Bill Gates on Nuclear Power and Energy

Posted by tigerhawkvok on February 19, 2010 02:25 in General , misc science , energy


Man, the embed code on that was funky ... hopefully I extracted the actual video feed properly.

Fun fact? Bill Gates implies he likes fast reactors. Maybe integral fast reactors?

Religion in the Classroom and the Slippery Slope

Posted by tigerhawkvok on February 14, 2010 15:33 in evolution , religion , anti-science , misc science , public science , creationists

Reading an article like the New York Times' recent one on textbooks and religion in the US has the magical ability to just make me so angry. The article itself is mostly neutral, but it brings up Don McLeroy, a dentist in Texas who has remarkable influence over science and history taught to children for the large majority of states. A history-denying activist moron er, "Young Earth Creationist" of the activist stripe, he has said

"Everything that had a beginning we can say had a cause," he tells his class of fourth-graders at Grace Bible Church. "And now science definitely says that the universe had a beginning. Therefore, the universe had to have a cause. And that cause is God."

Citation: Statesman.com

OK, normally, this would just be infuriating as he'd be a nutter on a school board that approves books for a state. But, seeing as Texas is the second largest textbook market in the US, and California is broke, it means this man essentially shapes the education of the rest of the country. To quote the Times,

And James Kracht, a professor at Texas A&M's college of education and a longtime player in the state's textbook process, told me flatly, "Texas governs 46 or 47 states."

As (admittedly) excessively vitriolic PZ Myers and other "strong" "New Atheists" can be, this is the sort of thing that makes me feel their position has merit. Evolution is not under controversy in any way in the scientific or educational community. Filth like McLeroy or David Barton are liars. The "Discovery Institute" are religious shills operating under an agenda to drive science out of the public arena and move to a religious educational system via the "Wedge Document".

Stories like this should inspire activism in freethinkers. Stories like this make it hard to reach a mutually agreeable arrangement in deference to the idea of non-overlapping magisteria (which, incidentally, I find highly problematic besides; a highly flawed concept with arguments similar to those Dawkins makes) — because if you give an inch, fools like Don McLeroy will try to take a mile.

NASA Temperature Data

Posted by tigerhawkvok on January 23, 2010 15:18 in misc science , public science

I got a comment on a tweet of mine from a friend of mine on Facebook:

Statistically? What does that mean? I mean, I think statistics like "1 in 5" or is that just NASA's way of saying '09 had an average temp equal to '98's average temp?

(Source: Facebook)

It's a pretty reasonable question, which kind of underlines the misperceptions on how temperature stuff is measured. John's second point is pretty close to the mark, but there are some subtleties that get lost along the way.

So, first consider the way these temperatures are measured. Obviously, there is inherent instrument error, but there are much larger sources of error. Consider what would happen if you had 100 sensors seperated by 1 m in Death Valley, one sensor in the middle of the Pacific, and one in Antarctica. Obviously, an arithmetic mean is grossly inadequate. So, the data has to be integrated in some weighted manner, which introduces statistical error. Then consider local effects. If you have a thermometer at location X, but if you move it one meter to the left a building drops a shadow over the thermometer. Which is "more true"? People and critters, etc, will experience both temperatures. Do you use both? What about locations that have such a situation, but only one sensor? You need a model to integrate the data.

Then consider what it means for the temps to be equal. Which is a higher temp: 30 +/ 0.3, or 29.8 + 0.5 / - 0.1 ? What about 30.1 +/- 0.7? There are good arguments on various sides, but the most honest thing to say is that they are statistically equivalent — that is, the temperatures all lie within the error bars of the other temperatures. However, the media would probably report the 29.8 temperature as the lowest and 30.1 temperature as the highest, though there is a compelling argument to be made for the reverse.

Here's a couple fairly extreme examples: is 32 +/- 0.1, or 30 +/- 5 larger? There is around a 30% chance that the second temperature is higher, and possibly as much as 3 degrees higher, which is significant. Statistically, you can't tell the difference between the two. A second case would be if you consider a stream of years with steadily improving detectors. If you had a five year span that the error bars kept shrinking, and each subsequent year was entirely within the error bars of the previous, can you say anything about trends in that data? Of course not.

Scientific data without error bars isn't scientific data, and it's a travesty the media almost never mentions error. There is a reason, though, that all the caveats are required and provided by people like NASA.

International Year of Biodiversity

Posted by tigerhawkvok on January 01, 2010 15:34 in General , biology , news , misc science , public science

2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity according to the UN — the IUCN will highlight a different endangered animal each day of the year, apparently. Today's animal is apparently the polar bear (remember last week's Tuesday Tetrapod? Ursus maritimus), but I can't find the list yet. I'll update this post when I do, but it looks like events and press releases and such will kick off on the 11th of January.

Paralysis of Choice

Posted by tigerhawkvok on January 01, 2010 14:46 in General , misc science , public science

I've had some down time, but not posting, what gives?

Well, it's not to say I've not had work — but the fact of the matter is it's difficult to work without my primary sets of files an such. So, while I can work, it is almost certainly more efficient to wait until I end my visit with the family tomorrow and return to San Diego. But this merely adds reasons as to why I should be posting, but haven't.

I give you the paradox, or paralysis, of choice. I have so many ideas knocking around in my head that I can't decide which to commit to ... keyboard? So, instead, Twitter has been getting some degree of linkspam and random commentary. But, topical subjects wait for no man. As is virtually a requirement, therefore, I give you ten significant events of the past decade in science. Farewell, naughts! Into the 10's!

  1. Kitzmiller v. Dover smashes ID into a fine powder. Creationists continue to ignore it.
  2. China proves to be a veritable treasure trove of non-avian dinosaurs, providing many, many feathered theropods that changes the way dinosaurs are drawn.
  3. The Large Hadron Collider is finished, then breaks. Some physicists propose the Higgs boson is working backwards in time to keep it from working. It is fixed, and is currently ramping up in power.
  4. An Inconvenient Truth brings climate change into the mainstream conciousness. Cue debate from both sides here (but regardless of your position, it *was* significant).
  5. Stolen emails from HadCRU contribute to the derailing of the Copenhagen talks, despite demonstrations the mainstream interpretations were false.
  6. The chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, or B.d) steps up its affects across amphibian populations.
  7. The Spirit and Opportunity rovers begin their 90 day missions. They are currently on day 2189 and 2168 of their missions, respectivley.
  8. Photons from SGR 1806-20, 50,000 lyr away, hit us and fried some sattelites.
  9. Persistant antivax movements lead to an outbreak of mumps in Brooklyn.
  10. NIF was completed, with ignition tests due to begin this year.
  11. Obviously this isn't a complete list. Any other interesting bits of science I missed?

    And Happy New Year, everyone!

Chytrid fungus in plethodontid salamanders

Posted by tigerhawkvok on December 18, 2009 16:47 in General , biology , research , misc science , herpetology

Yes, I know I failed on the Tuesday Tet. I know what it will be (and will be a double-feature next week), but I couldn't bring myself to do a short entry without some research first.

Also, the entry on the basal theropod (DOI 10.1126/science.1180350) will be coming. More importantly though, I wanted to note that my good friend Sara Weinstein had her first paper published in Copeia today. You can view the abstract at asihcopeiaonline.org ("An Aquatic Disease on a Terrestrial Salamander: Individual and Population Level Effects of the Amphibian Chytrid Fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, on Batrachoseps attenuatus (Plethodontidae)" DOI: 10.1643/CH-08-180). I'll post a nice summary of it in an few days, also. Hopefully that will be somewhat illuminating, as I've known about this project (and helped a little bit) for 3-4 years now!

Now, I just need to get myself in gear and get *my* paper out. 9 months is just embarassing.

So-Called Climategate

Posted by tigerhawkvok on December 06, 2009 21:37 in anti-science , misc science , public science

Note: This references file version "d", which seems to be the one generally discussed. There is a later version, "e", that never made it into any used/published data sets.

Oh, "climategate". How you are poorly reported.

It recently came to my attention that, awesomely, much of this OMGZ CODE OF EVIL was written in IDL. Now, having done astronomy research in IDL, all my undergraduate data reduction in IDL, and my (horribly behind) sauropod research in IDL, I feel like I can competently comment on the code here.

So, this artificial decline hiding? Well, we can take a look at ./FOIA/documents/osborn-tree6/briffa_sep98_d.pro (aside: if you want to see the leaked data yourself, being aware that the data was illegally obtained, you can download it via BitTorrent and this magnet link: magnet link). They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so, let's start with a picture:

source in Emacs 23.1.1 buffer

Printscreen of emacs. The whole code, in all it's beauty. Click for a full-sized version.


Darwin Christmas, and Finding Control Groups

Posted by tigerhawkvok on December 06, 2009 19:18 in evolution , biology , misc science

I find this incredibly entertaining:

Darwin Christmas

"Darwin Christmas". Hotlinked since it lives on Imageshack.

Arguably the greatest problem with it is that we're programmed from a young age to think of left-to-right as increasing on a given axis, though obviously this is meant to be read from right-to-left.

In other news, this "weird science" post from Ars Technica comes with this entertaining gem:

This is little more than a press release on some research in progress. Still, even before the results are in, the process of setting up the experiment turned out to be rather informative. The study, you see, is on porn consumption, and it looks like the researchers will be stuck working without anybody to act as a negative control. "We started our research seeking men in their twenties who had never consumed pornography," said Simon Louis Lajeunesse. "We couldn't find any."

Time to stop procrastinating and start properly bolting out those grad school applications.

Zooseum Redux

Posted by tigerhawkvok on December 04, 2009 18:31 in General , biology , misc science , public science

I realized that the Zooseum has the flaw that on wet, cold, days, neither aspect of the zooseum would attract customers. However, this problem is easily rectified by having an underground portion of the zooseum.

Located centrally under the zooseum, you can locate the food court and a few stores (with, of course, others by the entrance/exit). Throw in some paths with moving walkways to connect exhibit to exhibit, and arial enclosed connections for nearby exhibits (think Birge-LeConte, or parking structure-airport in L4D's "Dead Air").

This provides an all-weather aspect to the attraction, and means that unlike most zoos, the hours of operation don't need to be strictly confined to animal activity. With hidden paths, lighting does not need to account for disturbance to the animals, as the interconnects can be well-lit, but being underground, should provide little to no animal irritation. Though animal activity will drop off, all that becomes needed are suggestions or notices that there will be reduced animal activity after a certain time can be made, and with longer operating hours, the zooseum should see a higher profit than a standard zoo *or* museum.


Posted by tigerhawkvok on December 03, 2009 00:05 in General , biology , misc science , public science

Zoos are awesome, and so are museums. So, I wonder, why has no one taken the obvious step and combined natural history museums and zoos?

I think the way you do this is that the physical layout of the "zooseum" echos a phylogenetic tree. Different branches are linked up by aerial cable cars, giving a nice set of sightlines while preserving the message of evolution and interrelatedness of animals. Along these branching paths, there are interspersed buildings with fossil representations and extinct members of lineages.


Sample layout. Red lines represent potential arial paths.

In addition to this being a largely natural layout for the animals and fossils on display, this also helps instill a proper phylogenetic way of thinking for visitors. Thus, aviaries would be most closely placed to crocodile and alligator enclosures, and between the two would be exhibits on non-avian dinosaurs and pterosaurs. Additionally, finally, Dimetrodon would be placed in fossil exhibits on the ways to the mammal section of the "zoo", and any oceangoing mammals (ie, dolphins or porpoises, with whales being obviously unfeasible) would be most adjacent to hippos, pigs, and cervids, and bovids.

Despite the "unusual" layouts mentioned in the last paragraph, much of the layouts are quite natural. The cats are together, birds of prey are together, snakes are together (and closest to varanids), etcetera. This also provides the unique opportunity to provide an insect/arthropod exhibit that presents relations of these generally underdescribed (both in the literature and in the public) animals.

This "zooseum", then, is effectively a one-stop shop for the natural world. The unique display mechanism and unique content could also provide a draw for personnel, and good merchandising opportunities. The purpose of the museum portions would be more education than research, with (therefore) few real fossils and mostly casts, emphasizing comparative biology and morphologies. The aerial paths connecting various groups could be centered around the amniote split, acting like a hub.

Perhaps this entry was kind of rambly, but I felt like this is a nifty idea, and I wanted to post it — any thoughts?

Sean Hannity vs. Endangered Fish

Posted by tigerhawkvok on September 30, 2009 14:20 in news , misc science

Apparently, Sean Hannity has it out for Hypomesus transpacificus, or the (endangered) Delta Smelt.

H. transpacificus is an otocephaline teleost, a member of the family Osmeridae. It is actually euryhalinical, and tolerant of a wide range of salinities — so if Stewart is correct on the motivation (salinity), then it is bad news indeed, and the protection needed to be done anyway. The height of the water column is also important to these fish, being pelagic (ie, residing in the middle-area of the water column, away from the surface and from the bottom). However, more importantly, the fish is indeed fairly basic to the food chain, and feeds bass and salmon.

I didn't realize yesterday was Tuesday, so a late Tuesday Tetrapod will be up this afternoon.

Too True

Posted by tigerhawkvok on August 31, 2009 15:03 in General , news , paleontology , misc science

Click on the picture to see the whole thing.

Click for whole comic. Via Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

Alas, too true. Also, read today's comic. Also, far too true. That and "feature creep" on papers.

To make this a bit more substantial, how's this for some interesting news: scientists have found microstructures on a fossil feather (40 MY old) that indicate it was iridescent. Nifty!

Is it a weasel? Methinks it is.

Posted by tigerhawkvok on August 30, 2009 23:11 in computers , biology , programming , misc science , internet

Since I've wasted most of today on this (oh feature creep. And an extra "-1".), I thought I'd share. Reading around on Pharyngula, I found myself wanting to make a more customizable, even-less-preprogrammed version of Richard Dawkin's WEASEL program. So, I present you with a Python 3.0+ version of Dawkin's "Methinks it is a weasel" program. It will take any nonzero length starting string, has a maximum generational cap for local maxima, with customizable rates for single-bit errors (like SNPs), duplication errors, number of offspring, weighting for approaching the target sequence, and accepted variability, and whether bad mutations are penalized or not.

Sample output. Click for larger / more lines.

The point of the program, as published in The Blind Watchmaker, is to show that with random mutations over time you can expect to see something like order pop out of a random test string. The version I have below takes the genetic modelling a bit further, starting with any string, regardless of length, and duplication / omission errors will trim down to the right solution. In debug mode, there's an additional completely random selection every 500 generations to help pull the program out of local maxima, but it is not in the primary program.

Click the fold to read the source, or download it here


Inside Nature's Giants

Posted by tigerhawkvok on July 27, 2009 19:06 in General , biology , misc science

A quicky today — prompted by Darren's post over at TetZoo, I went on a hunt for US-visible versions of the UK series "Inside Nature's Giants". Here's a snippet from YouTube on the second episode on whales:

You can watch the entire playlist here, or the same user's upload of the Elephant, which I'm just now about to watch.

On Denialism

Posted by tigerhawkvok on June 15, 2009 14:48 in General , anti-science , misc science

Sometimes, I think we were too successful in doing our part to fix certain problems, such as the major elimination of DDT sources and reduction in CFC use. The rebound associated with these, such as the Bald Eagle from the brink of extinction, and reformation of the ozone layer from dangerous levels, really leads us to have the impression we can do whatever we want to the brink of disaster and rebound.

The global fish stocks are a symptom of this mentality. To a lesser extent, climate change is in there, too — though, I feel like the term "global warming" that isn't (i.e., some places will cool, which certainly makes it nonglobal and not warming) provides fodder for denialists.

This is my rebuttal to everyone who wants to look away, or wait: realize that the ecosystem is precisely that, a system. It is finely balanced, and virtually all changes take place on a century pace at the most breakneck. This means that the extirpation of wolves from Yellowstone increased erosion, shrink forests, and decrease water quality [ no wolves -> increased prey items, such as elk -> destroy young trees & feed more by the river, loosening dirt ]. It means that Bufo marinus causes snakes to shrink (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0406440101) and an increase in Crocodylus porosus populations but a decrease in C. johnstoni populations (DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2008.04.031). Three degrees of climate change to the barrier reef could collapse bird and turtle populations.

These are things that affect us, too. We don't live in a vacuum. For example, sensitive phytoplankton provide about half the oxygen generation of the planet. You can argue about hippy-ness, tree-hugging, whatever you want ... but the fact of the matter is, if climate change proponents are wrong, you're just being a bit less wasteful and more efficient if you follow their advice, at the expense of a few dollars and a little time.

If denialists are wrong, and we follow their advice, we have environmental collapse, and in the worst-case scenario, mass extinctions a planet not quite so hospitible to humans. Life, even tetrapod life will do fine; it has adapted to dramatic changes in oxygen content before. We, however, would be in a much worse position.

Think of it this way: it's like Pascal's Wager, except, you know, real.