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NASA's James Webb Space Telescope to reveal secrets of the Red Planet

Space and time from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 9:47am
Mars rovers and orbiters have found signs that Mars once hosted liquid water on its surface. Much of that water escaped over time. How much water was lost, and how does the water that’s left move from ice to atmosphere to soil? During its first year of operations, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope will seek answers. Webb also will study mysterious methane plumes that hint at possible geological or even biological activity.
Categories: Science

Researchers invent tiny, light-powered wires to modulate brain's electrical signals

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 9:47am
A new study shows how tiny, light-powered wires could be fashioned out of silicon to manipulate electrical signaling between neurons. The research offers a new avenue to shed light on--and perhaps someday treat--brain disorders.
Categories: Science

Brain aging may begin earlier than expected

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 9:45am
Physicists have devised a new method of investigating brain function, opening a new frontier in the diagnoses of neurodegenerative and aging related diseases.
Categories: Science

Laser-ranged satellite measurement now accurately reflects Earth's tidal perturbations

Space and time from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 9:30am
Tides on Earth have a far-reaching influence, including disturbing satellites' measurements by affecting their motion. The LAser RElativity Satellite (LARES), is the best ever relevant test particle to move in the Earth's gravitational field. In a new study, LARES proves its efficiency for high-precision probing of General Relativity and fundamental physics.
Categories: Science

Pro-hijab billboard campaign in Chicago

Why Evolution is True Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 9:30am

On the morning news, I heard a report that a Muslim group has put up pro-hijab billboards for six weeks on Interstate 55 and the Tri-State Tollway outside Chicago. Here are the billboards.

Note that they also appeal to Christians by saying that “Blessed Mary wore the hijab”. How do they KNOW that?  Yes, Mary is often depicted wearing a head covering, but, as you see below, sometimes her hair is showing quite a bit. It’s not really a hijab, unless you call any woman wearing a headscarf a hijabi.

Mary exposing her hair:

This woman would get arrested by the modesty police in Iran.

The billboards are part of a campaign to defuse bigotry against Muslims (well, only the ones wearing hijabs), and good for them. Anybody who attacks or disses, or insults a woman who wears a Muslim headscarf, or any Muslim garb, is reprehensible. That is true “Muslimaphobia.” But why did they have to choose a symbol of oppression, and request that we “respect and honor it”? No, I won’t respect it, though I won’t insult its wearers, either.

The religious reason for the garment, as we all know, is one that’s evolved after the Qur’an, since there’s no dictate in the Qur’an itself to cover your hair. And that reason is because Islam places the onus on women to avoid tempting men. Covering the hair is designed to prevent men from showing their uncontrollable lust, and that often goes along with other “modest” garments.  It is, in effect, a form of religious slut-shaming. It is not a sign of women’s strength; it’s a sign of submission to the will of men.

Yet those Western feminists who say, correctly, that it is the responsibility of men to police their own behavior, and that women can bloody well dress as they want, nevertheless not only remain silent about the hijab—a symbol of men’s dominance over women—but even extol it as a garment of virtue.  And so all the news I’ve heard about this has preached the message of the billboards.

Fine—it’s not the place of the news to remind people why the hijab exists. But we can do such reminding, and emphasizing that, in many places in the world, wearing a scarf or niqab or burqa is not a “choice,” not an “option.” Even in the West, where there are no laws mandating that Muslim women wear it, there’s no doubt that a type of social, familial, and peer pressure (including in Muslim schools) forces many women and girls to veil.

As WGN 9 reports:

The billboards are the first of their kind in the country, designed by a group called GainPeace, which encourages non-Muslims to call the organization and ask questions to gain a better understanding of why women wear the hijab. The billboards draw a similarity to the Christian religion where Mary is considered the mother of Jesus. She also wore a hijab.

The billboards are located on Interstate 294 near Interstate 88, and Interstate 55 and LaGrange Road.

Well, of course they’re not going to tell you the real reason women wear the hijab, because that doesn’t sound so good.

Here’s the CBS 2 ad I saw this morning, with the following video and an article:: “Chicago’s hijab billboard campaign seeks to educate“.

Note that the hijabi was harassed by someone trying to force her off the road, and others saying, “Go back to your country.” That’s bigotry, pure and simple. Never should we do that! But Sara Ahmed adds this:

“Wearing the hijab is 100% my choice. Contrary to popular belief, wearing the hijab in no way oppresses us.”

Well, perhaps it’s 100% “her choice”. I don’t automatically believe such assertions, even from someone in the U.S. What that means is that in the absence of any social pressure, or of people around her all wearing the hijab, she’d still wear it. And that’s hard to know. And of course wearing the hijab oppresses Muslim women: that’s why it’s there!

In another post, CBS2 notes this:

Dr. Sabeel Amhed of the group Gain Peace hopes the billboards will reverse negative stereotypes he says some people have about the hijab.

He says the clothing article represents honor, chastity and respect – not subjugation, as some critics may suggest.

Ahmed says the billboards also connect the hijab with similar clothing worn by the Virgin Mary, as a way to show the virtue of the hijab.

Insofar that it’s “virtuous” to wear the hijab, it’s a kind of artificial virtue forced on women by men. It’s the same kind of forced “virtue” that leads to honor killings. And it’s reprehensible.

Yes, wear the hijab if you want, but remember what it stands for. I will tolerate it; I won’t treat anyone wearing one as less worthy than anyone else; but no, I will not “respect” it—no more than I respect any other action that arises from superstition.

Finally, here’s Pliny the in Between’s take from The Far Corner Cafe:


Categories: Science

Why big pharma might pay cryptocurrency for your DNA

New Scientist Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 9:30am
More people are getting their genome sequenced than ever before, so start-ups are offering to help people make money from their genomic data
Categories: Science

Shedding (high-power laser) light on the plasma density limit

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 9:29am
Researchers theoretically proposed the existence of density limit for hole boring by laser light on matter. They derived the maximum plasma density as a function of laser intensity, where hole boring stops and plasma blowout occurs. Theory and simulation of an ultra-high-pressure plasma state, wherein plasma's density pushes light back in the direction of the laser source, contribute to fundamental understanding, and provided grounding for applications such as laser-induced nuclear fusion.
Categories: Science

Bunnies draped in fake polar bear fur are both cosy and stealthy

New Scientist Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 9:08am
A warm fabric made of freeze-dried liquid silk mimics polar bear fur, making rabbits invisible to infrared cameras. It could do the same for humans
Categories: Science

Bertrand’s Box paradox: The answer is 2/3!!!

Why Evolution is True Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 8:15am

There are almost 200 comments now on my post about Bertrand’s Box Paradox yesterday. Let me reprise the problem and then give the solution the way I hit on it:

There are three boxes:

  1. a box containing two gold coins,
  2. a box containing two silver coins,
  3. a box containing one gold coin and a silver coin.

The ‘paradox’ is in this solution to this question. After choosing a box at random and withdrawing one coin at random, if that happens to be a gold coin, what is the probability that the next coin drawn from the same box will also be a gold coin?

In the discussion below, I’ll call the boxes #1, #2, and #3 in the order from left to right in this diagram, and use “coins” instead of “balls.”

The answer. People calculated this in various ways, some using Bayesian statistics, some, like me, a simple intuitive multiplication. But the two most common answers were 1/2 (50%) or 2/3 (67%). The latter answer is correct. Let me explain how I thought it through:

One you’ve drawn a gold coin, you know you’ve chosen from either the first or second box above. The third box, containing only silver coins, becomes irrelevant.

You’ve thus chosen a gold coin from the first two boxes. There are three gold coins among them, and thus if you picked a gold coin on your first draw, the probability that you chose from box #1 is 2/3. The probability that you chose it from box #2 is 1/3.

If you chose from box #1, the probability that you will then draw a second gold coin is 1 (100%).

If you chose from box #2, the probability that you will then draw a second gold coin is 0 (0%) for there are no gold coins left.

Thus, the overall probability that if you got a gold coin on the first pick then you will get another one if drawing from the same box is (2/3 X 1) + (1/3 X 0), or 2/3 (probability 67%).  The answer is thus 2/3 (probability 67%). 

If you don’t believe it, first check the Wikipedia explanation. It also explains why people think the probability is 50%, but fail to comprehend that it’s more likely, if you drew a gold coin on the first go, that the box you drew from is #1 than #2.

Then, if you still don’t believe it, try it yourself using either two or three boxes (you don’t really need three). That is, you can do an empirical test, though the explanation above should suffice. You will find that once you’ve drawn a gold coin on your first pick (you can just use two types of coins, with one box having like coins and the other unlike coins), the chance that you will draw another from the same box is 2/3. In other words, you’ll see that outcome 67% of the time. Remember, we are talking outcomes over a number of replicates, not a single try! You’d be safe betting against those who erroneously said 50%.

If you think Wikipedia is wrong and you’re right, good luck with correcting them!


Categories: Science

Cyclone Gita hits New Zealand after hammering Tonga

New Scientist Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 8:00am
New Zealand has declared a state of emergency as Cyclone Gita struck the city of Christchurch, just days after causing devastation on the island nation of Tonga
Categories: Science

Alexa, how do word senses evolve?

Computers and Math from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 7:41am
A new paper is the first to look at 1,000 years of English development and detect the kinds of algorithms that human minds have used to extend existing words to new senses of meaning. This kind of 'reverse engineering' of how human language has developed could have implications for natural language processing by machines.
Categories: Science

Quintillionths of a second in slow motion

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 7:41am
Many chemical processes run so fast that they are only roughly understood. To clarify these processes, researchers have now developed a methodology with a resolution of quintillionths of a second. The new technology stands to help better understand processes like photosynthesis and develop faster computer chips.
Categories: Science

Astronomers reveal secrets of most distant supernova ever detected

Space and time from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 7:24am
Astronomers have confirmed the discovery of the most distant supernova ever detected -- a huge cosmic explosion that took place 10.5 billion years ago, or three-quarters the age of the Universe itself.
Categories: Science

Removing globally used anxiety drug from recycled and wastewater at low cost

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 7:24am
Researchers can now remove a common anxiety drug from recycled water and wastewater, using low-cost titanium dioxide nanofibers. In cities running out of water, removing pharmaceuticals from wastewater in a simple, low cost way is becoming a priority.
Categories: Science

When proteins shake hands

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 7:24am
Protein nanofibers often have outstanding properties such as a high stability, biodegradability, or antibacterial effect. Artificially creating these fibers is not easy, much less assigning them specific functions. That and how fibers with new properties can be successfully created is now being reported by materials scientists in a new study.
Categories: Science

Speech is not violence

Why Evolution is True Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 7:00am

You may have heard that Ryan Spector, a Dartmouth student, got into big trouble for writing an op-ed in his college paper (The Dartmouth) questioning why 15 of the 19 directors of the student program “The Trips” (it runs summer excursions for incoming first-years) were female.  Claiming that this unbalanced sex ratio reflected an exercise in diversity gone wild, Spector got the response that selection was based purely on merit. He didn’t buy it, and concluded:

No matter how many men Trips excludes from directorate, the Class of 2022 will still be roughly 50 percent male. As they do each year, male members of the class will look for Trips role models who share their gender identity, just as any person might. But they will find fewer of them, because Trips is apparently no longer for trippees. It is for ideology, no matter how cruel the implications.

On a campus like Dartmouth (or pretty much any campus that isn’t religious), that’s stepping into a minefield, even if the selection was deliberately biased towards women. The claim that men needs “role models who share their gender identity” would be particularly inflammatory.  And opprobrium Spector got—in spades! As the conservative Dartmouth Review reported, noting that Spector’s piece was “inflammatory” and written “out of bitterness”

One day after the op-ed was posted, Link Up, a women’s student group, sent out a campus-wide email with the heading, “Statement in Solidarity”. The email defended Pierson and Rodriguez-Caspeta [the directors of Trips], and claimed that Spector’s article “attacks marginalized identities.” The email also celebrated the high percentage of female students in the new directorate as “correcting [for] years of underrepresentation and marginalization”.

. . . Throughout the weekend and into the next week, over 30 campus organizations followed their lead and sent out their own letters of “solidarity” with the Trips director and assistant director, further denouncing Spector’s op-ed as an “attack” on women and women of color. [JAC: There’s no mention of people of color in Spector’s article.] The wash of emails came from a wide range of student groups, including the Committee on Sexual Assault, several a capella groups, senior societies, sororities, one fraternity, and a variety of other minority and women’s groups. The emails varied in the severity of their accusations, but the allegations against Spector as a violent perpetrator of racism and sexism were common throughout.

. . . On Monday, a campus email from the Stonefence Review, a Dartmouth literary magazine, took a more personal turn. The letter first criticized Spector and called for The Dartmouth to rescind the op-ed, but then went on to publicly name the fraternity of which Spector is a member, demanding that the fraternity itself apologize for the “act of violence” that Spector committed. In bold font, the letter then calls on the fraternity to use their “place of power” with respect to Spector’s social life to “take a stand,” implying that the fraternity should take some sort of disciplinary action against him.

They conclude, and I agree, that this kind of vicious, personal, and bullying response was uncalled for. I wouldn’t have written what Spector did, but the kind of response he got reflects poorly on the offended.

FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), adds a bit more information and rebuts the oft-heard but erroneous claim that offensive speech is equivalent to physical violence:

As stated by one of Spector’s detractors when calling on Spector’s fraternity to condemn his op-ed: “[W]e call upon Alpha Chi Alpha to acknowledge that their own words do not recognize that their brother has committed an act of violence.”

Students are free to rebuke or ignore writing they find distasteful, and even call for social sanctions on the offending author. However, classifying political speech as literal violence has drastic consequences for those seeking to speak out on campus. Besides trivializing actual violence, conflating controversial opinions with physical harm justifies censorship and perhaps actual physical violence against the speaker in the name of supposed “self-defense” by aggrieved parties. It also sends the perverse message that college students are too weak to confront divergent ideas and must instead shield themselves from perceived “violent” viewpoints.

It’s time that we get this clear: speech, even “hate speech” is nothing like physical violence. The latter wounds bodies and is therefore illegal; the former may, at best, cause offense, and is Constitutionally legal. Further Spector may have had a point: perhaps there was selection bias towards females on that committee. If that was the case, then one needs to debate whether such a reverse gender bias is acceptable given years of bias against women. That’s the kind of discussion that, regardless of the outcome, moves society forward. Responding with names, hatred, and doxxing does not answer Spector’s claim, even if it was inflammatory.

Further, the “normalization” (I don’t like that word) of “hate speech” as “violence” is itself a recipe for real, physical violence. If you consider the sentiments of white supremacists—or the tamer words of Spector—as “violence”, you might be tempted to answer them with real violence, causing a brawl that hurts bodies and property. That, in fact, is exactly what happened at UC Berkeley when Milo Yiannopoulos spoke: Antifa and their minions went wild, doing thousands of dollars of damage to Berkeley storefronts. Yiannopoulos wasn’t silenced, except for the moment (he’s been in disgrace for other things he said).

If a criticism of biased sex ratios, and the implication of “reverse discrimination,” constitutes violence, then almost anything can be seen that way, launching not just the outpouring of hatred that Spector received (note that I don’t call that “violence”), and maybe even pitched battles—the kind of battle that Evergreen State students were seeking when they roamed the campus with baseball bats after the Bret Weinstein affair.

As FIRE concludes, “Free speech, properly understood, is not violence. It is a cure for violence.”

h/t; Grania

Categories: Science

Mystery honeycombs in rock may be created by water and salt

New Scientist Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 7:00am
Many rocks are covered with circular hollows that look like honeycomb, and now we may finally understand how these strange formations come into existence
Categories: Science

Everyone should know by now that Twitter is a bad company

Pharyngula Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 6:38am

From an inside look at Twitter’s problems with management, technology, and trolls:

At the same time, her defenders say, Harvey has been forced to clean up a mess that Twitter should have fixed years ago. Twitter’s backend was initially built on Ruby on Rails, a rudimentary web-application framework that made it nearly impossible to find a technical solution to the harassment problem. If Twitter’s co-founders had known what it would become, a third former executive told me, “you never would have built it on a Fisher-Price infrastructure.” Instead of building a product that could scale alongside the platform, former employees say, Twitter papered over its problems by hiring more moderators. “Because this is just an ass-backward tech company, let’s throw non-scalable, low-tech solutions on top of this low-tech, non-scalable problem.”

Calls to rethink that approach were ignored by senior executives, according to people familiar with the situation. “There was no real sense of urgency,” the former executive explained, pointing the finger at Harvey’s superiors, including current C.E.O. Jack Dorsey. “It’s a technology company with crappy technologists, a revolving door of product heads and C.E.O.s, and no real core of technological innovation. You had Del saying, ‘Trolls are going to be a problem. We will need a technological solution for this.’” But Twitter never developed a product sophisticated enough to automatically deal with with bots, spam, or abuse. “You had this unsophisticated human army with no real scalable platform to plug into. You fast forward, and it was like, ‘Hey, shouldn’t we just have basic rules in place where if the suggestion is to suspend an account of a verified person, there should be a process in place to have a flag for additional review, or something?’ You’d think it would take, like, one line of code to fix that problem. And the classic response is, ‘That’s on our product road map two quarters from now.’”

None of this means that Twitter is going to vanish soon — after all, COBOL is still around, and software legacies just hang around, decaying slowly, like an assortment of pseudogenes. But still, maybe you should consider jumping ship, since the one way to kill it is to erode its user base. Mastodon is out there, waiting for you with open arms.

Categories: Science

Fake news ‘vaccine’: online game may ‘inoculate’ by simulating propaganda tactics

Computers and Math from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 6:35am
A new online game puts players in the shoes of an aspiring propagandist to give the public a taste of the techniques and motivations behind the spread of disinformation -- potentially 'inoculating' them against the influence of so-called fake news in the process.
Categories: Science

Technology firms must develop new ways to jam Russia’s fake news

New Scientist Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 6:03am
The FBI has revealed the lengths Russia's fake news operators will go to – now the likes of Facebook and Twitter must come up with a fix, says Paul Marks
Categories: Science


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