Los Links 3/25


Reading’s still a bit sporadic.  Okay, a lot sporadic.  Creative juices flowing and all that – it’s been hard to focus on everything else.  But, thanks to the excellent folks I follow on Twitter, I got a few bits for ye.

Thurs-Demo: The one with the Earthquake Machine: “I named mine ‘El Temblor!’ I need to find some images of mexican wrestlers to paste on the sides and the brick to liven it up, I think. I designed mine to be easy to watch the brick, simple to construct, and cheap. Sort of a minimalist Earthquake Machine that I then loaded up with electronic sensors to graph some data (it’s not SCIENCE until you graph some of the data…).” (Research at a Snail’s Pace)

Reverberations of the Honshu tsunami: “Whatever the warning time, the sheer magnitude and force of the tsunami greatly exceeded anything the Japanese people had experienced since modern record keeping began. Approximately, 40% of the Japanese coast is lined with sea walls of varying heights, but as the New York Times describes, these sea walls provided little barrier to the March 11 tsunami. Worse, these seawalls may have lured coastal dwellers into a false sense of security and obscured their views of receding waters in advance of the oncoming tsunami. As a hydrologist, I was struck by the similarity of the problems with sea walls to the ones associated with levees along flood-prone rivers. The combination of under-engineering and complacency is a deadly combination when a major tsunami, flood, or hurricane strikes.” (Highly Allochthonous)

Ignoring tsunami records: hubris, complacency, or just human nature?: “The earthquake that struck Japan may have been the largest since historical records began (and the fourth largest ever recorded), but the tsunami had many precedents – bigger ones – in the historical and geological record. The size of a tsunami is related to the displacement of the seafloor, not necessarily the magnitude of the earthquake, and significantly smaller events than the one on March 11th have generated larger tsunamis. This raises two questions: given the size and devastation of past events, why should this have been a surprise and why were ‘defences’ so woefully inadequate? And, are there, realistically, such things as ‘tsunami defences’ at all? (Through the Sandglass)

How to (and how not to) talk about earthquake hazards in the media: “This isn’t to say a magnitude 8 earthquake isn’t a very serious future hazard for California. But to argue that it would be more ‘scary’ than what we witnessed a couple of weeks ago is pushing it a bit. To argue that this horror is imminent is borderline irresponsible – there is no scientific basis for stating the risk of a ‘Big One’ in California is any greater than it was a month ago. The same is true of the arguably much more scary Cascadia subduction zone to the north – which can potentially produce a magnitude 9 earthquake, and will produce a tsnuami when it does so. We know that both of these faults will rupture at some point in the future, and people need to be aware of that. But claiming we’re in some period of extra-special risk right now is, to put it bluntly, just making stuff up.” (Highly Allochthonous)

Will radiation hormesis protect us from exploding nuclear reactors?: “That reputable scientist, Ann Coulter, recently wrote a genuinely irresponsible and dishonest column on radiation hormesis. She claims we shouldn’t worry about the damaged Japanese reactors because they’ll make the locals healthier!” [There follows an epic scientific beating.  Pass the popcorn and enjoy!] (Pharyngula)

What A Disaster Really Means: “Disaster management on this scale is rather like being an invading army, minus most of the weaponry. To be successful, an invader has to assume that there will be nothing of use in whatever territory it conquers. The U.S. Army has a whole command dedicated to figuring out the logistics of such things, because, as they put it, prior planning prevents poor performance. They literally figure things down to how much to give a soldier to take with him each day. They have to.” (Slobber and Spittle)

A Message From Christchurch On The Value Of User-Generated Content: “In a disaster, UGC is not here for your entertainment. It is not competing with network news for ad dollars. It does not care whether you think it should be pitted against the professionals for a journalism award. It is a way for people experiencing the most significant event of their lives to bear witness, to cry out their pain and their suffering and their need, to connect with people close by who are sharing the experience and with people far away who, but for their voices, might mistake these events for a blockbuster movie filmed on a sound stage. No human can fail to be moved by the horrific tragedy of Japan, made so real by the user-generated content coming from that ravaged coastline — its very lack of professionalism making it so abundantly clear that there is no difference at all between us and them. In these turbulent times, we cannot afford to distance ourselves from the humanity at the other end of the camera, and from the reality that there but for the grace go we.” (Online Spin

Don’t forget Evelyn’s ongoing interview series with her father, a nuclear engineer, about the damaged nuclear plants causing so much trouble in Japan. 

Why Can’t I Ever Dream Up Scams Like This? “I received an email from a fundie crying that some commie-liberal puppy-raping Jesus-hating atheist doesn’t like the national motto (‘In God we trust’). He wants me to sign a petition to Congress to get them to vote yes on some unconstitutional legislation to waste tax dollars promoting his religion.” (Bay of Fundie)

Dressing the meat of tomorrow: “The first piece of in vitro meat grown for human consumption was not produced by science or industry, it was produced by art. More specifically, it was created by the artists Oron Catts, Ionat Zurr and Guy Ben Ary in 2003 as part of their ongoing Tissue Culture and Arts project. The meat was cultured from frog cells and was subsequently eaten by a group of invited guests at a gallery in France.” (SciAm Guest Blog)

The Physics of the Flower’s Bloom: “Not content to just watch flowers dance in the breeze, Harvard physicists have described for the first time how flowers generate the forces needed to curl open come springtime. In the asiatic lily (Lilium casablanca), this poetic blossoming is driven by skewed growth at the edges of petals, the team reports online March 21 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.” (Wired Science)

Impacts and Geology: deep peace? “Metamorphic rocks typically come from deep in the earth and form slowly. Simple physics shows that transferring heat into large volumes of rock (a key driver of many types of metamorphism) takes millions of years. Rocks that form the deep crust of stable cratonic areas lead the most placid of lives. They are heated for so long that they become annealed; they have achieved complete chemical, textural and thermodynamic equilibrium, like some sort of silicate-based Buddhist monk.

“Some deep crustal rocks in South Africa were once in granulite nirvana and might still be there, if only they hadn’t been hit by the biggest impact known on earth. The slow and calm world of the deep crust was violently attacked from Outer Space and the shocking results are visible in the a thin-section.” (Earth Science Erratics)

Frivolous Research?: “In 1955, a $250,000 grant was awarded to researcher E.F. Knipling to study the sex life of the parasitic screwworm.  Senator William Proxmire (a Democrat) later awarded this study – The Sexual Behavior of the Screw-Worm Fly – his infamous ‘Golden Fleece’ award which was given to projects he believed were a ridiculous waste of taxpayer dollars.  Proxmire, whose degree was in Business Administration, turned out to be rather poor judge of biological research projects since this project is estimated to have had a payback measured in the billions of dollars.” (Hudson Valley Geologist)

Soldier, Dad, Whistleblower: Atheist in a Foxhole Takes on Evangelistic Military Hierarchy: “The big stuff that’s coming down from the top, that’s different. There are existing rules in place that are being violated systematically. For instance, soldiers are very vulnerable when they come out of basic training, and evangelistic organizations take advantage of that to target them. Look at the picture of the five hundred soldiers being converted by the Billy Graham people. It’s 200 here, 150 there on stage in uniform. It’s epidemic, and I find it outrageous. The amount of money being spent by American citizens to support Evangelical proselytizing activities is substantial. The smokescreen about spiritual fitness having nothing to do with proselytizing is just that–smoke.” (Truthout)

Hugs From Libyans: “Doubts are reverberating across America about the military intervention in Libya. Those questions are legitimate, and the uncertainties are huge. But let’s not forget that a humanitarian catastrophe has been averted for now and that this intervention looks much less like the 2003 invasion of Iraq than the successful 1991 gulf war to rescue Kuwait from Iraqi military occupation.” (Nicholas Kristof, NYT)

News flash: creationists distort science: “What I’m going to do is put up an analysis by a professional systematist of how duplicitious this ICR article is.  Christian creationists won’t, of course, be swayed by scientific counterarguments, but perhaps it will be instructive to see how creationists distort data in a field that’s unfamiliar to most laypeople: systematics.” (Why Evolution is True) [And for bonus hilarity, you’ve absolutely got to watch this video of two corvids getting cats to fight.  This, my darlings, is why I laugh at the people who tell us we should imitate the harmony of nature.)