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Toughen up, Republicans!

Pharyngula Feed - Tue, 12/12/2017 - 8:54am

A Republican insider giving advice to Democrats…are you going to trust him? Bruce Bartlett thinks Democrats need to toughen up, because we shouldn’t have asked for Franken’s resignation.

I’m torn about it, too — he was a good senator. But he was also flawed, and I’m glad that the issue of sexual harassment has become an important topic within the party I best identify with (but don’t wholly agree with, by a long shot).

However, can we just tell Republicans giving such advice to simply fuck off? Until they have enough fiber to repudiate the scumbags, who are far, far worse than Franken, I don’t think any of them have the privilege to give anyone advice. When you’re strong enough to strip your support from Roy Moore, and when you’ve got the moral integrity to reject King Asshole who’s occupying the presidency, then maybe your advice will be worth listening to.

Categories: Science

Are you happy? Or delusional?

Pharyngula Feed - Tue, 12/12/2017 - 8:41am

A poll has determined where to find the good life, state by state. Do you live in a madly grinning state, or a kind of glum state?

How nice, I thought, I live in Minnesota, where we’re very pleased with ourselves. But then I noticed that Texas is also pretty smug, and how could anyone bear to live there?

These results are from a self-assessment poll, which means it probably utterly meaningless. It’s kind of telling that there is a great band running up the center of the country, the Miserable Middle, but I don’t know what it’s telling me. Midwesterners are realistic? They’re mostly self-effacing and modest? Life really sucks in Ohio? Or maybe some of the Trump states are feeling kind of embarrassed?

Categories: Science

Faster, more accurate cancer detection using nanoparticles

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 12/12/2017 - 8:29am
Using light-emitting nanoparticles, scientists have invented a highly effective method to detect tiny tumors and track their spread, potentially leading to earlier cancer detection and more precise treatment. The technology could improve patient cure rates and survival times.
Categories: Science

Ticks had a taste for dinosaur blood

Science News Feed - Tue, 12/12/2017 - 8:00am
A tick found trapped in amber is evidence the bloodsuckers preyed on feathered dinosaurs, a new study says.
Categories: Science

New instrument identifies unexploded artillery shells

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 12/12/2017 - 7:57am
Society faces threats through the malicious use of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and/or explosive (CBRNE) materials. The detection of illicit trafficking or other criminal acts, as well as many security and safety applications, call for novel material analysis techniques and instruments. These detection systems should be non-destructive but still be able to detect and identify the threat objects, even from inside a shielding or masking enclosure. Active interrogation methods that use penetrative particle beams can reveal the presence of CBRNE materials.
Categories: Science

Pokémon Go could help people who struggle socially

Computers and Math from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 12/12/2017 - 7:22am
Video games may have a reputation for attracting introverts, but when it comes to augmented reality games like Pokémon Go, extroverts tend to be better players. That's the key finding of a new psychology study, the first to look at the impact of players' personalities, social competence and social anxiety when playing the hit mobile game.
Categories: Science

Action games expand the brain's cognitive abilities, study suggests

Computers and Math from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 12/12/2017 - 7:21am
The human brain learns and adapts. Numerous research studies have focused on the impact of action video games on the brain by measuring cognitive abilities, such as perception and reaction time. An international team of psychologists has assembled data from the last fifteen years to quantify how action video games impact cognition. The research has resulted in two meta-analyses, which reveal a significant improvement in the cognitive abilities of gamers.
Categories: Science

Computer scientists develop a simple tool to tell if websites suffered a data breach

Computers and Math from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 12/12/2017 - 7:20am
Computer scientists have built and successfully tested a tool designed to detect when websites are hacked by monitoring the activity of email accounts associated with them. The researchers were surprised to find that almost 1 percent of the websites they tested had suffered a data breach during their 18-month study period, regardless of how big the companies' reach and audience are.
Categories: Science

Water without windows: Capturing water vapor inside an electron microscope

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 12/12/2017 - 7:20am
Scientists were able to demonstrate another way of viewing biological samples at high resolution, explains a new report.
Categories: Science

The Good Country Index

Why Evolution is True Feed - Tue, 12/12/2017 - 7:00am

HuffPo (occasionally they do have decent stuff) describes a recently compiled “Good Country Index,” which uses data from the UN, WHO, and the World Bank to rank countries on a number of axes: science and technology, culture, world order, international peace and security, planet and climate, prosperity and equality, and health and wellbeing (there are subrankings as well—35 in total). As HuffPo reports:

The index is the work of Simon Anholt, a policy adviser who has worked with governments across the world for the last 25 years. He told HuffPost his aim was to move away from traditional performance measurements such as GDP and army size, and to stop looking at countries in isolation from one another.

“In the age of advanced globalization … we’re all part of a massively interconnected system,” he said. “And what goes on in one country invariably has an impact on people in other countries. It’s a closed system, it’s a zero-sum game. … I just thought: Who’s measuring that? Who’s measuring the interconnections?”

Below are the overall rankings of 163 countries, “designed to rate countries on the effect they have on humanity and on the planet,” with the most “positive” countries at the top. The U.S. slipped from 20th to 25th place over the last year, but the data come from the period of the Obama and not the Trump presidency.

I’m presenting screenshots of the results (you can see a neater figure and some sub-rankings here), hoping that a diligent reader might correlate these standings with religiosity—a statistic available for most countries. For if you look at the top countries like Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, and Finland, they are decidedly less religious than the lowest countries like Yemen, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. The relationship won’t be perfect, of course (fairly religious Ireland is #7), but I suspect there will be a negative correlation: the least religious countries will rank highest in their ability to create “positive effects” and vice versa.

A correlation isn’t a causation, of course, but it may mean something, and I’m thinking of the thesis that the well being of a country is negatively related to the religiosity of its inhabitants. That theory isn’t mine, but has been suggested by many sociologists. The underlying premise is a Marxist one: that people turn to religion when their circumstances are bad and they can’t get much succor from their government. In countries that take care of their citizens, like the ones at the top of the list, people don’t need a god to importune for help.

At any rate, a negative correlation among nations between position on the Good Country Index and religiosity would at least help dispel the old canard that religion in general tends to make countries healthy, moral, and viable.

Categories: Science

Telescopes team up to study giant galaxy

Space and time from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 12/12/2017 - 6:10am
Astronomers have used two Australian radio telescopes and several optical telescopes to study complex mechanisms that are fuelling jets of material blasting away from a black hole 55 million times more massive than the Sun.
Categories: Science

Hot vibrating gases under the electron spotlight

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 12/12/2017 - 6:05am
Scientists have studied the vibration of four gases using electron microscopy and spectroscopy. Combined with simulations, they measured the increased vibration at 1,000°C compared with room temperature. O2 and CH4 showed significant excitation, although the vibration of hot O2 was overestimated by the simulations. N2 and CO showed no increase in vibration, because of rigid bonds. The method can be used to design efficient gaseous reactions.
Categories: Science

Scientists discover path to improving game-changing battery electrode

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 12/12/2017 - 6:05am
A comprehensive picture has now been gained of how the same chemical processes that give cathodes their high capacity are also linked to changes in atomic structure that sap performance.
Categories: Science

Readers’ wildlife photographs

Why Evolution is True Feed - Tue, 12/12/2017 - 5:45am

The readers came through with more photos for me, so please hold off with further photo contributions until after New Year when I return. Today’s arthropod photo odyssey comes from reader Mark Sturtevant, whose words are indented.

The first two pictures are of one of the large jumping spiders that I can generally pick up from my shed. This is the tan jumperPlatycryptus undatus. The name refers to the flattened shape which allows it to hide under things. These spiders are fairly mellow for a Salticid, and so are pretty easy to catch and work with.


The next two pictures are of another common jumping spider with a decidedly different personality. This is of course the bold jumping spider (Phidippus audax), a species that is pretty familiar to anyone in the U.S. This handsome male was living in a watering can on our front porch, and it would always dash into the spout when I would try to retrieve it for pictures. As is typical of its kind, it was not in the least interested in sitting still, but the ‘ol give-them-a-fly trick works every time.

Temporarily moving on to a different spider family, we see in the next picture a rather warty looking crab spider. This looks to be in the genus Xysticus, according to overall appearance, proportions of the legs, and various features of the carapace and front legs that are shown and described in the amazing web site known as BugGuide.

More jumping spiders are in the next two pictures. This lovely but very small species is Tutelina elegans. I had seen a couple of these in the early summer in my #2 favorite park. This is a female, and I’m on the lookout for a male which is shown in the link.


The next two pictures are of luna moth caterpillars (Actias luna). The story behind this is that we have a local ‘nature’ store that sometimes has batches of caterpillars of various kinds for the kiddies (and for me, of course). It’s from here that I got my start raising Saturniids. Last summer they had a large batch of young luna moth caterpillars, and so I bought some. This species is very easy to raise, but these were being fed on hickory leaves which is not a tree that I have used before. So I scouted around and found a nice neighbor with a hickory tree and she let me drop by regularly to gather fresh leaves for my brood. In these pictures I was trying to record the fact that these juicy little (well, not so little) gummy worms are fairly translucent. When slightly backlit with the sun one can see their slowly pulsing gut. I don’t think I succeeded showing that here, but the colors are still pretty striking.

The larvae made their cocoons at about mid-summer, but unfortunately they all eclosed to adults while I was dragged away on a vacation. They were then in the care of a friend, but when I returned, the moths, which do not feed, had all eclosed and were either too old or too dead to photograph. I will have to try again some other time, as I’ve never photographed the adults of this species. 

Finally, I add a weird Hemipteran which is a long-necked seed bug (Myodocha annulicornis). These insects are common pests on strawberries.


Categories: Science

Space Policy Directive 1 – Return to the Moon

neurologicablog Feed - Tue, 12/12/2017 - 5:00am

Yesterday President Trump signed Space Policy Directive 1 (SPD1), an executive order that will shape NASAs priorities going forward. Essentially the directive states that NASA’s primary mission is human space exploration, with a specific goal of returning to the moon.

The Directive is the result of recommendations made by the National Space Council (NSC) – a council of experts that advises the executive branch on all matters dealing with space. According to NASA, in June of this year:

President Trump has signed an executive order reestablishing the National Space Council. The council existed previously from 1989-1993, and a version of it also existed as the National Aeronautics and Space Council from 1958-1973. As such, the council has guided NASA from our earliest days and can help us achieve the many ambitious milestones we are striving for today.

The NSC recommended to the White House that NASA’s priority should be the Moon, and SPD1 is the result of that recommendation.

I think the core vision for SPD1 is solid, and something I have supported for years. Specifically, our human exploration priority should be establishing an Earth-to-Moon infrastructure, including a permanent presence on the moon. We should only set our sights on Mars after we have a stable moon base. There are several reasons for this.

First, colonizing the moon is much easier than Mars. The moon is three days away from Earth, while Mars is 9 or more months. We don’t even have the technology at this point to protect martian astronauts from the radiation they would be exposed to on the trip. Going to Mars is a logistical and technological problem perhaps an order of magnitude more difficult than going to the Moon.

Being close to Earth also means that resupply and rescue missions would be much more feasible. If something goes awry on Mars, good luck to you. Don’t expect help anytime soon. For a moon base, however, we could theoretically have a rocket on standby, something that could launch within a week, and be on the moon in another three days.

All of the main issues we would confront on a Mars colony would also exist on a moon colony, and so once we developed the knowledge and technology to have a self-sustaining base on the moon, we could use that knowledge to then build bases and colonies on Mars. A moon base would need proper shielding, an energy source, and sources of food, water, and oxygen.

We are currently eyeing possible lava tubes as locations for permanent bases on the moon.  These are caves carved out by ancient lava. They could be geologically stable locations under ground, which would provide natural shielding from radiation and micrometeors. The same is true on Mars.

So walk before you run. It is likely hubris and folly to set our sights on Mars when the moon is much closer and more feasible.

But further – the moon could be a stepping stone to Mars. A trip to Mars could have two stages. The first is getting to a way station on the moon. This will get you largely out of the gravity well of Earth. You can also optimize ships and other infrastructure for getting from the Earth to the moon, and then have a separate infrastructure for getting from the moon to Mars or elsewhere.

SPD1 mentions a Deep Space Gateway – this is a station that would be in lunar orbit. The Gateway would be the transfer point to Mars and other distant destination in the solar system. NASA describes how this might work:

“This spacecraft would be a reusable vehicle that uses electric and chemical propulsion and would be specifically designed for crewed missions to destinations such as Mars,” agency officials said. “The transport would take crew out to their destination [and] return them back to the gateway, where it can be serviced and sent out again.”

One advantage to this kind of system is that you don’t have to lift all the fuel it takes to get to Mars with you out of Earth’s gravity. You just need the fuel to get to the Moon, and then take a separate ship to Mars. This all comes from the rocket equation – you need enough fuel to carry the fuel to carry the fuel, etc. So making one big trip with all the fuel is inherently inefficient. Any way we can break it up into stages, or refuel along the way, is highly useful.

Ideally we would produce the fuel on the moon, which is entirely possible. NASA is already working on ways to extract oxygen, water, and volatiles from the lunar regolith.

The new directive also has a loser, however. It ends NASA’s goal of sending a mission to an asteroid – the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). This is unfortunate. Asteroids are also a potentially very useful resource. Developing the technology to mine asteroids could have a massive economic impact on our planet. Asteroids could be a source of fuel, water, oxygen, and enough metals to dwarf existing supplies of gold, platinum, and other precious metals.

While I know we can’t do everything, and we need to have priorities, I do lament the missions we must forgo. Of course, I would much rather see just a net increase in our investments in space. I think these are likely to be worthwhile investments which will pay for themselves many times over in the long run.

But there is another aspect to SPD1 that is encouraging – in addition to establishing NASA’s goals, the directive discusses optimizing how NASA will collaborate with the growing private space industry. I am perhaps even more encouraged by the development of private space companies in the last decade than by any NASA directive. Once we cross the line where going to space can be profitable, then space exploration will really take off.

There is, for example, a company called Planetary Resources, Inc. Their goal is to mine the solar system. If they manage to get their hands on one asteroid with platinum group metals, they will potentially net trillions of dollars. That is a big risk, but also a huge potential payoff. We may see a future with space mining corporations more wealthy and powerful than most nations.

I did not see any mention in the coverage of SPD1 of robotic exploration. I presume that NASA will continue this core mission as well. Robots are still the most efficient way to explore space. While I support human exploration and colonization, I recognize that humans are fragile. We are not built for space. Keeping people alive and healthy in space is a major part of the expense of human space travel. I still think it is a worthy endeavor for our species.

But we should ride on the backs of our robotic servants. Robots don’t need food, water, oxygen, or atmospheric pressure, and are much more tolerant of a wide range of temperature and exposure to radiation. If we just want to send a pair of eyes to a location to explore, robots are the way to go. Robots can even pave the way for our travel to new locations, like Mars. Let them do all the hard and dangerous work, and create an infrastructure for us to inhabit.

Overall I think the SPD1 is a good thing. I like that it shifts the focus away from Mars and towards the moon. That puts things in its proper order. I would much rather have a successful moon mission, that establishes a long term lunar presence, then a one-off or failed Mars mission.

Categories: Skeptic

Weaponised microwave may be behind alleged sonic attacks in Cuba

New Scientist Feed - Tue, 12/12/2017 - 4:31am
Headaches, nausea and hearing loss felt by US diplomats in Cuba might be the result of a beam of pulsed microwaves in which the microwaves are heard as sound
Categories: Science

Tuesday: Hili dialogue

Why Evolution is True Feed - Tue, 12/12/2017 - 4:30am

Good morning on a very cold Tuesday, December 12, 2017: the temperature in Chicago right now is 18° F  (-8° C). It’s National Cocoa Day, and I think I may make myself a warming mug of hot chocolate. It’s also Kanji Day in Japan, in which a Japanese character (a written one, not a person) will be chosen to symbolize the day.

I’m quite busy finishing up preparations and talks for India, so this may be today’s only post. Like Maru, I do my best.

On December 12, 1787, Pennsylvania became the second state to ratify the United States Constitution (you may remember that Delaware, the first, ratified it five days before). On this day in 1901, in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Guglielmo Marconi received the first transatlantic radio signal—the letter “S” in Morse Code.  Exactly a decade later, Delhi replaced Calcutta as the capital of India. On this day in 1941, Hitler “declared the imminent extinction of the Jews” at the Reich Chancellery. As usual, there were no official records of this, but Joseph Goebbels recorded Hitler’s declaration in his diary:

Bezüglich der Judenfrage ist der Führer entschlossen, reinen Tisch zu machen. Er hat den Juden prophezeit, daß, wenn sie noch einmal einen Weltkrieg herbeiführen würden, sie dabei ihre Vernichtung erleben würden. Das ist keine Phrase gewesen. Der Weltkrieg ist da, die Vernichtung des Judentums muß die notwendige Folge sein.

Regarding the Jewish Question, the Führer has decided to make a clean sweep. He prophesied to the Jews that, if they yet again brought about a world war, they would experience their own annihilation. That was not just a phrase. The world war is here, and the annihilation of the Jews must be the necessary consequence.

On December 12, 1963, Kenya gained independence from the UK, and in 1991 the Russian Federation became independent from the USSR. Finally, on a day that will live in infamy—December 12, 2000—the U.S—Supreme court released its decision in the case of Bush v. Gore. Voting along ideological lines, the court allowed Katherine Harris’s Florida vote certification to stand, making Bush the President.

Notables born on this day include Gustave Flaubert (1821), Edvard Munch (1863), Edward G. Robinson (1893), Frank Sinatra (1915), Buford Pusser (1915), Connie Francis (1938), Dionne Warwick (1940), Dickey Betts (1943), Jennifer Connelly (1970), and Mayim Bialik (1975).

In honor of Dionne Warwick’s birthday, here she is with Whitney Houston, singing the hit “That’s what friends are for,” written by Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager. Note that Bacharach is at the piano:

And in honor of Munch, here’s his drawing “Die Katze” (The Cat):

Those who died on this day include Robert Browning (1889), Tallulah Bankhead (1968), Mo Udall (1998), Joseph Heller (1999), and Ike Turner (2007).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is, as usual, kvetching about the paucity of noms:

Hili: Providence didn’t provide. A: Oh, I’m sorry.  In Polish: Hili: Opatrzność nie zaopatrzyła.
Ja: O przepraszam.

Speaking of cats and providence, here’s a cartoon about cat religion from Rubes, by Leigh Rubin, sent by reader Diane G.:

Most of the tweets below were found by the ever reliable Matthew Cobb. Be sure to watch the video.

Bank loan officer: why are you borrowing money, and what is your product name?

Entrepreneur: I want to make cows happy, and the name of my product is 'happy cow'

Categories: Science

Giant pelicans in danger after spate of wildfires in key wetland

New Scientist Feed - Tue, 12/12/2017 - 4:13am
The Hutovo Blato wetland in Bosnia and Herzegovina suffered its latest severe fire in October, and if the blazes continue the resident Dalmatian pelicans will struggle to survive
Categories: Science

Mini brains may wrinkle and fold just like ours

Science News Feed - Tue, 12/12/2017 - 4:00am
Brain organoids show how ridges and wrinkles may form.
Categories: Science

Not all of a cell’s protein-making machines do the same job

Science News Feed - Tue, 12/12/2017 - 4:00am
Ribosomes may switch up their components to specialize in building proteins.
Categories: Science


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