Sunday, 17 January 2016
Entertainment stuff from the week 11-17/1/16
Robot ears stand by,
"If you've ever wondered whether machines are taking over the world, then wonder no more, because Robot Wars is back" - Craig Charles
'Roboteers, stand by...'
Has anyone else wondered why the robots' non-existent ears were being called into question? I have this nagging feeling that i am the only entitity ever to have misheard :-D
The new series of Robot Wars is intended to be broadcast later in 2016, on the BBC (because they really love original programming) and it's not yet known who might be presenting it.
For now, we'll just have to be content with Nerd³ v. Dad³, LOL
How not to write about how not to write about Science.
'How not to write about science'
(Written by Michael J. I. Brown, Monash University, for The Conversation)
Here's one of those pop articles that come around periodically, admonishing scientists for not being able to communicate with 'normal' people.
I say "go screw yourself with a rusty trowel!"
Mr Brown's suggestions are not only unhelpful to scientists working in research, they are also corruptive to researchers' application of the scientific method.
There is, of course, a requirement for people like myself to read articles (if only i could afford the journal subscriptions) and then relate the points to be remembered, and the points to not be mis-remembered, to people who don't understand the lingo.
But, i do not think that that requirement should be imposed on the researchers themselves, who write the study papers. The two processes of paper writing and science communication should be regarded as different activities, subject to different advice.
Notice that Mr Brown, writing with his journalist hat on, manages to absolve himself (or at least his hat) of responsibility for poor communication of science, to the public, as we go through his points:
1) Avoid objective empiricism, and instead debase your writing with personalised narratives, of the deeply visceral experience, and the intense spiritual journey you've been on, while researching... whatever it was. Remember: this is all about you, not your findings - the readers want you to be as narcissistic as possible, to make a thrilling 'story' - not as impartial and dispassionate as possible, to receive high quality reports of evidence. And the reader's always right - that's why you're telling them things that they're not yet right about.
2) Be put off by the difficulty that some people have with reading graphs. You might even want to deliberately dumb them down, so that people can 'understand' them. In fact, while you're dumbing your knuckles to the floor, why not remove the axes labels too - then it might even get put on the TV! The less data a graph contains, the better, and don't even think of putting error bars on it - the readers have a deep loathing for uncertainty.
3) Don't use words what people don't get. Especially on the internet. Using big words might prompt them to use a WKSE, to find out what they mean, thereby increasing their lexicon, so that they are more able to communicate with each other, in the future. Try not to be specific in your writing, by using words that actually mean what you're thinking of - use short, commonplace words that kinda do but kinda don't, and so don't really communicate what you've found at all.
4) Don't get too bogged down in communicating your findings, and how you found them. This is boring, and not what science is about at all. Science isn't a process - it's a PR puff piece designed to terrify or inspire. Tell us about your motivations, too. The spiritual journey. Periods of ennui. Clinical trials and tribulations. The deep, deep, visceral experience... luvvy.
And the take home message?
Engaging with the audience is much more important than being scientific near them. Apparently. Don't do science, when you could be advertising yourself for the novel you're bringing out, next year. Be florid with your prose, and entertaining with your claims and ridiculous futuristic extrapolations. Don't whatever you do, be good at communicating science. <s>
If you dumb it down too far, to make it zesty and exciting, then it won't be science that you're communicating, and so the whole activity will be a waste of time. Researchers should be good at presenting the whole wodge of method, data and analysis, and other people should be the ones to communicate it to everyone else.
And that's my florin on that subject ;-D
Marine life seems to be giving up on life, all around the world. Why?
'Dead fish blight Rio Olympic bay, again'
'Mass squid mortality in Chile leaves lingering stench'
'81 pilot whales wash up in mass stranding in southern India'
Well, first it should be pointed out that these events are not new - whales have been beaching themselves since there've been whales and beaches, and fishy organisms do get beached against their will by storms.
But there are multiple possibilities for each individual event that we see.
For example, the beached pilot whales probably got disoriented and peer pressured each other into heading for the dangerously shallow waters around a beach, with a lowering tide. It's known that cetaceans follow each other like this, and it's known that noise pollution from the shipping industry confuses animals like whales, resulting in discombobulation and dangerous behaviour.
But what about the squid and the fish?
Well, when the Southern Oscilattion oscillates from La Nina to El Nino, and the currents in the pacific switch from westward to eastward, heating the surface waters and malnourishing marine life around South America, the sight (and smell) of thousands of rotting fishy corpses along west coast beaches, is not an unfamiliar one to locals.
The squid mortality occurred in Chile, which was quite southerly for such a fish die-off, but it might be the cause. The SO (Southern Oscillation) has been in El Nino since 2014, after all.
Maybe more likely, is the nature of many squid species' reproductive cycles. Unlike humans, who butter the body sandwich anytime, anywhere, and seemingly with anyone, squid synchronise their sexualities, so that they all get down and groovy simultaneously, one wet weekend. And when the spawning is done, the pooped adults die off, en masse.
So if the ocean currents are (in)convenient, the cadavers of all those exhausted sex maniacs get washed up on the beach, and if they're not, you don't hear anything about it.
Neither of these two explanations work well in regards to the Rio fish blight, however.
Rio de Janeiro is on the Atlantic, and so is not affected by the SO's periodic ravages on fish populations; and the fishy fish kind of fish that have been washing up there are not known to reproduce the way squids do.
So maybe the proposition that they've all been dying due to marine poisoning is true? It could be a combination of factors - warming waters, anutriented waters, chronic stress from industry noise pollution, starvation from ballooning populations, and maybe poisoned waters too.
As far as i'm concerned, i'm going to rubber stamp this: 'CASE PENDING'
All mechanisms are known, but which ones are salient, in this case?
This week is the 15th anniversary of Wikipedia's launch, and to celebrate, the Wikimedia Foundation is launching an endowment (investment fund) to help ease its money needs. If you've got US$99 million lying around, then you can fill it up for them :-D
In other news:
In celebration of its birthday, Wikipedia published a ranking of its pages, according to the number of revisions (edits) it has had, in all time, ever. The page with the most edits is currently, as i write this, George W Bush, whose page has been edited 45,866 times. But the page about him is actually nowhere near the top of the list, as you'll see if you click the link, as the most-edited articles are 'background' pages used by Wikipedia contributors to contribute to Wikipedia. The most edited page, therefore, is actually 'Wikipedia:Administrator intervention against vandalism' which catalogues cases of abusers of Wikipedia, and has been edited 1,125,039 times as i write this!
What caused teeth to grow out of the top of this cougar's head? Journalists are baffled. But scientists expect that it's either a teratoma, which is a kind of tumour where multiple cell types grow together to produce an erroneous structure like an eye, hand, limb, or teeth; or it's a failed conjoined twin, where the rest has shrivelled away. Idaho Fish and Game wants the hunter who shot the animal to have it analysed, and who knows, a third explanation might even be true. So scientists aren't baffled, Torygraph - you are. Scientists are probably genuinely baffled, however, by the Torygraph's sending 1.5 million emails to people on their database, telling them to "Vote Tory". A consent-breaching spamming of political propaganda that has caused the Information Commissioner to fine them £30,000 (Re: Private Eye 1409 p.4) which i don't really regard as enough. Scientists might be even more baffled by your incompetent reading of a study comparing CBT+drugs to drugs alone, in which you made conclusions about the drugs' lack of effectiveness, even though they were used in both successful groups! (Re: me, in December) But then, they might have been most baffled (in the last month alone) by your incredible ability to conclude that potatoes cure cancer, on the basis of a study that doesn't even specifically mention potatoes! (Re: me, earlier in December) You would have thought that some kind of reading comprehension were necessary, for working in journalism, for a national newspaper, wouldn't you!? Well, now you know better. "He who can does; he who can't teaches; he who can't even communicate a point they don't really understand to a group of others without horribly mangling it, becomes a journalist" - not George Bernard Shaw
It was a month and a half ago, when i wrote about the Torygraph, Dependent, and Daily Diana, all claiming that potatoes can cure stomach cancer and, well, this week the Torygraph has claimed that potatoes, far from being a medical marvel, are actually giving pregnant women Type II diabetes! Grrr, those temperamental tubers. Even though this study did look at potatoes specifically (unlike the previous one) it did not find Type II diabetes - it found gestational diabetes, which is a usually-asymptomatic form of diabetes that comes in during the third trimester, and clears on its own, after birth. As expected, considering potatoes are all carbs and starch, the higher the consumption of potato in someone's diet, the more diabetic they will become, meaning they have higher blood sugar after eating. This is a highly plausible mechanism, but the study doesn't actually have the power to render this evident, due to the way it was conducted. And it certainly doesn't mean potatoes cause Type II diabetes, which is a different medical condition.
Nothing interesting happens in Canberra. Apart from UFO wormhole hoaxes that get soaked up by hacks like camels soak up water. You can see how the video was made, embedded in the article. And in case you're wondering, this hoax was reported as an observation by the Telegraph... but it was the Australian Telegraph - a different 'paper entirely. So the Torygraph slag-off-athon ends here :-D
You know that thing about diehard probably-psychotic conspiracy theorists paranoiically donning tinfoil hats to protect themselves from the evil illuminati's electromagnetic rays? That's a cartoon - a caricature, right? Um... no. These guys have raised more than £13,000 through Kickstarter, to fund their selling-superstitious-people-overexpensive-hats company! Apparently "everybody has the right not to believe" (sic) which is commonly applied lip service rhetoric from supersitionists. But i wonder how litigious they will be, when they realise their fraudulent business has been correctly described as such?
Why would a Chinese Gaming company want a controlling stake in an American dating app owner? I don't know, but Beijing Kunlun Tech's spent US$93 million for a 60% stake in Grindr - the homo-male-specialising hookup app. Grindr is not very popular in China, where it competes with more popular alternatives, including locally-grown versions. Maybe the board of directors are just really, really horny :-D
According to a rumour Tweeted by Lawrence Krauss, LIGO researchers are writing a paper on the existence of gravitational waves, which hints at their discovery. But it doesn't necessarily mean they have been found because negative resutls are results too, and because, as Lawrence has said himself, he doesn't work at LIGO, so he's only relaying rumours from those who do. Watch this space!
NASA's Juno mission to Jupiter has become history's most distant anthropogenic solar-powered object ever. Juno reached 793 million kilometres from the Sun on the 13th of January, beating ESA's Rosetta, which reached 792 million kilometres in October of 2012. Both these missions have to be the solar panel industry's greatest advertising coup, as they are subject to damage from swirling dust particles that can rip holes in them, passing at a frequent rate, with no maintenance available whatsoever.
Not to be outdone, Rosetta is also in the news for an achievement of its own, this week - the discovery of water ice on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The existence of water ice on comet surfaces had previously been assumed, on the basis that comets' tails (comas) are full of water molecules, and the cores of comets are full of ice water; but water ice had never been directly observed on the surface of a comet before. Any surface water is expected to be solid, but sublimation (phase change directly into gas) removes this water from the comet's surface, leaving behind an anhydrous rocky surface, bearing a very dark colour. Rosetta's observations show that that dehydrated layer is actually no more than a metre thick, with the ice showing through in regions where the black surface layer has crumbled to the side.
NASA gets a 2-1 scoreline this week, though, with Dawn sending back the closest photographs ever taken, of Ceres, from its nearest position yet - just 385 kilometres from the dwarf planet's surface. Dawn is intended to stay at this altitude for the rest of its mission. To see four pictures sent back, follow the link.
With investigations and recriminations against VW proceeding, for its industrial deception involving emissions-cheating software, regulatory bodies have loaded up a bandwagon and gone on to investigate other companies too. Renault was recently spot-checked by French anti-fraud investigators, and despite no such software having been found so far, their share price dropped 22% before recovering 12 percentage points, as the news hit the stock markets. And that, folks, is an example of the delusory nature of the free market - undulations happen not because something's genuinely real, but because some people in a room believe they're real, rightly or wrongly.
From the potatoes-of-the-sky-of-the-ground, to the sky itself. Thanks to 37,000 citizen scientists, sorting through 430,000 digital images, over an 8-month period, the Space Warps project has discovered 29 new gravitational lenses, that computational programs have failed to spot. The productiveness of projects like these, stems from the fact that these are basic low-skill jobs, that programs are worse at, and that enthuse many people to work at. They don't require decades of learning, but they still provide useful evidence, and fascinating insights. So to every citizen scientist out there, you can count yourself amongst the huge pile of dwarves, in the metaphor that allows humanity to see so far. Well done :o)
------------------------------------------------------ contemporary stuff
'How to Build a Titanosaur'
'Science Bulletins: Super Corals—For the Future (1 of 3)'
'Science Bulletins: Super Corals—A Closer Look (2 of 3)'
'Science Bulletins: Super Corals—Understanding the Science (3 of 3)'
'Science Bulletins: Phobos—A Groovy Moon'
'Make Thermite from Chromium Oxide'
'SFN #149: WFIRST is GO!; Most Distant Galaxy Cluster Found; Black Hole Telescope First Light'
'Did Hitler worship God or Evolution?'
Always put thy god before thyself... and which comes first in your video, Eric? :-D
'La Vie En Rose meets Stravinsky in Charles de Gaul'
'All By Myself in Barcelona'
'Image: Tethys dwarfed by Saturn'
''X' marks a curious corner on Pluto's icy plains'
'NASA image: Pluto's Wright Mons in color'
'Richard Herring's Leicester Square Theatre Podcast - with David Mitchell #94'
------------------------------------------------------ of the weeks
Fact Of The Week: In Anglopohone countries, companies in which the shareholders are not held civilly or criminally responsible for their actions through their company, are called 'Public Limited Companies'; but in most languages, in most countries, they are referred to as 'Anonymous Societies' due to the secret nature of their shareholders' identities. These companies are rife with corruption - money laundering, tax evasion, and concealed business transactions in general - so laws have been passed to force their owners to be onymous. Even so, PLCs/ASs to this day, find ways to be corrupt, for example by using holding companies to conceal the origins and destinations of funds.
Skeptical Mantra Of The Week: Nickell's Doctrine -- The person who thinks he can't be fooled, has just fooled himself
Headline Of The Week: 'Australian Wild Pig Drinks 18 Beers, Gets in Fight with Cow'
Nominative Determinism Of The Week: a TED video entitled 'What Happens When a City Runs Out of Room for Its Dead', presented by someone called 'Alison Killing'
------------------------------------------------------ non-contemporary stuff
There's no non-contemporary stuff to be blogged this week. Suffice to say: