Archive for the ‘Science’ Category
Many people believe that the state is necessary to fund scientific research, especially pure scientific research. In fact a common rebuttal statists make when I advocate anarchism is that we need the state to fund scientific research that isn’t likely to turn a profit. These people believe that private funding for scientific research only happens when the research is like to make a profit. Quite the opposite is true as Jack Horner, one of the most famous paleontologists in the world, explained during his interview on Slashdot:
How will science be funded in the US next?
For a long time the primary source of money for scientific research has been the federal granting agencies (NIH, NSF, DOE in particular). All three of them are facing either budget cuts, budget stalls, or increases in their budgets that do not match inflation. This does not seem to fare well for new scientists or established ones who are looking to further their careers. Where do you see research money coming from next? Alternately, are we looking ahead to a time where fewer people will be doing science because the funding just won’t exist to pay even their meager wages any more?
Horner: Like most researchers in the early part of their careers, I relied on writing grants to NSF, but as these government agencies became more stringent and stingy with funding for dinosaurs and other purely scientific endeavors, I moved away from government funding to private funding, and I think this is where most all research funds for dinosaurs will eventually come from. Private people who have the financial where-with-all and interest in the field currently fund most of the dinosaur collecting, research and exhibitions in the United States. It is up to us paleontologists to make sure we engage the public in all venues, and keep their interest high, if we expect to continue these kinds of studies. The government is much more interested in practical sciences (renewable energy, climate change, medical) these days, a trend I would expect to continue for quite some time.
When it comes to purely scientific research the state has little interest in providing funding. Instead scientists wanting to perform purely scientific research, such as paleontology, have to seek funding in the private sector. What many statists fail to realize is that there are people out there that have a deep interest in purely scientific research and are willing to donate money to its cause.
Humans are awesome. I know this goes against the misanthropes who view humanity as some kind of plague that should be destroyed for the sake of Mother Gaia but I’m not a misanthrope. In fact let me state the following: fuck misanthropes. If you do any research into the achievements of humanity you can only walk away awed. I feel the best way to truly gain an understanding of humanity is to research the mundane things we take for granted today. My love of wristwatches has lead me to lightly study horology, the art and science of measuring time. Measuring time is something people take for granted today as every DVD player, cell phone, computer, microwave, car, and GPS unit has a build in way of measuring time (usually referred to as a clock). Heck most of these devices don’t even have to be set anymore, instead they automatically sync with various atomic clocks built around the world. This hasn’t always been the case though, measuring the passage of time used to be quite a feat.
I’ve started reading Shaping the Day: A History of Timekeeping in England and Wales 1300-1800. The first chapter talks about the scientific achievements of Galileo Galilei (I hope to Odin that everybody knows who Galileo is and that my link to his Wikipedia page is entirely pointless). During the last 1500s and early 1600s Galileo was studying motion. In order to study motion he needed a way to measure the passage of time, unfortunately accurate clocks didn’t exist at that time. What’s a man to do? In the case of Galileo he used two methods: measuring the passage of time by the beating of his heart and by using a song with a repeating beat. Most scientists today would call such methodology unscientific but they have the benefit of highly accurate clocks that measure the passage of time based on the transition frequency of atoms. It’s easy to claim something is unscientific when you’ve enjoyed 400 years of scientific advancement.
Time brings up the though of hours, minutes, and seconds for most people. If you study horology you learn quickly learn that those measures of time, like all measures of time, are arbitrary. Why does one second need to take, well, one second? It doesn’t. The primary thing you need when measuring the passage of time is repetitiveness. Beats in songs are repetitive and thus can be used to measure the passage of time in a useful manner. Your heart rate, although far less accurate as it’s susceptible to variances based on bodily conditions, can also be used to measure the passage of time. Speaking of accuracy, it’s another thing that’s subjective. In the case of Galileo’s experiments the accurate of song beats was plenty for what the needed to do. On the other hand computers need to measure time in the span of microseconds so using the beats of songs, with the possible exception of extremely fast metal, isn’t going to cut it. To get around this we developed other methods of measuring time including the back and forth oscillation of a spring-loaded wheel, vibration of a quartz crystal that is subjective to a minor electrical current, and the aforementioned transition frequency of an atom.
The amount of ingenuity involve in telling time is phenomenal. Studying things we take for granted today really helps you appreciate what humans are capable of and what we have overcome in a short time in this universe. In roughly two million years we’ve gone from barely being able to harness fire to harnessing the power of nuclear energy. We’ve gone from a species whose only transportation was our two feet to landing on the moon. Humanity is awesome and you really need to look at the history of achievements we find entirely mundane today to appreciate that fact. Instead of trying to surpress human ability we need to let is flourish. We need to appreciate what our species can accomplish.
Most people have likely heard about the shortage of electromagnetic spectrum. For those who haven’t there exists a finite amount of spectrum that can be used for the transmission of wireless signals and people have recently been stating that we’ve run into a barrier: we’re fast running out of spectrum for new innovations.
To regulate this spectrum the United States established the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), who auction off spectrum to the highest bidders. The result of this is that multi-billion dollar companies are the only ones who can actually afford to license spectrum and therefore small competitors are kept from entering the market, which is exactly how the big money players like it. Effectively the FCC has wiped out competition for AT&T, Verizon, and other holders of electromagnetic spectrum.
Looking at the electromagnetic spectrum demonstrates a stark difference between how government busybodies attempt to solve problems and actual intelligent individuals attempt to solve problems. The government saw a potential shortage, stepped in, and gave themselves a monopoly on determining who can and can’t use spectrum. Innovators saw a potential shortage and began to work on ways to bypass the problem, a goal that they’ve made some great strides in:
A striking demonstration of a means to boost the information-carrying capacity of radio waves has taken place across the lagoon in Venice, Italy.
The technique exploits what is called the “orbital angular momentum” of the waves – imparting them with a “twist”.
Varying this twist permits many data streams to fit in the frequency spread currently used for just one.
The research paper can be found here. I’d be a liar if I claimed to understand what they’re doing on any technical level but their conclusion leaves me with hope:
Our experimental findings that EM OAM can be used for increasing radio transmission capacity without increasing bandwidth is likely to open up new perspectives on wireless communications and radio-based science. History tells us that Marconi invented the wireless telegraph and from that the communication world spread its branches in all directions . All current radio communication services are based on various forms of phase, frequency and/or amplitude modulation of the EM radiation in the form of EM linear momentum (i.e. integrated Poynting vector or energy flux). In order that many different broadcasting stations are able to transmit simultaneously without overlapping their radio signals, Marconi suggested that the total available spectrum of radio frequencies be divided into many non-overlapping frequency subbands . Now, the wide use of wireless communication has unavoidably led to the saturation of all available frequency bands, even after the adoption of artificial techniques that increase band capacity. We have experimentally shown that by using helicoidal parabolic antennae, the use of OAM states might dramatically increase the capacity of any frequency band, allowing the use of dense coding techniques in each of these new vortex radio channels. This might represent a concrete proposal for a possible solution to the band saturation problem.
Moreover, our experimental findings demonstrate that the spatial phase signature was preserved even in the far-field region and for incoherent non-monochromatic wave beams. These results open up new perspectives not only for wireless communication but also for physics and astronomy, including the possible detection of Kerr black holes in the test general relativity .
We can effectively increase what we’re capable of doing with wireless spectrum without having to obtain more of it. Innovation is the only hope we have of solving problems and innovation is something the state never attempts. Since the state enjoys monopoly control of whatever it desires it has no reason to innovate, instead preferring to sit on its laurels. Free competition is the solution to humanity’s problems, not government regulations.
According to Thomas Hobbes humans are evil bastards that must be controlled by a coercive entity we call the state. Hobbes’s beliefs can are demonstrably false by the simple fact that a species of inherently bad individuals would be unable to cooperate well enough to establish societies. Such reasoning is ignored by statists though so other evidence must be brought to the table such as this recent study that demonstrates people, in general, act socially “well” even without established rules:
Millions of human interactions were assessed during the study which included actions such as communication, founding and ending friendships, trading goods, sleeping, moving, however also starting hostilities, attacks and punishment. The game does not suggest any rules and everyone can live with their avatar (i.e. with their “game character” in the virtual world) as they choose. “And the result of this is not anarchy,” says Thurner. “The participants organise themselves as a social group with good intents. Almost all the actions are positive.”
The entire paper can be read here. What I find most fascinating is the fact that these results were obtained through simulation as simulations, virtual worlds existing without real consequences, are where people like to act out their darker desires. You can put somebody in front of a copy of The Sims for very long until they start burning and or drowning the various sims in their household. Yet even in a simulated environment where people have ample opportunity to be assholes to one another in general people were acting positively instead of negatively.
The study also demonstrated that the golden rule certainly applies are positive actions were usually replied to with positive actions while negative actions were usually replied to with negative actions. In other words people are generally good and the rule of “don’t be a dick” applies.
The more science uncovers about our biology the more amazed I am. Take for example new research that demonstrates how hard a fetus will fight to keep its host alive:
Now, a new study in mice shows such that nature has arrived at just such a solution, too: When a pregnant mouse has a heart attack, her fetus donates some of its stem cells to help rebuild the damaged heart tissue.
A fetus will inject stem cells into the mother in an attempt to repair heart damage? That’s downright cool.
No this post isn’t me not jumping on the anti-vaccination bandwagon; I just found a “study” with such an absurd conclusion that I had to call it out. A recent study released by a Mayo Clinic physician claims that the recent fear of the measles vaccine being linked to autism is having devastating effects:
More than 150 cases of measles have been reported in the United States already this year and there have been similar outbreaks in Europe, a sign the disease is making an alarming comeback. The reappearance of the potentially deadly virus is the result of unfounded fears about a link between the measles shot and autism that have turned some parents against childhood vaccination, says Gregory Poland, M.D. (http://www.mayoclinic.org/bio/10966366.html), of Mayo Clinic. In the September issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings (http://www.mayoclinicproceedings.com), Dr. Poland urges doctors to review extensive scientific research that has found no connection between the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism.
Somewhere around 150 cases of measles in the United States is devastating? Really? Because according to numbers put out by the National Institute of Health 150 cases in one year is absolutely unworthy of noting if you look at the number of measles cases reported in the United States since the release of the vaccine:
During this century, there has been a dramatic decrease in measles epidemics. Prior to the development of the measles vaccine, 5.7 million people died each year from measles. (Some historians have suggested that measles might have contributed to the decline of the Roman Empire.)
In 1920, the United States had 469,924 measles cases and 7,575 deaths due to measles. From 1958 to 1962, the United States had an average of 503,282 cases and 432 deaths each year. (Measles reporting began in 1912; prior to this time, no statistics are available.) In large cities, epidemics often occurred every two to five years.
When the measles vaccine came on the market in 1963, measles began a steady decline worldwide. By 1995, measles deaths had fallen 95 percent worldwide and 99 percent in Latin America. In the United States, the incidence of measles hit an all-time low in 1998, with 89 cases and no deaths reported.
There have been several epidemics in the United States since 1963: from 1970 to 1972, 1976 to 1978, and 1989 to 1991. The epidemic of 1989-1991 claimed 120 deaths out of a total of 55,000 cases reported. Over half of the deaths occurred in young children.
You’ll notice that since the introduction of the measles vaccine the number of reported cases dropped dramatically but have never hit zero. Likewise since the introduction of the vaccine there have been three epidemics of measles with a lower number of reported cases between each epidemic. These epidemics occurred before anybody noted a potential link between the measles vaccine and autism which means there must have been a different factor.
Instead of trying to blame the anti-vaccination movement (which isn’t even that big of a movement from what I’ve seen) for the sudden upsurge in measles infections maybe researchers should look into the cause of previous epidemics and use that data to determine likely reasons for the current upsurge in cases.
Some research has come out of the University of Missouri which states the absolute obvious, men don’t like discussing their problems because they feel it’s a waste of their time:
“For years, popular psychologists have insisted that boys and men would like to talk about their problems but are held back by fears of embarrassment or appearing weak,” said Amanda J. Rose, associate professor of psychological sciences in the MU College of Arts and Science. “However, when we asked young people how talking about their problems would make them feel, boys didn’t express angst or distress about discussing problems any more than girls. Instead, boys’ responses suggest that they just don’t see talking about problems to be a particularly useful activity.”
Well now that that problem has been solved it’s time to move on to other great mysteries of the world such as discovering whether or not water is wet. In all seriousness a lot of time and effort could have been saved if the researchers would have simply asked men whey they don’t like discussing their problems. It’s not that we need to feel secure in order to discuss our problems less we feel weak, it’s because we don’t believe talking about a problem will solve it and thus it is a pointless waste of time. Granted this attitude can be counter-productive in some cases, especially with issues involving relationships, but nine times out of ten talk isn’t going to fix whatever is wrong so any effort put into discussion is going to accomplish nothing but a delay in the action required to fix whatever is wrong.
A Swedish citizen decided he wanted to build a personal nuclear reactor. Kudos for having true ambition but alas he made a mistake, he asked the Swedish Radiation Authority if it was legal so they had him arrested:
Despite the man’s frank and full disclosure of his experiment, his activities only came to the attention of the authorities a couple of weeks ago when he contacted the Swedish Radiation Authority (Strålsäkerhetsmyndigheten) to inquire if it was legal to construct a nuclear reactor at home.
The man was told that somebody would be sent to measure the levels of radiation in his flat.
“When they came they had the police with them. I have had a Geiger counter and have not detected a problem with radiation,” the 31-year-old told the local Helsingborgs Dagblad (HD).
The man was arrested by the police and taken in for questioning. He admitted to his plans and was later released.
It would probably have been less hassle had the man just attempted to build a reactor and seen whether or not it worked. Let this be a lesson, don’t ask the government is something is legal or not; if what you’re asking about is illegal it’s illegal to ask about it.
Via Uncle I came across the real periodic table (click to enbiggen):
It even comes complete with unnecessary umlaut! You can buy a large print of this extremely awesome poster here.
From the no-fucking-shit-sherlock department we have learned that all the claims made by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) about the safety of their naked body scanners are dubious at best. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) used a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain documents from the Department of
Motherland Homeland Security (DHS) dealing with the safety of those scanners. What they found wasn’t at all surprising:
In a FOIA lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, EPIC has just obtained documents concerning the radiation risks of TSA’s airport body scanner program. The documents include agency emails, radiation studies, memoranda of agreement concerning radiation testing programs, and results of some radiation tests. One document set reveals that even after TSA employees identified cancer clusters possibly linked to radiation exposure, the agency failed to issue employees dosimeters – safety devices that could assess the level of radiation exposure. Another document indicates that the DHS mischaracterized the findings of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, stating that NIST “affirmed the safety” of full body scanners. The documents obtained by EPIC reveal that NIST disputed that characterization and stated that the Institute did not, in fact, test the devices. Also, a Johns Hopkins University study revealed that radiation zones around body scanners could exceed the “General Public Dose Limit.”
The documents they speak of make for interesting reading. Needless to say nobody has tested these scanners and given them their seal of approval. Hell John Hopkins University flat out said there are hot zones around the scanners that are likely unsafe.
I still have a dream of obtaining a decimeter watch and using it to detect how high the radiation levels of those scanners is. Unfortunately those watches are expensive and I’m unwilling to go through those scanners simply because I don’t believe the government needs to have more biometric data related to me.