Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Dawkins walks out on flying horse?

Sigh. We need a map. No, listen: From Twitlonger: I’m accused by @ggreenwald of refusing to be interviewed by Muslim journalists! Here’s what actually happened. I was at a Royal Society meeting to launch the new Stephen Hawking Prize for Science Communication sponsored by @STARMUSfestival, the imaginative conference series that brings scientists together with astronauts and creative musicians. The very nice PR woman arranged press interviews for the speakers. Science communication is dear to my heart, and I agreed to be pulled out of the conference for a series of interviews, on condition that the journalists would ask me about the Hawking Prize & STARMUS, not religion. One journalist, from New Statesman, soon made it clear that he wanted to Read More ›

Fleming’s penicillin find couldn’t be published today?

From Vox: Rajendran notes that Alexander Fleming’s simple observation that penicillin mold seemed to kill off bacteria in his petri dish could never be published today, even though it led to the discovery of lifesaving antibiotics. That’s because today’s journals want lots of data and positive results that fit into an overarching narrative (what Rajendran calls “storytelling”) before they’ll publish a given study. “You would have to solve the structure of penicillin or find the mechanism of action,” he added. But research is complex, and scientific findings may not fit into a neat story — at least not right away. So Rajendran and the staff at Matters hope scientists will be able to share insights in this journal that they Read More ›

ET does not have a “power” area code in the Milky Way?

Not like 212? Better to look in the ‘burbs, the spiral arms. From Science: Observations from NASA’s Kepler space telescope strongly suggest that, “basically every star has a planet, on average, which is pretty mind-boggling,” Forgan says. Because the team’s simulation has many stars in the inner regions of galaxies, many planets form there, and some will be habitable but with a low chance of escaping irradiation from supernovae. The odds of a planetary system containing habitable worlds far enough away from these stellar explosions increases far from the galactic center, peaking in the outer edges of the spiral arms, the team will report in an upcoming issue of the International Journal of Astrobiology. … Forgan and his team also Read More ›

Science journalist fed up with “nutrition science”

Is this getting to be a trend? Critical thinking about a lot of the stuff that tumbles down the pike, claiming to be “science”? First there was Nutrition science is not all its cried up to be, now, Ross Pomeroy at RealClearScience: The problems with nutrition science begin with how most of its research is conducted. The vast majority of nutrition studies are observational in nature — scientists look at people who eat certain foods and examine how their health compares with the health of people who don’t eat those foods or eat them at different frequencies. But as I reported earlier this year, these sorts of studies have a high chance of being wrong. Very wrong. In 2011, statisticians S. Read More ›

Were 32 cave symbols a 30 kya communication system?

From Digventures: Among the elaborate horses, bulls, bears and hunters, there are some other rather less captivating designs – small geometric motifs, etched onto the walls. Until now, they’ve not received much attention. But as it turns out, these humble designs conceal a much more intriguing mystery. Von Petzinger and her photographer-husband visited 52 caves across Europe recording every instance of these symbols that they could see. They found new, undocumented examples at 75% of the caves they visited, and found the symbols far outnumbered the human and animal images. But the amazing thing was that however many caves they visited, they found the same 32 shapes being used again and again and again. The fact that the same 32 Read More ›

Peter Woit on the Paris string theory showdown

Woit is a skeptical Columbia University mathematician. We like him in part because it is a pleasure to read someone who makes the word “skeptical” mean something concrete and useful, as opposed to the war on common sense and evidence-based reason usually marketed under that name. Anyway, further to Has Nature “got” what is at stake in the string theory controversy?, we see where he writes, with respect to Joseph Conlon’s new book Why String Theory?, The book is explicitly motivated by the desire to answer a lot of the criticism of string theory that has become rather widespread in recent years (wasn’t always so…). For a typical example from the last few days, see Why String Theory is Not Read More ›

Brain regions associated with awareness of self

From ABC (Australia): Who, or what, is ‘I’? It’s a question that humans have obsessed over for millennia. Philosophers continue to debate whether or not the ‘self’ exists while scientists attempt to define the seemingly indefinable. Well, isn’t it a bit like “pain”? Suppose we said: Philosophers continue to debate whether or not ‘pain’ exists while scientists attempt to define the seemingly indefinable. There is nothing indefinable about pain as far as the sufferer is concerned. But by definition one cannot objectively account for subjectivity – though one can certainly convey to other subjects what it is like. So, doubtless, with “the self.” That said, “The strange science of self” (Olivia Willis and Lynne Malcolm) recounts the case of Graham, Read More ›

Clinical genetics mistakes don’t matter when lives don’t

From Atlantic: In one study, Stephen Kingsmore at the National Center for Genome Resources in Santa Fe found that a quarter of mutations that have been linked to childhood genetic diseases are debatable. In some cases, the claims were based on papers that contained extremely weak evidence. In other cases, the claims were plain wrong: The mutations turned out to be common, like the one in Rehm’s anecdote, and couldn’t possibly cause rare diseases. Of course, people have gotten their kids aborted in the meantime … on the other hand, does that matter these days ? Daniel MacArthur at Massachusetts General Hospital found a similar trend in a study of over 60,000 people, the results of which have been uploaded Read More ›

New Scientist’s about face on the placebo effect

In 2005, New Scientist listed the placebo effect as Number 1 among 13 things that do not make sense. Now they are trying to figure out how to harness it over there: From New Scientist: How you can harness the placebo effect … “It’s hard to believe that sham surgery can produce a long-lasting effect,” says Luana Colloca, who studies the placebo effect at the University of Maryland in Baltimore. But it can. More. We don’t make this stuff up, you know. If we had that kind of imagination, we’d be getting rich writing screenplays. See also: Royal Society meet on paradigm shift in evolution? Many of the 50 or so scientists associated with The Third Way of Evolution will attend.

Thought you’d heard all there was to know about water as unique?

From Nature: The structural origin of anomalous properties of liquid water Water is unique in its number of unusual, often called anomalous, properties. When hot it is a normal simple liquid; however, close to ambient temperatures properties, such as the compressibility, begin to deviate and do so increasingly on further cooling. Clearly, these emerging properties are connected to its ability to form up to four well-defined hydrogen bonds allowing for different local structural arrangements. A wealth of new data from various experiments and simulations has recently become available. When taken together they point to a heterogeneous picture with fluctuations between two classes of local structural environments developing on temperature-dependent length scales. More. Incidentally, If water would not behave in this Read More ›

Another former student of Leo Kadanoff offers a tribute

From the Inbox: One of my good memories from grad school days comes from a time in 1968 when I loaded up some fellow students and drove to another campus to spend an afternoon with Leo Kadanoff and take in his colloquium talk. I was impressed by the clarity of his talk and by his easy going manner. He spoke of his work on critical phenomena and described how fluid properties near a critical point could be described by a single parameter – a correlation length. At one point he showed a slide with some experimental data which agreed spectacularly well with the theory over several decades of variation of correlation length, but missed by a little nearest the critical Read More ›

Why life isn’t like a Mandelbrot set

We’ve all heard about Mandelbrot sets – fantastically complex structures that can be created from a single equation and a very short program. Why, some people ask, couldn’t life be like that? And wouldn’t it be more mathematically elegant if it was? Physics types are especially prone to feel this way. Many of them might want to echo Louis IX’s famous remark on the Ptolemaic system, that if the Almighty had consulted him, he could have told Him a simpler way to make the cosmos. I would ask these people to take a good look at the two pictures above. What I’m claiming is that life is not like a Mandelbrot set. It’s like an origami bull. The reason is Read More ›

Royal Society to meet on paradigm shift in evolution?

So Suzan Mazur, author of The Paradigm Shifters: Overthrowing “the Hegemony of the Culture of Darwin,” tells us in Huffington Post: Sir Paul Nurse has just completed his five-year term as president of the Royal Society. The Nobel laureate and molecular biologist has been succeeded by Nobel laureate Sir Venkatraman “Venki” Ramakrishnan, who is a structural biologist. But Nurse, who will continue in his role as chief of Francis Crick Institute, has not left the Royal Society without first ensuring that the world’s oldest scientific society remains relevant: a major Royal Society meeting in London has been called for November 7-9, 2016 on evolution paradigm shift with the understated working title, “New Trends in Evolutionary Biology: Philosophical and Social Science Read More ›

Kadanoff: Information a primary topic 21st C science

A tribute to his dissertation advisor Leo Kadanoff (1937–2015) from Bill Dembski: I came to know of Leo on a lark, or by providence, depending on one’s view… With dissertations in math, two happy things can happen: (1) an advisor proposes a problem and the student solves it, writes it up, and gets his degree; (2) the student comes up with a problem, solves it, and the advisor deems it worthy of a dissertation. Other things can happen, but they are less happy, such as the inability of solve a problem (whether given by advisor or self-inspired), or solving the problem and then finding out it’s been solved already. From my vantage, it is a credit to Leo and the Read More ›

Eureka! Christmas spirit located in brain…

From Neuroscience News: Understanding how the Christmas spirit works could be a powerful tool in treating the ‘bah humbug’ syndrome. Oh no! Stop them before it’s too late! The world needs more of the Bah! Humbug! Sydrome. The study involved 10 participants who celebrated Christmas, and 10 healthy participants who lived in the same area, but who had no Christmas traditions. All participants were healthy, and did not consume eggnog or gingerbread before the scans. Each participant was scanned while they viewed 84 images with video goggles. … Differences in the brain activation maps from the scans of the two groups were analysed to identify Christmas specific brain activation. Results showed five areas where the Christmas group responded to Christmas Read More ›