Posted by Nick
Yes, this place appears entirely forgotten about. We do think about it sometimes, though, we promise.
A friend sent me this link a few days ago and I just can’t get over how cool this is. Materials are my thing to begin with, but the idea that such a simple process like stretching would create pseudo-magnetic fields like this paper reports is just wild. Electronic behavior like this that makes the control of electrons easier obviously has a ton of implications for electronics, but I’m honestly more blown away by the sheer absurdity of this – so simple, and discovered by accident. The things we don’t know are really quite incredible.
Posted by Nick
Michael Mann gets in the news a lot, recently for the wrong reasons. I feel bad for the guy, but I also hate the way the science of climate change gets represented in the media whenever he comes up. It remains very clear to anybody remotely familiar with science or reasonably willing to evaluate information and then form opinions based on it that global warming is a very real phenomenon. I personally believe that it is far and away the most important issue facing humanity in the next hundred years, although there are legitimate debates to be had about the rate at which climate change is occurring. However, it is reasonable to expect that the relative dangers of climate change and the rate at which it is happening to be discussed and debated among scientists, and that ultimately scientific inquiry will determine the extent of the problem. Unfortunately, not everybody feels that way.
Apparently Kenneth Cuccinelli, Attorney General of Virginia, is investigating Dr. Mann with the intention of determining that he used grant money improperly while he worked at the University of Virginia. If found to be true, UVa would be required to return the money to NSF. In his time as the Attorney General of Virginia, Cuccinelli has also challenged the EPA on fuel standards and greenhouse gases. He clearly believes that global warming is either not happening or not a problem. This indicates to me that he either ignores facts for political reasons or that he genuinely believes that his science education in climatology is sufficient to interpret facts in a way that disagrees with an overwhelming majority of experts in the field, making him either intellectually dishonest or very arrogant. Based on his history of using political means to challenge scientific findings, his action against Dr. Mann are nothing less than a declaration of war on scientific inquiry in the state of Virginia. If Dr. Mann were a prominent climate change skeptic, I have no doubt that Cuccinelli would not be doing this. The fact is that the inquiry arises simply because a man in power disagrees with the findings of a scientific investigation, and is willing to use any means necessary to discredit these findings. Since Cuccinelli is not a scientist, he is unable to create scientific dialogue in the usual, constructive, way of publishing contrary results and generating research in an area. Instead, he is prosecuting a scientist whose findings make his political positions untenable.
One of the beauties of science is that widely accepted theories are widely accepted because they have a large body of evidence suggesting that they are, in fact, correct. The most distilled mission of science is to find the truth about how our universe works. Unfortunately, Cuccinelli’s view for science in Virginia is for it to be a mockery of the truth and simply parrot back to politicians what they wish to hear. This is an incredibly concerning development for anybody who believes that a scientific approach to physical problems is a constructive one.
Max Planck once said that “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” While the idea of climate change is in no way a new scientific idea, I am hopeful that it will eventually be widely accepted as a problem that must be dealt with. Unfortunately, waiting for the process Planck describes to occur will take time, which may lead us beyond the point of no return for the world.
Since I’m slow, this is probably a month or so late. Oh well.
Posted by Matt
First of all, Nick and I would both like to solemnly swear that this blog is not dead. it’s just been on graduation-related hiatus. In two weeks, we’ll be done and you’ll be bombarded with so much science you’ll be reciting the periodic table in your sleep. As we speak, I’m planning to write about my thesis work and about an initiative I’m involved in to convince Congress that disposable bags are bad.
But for now, some thoughts on a story Nick showed me. It doesn’t surprise me one bit that a third year Harvard Law student would believe that white people are smarter than black people. Racism, in all its forms and gradations, is still rampant in America. But what really hurts me on a molecular level is that she thinks there might be a genetic basis for her belief.
There is not. We tend to think there is a greater genetic difference between the social constructs we call races than there actually is, because differences in skin color and facial features appear dramatic. In reality, the genetic difference between light and dark skin is miniscule to the point of being inconsequential compared to the rest of the genome. The genes for skin color are also some of the most easily influenced by the environment. If you took a population of Swedes and put them in the middle of Africa, in 5-10,000 years they would be black.
We are one of the least genetically diverse animals on the planet, because we originated from such a small population in Africa. At some point, a small subset of that population broke off and populated the rest of the world. Because of that, Africans are actually more genetically diverse than the rest of the world combined. There is liable to be more substantial, consequential genetic difference between different regions of Africa than between Europe and Asia.
This is why it’s ludicrous to compare “white” and “black” people genetically. The Harvard student thinks that if you raised 100 white babies and 100 black babies together under utopian conditions, it would prove once and for all the differences between the races. Unfortunately, if you really wanted representative samples, the black population would be so much more diverse than the white population that the study would actually be pretty meaningless.
The state of scientific education all over the world is miserable. Maybe I’m being hopelessly optimistic, but I believe that if people really understood the science of genetics and evolution, there would be so much less controversy over these things.
I’d also like to take this time to point out this excellent blog on human intelligence by David Shenk, who just published a book called The Genius in All of Us. I intend to dig into a lot of this fascinating stuff in the near future, so watch this space.
Posted by Nick
The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) recently decided that element 112, which until now has been referred to as ununbium, will now be called Copernicium and use the abbreviation Cn. After being officially recognized by IUPAC as an element last year, copernicum had used the abbreviation Uub. The most important consequence of this, of course, is that all periodic tables in the world must be replaced immediately.
Posted by Nick
This is a little bit late, but engineers at UCLA recently reported that they were able to successfully modify some bacteria to produce isobutanol from photosynthesis instead of sugars. Pretty damn cool, because isobutanol is a useful alternative fuel that burns relatively clean. Also cool because the process consumes carbon dioxide, as all photosynthetic processes do.