Twenty questions, twenty answers sent all the presidential candidates a list of 20 questions about science policy, and most of them have sent in their answers. Gary Johnson didn’t bother. Jill Stein did, but I admit, I didn’t bother reading her answers; I have no intention of voting for her, so I don’t really care, although she did seem to take the questions seriously and had some lengthy answers. I skimmed Trump’s answers (it was easy; they’re short) mainly as a point of comparison with Clinton’s.

Hillary Clinton gives substantial answers to every questions. Sometimes they aren’t very specific, but even there she hints at positive attitudes. For instance, the question on scientific integrity isn’t very good — of course every candidate supports scientific integrity, or at least says so! — and Clinton doesn’t hit on any specific points, but does say she supports “public access to research results and other scientific information”, which is a good thing. But on the question of immigration, she immediately proposes specific bills to assist qualified people in the tech sector. On climate change, she’s going to set ambitious goals.

Generally, my impression was that she (and her staff) made a serious stab at explaining her policy, with enough details that it’s clear she really has plans. This is what I want from a serious candidate.

Trump, on the other hand, had nothing. He’d too frequently wave his hands (his tiny, tiny hands) at “market solutions” providing the answer to everything. He dismissed serious issues: his reply to the question about climate change begins, There is still much that needs to be investigated in the field of “climate change.” Yes, he actually put it in scare quotes. Fuck him.

OK, I decided I wasn’t being fair to Stein, who put almost as much effort into her answers as Clinton did — I can definitely say she’d be a better candidate than Trump. So I looked at some of her longer answers. She lost me with her strategy for protecting biodiversity: Label GMOs, and put a moratorium on new GMOs and pesticides until they are proven safe.. Nope. Sorry. Does she even realize that GMOs are a fantastic tool for reducing reliance on pesticides?

Eyeballs are funny things

This optical illusion is making the rounds. There are twelve black dots located at some of the vertices. Can you seem them all?< ?p>


You can’t see them all at once, at least: focus on one, and all the others disappear. This is not at all surprising — the central area of maximum resolution in your eye is very tiny, and your peripheral vision simply isn’t very good.

What did intrigue me, though, is that if I focus on a central intersection I can see two dots at once, one to either side of the intersection I’m looking at. However, I can’t simultaneously see two dots on the vertical plane.

I think this means I’d be particularly susceptible to drop bear attacks.

Old Earth creationists are just as ridiculous as Young Earth creationists

The oldest evidence for microbial life has been found in Greenland, with fossilized 3.7 billion year old stromatolites (layered bacterial colonies) found in the rocks. Here’s what they look like:


And here’s the abstract of the paper:

Biological activity is a major factor in Earth’s chemical cycles, including facilitating CO2 sequestration and providing climate feedbacks. Thus a key question in Earth’s evolution is when did life arise and impact hydrosphere–atmosphere–lithosphere chemical cycles? Until now, evidence for the oldest life on Earth focused on debated stable isotopic signatures of 3,800–3,700 million year (Myr)-old metamorphosed sedimentary rocks and minerals from the Isua supracrustal belt (ISB), southwest Greenland. Here we report evidence for ancient life from a newly exposed outcrop of 3,700-Myr-old metacarbonate rocks in the ISB that contain 1–4-cm-high stromatolites—macroscopically layered structures produced by microbial communities. The ISB stromatolites grew in a shallow marine environment, as indicated by seawater-like rare-earth element plus yttrium trace element signatures of the metacarbonates, and by interlayered detrital sedimentary rocks with cross-lamination and storm-wave generated breccias. The ISB stromatolites predate by 220 Myr the previous most convincing and generally accepted multidisciplinary evidence for oldest life remains in the 3,480-Myr-old Dresser Formation of the Pilbara Craton, Australia. The presence of the ISB stromatolites demonstrates the establishment of shallow marine carbonate production with biotic CO2 sequestration by 3,700 million years ago (Ma), near the start of Earth’s sedimentary record. A sophistication of life by 3,700 Ma is in accord with genetic molecular clock studies placing life’s origin in the Hadean eon (>4,000 Ma).

[Read more…]

Evolution caught in a movie

It’s a standing joke that creationists demand a complete time-lapse recording of evolution before they’re going to believe it. Joke no more: we’ve got one. It’s a movie of bacteria evolving antibiotic resistance. I don’t even need to explain it, because the video explains everything that’s going on.

Different old joke now: But they’re still just bacteria.

Also, you should be horrified by the power of evolution. It took 11 days for the bacterial population to evolve resistance to a lethal, thousand-fold increase in antibiotic concentration.

Engineering porn

While I’m sure many engineers also found the paint-mixing porn I posted earlier soothing and pleasurable, the diversity of human experience also allows for other stimulants. Like this, the world’s largest engine.


The height of a four-story building, the Wärtsilä RT-flex96C is a two-stroke turbocharged low-speed diesel engine designed by the Finnish manufacturer Wärtsilä.

It is designed for large container ships that run on heavy fuel oil. Its largest 14-cylinder version is 13.5 metres (44 ft) high, 26.59 m (87 ft) long, weighs over 2,300 tonnes, and produces 80,080 kilowatts (107,390 hp). The engine is the largest reciprocating engine in the world.

Jesus. There are videos of assembly. Can we call this developmental engineering?

Let’s start one up.

And watch long, slow, lingering videos of the engine in operation. Nothing really happens, but the sound… my future industrial rock band, which I’m calling Wärtsilä (it even has the necessary umlauts!), won’t have a drummer, but we’ll just haul around one of these engines on tour to be the percussion section.

Whew. I need to cool down. Maybe I’ll go watch some paint-mixing videos or something.

I did it again

Yesterday, I showed off a few embryos I’d collected from my fish tanks that morning — they were at roughly the 16 cell stage. Then today, I put up a video of the same beast at 24 hours old. It was a bit busy, because this is the age when they are going through all kinds of spontaneous muscle contractions, so I also anesthetized one of its siblings and tossed that on the scope. Stoned fish are so much more cooperative.

Fish gone wild

I played a little more with Periscope in the lab this morning. First, I showed off my microscope, and I figured that that was enough babbling, and then went off to do my usual animal care chores. The fish kind of went wild and spewed out hundreds of eggs today, so I went ahead and put a typical 4 cell embryo on the imaging system. It looked nice! So I was going to wait a bit and let it divide and show an 8 cell embryo (powers of 2, they really do that), but the next division was in the plane of the screen, so I waited just a little longer and grabbed a picture of a 16 cell embryo. They’re just cruising along, as they do, dividing and dividing.

I also found it really hard to do microscopy one handed while aiming the iPad camera with the other, so you may get a little seasick watching the videos. Sorry. I may have to draft Mary to pretend to be a tripod while I do my schtick tomorrow.

Yep, tomorrow. I’ve got this big pile of blastulae today, and people don’t believe me when I say they’ll turn into little baby fishies in less than 24 hours, so I promised to come back and show everyone what these same embryos look like on Friday morning.