Cowlix Wearing my mind on my sleeve

Science Archives
Friday, March 07, 2003 Permanent link to this day
Sorting thru the branches

The Sequence of Human Evolution: From 500 million years ago to present. [via Limbic Nutrition]

Fallen branches

Did Neandertals Lack Smarts to Survive?

"Until we stop thinking of Neandertals as a bush-league version of ourselves, thinking of them as Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, we'll never dignify them in an appropriate way as an evolutionary entity in their own right, with their own evolutionary history," [Ian Tattersal] said. "Neandertals did very well for hundreds of thousands of years, and were very adaptable. They probably did the maximum that could be done with intuitive thinking. I just don't think they had the ability to think symbolically."

[via The Human Nature Daily Review]

Sunday, January 19, 2003 Permanent link to this day

Recipes for bioterror: censoring science - on the quandry of publishing information important for research when it might also be useful to evildoers.

Several months before 11 September, Australian scientists published a paper describing how they had unintentionally created a "supervirus" that, instead of sterilising mice as intended, killed every last one. Could this information help someone to create a human supervirus in the same way?


Sunday, January 12, 2003 Permanent link to this day
Vanishing act

Elsevier's Vanishing Act: on a risk of electronic publishing compared to the print form: articles cannot be removed from a print journal. [via Booknotes]

Friday, December 27, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Finding the rules

The Complexity Complex: on the study of complex systems and some of the various forms they can show up in: biological systems, exploding stars, and condensed matter.

A definition of the nature of complexity, Kadanoff says, "has been somewhat elusive." But if one were to try, "what we see is a world in which there seems to be organization built up in some rich and interesting fashion--from huge mountain ranges, to the delicate ridge on the surface of a sand dune, to the salt spray coming off a wave, to the interdependencies of financial markets, to the true ecologies formed by living things. For each kind of organization, we want to understand how it arose and whether it has any general rules associated with it."

See also:

[via evacuate & flush]

Tuesday, December 24, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Designing intelligence?

Survival of the Slickest: on Intelligent Design, the latest challenge to science education, and the people behind it.

ID theorists posit that living things, due to their organizational complexity and magnificent design, simply must be the creations of some form of intelligence. Where evolutionary biologists see species evolving through a blind process of natural selection acting over millions of years, ID theorists assert that life as we know it simply could not have arisen in such a manner. Furthermore, they claim that this is a scientific observation. ID advocates don't always articulate precisely what sort of intelligence they think should stand in lieu of evolution on textbook pages, but God -- defined in a very nebulous way -- generally outpolls extraterrestrials as the leading candidate.

[via Arts & Letters Daily]

Where from here?

False dawns in the brave world of New Genetics: The Observer's Mike Bygrave looks at the state of genetic research.

After talking to a range of working scientists and researchers, it is relatively easy to come up with a short list of the hot button topics in genetics and their likely progress over, say, the next 10 years. The consensus about what can and cannot (and may never be) done is not complete, but it is impressive. There is more than enough on the agenda to keep everyone busy without worrying about designer babies - or Frankenstein's monsters either.

The list goes like this: pre-implantation genetic diagnosis; germ-line therapy and gene therapy, which together comprise what most people think of as 'genetic engineering'; cloning; stem-cell research; ageing; and the impenetrably named pharmacogenetics, which could turn out to be the most useful of all.

[via also not found in nature]

Saturday, August 03, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Moving forward

Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance: A pre-publication report from a conference sponsored by the NSF and Department of Commerce.

Revolutionary advances at the interfaces between previously separate fields of science and technology are ready to create key NBIC transforming tools (nano-, bio, info-, and cognitive based technologies), including scientific instruments, analytical methodologies, and radically new materials systems. The innovative momentum in these interdisciplinary areas must not be lost but harnessed to accelerate unification of the disciplines. Progress can become self-catalyzing if we press forward aggressively, but if we hesitate the barriers to progress may crystallize and become harder to surmount.

[via Interesting People]

Small scale time travel

Time Travelin' Man: on time travel and Ron Mallett's fascination with it.

This fall, with UConn colleague Dr. Chandra Raychoudri, Mallett will begin work on building a "ring laser"--basically, a device that will create a circulating light beam, perhaps within a photonic crystal that will bend the light's trajectory and slow it down.

Then, a neutron particle will be sent into the space in the center of the beam. In short, the beam--perhaps two beams in one model, with the light traveling in opposite directions--is expected to twist the space-time inside the circle into a loop.

[via Atlantis Rising]

Boeing's gravity research

Anti-gravity propulsion comes ‘out of the closet’: on Boeing's research into Podkletnov's anti-gravity proposals, which I mentioned way back on the day I started this blog. [via NASA Watch]

Sunday, June 09, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Reading and believing

Gunslinger science: Barry Commoner's recent report in Harper's, Unraveling the DNA Myth, is used as an example how bad science can become popularized by a well placed article. [via Follow Me Here]

Thursday, May 30, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Bad science

Not Even Wrong: pointing out the importance of science education through examples of Wolfgang Pauli's comment, "This paper is so bad it is not even wrong."

I just know you've been worried about this

Life can go on forever There may be hope for life in the long run after all. It was previously thought that the fact that the universe's expansion is accelerating meant that eventually there would not be enough energy available to for life to exist. Even with slower and slower metabolisms, which would be required to reduce energy use, eventually a point would be reached where organisms could no longer get rid of heat and would burn up. New work shows that this isn't necessarily the case, depending on the reason why the expansion is accelerating. That reason is something that's still up in the air.

In the right kind of accelerating universe "life can go on indefinitely", say Katherine Freese of the University of Michigan and William Kinney of Columbia University in New York. We don't know whether ours is the right kind, so the doomsday scenario is still possible, but at least there's hope.

An accelerating universe limits how much energy is available to life because distant regions get too far away to be reached by organisms confined to travelling below the speed of light.

See also:

Tuesday, May 28, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Cloning results

Physics bans cloning: long known results from quantum mechanics ruling out the copying of a quantum particle have been extended to classical systems composed of many of these particles, because doing so disturbs the original system. But what that does that mean for biological cloning? Not a whole lot. Even if a genetically identical clone is made, once that clone starts growing, breathing, and living, it is subjected to different environmental pressures than the parent causing the clone to diverge from the original almost immediately. [via The Daily Grail]

Doing your homework

Bad Science Never Dies: on the continued citation of scientific papers after they have been retracted.

At a certain level, these studies have become urban myths. Despite no longer possessing scientific authority, their repeated publication has let them take on a life of their own -- regardless of any grounding in truth. Such scientific myths are worse than simple scare stories about kidney stealing or the influence of the full moon, because future researchers unwittingly depend upon their (invalidated) analyses.

[via The Daily Grail]

Saturday, May 18, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Where's the debugger?

DNA seen through the eye of a coder: Genetics explained in terms that a programmer can understand. [via leuschke]

Sunday, May 12, 2002 Permanent link to this day

The post-human future: an excerpt from Gregory Stock's book, Redefining Humans, on the manipulation of the human genome. As genetic knowledge and technology improves, this path is inevitable. As soon as we know how to do it, someone will.

At first glance the very notion that we might become more than "human" seems preposterous. After all, we are still biologically identical in almost every respect to our cave-dwelling ancestors. But this lack of change is deceptive. Never before have we had the power to manipulate human genetics to alter our biology in meaningful, predictable ways.

See also:

Where are the bones?

Bigfoot at 50: Evaluating a Half-Century of Bigfoot Evidence

Though sightings of the North American Bigfoot date back to the 1830s (Bord 1982), interest in Bigfoot grew rapidly during the second half of the twentieth century. This was spurred on by many magazine articles of the time, most seminally a December 1959 True magazine article describing the discovery of large, mysterious footprints the year before in Bluff Creek, California.

A half century later, the question of Bigfoot's existence remains open. Bigfoot is still sought, the pursuit kept alive by a steady stream of sightings, occasional photos or footprint finds, and sporadic media coverage. But what evidence has been gathered over the course of fifty years? And what conclusions can we draw from that evidence?

See also: The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization

Sunday, April 28, 2002 Permanent link to this day

History in a Cell: an interview with Steve Olson on the work behind his book, Mapping Human History, where he looks at the history of the human race as seen through DNA.

Saturday, April 27, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Inflation reconsidered

Multiple Big Bangs: NPR covers Paul Steinhardt's and Neil Turok's new model of the universe: endless (though extremely long) cycles of expansion, contraction, and big bangs. See their sites for papers and lecture notes with more details.

Inflation reviewed

Guth's Grand Guess

The Big Bang theory, based on speculations dating back to 1922 and confirmed by astronomers in the 1960s, posited that the universe began as a minuscule fireball of extreme density and temperature and that it has been expanding and cooling ever since. But the theory said nothing about what came before or even during the split second when everything went bang. In December 1979 Guth, then 32 and an obscure physicist at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, emerged as the first scientist to offer a plausible description of the universe when it was less than one-hundredth of a second old. During an unimaginably explosive period between 10-37 second and 10-34 second after its birth, Guth said, the universe expanded at a rate that kept doubling before beginning to settle down to the more sedate expansion originally described by the Big Bang theory.

See also: Inflationary Models and Connections to Particle Physics

[via evacuate & flush and this Metafilter thread]

Friday, April 26, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Ticking away

To boldly go...: Paul Davies talks about his new book, How to Build a Time Machine and the theory behind it.

Travel into the future is straightforward; it merely requires the time traveller to move very fast. So far, only microsecond time trips are possible -- far too small for anyone to notice. But significant time warps would occur if a propulsion system were developed to boost a spacecraft to near the speed of light. There are many proposals for this (for example, antimatter drives), but they remain well beyond current technology.

Going back in time is far trickier...

Tuesday, April 23, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Roots and branches, part 2

Human Evolution: A family tree of the human species. [via leuschke]

Thursday, April 18, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Violent diversity

Earthquakes, Volcanoes Tied to Species Diversity?: on the strong ties shown by Sagar Kathuria and K.N. Ganeshaiah between geologically violent and biologically diverse areas of the planet.

Based on the results, they conclude that, in contrast to the huge losses of life and property that often occur in the immediate aftermath of volcanoes and earthquakes, major upheavals such as these offer a sort of "safe haven" for living things over long geological periods of time.

This happens because the cataclysmic events cause variations of altitude in the surrounding areas, provide volcanic and magma mineral nutrients, and bring about climatic changes, all of which translate into diverse habitats conducive to supporting a wide range of species.

See also: Tectonic activities shape the spatial patchiness in the distribution of global biological diversity, published by the team in the Indian science journal Current Science.

Tuesday, April 16, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Gould profiled

The time lord: a profile of Stephen Jay Gould marking the release of his new book, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. [via wood s lot]

Monday, April 15, 2002 Permanent link to this day

Supernatural Selection: a review of Robert Pennock's new book, Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics, on the newest attempt to get evolution out of the classroom.

In the last decade or so, creationism has grown sophisticated. Oh, the old-fashioned creationists are still around, especially in the Bible Belt. They're the ones who believe that the earth is only a few thousand years old, that God created it and all its inhabitants in six days and that fossils are a product of Noah's flood. In the early 1990's, however, a new breed of creationists appeared. These ''neo-creos,'' as they have been called, are no Dogpatch hayseeds. They have Ph.D.'s and occupy positions at some of the better universities. The case they make against Darwinism does not rest on the authority of Scripture; rather, it proceeds from premises that are scientific and philosophical, invoking esoteric ideas in molecular biology, information theory and the logic of hypothesis testing.

[via Snowdeal which, as always, has a nice collection of related links]

Saturday, April 13, 2002 Permanent link to this day
That's why you use "const"

The inconstant constant: on the evidence which seems to indicate that the fine structure constant (alpha), which is derived from the charge of an electron, the speed of light, Planck's constant, and pi, has changed over the history of the universe.

See also:

Wednesday, April 10, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Pick a hand

Fearful asymmetry: a review of Chris McManus' book on handedness in people and their underlying biochemistry: Right Hand, Left Hand.

With that kind of information available in profusion, you can tell that this is not just a serious exposition of scientific theory, but a collector's scrapbook. Chris McManus, Professor of Psychology and Medical Education at University College, London, has devoted his career to "handedness and lateralization", and his files are full of curious observations. Among them are many items of left-hander lore that he is at pains to demolish, such as the old-wives' claims that left-handers are more creative than the rest of us, or die younger, or that because the Gaelic root of their name means "awkward", people called Kerr and Carr are more predominantly left-handed than the population at large.

The footnotes are available online. [via dangerousmeta]

Where from here?

The future of humanity: Colin Tudge, author of In Mendel's Footnotes and The Variety of Life talks about the genetic future of the human race. Are we at a genetic logjam? If so, what, if anything, will break it?

But in us, the neo-Darwinian mechanism seems logjammed. Some genetic variants are being lost, as small tribal groups continue to die out; and others are constantly gained by mutations, some of which persist. There are fluctuations: genes that confer resistance to Aids are gaining ground in Africa, for instance, while Kenyans are currently breeding faster than Italians, so any genetic variants that are peculiar to either group must be increasing or falling. But the permanent losses of genes through extinction of minorities are small compared to the whole pool, and while the particular genes of Kenyans may wax in one century, they may wane in another. Most importantly, there is no consistent pressure to push our gene pool in any particular direction. Nobel prize-winners and professional basketball players are lauded, but do not typically leave more offspring than the ordinary Joe. Infant mortality is still high in some societies but, in genetic terms, it strikes randomly because the poor are not genetically distinct.

[via wood s lot]

Monday, April 08, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Benford and Hawking

Leaping the Abyss: Gregory Benford interviews Stephen Hawking.

"It now appears that the way the universe began can indeed be determined, using imaginary time," Stephen said. We discussed this a bit. Stephen had been using a mathematical device in which time is replaced, as a notational convenience, by something called imaginary time. This changes the nature of the equations, so he could use some ideas from the tiny quantum world. In the new equations, a kind of tunneling occurs in which the universe, before the Big Bang, has many different ways to pass through the singularity. With imaginary time, one can calculate the chances for a given tunneling path into our early universe after the beginning of time as we know it.

"Sure, the equations can be interpreted that way," I argued, "but it's really a trick, isn't it?"

Stephen said, "Yes, but perhaps an insightful trick."

Saturday, April 06, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Light, faster than light

Superluminal phenomena shed new light on time: Graham Shore talks about the research into the possibility that photos can move faster than the speed of light as we know it and whether the existence of such photons would imply that time travel is possible.

Quantum effects such as vacuum polarization in gravitational fields appear to permit "superluminal" photon propagation and give a fascinating new perspective on our understanding of time and causality in the microworld. To understand these new developments, we first need to question the origin of the received wisdom that superluminal motion necessarily leads to unacceptable causal paradoxes.

See also:

Thursday, April 04, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Evolving language

Simulated Evolution of Language: a Review of the Field: Amy Perfors looks at the evolution of language and how it's being studied through computer simulation.

What evolutionary forces propelled the development of language? Are the language abilities of humans the result of an innate, language-specific portion of the brain, or do they result from a more general application of our cognitive abilities? These questions are some of the oldest and the most difficult for linguists to answer. For a long time they were restricted to philosophers. It is only within the last century (especially the last few decades) that the sciences of evolutionary biology, computation, psychology, and cognitive science have begun to provide a direction and a focus in our search for answers. Verbal theorizing and mathematical modeling, both guided by rigorous empirical study, are now the backbone of linguistic thought in this realm.

Wednesday, April 03, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Desktop neutron stars

My Pet Neutron Star: the similarities between Bose-Einstein condensates and neutron stars give experimental physicists a way to study some features of the stars.

They're about the same size as Manhattan Island yet more massive than the Sun. A teaspoonful of one would weigh about a billion tons. On the outside, neutron stars are brittle. They are covered by an iron-rich crust. On the inside, they are fluid. Each one harbors a sea of neutrons -- the debris from atoms crushed by a supernova explosion. The whole ensemble rotates hundreds of times each second, and so spawns powerful quantum tornadoes within the star.

You probably wouldn't want one on your desktop.... That is, unless you're an experimental physicist.

Sunday, March 31, 2002 Permanent link to this day
You can't go back, can you?

The time travel paradox: a scientist from the pure research firm Starlab NV examines the paradoxes of time travel, which he says all boil to the a condition that "due to the presense of a time machine a system has a state incompatible with the laws governing the evolution of the system", and looks at their meaning for the feasibility of time machines.

Sunday, March 24, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Harappan disaster

US study says quake may have wiped out Harappa: a summary of Manika Prasad's work which indicates that the Harappan civilization, which I mentioned here a few days ago, may have been wiped out by massive earthquakes.

Nobody really knows why the Harappan civilisation that thrived around 2500 BC suddenly disappeared. Many theories have been propounded till date which include sudden floods, drought and even the invasion of the region by Aryans. And now a team of geologists from the Stanford University in California believes that the real blame probably lies with the massive earthquakes that struck the region in the past.

[via Surfing the Apocalypse]

Saturday, March 23, 2002 Permanent link to this day
A paradox's origin

The Present Situation In Quantum Mechanics: a translation of Erwin Schröedinger's 16 page paper, of which one paragraph was devoted to what became the Schröedinger's Cat Paradox.

One can even set up quite ridiculous cases. A cat is penned up in a steel chamber, along with the following device (which must be secured against direct interference by the cat): in a Geiger counter there is a tiny bit of radioactive substance, so small, that perhaps in the course of the hour one of the atoms decays, but also, with equal probability, perhaps none; if it happens, the counter tube discharges and through a relay releases a hammer which shatters a small flask of hydrocyanic acid. If one has left this entire system to itself for an hour, one would say that the cat still lives if meanwhile no atom has decayed. The psi-function of the entire system would express this by having in it the living and dead cat (pardon the expression) mixed or smeared out in equal parts.

Thursday, March 21, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Too much LDS

Temporal Anomalies in Time Travel Movies: Mark Young provides an analysis of time travel scenarios in science fiction movies with a bent on explaining why they're not possible. [via Metafilter]

Simulating society

Seeing Around Corners: on studying society by simulating it.

In 1994 Epstein went back to the Santa Fe Institute, this time to lecture on Sugarscape. He told me, "I came to a run in the Sugarscape that we called the Protohistory, which was really this made-up toy history of civilization, where it starts with some little soup of agents and they go to peaks on the Sugarscape and coalesce into tribes and have lots of kids and this forces them down in between the peaks and they smash into the other tribe and they have all this assimilation and combat and all this other stuff. And I showed that toy history to this typically unlikely Santa Fe collection of archaeologists and biologists and physicists, and I said, 'Does this remind anyone of anything real?' And a hand shot up, and it was George Gumerman's hand. I had never met George. And he said, 'It reminds me of the Anasazi.' I said, 'What the heck is that?' And he told me the story of this tribe that flourished in the Southwest and suddenly vanished. And why did they suddenly vanish? I thought, That's a fascinating question."

See also:

[via Robot Wisdom]

Wednesday, March 20, 2002 Permanent link to this day
This is why I can't navigate

The North Magnetic Pole, which is constantly wandering about, is predicted to be leaving Canada in the near future, probably headed for Siberia, according to scientists from the National Geomagnetism Program.

Sunday, March 17, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Harappan mystery

The riddle of the stones: on the mystery of the Happaran language, which is apparently related to the Dravidian family. While we've learned much about the early Asian civilization from archaelogical work the language remains a puzzle.

Billed as one of the last great mysteries of the historical world, it has been regarded by some scholars as the most intriguing linguistic riddle since the hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt were deciphered in the 19th century. For others - cryptographers and cranks alike - it poses a challenge to rank alongside the Nazis' Enigma code. The writing of the Harappan, or Indus valley, civilisation remains almost as baffling today as when first encountered in 1872 by a British amateur archeologist, Sir Alexander Cunningham, in what is today Pakistan. Despite relentless research and numerous claims of decipherment, no single interpretation has found approval and the signs have still to yield a universally accepted sentence.


Whoever should crack the code, say experts, will be assured of fame and fortune: lucrative book deals, lecture tours and celebratory documentaries on television. But, be forewarned. This is not an undertaking for the faint-hearted. Dozens of great minds have tried and failed. Dozens who have claimed to have decrypted the markings have been dismissed as either self-deluding eccentrics or charlatans.

See also:

Saturday, March 16, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Quantum gravity

John Baez scans recent quantum gravity research and gives an admittedly biased preview of Greg Egan's upcoming book, Schild's Ladder.

Between the lines

Causes of Color: an exhibition of the way color is created. [via jerrykindall]

Lack of faith

A Faith-Based Science Policy?

Americans have a right to expect that the President will have the best possible advice both about facts defining his choices and the values that should be brought to the decision. And they have a right to expect that he can tell the difference. It's a bad sign that the new President is pushing forward on many complex issues _ including preparing his first budget _ without any apparent source of advice from the science community. No Science Advisor to the President has been named (let alone confirmed) and few, if any, of the Cabinet members managing major federal research portfolios come with any experience or instincts in managing science and technology.

Thursday, March 14, 2002 Permanent link to this day

A chart released by NPA Satellite Mapping & Exploration shows that portions of London are sinking, ever so slightly, in an area around the Jubilee Line Extension. [via Plep]

See also: Johnson's London

Scarce can our Fields, such Crowds at Tyburn die,
With Hemp the Gallows and the Fleet supply.
Propose your Schemes, ye Senatorian Band,
Whose Ways and Means support the sinking Land;
Lest Ropes be wanting in the tempting Spring,
To rig another Convoy for the K--g.

Sunday, March 10, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Fusion heat

'Science' Magazine: Researchers Claim Tabletop Fusion Success: Erik Baard describes the controversy over the publication of Talevarkhan and Lahey's fusion results.

Still, that hasn't stopped critics from blasting the paper as cold fusion reincarnate. Dr. Robert Park of the American Physical Society, who has for a decade ridiculed new-energy theorists for not publishing papers in respected journals, broke a Science embargo Friday to lash out against the prestigious publication for going ahead with the paper. Park's What's New weekly e-mail bulletin made reference to the "cold fusion fiasco of 13 years ago" when discussing the "bubble fusion" paper.

Science moved up its publication date to an online edition on March 7 and lifted its embargo today because "the reports were getting increasingly distorted," according to Ginger Pinholster, a spokesperson for the magazine and its publisher, the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Pinholster specifically cited Park in the decision. "We knew the paper would be controversial, but it went through a rigorous peer-review process. We felt the best service would be to get it out in the public domain and let scientists debate it and try to reproduce the experiment, and assess if it's a viable energy alternative or not," she explained.

Saturday, March 09, 2002 Permanent link to this day

The Revised Book of Genesis

1. In the beginning, there was a bang! And it was a big bang. The big bang was filled with implications for all that would follow. The first consequence was time; the second was space.

2. Time began ticking forward at time "zero" from this initial moment (in constant intervals). The arrow of time is unidirectional (always forward, never backward, despite any scripts of science fiction writers to the contrary).

Defining memes

What's in a Meme? John Wilkins on what meme really means.

Certain terms and notions in both the sciences and humanities are fated to be misunderstood, either because they are first vaguely formulated, or because they are so evocative they generate such immense enthusiasm and are applied to almost everything, coming to mean almost nothing. A classic example is the term of Thomas Kuhn's (1962): paradigm. Originally intended by Kuhn to apply to what changed radically in a scientific revolution, it came to be applied to perceptual and conceptual changes in cases of individual, social, literary, political, economic and even consumer choice. When a term of philosophy of science is used to advertise a new car design, you know it has lost any definite meaning. Eventually its author abandoned it under criticism in favour of notions and terms that were more specific, but "paradigm" is now ensconced in popular parlance, surviving both author and intended theoretical usage. The difficulty now with the term for a specialist in the philosophy and history of science is that calling a theoretical change a "paradigm shift" has become little more than a metaphor. It describes only an impression and implies only a subjective assessment.

The basic and central notion of memetics is, of course, denoted by the term meme, Richard Dawkins' (1977) term for what is transmitted in culture that is analogous to the biological gene. "Meme" is in danger of suffering the same fate as "paradigm". It is used to denote, variously, neural structures, cultural artefacts, practices, economic systems, religions, concepts, phenotypic traits, self-awareness, and epigenetic predispositions. Memes are thought by some to control behaviour, by others to be acquired through a choice or act of will. The term gets applied to all levels of social and cultural structure, from minimal semantic entities like phonemes, through more molecular entities like phrases and snatches of music, to entire traditions and world views. In this blooming buzzing confusion, the usefulness of memes as a category is being lost or degraded.

[via abuddhas memes]

Quantum computability

Computing the Noncomputable: Tien Kieu looks at the implications of quantum computation with regards to computability theory, in particular the halting problem. Are problems which are non-computable under traditional models solvable with quantum algorithms?

We explore in the framework of Quantum Computation the notion of computability, which holds a central position in Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science. A quantum algorithm that exploits the quantum adiabatic processes is considered for the Hilbert's tenth problem, which is equivalent to the Turing halting problem and known to be mathematically noncomputable. Generalised quantum algorithms are also considered for some other mathematical noncomputables in the same and of different noncomputability classes. The key element of all these algorithms is the measurability of both the values of physical observables and of the quantum-mechanical probability distribution for these values. It is argued that computability, and thus the limits of Mathematics, ought to be determined not solely by Mathematics itself but also by physical principles.

Fusion update

The press release from Science has more details on the reports of cold fusion being achieved by the team led by Rusi Taleyarkhan:

The experiments performed by the Science researchers suggest that nuclear fusion might occur in bubbles created by "acoustic cavitation," a phenomenon studied for nearly a century. In acoustic cavitation, the pressure of a sound wave creates and collapses bubbles in a liquid. The first part of the wave is a tension wave, which stretches the liquid and pulls apart a space for bubbles to form when the liquid is bombarded by energetic particles like neutrons. A second compression wave follows close behind, squeezing and bursting the bubbles, which then emit a brilliant but extremely brief flash of light called sonoluminescence.

Sonoluminescence's exact cause is still somewhat mysterious, but many researchers believe that the shock waves of the collapse generate high temperatures and pressures in the bubble's gas, which releases a burst of energy. Scientists have learned to trap single bubbles within a sound wave, causing them to swell and shrink and emit light in a regular fashion.

Temperatures inside these bubbles can be as high as 5000-7000 degrees Kelvin, about as hot as the sun's surface. But, recent experiments by a number of researchers suggest that bubble temperatures can reach even higher temperatures--closer to the heat needed for nuclear fusion--if the original bubbles are very small and allowed to grow rapidly before collapse.

Note the temperature in the above - this is not cold fusion, as the original news reports were saying.

Subsequent to publication, another team from Oak Ridge National Laboratory attempted to reproduce the results and reported that they have not yet seen signs the neutron emission that would be produced from fusion, but the original team looking at the ORNL data disagrees and says there was in fact fusion detected by the ORNL team. Both agree there is more work to do.

Sunday, March 03, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Invariance tests

A lot of the physics based around general relativity relies on physical laws remaining the same as rotation and speed increase (Lorentz transformations), and under the combination of Charge conjunction, Parity inversion, and Time reversal (CPT Invariance). Robert Bluhm, Alan Kostelecky, Charles Lane, and Neil Russell are among the people trying to find instances where these symmetries are violated. Their recent paper in Physical Review Letters describes experiments using clocks located in space, like the one scheduled to be launched to the ISS in 2005, to detect symmetry violations.

See also:

Cold fusion again?

Cold fusion 'breakthrough' heralds clean nuclear power: on reports that a team from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Michigan have duplicated the work of Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons in creating cold fusion.

Saturday, March 02, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Evolution or design?

Not-So-Intelligent Design (free registration required): Neil Greenspan discusses the push to have intelligent design added as an alternative to evolution in Ohio's biology curriculum.

Some members of the Ohio State Board of Education are maneuvering to have "intelligent design" (ID) taught to Ohio students as an alternative to teaching them about biological evolution. These board members were pursuing the inclusion of ID in the biology curriculum despite unambiguous opposition from the relevant science advisory committee. One board member apparently regards this development as a chance for Ohio "to be on the cutting edge." Unfortunately, this cutting edge will only serve to whittle away a bit more of the collective intellect of the citizenry of Ohio, and the implications reach much farther than the state's boundaries.


A truly fundamental problem with the notion of ID, as a scientific idea, is that, ultimately, it has effectively no explanatory or predictive power. Suggesting that an unknown Intelligent Designer of unspecified attributes designed the eye, the clotting cascade, or the immune system offers no scientific insights into these biologic marvels and suggests no incisive experiments. There is also the nagging issue of how the Intelligent Designer implements designs without being noticed. How do ID proponents explain the existence of defective genes, no longer capable of expression, in one species that are strikingly similar to still functional genes in a related species? What insights does ID provide in accounting for the origin and spread of bacterial resistance to antibiotics? These phenomena are consistent with the principles of evolution, which find application from the molecular level to the level of ecosystems.

He goes on to point out that there was at one point very similar wording to Ohio House Bill 441 tacked on to the No Child Left Behind federal law through an amendment by from Rick Santorum.

See also:

Lately, an "Intelligent Design" (ID) movement has been emerging, trying to steer a course between the inconsequential handwaving of the liberals and the lunatic literalism of the creationists. It too promises more than it has delivered. Phillip Johnson, perhaps their most prominent spokesman, forcefully condemns evolutionary naturalism (1991, 1995) but presents no serious alternative. Michael Behe (1996) claims instances of "irreducible complexity" in biology, which adds up to little more than an old-fashioned incredulity about achieving complex interdependent structures incrementally. The effect of ID on mainstream science has been negligible.

Friday, March 01, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Slip slidin' away

In a paper just published in Nature, A team led by Paul Segall and Peter Cervelli describe a silent earthquake which has caused one slope of the Kilauea Volcano to slide almost 3 and a half inches into the Pacific Ocean. That volcano has been erupting continuously since 1983 in an event called Pu`u `O`o. Volcanoes collapsing into the ocean have caused massive tsunamis in the past.

Thursday, February 28, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Beats Physics for Jocks

Physics for future Presidents: Richard Muller's class on "what every world leader needs to know", including draft chapters from the accompanying textbook with chapters such as Explosions and Dropping food. [via Boing Boing]

Saturday, February 23, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Pauling's notebooks

The research notebooks kept by Linus Pauling are being released online by Oregon State University. Parts are available now, the rest will be up at the end of the month. [via ResearchBuzz]

Friday, February 22, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Quantum Information Theory

Fundamentals of Quantum Information Theory, Michael Keyl:

In this paper we give a self contained introduction to the conceptional and mathematical foundations of quantum information theory. In the first part we introduce the basic notions like entanglement, channels, teleportation etc. and their mathematical description. The second part is focused on a presentation of the quantitative aspects of the theory. Topics discussed in this context include: entanglement measures, channel capacities, relations between both, additivity and continuity properties and asymptotic rates of quantum operations. Finally we give an overview on some recent developments and open questions.

Tuesday, February 19, 2002 Permanent link to this day

The Subtleties of Entanglement and its Role in Quantum Information Theory: Rob Clifton discusses some of the implications of entanglement.

My aim in this paper is a modest one. I do not have any particular thesis to advance about the nature of entanglement, nor can I claim novelty for any of the material I shall discuss. My aim is simply to raise some questions about entanglement that spring naturally from certain developments in quantum information theory and are, I believe, worthy of serious consideration by philosophers of science. The main topics I discuss are different manifestations of quantum nonlocality, entanglement-assisted communication, and entanglement thermodynamics.

Thursday, February 14, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Massive black holes

Stars and singularities: Tal Alexander's chapter from an upcoming book, The Galactic Black Hole edited by H. Falcke and F. W. Hehl, summarizes recent research the interaction of massive black holes at galaxy centers with the stars around them.

Tuesday, February 05, 2002 Permanent link to this day
NPR on Wisconsin fossils

NPR has a story on the Wisconsin jellyfish find, including a twist I hadn't heard before: many of these fossils may have made it in to peoples' counter tops and such things before their importance was realized.

Saturday, January 26, 2002 Permanent link to this day

Thousands of fossilized jellyfish have been found in a Wisconsin quarry by a fossil dealer who, along with Whitey Hagadorn and Robert Dott, has published a paper, Stranded on an Upper Cambrian shoreline: Medusae from Central Wisconsin, in the February issue of Geology on the find.

Monday, January 14, 2002 Permanent link to this day

The Crackpot Index: keeping score for revolutionary contributions to physics. [via Follow Me Here]

Thursday, January 10, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Stem cell agreement

In a settlement to a lawsuit from University of Wisconsin, Geron, which holds the rights to seven of the 60ish embryonic stem cell lines that Bush authorized for federally funded research, has agreed to lessen its exclusive rights to those lines and to provide free access to academic and government scientists.

Tuesday, January 08, 2002 Permanent link to this day

Oh good, the Earth may not be swallowed up by the expanding sun when it turns into a red giant in 7.5 billion years. This is per an article published by a Sussex University team, including Robert Smith, in the latest issue of Astronomy & Geophysics (which doesn't seem to be online yet), which argues that the lessened mass of the Sun will cause the Earth to move to a wider orbit and escape the sun's expansion. Another team has looked at the same possibility in a paper in Icarus last year. [via dangerousmeta]

Saturday, January 05, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Pocket particle accelerator

Haven't you always wanted a particle accelerator your can fit in your pocket? Researchers at Georgia Tech have built just that: the Nevatron, described in a recent Physics Review Letters paper. [via The Daily Grail]

Creation of the universe

The Big Bang burger bar: on the creation and evolution of the universe from nothing, via quantum tunnelling and expansion. [via eugene]

Friday, January 04, 2002 Permanent link to this day

David Deutsch's theory of the multiverse is discussed in recent articles in New Scientist and Discover. There's also a mailing list, Fabric-of-Reality, for discussing the concept. [via abuddhas memes]

Friday, December 28, 2001 Permanent link to this day
Beautiful physics

Why is Quantum Physics so Beautiful? Transcript and video from the public television show Closer to the Truth.

Wednesday, December 26, 2001 Permanent link to this day
Palestinian research paper

Last month I mentioned a paper that had been retroactively pulled from Human Immunology because of the controversy over the findings. Here's that paper: The Origin of Palestinians and Their Genetic Relatedness with Other Mediterranean Populations". [via also not found in nature]

Sunday, December 23, 2001 Permanent link to this day

On the myth that lemmings commit mass suicide.

Wednesday, December 19, 2001 Permanent link to this day
Quantum computer

IBM's Almaden Research Center have built a 7 qubit quantum computer, the most complex yet, and used it to solve Shor's Algorithm to factor a num

Tuesday, December 18, 2001 Permanent link to this day
Deep roots

The earliest ancestor of humans has been found, according to Sean Carroll in a paper published in PNAS: the collar flagellate (choanoflagellate).

Sunday, December 16, 2001 Permanent link to this day
Quantum biology

Quantum Evolution: applying quantum mechanics to molecular biology and genetics.

Tuesday, December 11, 2001 Permanent link to this day
Lightning map

With the help of the Lightning Imaging Sensor and the Optical Transient Detector, another group of NASA researchers have produced a lightning map of the world. [via jrobb]

Methane explosion

NASA researchers point to a giant underwater methane explosion as the reason behind a 13°F rise in the Earth's temperature 55 million years ago and say it could happen again.

Sunday, December 09, 2001 Permanent link to this day

Scientists say palm-reading is true guide to intelligence: research on dermatoglyphics at Barcelona University shows that "abnormal" creases on the palm point to lower intelligence.

Tuesday, December 04, 2001 Permanent link to this day
Microscopic distortion

Objects in microscope may be smoother than they appear: Werner Hofer and a team has shown that the tip of a scanning tunneling microscope, which is used to produce extremely high resolution images of objects, may actually pull atoms away from the object's surface, making them look rougher than they really are. Their paper appears in Physics Review Letters' December 3rd issue.

Sunday, December 02, 2001 Permanent link to this day
Kodak moment

Yukiko Goda, Michael Colicos, Boyce Collins, and Michael Sailor have been able to get images of neurons forming new connections as memories are stored. Their work is published in this week's Cell. [via wood s lot]

Oceanic volcanoes

Oceanographers on the AMORE 2001 expedition involving the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy and the German icebreaker Polarstern have found more evidence of volcanoes under the Gakkel Ridge in the Arctic Ocean. [via Ghost in the Machine]

Saturday, December 01, 2001 Permanent link to this day
Zero-point energy stardrive

Propellantless space travel? Scientists from EarthTech International propose using zero-point energy to drive the interstellar ships.

Sunday, November 25, 2001 Permanent link to this day
Science censorship

ASHI's journal Human Immunology has retroactively pulled a paper, "The Origin of Palestinians and Their Genetic Relatedness with Other Mediterranean Populations", by Antonio Arnaiz-Villena and others on the similarity of genes between Middle Eastern Jews and Palestinians from its September 2001 issue and removed the lead author from its editorial board. The paper has stirred controversy over its political language and its conclusion that the two groups are closely related genetically. [via also not found in nature]

Saturday, November 24, 2001 Permanent link to this day
Is it full?

Liquid Space: Paul Davies on the quantum vacuum. [via evacuate & flush]

Switching photons

A University of Toronto team led by Aephraim Steinberg have created a photon level switch (paper, slides), potentially leading toward optical quantum logic gates.

Wednesday, November 21, 2001 Permanent link to this day
DNA computer

A team led by Ehud Shapiro is publishing results of a simple nanoscale DNA computer in this week's Nature. [via BBC News (story)]

Monday, November 19, 2001 Permanent link to this day
When binary won't cut it?

Computing in trinary. [via /.]


The controversy over Seahenge goes on. First there were protests over moving the tree stump and 55 surrounding oak posts, which date to 2050BC, that make up the monument from its original location in Norfolk. The monument was relocated to Flag Fen, where it was almost lost to fire early last year, for study. Now there is apparent disagreement over whether it should be put back or preserved on dry land, with English Heritage saying that to bury the momument back in the beach risks destruction by the North Sea. A hearing will be held next week to decide the issue. A similar but larger structure was found early this year less than 200 yards away, but has not yet been excavated.

Sunday, November 18, 2001 Permanent link to this day
Prisoners' Dilemma

I found a Google search in my referrer log this morning from someone looking for stuff on the Prisoners' Dilemma in relation to the World Trade Center. That got me curious what he might have been looking for. The closest thing I could find was an 1998 essay from a University of Michigan international affairs student that applies the Prisoners' Dilemma to the choice of a response to terrorism to show that tit-for-tat is the only way to be successful. Axelrod and Hamilton showed this strategy had the best payoff in a 1981 paper in Science: The Evolution of Cooperation. Björn Brembs' article in Oikos discusses different strategies for the game, some of which can be simulated online, and gives examples of applications in nature. It's a shame that real life is not as straightforward as game theory.

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Copyright © 2001-2002 by Wes Cowley