RCimT: Playing scientific catch-up


Day 3 of my attempt at clearing out old links from my queue of stuff to blog about. Sadly, this one I can’t fit into a coherent narrative, except to say that science rocks.

ClimateCrocks posted a trailer for the movie Carbon Nation, touted as a “climate change movie for people who don’t believe in climate change”. It’s like the movie form of this comic. Frankly, whether you think climate is changing or not, people MUST see that the progress we can make by weaning ourselves off this addiction to hydrocarbons far outweighs any potential economic risks, even if you don’t believe there’s any threat.

There’s some interesting early results from a study regarding public archiving of scientific data — it by all appearances increases scientific contribution by more than a third. Open access to information and data removes one of the larger barriers to scientific contribution, as I have long suspected in other areas of human endeavour.

On a related note, unpublished scientific data may hide the “decline effect”, a noted scientific phenomenon where initial publications show greater effect than subsequent trials. Also unsurprising — if the data “picked” for the first few trials was picked from a superset of data that doesn’t show as great an effect, or if the data in subsequent trials was intentionally skewed against the initial results in an attempt to disprove them, showing all the data would certainly discover both scenarios.

This water flea has more genes than humans — 31,000 genes to 23,000. It is interesting to me that the number of genes it takes to make so complex a creature as a human being is in fact lower than the number of genes to create so tiny a creature as a water flea, but it rings true with the idea that everything in this universe operates like fractals – simplicity can give rise to great complexity, in some cases, accidentally and without inherent design.

Scientists have made a great breakthrough with regard to influenza vaccines — they have discovered a way to vaccinate against a protein common to them all. This could eventually lead to a single vaccine to eradicate influenza in much the same way as we have eradicated polio and smallpox. That is, until some pseudoscientific celebrity gains popular traction against the vaccine and it resurges as a result.

Good news for depression patients — we may soon be able to put things in your brain to make you better. Sounds like sci-fi, sounds like “playing god”, but deep brain electrostimulation may actually significantly improve chronic depression sufferers’ quality of life.

Steven Novella takes on the odd but prevalent belief that scientists are withholding the cure for cancer. Fact is, cancer is a class of diseases or issues, not a single monolithic thing that can be cured. We can cure many of them, such as Hodgkins Lymphoma, but not all of them. Interestingly, we may soon be able to tell which cancers will spread and which will never metastasize at all.

Apparently humankind’s proposed emergence as a modern-LOOKING people first, then a modern-ACTING people second, is less than accurate. We’ve discovered some evidence that the earliest peoples developed both language and ritual, two of the main intellectual hallmarks of our species.

Toxicologists and experts states apart have confirmed that despite the government’s assurances, Gulf seafood is tainted with oil. And/or dispersants, which is just as bad. Take care where your seafood comes from, folks. Though you really should take care as it stands, to eat seafood from sources that are sustainable.

Scientists have for the first time observed the formation of a planet in a protoplanetary ring of dust and debris. I love that this far into our knowledge of stellar and planetary evolution, we keep seeing “firsts” that scientists can collect data on and confirm existing theories.

Meanwhile, science continues apace in its other charge — knocking theories down. Or less so theories as common knowledge — Ben Goldacre covers the revelation that “sniffer” dogs may actually be responding to subtle cues from their masters rather than to any scent of drug or explosives they really learned to seek out. In this way, they may be something like the horse that could do arithmetic. In a funny bit of confluence, I learned just today of a new invention: the Wasp Hound. Wasps can evidently be trained to pick up scents better than any dogs.

That’s everything I had saved up in my Science post-fodder hopper. Perhaps I shall unload my Religion tabs tomorrow. Seems a fitting day for it.

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