cultural precepts reigned from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s. They could be followed by people of all backgrounds and abilities, especially when backed up by almost universal endorsement. Adherence was a major contributor to the productivity, educational gains, and social coherence of that period.

Did everyone abide by those precepts? Of course not. There are always rebels — and hypocrites, those who publicly endorse the norms but transgress them. But as the saying goes, hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue. Even the deviants rarely disavowed or openly disparaged the prevailing expectations.

Was everything perfect during the period of bourgeois cultural hegemony? Of course not. There was racial discrimination, limited sex roles, and pockets of anti-Semitism. However, steady improvements for women and minorities were underway even when bourgeois norms reigned. Banishing discrimination and expanding opportunity does not require the demise of bourgeois culture. Quite the opposite: The loss of bourgeois habits seriously impeded the progress of disadvantaged groups. That trend also accelerated the destructive consequences of the growing welfare state, which, by taking over financial support of families, reduced the need for two parents. A strong pro-marriage norm might have blunted this effect. Instead, the number of single parents grew astronomically, producing children more prone to academic failure, addiction, idleness, crime, and poverty.

And you can tell that this paragraph was going to offend many people. By criticizing the cultures of Native Americans, working-class whites, inner-city blacks, and Hispanics, Wax ensured that a tsunami of offense would follow. All cultures are not equal. Or at least they are not equal in preparing people to be productive in an advanced economy. The culture of the Plains Indians was designed for nomadic hunters, but is not suited to a First World, 21st-century environment. Nor are the single-parent, antisocial habits, prevalent among some working-class whites; the anti-“acting white” rap culture of inner-city blacks; the anti-assimilation ideas gaining ground among some Hispanic immigrants. These cultural orientations are not only incompatible with what an advanced free-market economy and a viable democracy require, they are also destructive of a sense of solidarity and reciprocity among Americans. If the bourgeois cultural script — which the upper-middle class still largely observes but now hesitates to preach — cannot be widely reinstated, things are likely to get worse for us all.

You can judge for yourself whether this is racist or bigoted. It does criticize practices of different cultures, holding up the non working-class white culture as an implicit “model culture”, but it also makes empirically testable statements (e.g., working-class whites have a higher frequency of single-parent families and “anti-social habits”); and it also makes some value judgments that can be questioned (e.g. patriotism is good; “anti-assimilation” culture, a slippery notion, is bad for the U.S.) The essay doesn’t really strike me as particularly thoughtful, but may have some useful points, though they’ve been made many times before. For example, perhaps we should strive to somehow reduce the incidence of single-parent families, though I don’t know how to do that.

At any rate, Wax and Alexander’s (W&A’s) essay deserves discussion, not banning, and those who take issue with W&A’s claims should have attacked those claims, not Wax. One person who responded properly was Wax’s Penn law colleague Jonathan Click, in an essay at Heterodox Academy called “I don’t care if Amy Wax is politically incorrect; I do care that she’s empirically incorrect.” Click addresses and attempts to rebut some of W&A’s assertions, such as the statement that “Everyone wants to go to countries ruled by white Europeans.” Have a look at Click’s essay as well as the comments.

That’s the way to deal with speech you find either incorrect or offensive: argue the facts, point out which claims are based on preferences, and so on. But do not call the writers names or try to shut them down or get them fired.

But the latter is what Wax experienced at Penn. As she states in the WSJ:

So what happened after our op-ed was published last August? A raft of letters, statements and petitions from students and professors at my university and elsewhere condemned the piece as hate speech—racist, white supremacist, xenophobic, “heteropatriarchial,” etc. There were demands that I be removed from the classroom and from academic committees. None of these demands even purported to address our arguments in any serious or systematic way.

response published in the Daily Pennsylvanian, our school newspaper, and signed by five of my Penn Law School colleagues, charged us with the sin of praising the 1950s—a decade when racial discrimination was openly practiced and opportunities for women were limited. I do not agree with the contention that because a past era is marked by benighted attitudes and practices—attitudes and practices we had acknowledged in our op-ed—it has nothing to teach us. But at least this response attempted to make an argument.

. . . Not so an open letter published in the Daily Pennsylvanian and signed by 33 of my colleagues. This letter quoted random passages from the op-ed and from a subsequent interview I gave to the school newspaper, condemned both and categorically rejected all of my views. It then invited students, in effect, to monitor me and to report any “stereotyping and bias” they might experience or perceive. This letter contained no argument, no substance, no reasoning, no explanation whatsoever as to how our op-ed was in error.

Do read that short open letter. It rejects W&A’s claims without giving reasons, and does implicitly urge students to report any further “transgressions”.

Wax reports that another colleague accused her of using “code words for Nazism”. She also quotes Jon Haidt who, in defending some of her claims and her right to speak without bullying, wrote this at the Heterodox Academy:

I said earlier that I think it is important for the academic community to reflect on this case. In the coming academic year, many of us will receive multiple emails from students and friends asking us to sign open letters and petitions denouncing each other. My advice is to delete them all. We already have bureaucratic procedures for investigating charges of professional misconduct. If you think that a professor has said or done something wrong then write an article or blog post explaining your reasons. But every open letter you sign to condemn a colleague for his or her words brings us closer to a world in which academic disagreements are resolved by social force and political power, not by argumentation and persuasion.

Finally, two of the most odious attempts to shut Wax up. First, a deputy dean told her that the open letter was “needed” to get her attention so that she “would rethink what [she] had written and understand the hurt [she] had inflicted and the damage she had done, so that [she] wouldn’t do it again.”

Second, and worse, her own dean at the Penn Law School asked her to take a year’s leave of absence and stop teaching her required first-year course so that the controversy would die down. In response to Wax’s counterargument that he shouldn’t be caving in to the protestors, the dean said that he was a “pluralistic dean” who had to listen and satisfy “all sides.”

No, deans don’t need to be pluralistic in that way. W&A’s editorial in the Inquirer was free speech. It was not “hate” speech, but conservative speech that decried intra-American cultural relativism. If it hurt people, it hurt only their feelings, and, as we know, nobody has a right to not have their feeling hurt by speech. The way to answer Wax was to write counterarticles and take issue with her arguments, not to shut her up and ask her to leave the law school till the dust clears.

She will be a pariah forever now, and that’s a shame. Her message needs to be heard, and her opponents need to muster their arguments. If they can’t do that, they better start thinking hard, for hard thinking and not name-calling is the response that we need, and is what our democracy is supposed to rest on.

Addendum: Above the Law, a law-school news site, reports that UC San Diego law students have asked their school to ban Alexander from teaching first-year students. (It apparently doesn’t matter what he says in the classroom; he’s been permanently declared an Unperson for that editorial). The Dean of the Law school has issued a statement that, while meekly admitting that Alexander had a right to write the op-ed, genuflects obsequiously to those who objected. The proper response would be like the one my University issued in response to calls to ban Steve Bannon’s upcoming talk. Short and sweet, it basically said that “Every faculty has the right to invite anyone to speak, and we defend that right.”

This all depresses me deeply. Are we really living in this kind of Orwellian world now: a world in which you’re no longer supposed to teach first-year students if you write an op-ed they don’t like? I urge you to read the W&A piece and judge if its authors deserve that fate.


Here’s Wax talking about the controversy. This is not the speech she delivered in December, but it must be pretty similar. This one was given in October of last year at Penn’s Federalist Society.

h/t: cesar

Categories: Science

Unprecedented study of Picasso's bronzes uncovers new details

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Sat, 02/17/2018 - 8:36am
Scientists have completed the first major material survey and study of the Musee national Picasso-Paris' Pablo Picasso bronzes using portable instruments. They used the instruments and a database of alloy 'fingerprints' to non-invasively analyze a group of 39 bronzes and 11 painted sheet metal sculptures, revealing new details about the modern master's art.
Categories: Science

Research team uncovers hidden details in Picasso Blue Period painting

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Sat, 02/17/2018 - 8:36am
Scientists have used multiple modes of light to uncover details hidden beneath the visible surface of Pablo Picasso's painting 'La Miséreuse accroupie', a major work from the artist's Blue Period. The researchers found images connected to other works by Picasso as well as a landscape -- likely by another Barcelona painter -- underneath Picasso's painting.
Categories: Science

Caturday felid trifecta: Cat weather vanes; cat runs for rector at Scottish university; cats review a laser toy

Why Evolution is True Feed - Sat, 02/17/2018 - 7:30am

To introduce today’s trifecta, here’s a cartoon contributed by reader Blue:

Make everyday a Caturday! #cats #catsrule

— The Purrington Post (@purringtonpost) February 16, 2018

Reader Kevin called my attention to West Coast Weathervanes, which sells the eponymous product in custom designs. What’s nice about the place is that many of its weathervanes are shaped like cats, and they also have a page of cats who live in the shop or who have visited the shop. The page is called “Shop cats and friends“. Here are two screenshots of the page; they even had a visiting bobcat!


And they make the loveliest copper “Cats and kittens weathervanes“, which you can see at the link. If you’re in the market, how can you pass up one of these? (There are several others, including a bobcat.)


There’s a big kerfuffle in Scotland, as the students at Aberdeen University have seriously nominated a white cat, Buttons, to be the University’s rector. But they won’t allow him because of speciesism. Since the rector, I’m told, doesn’t have any real duties except to preside over meetings, it seems to me a cat could do the job well.  The Herald of Scotland has the story (click on the screenshot):

Some of the story:

HUNDREDS are protesting a ban over a cat becoming a candidate in a new University of Aberdeen Rector election.

A group of sixty students signed a rectorial nomination form supporting Buttons the campus moggie’s bid to become the new Rector in the wake of disillusionment with the election process.

The bid has already been officially rejected by the election co-ordinator because the cat was not human.

Now hundreds have supported an online campaign to have Buttons reinstated as a runner in the race to become Rector.

Here’s a poster for Buttons:

More news (my emphasis):

It comes just two months after the University was at the centre of an “abuse of power” row as it ratified a decision to scrap the Rector election over allegations of “dirty tricks” by the campaign for Maggie Chapman, the co-convenor of the Scottish Greens.

. . . The nomination explains that Buttons is a white cat who lives on campus and that campaigners decided that he is the “right individual to represent the interests of the student body”.

They said the reasons to vote for Buttons were that he lived locally, engages with the student daily, is a political and “is fluffy and friendly”.

“Buttons is a chance for the student population to truly stand up and have their say after such an unfortunate election last year. Buttons stands for change,” says the campaign group.

“Vote for Cats not Bureaucrats!”

But Phil Hannaford, the election returning officer has ruled that Buttons does not meet the requirements under the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator Guidelines to being a charity trustee.

Election co-ordinator Nicholas Edwards told the campaigners: “Both the returning officer and I appreciate Buttons’ interest in the role and wish him well in his future endeavours.”

What a patronizing answer! It’s time to stop this prejudice against felines holding positions for which they’re perfectly qualified.

Here’s the petition for his nomination. I think we readers can put it over the top—only 101 to go! Professor Ceiling Cat would be so pleased if it exceeded 500! (Of course this is just for the record; the University will not bend to their ridiculous stipulation that the Rector be a human). Click on the screenshot to sign (I have):


Finally cats and their staff review a laser toy—unfavorably. I’m told you shouldn’t use lasers as toys since the cats never get the satisfaction of a capture.

h/t: Kevin, Beckie, Grania

Categories: Science

Readers’ wildlife photos

Why Evolution is True Feed - Sat, 02/17/2018 - 6:15am

Today we have some herp photos sent by a new contributor. Let’s have a warm welcome for—Peter Uimonen! His notes are attached:

Here are two photos I took in Big Bend National Park in the summer of 2014. The first is of a Trans-Pecos Rat Snake (Bogertophis subocularis). They are not often seen because they are nocturnal. However, I came across this one out and about on a warm summer night.

The second is of a Greater Earless Lizard (Cophosaurus texanus). They are diurnal and quite common in the lowland desert of Big Bend, particularly along the Mule Ears Spring trail (one of my favorite hikes down there). This beautiful male specimen is in an aggressive posture.

Here are two photos from the Osa Peninsula [Costa Rica]; my wife and I are going back down there in June. The first is the helmeted iguana (Corytophanes cristatus). This was a lucky shot in two ways. First, it’s a gorgeous specimen (see the yellow and blue scaling along with the green). Second, they’re cryptic and hard to spot. I was the lucky one to spot it. As I recall even our local guide was impressed.

The second is of two green and black poison dart frogs (Dendrobates auratus) along with a Golfo Dulce poison dart frog (Phyllobates vittatus) below the root buttress. All three were competing for territory along this buttress.

Categories: Science

Yesterday’s optical allusion: the hearts are the same color!

Why Evolution is True Feed - Sat, 02/17/2018 - 5:15am

On yesterday’s Hili Dialogue, I posted this tweet, an optical illusion provided by Matthew:

There appear to be greenish hearts and bluish ones, though they are the same color.

— Akiyoshi Kitaoka (@AkiyoshiKitaoka) February 16, 2018

The hearts are said to be the same color, with the illusion of their being different colors due to the different-colored stripes running through them. The was lots of argument among the readers, and, as far as I can remember, no consensus.

I put this question to Matthew (why do you readers make me do these things?), and he responded by checking. Here’s his response and his image. The conclusion is that the hearts are both the same color: a blue-tinted green.

They are the same colour. I have been in and checked the image, see here. The left half, with the orange, is from the ‘green’ heart. The right half, with the pink, is from the ‘blue’ heart.

Another response showing the color identity:

They are on my phone..

— Kiva (@Safanver) February 17, 2018

I think this settles it: if Matthew’s satisfied, so am I. However, if you can prove to Matthew’s satisfaction that they are really of different colors, you will win an autographed copy of his latest (and terrific) book: Life’s Greatest Secret, about the cracking of the genetic code. The first one to disprove color identity of the hearts will get the book. You can email me or put your “proof” in the comments.

Matthew sets out the rules:

People need to download the original large image (attached) and then enlarge it to show they are differerent colours. They won’t be able to do it.
Categories: Science

Saturday: Hili dialogue

Why Evolution is True Feed - Sat, 02/17/2018 - 4:45am

It’s the weekend: Saturday, February 17, 2018, and the temperature in Chicago has dropped to well below freezing. It’s National “Drink Wine” Day (why the scare quotes?), and I’ll oblige at dinner. In Catholicism, it’s the Feast Day of Bernadette Soubirous, the girl who thought she saw the Virgin Mary at Lourdes. Sadly, the rest is history.

Not much happened on this day with respect to either births or history. I guess people don’t copulate in June (which is mysterious), and they don’t do much either, accounting for the absence of historical events—at least in the Northern Hemisphere.

On February 17, 1600, the philosopher Giordano Bruno was burned alive for heresy in Rome. And on this day in 1801, an electoral tie between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr was resolved in this way (from Wikipedia):

In 1800, the Democratic-Republican Party again nominated Jefferson for president and also nominated Aaron Burr for vice president. After the election, Jefferson and Burr both obtained a majority of electoral votes, but tied one another with 73 votes each. Since ballots did not distinguish between votes for president and votes for vice president, every ballot cast for Burr technically counted as a vote for him to become president, despite Jefferson clearly being his party’s first choice. Lacking a clear winner by constitutional standards, the election had to be decided by the House of Representatives pursuant to the Constitution’s contingency election provision.

Having already lost the presidential contest, Federalist Party representatives in the lame duck House session seized upon the opportunity to embarrass their opposition by attempting to elect Burr over Jefferson. The House deadlocked for 35 ballots as neither candidate received the necessary majority vote of the state delegations in the House (the votes of nine states were needed for a conclusive election). Jefferson achieved electoral victory on the 36th ballot, but only after Federalist Party leader Alexander Hamilton—who disfavored Burr’s personal character more than Jefferson’s policies—had made known his preference for Jefferson.

Of course a little more than three years later, Burr shot and killed Hamilton in a duel.

On this day in 1867, the first ship passed through the Suez Canal. On February 17, 1904, Puccini’s opera “Madame Butterfly” premiered at La Scala in Milan.  And in 1980, Krzysztof Wielicki and Leszek Cichy, two Polish mountaineers, made the first winter ascent of Mount Everest. Finally, on this day in 1996, world chess champion Garry Kasparov beat the “Deep Blue” supercomputer in a match. However, the computer won one game and there were two ties, so the final score was 4-2.

Those born on February 17 include geneticist and statistician Ronald Fisher (1890), Duane “Galloping” Gish (1921), Chaim Potok (1929), Gene Pitney (1940), Huey P. Newton (1942), and Michael Jordon (1963; he’s 55 today). Those who expired on this day include Giordano Bruno (1600; see above), Jan Swammerdam (1680), Heinrich Heine (1856), Geronimo (1909), Thelonius Monk (1982), and Mindy MCready (2013).

Here’s Gene Pitney singing my favorite of his songs, “Only Love Can Break a Heart”, written by Burt Bachrach and Hal David. Pitney made it a hit in 1962, but this more recent performance (the only live one I could find) is still pretty good. The original version starts at 2:28, so you get two for one. (A live medley of his hits, sung when he was young, is here.)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili has found place to rest, but it’s in Andrzej’s chair:

Hili: You are sitting on me. A: You can find another place. Hili: No way.

In Polish:

Hili: Siedzisz na mnie.
Ja: Nadal możesz poszukać sobie innego miejsca.
Hili: Mowy nie ma.

Purely by chance, all of today’s tweets (save one) involve cats. Here’s one showing a woman’s crazy moggies:

This rescue cat is super protective of her toys and acts like a tough guy, but she's hardly the craziest cat in her family

Categories: Science

Americans would welcome alien life rather than fear it

Science News Feed - Fri, 02/16/2018 - 2:00pm
Americans would probably take the discovery of extraterrestrial microbes pretty well.
Categories: Science

Another Olympic-watching kitten

Why Evolution is True Feed - Fri, 02/16/2018 - 12:30pm

This morning we saw a cat trying to catch televised snowboarders from the Olympics. Now we have a reader’s cat, Minnie, who does the same thing, except to skiers.  Staff member Alexandra reports:

My grandkitty enjoying the Olympics. Minnie is a rescue, about 5 months old, living happily with my  nearby daughter and several Great Danes. She watched for quite a long time, with that delicate little paw interaction.

Here’s Minnie and her Great Dane housemate:

Categories: Science

Astrophotographer Captures Musk’s Tesla Roadster Moving Through Space

Universe Today Feed - Fri, 02/16/2018 - 11:58am

An astrophotographer in California has captured images of Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster on its journey around our Sun. In the early morning of February 9th, Rogelio Bernal Andreo captured images of the Roadster as it appeared just above the horizon. To get the images, Andreo made use of an impressive arsenal of technological tools.

Andreo knew that photographing the Roadster would be a challenge, since it was over a million miles away at the time. But he has the experience and equipment to pull it off. The first task was to determine where the Tesla would be in the sky. Luckily, NASA’s JPL creates lists of coordinates for objects in the sky, called ephemerides. Andreo found the ephemeris for Starman and the Roadster, and it showed that the pair would be in the Hydra constellation, and that they would be only about 20 degrees above the horizon. That’s a challenge, because it means photographing through more atmospheric density.

The Tesla Roadster and its pilot “Starman” leaving Earth behind. Image: SpaceX

However, the Roadster and its driver would be bright enough to do it. As Andreo says in his blog, “The ephemeris from the JPL also indicated that the Roadster’s brightness would be at magnitude 17.5, and I knew that’s perfectly achievable.” So he gathered his gear, hopped in his vehicle, and went for it.

Andreo’s destination was the Monte Bello Open Space Preserve, a controlled-access area for which he has a night-time use permit. This area is kind of close to the San Francisco Bay Area, so the sky is a little bright for astrophotography, but since the Roadster has a magnitude of 17.5, he thought it was doable. Plus, it’s a short drive from his home.

Once he arrived there, he set up his impressive array of gear: dual telescopes and cameras, along with a tracking telescope and computers running specialized software. Andreo explains it best:

“Let me give you a brief description of my gear – also the one I use for most of my deep-sky images. I have a dual telescope system: two identical telescopes and cameras in parallel, shooting simultaneously at the very same area of the sky – same FOV, save a few pixels. The telescopes are Takahashi FSQ106EDX. Their aperture is 106mm (about 4″) and they give you a native 530mm focal length at f/5. The cameras are SBIG STL11k monochrome CCD cameras, one of the most legendary full-frame CCD cameras for astronomy (not the best one today, mind you, but still pretty decent). All this gear sits on a Takahashi EM-400 mount, the beast that will move it at hair-thin precision during the long exposures. I brought the temperature of the CCD sensors to -20C degrees (-4F) using the CCD’s internal cooling system.”

CCD’s with internal cooling systems. Very impressive!

The Takahashi FSQ106. Two of these beasts are at the heart of Andreo’s astrophotography system. Image: Takahashi Telescopes

Andreo uses a specialized focusing system to get his images. He uses focusers from Robofocus and precision focusing software called FocusMax. He also uses a third, smaller telescope called an autoguider. It focuses on a single star in the Field of View and follows it religiously. When that star moves, the whole rig moves. As Andreo says on his blog, “Autoguiding provides a much better mount movement than tracking, which is leaving up to the mount to blindly “follow” the sky. By actually “following” a star, we can make sure there’ll be no trails whether our exposures are 2 or 30 minutes long.”

Once he was all set up, there was time pressure. The Roadster would only be above the horizon for a short time and the Moon was coming up and threatening to wash out the sky. Andreo got going, but his first shots showed nothing.

Where the Roadster should be, Andreo’s photos showed nothing. But he wasn’t deterred. Image: Rogelio Bernal Andreo, ( (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Andreo felt that once he got home and could process the images properly, the Tesla Roadster and its driver would be somewhere in his images. He kept taking pictures until about 5 AM. Cold and tired, he finally packed up his gear and went home.

“…no matter what I did, I could not find the Roadster.” Astrophotographer Rogelio Bernal Andreo

After some sleep, he began working with his images. “After a few hours of sleep, I started playing with the data and no matter what I did, I could not find the Roadster. I kept checking the coordinates, nothing made sense. So I decided to try again. The only difference would be that this time the Moon would rise around 3:30am, so I could try star imaging at 2:30am and get one hour of Moon-free skies, maybe that would help.”

Rogelio Bernal Andreo is a very accomplished astrophotographer. His images have been chosen as NASA’s Astronomy Photo of the Day over 50 times. This close-up of the Orion Nebula was chosen as APOD on June 4, 2017. The three bright stars are Orion’s belt. Image: Rogelio Bernal Andreo ( (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

So Andreo set out to capture the Roadster again. The next night, at the same location, he set up his gear again. But this time, some clouds rolled in, and Andreo got discouraged. He stayed to wait for the sky to improve, but it didn’t. By about 4 AM he packed up and headed home.

After a nap, he went over his photos, but still couldn’t find the Roadster. It was a puzzle, because he knew the Roadster’s coordinates. Andreo is no rookie, his photos have been published many times in Astronomy Magazine, Sky and Telescope, National Geographic, and other places. His work has also been chosen as NASA’s APOD (Astronomy Picture of the Day) more than 50 times. So when he can’t find something in his images that should be there, it’s puzzling.

Then he had an A-HA! moment:

“Then it hit me!! When I created the ephemeris from the JPL’s website, I did not enter my coordinates!! I went with the default, whatever that might be! Since the Roadster is still fairly close to us, parallax is significant, meaning, different locations on Earth will see Starman at slightly different coordinates. I quickly recalculate, get the new coordinates, go to my images and thanks to the wide field captured by my telescopes… boom!! There it was!! Impossible to miss!! It had been right there all along, I just never noticed!”

Andreo is clearly a dedicated astrophotographer, and this is a neat victory for him. He deserves a tip of the hat from space fans. Why not check out his website—his gallery is amazing!—and share a comment with him.

Rogelio Bernal Andreo’s website:
His gallery:
Also, check out his Flickr page:

Andreo explained how he got the Roadster images in this post on his blog: Capturing Starman from 1 Million Miles

The post Astrophotographer Captures Musk’s Tesla Roadster Moving Through Space appeared first on Universe Today.

Categories: Science

Pinker on the science “wars”, identity politics, and his new book

Why Evolution is True Feed - Fri, 02/16/2018 - 11:30am

Steve is doing a full-court press publicizing his new book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, which has now risen to #10 on Amazon.  And this publicity is exactly what I’d be doing if I had his renown and intellectual chops. At any rate, I’ll call your attention to three news items that are based on the book, including two excerpts or rewrites.

The first is from The Chronicle of Higher Education, and you can see it by clicking on the screenshot below.  It’s fairly similar to Steve’s 2013 piece in The New Republic, “Science is not your enemy“, in that it calls for an infusion of science into some areas of the humanities while still extolling those areas of the humanities, like literary interpretation, that have little to do with science.  That piece drew an intemperate response from literary editor Leon Wieseltier in the same magazine, “Crimes against humanities” (Subtitle: Now science wants to invade the liberal arts. Don’t let it happen.”)

Nevertheless, check out the comments after the Chronicle piece to see the humanities scholars fighting for their turf. There’s no need to, really. Their endeavors are a vital part of a liberal education, and I, for one, would have had a much poorer life were it not for my English, fine arts, philosophy, and ancient history courses in college. By suggesting that some areas of the humanities could benefit from a more quantitative and empirical (i.e., scientific) approach, Steve has been criticized as “scientistic”, and I expected this misguided kvetching will get even louder when people read the book.

This week Pinker also gave an interview on NPR’s program 1A (I’ve listened only to the first bit).  It’s still up, and you can hear the 35-minute show, in which Pinker discusses his new book, by clicking on the screenshot below. From the part I’ve heard, he shows his usual eloquence, speaking in full paragraphs that, if written out, would also be excellent prose.

Finally, there’s this, which I quite like. I’ve thought a lot about identity politics but never as clearly or succinctly as Pinker. This is from The Weekly Standard, a venue I never go to.

This is clearly connected with the new book, and is an interview with Adam Rubenstein. I’ll give just one or two excerpts (I especially like the last paragraph of this first excerpt):

Steven Pinker: Identity politics is the syndrome in which people’s beliefs and interests are assumed to be determined by their membership in groups, particularly their sex, race, sexual orientation, and disability status. Its signature is the tic of preceding a statement with “As a,” as if that bore on the cogency of what was to follow. Identity politics originated with the fact that members of certain groups really were disadvantaged by their group membership, which forged them into a coalition with common interests: Jews really did have a reason to form the Anti-Defamation League.

But when it spreads beyond the target of combatting discrimination and oppression, it is an enemy of reason and Enlightenment values, including, ironically, the pursuit of justice for oppressed groups. For one thing, reason depends on there being an objective reality and universal standards of logic. As Chekhov said, there is no national multiplication table, and there is no racial or LGBT one either.

This isn’t just a matter of keeping our science and politics in touch with reality; it gives force to the very movements for moral improvement that originally inspired identity politics. The slave trade and the Holocaust are not group-bonding myths; they objectively happened, and their evil is something that all people, regardless of their race, gender, or sexual orientation, must acknowledge and work to prevent in the future.

Even the aspect of identity politics with a grain of justification—that a man cannot truly experience what it is like to be a woman, or a white person an African American—can subvert the cause of equality and harmony if it is taken too far, because it undermines one of the greatest epiphanies of the Enlightenment: that people are equipped with a capacity for sympathetic imagination, which allows them to appreciate the suffering of sentient beings unlike them. In this regard nothing could be more asinine than outrage against “cultural appropriation”—as if it’s a bad thing, rather than a good thing, for a white writer to try to convey the experiences of a black person, or vice versa.

My one beef with this is that there still is very real oppression of non-binary people, women, and gays in the U.S. and other parts of the world—that is not a “multiplication table” or a myth. It is an objective reality, even if, at least in America, such oppression is not “institutionalized” in law.  But I agree with him that cries of “cultural appropriation” are almost always risible, and will hinder rather than improve the world.

Oh hell, one more—a defense of free speech:

AR: There is, as you recognize a “liberal tilt” in academia. And you write about it: “Non-leftist speakers are frequently disinvited after protests or drowned out by jeering mobs,” and “anyone who disagrees with the assumption that racism is the cause of all problems is called a racist.” How high are the stakes in universities? Should we worry?

SP: Yes, for three reasons. One is that scholars can’t hope to understand the world (particularly the social world) if some hypotheses are given a free pass and others are unmentionable. As John Stuart Mill noted, “He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.” In The Blank Slate I argued that leftist politics had distorted the study of human nature, including sex, violence, gender, childrearing, personality, and intelligence. The second is that people who suddenly discover forbidden facts outside the crucible of reasoned debate (which is what universities should be) can take them to dangerous conclusions, such as that differences between the sexes imply that we should discriminate against women (this kind of fallacy has fueled the alt-right movement). The third problem is that illiberal antics of the hard left are discrediting the rest of academia, including the large swaths of moderates and open-minded scholars who keep their politics out of their research. (Despite the highly publicized follies of academia, it’s still a more disinterested forum than alternatives like the Twittersphere, Congress, or ideologically branded think tanks.) In particular, many right-wingers tell each other that the near-consensus among scientists on human-caused climate change is a conspiracy among politically correct academics who are committed to a government takeover of the economy. This is sheer nonsense, but it can gain traction when the noisiest voices in the academy are the repressive fanatics.

This, using words like “repressive fantatics” (I agree!) is about as explicit as he gets about the foibles of the Left. And you can be sure that the usual suspects will be going after Steve, calling him an “alt-righter”, a misogynist, or even a racist for sentiments like these.

The last question posed to Pinker is this: “What should the president be reading? And why?” I’ll let you read the answer for yourself (hint: it doesn’t involve Pinker’s books).

I’ll be starting Enlightenment Now this weekend. It’s a big ‘un, and will take a while, but stay tuned for my take.

h/t: Michael, Thomas

Categories: Science

Why we have yet to find extraterrestrial life

Space and time from Science Daily Feed - Fri, 02/16/2018 - 11:27am
Are we alone in the universe? Few questions have captured the public imagination more than this. Yet to date we know of just one sample of life, that which exists here on Earth.
Categories: Science

Major discovery in controlling quantum states of single atoms

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Fri, 02/16/2018 - 11:27am
The scientists identified which mechanisms destroy the quantum properties of individual insulator. Using a Scanning Tunneling Microscope, which utilizes an atomically sharp metal tip, they were able to precisely image individual iron atoms and measure and control the time that the iron atom can maintain its quantum behavior.
Categories: Science


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