Asteroid 2011 AG5 missed the keyhole

Welp, there goes another apocalyptic prophecy — this one grounded in reality, mind, but it means we can scrub the 2040 doomsday off our calendar.

Earlier in 2012 only a few observations of AG5 could be made before it got too close to the Sun to see. Those allowed the crude estimate of where it would be in 2040, and that big fuzzy volume of space included the Earth.

However, new observations taken with the monster Gemini telescope in Hawaii allowed a far better orbit to be calculated. The path of the asteroid in 2040 was found, and now clearly does not include the Earth. It will be a clean miss, by about 900,000 kilometers (550,000 miles). This is more than twice the distance to the Moon, if that helps.

With this new calculation, we have little to worry about in 2040. Though, it seems, humanity does love a doomsday. I don’t expect this will truly dissuade people who want another hit of that doomsday high.

Hat tip to Phil Plait in his new digs at Slate.

IQ test exposes the myth that is ‘g’

The idea that there’s a single scalar value that measures anything like “general intelligence” (“g”), commonly known as “IQ” or “intelligence quotient”, has been pretty much blown out of the water by this comprehensive study by the University of Western Ontario’s Brain and Mind Institute.

Our attempt to answer [the question of how to quantify relative intelligence] dates back more than five years, when Roger [Highfield] encountered work that I had conducted with Adrian [Hampshire] at the Medical Research Council in Cambridge on a reliable way to carry out cognitive tests online so we could monitor rehabilitation after brain injury, the effect of smart drug trials and so on.

Roger wondered if we could use this test to carry out a mass intelligence test. Drawing on earlier data from brain scans, Adrian and I came up with a series of tests which we knew would trigger activity in as much of the brain’s anatomy as possible, combining the fewest tasks to cover the broadest range of cognitive skills.

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Animation student’s thesis: Pale Blue Dot

Adam Winnik produced this lovely animation for Carl Sagan’s poetic musings on our place in the cosmos, as his school thesis. From his video’s description:

I’ve been enrolled in illustration at Sheridan College for the the last 4 years and this is my final thesis project. I have always thought of Carl Sagan’s writings as “scientific poetry” since they lack the cold touch that science is often cursed for having. I think Sagan’s words resonate more than ever, and will continue with each generation until the human species “wakes up”. The first time I heard this excerpt from his book “Pale Blue Dot” it literally changed my life, and I hope it does for you too. Enjoy.

Pale Blue Dot – Animation from Ehdubya on Vimeo.

I was especially amused by the “derp”‘s all over the holy man’s holy book.

@Felix3333 pointed out something I missed though — if this was the only example of human culture you saw, you’d think the human endeavour is mostly only man’s domain. This picture shows why you might get that impression.

Tryptophan isn’t to blame for your food coma

Even at Thanksgiving, even as a child, I was always “that kid”, who couldn’t leave well enough alone when someone said something blatantly false, or worth questioning and examining further. My father kept admonishing me to be on my best behavior for company, which invariably meant not challenging unevidenced or ridiculous beliefs.

This was one of the ones that filtered into my subconscious and I even caught myself thinking this very thing a few years ago, til I was corrected on it. All because I was asked to turn off my skepticism as a child.

I guess I’m posting this to tell you not to squelch people’s skepticism of strange unevidenced beliefs even if those beliefs are seemingly harmless.

Unless you know there’s absolutely no goodwill to burn, let the walking Snopes database do their thing, because as annoyed as the person may be who is corrected, they’ve actually had a valuable service done to them even at the cost of a little holiday peace. A service that helps insulate people from making mistakes, and having factoids filter into their brains as though they were facts, which might introduce errors in their reasoning later in life.

And if there’s absolutely no goodwill to burn at the Thanksgiving table, and you must suffer the tyranny of someone spewing factoids, both harmless and harmful? Well, consider a smaller and more intimate Thanksgiving meal next year.

But yeah. Sorry for the tangent. Turkey doesn’t cause food comas. And I wish I could spend the American holiday with my American friends and family, so enjoy your time with them. And I hope you find a balance between the factoid-spewers and the fact-checkers so you can all enjoy your meal.

Sun vomits forth giant prominence

Think about the scale of this particular flare, which was captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory yesterday. I know it’s hard to imagine, with it zoomed in like this, but this is absolutely immense. Eyeballing it against a “size of stars” image I have up on the wall, I’d say both ends of this flare are at least as wide as Wolf 359, a distant red dwarf star. And it’s probably dozens of times wider than Earth.

It’s a good damn thing this flare isn’t aimed anywhere toward us. Sure, our magnetosphere could probably shield us, but not without repercussions.

As Troythulu and I were discussing on Twitter when he linked this, it’s absolutely no wonder to me that people would worship the sun, a tangible, massive, and powerful entity, without which life couldn’t exist here. Compared to other religions, I totally get sun worship.

More Republicans believe in demonic possession than global warming

Yeah.

Alternet reports on a Public Policy Polling Hallowe’en poll (pdf) and cross-references this poll on global warming:

A staggering 68 percent of registered Republican voters stated that they believe demonic possession is real. Meanwhile, only 48 percent of self-identified Republicans believe in another equally if not more scary natural phenomenon: climate change.

I would say it’s more scary, because it’s real. And the evidence provided by actual scientists is ironclad.

The scientists are unanimous, as long as you include actual climate scientists and not geologists or meteorologists or other pretenders at authority on the complex subject of climate. And yet, only 45% of all people agree that scientists generally agree about global warming. The misinformation efforts by liars like “Lord” Christopher Monckton are working.

To make matters even worse, 49% of Democrats also believe in demonic possession, even while 85% of Democrats say there’s solid evidence for global warming. It’s not that they’re smarter, it’s that they’re only marginally less prone to superstitious belief and more prone to trusting scientific evidence.

I’d say “let the mouth-breathers secede”, but it’s not like they’re all Republican secessionists.

Some pinkification I can live with… for now

A while back, someone on Twitter pointed me to this GoldieBlox Kickstarter project, excited that finally, someone was doing something to get young girls interested in engineering. In amongst the glut of male-targeted building toys like K’nex and Erector Sets and LEGO, there’s hardly any such thing for girls. None of these toys are inherently boy-oriented (so long as you omit the obvious pun), but all of them are always always ALWAYS advertised for boys with special playsets to build things that boys are enculturated to like, like cars and helicopters and space ships.

There’s often a girls version that is pink, because girls simply aren’t picking up those “boys’ toys”. This offering involves princesses and ponies and none of the things boys “like”. Look at K’nex’ Tinkertoy offering for girls, with its uniquely colored blocks and princess figurines. Or LEGO’s foray which makes the minifigs “pretty” and all the blocks pastel and designed so you can make a French cafe.

These attempts at girlifying this class of toys — let’s call them engineering toys — are often quite maddening in the face of this culture, that has since the turn of the last century wholly entrenched rigid gender roles from the Victorian era. In this culture, where once we looked like we were actually coming out of the woods when LEGO produced ads for their unisex product that were absolutely wonderful and starred little girls as often as little boys, all doing the same things — but have evidently since backslid to an enormous degree. In this culture, where even three year olds can grok the transparent gendered marketing.

So I can totally see why some might lash out at yet another example of pinkification to try to get girls interested in engineering.

But in the case of GoldieBlox, I can live with it.
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Free contraception has prophylactic effect against abortions

I’m shocked. Are you shocked? I’m definitely shocked. Shocked is what I am. Find the crayon that most resembles “shocked”, and color me with it.

MotherJones posts about a new study that shows that when women have free access to contraceptives, there are fewer abortions. Meaning, people who don’t want or can’t have kids, for whatever reason, don’t have to use abortion as their last resort as often.

That’s according to a new study published on Thursday by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis. The project gave free birth control to more than 9,000 local women and girls, many of whom were poor or uninsured, and tracked them for two years. There were 6.3 births per 1,000 teenagers in the study group, compared to the 2010 national rate of 34 per 1,000. As for abortions, there were fewer than eight per 1,000 women in the study, compared with the almost 20 per 1,000 nationally.

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Beef recall expands… again

The ground beef recall I mentioned recently has apparently increased significantly — including more meat products for the sixth time since the original recall.

In all, the recall involves millions of pounds of beef produced from late August to early September and shipped to stores in Canada and the United States. Beef from the plant has been linked to five illnesses and the recall led to one call for Canada’s agriculture minister to resign.
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To improve safety, XL said it will use video cameras to audit plant processes, will expand washing the sides of beef with high-pressure hot water to eliminate E. coli contamination, and add staff to each shift to monitor sanitary procedures.
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The recall of beef from the plant began September 16, almost two weeks after the CFIA learned of the contamination and began an investigation. CFIA has said it did not recall meat earlier because the products originally flagged had not made it onto store shelves.

Remember, cook your meat thoroughly. E.coli can be killed by thoroughly cooking beef and beef products.