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The Scientist: Life on land half a billion years older than thought is a top 2018 story

From a piece that didn’t number the stories, this one was second: In July, scientists announced that they had uncovered the earliest evidence of terrestrial life on Earth. “This work represents the oldest and least ambiguous work that we have so far that life existed on land already 3.2 billion years ago,” Kurt Konhauser, a professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at the University of Alberta in Canada who was not involved in the work, wrote in an email to The Scientist. Kerry Grens, “he Biggest Science News of 2018” at The Scientist The find, ancient microbes in South Africa, backdates terrestrial life by half a billion years, raising the obvious issues about the long, slow process that is supposed Read More ›

If the social justice warriors got rid of Darwinian racism, they might do some good after all

In recent months, the heirs of Darwin have come up against the social justice warriors and turned into enraged spaghetti. They are not set up to sustain a long siege. They have always expected to win just by declaring Darwin's Truth, ridiculing all contrary data, and getting opponents fired. And they have always been allowed to do that. Will that change? Read More ›

Eric Holloway: How can we measure meaningful information?

Neither randomness nor order alone create meaning. So how can we identify communications in a scientifically meaningful way? Dropping a handful of toothpicks on the table seems to produce a different sort of pattern than spelling out a word with toothpicks. Surprisingly, this intuitive distinction is harder to make in math and the sciences. Algorithmic specified complexity (ASC) enables us to distinguish them. Neither Shannon information nor Kolmogorov complexity work well for this purpose. This leads us to a third concept, algorithmic specified complexity (ASC). ASC solves the problem by combining the two measures. ASC states that an event has a high amount of information if it has both low probability and a concise description. This matches our intuition much Read More ›

Researchers: Rare form of natural selection acts to “block the formation” of unfit hybrids

It’s no wonder that biologists have debated whether this “reinforcement”form of natural selection even exists. If it does, it is acting as a purposeful agent. Now, if these researchers have found an instance of that, what does it mean? Read More ›

2018 AI Hype Countdown 5: Robert J. Marks on the claim, AI Can Fight Hate Speech!

AI help, not hype, with Robert J. Marks: AI can carry out its programmers’ biases and that’s all: Some people may be under the illusion that AI detection of hate speech will be disinterested and fair. After all, the assessment is being done by a computer, which has no ideology or political leanings. An added strength is that the program is being written by “scientists” who are never corrupted by political bias. 🙂 In reality, every computer program contains bias. Without bias, computers cannot do anything smart. This is a major theme of the book I co-authored titled Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics. The question is, what is the bias? … More. See also: 2018 AI Hype Countdown 6: AI Can Read More ›

Front Runner for Most Inane Statement of 2018

“I believe that the whole idea of conscious thought is an error. ” So says Peter Carruthers, Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy at the University of Maryland, College Park in this article in Scientific American. Proving once again, that some ideas are so gobsmackingly stupid, it takes a lot of education to believe them. He might as well have said, “I have a conscious thought that there is no conscious thought.” There is really no need to argue against self-refuting piffle like this. There is only one thing to say:

2018 AI Hype Countdown 6: Robert J. Marks on the claim, AI Can Even Find Loopholes in the Code!

AI adopts a solution in an allowed set, maybe not the one you expected:. In the same paper in which researchers purported to find examples of AI creativity, we also read the following statement about problems with performance: “Exacerbating the issue, it is often functionally simpler for evolution to exploit loopholes in the quantitative measure than it is to achieve the actual desired outcome.” One example they offered of this type of gaming the system was a walking digital robot that moved more quickly by somersaulting than by using a normal walking gait. That was a very interesting result. But again—recognized or not — somersaults were allowed in the solution set offered by the programmer. … I was once working Read More ›

Did interstellar object Oumuamua normalize space aliens as science in 2018?

At least media feel freer to treat the topic that way: The turning point came in November, when Avi Loeb, the head of the astronomy department at Harvard University, co-wrote a paper saying that Oumuamua is so unusual that scientists should consider the possibility that it’s not a far-out comet or asteroid, as his colleagues assumed, but rather an artificial structure. In other words, maybe it’s an interstellar craft built by extraterrestrials. … Jason Wright, a Penn State astronomer who recently launched a graduate program in SETI (the search for extraterrestrial intelligence), shares Loeb’s desire for open discussion — and offers an upbeat assessment of the field’s growing respectability. “There’s a real culture change. SETI is becoming a serious scientific discipline,” Read More ›

Fossilized bird lung tissue controversial; Big if true

Here’s an interesting premise for science finds of 2018: Big, If True. Among them, Bird breathAre white speckles in the chest cavity of a 120-million-year-old bird fossil traces of a respiratory system similar to that of modern birds (SN: 11/10/18, p. 12)? If so, the fossil, found in China, could be the first to preserve lungs of a bird. Some paleontologists aren’t convinced, partly because it’s so rare for delicate lung tissue to survive fossilization. Cassie Martin, “These 2018 findings could be big news — if they turn out to be true” at ScienceNews Note: What makes the Big, If True premise interesting is that researchers were not looking to find this; it happened on them and it raises questions. In Read More ›