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Posts tagged science
ExoMars moves on (via https://www.flickr.com/photos/europeanspaceagency/50397911967/)
ART + SCIENCE features photographs by artists who address a genre of photography that lives at the intersection of art and science. This movement is not new, yet its reach is currently building momentum. More than producing aesthetic images derived from scientific data, science-inspired artists find connections that reflect a common purpose – one that integrates the authenticity of science and the communicative power of art. The sci-art movement promotes dialogue and offers a platform in hopes of improving the world in which we live.
Key observational indicators of climate change in the Arctic, most spanning a 47 year period (1971–2017) demonstrate fundamental changes among nine key elements of the Arctic system. We find that, coherent with increasing air temperature, there is an intensification of the hydrological cycle, evident from increases in humidity, precipitation, river discharge, glacier equilibrium line altitude and land ice wastage. Downward trends continue in sea ice thickness (and extent) and spring snow cover extent and duration, while near-surface permafrost continues to warm. Several of the climate indicators exhibit a significant statistical correlation with air temperature or precipitation, reinforcing the notion that increasing air temperatures and precipitation are drivers of major changes in various components of the Arctic system. […] The Arctic biophysical system is now clearly trending away from its 20th Century state and into an unprecedented state, with implications not only within but beyond the Arctic.
Biodiversity of insects is threatened worldwide. Here, we present a comprehensive review of 73 historical reports of insect declines from across the globe, and systematically assess the underlying drivers. Our work reveals dramatic rates of decline that may lead to the extinction of 40% of the world’s insect species over the next few decades. […] The main drivers of species declines appear to be in order of importance: i) habitat loss and conversion to intensive agriculture and urbanisation; ii) pollution, mainly that by synthetic pesticides and fertilisers; iii) biological factors, including pathogens and introduced species; and iv) climate change
“I am going to give what I will call an elementary demonstration. But elementary does not mean easy to understand. Elementary means that very little is required to know ahead of time in order to understand it, except to have an infinite amount of intelligence. There may be a large number of steps that hard to follow, but to each does not require already knowing the calculus or Fourier transforms.”
–Richard P. Feynman
Strictly speaking, panpsychism is contrary to scientism rather than to science (if we take science to be a method rather than a dogma). Regardless, panpsychism, as well as transgressing the general scientific paradigm, transgresses the Christian one. Living under the shadow of both science and Christianity should make us wise to the legacy and interaction between the two, which is not always as antagonistic as is often believed. Descartes’ explicit aim in his Meditations on First Philosophy – wherein he divided nature into human souls and the mechanistic environment in which they found themselves – was to carry out the call of Pope Leo X to logically prove that the soul (which Descartes equated to mind) be distinct to the material body, so that life after death (in heaven or hell) be a logical view. Panpsychism per se does not need to make this afterlife claim: the death of the body implies the dissolution of the unifying sentience (the dominant monad, the holon) into its still unified smaller components – but the self as such dies. In panpsychism, mankind has no special status distinct to the other organisms, and as such is generally opposed to Christianity  and other Abrahamic religions. Moreover, panpsychism is more akin to the animistic, pagan religions that worshipped nature. Thus in Christendom, panpsychism has been contrary to both the religious and mechanistic ethos, resulting in its being shunned, disdained, and perhaps even purposefully suppressed: the Roman Inquisition burned the panpsychist Bruno on the stake in 1600.
There are two different angles at play in the discussion about colonialism and science. First is what constitutes scientific epistemology and what its origins are. As a physicist, I was taught that physics began with the Greeks and later Europeans inherited their ideas and expanded on them. In this narrative, people of African descent and others are now relative newcomers to science, and questions of inclusion and diversity in science are related back to “bringing science to underrepresented minority and people of color communities.” The problem with this narrative is that it isn’t true. For example, many of those “Greeks” were actually Egyptians and Mesopotamians under Greek rule. So, even though for the last 500 years or so science has largely been developed by Europeans, the roots of its methodology and epistemology are not European. Science, as scientists understand it, is not fundamentally European in origin. This complicates both racist narratives about people of color and innovation as well as discourse around whether science is fundamentally wedded to Euro-American operating principles of colonialism, imperialism and domination for the purpose of resource extraction.
The baby is not the first child to be born with DNA from three people. In the 1990s, fertility doctors tried to boost the quality of women’s eggs by injecting cytoplasm, the cellular material that contains mitochondria, from healthy donor eggs. The procedure led to several babies being born with DNA from the parents plus the healthy donor. Some of the children developed genetic disorders and the procedure was banned. Speaking about the latest case, Dusko Ilic, a stem cell scientist at King’s College London, said: “Without much ado, it appears the first mitochondrial donation baby was born three months ago. This was an ice-breaker. The baby is reportedly healthy. Hopefully, this will tame the more zealous critics, accelerate the field, and we will witness soon the birth of the first mitochondrial donation baby in the UK.”
About a week ago, I put together the Marmot Checker, which is another piece of the puzzle in terms of automating knowledge generation throughput. Briefly, an image is uploaded, processed, and sent to the Google Cloud Vision API to get descriptions of the image; these descriptions are checked against a user-defined list of words, and if there is a match, the image is added to the toadserver. Although the implementation is quite is simple, a few hundred lines more of code and you’d have, say, a smart contract that sends the submitter of matched content some amount of tokens as a function of the match score and/or the users’ reputation. On the whole, this is part a growing set of tools for the scientific community. Already we’re seeing more and more startups building tools to streamline the collaboration workflow process between research laboratories.
I started a series of posts aimed at helping people learn about causality in data science (and science in general), and wanted to compile them all together here in a living index.
The piece about “nooscope” — whoever wrote it — has nothing to do with science, says Kirill Martynov, a philosophy professor at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. “It is not even clear to which area of expertise we can attribute it. Basically, it’s nonsense. In terms of Russian language, the words in it make sense, but in terms of science — they don’t,” Martynov told The Moscow Times.
The article lacks many of the formal characteristics of a piece of scientific work: like coherence, connectivity and the facts being attributed to sources. “Instead, the article uses semi-mystical terms and facts that cannot be verified or proved,” the philosophy professor says. “For example, it says that ’nooscope’ has 50 patents, but there is no attribution to any of them.”
This falls into a trend called “aboriginal science,” according to Martynov. “In aboriginal science people imitate scientific activity, using platforms that have nothing to do with international science, but are convenient for achieving their goals,” he says.
So far, at least, there has been no explanation.
Earlier on Monday BBC Russia reached out to one of Vaino’s co-authors, Viktor Sarayev, and asked about the “nooscope.”
“[Isaac] Newton invented the telescope, [Antonie van] Leeuwenhoek invented the microscope, and we invented the nooscope — a device of the material Internet that scans transactions between people, things and money,” Sarayev wrote back to the BBC. He declined to give more details about the device.
What does it mean, in science, for something to be fucked? Fucked needs to mean more than that something is complicated or must be undertaken with thought and care, as that would be trivially true of everything in science. In this class we will go a step further and say that something is fucked if it presents hard conceptual challenges to which implementable, real-world solutions for working scientists are either not available or routinely ignored in practice.
Science takes place in a Madisonian system, where competing forces push us from all directions. The good guys don’t always win. The powerful guys push hard. The direction science moves depends on the sum of the forces on it. A well meaning push in the right direction doesn’t always end up moving science that way. The reliability project and the open science foundation have recently come into a bit of power and public influence. So far, they’ve pushed for greater reliability and more careful methods. But they’ve yet to ask “Why are scientists using poor methods?”, “What are the forces that drive reliability down?”, and “Why were past methods more reliable?” The surge in retraction is relatively new. There wasn’t an OSF in 1957, and yet, somehow my grandfather was able to publish a reliable effect.
“The Science Delusion” is common among Capital-S Skeptics. You don’t apply your skepticism equally. You are extremely critical of belief in God, ghosts, heaven, ESP, astrology, homeopathy and Bigfoot. You also attack disbelief in global warming, vaccines and genetically modified food. These beliefs and disbeliefs deserve criticism, but they are what I call “soft targets.” That’s because, for the most part, you’re bashing people outside your tribe, who ignore you. You end up preaching to the converted. Meanwhile, you neglect what I call hard targets. These are dubious and even harmful claims promoted by major scientists and institutions.
‘Peer review’ was a term borrowed from the procedures that government agencies used to decide who would receive financial support for scientific and medical research. When 'referee systems’ turned into 'peer review’, the process became a mighty public symbol of the claim that these powerful and expensive investigators of the natural world had procedures for regulating themselves and for producing consensus, even though some observers quietly wondered whether scientific referees were up to this grand calling. Current attempts to reimagine peer review rightly debate the psychology of bias, the problem of objectivity, and the ability to gauge reliability and importance, but they rarely consider the multilayered history of this institution. Peer review did not develop simply out of scientists’ need to trust one another’s research. It was also a response to political demands for public accountability. To understand that other practices of scientific judgement were once in place ought to be a part of any responsible attempt to chart a future path. The imagined functions of this institution are in flux, but they were never as fixed as many believe.
on February 2012, one of the largest library on Earth burned, and no “mainstream” media, no politician denounced it. The reason for this silence is that the library was “illegal” and that it wasn’t a physical one. Library.nu was by far the biggest public library on the internet, with a catalogue of about 400,000 to 1,000,000 books. And, as Christopher Kelty said, it contained “not just any books – not romance novels or the latest best-sellers – but scholarly books: textbooks, secondary treatises, obscure monographs, biographical analyses, technical manuals, collections of cutting edge research in engineering, mathematics, biology, social science and humanities. The texts ranges from so-called “orphan works” (out-of-print, but still copyrighted) to recent issues; from poorly scanned to expertly ripped; from English to German to French to Spanish to Russian, with the occasional Japanese or Chinese text. It was a remarquable effort of collective connoisseurship.”
It’s not surprising that it has taken us a long time to reappraise the octopus, imbued with such mythical awe, as what it really is: an intelligent animal with entwining arms so filled with neurons that each of them possesses a separate personality. In the current nature writing boom– fuelled in part by new scientific discoveries – the revision of the octopus is just one in a series of natural histories, of creatures from corvids to cetaceans, which indicate that our awareness of other species is expanding exponentially. As an interviewee in Sy Montgomery’s remarkable book declares, “It’s really only in the last 20 years we could even be having this conversation. We’re only starting to understand animals.”
Those who reject the 97% expert consensus on human-caused global warming often invoke Galileo as an example of when the scientific minority overturned the majority view. In reality, climate contrarians have almost nothing in common with Galileo, whose conclusions were based on empirical scientific evidence, supported by many scientific contemporaries, and persecuted by the religious-political establishment. Nevertheless, there’s a slim chance that the 2–3% minority is correct and the 97% climate consensus is wrong. To evaluate that possibility, a new paper published in the journal of Theoretical and Applied Climatology examines a selection of contrarian climate science research and attempts to replicate their results. The idea is that accurate scientific research should be replicable, and through replication we can also identify any methodological flaws in that research. The study also seeks to answer the question, why do these contrarian papers come to a different conclusion than 97% of the climate science literature?
Contrary to what most scientists themselves appear to believe, science is not a method; it is an approach to knowledge (Stanovich, 2012). Specifically, it is an approach that strives to better approximate the state of nature by reducing errors in inferences. Alternatively, one can conceptualize science as a toolbox of finely honed tools designed to minimize mistakes, especially confirmation bias - the ubiquitous propensity to seek out and selectively interpret evidence consistent with our hypotheses and to deny, dismiss, and distort evidence that does not (Tavris and Aronson, 2007; Lilienfeld, 2010). Not surprisingly, the specific research methods used by psychologists bear scant surface resemblance to those used by chemists, astrophysicists, or molecular biologists. Nevertheless, all of these methods share an overarching commitment to reducing errors in inference and thereby arriving at a more accurate understanding of reality.
“On the left you can see features of good science, with authors providing their data and software code, and in the best cases even using pre-registration of their study and version control for maximum transparency. The grey area in the middle shows questionable research practices, which can include p-hacking, sloppy statistics, peer review abuse etc. On the right side and marked ‘red’ is scientific misconduct as commonly defined (falsification, fabrication, plagiarism). Between the grey and red are is data secrecy.”
a paper by Marko Rodriguez called A Methodology For Studying Various Interpretations of the N,N-dimethyltryptamine-Induced Alternate Reality, [suggesting] among other things that you could prove DMT entities were real by taking the drug and then asking the entities you meet to factor large numbers which you were sure you couldn’t factor yourself. So to that end, could you do me a big favor and tell me the factors of 1,522,605,027, 922,533,360, 535,618,378, 132,637,429, 718,068,114, 961,380,688, 657,908,494, 580,122,963, 258,952,897, 654,000,350, 692,006,139? “Universal love,” said the cactus person. “Transcendent joy,” said the big green bat. The sea turned hot and geysers shot up from the floor below. First one of wine, then one of brine, then one more yet of turpentine, and we three stared at the show.
a paper by Marko Rodriguez called A Methodology For Studying Various Interpretations of the N,N-dimethyltryptamine-Induced Alternate Reality, [suggesting] among other things that you could prove DMT entities were real by taking the drug and then asking the entities you meet to factor large numbers which you were sure you couldn’t factor yourself. So to that end, could you do me a big favor and tell me the factors of 1,522,605,027, 922,533,360, 535,618,378, 132,637,429, 718,068,114, 961,380,688, 657,908,494, 580,122,963, 258,952,897, 654,000,350, 692,006,139?
“Universal love,” said the cactus person.
“Transcendent joy,” said the big green bat.
The sea turned hot and geysers shot up from the floor below. First one of wine, then one of brine, then one more yet of turpentine, and we three stared at the show.”
“LIGHTS ALL ASKEW IN THE HEAVENS; Men of Science More or Less Agog Over Results of Eclipse Observations. EINSTEIN THEORY TRIUMPHS Stars Not Where They Seemed or Were Calculated to be, but Nobody Need Worry.”
–Special Cable to THE NEW YORK TIMES. November 10, 1919
On 27 August 1883, the Earth let out a noise louder than any it has made since. It was 10:02 AM local time when the sound emerged from the island of Krakatoa, which sits between Java and Sumatra in Indonesia. […] By 1883, weather stations in scores of cities across the world were using barometers to track changes in atmospheric pressure. Six hours and 47 minutes after the Krakatoa explosion, a spike of air pressure was detected in Calcutta. By 8 hours, the pulse reached Mauritius in the west and Melbourne and Sydney in the east. By 12 hours, St. Petersburg noticed the pulse, followed by Vienna, Rome, Paris, Berlin, and Munich. By 18 hours the pulse had reached New York, Washington DC, and Toronto. Amazingly, for as many as 5 days after the explosion, weather stations in 50 cities around the globe observed this unprecedented spike in pressure re-occuring like clockwork, approximately every 34 hours. That is roughly how long it takes sound to travel around the entire planet.
Relaxing the null hypothesis makes for great storytelling, but it’s an unsettling way to live. Which information and which perspectives we take into account, when we try to decide whether a pattern we’ve matched is real or an apophenic false alarm, affects our ability to determine whether something has gone away or whether we’ve just stopped believing in it. In the praxis of science we try to keep the false alarm rate down with things like study size and statistical inference and meta-analyses and replication, and we still get it wrong a lot.
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Version 1.0.0 of the Global Land Surface Databank has been released and data are provided from a primary ftp site hosted by the Global Observing Systems Information Center (GOSIC) and World Data Center A at NOAA NCDC. The Stage Three dataset has multiple formats, including a format approved by ISTI, a format similar to GHCN-M, and netCDF files adhering to the Climate and Forecast (CF) convention. The data holding is version controlled and will be updated frequently in response to newly discovered data sources and user comments. All processing code is provided, for openness and transparency. Users are encouraged to experiment with the techniques used in these algorithms. The programs are designed to be modular, so that individuals have the option to develop and implement other methods that may be more robust than described here. We will remain open to releases of new versions should such techniques be constructed and verified.
For scholarly publishing, the secret sauce - the essential thing - is a mechanism for review. Even open archives like arXiv.org have review in the sense of only letting people who are endorsed by an existing community post, but here we’ll assume that we’re doing something more like traditional academic publishing - reviewing something called a paper (it could actually be code, or a figure, or a paragraph but let’s stick to papers as that’s easier to think about). Peer review at present is something that belongs to a journal; it’s a set of rules and procedures, written and enforced by an editorial board and supported by a lot of email and some fairly wonky software.
Science has also provided the world with images of sublime beauty: stroboscopically frozen motion, exotic organisms, distant galaxies and outer planets, fluorescing neural circuitry, and a luminous planet Earth rising above the moon’s horizon into the blackness of space. Like great works of art, these are not just pretty pictures but prods to contemplation, which deepen our understanding of what it means to be human and of our place in nature. And contrary to the widespread canard that technology has created a dystopia of deprivation and violence, every global measure of human flourishing is on the rise. The numbers show that after millennia of near-universal poverty, a steadily growing proportion of humanity is surviving the first year of life, going to school, voting in democracies, living in peace, communicating on cell phones, enjoying small luxuries, and surviving to old age. The Green Revolution in agronomy alone saved a billion people from starvation. And if you want examples of true moral greatness, go to Wikipedia and look up the entries for “smallpox” and “rinderpest” (cattle plague). The definitions are in the past tense, indicating that human ingenuity has eradicated two of the cruelest causes of suffering in the history of our kind.
For the machine’s creators, this process—sparking and controlling a self-sustaining synthetic star—will be the culmination of decades of preparation, billions of dollars’ worth of investment, and immeasurable ingenuity, misdirection, recalibration, infighting, heartache, and ridicule. Few engineering feats can compare, in scale, in technical complexity, in ambition or hubris. Even the ITER organization, a makeshift scientific United Nations, assembled eight years ago to construct the machine, is unprecedented. Thirty-five countries, representing more than half the world’s population, are invested in the project, which is so complex to finance that it requires its own currency: the ITER Unit of Account.
One way to appreciate the virtues of climate models is to compare them with a field where mirages are pretty much the standard product: economics. The computer models that economists operate have to use equations that represent human behaviour, among other things, and by common consent, they do it amazingly badly. Climate modellers, all using the same agreed equations from physics, are reluctant to consider economic models as models at all. Economists, it seems, can just decide to use whatever equations they prefer.
In contrast to academia or industry where knowledge and the market are the main driving forces, DIY biologists’ motivations are broad – entrepreneurs are looking for low-cost and open technologies, artists for new sources of inspiration and materials, scientists for a laid-back creative environment and enthusiasts simply for accessible instrumentation and expertise to satisfy their curiosity. The latter are given an opportunity that few traditional institutions provide, making biological research accessible to the lay public. Even though the mission of DIYbio communities is hard to define without a case-by-case analysis, their potential to benefit society should not be in doubt.
Provenance refers to the origins of objects. Software systems should generate provenance records for their results, containing assertions about the entities and activities involved in producing and delivering or otherwise influencing that object. By knowing the provenance of an object, we can for example make assessment about its validity and whether it can be trusted, we can decide how to integrate it with others, and can validate that it was generated according to specifications.
Seven previous studies had already shown that vitamins increased the risk of cancer and heart disease and shortened lives. Still, in 2012, more than half of all Americans took some form of vitamin supplements. What few people realize, however, is that their fascination with vitamins can be traced back to one man. A man who was so spectacularly right that he won two Nobel Prizes and so spectacularly wrong that he was arguably the world’s greatest quack.
Science is an exercise in curiosity about nature. It is a process. It sometimes involves complex and costly apparatus, or the resources of giant institutes. Sometimes it involves looking at ants in an ant farm, and knowing some clever math. Many people are gobsmacked by the technological gizmos used to do science. They think the giant S&M dungeons of tokomaks and synchro-cyclotrons are science. Those aren’t science; they’re tools. The end product; the insights into nature -that is what is important. Professors Ryabko and Reznikova did something a kid could understand the implications of, but no kid could actually do. The fact that they did it at all indicates they have the child-like curiosity and love for nature that is the true spirit of scientific enquiry.
SciFoo is the brainchild of O'Reilly, Nature publishing group and Google. It takes place every year at Google’s Mountain View headquarters in Silicon Valley, California, where around 200 of the world’s preeminent scientists gather together. Nobel Laureates rub shoulders with rocket engineers, roboticists, angel investors, science writers and the odd science celebrity.
All research outputs from all fields of science are welcome. In the upload form you can choose between types of files: publications (book, book section, conference paper, journal article, patent, preprint, report, thesis, technical note, working paper), posters, presentations, images (figures, plots, drawings, diagrams, photos) and videos/audio. We do check every piece of content being uploaded to ensure it is research related.
The team reared six colonies of carpenter ants (Camponotus fellah) in the lab and tagged each worker with paper containing a unique barcode-like symbol. The colonies — each comprising more than 100 ants — lived in flat enclosures filmed by overhead cameras. A computer automatically recognized the tags and recorded each individual’s position twice per second (see video below). Over 41 days, the researchers collected more than 2.4 billion readings and documented 9.4 million interactions between the workers.
The research, titled “Organically Grown Food Provides Health Benefits to Drosophila melanogaster,” tracked the effects of organic and conventional diets on the health of fruit flies. By nearly every measure, including fertility, stress resistance and longevity, flies that fed on organic bananas and potatoes fared better than those who dined on conventionally raised produce.
The Office for Creative Research is a multidisciplinary research group exploring new modes of engagement with data, through unique practices that borrow from both the arts and sciences. OCR clients are research partners, helping to pose, refine and ultimately solve difficult problems with data.
More than half the gamers used “systems-based reasoning” – analyzing the game as a complex, dynamic system. And one-tenth actually constructed specific models to explain the behavior of a monster or situation; they would often use their model to generate predictions. Meanwhile, one-quarter of the commentors would build on someone else’s previous argument, and another quarter would issue rebuttals of previous arguments and models.
Immaculate Telegraphy was an experiment to build electronic communication from scratch in the wilderness. In summer of 2009, I set out in the mountains of western Montana without any modern tools or materials except information, and constructed a working electric telegraph from materials found on the ground. The experiment showed that electronic communication could have been constructed at any point in history given the right information.
RICH AND SEEMINGLY BOUNDLESS as the creative arts seem to be, each is filtered through the narrow biological channels of human cognition. Our sensory world, what we can learn unaided about reality external to our bodies, is pitifully small. Our vision is limited to a tiny segment of the electromagnetic spectrum, where wave frequencies in their fullness range from gamma radiation at the upper end, downward to the ultralow frequency used in some specialized forms of communication. We see only a tiny bit in the middle of the whole, which we refer to as the “visual spectrum.” Our optical apparatus divides this accessible piece into the fuzzy divisions we call colors. Just beyond blue in frequency is ultraviolet, which insects can see but we cannot. Of the sound frequencies all around us we hear only a few. Bats orient with the echoes of ultrasound, at a frequency too high for our ears, and elephants communicate with grumbling at frequencies too low.
Shaped like a leaf itself, the slug Elysia chlorotica already has a reputation for kidnapping the photosynthesizing organelles and some genes from algae. Now it turns out that the slug has acquired enough stolen goods to make an entire plant chemical-making pathway work inside an animal body, says Sidney K. Pierce of the University of South Florida in Tampa.
That’s the sort of hard-headedness that I used to love about NASA - the idea that humans, if they just kept plugging away, could figure stuff out - and that other humans - astronauts and test pilots - would stake their very lives on it. Not this hand-wringing by deniers that argue we can’t figure anything out, we can’t afford to do anything, it’s all a vast hoax, and we shouldn’t try. A far cry from the can-do of NASA. How could guys that once put their very lives in the hands of science be so dumb about it as they get old?