Tag Archive: science

Professor Dan Shechtman and his amazing Quasicrystals – crystal molecules with strange symmetry. Here he is discussing them:

The moral of the story? Scientists can be just as dogmatic as priests.

Also, change in science comes very very slowly. Good luck with those magic neutrinos boys.


I worked without gloves. It was hard to see. The mirror helps, but it also hinders — after all, it’s showing things backwards. I work mainly by touch. The bleeding is quite heavy, but I take my time — I try to work surely. Opening the peritoneum, I injured the blind gut and had to sew it up. Suddenly it flashed through my mind: there are more injuries here and I didn’t notice them … I grow weaker and weaker, my head starts to spin. Every 4-5 minutes I rest for 20-25 seconds. Finally, here it is, the cursed appendage! With horror I notice the dark stain at its base. That means just a day longer and it would have burst and …

At the worst moment of removing the appendix I flagged: my heart seized up and noticeably slowed; my hands felt like rubber. Well, I thought, it’s going to end badly. And all that was left was removing the appendix … And then I realised that, basically, I was already saved.

via First-person account from surgeon who removed his own appendix – Boing Boing.

this shit just got real

more on this breach of the uncanny valley here

bonus thready goodness from the Bad Science crowd

thanks be to matt

Prototype bionic eye unveiled

Part of the device will be surgically implanted in the eye, is designed for people suffering from degenerative vision loss caused by the genetic condition retinitis pigmentosa or age-related macular degeneration.

It consists of a miniature camera, mounted on glasses, that captures images and sends them to a processor the wearer keeps in their pocket.

The processor then transmits a signal wirelessly to electrodes implanted in the retina – the part of the eye that normally processes visual information. The signals zip up the usual nerve pathways to the brain to provide information about what is happening in real time.

Those using the bionic eye will not have perfect vision restored, but it is hoped they will be able to perceive points of light in their field of vision, which the brain can then reconstruct into an image…

Prototype bionic eye unveiled | COSMOS magazine.

Facebook causes syphilis

Shock! Horror! Irresponsible ‘newspapers’!

After the Mail’s definitive headline of last year “How using Facebook could raise your risk of cancer” (in the same week as a story about a radioactive paedophile, no less) comes a competitor. “Facebook spreads syphilis” was the front page headline in the Sun on Wednesday: “sex diseases soaring due to facebook romps”. The Mail was quick to follow, with “Facebook ’sex encounters’ linked to rise in syphilis”, while the Telegraph had “Facebook ‘linked to rise in syphilis’: Facebook has been linked to a resurgence in the sexually-transmitted disease syphilis, according to health experts.” It even made the Star.

Where did these stories come from? A press release and quotes from NHS Tees, in which Prof Kelly, their Director of Public Health, described a rise in syphilis in his area, and explained that during contact tracing, some cases had mentioned having sex with people they met through the internet. No more. “Several of the people had met sexual partners through these sites,” he said: “social networking sites are making it easier for people to meet up for casual sex.” You can read his quotes online and decide how much responsibility Prof Kelly should take as the trigger for the story. The newspapers then bolted on a recent survey reporting that Sunderland has high use of Facebook and drew a more explicit link.

So firstly, is this link at all likely? Our supposed causal exposure is new, as Facebook opened to general users in 2008 2006. But national figures show a steady increase in STIs over the past 10 years, much more for syphilis than others, which could be due to all kinds of things (changing patterns in migration and men who have sex with men are often cited). There’s no sudden extra spike for the last few Facebook years.


Facebook causes syphilis, says Prof Peter Kelly, Director of Public Health, NHS Tees? – Bad Science.

LSD molecule

National Geographic’s ‘Explorer’ series are examining the myths and effects of LSD:

LSDs inventor Albert Hofmann called it “medicine for the soul.” The Beatles wrote songs about it. Secret military mind control experiments exploited its hallucinogenic powers. Outlawed in 1966, LSD became a street drug and developed a reputation as the dangerous toy of the counterculture, capable of inspiring either moments of genius, or a descent into madness. Now science is taking a fresh look at LSD, including the first human trials in over 35 years. Using enhanced brain imaging, non-hallucinogenic versions of the drug and information from an underground network of test subjects who suffer from an agonizing condition for which there is no cure, researchers are finding that this “trippy” drug could become the pharmaceutical of the future. Can it enhance our brain power, expand our creativity and cure disease? To find out, Explorer puts LSD under the microscope.

Right Where You Are Sitting Now! – Subculture, Counterculture, Alternative, Occult, Underground Music | National Geographic puts LSD under the microscope.

Also, someone posted a link to this article from the guardian in the comments:

“The working hypothesis is that if psilocybin or LSD can occasion these experiences of great personal meaning and spiritual significance … then it would allow [patients with terminal illnesses] hopefully to face their own demise completely differently – to restructure some of the psychological angst that so often occurs concurrently with severe disease,” said Griffiths. So by expanding their consciousness during a session on the drug, the patient is able to comprehend their thoughts and feelings from a new perspective. This can lead to a release of negative emotions that leaves them in a much more positive state of mind.

Twelve patients with terminal cancer have already helped Grob to test this idea and, although the research is not yet published, anecdotal reports from some subjects are encouraging. Pamela Sakuda (see below) was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer in December 2002. Her husband, Norbert Litzinger, said the psilocybin treatment transformed her outlook.

“Pamela had lost hope. She wasn’t able to make plans for the future. She wasn’t able to engage the day as if she had a future left,” he said. Her “epiphany” during the treatment was the realisation that her fear about the disease was destroying the remaining time she had left, he said.

from Technoccult:

It turns out that there is a striking similarity between how the human brain determines what is going on in the outside world and the job of scientists. Good science involves formulating a hypothesis and testing whether this hypothesis is compatible with the scientist’s observations. Researchers in the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt together with the University of Glasgow have shown that this is what the brain does as well. A study shows that it takes less effort for the brain to register predictable as compared to unpredictable images.

Alink and colleagues based this conclusion on the characteristics of responses in the primary visual cortex. It is known that the primary visual cortex is critical for vision and that responses in this brain area create a map of what we are currently looking at. Alink and colleagues, however, for the first time show that images induce smaller responses in this area when they are predictable. The implication of this finding is that the brain does not just sit and wait for visual signals to arrive. Instead, it actively tries to predict these signals and when it is right it is rewarded by being able to respond more efficiently. If it is wrong, massive responses are required to find out why it is wrong and to come up with better predictions.

I wonder if the brains of religious types work more on a dogmatic and faith based mechanism?

Brain Naturally Follows Scientific Method | Technoccult.

What exactly is the difference between human and animals, you know, apart from the invention of the poptart and the use of metaphor to navigate our multiplicious interior/exterior environments and the nexus of reality and consciousness? If you wanna know check out this video! I know, it’s kinda long, but maybe you can leave it running in the background whilst you do other things. That’s what I’m doing and it’s not as if your going to miss some stunning visuals. I mean, maybe some powerpoint slides but come on, it’s a guy standing at a podium talking! The lecture doesn’t really kick in till about 5 minutes in.

Update: Absolutely facinating stuff, including such insight as People operating remote death drones in iraq end up with quite serious psychological problems and that Dopamine release in the brain isn’t about award, but about the anticipation of reward.

via channel n

Quantacular! Quantarific! Quantu…mmyache?

via boingboing:

The UC Santa Barbara researchers seen below “have provided the first clear demonstration that the theory of quantum mechanics applies to the mechanical motion of an object large enough to be seen by the naked eye.”

201003190931Andrew Cleland, Aaron O’Connell, and John Martinis. Photo: George Foulsham

In a paper published in the March 17 issue of the advance online journal Nature, Aaron O’Connell, a doctoral student in physics, and John Martinis and Andrew Cleland, professors of physics, describe the first demonstration of a mechanical resonator that has been cooled to the quantum ground state, the lowest level of vibration allowed by quantum mechanics. With the mechanical resonator as close as possible to being perfectly still, they added a single quantum of energy to the resonator using a quantum bit (qubit) to produce the excitation. The resonator responded precisely as predicted by the theory of quantum mechanics.

Bob Harris says: “What’s the real-world application? No one knows, although cats should start avoiding any box they could become trapped in.”

UCSB Physicists Show Theory of Quantum Mechanics Applies to the Motion of Large Objects

Quantum mechanics applies to objects that can be seen by the naked eye – Boing Boing.

If this all seems a little obvious to you and straight forward why not send your brain off to absorb the concept of quantum consciousness?


Go on, you know you want to.

giant meat-eating plants eat shit!

How can you resist a headline like that?

The largest meat-eating plant in the world is designed not to eat small animals, but small animal poo.

Botanists have discovered that the giant montane pitcher plant of Borneo has a pitcher the exact same size as a tree shrew’s body.

But it is not this big to swallow up mammals such as tree shrews or rats.

Instead, the pitcher uses tasty nectar to attract tree shrews, then ensures its pitcher is big enough to collect the feeding mammal’s droppings.

Details of the discovery are published in the journal New Phytologist.

BBC – Earth News – Giant meat-eating plants prefer to eat tree shrew poo.

Image Source

via technoccult:

The possibility of strange forms of alien life seems to have just got a whole lot closer to home. Astrobiologists from Arizona State University, Florida, UC Boulder, NASA, Harvard and Australia have recently theorized about a “shadow biosphere” – a biosphere within a biosphere where alternative biochemistry may be thriving in a way that we haven’t yet thought to examine. Such “weird life” may have had, for hundreds of millions of years, their own ecologies right here in our own backyard. Indeed, like Dark Energy and neutrinos, “weird life” may be all around us even now, only in a non-obvious way. Some astrobiologists are now suggesting that “weird life” is just as likely to be found here on Earth as it is in the Martian regolith, the seas of Europa , or certainly the complex bio-hadronistry on the surface of a neutron star.

[ link ]

From New Scientist magazine, via 23narchy in the uk. An article on science and meditation, with interview of researcher on the subject, brought to you in extract form only because I dig 23narchy and want to send them my sweet traffic lovin’.

How did you become involved in the science of meditation?

The Dalai Lama often describes Buddhism as being, above all, a science of the mind. That is not surprising, because the Buddhist texts put particular emphasis on the fact that all spiritual practices – whether mental, physical or oral – are directly or indirectly intended to transform the mind.

So it wasn’t surprising that when a meeting was held in 2000 with some of the leading specialists in human emotions – psychologists, neuroscientists and philosophers – they spent an entire week in discussion with the Dalai Lama at his home in Dharamsala, India. Later we agreed to launch a research programme on the short and long-term effects of mind training – “meditation” in other words.

What have we discovered about meditation and the human brain?

Experiments have indicated that the region of the brain associated with emotions such as compassion shows considerably higher activity in those with long-term meditative experience. These discoveries suggest that basic human qualities can be deliberately cultivated through mental training. The study of the influence of mental states on health, which was once considered fanciful, is now an increasing part of the scientific research agenda.

Why bother meditating? | New Scientist – 23narchy in the UK.

The brain’s innate interest in the new and different may help trump the power of addictive drugs, according to research published by the American Psychological Association. In controlled experiments, novelty drew cocaine-treated rats away from the place they got cocaine.

Novelty could help break the vicious cycle of treatment and relapse, especially for the many addicts with novelty-craving, risk-taking personalities, the authors said. Drug-linked settings hold particular sway over recovering addicts, which may account in part for high rates of relapse.

Science Daily: Novelty Lures Rats from Cocaine-Paired Settings, Hinting at New Treatments for Recovering Addicts

via Technoccult.

The Dawkins delusion

update: stupid typos, making me look like i didn’t like what i was doing, or that my arguement had been diminshed. fixed now.

See what I did there? With the headline? Aren’t i clever!


I have a tendancy to to hang out on IRC. Call it an aspect of my social self. Call it a blight upon my being. Call it what you will. For me, one of the best things about IRC, apart for the social aspect and it’s blighting effect upon your soul, are the arguements and debates that can flair up. I love a good arguement, I does. Maybe it’s an element of the male archetype, or perhaps simply part of my personality, but I can get terribly gleeful when one breaks out. Hell, I can walk in on one and throw myself into it with joyous abandon, safe in the knowledge that even if I don’t have all the facts needed, or even some of them, my razor sharp tongue will see me through. Especially if the target in question is being a dick, a racist, a mysogenist, or a racist mysogenistic dick. The most cruel and witty things just pop into my head begging for release through my fingers. I don’t know where they come from, I really don’t, but dagnabbit if I do like them!

Of course, it’s not all fun and games and flamewars. Sometimes there are serious discussions. This is good too; an opportunity to learn something, to be sent off on a google-fueled research mission. The aquisition of knowledge; Oh baby, does it gets me all hot and bothered!

It is one of these serious discussions that I would like to open with. In this case it was on Richard Dawkins. The individual in question was stating emphatically that Dawkins cannot put a foot wrong. He is a scientist without reproach. His books are amazing and really should be read.

Now, I haven’t read dawkins. It’s not something i’m proud of. I want to read The Selfish Gene and all the rest but I just haven’t gotten around to it. This fact though did not diminish my retort but one iota.

My retort was this; Dawkins may be a great scientist and his books may indeed belong on some universal list of required reading. I simply do not know enough either way. What i do know is the way Dawkins is representing himself in the media these days. As some kind of Atheist Superstar, a spokesperson for atheists everywhere. A preacher, if you will.

Well, it ain’t science, is it? It’s rhetoric.

Dawkins has set up his public image as an Atheist analogue of the Christian fire-and-brimstone preacher. He is moving away from science, into the media-sphere. Ever since his book ‘The God Delusion’ it is almost as if he has become a caricature. Why has he done this? Is he bored of being a scientist? Is it because there is more money in being a media-spokesperson for atheism than there is in doing research and writing books? I don’t know. But the crux of my arguement was this: I respect dawkins, and i want to respect him. I want to read his books, i want to grok his perspective. Sometimes though, the way he goes on tv flapping his arms stating emphatically that religion is bullshit and only idiots believe in it, it’s hard to take him seriously.

It’s not that his message is not valid. I was an atheist for a long time, organised religions are mainly control mechanisms and crutches for the weak of will. When he first came out as Richard Dawkins: Valiant Naysayer of Religion I appluaded his efforts. I thought it was great, I thought it was funny, I thought it was about fucking time. Now though. Now I’m starting to think he needs to reign it in a little. Still keep at it but, you know, maybe it’s time to be a scientist again instead of a representation of a scientist or worse, just a caricature of an Atheist.

Anyway, just an opinion. All written to be a leadin for this post from Heresy corner wherein a media circus involving Dawkins, Howard Jacobson, American Preachers, atheism, christianity, islam and Haiti plays out to the tune of the The Heresiarch’s thoughtful analysis. A piece which is damn hard to excerpt with any kind of clarity. Just follow the link at the bottom and read the whole damn thing. Interesting comments too. Probably. I haven’t read them. I should be working on my novel as we speak. Damn internet. Stupid blog.


Last Sunday, Howard Jacobson fronted a Channel 4 documentary about the Biblical account of Creation. The basic thrust of his argument, scarcely original, was that while it isn’t in any sense literally true the story that opens Genesis is rich with poetic and metaphorical significance, that it grounds us in a sense of overarching narrative, teaching us our place in the universe – not as it really is, but as we as human beings experience it. It isn’t true, but it contains truth.

This was reasonable as far as it went: Jacobson is a creative writer, after all, not a scientist. But it was marred, for me at least, by an intemperate attack on Richard Dawkins for his supposed atheist fundamentalism and lack of imagination. In an accompanying article for the Mail on Sunday, Jacobson wrote, apropos Dawkins, that “a man who is closed-minded in the name of science no more has right on his side than the man who is closed-minded in the name of God.” He criticised the evolutionist’s “extraordinary ignorance” of religious history and thought, adding, “Not only does he comprehend nothing of what it is to have a religious imagination, he actually revels in his own incomprehension, as though not to believe whatever isn’t scientifically provable, or not to understand any person who doesn’t feel as you feel, is a virtue.”

I found this assault on a caricature of Dawkins not just gratuitous and irritating, but ironic, given that Jacobson was accusing Dawkins of attacking a caricature of religion. He told a story about an atheist and a rabbi: the rabbi tells the atheist, “That God you don’t believe in, I don’t belive in Him either.” Likewise, I don’t believe in Jacobson’s Dawkins, any more than I believe in Karen Armstrong’s or Terry Eagleton’s Aunt Sally versions of the prof. The author of the Selfish Gene, the author of Unweaving the Rainbow, even the author of The God Delusion, is more subtle than that. It was a lazy pop at an easy target, I thought, cheap and unnecessary, undermining the more interesting things that Jacobson had to say.

And then I read a remarkably stupid article in The Times, purportedly written by Richard Dawkins. Except that it appeared to have been written by Jacobson’s Dawkins, not by mine.

via Heresy Corner

I think it would be amusing if this virus, a brain-infecting pathogen, is actually the origin of higher brain functions in humans. That in its high-jacking of our dna it has made us essentially what we are today. Even better if it is the source of symbol-based language. That might just be the Burroughsian in me talking though.

PARIS (AFP) – Humans carry in their genome the relics of an animal virus that infected their forerunners at least 40 million years ago, according to research published Wednesday by the British science journal Nature.

The invader is called bornavirus, a brain-infecting pathogen that was first identified in 1970s.

Scientists led by Keizo Tomonaga of Japan’s Osaka University compared the DNA of a range of mammals, including humans, apes, elephants, marsupials and rodents, to look for tell-tale signatures of bornavirus code.

In the human genome, the team found several bornavirus fragments but also in the form of two genes that may be functional, although what they do is unclear.

Until now, the only viruses known to have been handed on in vertebrates were retroviruses, which work by hijacking cellular machinery in order to reproduce.

Retroviruses are effective in infiltrating the germline — the DNA of reproductive cells, which means their sequence, or part of it, is handed on to ensuing generations.

By some estimates, retroviruses account for as much as eight percent of the human code for life.

Bornavirus has a different stealth tactic, replicating in the nucleus of infected cells.

The disease owes its name to the German town of Borna, where a regiment of cavalry horses was wiped out in 1885 by a mysterious “heated head” disease.

Later research also found the disease among sheep, llamas, ostriches, cats and cattle, although how it spreads is poorly understood.

The impact of bornavirus on the human genetic odyssey is likely to trigger fierce debate.

The big questions are whether it provided a potential cause of genetic mutation or innovation in our species, or whether it provided a source for inherited illness — or, conversely, protection.

Bornavirus has not been clearly linked to diseases in humans, although some researchers speculate there could be a link with schizophrenia and other mental disorders.

Viral phenomenon: Ancient microbe invaded human DNA – Yahoo! News.

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Angels depicted heralding the birth of Jesus in nativity scenes across the world are anatomically flawed, according to a scientist who claims they would never be able to fly.

via Angels can’t fly, scientist says | Telegraph – 23narchy in the UK.

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