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Coffee!! Urban legends still alive and well in social psychology

And birds still fly forwards too, no less. From Jesse Singal at New York Magazine: a paper published last month in Current Psychology by Christopher Ferguson of Stetson University and Jeffrey Brown and Amanda Torres of Texas A&M, the authors evaluated a bunch of psychology textbooks to see how rigorously they covered a bunch of controversial or frequently misrepresented subjects. The results weren’t great. In spring of 2012, Ferguson and his colleagues solicited and received 24 popular introductory textbooks, and then got to work evaluating them. Specifically, they evaluated those textbooks’ coverage of seven “controversial ideas in psychology” — ideas where there’s genuine mainstream disagreement among researchers — and also checked for the presence of five well-known scientific urban legends Read More ›

Cosmologist: Parallel universes are pushing physics too far?

From Marcelo Gleiser at Nautilus: The modern version of the unifying quest is string theory, which supposes that the fundamental entities in nature are vibrating tubes of energy instead of point-like particles of matter. Different vibrating modes correspond to the different particles we observe, just as different vibrating frequencies of a violin string correspond to different sounds. When I joined theoretical physics in the mid-1980s, the grand task was to find the unique solution to string theory: our universe with all its particles and forces. We believed success was just around the corner, that nature was indeed a mathematical code in a 10-dimensional spacetime, nine for space, one for time. … Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Fast-forward three decades, Read More ›

With only 302 neurons, worms can learn?

From Salk Institute: “Our research shows that, despite having exactly the same genes and neurons as adults, adolescent roundworms have completely different food-seeking preferences and abilities,” says Sreekanth Chalasani, associate professor in Salk’s Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory and senior author of the paper published in eNeuro in January 2017. “It is in adulthood that we finally see the worms become more efficient and competent at finding food.” The microscopic Caenorhabditis elegans worm may seem like an odd source of insight into human brain development. With only 302 neurons to humans’ almost 100 billion, C. elegans is a vastly simpler organism but its basic neurological circuitry has many similarities to ours. And, since scientists have already mapped the adult roundworms’ neurons anatomically Read More ›

Desperately Seeking ET. Yes, But Why so Desperate?

For years we have been deluged with science news stories about how this or that datum might finally be the breakthrough demonstrating that earth is not unique in the universe for harboring life.  Why are some scientists so obsessed with ET?  I was thinking about this the other day and it occurred to me that this phenomenon is essentially religious in nature. Suppose you are a scientist with a strong faith commitment in atheistic materialism.  Maintaining any faith commitment can sometimes be hard even for true believers.  This is especially the case for materialists, who must grit their teeth and hang on to their faith in the face of overwhelming evidence that materialism is false.  Consider their origin of life Read More ›

Nightshades evolved much earlier than thought

From ScienceDaily: Delicate fossil remains of tomatillos found in Patagonia, Argentina, show that this branch of the economically important family that also includes potatoes, peppers, tobacco, petunias and tomatoes existed 52 million years ago, long before the dates previously ascribed to these species, according to an international team of scientists. … “Paleobotanical discoveries in Patagonia are probably destined to revolutionize some traditional views on the origin and evolution of the plant kingdom,” said N. Rubén Cúneo, CONICET, Museo Palentológico Egidio Feruglio. Paper. (paywall) – Peter Wilf, Mónica R. Carvalho, María A. Gandolfo, N. Rubén Cúneo. Eocene lantern fruits from Gondwanan Patagonia and the early origins of Solanaceae. Science, 2017; 355 (6320): 71 DOI: 10.1126/science.aag2737 More. See also: Stasis: Life goes Read More ›

Could a low mass supernova have triggered our solar system?

From U Minnesota: About 4.6 billion years ago, a cloud of gas and dust that eventually formed our solar system was disturbed. The ensuing gravitational collapse formed the proto-Sun with a surrounding disc where the planets were born. A supernova—a star exploding at the end of its life-cycle—would have enough energy to compress such a gas cloud. Yet there was no conclusive evidence to support this theory. In addition, the nature of the triggering supernova remained elusive. Qian and his collaborators decided to focus on short-lived nuclei present in the early solar system. Due to their short lifetimes, these nuclei could only have come from the triggering supernova. Their abundances in the early solar system have been inferred from their Read More ›

Things better explained by design: Cellular pathway swapping

From PNAS: Recent developments in synthetic biology enable one-step implementation of entire metabolic pathways in industrial microorganisms. A similarly radical remodelling of central metabolism could greatly accelerate fundamental and applied research, but is impeded by the mosaic organization of microbial genomes. To eliminate this limitation, we propose and explore the concept of “pathway swapping,” using yeast glycolysis as the experimental model. Construction of a “single-locus glycolysis” Saccharomyces cerevisiae platform enabled quick and easy replacement of this yeast’s entire complement of 26 glycolytic isoenzymes by any alternative, functional glycolytic pathway configuration. The potential of this approach was demonstrated by the construction and characterization of S. cerevisiae strains whose growth depended on two nonnative glycolytic pathways: a complete glycolysis from the related Read More ›

Things that are easier to explain by design: Cellular reprogramming

From Science: Abstract: Differentiated cells in a culture dish can assume a new identity when manipulated to express four transcription factors. This “reprogramming” process has sparked interest because conceivably it could be harnessed as a therapeutic strategy for tissue regeneration. Mosteiro et al. used a mouse model to study the signals that promote cell reprogramming in vivo. They found that the factors that trigger reprogramming in vitro do the same in vivo; however, they also inflict cell damage. The damaged cells enter a state of senescence and begin secreting certain factors that promote reprogramming, including an inflammatory cytokine called interleukin-6. Thus, in the physiological setting, cell senescence may create a tissue context that favors reprogramming of neighboring cells. (paywall) – Read More ›

Theoretical physicist: Multiverse is about how we define science

From Tasneem Zehra Husain at Nautilus: It’s not the immensity or even the inscrutability, but that it reduces physical law to happenstance. Not just a feature, a benefit. I am not alone in my ambivalence. The multiverse has been hotly debated and continues to be a source of polarization among some of the most prominent scientists of the day. The debate over the multiverse is not a conversation about the particulars of a theory. It is a fight about identity and consequence, about what constitutes an explanation, what proof consists of, how we define science, and whether there is a point to it all. … The multiverse is less like a closed door and more like a key. To me, Read More ›

Steven Weinberg on what’s wrong with quantum mechanics

From Nobelist and multiverse proponent* Steven Weinberg at New York Review of Books: Many physicists came to think that the reaction of Einstein and Feynman and others to the unfamiliar aspects of quantum mechanics had been overblown. This used to be my view. His view has changed to: The introduction of probability into the principles of physics was disturbing to past physicists, but the trouble with quantum mechanics is not that it involves probabilities. We can live with that. The trouble is that in quantum mechanics the way that wave functions change with time is governed by an equation, the Schrödinger equation, that does not involve probabilities. It is just as deterministic as Newton’s equations of motion and gravitation. That Read More ›

Stories that mattered in 2016: 3: Epigenetics becomes, increasingly, a normal study area in science

Epigenetics (changes in the course of life that alter the state in which genes are inherited) seems to offer explicitly science-based explanations for observations, rather than the decades-long usual: We can fit even this into Darwinism! For example,  “Evolutionary psychology: The grandmother thesis, yet again” And also, of course, this: “‘Grandmother’ thesis in human evolution takes a hit.” (Shrug.) That’s what’s killing Darwinism. For everything to fit in, the theory must be everything and thus nothing. For example, Evolutionary psychology does not, for the most part, explain puzzling human behavior. It offers Darwinian explanations for conventional behavior that are intended to supplant traditional ones. For example, why we are sexually jealous (not fear of abandonment, but “sperm competition”); why we don’t stick to our goals Read More ›

Epigenetics: Fertilized egg deletes sperm’s epigenetic memory

From ScienceDaily: Reporting research in the scientific journal Cell, Vienna-based scientists from the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology (IMBA) have discovered that not only do fertilized egg cells trigger epigenetic reprogramming of sperm DNA but this process is closely monitored to safeguard genomic integrity. “When the sperm enters the egg cell, the densely compacted male chromatin has to be entirely ‘unpacked’ and restructured around protein scaffolds called histones,” explained Sabrina Ladstätter, first author of the study. “Using fertilized mouse eggs, we showed that the egg cell actively triggers demethylation of the paternal DNA — in other words, it initiates epigenetic reprogramming by stripping any previous epigenetic memory passed on from the father. This allows the zygote to start afresh and create Read More ›

Of s-t-r-i-ng-s, nanobots, informational-statistical thermodynamics and evolution

In the when it comes thread, an exchange has developed with GD, and I think it helpful to headline an argument at comment 49: __________ >>I [KF] found an elementary introduction to statistical entropy very helpful, from the Russian authors Yavorsky and Pinski, in their Physics, vol I [1974]: as we consider a simple model of diffusion, let us think of ten white and ten black balls in two rows in a container. [Inserted image, red used for convenience, rather than white:] There is of course but one way in which there are ten whites in the top row; the balls of any one colour being for our purposes identical. But on shuffling, there are 63,504 ways to arrange five Read More ›

Atheist Biology Professor Asks if There is a Role for Intelligence in Evolution

His answer is “Yes!”* _________ *so long as by “intelligence” you mean something other than “intelligence,” and by “evolution” you mean something other than “evolution.” In this article, atheist Kevin N. Laland, Professor of Behavioral and Evolutionary Biology at the University of St Andrews, argues that human culture affects evolution of the human genome.  Here are a couple of his examples: Individuals from populations with high-starch diets have, on average, more copies of the salivary and pancreatic amylase genes (AMY1 and AMY2) that improve the ability to digest starchy foods. . . . There is a strong correlation across cultures between the frequency of lactose tolerance in the population and a history of dairy farming: populations with a long history Read More ›